Lefebvrebot on the city (2) Rhythms

A robot possessing the urban knowledge of French philosopher and spatial theorist Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991) explores the multidimensional nature of the city. (part 2) This episode draws from Lefebvre’s work on Rhythmanalysis.

Henri Bergson & Henri Lefebvre Mashup on Cities_Space (Part 1)

Philosophers Henri Bergson (1859-1941) and Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991) said some remarkably similar things on space if not also cities (despite the fact that Lefebvre “hated Bergson’s guts” as scholar Andy Merrifield has accurately reported) [see article here for more].

This mash-up is a result of the fact that I evidently had too much time on my hands and decided to work my way through some internet problems: file conversions, uploading audio, text2speech…

See if you can tell which lines are Bergson’s and which are Lefebvre’s… (as spoken by computerized voice, ‘Alex’)

I intend to post parts two and three later and then the script.

Lisabö’s Urban Soundscapes (music and the city)

Even if you don’t understand the Spanish narration/Basque lyrics, take note of the TWO DRUM KITS in the video–hard sound, great music, and most relevant of all, the title of the album is EZLEKUAK (non-cities) a reference (on purpose or not…) to Marc Augé’s essential reading Non-Places: An Anthropology of Supermodernity [here’s a brief review in The Guardian].

This is one of my favorite bands [here are some more song samples on myspace]. They are from the Basque city of Irun and claim as influences such small-label Anglophone bands as Low, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Shellac, June of 44, and Fugazi.

I’m hoping to publish on the band with 33 1/3’s acclaimed series of books on popular music, but since that is incredibly competitive (and since the Basque theme may put the proposal at a disadvantage–despite the increasing focus on books written in a more academic style), I might have to find another venue. Here’s a draft introduction I wrote for a wider audience:

Lisabö’s Urban Soundscapes

Betwixt, between and across the Pyrenees—the mountain range separating Spain and France—there lie the seven lands of the Basque Country, or Euskal Herria as it is known in the Basque language. None other than noted cineaste Orson Welles (the director of Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons) traveled there in the 1950s as part of a BBC television series titled Around the World. Placing his camera “directly on an international border” of a “little-known corner of Europe,” [link to youtube video] Continue reading

Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space in New York City

A new, exciting museum is being planned to keep alive the rich history of reclaimed urban space in New York City. The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space, MoRUS, will be located in the storefront of the historic East Village building C-Squat and will house artifacts like videos, photographs, fliers, posters and communiqués by grassroots community members who have squatted abandoned buildings, championed community gardens, and protested the restrictions placed on public space. MoRUS has the potential to strengthen transversal relays between activists and academics, and establish the environment and setting for new social creativity. However, it is not yet open to the public because it still needs additional funding. If you are interested, you can donate here: http://www.crowdrise.com/helpusstartanewhisto.

Urban Voices: The Situationists, Psychogeography and Drift


Formed by the coming together of a number of avant-garde European groups in 1957 and dissolved in 1972, the Situationist International “developed an increasingly incisive and coherent critique of modern society and of its bureaucratic pseudo-opposition, and its new methods of agitation were influential in leading up to the May 1968 revolt in France” (Knabb, “Preface” ix). Guy Debord’s work The Society of the Spectacle (1967), which was to become the most recognized written work produced by a member of the SI, explored the city as itself a commodity-form riven through by capitalist ideology in material form. Consisting of 221 numbered entries, ranging from a sentence to a length of several paragraphs and organized under nine chapter-headings, the work seizes upon the Marxist trope of totality to explain the spectacular nature of contemporary urban and social life: “The spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images” (#4, p. 12); “Understood in its totality, the spectacle is both the outcome and the goal of the dominant mode of production […] it is the very heart of society’s real unreality” (#6, p. 13). Though perhaps revolutionizing Marxism to a certain degree, arguably reformulating a schism between base and superstructure equated with traditional Marxian thought, the focus on the dialectical relationship between thought and action, ideology and material production as well as concepts such as alienation, capital, commodity fetishism, the class character of society, and the triumph of exchange-value serves to reestablish Marxism as an appropriate lens through which to view even those more contemporary qualities of capitalism which Marx himself was perhaps unable to articulate.

The Situationist (psychogeographical method? — drift

“dérive (drift): A mode of experimental behavior linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of transient passage through varied ambiances. Also used to designate a specific period of continuous dériving.” (Guy Debord, “Definitions” 52).

The role of art?

There can be no situationist painting or music, but only a situationist use of these means. (Guy Debord,”Definitions” 52)

[both quotations are from the Situationist International Anthology. Ed. Knabb. Berkeley, Bureau of Public Secrets, 2006. 51-52.]

See an online text library here.

Here’s a 1983 Interview with Henri Lefebvre discussing the Situationists, with whom he shared ideas and had arguments.

Urban Voices: Georg Simmel (on urban movement)

Georg Simmel (1858-1918) was a sociologist of the urban environment who wrote (among other essays) the essay “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” where he in effect describes the modern urbanized consciousness: “The psychological basis of the metropolitan type of individuality consists in the intensification of nervous stimulation which results from the swift and uninterrupted change of outer and inner stimuli” (original emphasis).

Simmel continues: “Lasting impressions, impressions which differ only slightly from one another, impressions which take a regular and habitual course and show regular and habitual contrasts–all these use up, so to speak, less consciousness than does the rapid crowding of changing images, the sharp discontinuity in the grasp of a single glance, and the unexpectedness of onrushing impressions. These are the psychological conditions which the metropolis creates.”

–in a sense, Simmel was an early forerunner of more contemporary urban theorists who define the city in terms of movement and mobility (of which there are too many to count–maybe start with these two journals):



Transfers: Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies

Humanism and Cities

Check out The Open University’s podcast series on “Understanding Cities” (also available through itunes / itunesU): This episode on “Humanism and Cities” features interviews with such thinkers as Nigel Thrift, Saskia Sassen, Ash Amin and focuses on whether a city can be reduced to economics alone… (7 min.)

Urban Voices: Jane Jacobs

Interest in Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) is hardly on the wane… a new scholarly edited volume on her legacy is due out this year (2012) titled The Urban Wisdom of Jane Jacobs edited by Diane Zahm and Sonia Hirt and featuring an essay by Saskia Sassen. There’s also an instructive/educational video with a similar title Jane Jacobs’ Urban Wisdom (It is fairly basic, but includes interviews with Jacobs).

Although the notion of the city as an organism had been used by 19th-century planners (Haussmann, Cerdà), Jacobs recuperated it while arguing that the city was too complex of an organism to be reduced to a static plan. See her classic work The Death and Life of Great American Cities.