Cormac McCarthy has been proclaimed as one of the greatest contemporary writers to herald from the United States and, also, as a writer that can be set historically alongside both John Williams (Butcher’s Crossing) and Oakley Hall (Warlock), in producing a pantheon of masterpieces addressing the borders, landscapes, and geographies of the American west. Such status could be conferred as much by Blood Meridian, marked by its twenty-fifth anniversary this year, as the novels that constitute The Border Trilogy including All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and Cities of the Plain.
My latest article is now published — ‘The Architecture of “Passive Revolution”: Society, State and Space in Modern Mexico’, Journal of Latin American Studies (requires subscription). There is a detailed discussion of the piece at the Progress in Political Economy (PPE) blog.
My article asserts a focus on monuments as a way of revealing the history of the modern state and the political economy of the urban landscape. Delivering an analysis of the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City my central argument is that the ways in which the state organises space in our everyday lives through the streets we walk, the monuments we visit, and the places where we meet can be appreciated through two key thinkers – Antonio Gramsci and Henri Lefebvre – about space and the modern state.
This article analyses the political economy of Henri Lefebvre’s concept of ‘state space’ with specific attention directed towards the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City, completed in 1938. The conditions of modernity can be generally related to the spatial ordering of urban landscapes within capital cities conjoining the specifics of national identity with imitative processes. Antonio Gramsci captured such sentiments through his understanding of the condition of ‘passive revolution’. The key contribution of this article is to draw attention to forms of everyday passive revolution, recognising both cosmopolitan and vernacular aspects of modern architecture in relation to the Monument to the Revolution. A focus on the Monument to the Revolution thus reveals specific spatial practices of everyday passive revolution relevant to the codification of architecture and the political economy of modern state formation in Mexico. These issues are revealed, literally, as vital expressions in the architecture of everyday passive revolution in modern Mexico.
Spanish abstract: Este artículo analiza la economía política del concepto de Lefebvre del ‘espacio estatal’ con atención específica en el Monumento a la Revolución en la Ciudad de México, terminado en 1938. Las condiciones de la modernidad pueden relacionarse en general con el ordenamiento espacial de los paisajes urbanos al interior de las capitales definiendo lo que es específico de la identidad nacional con procesos imitativos. Antonio Gramsci capturó tales sentimientos por medio de su entendimiento de la condición de la ‘revolución pasiva’. La contribución clave de este artículo es el llamar la atención a las formas de revolución pasiva cotidiana, reconociendo tanto los aspectos cosmopolitas como los vernáculos de la arquitectura moderna en relación al Monumento a la Revolución. Un enfoque en el Monumento a la Revolución, entonces, revela las prácticas relevantes espaciales específicas de la revolución pasiva cotidiana con la codificación de la arquitectura y la economía política de la formación estatal moderna en México. Estos temas se revelan, literalmente, como expresiones vitales en la arquitectura de la pasiva revolución cotidiana en el México moderno.
With a view to tracing further representations of space in Mexico City my attention has been recently turning to the work of Paco Ignacio Taibo II (or PIT) in his transgressions of story-history, starting with the novel Sombra de la sombra (1986) published in English as The Shadow of the Shadow with Cinco Puntos Press (1991). The book is both an exploration of social criticism as well as a work of historical crime fiction. The story is set in 1922 in Mexico City blurring the realms of fiction and history and is based around the secret Plan de Mata Redonda, a conspiracy of army colonels, U.S. senators, and oil company magnates, with the aim to separate the oil-rich Gulf Coast of Mexico from the rest of the country and turn it into an American protectorate. Where better to explore the spatial practices of Mexico City deciphered through historical fiction and the symbols of this city’s lived representational spaces?
A journey through the geopolitical economy and urban spaces of Mexico City by way of architecture, streets, images, and symbols in Paco Ignacio Taibo II’s Sombra de la sombra (The Shadow of the Shadow).
Delivering searing criticism on the psychosis of absolute power, Victor Serge’s fifth novel to be featured in my personal blog, For the Desk Drawer, is a masterly work. The Case of Comrade Tulayev was written in 1942 and is situated in the context of the Great Terror in Soviet Russia orchestrated by Joseph Stalin. In the sequence that constitutes the ‘defeat-in-victory’ trilogy (preceded by Midnight in the Century  and succeeded by The Long Dusk [1943-5]), the novel intersects in several subtle ways with Serge’s other books. The Case of Comrade Tulayev is a chronicle of the Moscow arrests and show trials in the 1930s that pulls in a myriad of characters as well as the overbearing appearance of ‘the Chief’, Stalin himself. It does so by offering at least two intersections to aspects present in Serge’s earlier novels. First, it offers a set of intersecting elements linked to specific characters that appear in the earlier books; second, it offers direct intersections on the theme of space and the state. How the spatial logistics of the state, how the modern state organises space, and how the state engenders social relations in space are thus a quintessential feature of The Case of Comrade Tulayev.