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.
A mid-length Palgrave Pivot book being released here.
‘Making a strong case for interdisciplinary layering as a way to represent the many layers – physical, social, aesthetic – of the city, Fraser’s visionary book is as much a meditation on the future of the digital humanities itself as it is on the city as an object of humanistic inquiry. He cogently charts a course for how humanists will employ thick mapping as a way to practice the digital humanities.’ [–David J. Staley, Associate Professor of History and Adjunct Associate Professor of Design, Director of the Goldberg Center at The Ohio State University, USA]
Digital Cities stakes claim to an interdisciplinary terrain where the humanities and social sciences combine with digital methods. Part I: Layers of the Interdisciplinary City converts a century of urban thinking into concise insights destined for digital application. Part II: Disciplinary/Digital Debates and the Urban Phenomenon delves into the bumpy history and uneven present landscape of interdisciplinary collaboration as they relate to digital urban projects. Part III: Toward a Theory of Digital Cities harnesses Henri Lefebvre’s capacious urban thinking and articulation of urban ‘levels’ to showcase where ‘deep maps’ and ‘thick mapping’ might take us. Benjamin Fraser argues that while disciplinary frictions still condition the potential of digital projects, the nature of the urban phenomenon pushes us toward an interdisciplinary and digital future where the primacy of cities is assured.
PART I: LAYERS OF THE INTERDISCIPLINARY CITY
1. What is the City?
2. Art and the Urban Experience
PART II: DISCIPLINARY/DIGITAL DEBATES AND THE URBAN PHENOMENON
3. The Humanities, the Social Sciences and the Digital Sciences
4. What is Urban Totality?
PART III: TOWARD A THEORY OF DIGITAL CITIES
5. What are Digital Cities?
6. Thick Mapping as Urban Metaphor
Epilogue: Bridged Cities (A Calvino-esque Tale)
A robot possessing the urban knowledge of French philosopher and spatial theorist Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991) explores the multidimensional nature of the city. (part 3) This episode draws from Lefebvre’s works Writings on Cities [The Right to the City], The Production of Space, and The Urban Revolution.
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?
Benidorm — a planned resort city on Spain’s coast between Alicante and Valencia — has long been a destination for tourists. I can’t say I’ve been there, but references to the city abound in Spain and in Spanish literature and culture since the 1970s. For example: the opening/intro sequence to each and every episode of the Spanish ‘social science fiction’ show Plutón BRB Nero, which aired in 2008 and 2009 and was directed by filmmaker Álex de la Iglesia, includes a gratuitous/humorous reference to Beniform (see here for an article on the series and on Spanish sci-fi in general) alongside such ‘world class cities’ as London and New York. I remember seeing a Spanish novel titled simply “Benidorm, Benidorm, Benidorm” and — as Álvaro Sevilla Buitrago recently pointed out to me — there is a British sitcom called Benidorm from 2007, which seems to be unavailable in the US but can be ordered on region 2 DVD from the UK. The list likely goes on and on…
The deal is:
that Spanish Sociologist Mario Gaviria — who helped to popularize Henri Lefebvre’s ideas in Spain and who edited/introduced a number of Lefebvre’s books in Spanish versions (The Right to the City, From the rural to the urban [collection]) during the 1970s — also helped to design the resort city that is regarded by many as a blight if not also a victory of consumer society over the landscape. [article here] While I have looked through Gaviria’s books at Spain’s Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid, they haven’t been republished and are unavailable if not also uncatalogued (I asked around at more than a few chain and independent / even architectural-urbanist bookstores). He did some great work on tourism and urbanism, anthropological work, ecological work, but it still seems strange to me that a supposed Lefebvrian had a role in designing Benidorm, much less in touting its advantages over the years…
More links for Spanish readers:
In Madrid I was able to talk with Álvaro Sevilla Buitrago — who runs the multipliciudades blog [for readers of Spanish] and is also editor of the journal “Urban” [web site in Spanish and English here]. Urban has recently published a number of interesting pieces, here is the list of the last four issues in the ‘new series’ of Urban [which was originally launched in 1997]–note the special issue on Henri Lefebvre…
Doreen Massey / Carlos Jiménez Romera, Jorge Leon Casero, María Mercedes di Virgilio & María Soledad Arqueros Méjica & Tomás Guevara, Jesús Leal & Miguel Martínez & Antonio Echaves & Enrique García / Alexandre le Maître / Estíbaliz López de Munain & Leire Romero & Victoria Vázquez
Los conflictos de la ciudad contemporánea / Conflicts of contemporary cities
Don Mitchell / Alain Bertho, Fabrizio Bottini & María Cristina Gibelli, Cristina Fernández Ramírez & Fernando Roch Peña, Imanol Zubero, Luis Miguel Valenzuela Montes & Julio Alberto Soria Lara, Clara Irazábal & Gabriel Fumero
Espectros de Lefebvre / Spectres of Lefebvre
Grégory Busquet / Jean-Pierre Garnier, Laurence Costes, Cynthia Ghorra-Gobin, Kanishka Goonewardena, Peter Marcuse, Andy Merrifield, Thierry Paquot, Claire Revol, Carlos Sánchez-Casas, Łukasz Stanek / Christian Schmid
Los futuros de la planificación / Planning Futures
John Friedmann / Neil Brenner, Jamie Peck & Nik Theodore / Erik Swyngedouw / Frank Eckardt / Jordi Borja / Stuart Elden & Derek Gregory
I stumbled across this project by a group of Amsterdam University-based students of new media who are putting together videos and Henri Lefebvre’s remarks on rhythmanalysis.
They write that:
“Our videos employ main themes of Lefebvre’s book such as rhythm and capitalism, critique of everyday life, rhythm, sound and the city, flows of capital and flows of crowds etc. The videos are not meant to illustrate the book but rather to engage into the theory of Lefebvre in depth through practice, through observation and art. Moreover, the blog contains several additional readings to the topic and other activist/artist projects based on the same themes.”
The site is here:
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.
I just returned from delivering an invited lecture at the University of Kentucky, which I titled:
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!