Friday, October 1, 2004

Archisemiotics, To Critiques of Space

Like Chuck, I started my FY writing class early this morning with a teaser about the debates last night: who watched?  next-day gut-level impressions?  

The first comment in my 8:30 a.m. section: "George Bush came off as really likable and genuine.  He was angry at times, but he was real, like somebody you'd meet at a bar.  His vocabulary seemed more everyday.  He came right out and said 'You can't do that.  The president can't lead that way.'"

Mm-hmm.  Okay.  The barstool intellectual stumble-de-do is exactly the thing that worries some folks (although I won't name specific names). <loop> It's a lot of work.  You can't say wrong war, wrong place, wrong time.  What message does that send?  It's a lot of work.  Six-party talks...if ever we ever needed China, now.</loop>

Students had great insights on the debates; they recognized nuance between the candidates, articulated them with conviction that this election matters to them.  We shifted our attention after several minutes, even though some students preferred a sustained conversation about the event over the other plans for the hour.  The connection, for us, came from the debate's framed emphases: foreign policy and homeland security.  Homeland security is particularly timely in these classes--the two I teach every MWF.  The courses are organized around questions involving spatial analysis--geographies of exclusion, socio-spatial critiques of the campus and of hometown spaces, and arguments about surveillance, privatization of public spaces, neighborhood watches and localized security poses, perceptions of threat, and so on.  In fact, the second assignment is called, "Homeland (In)Securities."  So I wanted to move from the debates--how would we understand homeland security if we could read the notion through last night's debates alone?--to our current, in-progress projects on hometown spaces, memory work, strangers and safety, contested zones, etc.--how can we extend the idea of a controlled surrounds (in the debates, taken to the limits of the globe, empirically exhaustive) to the material-spatial patterns of policing, security, "known" threats and deliberate municipal designs aimed at thwarting risk?

I grumbled about Mike Davis's "Fortress L.A." article (from City of Quartz), earlier in the week, but I'm doubling back on those doubts now that the classes read the chapter.  Davis adopts a term I'm growing ever more fond of as we move ahead with spatial analysis--archisemiotics.  Basically, Davis argues that L.A.'s architectural development implies unambiguous messages about social homogeneity in the urban center.  If we accept the latency of meaning in the city-scape (buildings, barriers), reading spaces becomes a process of seeing significance in spatial design as it determines who can go where, when, for how long, etc., and imposes a character on the peopling of the space, its social flows--viscocities.  It makes structures rhetorically significant, inscribing them to their perimeters with a sentience--not unlike, according to Davis, the eerie, systematized conscience of the building in Die Hard

I suppose there's a whole lot more to it than I can exhaust here and now--or than I'd even care to considering I have one helluva cold.  I just wanted to register an few thoughts about teaching at SU this semester--because I haven't yet--and, too, comment on last night's debate.  The cross-over this morning, even though I'm not teaching courses with an explicit focus on the election, was striking--even exciting; it was a pleasant reminder that I'll never be too busy to savor moments when students are brilliantly conversant with each other over hard questions.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at October 1, 2004 6:28 PM to Distances,Dry Ogre Chalking,Rhetorico-Geography

You go, Pops. Where are today's songwriters with sharp social and political critique? Aaron Magruder does it in his comic strip, "Boondocks", but young songwriters seem very muted.

Posted by: John at October 2, 2004 4:08 PM

Who are these who would lead us now

to the sounds of a thousand guns

who�d storm the gates of Hell itself

to the tune of a single drum

Where are the girls of the neighborhood bars

whose loves were lost at sea

in the hills of France and on German soil

from Saigon to Wounded Knee

who come from long lines of soldiers

whose duty was fulfilled

in the words of a warrior�s will

and Protocol?

Where are the boys in their coats of blue

who flew when their eyes were blind

Was god in town for the Roman games

was he there when the deals were signed

Does anyone know where the love of god goes

when the waves turn the minutes to hours?

and all that remains is the faces and names

of the wives and the sons and the daughters

So take the best of all that�s left

you know this cannot last�.

Just think about the fool

who by his virtue can be found

in a most unusual situation

playin� jester to the clown

The space shuttle ends where the subway begins

there�s a tear on the face of the moon

from dusk until dawn they have searched all day long

but there�s too many clues in this room

At best it is said we�ve bin locked deep inside

of an old seaman�s chest full of charts

where maps are contained and what�s left of his brains

when his crew threw his balls to the sharks

In a word it is said that at times we must fall

but the worst of it was the lies

We died for the cause just like regular outlaws

in the dust of an old lawman�s eyes

In times best forgot there was peace, there was not

in her pains mother earth came to bloom

Her children were born in the eye of the storm

and there�s too many clues in this room

The space shuttle ends where the subway begins

praise the Lord there�s a train leavin� soon

>From dusk until dawn they searched all day long

but there�s too many clues in this room

by Gordon Lightfoot

Posted by: pops at October 26, 2004 8:34 AM