Filed under: Anthropology, Architecture, Ideas, Philosophy | Tags: Architecture, Biopolitics, capitalism, Design, Latour, Philosophy, Politics, Sloterdijk
That was the philosophical catchphrase proclaimed by the self-described “Sloterdijkian” Bruno Latour during his portion of a public lecture with Peter Sloterdijk at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design a couple of weeks ago.
Taking as its theme, “Networks and Spheres: Two Ways to Interpret Globalization”, the tandem lectures and discussion was a sweeping journey through very basic issues of space, dwelling, and modes of design required to meet the demands our current socio-spatial conditions.
Peter Sloterdijk quietly approached the lectern after being introduced by GSD Dean Moshen Mostafavi and lectured with a measure of understatement and modesty. In the form of a self-colloquy, Sloterdijk introduced listeners to the main features of his three-volume Spharen (Spheres) project, citing VonUexkull, Benjamin, LeCorbusier, and a view of psychedelic capitalism as exemplified by the structure heralding the birth of mass culture: London’s Crystal Palace. Taking seriously the notion of space as a key anthropological category, Sloterdijk develops a heuristic questioning the home or the dwelling as the primary philosophical space in a context of profoundly fragile spatial and social complexity.
In the sense that ethos designates a habitat or “accustomed space”, the home is the site western philosophy and ethical thinking. Instead, Sloterdijk proposes the flexible, structures of spheres and foams as structuring spatial relations (whether biological or interpersonal) noting that the task of architecture is to understand its place between biology (dealing with atmosphere or environment) and philosophy (whose inquiry is oriented towards the world). Sloterdijk’s lecture hinted at architecture’s biopolitical vocation in the design and construction of habitats organizing space in dynamic constellations of spheres and islands.
Sloterdijk concluded his portion by noting architecture’s contribution to scientific discovery. He cited the early biologists’ use of the architectural terminology used in the design of monasteries to inspire their study of microscopically experienced structures, saying that “the real owner of the use of the cell is the community of architects…”
An energetic Bruno Latour followed. Drawing upon Sloterdijk, he announced at the very beginning of his lecture, “I was born a Sloterdijkian!” To test out the ideas of spheres and networks in his proposed thought experiment, he took to task contemporary internet-based notions of networks against his understanding of networks as inspired by Leibniz’s monadology and Diderot. Latour equally takes to task Heidegger’s ontological enterprise, which he claims, superficially considers the atmosphere of the world at its peril. Biopolitics again reared its head, this time in the midst of a critique of Heidegger’s fundamental ontology. In Latour’s words,
The Dasein is thrown into the world, but so naked that he doesn’t stand much chance to last. …the respective relations between death and superficiality are suddenly reversed. There’s not the slightest chance to understand being when it has been cut off from the vast numbers of apparently “trifle” [sic] and “superficial” “little beings” that make it exist from moment to moment…In one stroke, the philosopher’s quest for being as such, looks like an antiquated research program.
Latour’s lecture simultaneously glossed on Sloterdijk’s and challenged philosophic thought to re-think itself by diving into the material conceptions and conditions of our dwelling and recast the split between nature and culture in terms of spheres and networks. This provocation calls on us to consider justice and equality as operative in environments where space is needed, spherically structured, and mediated by circuits of networks. In a parody of Heidegger, “Tell me what is your position on space, and I’ll tell you who you are…” he proposes a dead-serious litmus test for philosophers and architects alike to consider. Towards the end of the lecture, his reverie along theological, economic, political, spatial, and historical lines illustrated the urgency of such a project.
- Last week’s coverage of the event from The Harvard Gazette can be found here.
- The GSD has video of the lecture here.
- A special issue of Environment and Planning dedicated to Sloterdijk has a pair of essays by Sloterdijk and a number of commentaries.
Image: From left, Bruno Latour, Peter Sloterdijk, and Moshen Mostafavi at the “Networks and Spheres” discussion at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, February 17, 2009. Photo by Stephanie Mitchell, Harvard University News Office.
Filed under: Chicano, Philosophy | Tags: Badiou, capitalism, cybernetics, Freedom, Lowriders, more than just artifacts, Nicola Villa, political economy, Speed, Temporality, Walking
One of Infinite Thought’s recent posts on walking/stomping mentions some reflections of Alain Badiou’s that seem to channel Paul Virilio’s dromological musings:
’To an epoch such as ours, nothing circulates as fast as capital, its merchandise and its communications, it exists as a particular oppression bearing time which is translated as the normal speed to which the subject must bend. I speak purposefully here of a structural speed. It is very different from the capacity for a sudden decision as is necessary for the subject exposed to an event. To this imposed rapidity, I oppose this maxim: ‘go slow/be slow/slowness’. A maxim which, remember, was already explicitly to the fore in certain workers struggles of the 1970s. ‘Go slow down the imposed speed of production needed for it to work its proper rhythm’.
In the same post, the friend who passed on this excerpt from a lecture on Plato to Infinite Thought recalled an anecdote about freedom and the pace of walking from an encounter with Badiou.
‘When Badiou was down here J Clemens and I were walking with him down the street. We had to keep stopping and turning to wait. He made a joke of us and he told us that for the Greeks to walk slowly was the privilege of free men.’
On the one hand, I couldn’t keep myself from thinking about the lowrider, that cybernetic Chicano contribution to car culture that is more signifier than tool. In light of Badiou’s commens, the lowrider’s calling to cruise “low and slow” is more than a sign of resistance against a dominant culture consuming vehicles for commerce-oriented transport and circulation, i.e., for participation in the political economy. The lowrider can also operate as a sign of freedom, using the car outside of the circuits of transport and work. The lowrider’s not built for speed, but for show. They are cars that precisely don’t work, revealing a leisure unavailable to capital’s rapid circulation. I defy you to speed along in a bouncing or tilted car. This, in spite of non-emancipatory tendencies within lowrider culture.
One could only imagine Badiou at a lowrider show.
(For an example of “low and slow” see 0:24, 2:20, and 3:35 in the video below.)
On the other hand, thoughts return to walking. Being harried, walking fast-really fast-is the mark of a typical commute. Mercilessly, I slash through the spaces opened up between people on sidewalks or subway passage to at least think that I’m either dampering my habitual tardiness or even approaching punctuality. It is a mark of my servitude to the wage, a monstrous Hyde-like tendency that gives way to a relaxed dawdle during the weekend, when I would like to not be hurried, entertaining the (not-so) decent Dr. Jekyll in me. Captialism and schizophrenia? Why yes, me thinks so.
The decisive matter in all of this, as mentioned by IT’s friend in the post, is the mastery of temporality, a concern that has dogged me since first hearing about the ‘moment’ in Kierkegaard as an undergraduate. More on that later, perhaps.
Images: Lowrider from howstuffworks.com; Nicola Villa,“Walking”, 2007, “So f*cking lonely”, 2008. (More fantastic images of walking at her site…)