In a very Kantian fashion, Foucault defines his notion of diagram

By Amanda Jenkins,2014-11-26 15:55
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In a very Kantian fashion, Foucault defines his notion of diagram


    Susana Draper

    In a very Kantian fashion, Foucault defines his notion of diagram as an “architectural and optical system” that expresses the mechanisms of power and knowledge that are at stake in a certain historical moment (205). The art of the diagram lies in the possibility of showing a pure system of forms and functions, light and language that defines the hegemonic principles at stake at a certain moment, as abstracted from any resistance or friction. In this sense the diagram works as a cartography of the mechanisms of power that constitute a certain moment of time in terms of ideal forms and functions; that is, of principles. If the prison played the role of a paradigmatic space from which certain functions of the disciplinary diagram were posed to the thinker, then the question arises: what are the spaces that could help us to read the new diagrams of control that took shape during the Cold War? One possibility is to read the mall as configuring such a space because (used as a propaganda of American democracy against communism) it was a space that emerged as the expression of the contemporary market-based ideas of democracy and freedom. In this sense, the mall can be read as part of the foundation of a time that was posed as an absolute, a time without historicity or outside, one that implied the end of temporality as the end of a conflict. Following this idea, the mall became the site that expressed the ideal of something that we can call the neoliberal utopias of absolute insides (without outsides of the system), both in a spatial and temporal sense.

    In this sense, the process that William Severini Kowinski called „the malling of America,‟ gives us a frame from which to approach different elements essential for the

    establishment of neoliberal (and control) societies. This includes not only the main elements around the consumption and culture such as marketing, services, advertising, fast food, food courts, and movie-theaters, but also the implication of the means of production of the commodities the sweat-shops or “maquiladoras” where the products

    are assembled in subhuman conditions.

    The shopping center emerged when Victor Gruen came up with the idea of closing in the galleries to create an atmosphere in which people could enjoy the city

    iwhile being protected from environmental contingencies. In addition, James Rouse,

    whom Ira Zepp calls the “mahatma” of the malls, built a utopic imaginary of the mall inspired by the model of Disneyland, a place where Americans could feel emotive care,

    iifantasy, and nostalgia. Rouse‟s dream was to create the fantasy of a space in which

    people could have everything they needed churches, shops, coffee shops, restaurants,

    medical doctors, and so on while in a secure (controlled) space (temperature, parking, peace, and so on). The process of malling emerged within an ideal of complete closure, both in the philosophical sense of a close of meaning (the ideal of fulfillment and completeness) and in the literal sense of having everything within a closed and secure space (a place that contains all places). As Zepp states, and as paradoxical as it may sound, Rouse visualized the mall as the realization of a perfect ideal of American

    iiidemocracy, a place where everyone could go and be together. Besides his work on

    housing plans, this ideal may have contributed to his receiving the Presidential Medal of

    ivFreedom from President Bill Clinton in 1995.

    Going back to the question of the diagram, we can also approach the process of malling through the functions that this space put to work. Part of this can be found in the

    architectural design that made the mall possible, the idea of closure (closing the roof of the modern European gallery) as a form from which another function derived: complete control. The mall differed from the gallery in its ability to control a system of contigencies that range from temperature, or any kind of weather contigency such as rain or snow, to human behavior (strong security, race and class profiles for each space, etc.). Therefore, through the encounter between closure and control, the process of malling became a relevant site for the formation of the hegemonic neoliberal ideas of freedom and democracy; the former as the capability to choose among brands, the latter as the very possibility of having access to this capability, something that made of this new space the very site of democracy as participation in consumption.

    The process of malling that emerged as a site from which to convey the image of American democracy took place in Latin America as part of the transition to neoliberalism that followed more than a decade of military dictatorships. Although most of the malls began to open in Latin American countries in the eighties, their commercial success was visible in the nineties, precisely at the moment in which the different

    vdecisions about the necessity to “forget” the recent violence of the past were taken. In

    this sense, the explanation that David Harvey uses to approach the success of malls in the United States sheds light on understanding the simultaneity between the process of malling and the decisions made on the experience of history in Latin American postdictatorship cities, where the malls became important sites for building a market-based sense of community. Harvey relates the success of the malls with “the construction

    of safe, secure, well-ordered, easily accessible, and above all pleasant ... and non-

    conflictual environments that promoted an acritical attitude” (168). In a certain way, this

acritical attitude became synonymous with nonconflictual, an “I don?t want to see or

    know” attitude, a desire to be indifferent to any idea of history as conflict, something that became the desire to conceal the past within a zone of invisibility. The mall thus became a kind of architecture of the experience of the transition because it played a relevant role in the construction of the imaginary of what was to be understood by neoliberal democracy.

    Departing from the idea of an architecture of the transition, I will attempt to elaborate an analysis of two cases in which this architecture emerges under the form of a spatial juxtaposition that I read as giving two different expressions of time. One is the case of Punta Carretas, a prison that was active during the dictatorship and was converted into the finest mall of Montevideo, Uruguay, during the transition, specifically at the moment in which the decisions on the recent past of human rights violations were made. The other case is a novel, By night in Chile, in which I find a similar juxtaposition at

    work, this time, within the architecture of a three-story house in whose basement a clandestine detention center was located while literary meetings were held on the first floor. My aim will be to establish a counterpoint between the main functions of the diagram of the mall; that is, closure and calculability to the ideas of disclosure and unconcealment that the literary space makes possible. In other words, I will critically juxtapose these two spatial configurations. In the case of Punta Carretas we can read closure in terms of the result of torture and disappearance of bodies (the genesis of the present within the past of the place), together with the mandate to remember to forget that past (as the closure of history that conceals the past so as to delete the conditions of

    vipossibility of the mall). On the other hand, the literary space opens other ways to

    approach a similar juxtaposition, a temporal imagery that results from the act of disclosure of that which lies hidden within the new configuration of time within this spatial setting. This possibility happens in the novel as the result of a suspension of the functions of the mall--control and calculability; it will be the errancy that results from getting lost that will produce the unforeseen encounter with that which was concealed. Using the analysis of these spaces, I am interested in the figure of the juxtaposition that, in the case of the mall, became a foundation of postdictatorship forgiveness or amnesia, a foundation that the novel problematizes through the configuration of temporal images that suspend that which the architecture of the transition normalized. I read this as a problematization of the ideas of these new spaces, times, and the “freedom” that they

    viipresuppose. If the mall works as the architecture of a decision made on history, it is within this architecture that the foundation of a new freedom is supposed to rest. However, if the main functions of the architecture of the mall are the desire for closure and control (calculability or foreseeability), how can the idea of freedom be expressed or conveyed? In short, and using the hegemonic language of the mall: how can we „buy‟ this illusion?

    In order to approach this paradox, it is necessary to look at the way in which the mall goes hand in hand with a work over history, moreover, over the very experience of time (a work that can be thought as the foundation of the space of an absolute present

    viiiwithout outside, represented by the time of the mall). For this purpose, the case of

    Punta Carretas in Montevideo seems to be an apt example because it is a mall that was juxtaposed to a former prison, one that was active during the dictatorship of the 1970s and early 1980s. The juxtaposition that we find in this place can be read as a metaphor of

    the transition from the past as a prison, to the present as the paradoxical freedom of the mall. In this sense, two diagrams overlap and become a mute monument that retains the process of passage as an attempt to impose the new present to the past that this site contained. It expresses the control of history that was performed by the selection and homogenization of the multiple temporalities that the space contained. At one level, the timing of the process is astonishing: the prison closed and was sold during the transition in the late eighties, and opened as a mall when the decision to forget the past was already made and perhaps also forgotten, in the early nineties. In some way, the prison-mall opened its doors as a foundation of the neoliberal consumerist society repeating the foundational act that gave its origin as prison, when it was also the foundation for the disciplinary machine at the beginning of the 20th century. In this sense, this prison-mall can be approached, in critical terms, as an architecture of the transition from which we can read the process of passage between multiple temporalities (that inhabited the place) and the homogenization of the new present that came to control that past. Within this architectural work over time, “history” was left as a muted or silenced quotation, one that

    transformed the past into an image to be taken by a photographic camera or to be consumed by the touristic gaze (But, at the same time, the place left for a critical thinker the possibility of being read through the logic of the pharmakon; that is, where the very space of the new freedom is also defined, by its pure terms, as the form of a new

    ixprison). This configures a strange experience in which we see the mall and it looks like the prison, one that was built as an inauguration of the disciplinary diagram; this overlapping not only shows the passage between different diagrams but also poses the question of the status of history within this new system that now became the inauguration

    xof paradigmatic global sites: Sheraton Hotel, McDonalds, Blockbuster Video. The words

    of the architects describing their impressions when they saw the mall-to-be prison are essential. Juan Carlos López, the architect in charge of the conversion, said: “I was shocked when I entered into the place (prison) for the first time ... and ... I saw this three-story building with all the floors leading to a central plaza, and I said to myself: “This

    looks like a mall, a mall of prisoners.” And I grasped a very special idea there, that I could never forget.” The interesting thing here is this gaze of an important specialist on malls in Latin America that saw in a prison the very structure of the malls. This can be

    read in different ways, one being the intimate relation that is at stake between the structure of prisons and of the malls, one that could also lead us to see the optical system of the mall as following parts of the panopticon function of self-control. However, the conversion had to deal with selective demolition and preservation of parts, according to the new function of the mall. Another architect, Estela Porada, said: “we tried to preserve the spirit of the prison, but in a way in which this „preservation‟ would not be an obstacle for the development of the new function.” What this person says in the context of

    architectural needs, can also be read in relation to the whole temporal conversion taking place in this past and present architectonic. In this sense, parts of the past are preserved while others are demolished. The question arises: what is the status of history within this spatial juxtaposition?

    The status of history here reminds me of Hegel?s concept of sublation, that expresses a process of abolishing while preserving, or the paradoxical negation that saves. The idea is that what is maintained is already transformed, determined by its negation. Therefore, negation can be read in the case of Punta Carretas in relation to

    certain experiences of historicity that lay in the parts of the past that were delicately deleted--the escapes, the political resistance within prison--parts that expressed a search for the outside of a present that was like a prison from which to escape. This negation that the new form of time accomplishes while preserving has to do with a work over a multiplicity of times that were put under the control of the new form and function of the

    ximall, the life of the absolute inside of the market that means an absolute present. Part of

    the multiplicity that was erased is the history of the tunnels of escape (whose literature I analyze elsewhere), a whole “undergound” that brings about a rich account of the international network of anarchists in the 1930s, during which time Punta Carretas was a relevant detention center of political prisoners from Argentina, Spain, and Italy; and also of political thought in the prison of the seventies, when the Tupamaros prisoners discussed ideas and readings, and kept notebooks that may still be hidden within the walls of the mall. All this history, as well as the history of torture and disappearance related to this moment, has been erased. In order to accomplish this, the mall was promoted on television and throughout the city with the slogan: “In Punta Carretas

    xiiShopping Center... you will fall in love.” This love, that can be read as the demand for

    reconciliation and also as the encounter of the other half in the form of a commodity, was based on the necessary forgetting of the concealed tortured bodies that were kept imprisoned in that place not so long ago. Within the architecture of the present, the past remained as a mute quotation that was left as a kind of silenced prisoner, who was not killed in order to be held as a trophy or threat.

    However, this operation over time that defines the moment of the transition from the military, and that takes this architectural form as the expressive foundation of a new

    time, appears in literature in a very disruptive and critical way. Literature appears as a problematization of spatial juxtapositions of ground and underground, present and past, time and freedom. Departing from the appearance of spatial juxtaposition in postdictatorship literature, I ask how it differs from or how it supplements the acritical attitude posed by the mall. I want to analyze the way in which literature takes this architectural system of juxtaposition in order to problematize and question the

    xiiihomogenization of time implied by the process of malling. To approach this issue, I

    will analyze the architectural and optical system that appears in Roberto Bolaño?s novel By Night in Chile, published almost ten years after the end of the Pinochet regime, that brought back into the light things that were discreetly hidden or concealed from the new

    xivmarket world.

An Architectural and Optical System: Images of Time in By night in Chile.

    The new consumerist society that was consolidated at the moment of political transition became the fantasy that displaced military control, and posed the necessity of living the present without looking into the past as a mandate. One of the most common expressions used by politicians at that time was that there could not be any progress (future), “if people put their eyes on their back.” In a strange way, the function of seeing became intimately connected with an experience of history, and the eyes became a relevant organ that had to be put in the right place in order to accomplish its function of

    xvvision in a prosperous way. Within this idea of accomodating vision, it is interesting

    how time was also posed in relation to a book that people needed to „close‟ in order for

    progress to take place (the idea of forgetting was expressed as the act of closing the

    xvirecent chapters of history). It is in relation to this controlled universe of visibility and enunciation that Bolaño?s novel problematizes the relation between light and language, posing a chain of uncomfortable images that question the way in which the experience of time, as a multiplicity (the eventfulness of history), was neutralized in the narrative of the transition where the necessity of progress worked as a teleological command. In this sense, the novel points toward the limits of hegemonic language by means of a suspension of the normalized sight that is placed in a very close relation with history and space. By doing this it questions the transformation of historicity into a calculable formula in which freedom appears in the paradoxical form of a command (as in the mall).

     By Night in Chile is the feverish agony and confession of an Opus Dei priest who

    lived the duality of being a collaborator in the Pinochet regime, while also being a literary critic and poet. The story is based on a real person who had a literary column in the conservative newspaper El mercurio, a publication in which he decided on the literary

    xviicanon for more than a decade. The novel opens with an obsession with a peace of

    mind that was lost, an overlapping between the agonizing state and the idea of agony, in the Greek sense of a conflict, that interrupts his comfortable death. He says: “I used to be at peace with myself. Quiet and at peace. But it all blew up unexpectedly ...) My aim is

    not to stir up conflict, it never has been, my aims are peace and responsibility for one?s actions, for one?s words and silences” (1-2). Through this counterpoint between a lost

    peace and the necessity to avoid conflict, Bolaño uses the life of the priest to go through the last decades of history. The memories configure the space of the hegemonic language,

    xviiibuilding the architecture of official history from which what was done is reaffirmed.

    However, through a system of spatial juxtaposition, the novel also becomes the site for

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