The Ghost Boulevard Contents
The Paradox of Soil Economics
“Transition” as a Technology of Power
The Ecology of Power Transitional Imaginaries
The Void In-Between
Transition – a Fiction of Progress
INTRODUCTION Through the lens of my current research in the context of the “transition” from the post Soviet central state to the system of market economy and how does this institutional change impact society and built environment in particular case of Chisinau Moldovan Capital. From the global perspective, I discuss the state of ambiguous global condition of being in between in time and space, not belonging clearly in any political system, while at the same time at least partially shifting within the spheres of influence and territoriality from the East (Russia) and the West (EU), maintaining both the residues of Soviet state bureaucracy and neoliberal policies. New collective and singular subjectivities need to be created and radical transformation of society needs to be proposed. The Transition is a fiction, a grand narrative that frames the condition of ambivalence at all levels of society and produces a setting for fluid transformations of forming institutions and new subjectivities based on the ritual of trial and error. Through the case of the Ghost Boulevard (Boulevard D Cantemir, a Soviet planned boulevard in Chisinau, Moldova from 1947 which was never built but has recently been resurrected perhaps ironically by the new elites as an instrument of real estate development. In its latent state as it is in today, not yet realized and with an uncertain outcome, it may be said that in ambiguous condition this space not only interacts with the transforming legal, institutional and bureaucratic apparatus but also serves as the interface for negotiation, re-evaluation of urban practice which is today in service of ambiguous institutional authority between the state and the economic interests. In this space, distinctions between the real and phantasy are blurred and interchangeable. The state and the bureaucratic apparatus are part of an imaginary, a phantasm of the social unconscious. Within this contested extra legal space, the zone is formed based on dissensus, the space of conflict can be a testing ground for “micropolitical” and “microsocial” practices acting upon the new unconscious. This series of short texts are represent shifts in theoretical perspectives from which to discuss several topics form my own research. The thoughts seem perhaps fragmented and are result of a struggle to shake up my own thinking process. However the chosen topics and titles of the texts are based on current research enquiry and I have attempted to find relations in the given course literature. The topics may or may not be related, just like a collage, there are overlaps but there was no preconceived thought about the overall unity in the topics, except those provided within the course format. The relations between the urban regulations and investigating relations between the law and urban space, changing economomic relations globally, development pressures, changing and evolvng state and economic power apparatuses, etc. are considered and criticaly discussed in terms of myths and narratives and not as given facts and objective sources of knowledge . The first text, The Paradox of Soil Economics is inspired by an article by Peg Row, “Architectural Ecologies of Care” and her critique of the integrated processes produced by the global capitalism and technology in urbanisation of environment. These processes produce images and from the perspective of today, many paradoxical conditions have evoloved through the attempt to “obstruct the machinery” of growth. IN the imaginaries of the 21st Century and in the media, the soil and nature have become indispensable as the new currency that has been intergrated into the complex machinery of the society often indistinguishable from the monetary currency.
In the second text titled, The Void In-Between, I attempt to make links and juxtapose Jane Bennett’s concept of thing-matter with Judith Butler’s interpretation of the concept of performativity whch Butler sees as a “material assemblages” in terms of the political and cultural processes, questioning what is real and natural. The Spatial voids of the in between spaces of the undefined urban spaces of today’s cities are those that are produced not merely by the physical and material objects but by a complex web of relations between living and non living matter in the processes of inventing new realities, new subjectivities clearly not predetermined. The third title, The Ecology of Power, is a brief commentary on the relation between the analyses of the evolution of power and cities by Michelle Foucault and the concept of Governmentality juxtaposed with the visionary text by Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies. The role of aesthetic and visionary cultural engagement is discussed in relation to the conceptualisation of state power by Foucault and the role of the professional architect, urban planner and designer as a facilitator of such power but also a question posed by Guattari through the concept of ecosophy, which are the future carriers of new and necessary transformatory cutlural/aesthetic paradigm. The next three texts, explore various modalities of the term “transitions” used by post socialist urban scholars to define the time period after the fall of the Soviet Union. The text titles are are: Transition as Technology of Power, Transitional Imaginaries and Transition, a Fiction in Progress. Through all three texts, I make an attempt to discuss various interpretations of this concept by different scholars but also to perhaps offer another view of the notion of the transition as the process of myth formation, myth produced by bureucracy, that in turn produces bureuaucracies as a post modernist-process of fragmentation, dislocation as in Fredrick Jameson’s hyperspace and Edward Soja’s readin of the Bonaventura Hotel, I find parallels evolving as a cross continental translation of imaginaries but also through the regulations and policies and through a time lag between variey of transoninental cultural filters emerging as apparitions of the ghosts of Los Angeles in spaces of the present day Chisinau. Another essential question to name a few is the method of research to be deployed in exploring the context where the “capitalocentric discourses of economy” as JK Gibbson-Graham would say have blurred a range of many other perspectives and possible interpretations and therefore it is necessary to study these processes through ethnographic method of research. Transition as an invented bureaucratic but also populist and I would also argue a consumerist myth has manifested only fragments and traces of its objective reality by translating its ambiguity into the spaces of the city, performative and in a sense that it acts as a simlator of the metanarrative in absence of the metanarrative, as ghastly apparation or an object wearing a camouflage. Paradoxicaly, “dominance of the objective spirit” as Georg Simmel would say still persists however in other more ambigious forms. The last and the seventh title is Bureaucratic Phantasies, it is one of the main conceptual constructs of my current research project titled The Ghost Boulevard. This text is also an attempt to bring together many different elements of the conceptual and theoretical inquiry into one unified concept in an attempt to explain and give meaning to the urban phenomenon I have encountered on site. Although mainly based on Foucauldian doscourse and supported by works by Max Webber Jane Butler, I have also examined the topic from theory by by Donna Harraway’s “fruitfull couplings” as means of the merging of politics and fiction as well as the science and fiction that produce new entities. Furthermore, “the partial perspective” is a means to construct not merely alternative’s to objective reality but a method to construct worlds with many possibilities. The state itself is an imaginary construct according to Foucault and the bureaucratic phantasy is both an illusion and a physical reality, it moves between the two back and fourth. In Deleuze’s “Control Society”, one could intepret the connection between the phantasy and juridical norms, the space of suspension, physical, imaginary, in fomr of law or a paragraph, today in terms of internet and through the globa legal order transcending boundaries of state.
The Paradox of Soil Economics The April 2015 edition of “The Economist” magazine front cover featured an image of the dense skyscraper city with a small house in the middle – an obstacle to development. Above the image was a title “Space and the City”. The main focus of the text is based on criticism of the current urban policies in the US cities based on strict regulation of land use while according to the author there is increasing scarcity of urban land. The notion of land is presented in terms of its real estate value and as a crucial economic parameter for growth of the Gross Domestic Product(GDP). The possibility for growth of cities is directly linked to the pace of economic growth. The author argues that the land scarcity is artificially generated by urban regulations and failed urban policies. It also points to the equaly artificially devised disparity between the current land use restrictions, urban development regulations on one side and the evolving economic and cultural development trends in cities worldwide. Furthermore, the current urban regulations don’t keep up with time and demands of society, technical and cultural developments that have put excessive pressure on some global cities and induced greater density (Silicon Valey, New York City, San Francisco, and Mumbai) but the same pressures have also caused depopulation of other urban area, such as in Kentucky. In a way this text is a critique of capitalism while the cure perhaps is seen through more free ecologic or natural capitalism whose forces need to be completely unleashed. “Lifting all the barriers to urban growth in America could raise the country GDP by between 6.5% and 13.5%, or by about 1 trillion – 2 trillion US dollars. It is difficult to think of many other policies that would yield anything like that.” Who could argue with such statistically proven prospect for progress today in time of economic instability and lack of financial security on the global scale? I would further pose the question: Which fear is greater, that of immediate poverty, loss of a job and family income, the immediacy of the basic needs to be fulfilled, such as food, shelter, basic access to health care, etc. or that of destruction of the planet? Which of these fears seems more real in most human minds? At least for the time being, the global climate change is potentially a threat but still abstract and not yet an immediate threat for the most people living in centers of economic power. The article also has a kind of social equality agenda combined and wrapped into the quasy ecological message presented through “green” images of integrated land, city and nature, all expressed in terms of green dollars. The argument is that the restrictions in land use and building height control create greater gap in opportunities, increase cost of living and restrict wealth of the broadest segments of population. San Francisco could, for example squeeze in twice as many buildings in its space and still remain twice half dense as Manhattan. This would offset the cost of housing and office space that is currently at staggering levels, also in negative terms to the economic growth. Increasing urban density is often one of the main arguments for ecologically minded architects and urban planners. The most interesting perhaps feature of this article, perhaps is not its content but how the illustrations and images depict land, plants and soil as printed money growing out of the soil. The economic value becomes therefore not merely a monetary currency but a vocabulary for describing and understanding any relations between nature(the soil) and the city. The plants with leafs are literally depicted as an ecology of economic progress, the money growing out of the land. Therefore the natural cycle of crops and plants is translated into the double message featuring the economic necessity for capitalist growth coupled with an organic and free growth in nature. Advancement of capitalism is associated (perhaps in subliminal way) with free and unconstrained ecology of growth, development of society, equality in terms of financial opportunities and higher quality of life, as an agenda that integrates better and more efficient land use with greater economic and social justice.
In contrast this article could be juxtaposed against the Architectural Ecologies of Care by Peg Row and the art work of Agnes Denes, “The Wheat field – A Confrontation”. There is a chilling similarity as well as a set of contradictions in the use of visual language and message depicted although set from perhaps opposing views. Both the Economist article and the artwork by Agnes Denes are meant to express a certain kind of obstruction, freeing from human imposed bio-political control. Meant as a critique of the manifestations and effects of what Felix Guattari calls, the Integrated World Capitalism, the artwork by Agnes Denes was an act of obstruction, stopping of the machine. In this project Denes constructs a top layer of soil, on an artificially built up land in form of the landfill on the island of Manhattan. This relation between artificiality and nature, the human and non-human, both product of culture and cultivation, in a way represents mirroring between the two images of nature. The artificial soil that was added to the city as a physical construction of the landscape in an attempt to increase a space for an expanding economy and the city. Such artificialy contstructed field is at least for a while a base for another artificially constructed nature – that of crops of wheat (wheat is also an economic product and not necessarily natural). Both, the landfill and crops are a product of human activity and culture. Each are almost equally fragile and temporary. Later, through an ironic twist of fate, both have disappeared. The wheat field was replaced by the Battery Park City and the World Trade Center twin towers were destroyed in the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001.
The Void In-between According to Jane Bennett, the concept of thing-matter is based on the resistance of material forms, their “recalcitrance” and intrinsic vitality when observed have strong impact on humane beings. The cultural forms themselves are those “material assemblages” that place human body at the center of the political and cultural processes that shape perception of what is real or natural. I am interested in readings of urban space as complex of material entities and systems inseparable from human body, activity, production and culture. Bennett’s aim is to raise awareness to the ecological relation between human beings and the power of the material environment by giving it a specific voice. I believe that in particular any human struggle for the primacy in public space necessities the interaction and a strong reliance on the material reality, objects, infrastructures of the city which is not a fixed objective filed of activity but that of conflict and flux. Urban space is an essential arena for political and democratoc struggle. In order to be able to engage in the public discourse, facilitate protests, spatial politics, it is important to refere to two theoretical concepts, the bio-politics by Foucault, and the notion of “performativity” by Judith Butler. Both concepts challenge the boundaries of centrality of power and merge biology, human culture, politics and power with material structures. Bio-politics is a construct of the “bio-power” beyond the state power that controls mental, physical and political bodies of population. It is namely a technology of security, meant to function not as a disciplinary mechanism of the nineteenth century but as a social apparatus of control based on a broader conceptualisation of the state apparatus, beyond the state. Through the interaction of the human body or a group of bodies with urban space at the micro scale or with the planet earth on the macro scale, one could discuss the notion of thing-power as a form of flow of forces, vitality, energies through human bodies but also study ways in which the human energies and the nonhuman overlap and merge. In text “Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street”, Judith Butler discusses the relation between, public political gatherings, protests and demonstrations as performative actions that are inseparable from their environment. Such acts construct the public space, they perform it through conscious and unconscious interactions conducted in the space between the bodies in urban space. The notion of “public” is constructed or projected through an act of this such performance dependent on the existing urban infrastructure. As an essential elements of the performace, the speech and assembly demand material conditions, the public character of that materiality is produced and reproduced. The politics is dependent on the bodies and their appearance. Since the bodies are viewed here as part of the continuous flow of material things, structures, objects, even those essential for human survival such as food and water, housing. The thing power appears most relevant as the means of casting light on the political sphere od ecological engagement that in effect should and may not be viewed as separate issue from the social, economic and cultural transformations and their political implications. Butler refers to Hannah Arendt in reference to how the reality is created throuhg exercise of rights. In other words, the “right to have rights” is not dependent on any political organizations, it is intrinsic and does not rely on the political institutions to legitimize it but instead it comes into life, “the right comes into being when it is exercised”. According to Butler, the very notion of reality is subject to monopolization by those who seek to exclude certain groups from the visible spectrum of reality. The human body is itself a material object - a thing, and as such it is an element of flow of material and non-material forces. Therefore, it could only be conceived as political in terms of the material space and the energy field in the void in the multiplicity of bodies in the given material space. This reality seen as the material continuity in political void in between is essential for the material transformation of the dead materiality to the living environment, the thing-power.
The Red Lines of the Ghost Boulevard slicing relentlessly through spaces, invisible red lines forming voids in between
The Ecology of Power The concept of “governmentality” (governing mentalities) is at the core of the theoretical framework in my own research. Foucault, developed a historical analyses and critic of power that not only controls but also shapes the subject as an object of scientific inquiry and discipline. I believe that there is perhaps an interesting difference in approach between Michel Foucault and Felix Guattari in conceptualising the importance of environment and human subjectivity. According to Foucault, the state is an institutional, physical and administrative apparatus (dispositif ), a system of relations which is not merely shaping the subject but defines the notion of population as the subject of scientific inquiry, a source of knowledge in order to be able to act upon. The subject is shaped indirectly through shaping of milieu (environment). Environment is seen as an object controlled by the apparatuses of security (in town planning) as well as it itself becomes essential in the process of formation of the subject (seen here in broader terms as population). This is especially important in understanding the role of architecture and urban planning as instruments in this process of shaping the environment. Felix Guattari viewes environment from a critical perspective as he describes ecology as a more interdependent system of relations concerning the aesthetics of the future as means to envision and contruct new subjectivities. Guattari reacts to the uncontrollable and homogenous forces of global capitalism that threaten to destroy not only society but also our planet and threaten our existence as species. Therefore, the essential question is that of human relation to ecology and the subjectivity or the creation of the new subject as inseparable from ecology. While environment according to Foucault is shaped but is also meant to shape the population as a means of power, it appears to be conceptualized as an element from within the apparatuses of security on a large scale dependent on scietific knowledge. Unlike Foucault who provides mainly historical analyses of power, Guattari proposes a vision for the future based on shaping subjectivity through the new ethico-aesthetic and ethico-political paradigms. These new visions need to be produced in order to create a more heterogenous identity machine which could be directed towards the future by acting upon human unconscious. Instead of technocratic approach to ecology, Guattari argues that the more comprehensive activity placing focus on “authentic political, social and cultural revolution” needs to occur in order to shape the objectives for the processes of technological advancement.
(I)Legal Bureaucratic Ghosts - Page from the Chisinau Urban Zoning Document with the red lines of the Ghost Boulevard overlay
“Transition” as a Technology of Power The new post-socialist authorities perceived that the total break with the Soviet past was necessary especially in terms of dissolution of the Soviet system of spatial organization, ideological, institutional and social structures. This notion which may be summarized in one sentence as “throwing away the heavy weight of the past” (Stanilov K. 2007) is in essence similar or could be viewed as a parallel process that occurred in the West during the 1980’s and preceded the revolutions in most Eastern European countries when neoliberal doctrines conducted by Thatcher and Reagan dominated the other “transition” – a shift from the Fordist system of production organized within the Keynesian welfare state system to a much more geographically open entrepreneurial system of governance and market based society (Harvey D. 1989). The lessons learned in the West during this process were soon implemented even more radically by IMF, the WTO and the World Bank (Stanilov, K. 2007) in the process of institutional restructuring of societies in CEE countries through privatization, deregulation, decentralization, weakening of the state, strict monetary controls, austerity measures, etc. This time the most radical version of transformation was implemented as a form of “Shock Therapy” and directed by economists, such as Jeffrey Sacks who believed that only radical measures could achieve positive results in the long term. In this context the remains of the socialist system were metaphorically compared to a “ cancerous growth” (Stanilov, K. 20007) that needed to be severed and uprooted in the shortest possible time. This overall institutional transformation has enabled local governments to engage directly with the international and local investors and business and this also transformed the role of the institutions in urban planning. This kind of new role of government as a facilitator of business interests rather then the defender of public interest reveals an essential conflict between two main components of the post socialist transition, the economic shift to market economy and the political process of democratization of society.
Atrium Tower Original structure built during the 1980’s in the Soviet period. Originaly designed to be the headquarters of the ministry of communication and transportation but it was left unfinished and abandoned for 10 years. According to the legend it was leaning and structuraly unstable or teherefore the state could not complete the project. Fot this reason it had to be privatised. During the recent years it was structuraly stabilised and turned into a shopping mall and an office tower. It is unclear who are the owners. According to Vaclav Belohradsky who refers to American sociologist Daniel Bell, there is an inherent conflict in late capitalism that he refers to as “the disjunction of realms”. For Bell, economy, politics and culture are the most important aspects of modern capitalism and if any of the three aspects become extremely dominant in society they negatively affect the other two. For example, the “imperative of maximum efficiency and profit” causes subjugation of society and shifts the balance of political power hugely in favor of those forces whose sole interest is profit making.
Zaikin Park, an illegal road, approved by the municipality runs straigh through it
Thus, “the imperative of equality” as a democratic ideal becomes threatened by growing economic powers and in such case the coexistence of market economy and democracy lie on the shaky grounds. Another notable disjunction in the transition is that of two kinds of transitions: The first is the imaginary transition represented as a populist post-modern and utopian concept reflected in the belief in the life in desire driven consumerism visible in the images on urban billboards and in the media and the other type of transition is the actual bureaucratic process of admission to the European Union. This bureaucratic kind is perhaps the only “real” transition consisted of the relentless machinery of standardisation, seen as the essential to the process of EU accession. According to Alexander Kiossev, “every single sphere of social reality” needs to be synchronized through the implementation of EU standards and by involvement of variety of experts, auditors, controllers, etc. Every single aspect of life is to be adjusted to the new standards and those countries that do not comply with such procedures face severe sanctions. By replacing the Soviet version of biopolitics aimed to produce the new utopian society through centralized system of planning within a given state apparatus, the EU driven biopolitics introduces the process of shaping desirable populations on global scale by imposing norms on their local environment, interacting directly with their cultural habits, influencing daily life and not merely interacting with the classical state as a single center of power. Thus, new more acceptable forms of culture, which assures compliance with EU’s own apparatuses of security aims to produce new citizens.
Transitional Imaginaries Post-Socialist period in CEE counitres is based on the disintegration of the previous centralized system of economy and politics. No one new for sure where the transition exactly would lead after dismantling the communist party and political apparatus. The only perceivable goal was that somehow societies would transform into Western-Style democracies but no theory of transition was ever proposed nor written that would provide guidelines for this process. Every country was supposed to find its own path (Stanilov, K. 2007). However, there is a certain consensus among scholars which interpret the notion of the post-socialist transition as top-down market economy driven economic and institutional transformation accompanied with democratization of politics. According to Ludek Sycora, the development of the post-socialist cities is today governed by the shift towards market economy. Therefore, it could be assumed that the economic restructuring is the main driver of institutional change in the CEE countries. In this context, the institutional reforms were the top-down process of the ideologically based reforms characterized by the departure from the centralized system based on “multiple transformation dynamics” (Sykora, L. and Bouzarovski, S.) consisted of institutional, social and urban transitions. If the economy was conceived as the driving engine of change imposed from the top down, what if the questions are posed from the other end, from within the complex and diverse fabric of society that provide many cultural and social nuances, invisible for the eye of the classical economic science based on their reductive lens. In the Eastern European context the advanced liberal economic policies imported from the west are at the heart of the mechanisms driving the social and institutional transformations. The paradox is that in the West there are calls to “rethink economy as a central organizing cultural frame” (JK Gibbson-Graham 2014). This is exemplified through the calls for alternative thinking by the “Occupy Movement” for example or by other types of social movements critical of the blindness expressed by the “economic orthodoxy” that calls for growth and overarching economic theories, no matter what the consequences for the environment or for the perpetual threat of economic crises. Within economic anthropology studies there are efforts to approach economic practices that are based on “performative rethinking” about economic practices. The important point here is that the diverse economic practices of the everyday are taken into account through the ethnographic studies. This approach takes into account the “rich pallet” of interactions that make up the daily pattern of human life, such as “making a living, surviving, getting by, getting ahead, gaining respect, building a future, maintaining habitats and juggling different regimes of value” (JK Gibbson-Graham 2014). The ethnographic approach is especially relevant in the places where there is an ongoing social change, such as in the post-Socialist transition because they reveal and engage with the complexity of social processes revealing nuances that are invisible through the conventional empiricism. One may claim that an illusion of the linear conception of time represented by the notion of “transition” as conceived within a dominant capitalist economic transformations are the product of the “capitalocentric discourses of economy” (JK Gibbson-Graham 2014) that leave very little space for non-capitalistic imaginaries. The alternative would be to theorize economies that provoke open questions, instead of providing dead ends theories that examine all social change according to the dynamics of capitalist and market economic processes.
Top image: Chisinau General Urban Plan from 1987. Image on the Right: “Micro Infrastructures” Structure built on top of the existing parking garages. Such parking garages were mainly built during the late Soviet period. They were expanded during the early 1990’s due to the increased car ownership. In time such spaces have been converted into villages through illegal construction.
Transition – a Fiction of Progress In the post-Socialist Eastern European context, the “transition” – is a euphemism used to describe the processes of change in the former socialist Central an Eastern European countries that started in 1989 after the collapse of Soviet Union. The “transition” meant a rapid economic and political transformation of twenty eight countries of the former Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries which is about one sixth of the Earth’s total land mass (Hirt S. and Stanilov K. 2009) However, the term “transition” is highly contested and ambiguous. The meaning of the term extends well beyond the rationalist approach of the political economy executed through shrinking of the state, massive privatization of public assets, decentralization, and other neoliberal reforms. The term “Transition” is also problematic since it implies a linear historical progression with a beginning and a projected end toward a perceived goal. It is an attempt to frame historic period of social transformation in the post-socialist Eastern European context within an “end of history” framework of understanding. The fiction of the populist narrative and operative process of legal and institutional transformations are mutually supportive mechanisms of social transformation. Furthermore, there is also a cultural dimension related to transformation of society that has produced a specific kind of a city, today also labeled as the transitional or post-socialist city. The social and cultural transformation of post-socialist Eastern Europe (term “post-socialist” also being a problematic terminology) is associated with the post-modernism where the ideological metanarratives are resisted through commodification of culture, populism and fragmentation. I believe that the narrative of “transition” in terms of the notion of linear path of certainty is a populist fiction that represents a period since 1989 and has after the 25 years lost its meaning in the sense of passage from socialism to market economy and free market capitalism.
Image on the right: Alexei Schuischev, General Plan for Chisinau elaborated during 1945-47. This is when the Boulevard D Cantemir was first proposed.
Image on the right: Neighborhoods along Boulevard D Cantemir near Zaikin park today The transitional or post-socialist city has acquired perhaps new different meanings and today it should be either dismissed as a utopian narrative of progress or it should be studied for its “own logic” (Hirt S. 2012) and in its own right. Bauman claims that the end of socialism is the end of modernity. He links common enlightenment roots of communism and capitalism and considers both socialism and capitalism as products of modernity. According to Sonia A Hirt, post-modernism is a “cultural-epistemological shift” represented through architecture and urbanism of fragmentation, privatization, reduction of private sphere, as well as the abandonment of the ideals of emancipation, etc. Therefore it is possible to relate the post socialist post-modernist city to the Western context of post-modernism. Fredric Jameson, describes post modernism as fascinated with populism and kitsch. He avoids periodization hypotheses because it represents historical periods in linear terms presents a historic moment through massive homogenization and “obliterating differences”. This is why it is important for Jameson to view post-modernism as “cultural dominant” and not merely an aesthetic style. Such conception allows for coexistence of different features within a system of thought.
“Gates of the City”, anticipating entry into European Union The model of two residential towers built during the Soviet period along the Dacia Boulevard in honor of Leonid Breznev. The image of this installation was taken during the celebration of the “Day of the City” festival, celebrated every year in October on the Boulevard Stefan Cel Mare.
While during the times of the socialist modernist state, “shaping space to shape society” (Hirt S. 2012) was the norm and according to Georg Simmel, the modernist culture was defined by the “dominance of the objective spirit over the subjective”, in the post-modern world of late capitalism, the human subject is unable to keep up with evolving surroundings transforming into a “post-modern hyperspace” of the city. Jameson claims that we have not kept up with the evolution of the space since our sensibilities were shaped by the late modernity. While in modernism the imperative of planners and architects was to shape spaces in order to shape society, in transitional and the post-modern world it is the mutating hyper-space that is perceived by human subject as disorientating, ambiguous, mutating space that causes “disjunction of body and its built environment”. The question is therefore, what kind of new subjectivities arise as a result of this hyperspace as the space of disorinentation and if it is even legitimate to link the production of space with the production of new subjectivities today.
Bureaucratic Phantasies Inspired by the surrealist fascination with the bureaucratic operations of the unconscious, I introduce the concept of bureaucratic phantasies. I plan to test the theoretical possibilities of this concept in the realm of the urban conditions through discussion based on urban phenomenon in post-Socialist Chisinau. This concept interrogates the idea of the urban unconscious as an archive of urban memories merging with the continuous processes of refinement of the bureaucracy repeatedly producing fictions projected as holograms into real spaces, more real then reality itself. The memories of unrealized futures, dreams, desires, never told personal histories are processed through the procedural repetitions embedded within austere bureaucratic procedures, calculations and statistics. Hidden in the corridors of the state archives and the urban space itself, today they are unleashed and mutating. Bureaucratic Phantasy is an incomplete bureaucracy, a kind of bureaucracy that leaves room for interaction. It is also possibly a space of resistance and a space with many contradictions and complexities. Through this concept I intend to explore relations between micro realities of urban space and institutions of society involved in social production and reproduction. According to Lyotard, in the post-modern era, there is a “crises of metanarratives” but they have not disappeared. They only made a “passage underground” deep into the unconscious. “This persistence of buried master-narratives is what I have elsewhere called our “political unconscious”(Lyotard). Bureaucratic Phantasy is a concept of material and non-material, human and non-human apparatuses linking the notions of seemingly opposite meanings, that of “phantasy “and “bureaucracy”. The meaning may seem paradoxical only initially, expressed through an inherent conflicts in society, producing mythologies as norms for productions of truth and notions of reality. Its archive of memories operates through urban unconscious, as something not anticipated. Often, in form of a document that suddenly appears or disappears, materializes in reality without apparent reason or meaning. “It matters which stories tell stories, which concepts think concepts. Mathematically, visually, and narratively, it matters which figures figure figures, which systems systematize systems.” (Donna Haraway, History of Consciousness, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA)
Image on the right: Proposal for the future development along the Boulevard D Cantemir by “Chisinau Project”, the municipal architecture and
Bureaucracy is an apparatus and a social institution associated with the state power with unclear boundaries. “Phantasy” accoring to the dictionary formulation “is the faculty or activity of imagining impossible or improbable things”. In order to understand the meaning of bureaucracy, Max Weber argues, one needs to begin to question boundaries of the state as a social phenomenon emerging from beyond the state. Bureaucracy is an invention and part of the phantasy of the society itself, part of its unconscious; it is reproducing itself through performative actions within the society while constantly developing and shifting boundaries, norms and regulations. According to Donna Harraway, we live in mythical time, the society is changing through the logic of the bio-political machine. There are new “fruitful couplings” emerging from this coupling of politics and fiction as well as science and fiction. “The pre-cybernetic machines could be haunted; there was always the spectre of the ghost in the machine.” (Harraway D.) I would argue that the new forms of haunted political spaces are evolving today and along with the technological advancement and through the “mutation of capitalism” (Deleuze, Control Society). In the twenty-first century control societies the “real” is produced through fictions as much as through science, the ghost is still there. In this process, the boundaries such as that between the public and private are broken. “Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert.” (Harraway D. Cyborgs) The state is an imaginary social institution and as such it continuously produces imaginaries through bureaucracy. While reproducing the notion of the real it re-produces its own state imaginary. The loop goes on in a vicious cycle, the actions are initiated and produce other actions, creating myths, these produce spaces, then through acts of bureaucracy produce an imaginary state, these produce society, and it goes on and on….. Deleuze refers to the similar process occurring in the contemporary state which he calls the control society. While in disciplinary societies there is a beginning and the end of a process, Deleuze argues that in the control society, there is always an ongoing transition, a transformation, “you never finish anything” (Deleuze, Control Society). As in Kafka’s Trial, the post-Socialist city is suspended in transition between two societies, one determined by disciplinary judicial norms expressed through the state of the “apparent acquittal (between two confinements)” and “endless postponement” (constantly changing) a characteristic of the control society. History is not linear, it is a product of an unconscious process embodied in workings of bureaucratic phantasies. Through stories about the Ghost Boulevard and the concept of the bureaucratic phantasy, I investigate the nature of a different kind of bureaucracy. Such imaginary concept is a part of social and cultural reproduction and as such instrumental in production of spatial phenomenon. The Bureaucratic Phantasy represents an imaginary institution, a product of interface among various social forces; however, although a product of imaginary or even poetry, it manifests itself in a rational and calculated way, within its own internal logic and with the tendency of suppressing individual memories. Its endless archive is located somewhere between the arkheion, the official city of statistics, forms numbers, well categorised and the domus expressed through stories, narratives. It is manifested in space but also in public memory through virtual worlds, apparitions (in media or in space). “The question of the archive is not, I repeat, a question of the past…but rather a question of the future” (Derrida, Jacque Archive Fever) It is mirroring society while producing its own public memories. It is a phantasy that replicates itself, and as in a dream reflects a distorted imagery, an illusion of what is normal and expected. According to Foucault, state itself is an imaginary formation, “Maybe after all, the state is no more then a composite reality and a mythisized abstraction, whose importance is a lot more limited then any of us think.” (Governmentality, MF) The project of the utopian future itself has become an artifact, a part of the burried grand narrative, now incorporated into the present, how is it going to be imbedded into the narrative of the present time?
The space of the Ghost Boulevard, does not exist, it’s “real” is configured through continuous performance of the bureaucratic phantasies, through mythical reconfiguration, it is produced through the interface between the society and institutions. Because the Bureaucratic Phantasy is an incomplete bureaucracy, as it has not yet reached its maximum level of efficiency, it has allowed itself to be perceived as a machine for producing imaginaries, dreams, fictions. It is ambiguous; partially a machine that seems broken, a repository of images and memories, it recycles history and does not rely solely on objective reason such as raison d’etat. It is a cultural machine, a library of the past knowledge, a brain whose calculations have lost original purpose, still it is filled with elaborate data, plans and other artifacts of knowledge that could be transplanted into the present at any time as some kind of noise or as the ghosts of rational objectivity. According to Weber, Bureaucratic organisation has proved to be superior to any other kind of apparatus due to its technical advantage. This was the main reason for its advance through history. When fully developed to its optimal level, it resembles the well functioning machine. “Precision, speed, unambiguity, knowledge, of the files, discretion, unity, strict subordination, reduction of friction, and of material and personal costs” (M. Weber) From today’s vantage point we can also talk about bureaucracy as a method of management of information embedded into the world-wide-web as the global system of management of information and society. But the bureaucracy can also be thought as an imaginary social invention, that when fully established to its highest optimal level is difficult to destroy. “Where the administration has been completely bureaucratised, the resulting system of domination is practically indestructible”. (M. Weber, Bureaucracy). Although the bureaucracy is produced in democracy, the conflict inevitably emerges as the democracy then needs to restrict the power of bureaucracy. Consequently, according to Weber, bureaucracy makes any “revolution” in the true sense of completely building a new type of rule and authority virtually impossible. Municipal Architects Main Office Building Lobby. In the bckground is a model of the last Soviet developed General Plan for Chisinau from 1987.
Image on left: Anticipating boulevard. Illegaly built car wash building in the middle of the Boulevard D Cantemir.
Image on the right: “Cube” by Super Studios non-utopia
Furthermore, according to Weber, bureaucracy is dependent on the “calculable rules” and “without regard for persons”. As the bureaucracy becomes more developed, the more it is “dehumanized”, and this is praised as the “spatial virtue of capitalism”. In turn it demands the need for “experts” who would support this apparatus and provide for its legitimacy with their expert knowledge. Such Weberian bureaucracy is obsolete, something else is occurring now, through emergence of a new beast. The performative practice within which bureaucratic apparatus operates is relies on repeated creation and recreation of public perception of the bureaucracy, meanings and the actors involved. In it the state institutions subvert their own assumed logics. It is however, intangible and hard to grasp and locate as it operates through an interface between the public, it is constructed only as a virtue of the public imaginary, “Performance assumes an interface between actors and spectators; they both constitute and are constituted by an audience”. (The Antrhopology of the State, Gupta). In other words it is through the re-enactment of the minor bureaucratic procedures and daily routines that the institutions of the state are constituted but can also be destabilised. The “partial perspective” (Harraway D. Situated Knowledges) provides the only possible avenue towards reaching objective vision that constructs reality, through this interface in the in-between space. Donna Harraway, calls it “the power to see”. This is also where the possible resistance may reside. I propose that the notion of contemporary public space dependent on such interface between various shifting agencies play continuously in the space of the city such as the “Ghost Boulevard” through the bureaucratic phantasy. Instead of excavating ancient artifacts from the ground, the artefacts are produced and invented by being named, traced and mapped as links in the complex web of relations, they are created without the need to be excavated. Their meaning is broadened beyond the physicality of objects, things. Furthermore, through the composition of “partial perspectives”, I seek to reveal the gaps in logic, inconsistencies and flaws in the system. These are expressed in the narratives and are regulated through varieties of traces, red lines, voids, numbers, words and images. These supposed “flaws” in the system are not necessarily presented as negative nor positive,
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