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)


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