Genius Loci: Wrap-Up
Writer and senior editor of Cabinet magazine
Artist exhibiting in No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia
Assistant Professor of the History of Science at Yale University; radical cartographer
Writer; author of London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined a City
Having finished up the live chat with Bill yesterday afternoon, I’m happy to have an opportunity to put down a few last thoughts on this week’s Forum—and to thank the staff at the Guggenheim for their invitation to lead it, especially the event’s organizer Michael Wilson, who ran a dauntingly tight ship all week and kept everything moving smoothly along behind the scenes.
I mention Mike and his colleagues not simply out of well-deserved courtesy, but because of what seems to me to be the intriguing symmetry between the content of our discussion and the form they conjured up for it. The reframing of embodiment that online forums like the Guggenheim’s produce still seems novel to me. And yesterday’s quite literally ethereal real-time conversation only further emphasized the quantitative (and qualitative) diversification of emplacement we’re experiencing thanks to the many marvelous arts and devices of the contemporary technosphere. Perhaps it’s too much of a commonplace by now—I mean, the four of us spent a good chunk of the week in pretty regular contact without ever speaking to, much less meeting, each other and yet our uncannily dematerialized temporary occupancy of a shared (rhetorical?) space hardly merited a mention. (Bani, were you in Berlin? Karachi? Sukhdev, did I walk by you in a café yesterday when I was on my way to see a friend near NYU?) “Places” like the one in which we met this week have an air of inevitability about them, and they do seem to have designs on us. They are built and operated in order to instrumentalize (and in most cases monetize) our appetite for community even as they radically alter what that might be understood to mean, and they seem to be awfully good at it. But one hardly need be reminded of the crucial role of the mediaspace in recent political discourse—and, importantly, political practice—to understand that if its structures are growing increasingly overdetermined, its content need not necessarily be.
I also feel like the Forum’s framing of our conversation—putting on the table right from the get-go certain propositions about the character of place and especially those surpluses that remain so queerly ineffable, so resistant to theoretical settlement—was a useful instigation. The rhythms of our posts do, I feel, reflect some consensus about the straight-up unaccountability of certain aspects of place (marginal or central, generic or specific). But our latter focus on agency—making a map, say, to reflect exactly what you’re interested in, and maybe not stopping at just the map, maybe going out and, like Bani’s neighbors in Neukölln, asserting a claim on the ideation of one’s own environment, insisting into existence a new layer of emplacement within the conventional order—has enough of the outlines of real possible change, real effect, to tantalize.
Bill talked about multiplicity the other day, about the idea of a mode of existence “in the plural.” It starts to seem clear that the spirit of place doesn’t just vary from one location to another, but is itself in each place always variable, always necessarily riddled by deviations, hybridizations, derangements of all sorts. The gaps these productive deformities open are not faults or fractures in some idealized, essentialized order, but are in fact definitional of the operative order—one that ineluctably gathers all of us and all of our things into it and then mirrors back our blizzard of heterogeneity.