Originally posted on Becoming Poor:
As previously posted, we are currently reading Thrift’s Non-Representational Theory. It has a sexy subtitle: Space | politics | affect, and having just come off of a quarter of tangling with Spinoza, thinking that everything is ‘political’ in general, and being in a program that is decidedly spatially oriented, what’s not to like? There are plenty of good things, to be sure. Some of it feels very familiar; but in many respects, he has a quietly political- political, not Political- message that is important to hear out. (We discussed in our last meeting that the chapters thus far seem to lack a critical, political stance, but perhaps this emerges in the third installment…) We are only a third of the way through the book, so I’m going focus on a particular chapter. Given that the chapters were written at different points as journal articles, and subsequently compiled together, with a substantial introductory chapter (and what I imagine to be a substantial concluding chapter) written for the book, it seems ‘fair’ to critique a single chapter.
In his Driving in the City chapter, Thrift takes the work of de Certeau to task, engaging in the questioning of existing concepts, properly Deleuzian, against the current milieu in order to assess whether the theory still holds true, no longer valid, needs a serious upgrade, etc. The bulk of his argument seems to lie in the fact that driving is an activity that has been fully subsumed into our culture, and as a result, new habits, modes of embodiment, and designs have emerged that have continued to advance said habit/practice, making it all the more subsumed and second nature. As he calls it, “almost a background to the background.” (79) His project is really about bringing the background to the foreground, creating a different sense of awareness, embracing the contingency or ‘onflow’ of life; and presumably, how we can harness this awareness to find a little bit of agency within the current milieu and injecting joy or play into our daily lives. Critical for his argument in this chapter is his feeling that de Certeau is far less relevant than he once was, and that while not offering a ‘disabling’ critique, begs for a different set of questions to be asked today, in order to access the de Certeauian politics that are latent in The Practice of Everyday Life.
I think that Thrift is right to point out how much driving is part of our culture, that we are ‘one’ with the machine, it being an extension of our bodies, the changes of design (though not one mention of ‘artificial obsolescence ” and how that might inform the design process), etc. His citation of the LA study is spot on: reading it, I instantly recalled the days where it felt like I was plying my car down the 60, heading to Riverside, with the very pressure of my foot seeming to urge/move the car forward. It was not the complex computer circuitry and otherwise intricate mechanical system in relation to unleaded gas that got me there; it was the sheer will of my being that made the car move farther and faster down the road. Yes, I did say the 60.