Thursday, 2 July 2015

On Knowledge and Phalluses – Part 1

The New Laidlaw Library at the University of Leeds

The new Laidlaw Library is almost in full working order following its recent completion. The students are in place, even though the books have yet to be moved across during the summer break. I attended the launch of its associated sculpture on June 11: A Spire by Simon Fujirawa (see below).

I do appreciate the context of this ‘chimney’ sculpture, oriented in an industrial city as it is, not least since the university was originally funded by industry in its early days as the Yorkshire College. However, on one level it is just another phallus (and I was not the only person commenting on this at the launch). If this is the case, what does this say about knowledge and the phallus, I wonder. If A Spire is a nod to Leeds’ past, then we can intrinsically tie this to education since the colleges that preceded the University of Leeds – The Yorkshire College and Medical School – provided education to the sons (only) of the local bourgeoisie:
It is important to note that while the forming of the Yorkshire College was a reaction against an exclusive further education for just the upper classes, the college was providing education for the middle-classes only, in the form of an education for the sons of local merchants in the fields of science and the arts. (Richardson 2014)
In cultural theory the phallus is “the order of spacing, according to which the law is inscribed and marked as difference.” (Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe 1992, p.46). And difference (sexual difference) pushes the terms of difference outwards, fixing them in opposing domains: men - women. Woven around this ‘story’ that fixes the individual (it subjects them) in language (and hence in culture) is an intricate illusion for this linguistic subject. An illusion that gives the impression of orientation, autonomy and access to truth, what Louis Althusser would describes as the “structure of misrecognition”, the ego’s inability to see itself outside of any ideological structures (2006, p.149).

The subject (in this instance the university) believes the phallus belongs to him. He believes his mastery over language (knowledge) means he owns the phallus, but he doesn't have the phallus, he only has the penis-sculpture. The university as the speaking subject (that of one oriented in the institutional power structure and hence in ‘control’ of the discourse), is actually, therefore, oriented in a “structural hole” (Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe 1992, p.46).

I originally had a section on the Laidlaw Library in an early draft of my thesis (2014). Unfortunately I had to cut it out due to space issues. You can read the full thesis here – The Unseen University: A Schizocartography of a Redbrick – but I’ll include the original section I wrote about the new library, during its development, in part 2 of this blog.

Althusser, Louis. 2006. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. by Ben Brewster (Deli: Aakar Books).
Nancy, Jean-Luc and Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe. 1992. The Title of the Letter: A Reading of Lacan, trans. by Francois Raffoul and David Pettigrew (Albany: State University of New York Press).
Richardson, Tina. 2014. ‘The Unseen University: A Schizocartography of a Redbrick’. University of Leeds.

Related Links:
Contemplating Olympic Space, the Shard and Architectural Phalluses in General

Saturday, 13 June 2015

S T E P Z Official Launch

S T E P Z: A Psychogeography and Urban Aesthetics Zine

S T E P Z is a zine for and by those interested in psychogeography and in critiquing, appreciating and debating urban space. It does not have the strict editorial rules applied to it that would be the case in an academic article, textbook, or even in a novel. It is, what you might call, ‘editorially restrained’ and is the brainchild of the psychogeographer Tina Richardson. This pilot edition includes contributions from both professional and creative writers. Please click here for a welcome from the editor and for a list of contributions.

S T E P Z is available to download online for free and for sale in limited edition hard copy format. The limited edition hard copy differs slightly from the downloaded free version due to the insertion of a symbol to denote its limited edition status (see above) and to differentiate from possible bootlegged copies. The hard copy is 16 sides of A4 bound into a booklet and costs £5.00 inc. postage (to UK only).

Please note: for the time being linking to may take you to, but the editor can be contacted there too.

Related Links:
Please click here to download a pdf.
Please click here to go to ebay to buy the zine for £5.00 including postage.

In Memory of Pauline Mavis White (1946)

Meeting Across Time and Space in St George’s Field

In May I was kindly invited by Christine Bairstow to a memorial event in the cemetery at the University of Leeds, St George’s Field. Every year Christine visits the cemetery on the campus where her sister, Pauline Mavis White, is buried. Pauline is Christine’s twin sister and died on the 10th of June 1946, when they were 6 months old, after a serious illness that they both suffered. This blog is to say thank you to Christine for generously asking me to share her very special afternoon. The images and text will be interspersed with relevant text from my doctoral thesis, which is actually how Christine found me to start with.

My thesis examined the way the university has historically used space and the contradictions between the higher level discourse of the institution and how it is spatially played out in regards to social history. There is a full chapter on the cemetery entitled ‘Finding St George’s Field’ and a section within that on Christine and Pauline called ‘In Memory of a Dear Sister’. You can read the full thesis here: ‘The Unseen University: A Schizocartography of the Redbrick Campus

In summary, the University of Leeds acquired the cemetery during the major (Chamberlin, Powell and Bon) 1960s redevelopment period on campus. At this time Woodhouse Cemetery was in a state of disrepair. Initially the university had hoped to be able to maintain the cemetery as it was, but on further examination this turned out to be too expensive and they got an Act of Parliament in 1965 to enable them to purchase the shares for the plots and then turn the cemetery into a landscaped park. This led to the setting up of the Woodhouse Cemetery Defence Organisation to protect the cemetery, but the university won the battle in the end. The gravestones were removed, although the bodies still remain.

Wednesday 10th June 2015 was a beautiful sunny day and I caught site of Christine in the distance walking towards the space under a tree where the plaque is located. I recognised her from her facebook profile image. She was carrying flowers.

“It might not initially be apparent that the eventual procurement of the cemetery land by the university is one oriented towards a capitalist agenda, but as Guattari states, “capitalistic modes of production” do not necessarily manifest in obviously capitalist-oriented procedures (2008a: 21). I argue that while the cemetery acquisition, on a superficial examination, appears to have little to do with capital, it is a function of the agenda of the new university, the neoliberalist, posthistoric model. The social history of the cemetery is problematic for the university. Nevertheless, the capitalist agenda is one that is capable of eventually dealing with these conjunctions because it can both organise time and space in a way where incongruities become unproblematic: “The power sign’s polyvocality enables it to tolerate these structural alliances perfectly well” (Guattari 2006: 228). Polyvocality is capitalism’s recuperation of heterogeneity. It reformulates and repackages it and presents it back to us in an attractive, seemingly innocuous, form, to be further consumed. Thus, the cemetery is now consumed as a public garden.”

Christine told me about her sister and parents and about her own childhood. She explained that the university had a planted a tree for the family a little way away from the actual unmarked plot. She showed me the approximate place where Pauline is buried and she sat there and I took the photo above.

“In one sense St George’s Field, as a postmodern space located within an institutional setting, has become a reconciled space when situated within the larger project of capitalism. Its renaming, back to its original name, creates a form of distance from its ‘real’ function (it still is a graveyard after all) and its controversial recent history. St George’s Field, hence, becomes a new space making it easier to forget a past that is not attached to it via the proper noun (Woodhouse Cemetery or Leeds General Cemetery). St George’s Field is at odds with itself, in being both a cemetery and at the same time a public park of sorts. Can it simultaneously reconcile itself as a place of leisure and a sacred burial space? What is apparent is that changing its name has changed its function and this has enabled both a type of cultural forgetting to take place and also the availability of a whole new set of powers to both the Council and university in how they control, market and manage the space.”

Thank you, Christine, for inviting me along to your memorial day, I was extremely touched to be part of it and it was really lovely to meet you.

Related Links on St George’s Field:
Dying to Find It
A Not So Hotsy Totsy Sunny Day
The Psychogeography of Other Spaces
Fallow Again

Monday, 8 June 2015

When is a Ley Line not a Ley Line?

The theory of ley lines are attributed to the British author Alfred Watkins (1855-1935). He refers to them in a number of his books, for example The Old Straight Track (1925) and The View Over Atlantis (1969). Ley lines are straight lines that connect culturally historic places of esoteric interest that are woven into the landscape. However, they are often considered to be more theoretical than material. Ley lines had a following in the Countryside Discovery Movement after Watkins’ first mention of them in The Old Straight Track. And following the publication of The View Over Atlantis there was a 1970s resurgence led by the Earth Mysteries School and John Michell, which focused on seeing ley lines as ancient paths that connected monuments and places of spiritual importance, for example in paganism. Interest was in the hidden energies between significant points. During this phase a magazine on the subject was spawned, The Ley Hunter. In contemporary times the deep topographer Nick Papadimitriou is interested in them as part of his work in “answering the call of the county” (Papadimitriou 2009). That county being the geographical region of Middlesex...Read More

Monday, 1 June 2015

Walking Inside Out - Stoke Newington Lit Fest Book Talk

Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography
Edited by Tina Richardson

Date/Time: Saturday 6th June 3.00-4.00
Venue: The White Hart, Stoke Newington, London N16 8EL

Talk Outline
Tina Richardson will be talking about how a critical form of walking in our towns and cities can transform our relationship with them. Psychogeography can be used by anyone as a tool to explore urban space and reveal a sense of place in the built environment. Reading from her new edited volume – Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography – Tina will look at ways we can see beyond the homogenised world of urban planning to a multiplicity of radical new experiences and hidden worlds in our everyday spaces.

Tina is an independent scholar and psychogeographer. She became interested in psychogeography in 2009 when researching the Situationist International and set up Leeds Psychogeography Group that year, running it at the university till 2013. She is now a writer/editor and guest lecturer. Tina is currently editing a magazine called S T E P Z, which will be published in June. Walking Inside Out will be released in July.

Unofficial Britain
Tina’s talk will be part of the 'Unofficial Britain' section of Influx Press’ 'Alternative Voices' event which begins at 1.00 in The White Hart. Please click here for full details of the afternoon.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

S T E P Z: A Welcome from the Editor

I shall be taking S T E P Z to the printers on Friday. It will be available online (free) and as a limited edition hard copy by mid-June. Please click here for the overview and here for a rundown of the upcoming contributions.

Below is the welcome message from the editor:
Welcome to Stepz, the new zine for and by those interested in psychogeography and in critiquing, appreciating and debating urban space. I started Stepz following the completion of Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography (2015). I felt there were voices that I was unable to represent therein, for various reasons. Stepz does not have the strict editorial rules applied to it that would be the case in an academic article, textbook, or even in a novel. It is, what you might call, ‘editorially restrained’.

When researching for Walking Inside Out I looked at some of the 1990s psychogeography-related zines and alternative texts (like the London Psychogeographical Association’s newsletters and Tom Vague’s ‘Wild West’ zines). These have historically been a part of psychogeography, going back to the sixties and the Situationists – for example, their 1966 pamphlet ‘On the Poverty of Student Life’. If, how I have suggested in discussions about what I’ve termed ‘the new psychogeography’, there is a current resurgence, then it needs to be marked in some way that represents an alternative mode of publication to the mainstream one.

Please note: this pilot edition is in digital and limited edition hardcopy format. While I am happy for people to circulate and copy the magazine as much as they wish, all the authors gave their creative time for free and the magazine is un-copyrighted and not run as a profit-making publication, so please keep that in mind. I have also added a hidden symbol to the hard copy version in order to track its propagation over ley lines.
Tina Richardson

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Uncanny Effects and Perambulatory Weirdness…

. . . at Birmingham New Street

On 18th May I was kindly invited to Birmingham for the day by the artist Ally Standing to see the new development around the New Street area and also Spaghetti Junction. I took this photo at New Street. This contemporary building has one of the classic motifs of postmodern architecture, a mirror-effect that reflects the surrounding environment back onto the space: what Reinhold Martin describes as “feedback loops…a doubling back of the surface onto itself” (Utopia's Ghost: Architecture and Postmodernism, Again 2010: 106).

The building is ‘uncanny’ in the Freudian sense of the word: unheimlich. This is what I have said about the term ‘uncanny’ elsewhere:
Sigmund Freud takes the word from the German unheimlich which means the opposite of what one might find familiar (heimlich meaning familiar - homely, but be careful here, because for Freud the two terms become conflated in what he means by 'uncanny'). So, the uncanny has the qualities of both the familiar and the unfamiliar at the same time. I would describe it as producing a strange kind of affective dissonance, which is disturbing. It throws you into this spaceless space in between the two binary oppositions (recognisable/unrecognisable, understandable/incomprehensible). Sometimes 'the thing' recognised is known, but is out of place and this decontextualisation can create the feeling of the uncanny. (Particulations 2012)
The image creates a doubling back, as Reinhold describes above, and the reflection of the nearby Redbrick building is both familiar and unfamiliar, hence uncanny. You recognise it to be a Redbrick, but it appears to be sitting atop a single pillar which couldn’t possibly support it. The image below contextualises the setting better. It becomes less strange as you start to work out what is going on.

While I do think this image is very weird in its own right, I must say even standing there in this very spot produces an uncanny affect, despite the full context of the landscape being available to you. I am wondering if there is a potential for a perambulatory hinge to evolve at this spot over time. I posted the uncanny image on facebook today to see what people’s reaction might be. Here’s a lovely piece of haiku in response to it, written by Rob Lycett:

Related links:
A Psychogeography of the Westin Bonaventure
Taking an Urban Walk with Freud
An Encounter with the Uncanny