Carceri d’invenzione by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1750)
For the last ‘episode’ of this series of articles around the work of Michel Foucault, I would like to evoke the second favorite Foucauldian concept (the first one being the panopticon) that architects like to use, the heterotopia. As a matter of fact, this term, dropped in the architectural discourse became almost an argument in itself like an incantation – and I plead guilty about that myself for having used it often without any real meaningful deepening. The responsibility for that can only be half devolved to architects as this concept has been only loosely defined by Foucault himself, who was probably not considering it as one of his strongest inventions.
The word heterotopia is first used by Foucault in his preface of The Order of Things (1966) for which the topos (space) involved is a metaphorical space in the language. Few months later, he dedicates one of his two lectures for the radio broadcast France Culture (audio at the end of the article) -the other one being the Utopian Body quoted in another article- to this concept. In 1967 eventually, he writes a text entitled Of Other Spaces (text at the end of the article), which transcribes the radio lecture on paper and add to it a list of principles that defines the heterotopia. Two main characteristics of those ‘other spaces’ consists in their circumscription by a clear border as well as the prevalence of specific rules that are applied on this territory.
The examples given by Foucault are so various (gardens, ships, prisons, cemeteries, vacation village, museums, brothels) that we might want to wonder what they have in common. If we follow the concept of heterotopia, what they have in common is their difference (hetero) with the dominant space (topos). The problem, in that case, is that a space cannot be declared as heterotopia as such, but rather is an heterotopia from the point of view of another space. For the sailor, the ship is not an heterotopia; it is the milieu that he lives in and for which he participates to construct a norm. When he finally set foot on an island, he is experiencing this other space which establishes rules that he is not fully accustomed to. Every space is delimited and is subjected to rules, rites and norms and can therefore be considered as heterotopia from the point of view of another space.
Although this title is very ambitious, the following article will only focus on Michel Foucault‘s reading of a specific architectural typology, the hospital, and even more specifically, the “physical” hospital rather than the psychiatric institution for which he also dedicated a lot of his work. In October 1974, Foucault gives a few lectures at The Institute of Social Medicine in Rio de Janeiro. The third one is transcribed under the name The Incorporation of the Hospital into Modern Technology (see text at the end of the article) and will appear in various volumes, including the very interesting Space, Knowledge and Power: Foucault and Geography edited by Jeremy W. Crampton and Stuart Elden (Ashgate 2007.)
Through this text, Foucault as an archeologist of ideas introduces a shift in the 18th century -era that marks the beginning of modernity in many texts he wrote- from a place to die to a place to be cured. He starts his text with the research accomplished respectively by John Howard and Jacques Tenon in the 1780′s which led to the careful reading of how space was influencing the recovery or the death of a patient:
The last ‘episode’ of this series was based on a text in which Gilles Deleuze was referring to a chapter of Discipline and Punish in order to analyze Michel Foucault‘s interpretation of the power as a strategy rather than a possession. From this chapter, entitled The Body of the Condemned, we can extract a shorter excerpt that will be the topic of this article; we can call it The Political Technology of the Body (text at the end of the article). Through it, Foucault attempts to propose a reading of the body, not as a biological organism, but rather as a target for a political subjection as much as an anatomical mean of production:
the body is also directly involved in a political field; power relations have an immediate hold upon it; they invest it, mark it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies, to emit signs.
the body becomes a useful force only if it is both a productive body and a subjected body. This subjection is not only obtained by the instruments of violence or ideology; it can also be direct, physical, pitting force against force, bearing on material elements, and yet without involving violence; it may be calculated, organized, technically thought out; it may be subtle, make use neither of weapons nor of terror and yet remain of a physical order.
Panopticon plan by Jeremy Bentham (1791)
In the last ‘episode’, I was evoking the will of Michel Foucault to be considered as a cartographer. In a text written for the journal Critique (dec 1975), Gilles Deleuze proposes an analysis of the book Surveiller et Punir: Naissance de la prison (Discipline and Punish: The birth of the prison) under the title: Un Nouveau Cartographe (A new cartographer). Through this text, Deleuze introduces Foucault’s method to map the mechanisms of power (which legitimizes somehow the fact that he has been called a structuralist) as well as his very definition of power: (French original version is at the end of this article)
[Power] is less a property than a strategy, and its effects cannot be attributed to an appropriation ‘but to dispositions, manoeuvres, tactics, techniques, functionings’; ‘it is exercised rather than possessed; it is not the “privilege”, acquired or preserved, of the dominant class, but the overall effect of its strategic positions.’
Power has no essence; it is simply operational. It is not an attribute but a relation: the power-relation is the set of possible relations between forces, which passes through the dominated forces no less than through the dominating, as both these forces constitute unique elements
Drawing by André Masson for Georges Bataille’s journal: Acéphale (1936-39)
”Mon Corps, Topie Impitoyable.” With these words, Michel Foucault starts his radio-lecture for France-Culture, The Utopian Body in 1966 (English translation transcript and French original radio version below). Those four words have been translated in English by “My body, pitiless place” but it does not commute its meaningful vibrancy when pronounced verbally. Without understanding French, you can still probably fathom the inexorable characteristics of the topos (place in greek) associated to its verbal inverse, pito of impitoyable.
This key sentence is revealing the difficulty of the text despite its accessible style. Through it, Foucault establishes a dialectical strategy to introduce the relationship between the body and utopias. His first argument for which utopias have been created to escape from this topie impitoyable is only enunciated in order to be denied later by his real thesis. The latter places the body as “the point zero of the world”, the center of each perception and by extension, the center of every utopia:
Potere Operaio (Worker Power) in the late 60′s Italy
In 1977, Anti-Oedipus -written by Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze in 1971- is released in its translated American version with a preface written by Michel Foucault. Through this short text, Foucault praises Anti-Oedipus, calling it “a book of ethics” as it proposes a non-totalizing subjectivity to interpret the human body and its social involvement. As always, he is interested in the relations of power implied in Deleuze and Guattari’s writings and he finishes his text by describing how they managed to “to neutralize the effects of power linked to their own discourse.” In this dimension, lies an important aspect of Foucault’s analysis of the mechanisms of power. Even resistance to a dominant power carries its own logic of power and, in this regard, requires to be thought and acted with awareness and precaution. That is how, in this text, Foucault comes up with a sort of invective to each ‘resistant’ in the form of a manifesto:
Today, I would like to start a series that will attempt to do for Michel Foucault what I managed to do with Gilles Deleuze in June 2011: an entire week dedicated to the philosopher with one article a day. For this occasion, I would like to open a new category in the blog’s archives, listing the articles dedicated to Foucault. In fact, this kind of series is as much an opportunity to think about such a rich work like Foucault’s, as to construct an archive of a thinker who strongly influences the way the problems questioned on this blog are being interrogated and though about.
In order to remain awake and critical of a work, which itself was advocating for a continuous criticality towards mechanisms of power whichever they were, I would like to start this week with a piece of text in which I believe that Foucault underestimated the (oppressive) power of architecture.
This text (see below) is extracted from an interview he did with Paul Rabinow in 1982 and that is often used by architects as an alternative to the recurrent and often misunderstood interpretation of the panopticon (that we will probably not discuss about this week). Architecture is specifically named and addressed in it and therefore constitutes an easy entrance door to Foucault’s work for architects. In this regard, in addition of being published in The Foucault Reader edited by Paul Rabinow himself (Penguin, 1991), one can also find it in the very useful Architecture Theory since 1968 edited by K. Michael Hays and published by the MIT Press (2000).
Bridge supplemented by sand bags to protect its users against snipers in Sarajevo. Photograph by Abbas (Magnum)
The book Sarajevo Za Pocetnike (Sarajevo for beginners) written by Bosnian author Ozren Kebo has been translated into French (Bienvenue en Enfer: Sarajevo Mode d’Emploi) but not into English. I thought that it would be a good idea to translate some short excerpts here however bad my translating skills might be.
This book is a description of the daily life in Sarajevo during its siege (1992-1995) by the Serbian army. The form is often humorous while the content is always tragic, thus illustrating an important mean to resist the horror of the war: the derision of the situation. O. Kebo describes a city whose entire infrastructure has been revealed by war, yet this infrastructure is obsolete only acts as the memory of the functioning city:
unofficial English translation: In Sarajevo there is chaos. If you look up, you won’t see the sky but rather wires, millions of wires. Everybody did some cheap wiring. The entire city is a gigantic electrical network and yet, nobody has electricity. If you look down, no more asphalt, just pipes. All the streets are ripped open, and yet, nobody has gas. All transport jerry cans. Millions of jerry cans on millions of wood carts and yet, nobody owns more than twenty liters at home.
When I first watched Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer about four years ago, I wrote an article about it that would have deserved a deeper analysis. That is why I decided to re-watch it today and write a bit more about it.
This film introduces a near future in which a young Mexican farmer facing the militarized privatization of water resources on a daily basis and who see his house destroyed by a drone piloted from the United States. He then moves to Tijuana where he earns in life by working in a sleep dealer, a factory in which the mind and energy of Mexican labor workers are being used through body-plug connections linked to various working machines in the US.
The views of the factory are the most striking images of the film as they fully reconstruct the imagery of the assembly line factory as we currently know it while having the object of production disappeared from this same imagery. The workers’ bodies still endure the physical labor and its repetition, yet the product of their work is situated on the other side of the border. The connection cables are the only link from the laborer to this product and the violence with which they penetrate his body expresses the power of the exploitation. It is probably not innocent that those cables make the workers appear as puppets in a literal illustration of the dispossession of their body.
In 1961, for her first exhibition, Niki de Saint Phalle shot her paintings on which several little bags of paint were bleeding on the canvas when they were pierced by the bullet. Maybe Enki Bilal got inspired by such a performative art for his character of Opus Warhole (see previous article).
District B13 Ultimatum, directed by Patrick Alessandrin (2009)
After a photographic and an historical interpretation of what I called for this series’ purposes, Fortress Paris, this third part introduces its cinematographic (literal) adaptation of this topic. The film Banlieue 13 (District B-13) and its sequel Banlieue 13 Ultimatum materializes to the extreme, the policies of exclusion of the Parisian proletarian suburbs. In these movies, the suburbs are surrounded by a high wall which leave the inside population to its own fate in a similar way than the film Escape from New York created by John Carpenter in 1981 in which Manhattan was walled, thus imprisoning its criminal inhabitants.
In this interpretation the suburbs incarnate a perfect example of Michel Foucault’s notion of heterotopia (see previous article and the cinematographic series). It is the other space, delimited with access filters and which applies its specific rules different from the milieu that surrounds it. Similarly to many institutional heterotopias, the suburban one does not leave any choice to its inhabitants to leave it through the militarization of its border. Just like the psychiatric hospital or the prison (one might add the school and the factory to a certain extent), it thus constitutes an authoritarian heterotopia and acts as a mechanism of control for society.
In a less ‘spectacular’ aesthetics but with a more solid and touching scenario/directing/acting, I cannot not recommend Mathieu Kassovitz’s first film La Haine (1995) in which the walls are not as visible but evidently exist.
Following the last article about Fortress Paris, I would like to introduce the book Paris sous Tension (Paris under tension) written and edited by Eric Hazan, director of one of my very favorite publishers, La Fabrique. The book is written in French, and I will quote extensive excerpts in this article but I will also try to summarize in English their object. Its various chapters explore Paris from 1814 to its contemporary era -the book was published in 2011- through the narrative of a continuous conflict between the intelligentsia who are designing the city associated with its means to maintain the order on the one hand, and the proletariat who has to survive and empower itself despite this urban organization. In this regard, it can be compared to the more recent book Rebel Cities written by David Harvey and that I have been writing about in a previous article. For the purpose of this short review, I will organize the excerpts in eight small chapters that are not related to the book’s own organization:
This article is the first one of a trio which will investigate the architectural elements that makes Paris, a contemporary fortress. The Boulevard Périphérique (highway ring) around it, marks its geographical limit and embodies the latter in a solid barrier of low porosity. Of course, the city walls are not as evidently militarized than its 19th century ancestor, the Thiers fortifications built in 1844 on the same route than the current Périphérique and carrying the name of the character who slaughtered the Paris Commune few decades later. However, the will of ‘defending’ Paris’ integrity against the exterior is still strong and expressed in a (barely) more subtle way. At the exception of the Western suburbs -where the highest social classes live- the city is very difficult to access from its surroundings thus materializing the policies of social exclusion at work in Paris.
The physical border that separates the center of the city from its suburbs is embodied not only by the Périphérique but also, on its side, by various zones differing from the simple state of no-man’s land to various zones of office buildings, malls or other non-residential program that scarify the threshold between inside and outside. In order to illustrate this buffer zone that is well-known of Parisians -at least those who have to experience it on a daily basis- I selected sixteen views (see below) from google street in which you can see how the entrance in Paris materializes. I tried to keep as a visual continuity, the small sign announcing Paris like in every towns in France. By doing so, I wanted to insist on the graphic contrast between the function of this same sign (its welcoming status) and its actual environment which constitutes a gate -and that is indeed their official name- to the Fortress Paris.
See part 2: Paris sous Tension by Eric Hazan
and part 3: The Suburban Heterotopia
Claude Cahun- I Extend My Arms (1931)
Part of what I am interested in this guest writers essays series, is the difference of narrative style between my guests’ texts. Some of them are very academic and some others, like this one, are much more personal in the way they constitute a manifesto. In this regard, I will try to write my introduction in a similar personal approach than the one chosen by Caroline Filice Smith for her essay (the 28th of the series) Briefly on Walking.
I was recently invited to tale part in my friend Sofia’s end of the semester jury in an Eastern American school of architecture, and I got implicitly yet strongly caught for what I regret to call, latent chauvinism for a comment I made, you know one of these comments in which you think that you’re being daring to talk about eroticism. Although this comment was not addressed specifically to a gender or another, few minutes of reflection made me realize that my discourse was indeed ‘phalocentric’ (if you allow me this neologism !) as it included exclusively in itself the vision of a male who ‘has the ownership over his own body in the public space’ to use Caroline’s phrasing. In other words, one do not need to be actively antagonist to a gender, a race, a class to be fully part of a phalocratic, racist or socially oppressive system. Only a clear understanding of our characteristics (in the western world they would be: white, male, heterosexual, healthy…) which makes us part of a dominant cast can help us to actively refuse (the acceptance can be passive, but the refusal is necessarily active) to socially embody these same characteristics.
Hans Poelzig as photographed by August Sander
San Rocco Magazine is calling for paper for their fifth issue which is entitled Scary Architects. In a skillful mix of humor and seriousness, the magazine’s editors propose, not only an abstract of what they would like their new issue to be about, but also a small historical exposé on who could be called a scary architect, in recent and ancient history. From Phalaris to Ricardo Boffil via Edwin Abbott and Hans Poelzig, they establish a surprising yet interesting affiliation of architects who chose to orient architecture’s scariness towards their own manifesto. Many of them have built behemoth buildings which seem to be able to wake up anytime and destroy their puny neighbors. In general a building’s scariness seems to come from the feeling of this building’s autonomy; it then acquire a non-anthropomorphic quasi-living status which have escape from the human control.
I thought that it would be a good document to have in the blog’s archives so I copied the text and added illustrative photographs to it.
Visualizing Palestine is an open collective which attempts to demonstrate graphically the injustice to which the Palestinians are subjected to in the current apartheid -or colonization depending on whether you consider the territory Palestine/Israel as one sovereignty or two. After an historical document on the hunger strike to support Khader Adnan who was doing one to protest against his detention in an Israeli prison without having been charged with anything, they just released a map of Israel/Palestine (see above) illustrating the segregative characteristics of the road system on this territory. The West Bank and East Jerusalem are indeed full of highways that are forbidden to Palestinian cars as they link the Israeli territory to the numerous illegal civil settlements in the occupied territories (see my previous article about the Route 443). In addition to that, the map shows how the totality of roads accessible to Palestinians to link their main cities together are highly restricted as they are punctuated regularly by more or less heavy duty checkpoints which can ultimately cut any form of physical communication between the various towns of the West Bank.