Toward an Urban Cultural Studies [prezi]

I just returned from delivering an invited lecture at the University of Kentucky, which I titled:

Toward an Urban Cultural Studies: Henri Lefebvre, Space and the Culture(s) of Cities.

Clicking on the above link will take you to the prezi that accompanied the talk, which includes video and audio clips, although it leaves out the first 15-20 minute set-up which was devoted to the academic spat between C.P. Snow and F.R. Leavis in their 1959 and 1962 lectures (see an earlier post). The talk was a form of organized rambling at a general level about Lefebvre’s insights into cities, the timeliness of urban cultural studies, interdisciplinary issues in general, David Harvey, city rhythms, and so on, so a lot is left out of the prezi alone, but it may still be interesting to watch. Given that I was pitching the talk so broadly, I was thrilled that so many non-Hispanic Studies faculty/students were able to make it.

If you haven’t seen or used prezi before (higher functionality/privacy free for educators with an .edu email address) I can say that it may blow your mind as a presentation format (I was blown away when I first saw this used at a conference last year). After watching a prezi (many are ‘public’/freely available on the site to view) it becomes clear just how much power point presentations are linked to the cultural moment in which I grew up–which revolved around linear slideshows of non-digital photography (didn’t you hate it when that one slide got stuck in the projector?).

Special thanks to U Kentucky Professors Susan Larson and Aníbal Biglieri in particular, and also to many other faculty members from both the Department of Hispanic Studies there (and its fantastic graduate students) and beyond, for making it such a great experience!

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La ciudad no es para mí [The City Isn’t for Me] (Spain 1965; dir. Pedro Lazaga)

Directed by Pedro Lazaga and released in 1965, La ciudad no es para mí is a light-hearted melodrama that, not unlike other films of the mid-dictatorship, continues an existing cinematic tradition of using ‘the generic confines of a popular comedy’ to explore more serious aspects of urban life in the Spanish capital (Larson 2012: 123). Heralded as the ‘most commercially successful Spanish film of the 1960s’ (Richardson 2002: 72), it features noted actor Paco Martínez Soria in the role of a rural-dwelling Spaniard who, unannounced, comes to live with his successful and modern son and the latter’s family in Madrid. The first five minutes of the black-and-white film – while they do not even introduce the central paleto character – thrust the spectator into quite a dynamic representation of the nature of urban life (see also Richardson 2002: 76-77). The two buildings clustered around Madrid’s Plaza de España that can be seen in the clip are the Torre de Madrid (when it was built the highest building in Europe?) and Edificio España.

The script reads Continue reading

The New Ruralism [new book]

Henri Lefebvre did work in rural sociology before turning fully to urban matters (does the urban even exist ‘outside of’ the rural?)…

This new edited volume by Joan Ramon Resina and William R. Viestenz “The New Ruralism: An Epistemology of Transformed Space” seems to look at new stages in the dialectical relationship between the city and the country (mentioning Raymond Williams’ book by that title in its introduction) You can download the pdf of the introduction to The New Ruralism for free from the publisher’s site here.

Resina, Joan Ramon; Viestenz, William (eds.)
The New Ruralism: An Epistemology of Transformed Space.
Madrid / Frankfurt, 2012, Iberoamericana / Vervuert, 220 p., € 22.00
ISBN: 9788484896562
Presents new ways of understanding the old dichotomy city vs country in an effort to think through the epistemological and artistic implications of the modern antinomy’s demise, whereby the non-city ceases to be the city’s absolute other.

CFP–new Journal of Urban Cultural Studies launched

Visit the new Journal of Urban Cultural Studies site here.

Call for Papers

The Journal of Urban Cultural Studies is a new peer-reviewed publication cutting across both the humanities and the social sciences in order to better understand the culture(s) of cities. The journal is open to studies that deal with culture, urban spaces and forms of urbanized consciousness the world over.

Although we embrace a broad definition of urban cultural studies, we are particularly interested in submissions that give equal weight to: a) one or more aspects of urban studies (everyday life, built environment, architecture, city planning, identity formation, transportation…) and b) analysis of one or more specific forms of cultural/textual production (literature, film, graphic novels, music, art, graffiti, videogames, online or virtual space…) in relation to a given urban space or spaces.

Essays of 7,000-10,000 words (including works cited and notes) should be sent by attachment to the Editor at urbanculturalstudies@gmail.com. JUCS is also open to proposals of special issues by guest editors working individually or in teams of two. All citations in other languages should be translated into English for the journal’s international reading public, in addition to including the original text.

While the journal does not publish book reviews, we do publish review essays—which should discuss 3-5 recent books on a shared topic or theme (or place) and run from 2,500 to 4,000 words. Review essays of urban-themed installations or other works of art are also welcome. These essays will be reviewed in house. Given our visual focus, we are interested in original, unpublished artwork on the topic of cities and in publishing articles accompanied by images where appropriate.

We encourage a variety of approaches to the urban phenomenon—the strengths of the editorial board run from urban geography to literature and film, photography and videogames, gender and sexuality, creative economy, popular music, Marxist approaches, fashion, urban planning, anthropology, sociology, Deaf culture, built environment, philosophy, architecture, detective fiction and noir, and more…

Madrid’s Gran Vía, 1934 (drawing)

[reblogged and translated from Enrique 23‘s original Spanish post available here]

Antonio Bellón Uriarte was an artist from Jaén. He was born in 1904 and lived in Madrid for almost his entire life, until 1991 when he died. Witness to the life of the [Spanish] capital, he drew – exhaustively and down to the most minute details – scenes that depicted the life of the urb, always with an exaggerated and playful touch, caricaturing the everyday.

In this sequence from ‘Madrid’s Gran Vía’, as if it were a photo taken in the early morning, Bellón illustrates a wild and chaotic summer weekend that might just as well have taken place in 2012. One sees all of the typical characters of that era, which was so modern and so close to our own. The image draws together the early-risers, the daytime folk, the nightowls, and the melancholic seeking an elusive happiness in the early hours among the shadows of the sordid and prohibited. Packed together tightly on the pavement and the sidewalks all manner of imaginable and unimaginable characters walk along in a fantastic snapshot.

The perspective of the vignette published here shows us the Carrión building in the background and following along the slope of the avenue with the doubled lamps of the lightposts in the middle of the road, almost in the foreground, the La Adriática building (1928), the Avenida cinema (1928), the Palacio de la Música (1928) and, finally, at left, the [mixed-use] housing and office building in which one would find the Regente Hotel (1926). Closer to us, still, we see a multitude of people mixing with one another. Sailors and blouses carousing from dusk until dawn; morning cyclists moving at top speed along the Gran Vía; excursionists in search of the Cañada Real that will carry them to the Castellana, toward Chamartín or Colmenar; lost skiers with their winter gear heading for the slopes; stunned country bumpkins, ristras of seasoned pork; families with small children passing through in search of a park’s fresh air; sellers of recently made churros; hot-churro thieves; tourists who are spent, recovering, aboard buses and ready for it all; pairs of guards, with loaded rifles, their minds wandering; motorists leveling and deafening others with their powerful machines; armed hunters pursuing cats or pigeons; milkmen bored from such bad work; sentries with keys and stick on their backs; musicians playing or else taking a break, but no less animated; the accidental injury, a car propped up against a lamppost, itself in good spirits; city streetwashers using the hose to spray soldiers who happily shower naked in the middle of the street; resigned prostitutes; happy young drunk ladies; women who are also drunk and also happy; men who are quite content; ruffians taking advantage of the happiness of others; children selling newspapers; men with smiles who are hanging from the lampposts; fishermen with their rods, baskets and bait, heading for the high river basin of the Manzanares or toward the Henares or the Jarama or the Alberche or the Perales, which sometimes boasts its own fish. Many people and much happiness in this summer of 1934, 78 years ago. It might have been like the summer of 2012, or perhaps better said [if only the summer of 2012 had been like that summer 78 years ago].

[Museum Exhibit, Paris] The Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine takes on Urban Mobility

Fellow Readers/Bloggers:

If you are heading to Paris before the end of August you might want to check out the current temporary exhibit at the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine. This museum used to be known as the Musée des monuments francais [c cédille] and is situated in the Palais de Chaillot, which sits across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower.
The exhibit is called “Circuler. Quand nos mouvements faconnent [c cédille] nos villes,” or “Flow. When Movement Shapes Our Towns,” (their translation). By way of introduction, the museum’s website offers the following short text, of interest as it shows the ambitious nature of the ideas the exhibit tries to get across to visitors:

[begin quote]

Our lives are made up of moments of activity and inertia, comings and goings, arrivals and departures. Space within towns and between towns is organized to support this constant movement. From the earliest days almost, towns were structured to allow for both the gathering of men, and their accumulated wealth, and, at the same time, to facilitate movement and encourage meetings and interaction.

The exhibition offers the visitor the opportunity to follow the development of urban design through the ages and explore the urban spaces and buildings which are a consequence of man’s movement across the land. The exhibition incorporates both real-world movement, dating back thousands of years, together with today’s virtual movement. Streets and squares, roads, motorways or railways, ports, caravanserail, stations and terminals, compact cities and sprawling towns – these are just some of the places and concepts, born out of our desire for movement, which punctuate the history of our land. The exhibition takes the visitor on a playful and sensory journey, presented as a theatre set. Reconstructed roads, computer generated images, films, soundtracks composed by Louis Dandrel and Bernard Lubat, transport the visitor through time and space, leading him to reflect on his environment and future. While the 20th century was characterised by a sort of “transport war” strongly influenced by the myth that progress equalled speed, the start of this century represents a time to question our travel and movement patterns. The exhibition makes numerous novel suggestions about how man can organize his life of motion. In this exhibition, Jean-Marie Duthilleul illustrates how town development should achieve a subtle balance – a balance that needs to be constantly adjusted – between movement and stillness, between places you stay in and places you pass through. When you design a town, you are designing a system to accommodate groups of people and allow for interaction. Thus the town is the result of a constant dialectic between mobility and immobility.

[end quote]

As has become common for temporary exhibitions, a celebrity of sorts has been designated as ‘commissaire’ of the exhibit: not really curators, they lend their prestige, fame, or institutional gravitas to the exhibit, in addition to any design input or writing they may contribute. For this one, architect Jean-Marie Duthilleul, who has an interesting professional connection to the subject: he has had a hand in designing dozens of train stations, both new and remodels. (A partial list of his projects can be found on the French-language Wikipedia, here.) For this reason, one of the stronger points of the exhibit is in fact the material on French train stations near the beginning of the tour. Another strong point worth highlighting here has nothing to do with train stations: near the end of the tour, the curators have prepared some very interesting ways to map how often, where, and when Parisians use their cell phones using data from Orange’s cell network (a corporate sponsor of the exhibit, btw). Visitors can observe mappings of cell-phone use in the city on certain important dates like New Year’s Eve, during the Fête de la Musique, etc. Adjusting some parameters the same data can be used to trace the routes and distances inhabitants take through the city–which, if one had more control over the datasets, would allow for potentially very rich ways of visualizing how urban spaces are used by various subsets of users. (Including mappings that would be akin to the bubble-map of Budapest bicycle use posted below).

Does the exhibit work, in the sense that it might successfully convey important observations and assertions from mobility and urban studies to a mass audience? Meh, in my view it’s a mixed bag. It’s certainly an interesting exhibit for visitors who go in with a particular affinity for the topics and in seeing how they handled, but it may not generate much excitement or enthusiasm in those who don’t. At times it’s too abstract and misses opportunities to engage the visitor, and at others it’s too focused on gadgetry and downright naively utopian. Still, I think it’ll be of interest to readers of this blog–check it out and post your thoughts here!

To Live under an Illuminated Tent: The City Dark (2011)

I just watched the documentary by Ian Cheney titled “The City Dark” (2011)–> another interesting perspective on the city and culture–light/darkness. A few minutes in, Ian states that living in New York is like living under an illuminated tent. An astronomer at City College Staten Island says he never saw as much of the sky as when the northeast was experiencing a blackout; interviews with an astronaut, neurologist, Med. school scientist, cosmologist, lighting designer, and of course Neil deGrasse Tyson, who says that (by his own admission “it is a sickeningly urban thing to say” [my emphasis]) the real night sky he sees when on mountaintops at times reminds him of the planetarium he experienced as a kid. The city is clearly a center of light, of brightness, that has aided in changing the natural rhythms experienced by human beings on the earth, and perhaps even obscuring, alienating us from the sky (here Lefebvre’s work on daily life, capital’s effect on rhythms and the lot seems to me to be deeply relevant).