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Whatever the outcome of the elitist quest for community, however, no matter how the relationship between elites and the labouring masses may turn out, the production of a new space commensurate with the capacities of the productive forces (technology and knowledge) can never be brought about by any particular social group; it must of necessity result from the relationship between groups – between classes or fractions of classes – on a world scale.

There should therefore be no cause for surprise when a space-related issue spurs collaboration (often denounced on that basis by party politicians) between very different kinds of people, between those who ‘react’ – reactionaries, in a traditional political parlance – and ‘liberals’ or ‘radicals,’ progressives, ‘advanced’ democrats, and even revolutionaries. Such coalitions around some particular counter-project or counter-plan, promoting a counter-space in opposition to the one embodied in the strategies of power, occur all over the world, as easily in Boston, New York or Toronto as in English or Japanese cities. Typically the first group – the ‘reactors’ – oppose a particular project in order to protect their own privileged space, their gardens and parks, their nature, their greenery, sometimes their comfortable old homes – or sometimes, just as likely, their familiar shacks. The second group – the ‘liberals’ or ‘radicals’ – will meanwhile oppose the same project on the grounds that it represents a seizure of the space concerned by capitalism in a general sense, or by specific financial interests, or by a particular developer. The ambiguity of such concepts as that of ecology, for example, which is a mixture of science and ideology, facilitates the formation of the most unlikely alliances.

–– Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (1974), p. 381 of D. Nicholson-Smith’s (1991) translation

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Which means I’ll be writing some reflections on last week’s incredible experiences soon…but, for now:

We have seen all that this valorization of the negative signified, including the conservative spirit of such an enterprise, the platitude of the affirmations supposed to be engendered thereby, and the manner in which we are led away from the most important task [for philosophy], that of determining problems and realizing in them our power of creation and decision. That is why conflicts, oppositions and contradictions seemed to us to be surface effects of conscious epiphenomena, while the unconscious lived on in problems and differences. History progresses not by negation and the negation of negation, but by deciding problems and affirming differences. It is no less bloody and cruel as a result. Only the shadows of history live by negation: the good enter into it with all the power of a posited differential or a difference affirmed; they repel shadows into the shadows and deny only as the consequence of a primary positivity and affirmation. For them, as Nietzsche says, affirmation is primary; it affirms difference, while the negative is only a consequence or a reflection in which affirmation is doubled. That is why real revolutions have the atmospheres of fétes. Contradiction is not the weapon of the proletariat but, rather, the manner in which the bourgeoisie defends and preserves itself, the shadow behind which it maintains its claim to decide what the problems are. Contradictions are not ‘resolved’, they are dissipated by capturing the problem of which they reflect only the shadow.

Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition (1968), p. 268 [Translated by Paul Patton, Columbia University Press, 1994]


There are no ruins without the triumph of vegetal life over that
which one day proudly rose over the earth. Clearly, everything that is
built on the earth in a certain way humiliates the earth. And so, it was
an ancient rite to make sacrifices to the gods of the place – each place
had an owner – in order to placate them so that they would permit the
rising of the fabric built by human hands. The act of setting up an
edifice shows the triumph of man over nature, as well as over history,
the historic work that would be so strange to a non-human beholder,
if there were one. And in the ruins, the human has been laid waste
but not erased. From that triumph – and all human triumph brings or
takes away pride–there remains something, which already entwines
with triumphant vegetal life, which freely runs, budding among the
broken columns and the torn-down walls. A fusion between nature
and history takes place; a pacification, a reconciliation that gives birth
to a special beauty that is dispensed by Greek Tragedy, brings with it
‘catharsis’. The contemplation of ruins cures, purifies, and expands
the spirit, making it approach the fluctuations of history, like an
immense tragedy without an author. Ruins are really a metaphor that
has reached the category of a Tragedy without an author. Its author is
simply time.
And tragedy springs from hope in an exaggerated fight with the
fatal limitations of destiny, of circumstances. Hope, the most human as
well as the most divine element in the life of man, remains free and
exposed, freed from its fights, in ruins. It is the pure transcendence of
To be sure, all ‘culture’ is the realisation of a dream–or rather
the attempt to realise it; one of those dreams that inexorably pursues
man and from which it is impossible to escape because it is born in the
indestructible depths of hope searching for its plot and at the same
time its realisation [la esperanza que busca su argumento, y al par su
realización]. Not all dreams ask to be realised, but there are some
that are so endowed with this request that they do not permit human
consciousness to rest, that they will throw man into any adventure.
Realisation is always a frustration. To that extent all history, even the
most splendid, is a failure. A failure that carries within also its triumph:
the incessant rebirth of human hope symbolised by ivy. Ivy is the
metaphor of a life that is born out of death, of the transcendence
that arrives each time something is finished [el trascender que sigue
a todo acabamiento]. It comes after the cessation of something that
went far on hope and into it [algo que fue lejos en la esperanza]. And if
Calderón exhorted us ‘to do good [obrar bien], because good is not lost
even in dreams’, it would be possible to understand this by thinking
that from all reality the only thing that may remain will be a dream.
To dream up the good [soñar bien] because good is not lost even in
María Zambrano, “Ruins: A Metaphor for Hope” [trans. José Mª Rodríguez García]
Originally published in 1951, written by the author while she was living in Havana in exile from Spain.

Most likely we travel to exist in an analogue to our life’s dilemmas. It’s like a spaceship. The work for the traveler is making the effort to understand that the place you are moving through is real and the solution to your increasingly absent problems is forgetting. To see them in a burst as you are vanishing into the world. Travel is not transcendence. It’s immanence. It’s trying to be here.

Eileen Myles in her essay “Iceland” from The Importance of Being Iceland. (Just after this, she narrates her trip to Ísafjörður, the largest town (pop 1,200) in the Westfjords. I long to go back there.)

Photo: Darren Patrick

Photo: Darren Patrick

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