The Haunting West: The American West and the Global Imagination

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev

This lecture is much more than about critical regionalism, but it is always ‘shadowed’ by it. The haunting I discuss here is the presence of the ‘critical’ within ‘regionalism’. Continue reading

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Max Cafard, The Surre(gion)alist Manifesto

And once we begin to think Regions, we discover a vast multiplicity. Of Regionalisms and Regions, of Regions within Regions, and Regionalisms within Regionalisms. Thus, Surre(gion)alism.
Regions are inclusive. They have no borders, no boundaries, no frontiers, no State Lines.
Though Regionalists are marginal, Regions have no margins. Regions are traversed by a multitude of lines, folds, ridges, seams, pleats. But all lines are included, none exclude. Regions are bodies. Interpenetrating bodies. Interpenetrating bodies in semi¬simultaneous spaces. (Like Strangers in the Night).

Region is origin. It is our place of origin. Where all continues to originate. Origination is perpetual motion. Reinhabitation means reorigination. We return to our roots for nourishment.

Without that return, we wither and die. We follow our roots and find them to extend ever deeper, and ever outward. They form an infinite web, so all-encompassing that uprooting becomes impossible and unthinkable, deracination irrational ….

 

 See http://raforum.info/maxcafard/spip.php?rubrique2 for the complete essays on this topic.

Mediated Positions: Understanding the ‘critical’ of critical regionalism

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev

Regionalism, Lothar Honnighausen (1996) suggests, emerges, culturally, in Europe at the time of the Industrial Revolution: a stabilising force to deal with the psychic frailty engendered in individuals by the move from an agrarian society to an industrialised one; the physical and psychical dislocation brought about by experiencing a “loss of an assured sense of space” (3), as the familiar – and familial – rural space was replaced by the alienation of the urban landscape. In seeking to embody permanence, stability and continuity – which we can argue in reality, have diminished increasingly since the advent of industrialisation – regionalism is, at base, pure nostalgia. On another level, and as scholars have increasingly observed, it also acts as an ideological tool. In its attempts to normalise places and spaces and people’s actions within them, regionalism elides the heterogeneous nature of the individual – occasionally disparately collective – understandings, uses and experiences of these regions. Such interpretations of place and space, as presented to us in all manner of cultural forms, homologise through the monoglossia of normative narratives, presenting a ‘striated space’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1988) which is ordered, gridded and geometric: which is hierarchical and, like many ideologies, is imposed from above, thereby eliding multiplicity in its pursuit of unity.

In architecture, regionalism manifests in similar ways. As Kenneth Frampton (1983) suggests, in vernacular and populist aesthetics, architecture presents “a compensatory facade” (17); an illusion of stability designed to root society in a culture that “has become eroded by the rapacity of development” (ibid) and an intrinsic element of attempts “to nurture national revendication” (Ricoeur, 1965:277). How then might architecture, which represents fixity, and whose appeal, according to Schwarzer (2004), “lies in [its] stillness and sculptural depth, in implied resistance to the world of speed, surface and image” (13), be mobilised to become once again “progressive [and] liberative” (Frampton, 1983:18) as Frampton suggests the Gothic Revival and Arts-and-Crafts movements once were in the face of modernisation? Frampton proposes a critical regionalism in architecture, “remov[ing] itself from both the optimization of advanced technology and the ever-present tendency to regress into nostalgic historicism” (20). In such an architecture, “[t]he fundamental strategy … is to mediate [this] impact of universal civilization with elements derived indirectly from the peculiarities of a particular place” (21) (emphasis in original). Therefore, the guiding principle of critical regionalism is dialogue, in direct opposition to the monologic manifestations of regionalism. It proposes a structure built upon a local site but which is open to the global, seeking to mediate between the dialectical positions of universal civilisation, as a singularity, and local culture, as a multiplicity.

Increasingly, as the social, the political, the economic, and the cultural, move through, around and beyond the arbitrary symbols and boundaries of regionalist thinking – whether physically, through migration; psychically, through a globalised culture; spectrally, through communication technologies and world economic markets – permeating and transgressing geographical borders and topological territories through these same means. Regionalism, one would imagine, edges ever closer to a state of crisis as opportunities for dialogue and exchange are increased. But, such is the power – and simplicity – of this ideology, its influence remains.

The paradoxical nature of a framework such as critical regionalism and the complex range of material it demands an engagement with, leads to my own research process also employing a guiding principle to facilitate a more rigorous application of the methodology; one which can accommodate and “even foster, transversal, alogical, connections between heterogeneous events” (O’Sullivan, 2002:84). In Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome – “ceaselessly establish[ing] connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relevant to the arts, sciences and social struggles” (1988:7) – we have a characterisation and justification of the interdisciplinary nature of the research. The wide variety of theories and methods which critical regionalism employs – cultural geography, postcolonial and literary theory, to name but a few – means that approaching it rhizomatically suits the purposes of the project as well as epitomising the goals of critical regionalism itself in allowing a more nomadic and territorially unbounded version of region to emerge.

We must always be wary, when following such deterritorialisations – of regions as well as theories – that it does not become “a wild destratification” (O’Sullivan, 2002:89); it must “always proceed from a consolidated territory” (ibid). Critical regionalism, in its engagement with the principles and assumptions of regions and regionalism has as an inherent feature just such ‘consolidated territories’ (though it does, of course, question these arbitrary ‘consolidations’).

What is regionalism?

Image courtesy of Neil Campbell

Just as Campbell (2008) points out, when defining critical regionalism, “the marked emphasis on the critical is vital” (50), of equal importance to the methodology is its suffix. Dwelling on the meanings and uses of ‘region’ and ‘regionalism’, its connotations and associations will be central to the trajectory of this project.

In Arjun Appadurai’s words, “as relatively immobile aggregates of traits, with more or less durable historical boundaries and with a unity composed of more or less enduring properties” [regions] are tested, expanded, and even disrupted by rhizomatic, travelling approaches whereby ideas and concepts spill out and spread, making connections and disconnections, hinting and interrupting as much as concluding and closing. This project is about ‘regionalism’ and about how considerations of region might be mobilized in different ways in the postmodern, global age.

The reframed region/regionalism we intend to extend here is an international, living mix of voices, uncontained, problematic, contradictory – a series of ‘border discourses’ that, articulates region as it ‘works’ inward and outward. This is a re-definition of regionalism that refuses to get to the border (of region or nation) and turn back, to simply close up on itself in some homely and familiar act of territorialization as if protecting itself from the wider world beyond, but one that also ‘deterritorializes’ and directs us simultaneously outside itself to the ‘post-regional’. The capacity we envisage here is for regionalism to disrupt its oft-discussed, conventional sheltering role and to fold outwards, engaging with its own assumptions and defining principles, becoming a re-invigorated ‘critical (cultural) regionalism’ that enables us to comprehend region as a complex process, akin to Massey’s or Appadurai’s sense of the global local, continually being constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed in multiple spaces.

Arjun Appadurai’s project ‘Regional Worlds’ suggests a productive tension between ‘region’ and ‘world’ in its determination to create a new approach to area studies de-emphasising the durable ‘traits’ of coherence and stability whilst stressing ‘process geographies’ defined by travel, trade, diaspora, pilgrimage, warfare, colonization, and exile. The Regional Worlds Project argues for process geographies which allow a conceptualisation of the world ‘not as an aggregation of fixed, historically stable, geographically bounded civilizations, but rather as a cross-cutting map of diasporic identities, translocal interactions and large-scale resource flows’.

The Surre(gion)alist Manifesto by Max Cafard

And once we begin to think Regions, we discover a vast multiplicity. Of Regionalisms and Regions, of Regions within Regions, and Regionalisms within Regionalisms. Thus, Surre(gion)alism.

Regions are inclusive. They have no borders, no boundaries, no frontiers, no State Lines.

Though Regionalists are marginal, Regions have no margins. Regions are traversed by a multitude of lines, folds, ridges, seams, pleats. But all lines are included, none exclude. Regions are bodies. Interpenetrating bodies. Interpenetrating bodies in semi¬simultaneous spaces. (Like Strangers in the Night).

Region is origin. It is our place of origin. Where all continues to originate. Origination is perpetual motion. Reinhabitation means reorigination. We return to our roots for nourishment.

Without that return, we wither and die. We follow our roots and find them to extend ever deeper, and ever outward. They form an infinite web, so all-encompassing that uprooting becomes impossible and unthinkable, deracination irrational ….

  

 See http://raforum.info/maxcafard/spip.php?rubrique2 for the complete essays on this topic.