Thursday, 14 April 2016

The haunting of cities

While Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (2014) did not meet all of my expectations (but that might be due to my misplaced expectations), I enjoyed reading his introduction to Laura Oldfield’s Savage Messiah (2011). Fisher reminds us that the
„...struggle over space is also a struggle over time and who controls it. Resist neoliberal modernisation and (so we are told) you consign yourself to the past. … .Capital demands that we always look busy, even if there’s no work to do. If neoliberalism’s magical voluntarism is to be believed, there are always opportunities to be chased or created; any time not spent hustling and hassling is time wasted. The whole city is forced into a gigantic simulation of activity, a fanaticism of productivism in which nothing much is actually produced, an economy made out of hot air and bland delirium. Savage Messiah is about another kind of delirium: the releasing of the pressure to be yourself, the slow unravelling of biopolitical identity, a depersonalised journey out to the erotic city that exists alongside the business city. The eroticism here is not primarily to do with sexuality, although it sometimes includes it: it is an art of collective enjoyment, in which a world beyond work can – however briefly –be glimpsed and grasped. Fugitive time, lost afternoons, conversations that dilate and drift like smoke, walks that have no particular direction and go on for hours, free parties in old industrial spaces, still reverberating days later.“
The idea of „a spectral city“, „a London haunted by traces and remnants of rave, anarcho-punk scenes and hybrid subcultures at a time when all these incongruous urban regeneration schemes were happening“, strongly resonates with my own curiosity about how the past shapes our contemporary lifes in a city. To be more precise: I am wondering, if and how our lifes leave traces in the urban environments - and if and how cities could be understood as places of transmission (Debray). Is the haunting of cities something that is rooted in the (digital) memories? Or is it the atmosphere of a city (Boehme), which haunts us? To stay with the current example: Is it the explicit and shared knowledge about the past in Savage Messiah, which creates the past? Or are documents like Savage Messiah just articulations of something, which exists independently from memories made explicit?