Notes On The Local

Everything that today is acceptable as a landscape for us is the fruit of bloody violence and conflicts of a rare brutality.  

That could be thought of as a summary of what the demokratic government wants to make us forget.  Forget that the suburbs have devoured the countryside; forget that the factories have devoured the suburbs, that the deafening, restless, sprawling metropolis has devoured everything.

Acknowledging this doesn't necessarily mean feeling sorry about it.  Acknowledging it means grasping its possibilities, both in the past and the present.  

The sectioned-off, policed territory where our everyday life takes place, between the supermarket and the digital code for the downstairs door, between the traffic lights and crosswalks, comprises us.  We are inhabited by the space we live in.  And this is all the more so now that everything in it, or almost everything in it, operates like a subliminal message.  We don't do certain things in certain places, because such things just aren't done.


Urban furniture, for example, is almost completely useless - haven't you ever asked yourself who could possibly sit on the benches in one of today's urban neo-squares without succumbing to the most violent despair?  There's just one meaning, one function: and that meaning and function are totally prohibitive: "you're only at home when you're at home, or wherever you've paid to be, or wherever you are under surveillance," it reminds us, as if it were its sole purpose to do so.

The world is getting globalized, but it's shrinking.

The physical landscape we pass through every day at high speeds (in cars, in public transport, on foot, in a rush) basically has such an unreal character to it because in it no one experiences anything at all, and in it nothing can live.  It is a kind of micro-desert where we're like exiles, moving about between one piece of private property and the other, between one obligation and another.

The virtual landscape, on the other hand, looks much more appealing.  The liquid crystal computer screen; Internet navigation; the televised or playstation universes -- these are infinitely more familiar to us than the streets of our own neighborhoods are, peopled in the evenings by the lunar light of the street lamps and the metal curtains and gates on the closed stores.

The opposite of the local isn't the global; it's the virtual.

The global is indeed so not opposed to the local that the global in fact produces the local. The global only refers to a certain distribution of differences based on a norm that homogenizes them all.  Folklore is the effect of cosmopolitanism.  If we don't know the local as something truly local, it ends up being a little mini global whole.   The local appears to the extent that the global makes itself possible and necessary.  Going to work, going shopping, traveling far away from home; that's what makes the local something truly local; otherwise it would be - much more modestly - merely the place you live in.  

Furthermore, we don't really live anywhere at all, properly speaking.  

Our existence is merely divided up into sectors delimited by topological and time-schedule lines, into little slices of personalized life.  

But that's not all; PEOPLE would now also like to make us live in the virtual -- to have us definitively deported.  There, life will be reconstituted, into a curious unity of non-time and non-place, as the life  PEOPLE wish us to have; a Virtual Life,  which, an ad for the Internet says, is "a place where you can do everything that you can't do in real life."  But there, where "everything is permissible," the mechanism of the passage from potential to acts is under total surveillance.  In other words: the virtual world is the place where possibilities never become real, but remain indefinitely in a state of virtuality.  Here prevention wins out over intervention: although everything is possible in the virtual world, that's only because the apparatus itself ensures that everything will remain unchanged in our real lives.

Soon, PEOPLE say, we'll be tele-commuting (tele-working) and tele-consuming.  In this "tele-life," we will no longer be afflicted by the painful feeling we had in public space that our possibilities were being aborted, every time eyes would meet and then turn so quickly away.   The annoyance of being immersed among our contemporaries, who most often are strangers to us - in the streets or elsewhere - will be abolished.  The local, expelled from the global, will itself be projected into the virtual, so as to make us believe, once and for all, that nothing but the global exists.  To make the pill easier to swallow, it will be necessary to drape that uniformity in multi-ethnic and multi-cultural trappings.

While waiting for the advent of tele-life, we suggest the hypothesis that our bodies, in space, have a political meaning, and that domination constantly works to hide it.

Shouting a slogan at home isn't the same as shouting it out in a stairwell or out in the street.  Doing it alone isn't the same as doing it with a number of people, and so on and so forth.  

Space is political and space is living, because space is inhabited; it is inhabited by our bodies, which transform it by the simple fact that they are  contained within it.  And that's why it is put under surveillance, and why it is closed off.   

The idea of space that represents it as something empty that is then filled up with objects, bodies, and things is a false one.  On the contrary, that is just the idea of space obtained by mentally removing from a given concrete space all the objects, bodies, and things that inhabit it.  Power as it is today has certainly materialized this idea in its esplanades, its highways, and in its architecture.  But it is constantly being threatened by its original defect.  When something takes place in a space controlled by the global order, when part of that space actually becomes a place, due to an event arising there, an unexpected turn has occurred, and the global order wants nothing more than to suppress that kind of thing.  Against this, it has invented the "local," in the sense that it continually adjusts all its control, data capture, and management devices to fit each particular location.

That's why I say that the local is political: because it is the place where the present confrontation occurs.

changed May 27, 2010