Friday, October 1, 2004
Archisemiotics, To Critiques of Space
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.Posted by Derek Mueller at October 1, 2004 6:28 PM to Distances,Dry Ogre Chalking,Rhetorico-Geography