Jul 20, 2016

Pokemon Go, as an Approach to Tourism and Politics in Albania | In search of missing pieces

Granted I don't play, but the more I read and learn about PokemonGo the more I find it curiously similar to many state-centric campaigns in Albania, especially when it comes to tourism and politics - how these campaigns are run, consequently won and ultimately deemed successful. Actually, the same can be said of any other major decision-making (reforms and rulings) event that has to do with a public audience/participant, place, and resources. 

It is curious indeed that they all propose an 'alternat(e/ive)' reality while leaving the existing one in a much worse condition that they found it. To most skeptics, this is a temporary perverse fantasy, but we've come to find out it isn't going anywhere. To the players and enthusiasts, it is a game of obsession, an addiction that has willingly made them both victim and perpetrator. To the enablers on the other hand, it is a global toolbox, a mass-marketing automation that marks progress, even though not necessarily equality or justice. In short, a brave new world, an augmented reality that promises to infuse the actual with the virtual, the real and the unreal, in a life and mind-blowing existence of continuous interaction. A holistic presence that vows to enhance the quality of life as we know it. A campaign built on trust or better yet stolen trust - whatever is promised in the ether, will be materialized in the physical realm. A public augmented to publicity. Hear, hear, for a better, fuller and happier life - lived.

Unfortunately, as we continue to bear witness to what is happening every single day, we have become quicker to react to (and forget) moments that shock - a chaotic recurrence of senseless acts, speeches and allegiances that buildup and blowup tirelessly on both social media feeds and our urban streets. What are the human ramifications of such augmentation then? They're not only seen anymore, they're felt. The world has become simultaneously better connected while its privacy better invaded. We are fuller of dis, mis, in and form-ation. Fuller of expression and hate. Fuller of all sorts of freedoms. Fuller of diversity and division. Fuller of blatant knowledge and harassing ignorance. Fuller of (market) makers, breakers, and shakers. Fuller of things to do and time wasted. How much happier though? Well, the promise of the fantastic (of the fantastically fabricated) - that better reality - is cashing in, to the fullest. It is colonizing the real world (if it hasn't already). It has made it a commodity. To live has become a commodity. 

The public has become (imho, not even properly) incentivized to catch imaginary monsters, landmarks and natural sites, thus having willingly and quite excitedly relinquish their physical awareness of actually identifying and hunting the real-life monsters. Since this is a thing now, as evasive as it is pervasive (even if not entirely and not always, but still way too often) then we're way off base calling it an 'augmented' anything, on the contrary, it is a redacted something, our reality made invisible or hypervisible (always blurred) for reasons above our ask grade - only to reappear virtually, changed, reconfigured, for the same classified reasons. If until recently we considered the image to represent or interpret the actual thing, now we're in it, experiencing it in real-time. I don't know if experiencing it virtually/digitally is better or worse, or even similar to imagining or dreaming it, but soon we'll feel nostalgic about those dream-ful/less nights when we were glad to wake up and find out that whatever we weren't able to remember anymore didn't actually happen and our bodies were in a a still position, asleep in bed or on the couch in front of the TV - distanced from an unconsciousness we could hid well, escape from and that we couldn't completely understand. This distance between the real and the unreal, at least physically speaking, made us aware of our bearings, alert of how far to reach and how close to guard our presence. Scale and sensibility. What once was a reality imagined, it has now metamorphosed into an image realized.
(videodrome, cronenberg) via GIPHY

Re-cognition patterns of understanding, behavior, language, meaning, memory and belonging are being re-shuffled, re-prioritized, re-valued - colonized and commodified. We are now swallowed in by the screen, voluntarily no less. Instead of using technology to augment our presence, awareness and sense of place - we've rendered our-selves as avatars, in pixels instead of cells, a specter of dematerialization and rematerialization between place and interface, presence and metadata, this and that. Bodies in space feel isolated, excluded the more they are connected - unable to interact seamlessly and prone to accidents, our deduction abilities stalling, cryptic, wasted. The promised 'enhancement' is being felt in the incompatibilities of the two realities, and not in their collaboration. We've got a long way to go. We are being exploited, voluntarily. 

The fear of not measuring up to real-life humanity, the banality of (what we actually dread just as much) the everyday life, has made this game, these campaigns and all their cohorts (including media) result to an 'alternat(e/ive)' reality, that is not just an image or propaganda, but a lived slogan. A promise is a promise is a promise is a promise is a ... lie is a life. It hasn't quite augmented the goods, only the bads. It has only enhanced the real by providing a brief escape into the virtual, only to bring us right back to the terrors, trials, and trivial gravity of this world. 

The question then, is not just what are the physical ramifications of such an alternate everyday, but how do we deal with them? What are the consequences of designing everything without taking into account the human factor: spatial behavior and mental state, cognition and hormones, and everything else that overly-designed environments tend to kill?

So, when you decide to play Pokemon, like or react to a campaign image or video on social media, think about these things. What we ought to believe and what we do indeed believe in are constellations apart. Yes, the truth is out there, but so are the stars and so is the abyss. Plenty of room to get lost. Again, scale and sensibility. 

Lastly, I'd like to leave you and end these scattered thoughts with this quote from The Shining: "Sometimes human places, create inhuman monsters." Plenty to think about.


Jul 2, 2016

A new aesthetic of enjoyment | In search of missing pieces

Summertime! The perfect season to revisit Lefevbre's beach, Lippard's beaten track, and Huizinga's play while drawing conclusions on the new Albanian aesthetic of the park, the playground and the beach. All, spaces of leisure and enjoyment -- of differences -- departures dominated by the aesthetics of tourism, contaminated by the consumption of nature, and cultured in the spectacle of bodies.

Conclusions drawn. Literally!

Following Lefebvre's The Production of Space (excerpts below), how does this departure from the everyday reality produce the illusion of spaces for leisure and enjoyment in Albania?

A moment comes when people in general leave the space of consumption, which coincides with the historical locations of capital accumulation, with the space of production, and with the space that is produced; this is the space of the market, the space through which flows follow their paths, the space which the state controls - a space, therefore, that is strictly quantified. When people leave this space, they move towards the consumption of space (an unproductive form of consumption). This moment is the moment of departure — the moment of people's holidays, formerly a contingent but now a necessary moment. When this moment arrives, 'people' demand a qualitative space. The qualities they seek have names: sun, snow, sea. Whether these are natural or simulated matters little. Neither spectacle nor mere signs are acceptable. What is wanted is materiality and naturalness as such, rediscovered in their (apparent or real) immediacy. Ancient names, and eternal - and allegedly natural — qualities. Thus the quality and the use of space retrieve their ascendancy — but only up to a point. In empirical terms, what this means is that neocapitalism and neo-imperialism share hegemony over a subordinated space split into two kinds of regions: regions exploited for the purpose of and by means of production (of consumer goods), and regions exploited for the purpose of and by means of the consumption of space. Tourism and leisure become major areas of investment and profitability, adding their weight to the construction sector, to property speculation, to generalized urbanization (not to mention the integration into capitalism of agriculture, food production, etc.). No sooner does the Mediterranean coast become a space offering leisure activities to industrial Europe than industry arrives there; but nostalgia for towns dedicated to leisure, spread out in the sunshine, continues to haunt the urbanite of the super-industrialized regions. Thus the contradictions become more acute — and the urbanites continue to clamour for a certain 'quality of space'. 

In the areas set aside for leisure, the body regains a certain right to use, a right which is half imaginary and half real, and which does not go beyond an illusory 'culture of the body', an imitation of natural life. Nevertheless, even a reinstatement of the body's rights that remains unfulfilled effectively calls for a corresponding restoration of desire and pleasure. The fact is that consumption satisfies needs, and that leisure and desire, even if they are united only in a representation of space (in which everyday life is put in brackets and temporarily replaced by a different, richer, simpler and more normal life), are indeed brought into conjunction; consequently, needs and desires come into opposition with each other. Specific needs have specific objects. Desire, on the other hand, has no particular object, except for a space where it has full play: a beach, a place of festivity, the space of the dream. (353) 
Typically, the identification of sex and sexuality, of pleasure and physical gratification, with 'leisure' occurs in places specially designated for the purpose — in holiday resorts or villages, on ski slopes or sundrenched beaches. Such leisure spaces become eroticized, as in the case of city neighbourhoods given over to nightlife, to the illusion of festivity. Like play, Eros is at once consumer and consumed. Is this done by means of signs? Yes. By means of spectacles? Certainly. Abstract space is doubly castrating: it isolates the phallus, projecting it into a realm outside the body, then fixes it in space (verticality) and brings it under the surveillance of the eye. The visual and the discursive are buttressed (or contextualized) in the world of signs. Is this because of what Schelsky calls 'the iron law of commercial terrorism'? Undoubtedly — but it is also, and most of all, because of the process of localization, because of the fragmentation and specialization of space within a form that is nevertheless homogeneous overall. The final stage of the body's abstraction is its (functional) fragmentation and localization.

The oddness of this space, then, is that it is at once homogeneous and compartmentalized. It is also simultaneously limpid and deceptive; in short, it is fraudulent. Falsely true — 'sincere', so to speak; not the object of a false consciousness, but rather the locus and medium of the generation (or production) of false consciousness. Appropriation, which in any case, even if it is concrete and effective, ought to be symbolizable - ought, that is, to give rise to symbols that present it, that render it present - finds itself signified in this space, and hence rendered illusory. (310) 

The dialectical link (meaning the contradiction within a unity) between need and desire thus generates fresh contradictions — notably that between liberation and repression. Even though it is true that these dialectical processes have the middle classes as their only foundation, their only vehicle, and that these middle classes offer models of consumption to the so-called lower classes, in this case such mimesis may, under the pressure of the contradiction in question, be an effective stimulus. A passionate struggle takes place in art, and within artists themselves, the essential character of which the protagonists fail to recognize (it is in fact class struggle!): the struggle between body and non-body, between signs of the body and signs of non-body.

Mental space - the space of reductions, of force and repression, of manipulation and co-optation, the destroyer of nature and of the body - is quite unable to neutralize the enemy within its gates. Far from it: it actually encourages that enemy, actually helps to revive it. Which takes us far further than the often-mentioned contradictions between aesthetics and rationalism. (353-4)
Such spaces appear on first inspection to have escaped the control of the established order, and thus, inasmuch as they are spaces of play, to constitute a vast 'counter-space'. This is a complete illusion. The case against leisure is quite simply closed - and the verdict is irreversible: leisure is as alienated and alienating as labour; as much an agent of co-optation as it is itself co-opted; and both an assimilative and an assimilated part of the 'system' (mode of production). Once a conquest of the working class, in the shape of paid days' off, holidays, weekends, and so on, leisure has been transformed into an industry, into a victory of neocapitalism and an extension of bourgeois hegemony to the whole of space.

As an extension of dominated space, leisure spaces are arranged at once functionally and hierarchically. They serve the reproduction of production relations. Space thus controlled and managed constrains in specific ways, imposing its own rituals and gestures (such as tanning), discursive forms (what should be said or not said), and even models and modulations in space (hotels, chalets — the emphasis being on private life, on the genital order of the family). Hence this space too is made up of 'boxes for living in', of identical 'plans' piled one on top of another or jammed next to one another in rows. Yet, at the same time, the body takes its revenge - or at least calls for revenge. It seeks to make itself known — to gain recognition - as generative. (Of what? Of practice, of use, hence of space — and, by extension, of the human species.) A positivity, then, negated by its own consequences — and later restored. The beach is the only place of enjoyment that the human species has discovered in nature. Thanks to its sensory organs, from the sense of smell and from sexuality to sight (without any special emphasis being placed on the visual sphere), the body tends to behave as a differential field. It behaves, in other words, as a total body, breaking out of the temporal and spatial shell developed in response to labour, to the division of labour, to the localizing of work and the specialization of places. In its tendency, the body asserts itself more (and better) as 'subject' and as 'object' than as 'subjectivity' (in the classical philosophical sense) and as 'objectivity' (fragmented in every way, distorted by the visual, by images, etc.).

In and through the space of leisure, a pedagogy of space and time is beginning to take shape. As yet, admittedly, this is no more than a virtuality, and one which is denied and rejected, but it nevertheless indicates a trend (or rather a counter-trend). Time, meanwhile, retrieves its use value. And the critique of the space of labour, whether implicit or explicit, leads in turn to a critique of fractured (specialized) gestures, of silence, of discomfort and malaise.

Despite its anachronistic aspect, the return to immediacy, to the organic (and hence to nature), gives rise to startling differences. Through music — indecisively, clumsily, yet effectively — rhythms reclaim their rights. They can no longer be forgotten, even though simulation and mimesis have replaced any true appropriation of being and of natural space: and even though the appeal to the body is ever liable to turn into its opposite — total passivity on the beach, mere contemplation of the spectacle of sea and sun.

The space of leisure tends — but it is no more than a tendency, a tension, a transgression of 'users' in search of a way forward — to surmount divisions: the division between social and mental, the division between sensory and intellectual, and also the division between the everyday and the out-of-the-ordinary (festival).

This space further reveals where the vulnerable areas and potential breaking-points are: everyday life, the urban sphere, the body, and the differences that emerge within the body from repetitions (from gestures, rhythms or cycles). The space of leisure bridges the gap between traditional spaces with their monumentality and their localizations based on work and its demands, and potential spaces of enjoyment and joy; in consequence this space is the very epitome of contradictory space. This is where the existing mode of production produces both its worst and its best — parasitic outgrowths on the one hand and exuberant new branches on the other — as prodigal of monstrosities as of promises (that it cannot keep). (383-5)