Thursday, April 23, 2009

The New Geography

The New Geography: A Roundtable

By Jeffrey Kastner, Tom McCarthy, Nato Thompson, and Eyal Weizman / Apr-May 2009

The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space. We are in the epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed. We are at a moment, I believe, when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersects with its own skein.

—Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces,” 1967

The practice of geography is by its nature a ticklish, paradoxical enterprise. It is at once the study of objects and of subjects, of things and of behaviors, of the world around us as a phenomenon producing human activity and produced by it. A realization of the generative potential in such dichotomies—between the material and the symbolic, between places as conceived and places as experienced, between spatial and temporal models of existential understanding—has long influenced the academic discipline of geography. And in today’s world, where the familiar order of things seems increasingly contingent and fluid, destabilized by political and military turmoil, economic upheaval, and rapid technological development, a similar impulse among artists, writers, architects, and other cultural producers to interrogate and reimagine conventional notions of the physical and social landscape we inhabit grows only more vivid.

Each of the participants in this roundtable has developed innovative and unique practices that engage questions of space. Tom McCarthy’s role, since 2000, as a conceptual provocateur in the “semi-fictitious avant-garde network” known as the International Necronautical Society (INS) finds literary expression in his first novel, Remainder (2007), in which an unnamed protagonist, almost killed by a piece of high-tech debris that falls from the sky, awakens from a coma with his worldview permanently altered. Obsessed with finding a sense of heightened authenticity in the world around him, he’s driven to replay, to literally reenact, certain resonant moments that challenge his (and the reader’s) notions of space and time, as well as the kinds of activities—mundane and exceptional—that necessarily take place in both constructs. Nato Thompson’s work as a curator and writer has consistently examined the potential of social space as an arena for the artistic production of meaning. He persistently probes the idea, as he’s written, that, “ultimately, all phenomena resolve themselves in space. Cultural and material production are not simply abstract ideas, but are forces that shape who and what we are, and they do so in places we can walk to, intervene in, and tour.” Architect and theorist Eyal Weizman, meanwhile, has long focused his scholarship on the relationship between architecture and planning and the intractable social, political, and military conflicts between Palestinians and Israelis. Weizman is the author of Hollow Land (2007), which, he writes, “looks at the ways in which the different forms of Israeli rule inscribed themselves in space, analyzing the geographical, territorial, urban and architectural conceptions and the interrelated practices that form and sustain them.”

The four of us, two in London and two in New York, held a conversation within the spatially indeterminate surroundings of the Internet over the course of a week early last February from which the following transcript is taken.

—Jeffrey Kastner