Image 1: Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche & Europa
Centre. Once a symbol of West Berlin, the Europa Centre and the
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church are situated at the North East end
of the Kurfürstendamm, a street renowned for glamorous shopping
One of the points Lewis Mumford's classic study The City in History2
makes is that historically, cities are places where more and more
people have gone to realize their lives. This paper is about cities,
in particular, it is about the city of Berlin, or should I say it
is a portrait of that city, a city that lies at the heart of many
events that mark the development of the West as it is today. The
central themes are the emptiness and space in the city created by
the Berlin Wall. These are developed in the form of an essay in
the tradition of Montaigne, a personal meditation on a theme that
not only documents the transformations of the city from the1980s
to 1990s, it also acts like a travelogue. Spaces geographic, economic,
political, cinematic, personal, and linguistic are transcribed on
an ambling sojourn from Potsdamerplatz to the Reichstag.
These impressions are those of a Maltese-Australian who has lived
much of his life in the heart of the city of Sydney, and who has
travelled occasionally to Berlin. This is a position of a misplaced
individual who stands, both here and there, on the margins, a migrant,
and a tourist. These positions, the migrant and the tourist, are
considered alongside the citizen in an analytical synthesis that
examines how The People occupy space in The City today.
I might have titled this essay "Sydney/Berlin; Centre/Periphery"
but such a name might have suggested that this is an anachronistic
exploration that travels from centre to edge, along two big cities
at the end of the twentieth century. In fact, I want to displace
fixed notions of time-space, here-there, past-present, in-out, as
part of a larger, on-going search for a sense of belonging. For
today, places like Sydney and Berlin form part of a global web of
habitable spaces The City is becoming at the begining of the twenty
Yet if Sydney and Berlin are explicit Blogs in this network, places
like Malta (where I was born) and Amsterdam (where I am now living)
remain implicitly available as places where co-habitation and belonging
may become more actual, that is, places where the symbolic and material
occupation of space can be accommodated together. Such places are
still available, herein, even if they are never explicated.
A range of sources are presented in this essay. Two films by Wim
Wenders, Wings of Desire (1987) and Faraway So Close! (1993), are
central in formulating an initial impression of Berlin. Over them
comes a selection of writings which are also accompanied by my work
as an artist and writer. In this way, I seek to establish an inter-subjective
text that doesn't claim a singular authorial voice over either the
places evoked or the texts referred to. What I hope to do is to
open up a third space that we, as readers and writers, may co-inhabit
together. For projects like this are also always about difference
and identification, integration and exclusion, a desire to participate
and contribute, as well as a need to be honoured and recognized.
This paper is structured into three parts. Part 1 is about Cold
War Berlin and in particular the sense of time and space created
in the East and West of the City. Part 2 deals with the re-occupation
of the City during the 1990s, first by looking at how capitalist
enterprises took up a place in Berlin, and then by looking at the
role language plays in the demarcation and capturing of space. Between
parts 1 and 2, are two inter-sections where the disappearing-reappearing
subject is discussed.
The communicative strategy behind this paper seeks to create a dynamic
relationship between the different roles and parts found herein,
and this is quite demanding of you, its receiver, too. If you seek
to measure the success of this strategy, you might like to ask if
there is a space, or a sense of space, a manifestation, that emerges
(or not) for you to enter and speculate. We can decide if we can
Image 2: Triptych of park near the ruined Anhalter Bahnhoff.
Wim Wenders' shot several scenes for Wings of Desire at this site,
including one where Peter Falk goes for a walk through Berlin in
search of his German roots.
I was a late comer to Berlin, having only arrived in the city for
the first time in 1995. A year earlier, my imagination had been
re-captured by Wim Wenders's Faraway So Close, the second of his
angels in Berlin films. Before that, Berlin was only a shadow in
my mind, cast long ago when I was just a boy growing up on a sunny
island in the middle of the Mediterranean. Berlin! Berlin? That
was the shadow of the cold war. But today, Berlin is different.
One of the things that struck me in my first, real, encounter with
Berlin is how much like Sydney it is. No I don't mean that sunny
skies and blue waters surround it, as it does Sydney. Rather it
seemed that everywhere there were building sites, cranes, and proposed
construction projects. One important distinction between Sydney
and Berlin, though, is the sense of history. For if Sydney can be
characterised as a city with too short a memory, a city that can't
or won't remember, or a city that forgets too easily, Berlin, it
could be said, has a memory that is too long, inescapable, unbearable.
But today, it might also be said, Berlin is trying to change its
image, and look more like the city it was in the 1920s than it did
during the 1980s. With much hubbub, the streets are again pulsing
like the veins of a wildly excited animal, intoxicated by diesel
fumes.3 This city pumps like someone on a workout - to the pulsing,
driving tune of construction engines and jack hammers. This is the
New Republic, and the glory days of the Weimar might yet be recuperated,
although no-one would dare say that in so many words. Berliners
remain mindful of the lessons of history.
The Cold War City
Image 3: Europa Centre Shopping Plaza. Arcades like this were
legendary in the East as word of the profusion of Western consumer
goods permeated through the Berlin Wall.
Before entering the city of the present, I want to recall what Berlin
may have been like during the Cold War. Not having witnessed that
city myself, I have relied on the interpretations of others from
which to draw and write.4 One such source, Karen Jaehn, in reviewing
Wim Wenders's first angels movie, Wings of Desire, wrote that
Today Berlin...is kept as tarted up as Macy's Christmas window,
a virtual display case of the virtues of capitalism dead centre
in the Eastern Bloc.5
This impression was reiterated by Alexandra Richie in her more recently
published history of Berlin, where she also suggested that
West Berlin was transformed...after the success of the Allied Airlift
in 1948-49...into a 'Showcase of Capitalism' meant to prove the
superiority of the West and to dazzle those in the Soviet zone.6
Long before the end of the Cold War, contemporary life in this thoroughly
postmodern city7 was already primed by the promises of capitalism.
Shopping arcades such as the one at the base of the Europa Centre
had long become legendary in the East as word of the profusion of
Western consumer goods permeated through the Berlin Wall. In some
parts of Berlin at least, people were thoroughly caught up in post-industrial
modes of production - commodification and consumption, the open
market, and money.
Not all West Germans were happy with this situation, many of whom
could see what was happening in front of their eyes, and this prompted
some to take action. According to the East German spymaster, Markus
Wolf, West German millionaire Hannsheinz Porst
believed that the [GDR's] socialist system, particularly its welfare
system and its anti-fascist tradition, represented a worthy alternative
to West German capitalism.8
That is how some saw East and West Berlin during the Cold War. I'll
return to consider how capitalism continues to shape the city later.
The Cinematic City
Image 4: The space where Wenders placed the Circus while shooting
Wings of Desire in the 1980s might be gone but there was still some
room for the circus in Friedrichstrasse in 1998.
Another picture, or set of pictures, of the Cold War city comes
from films. One movie, Berlin Cinema (dir. Samira Gloor-Fadel, 1999),
featured Wenders as well as another prominent European film-maker,
Jean Luc Goddard. During this film, Wenders reiterated a point that
emerged at the Berlin Forum back in 1992, at which he was a speaker.
At that Forum, Wenders said that one of the things he really liked
about Berlin was its sense of space, and he talks about space in
reference to his films too, the sort of in-between space that gives
audiences room to fill them with something of their own making,
their own meaning.9
Drawing on his experience of filming Wings of Desire, here is how
Wenders recalled Berlin in the 1980s;
There are innumerable gaps all over the city, with walls that do
not exist in other cities, so that there are these empty ...unoccupied
places in between ...barren land, derelict land, even in the inner
city areas, ...places where nothing happens. ...There used to be
a place in Berlin where we put a circus for a film10
In turning to the question of how the future capital of Germany
was to be reconstituted - remember that the Forum took place in
1992 - other speakers emphatically agreed with Wenders, that it
was important to retain this sense of space. Here is what Derrida,
who was also at the Forum, had to say;
a city has to remain ...open not only to aliens, but as a place
for hospitality in the future ...it's not simply the physical occupation
of space ...openness has to do with a dimension of symbolic, linguistic
possibilities ...The city I would like to live in is a city I could
easily leave ...That's why I insisted on the principle of leaving
the openness of the city.11
I'll come back to the idea of the symbolic and the linguistic aspects
of space later, but first I want to continue examining the spaces
found in Berlin during the 1980s.
Image 5: Cracks in the Wall? Near the Gedenkstätte Berliner
Mauer. A photoreconstruction of the space between the East and West
created by the Berlin Wall. Graffitied critiques of the East were
a celebrated feature of the freedom of West Berlin.
Turning to the east of the Cold War City, Brian Ladd12 characterised
the Berlin Wall as an interstice where nothing happens, a division
where everything was revealed. For Ladd, the most remarkable thing
about the Soviet security system was the silence and the openness
they created. This empty zone of nothingness was where the East
attempted to cordon off the West and secure the survival of the
Communist regime, by silencing opposition, clearing out pockets
of resistance, and freezing all movement. The German Democratic
Republic's solution to the seductive lure of the West was to try
to shut it out of the minds of the people. Empty, silent, space
Image 6: A graffitied poster of Gerhardt Schroeder during
the1998 German election campaign. The Social Democrats finally beat
Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrats after more than a decade in opposition.
One of the factors behind Kohl's loss was said to be increasing
disillusionment amongst former East Germany electors, who abandoned
the Christian Democrats and delivered a significant vote to a reformed
Yet it was not consumer goods or capitalist shopfronts that Berliners
longed to shut out. History has given Berlin an unusual legacy,
though it is not a legacy that the City remembers loudly, or proudly,
even today. As a visit to the Kaiser Wilhelm Gadächtniskerche
highlights, its a history of shame and darkness that renders those
sensitive to the fullness and depth of its meaning to silence and,
perhaps even, despair. Graffiti critiques of the East, a celebrated
feature of the Western side of the Berlin Wall, may also be regarded
as another 'silent' testimonial some Germans were compelled to make,
concerning the deeds of the totalitarian State.
So, what is this empty, silent space really about? Can people "work
off"13 the legacy of the past, either Fascist or Communist,
as Jürgen Habermas keeps insisting on? Is it possible, as the
rulers of the former East Germany tried to do, to stave off the
totalitarian tendency lurking in the human mind that realised such
"topographies of terror" - left and right - through the
creation of an empty, silent, space, an area in between? Or is it
better to cover it over with something new altogether, obliterating
what is past?
For let me now recall that, for Erich Honecker and his fellow Communists,
the Berlin Wall was actually and always intended to be an "antifascist
protective rampart."14 According to Eastern authorities, the
Mauer was put there to protect the East against the influence of
the Nazis, who had been so willingly recuperated by the West after
World War II. The Wall was somewhat more like a condom, then, a
device that allowed the East to stay in bed with the enemy while
protecting itself from their opponents disease. For the paternalistic
leaders of the East, space was thus a form of protection, a buffer
zone to keep the howling Cold War wolf, or should I say travelling
salesman, away from the door.
Image 7: The Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer stands in memory
of those who died trying to escape from East Berlin during the Cold
With the benefit of hindsight, however, it would appear that the
Wall actually created a gaping hole which the West obligingly filled.
As Dick Hebdige pointed out in his travelogue "Guilt Trips:
Coming Up Against The Wall,"15 the Allies filled the interstice
with the voice of President Kennedy, the sounds of Pink Floyd, and
(again) the advertising glitter of an endless array of consumer
goods broadcast on radio and TV waves. The West, so apparently unlike
the East, celebrated activity, exchanges, and flows, by encouraging
divergence, and embracing difference. In spite of all the walls
and barriers, silences and empty spaces, nothing could stop the
advertisers jingles from permeating to the people's very heart,
their living room, that sanctity which is their Lebensraum, and
filling it up with unending desires for goods and services, and
unfaithful promises of satisfaction.
By the end of the Space Race, and certainly by the beginning of
Star Wars, not long before the end of the Cold War, the West had
completely succeeded in presenting itself as the state of freedom
- the freedom to move and fill in empty space. There was even room
for dissidents, artists and intellectuals amongst the Space Invaders,
to mark out difference, utter critiques, and speak, like a conscience
to the self, for and on behalf of every other.
Unfortunately for the Communists, one of the most significant features
about empty, silent space, as was pointed out at the Berlin Forum,
is that it is always in danger of being filled. Furthermore, the
course of events since the collapse of the Berlin Wall reiterates
the fact that, in a Capital city that also claims to be a city for
capital, space simply cries out to be filled!
In concluding the first part of this paper, one can say that there
existed two Cold War Cities in Berlin, each possessed and governed
by two distinctive notions, or approaches, to (empty) space. These
may be surmised as follows;
1) East Berlin, which openly preserved a sense of empty, silent
space inherited partly from the legacies of a Fascist State and
partly from the destruction of war, and which the Communists tried
to fill with fear. This, the Communists hoped, would simultaneously
capture and buffer against the traces of a competing capitalist
West as well as contain and control the minds of the people;
2) West Berlin, where the Marshall Plan's politics of re-education
sought to quickly eradicate all traces of an authoritarian culture,
as well as the gaping wounds of war. The plan was to transform West
Berlin into a symbol of economic reconstruction, a young, vibrant,
and forward looking city that embodied a feeling of freedom through
movement, over and above, beyond and through all walls.
The second part of this paper looks at how capitalism continued
to define the city in the 1990s before turning to the role of language,
as writing and reading, in making, filling, and finally erasing
space. But first I want to say a little more about the speaking
positions within this essay.
Image 8: View of the InfoBox in Leipziger Platz, on the edge
of the Potsdamerplatz, in 1998 where even the reconstruction of
Potsdamer Platz could be commodified and marketed.
Whenever I go to Berlin, its usually via Amsterdam, where a stamp
is placed in my passport telling me the role I am expected to play.
Coming from beyond the EU, I am a tourist, a visitor. The EU, with
all its wonderful cities, encourages me to come, of course, is very
happy to receive me, but it only wants me to stay a while. I can
fill a space in this New European Citadel, but only temporarily,
Furthermore, in taking up such a space, I am asked to fulfil a particular
role - not as participator or producer, but as spectator and consumer.
Like the angels in Wenders's movies, I am only allowed to observe
and record what I see. But like Damiel in Wings of Desire, I'd like
to participate, to jump in to the stream of life. And like Cassiel
in Faraway So Close!, I'd also like to contribute, to do something
worthwhile and meaningful, both for myself and for others around
me. So - this is what I do.
Idling through the streets, looking, as tourists do, one sees many
things. Posters, ads, glamorous new buildings, and ambient old ones.
In today's booming, tourist aware city, the look is clean, shiny,
sterilised, and efficient. But doing as tourists (are supposed to)
do, I not only see, I also buy things such as postcards which I
occasionally write and post off to friends and family, reflecting
as I do, on my experiences. Some of these things could be spoken
of as products, or at least by-products, of the tourist's role as
Yet our contemporary tourist's "observations" should not
be confused with those of the Classical or Renaissance observer,
who stood ideally fixed in the absolute time-space of a panoptic
God. Today's tourist is (a) relative to us, in the manner of de
Certeau's pedestrians, a
walker [who] constitutes [space], in relation to his position, both
a near and a far, a here and a there. ...Walking [that] affirms,
suspects, tries out, transgresses, respects, etc., the trajectories
This is one of the benefits of being a tourist, you have space to
reflect back on where you came from, as well as observe, even to
consider what responses, if any, you might like to generate to the
places you are in. And all the while, you're marvelling, as you
go, at what is all around you.17
For in looking and walking, as tourists do, we cannot help but make
things more out of what we see. And, although given no official
status, tourists still produce things in addition to eating, sleeping,
and consuming - the things we need for our daily sustenance. In
ambling on, tourists constitute The City in ways that neither the
migrant nor the citizen, both too caught up in the busy-ness of
their daily lives, can do. Yet this sense of space is never, or
hardly ever, recognised or acknowledged as being valuable other
than the economic benefits tourists offer.
There used to be terms like alienation and reification to identify
experiences like these, where people, as creators or producers,
are separated from what they make and do. Such terms sought to identify
how autonomous individuals living in the state of capital are subjected,
by laws and conventions, by contracts, rights of ownership, title
deeds, and citizenship. Such conventions, it might be argued, take
what is inalienable in truth from an individual and turn it into
a right, which is distributed to some, and excluded from others.
Yet in spite of this, I, like many other toursists, have produced
things out of my visits to Berlin - just as surely as Berlin has
produced things in me. The thoughts in this essay are some, although
these are not just my own. I'm hosting other's too.
Image 9: Construction site, Potsdamerplatz, 1998. To the amusement
of workers, tourists snapped up one photo opportunity after another
as they idled through Potsdamer Platz.
Susan Sontag, whose ideas are also welcome here, has this to say
about a travelling photographer;
The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker, reconnoitering,
stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who
discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept
of the joys of watching, connoisseurs of empathy, the flâneur
finds the world picturesque.18
Walter Benjamin's notion of the flâneur19 is important to
my concerns and Sontag's interpretation adds depth to it by associating
the voyeur with the stalker and the reconnoitrer. There are connections
here between acts of desire, hunting, and war. But I'm not sure
about the relationship between the flâneur and the connoisseur.
My problem with that has to do with the sense of distance such a
word suggests, the space between the connoisseur and the object
of his or her connoisseurship.
For this is one of the strange ironies of today's city. While cities
like Berlin and Sydney impress themselves upon tourists their own
particular style and regional taste, they still seek to provide
a sense of the familiar (such as automatic teller machines or ATMs),
and hold us, as tourists, at least momentarily, in a mythic space,
that looks and feels so much like 'home' that we feel safe, even
in the most exotic, far flung places. Such spaces structure tourists
experiences by repeating acts (such of standing in front of ATMs
punching buttons to get money), a repetition that collapses new
and novel (spatial) encounters back into experiences from previously
known places where familiar narratives can be re-enacted to give
a sense that one is still at home.
There is a paradox in the tourist experience, therefore, that has
to do with the limitations placed around us as individuals - as
foreigners - at the same time as collapsing the distance between
us and the places we are in - foreigners in a foreign land. (I'll
return to this paradox when I discuss the role of language.) Nevertheless,
tourists go along with this paradox happily, reflecting (mostly
unconsciously) on experiences through acts like taking photographs
or writing in travel diaries. For there are only limited ways available
for tourists to take possession of the spectacles such foreign yet
familiar cities present. In this way, tourists may write themselves
into the City in the only way they can.
Walking around Potsdamerplatz, I realised that Berlin is a city
that has not quite learned
the art of growing old by playing on all its pasts ...[successfuly,
like say Rome. Yet it neither re-] invents itself, from hour to
hour [like Sydney or New York], in the act of throwing away its
[past] ...and challenging the future.20
I wonder what tourists really came to see (or expected to see) in
Berlin during the 1990s? Was it the spectacle of a divided Cold
War city, an open air museum, and a tyrant's tomb? Was it the spectre
of economic renewal at Potsdamerplatz, like another Glasgow or a
Sheffield? Was the attraction the transformation of a decaying,
under utilised city turning itself into a buzzing revitalised metropolis,
a busy thoroughfare, a freeway for ideas, hopes, and dreams? And
what about the empty space, did anyone - other than Derrida, Hebdige,
and Ladd - come for that?
Image 10: Potsdamerplatz, 1998.
From the InfoBox in Leipziger Platz, tourists as well as the citizens
of Berlin could observe (mostly itinerant migrant) workers toiling
away before their eyes, transforming what was, not all that long
ago, the rubbish dump of history back into a throbbing centre for
commerce and industry. I was somewhat amazed to see people willing
to pay for the privilege of looking at a city undergoing this sort
of open heart surgery.
On reflection, this should not have been too surprising, for Berlin
seems to have an ingenious tradition of developing innovative, original,
and sometimes highly aesthetic (not to mention financially rewarding)
ways of capturing, representing, and marketing itself. Along the
way, the city has fostered, nourished, and inspired many new artistic
(and other) movements during the twentieth century. As the InfoBox
suggests, even the reconstruction of Potsdamerplatz could be commodified
Yet in spite of the best marketing, Berlin is still unable to obliterate
its past. Instead the city clumsilly tries to turn even the darkest
aspects of its history into something saleable. This could be graphically
seen on one of the new tower buildings in Potsdamerplatz, which
seemed determined to preserve the memory of the past by posting
a monumental reproduction of a soldier helping an East German citizen
to scale the Berlin Wall. Like other advertising campaigns, images
of liberation, multiculturalism, even the tragedy of AIDS, may be
used as marketing tools? Is this is the same as Simonedes' re-membering
the bodies of the dead inside the banquet hall, I ask?21 That question,
along with another that arises, namely, whether the ritual of 'honouring'
the dead and the past can be appropriately performed when it becomes
commercialised, would be the subject of another paper.
If space, coming back to the theme of this paper, was indeed one
of the most striking features in Cold War Berlin, what is equally
striking today is how quickly commerce and industry have occupied
the emptiness of the city. If Wenders was right in saying, in what
seems now so long ago, that "the Americans have colonised our
subconsciousness",22 it seems equally true today to say that
capitalism has colonised every inch of time and space, in the city,
as well as in our lives.
In examining what is happening to the open space of the city, one
is tempted to repeat an all too often made observation - that capitalism
turns everything in the city to the interests of business. Even
the City's own citizens have been turned into consumers, tourists
in their own backyards. But this sounds like a cliche, today. Besides,
one of the things that the end of the Cold War promised was a liberation
from the tyranny of ideology. As the economic rationalists of the
1980s had us believe, the market place is without ideological baggage
or meaning. Capitalism is a value free system of free floating signs
without any fixed referents whatsoever.
The problem is how do we convince those poor souls living in Thatcher's
Britain, who are still being shunted from one odd job to another,
that they really shouldn't feel "fixed" to the bottom
rungs of the economic ladder.23
Image 11: Monumental Marketing. This impressive image of an
East German soldier helping a civilian climb over the Berlin Wall
in 1989 was placed over the entire facade of this building in Potsdamerplatz.
Is this a monument to the liberation of The People or is it now
a marketing tool?
Economics was not the only thing that motivated the citizens of
Berlin in the late 1980s, however. The falling of the barriers across
the Berlin Wall gave rise to powerful dreams - dreams that gave
people a sense of belonging in a city that was once their home.
By the end of 1989, it really looked like the people were really
taking power, and claiming the city, finally, as their own, while
asking the occupying superpowers to leave.
Back in 1990, the collapse of the Wall did promise the people that
longed for freedom of movement. Destiny and history looked, at last,
to have come together over the same time-space. Thus re-united,
Germans could finally move towards a universal, pan European, participatory
democracy, where citizens could enjoy the freedom to shape their
own personal lives as well as taking part in shaping the future
of a new State. At last, Berlin had redeemed itself by simultaneously
lifting the terrible burden of history and realising a new democracy
where all can be a part.
Today, however, it appears that the body politic that emerged in
1989 was naïve in believing it could really fill the gap created
by the collapse of Communism. As Howard Caygill soberingly suggests,
the future of the city was already becoming clear as early as November
of that year, when the reconstruction of Berlin was being "secretly"24
pre-figured in leather clad lounges and wood-panelled interiors
of the city's tower blocks and administration buildings. At the
centre of those "imaginings" may have been the question
of how Potsdamerplatz could be re-occupied. Perhaps not so far below
the surface of such "dreamings" was a mythical Homeric25
recollection of Berlin in the 1920s. Then Potsdamerplatz buzzed
as people teamed all over the streets, sat in Cafes, smoked cigars,
and talked excitedly about all sorts of possibilities. In those
days, so legend has it, you could buy almost anything in Potsdamerplatz.
Was this the pedigree that attracted German as well as multinational
corporations to take up residence there?
It seems somewhat prophetic then, in the light of what has happened,
that Wenders put the circus for Wings of Desire at a place called
the Belle-Alliance Platz. Although that place is today called Mehringplatz,26
there is still room for a Circus in central Berlin, only now it
is located in nearby Friedrichstrasse. There it may stay in the
City, but like the Circus in Wender's film, only as long as the
belle alliance between money and entertainment is properly maintained.
The Circus still has to pay the rent.
Caygill's conclusion, therefore, was that the Berlin City Forum,
where Wenders, Derrida, and company gathered in the early 1990s,
became just another showcase for a "technocratic 'democracy
...where the people were to be guided by experts.'"27 Like
the tourist and the migrant, the newly freed citizens of the capital
were left standing in the Cold.
Image 12: The artist Christo wanted to wrap the Reichstag
as long ago as the 1970s. Finally in 1995, he got the opportunity,
and Berliners came out in droves to celebrate the lifting of the
black shroud of history from their city.
Without reducing the importance of such socio-economic, historical
and political analyses in understanding how the City was re-occupied,
I want to turn now to the relationship between language, knowledge,
and power and how these form part of a mechanism to occupy empty
space. But first I want to stress that language, as used here, signifies
any system of communication, from the written words in this essay
to spoken phrases in the street, from sculpture to architecture,
and from urban planning to the cinema.
For, as Derrida pointed out at the Berlin City Forum, space is not
only about geography - space is also symbolic. Indeed, one may argue
that empty space is first brought into being, into the realms of
knowledge, when it is identified through language. One could take
this further and suggest that space, any space, is both shaped and
formed in this initial, reflexive act of naming, an act of identification.28
The drawing of space with words and images - the two semiotic systems
used here - constitutes this space and forms the first and perhaps
most important step towards capturing and territorialising what
would otherwise remain empty and silent - the space of difference
and the space of the other. This is one of the most important features
of empty space: it is available for anyone to occupy, irrespective
of where they come from, who they are, what they believe, and what
they have to say. Language created space for those other-selves
to come into being through the act of writing, as well as placing
a limit around them. Through such acts of writing, a sense of belonging
(identification with and through writing) could slowly emerge.29
The graffiti artists inscribing themselves on the Berlin Wall were
engaged in precisely such an activity when they uttered their cheeky
critiques right under the Communists noses. The West German authorities,
who treated the Wall as a kind of "no-man's land," were
happy to tolerate such disorderly expressions because it served
the overall objectives of the West. The East Germans, on the other
hand, kept their side of the wall in a pristine state of white sterility,
a blank, clean slate just begging to be written on. That whiteboard
of concrete, kept forcibly at bay from the hands of the East German
people, allowed the West to invisibly write a message of freedom
and democracy in indelible ink.30
Yet if space is left open for occupation by the people, the voice
of the State (especially a State that depends, however superficially,
on the people to legitimate itself) may become fractured into many
differing, conflicting, and contradictory voices. This might especially
appear to be so if the people are given 'too much' of a say. That
is why the East German authorities would never have allowed Christo
to wrap up the Reichstag in the 1970s, when he originally wanted
to do it. For that would have freed the meaning of the building,
which the Communists wished to tie down as a sign of World War II,
the tyranny of Hitler, and the fall of German democracy. Christo's
act would have turned the Reichstag into a lighter, freewheeling,
Yet it was not only the gravity of the symbol the Communists wished
to maintain, but also its fixity. Totalitarian systems seem to prefer
to maintain their authorial voice through absolute control over
the production of meaning. That iron-fisted rigidity of the Eastern
Bloc's signifying system actually allowed the West to develop a
more flexible network of signs that didn't rely on fixing internal
locations for meaning to achieve credibility. By providing the West
with a set of fixed referents, the East allowed the West to outmanoeuvre
Yet it was not only the East German authorities who struggled with
this dilemma. For if the tolerance of graffiti at the Berlin Wall
came to symbolise the difference between the people's ability to
express themselves in the two States, the graffiti artists capacity
to define and occupy (empty) space in West Berlin was really only
true for a time. A different story emerged when those same graffitists
sprayed anti-American slogans during President Reagan's 1987 visit
to the Brandenburg Gate.31 Now it was the West Berlin authorities
who hastily removed such writings.
In this essay, I have conflated the idea of the East (usually thought
of as Asia and the Middle East) with the former Soviet Bloc to emphasise
the dependence the West (as distinct to Europe) has had on identifying
an 'Evil Empire' to the East as the straw figure at the core of
the binary (linguistic) opposition that gave the West its signifying
'orientation' during the Cold War.32 The dependence on the other
for the generation of meaning is amplified in every aspect of culture,
not just the military, but also economic, as well as cultural, through
which the West asserted its superiority. Today, however, we are
confronted by the apparent failure of that system as part of the
bedrock for a universal rationalism, and this has affected every
aspect of Western culture.33 As Iain Chambers pointed out, even
critical thinkers in the West today
... find ourselves employing a language that is always shadowed
by loss, an elsewhere, a ghost: the unconscious, an 'other' text,
an 'other' voice, an 'other' world; a language that is 'powerfully
affected by the foreign tongue.'34
And there are other contemporary Western thinkers besides Chambers
who recognise the "other's" roles in shaping the languages
of the self. These theorists too, continue to struggle to acknowledge
and accommodate the other's contribution. Here is how Paul Carter
it becomes more than ever urgent to develop a framework of thinking
that makes the migrant central, not ancillary, to historical processes.
We need to disarm the genealogical rhetoric of blood, property and
frontiers and to substitute for it a lateral account of social relations,
one that stresses the contingency of all definitions of self and
the other, and the necessity always to tread lightly.35
Image 13: View of Glienicker Bridge as seen from the Volkspark
on the shores of the Havel. The Glienicker Bridge was where the
East exchanged captured spies and other political prisoners with
the West during the Cold War.
At this point I must confess to feeling silenced and emptied by
these attempts to pursue this task. I especially feel displaced
when artists and theorists such as Derrida and Wenders, even Sontag,
Chambers, and Carter, talk about invisible spaces - the spaces of
the other. I lose my sense of place, that wild, untrammelled, open
terrain, of difference, and being, on the outside - even while standing
in. That space to be, in my hitherto empty silentness, is recuperated
and lost by its translation into language and transliteration into
words and images. But I stand distanced from my own created artifices
now too, these words and these images, as much as from my experience
of being an immigrant and tourist.
This new sense of silence and emptiness seems both inexplicable
and inescapable, as if the very act of being an author encroaches
on the other, whose space remains invisible - but no less real.
Reduced, again to silence, he is obliged to keep on moving.
Emmanual Levinas argued that this exteriority (illeity) needs to
be acknowledged without reduction to the self's language, if the
other is to be truly honoured, negotiated with, and 'moved towards.'
For Levinas, this other remains beyond the phenomena of the self
in language, an absoluteness that interrupts the self's linguistic
systems, an unmitigated trace or presence beyond self 'being.'36
It is difficult to articulate this point precisely because here
we are at the breakdown of language and the (emergency) immersion
into what might be termed the sublime, a moment created when we
are forced to co-habitate with our Immanent Selves, where the contingency
of all our possibilities is suddenly realizable.
I see connections here to Jean Luc Nancy's attempts to deal with
a body-of-the-senses. In The Birth of Presence, Nancy suggests that
what is needed is a new, impossible corpus, a corpus of discourse
(of language as well as of the body) as if it were an itinerary
or a dictionary. Nancy's "Corpus" is of a permeable body
where organs and body parts point towards their emergent openings
rather than a totality as their origins. Those open wounds become
openings that signify themselves and "where [their] sense gets
lost."37 This suggests a bank of body parts after a surgical
operation, where the body's capacity for discourse (to render or
totalise itself whole in language) is abandoned for the sense of
feeling, touching, smelling, tasting, seeing. There is, in Nancy's
corpus, an irreducible sense of excess, a body beyond the reach
of its own limits, which is to say both beyond and before the self,
where sensation floods the body's senses with the recognition of
its 'saturated totality' (p 206). This extended/distended/attenuated
'naked body' is where senses are exposed to senses, and nerves end
up on nerves. Nancy's corpus is thus a glossary for a sensing body,
open to all sorts of possibilities left by a surgeon's knife that
has opened wounds that act like bioports.38
We again arrive at the floating of significance performed by Christo
on the Reichstag, an event witnessed by millions, in which a weathered
and battle scarred building was made so buoyant that it almost disappeared
into the sky just by being wrapped in a silver foil. No longer fixed
as a sign pointing towards the wounds Hitler and the Second World
War inflicted on the German people, Christo's transformation of
the building opened up those scars and allowed people to reflect
on the emergent possibilities presented by the 1990s. Now, once
again, the people could exercise their freedom by just walking around
that sealed off building. Their corpus, the wounded polity of The
People, still bore the potential (and longing) for that body to
be healed, but how to do it? By suturing its wounds in yet an(other)
act of enclosed solipsism? Or might it be done by connecting with
other, open bodies?! Either way, Nancy's open corpus is a difficult
one to live in, as he himself admits.39
History has repeatedly shown that the State is more inclined to
sealing off such an open body, like East and West Berlin, even though
there must remain some portals, no matter how insignificant, for
no human system is capable of independent survival. Berlin's Glienicke
Bridge was one such place where the two systems once connected together.
Across that bridge, both sides exchanged their captive spies in
an act that mediated their separate meaning at the same time as
enabling each to negate the other.
On the other hand, many artists, writers, thinkers try to bear an
open, wounded body into existence - through our art, a form of language.
But as we do, we cannot help but realise that in doing so, we come
to occupy another's space, obliging them to move. The thing we really
long for, to enter and be a part of, is abandoned once more, and
is again retreating, back, beyond, behind, beneath. Standing, again
defeated, we still don't have what we came looking for. Even this
attempt to enter my silent emptiness, what once seemed a sovereign
right, has failed again! Again and again, I stand on barren, abandoned
land, a hollow act made speechless.
What's really interesting about writing or art-making is not that
the voice of the author, any author, your Ego-I or mine, is incapable
of speaking for this, that, or any other. Or even that such attempts
to speak the others truths renders our thoughts to shallow utterances,
like simple, solipsistic reflections of and on the self (masquerading
as the other). Such problems have consumed the minds of many including
Derrida and Spivak.40
I want to explore the losing of the space, space once occupied by
the self as other, living in the self, like standing on the outside
while also standing in. This magical disappearing-reappearing act
seems partly to hinge upon culture and also - partly - to hinge
upon language. But in continuing to exist in different cultures
and different languages, one sometimes becomes aware, glimpses for
a moment, that the very things once promised by language and by
culture, our selves and others realised, are lost again to lasting
Image 14: A behind the scenes view of the reconstruction of
the Reichstag in 1998. This image was taken only months before the
German Parliament was to again take its seat in Berlin. Yet the
Reichstag is a symbol of mixed meanings, the house where the will
of the German people was excercised, as well as the place where
German democracy was curtailed and overthrown.
Not everyone agrees that the self and other are linked in silence.
Homi Bhabha, for example, suggests the loss of the other can be
overcome through parody, by cloaking in the language of the self
half jokingly, in mimicry of the centre.41 For Bhabha, the act of
faking a semiosis of the self, acting like a naughty shadow if you
like, distorts the self and allows the other to be seen. But that
seems an extreme position, eccentric and freakish, and one that
undermines the integrity of both the self and other. It also avoids
the problem of the many sided bodies co-existing in the one and
many places simultaneously. Bhabha's formulation may be appropriate
to a non-European other coming from beyond a European self but I'm
inclined to Tzvetan Todorov's position, which he came to on returning
to his native Bulgaria after living in Parisian exile for eighteen
My double belonging only produces one result: in my own eyes, it
taints each of my two discourses with inauthenticity, since each
can correspond but to half of who I am; yet I am indeed double.
I thus once again confine myself to an oppressive silence.42
Is there something more compelling in Todorov's silence, a resistance
that stays beyond both time and space, beyond the language of oppression
and discourses of capture? Is the other-self more real in emptiness,
in silence, and in loss? Wouldn't it have been better if the German
Parliament remained seated elsewhere, therefore, leaving the Reichstag,
a tragic symbol of mixed and (now) empty meanings, to stand in silence?
In an essay about the emptiness in the word-paintings of Ilya Kabokov,
Mikhail Epstein writes ...
Art ...becomes a rite of circumnavigating emptiness, of slow, cautious,
and deliberate capitulation. It is [Mikhail] Kutozov's, not Napoleon's
tactics of encountering emptiness: instead of attacking it with
militant cultural projects, one retreats, ceding ...where emptiness
least expects to find a place - at the heart of the artist's creation.
In order to prevent emptiness from swallowing up this creation,
depriving it of meaning from the outside, it is made to curl up
inside it, like a quiet, well-fed, docile wild animal in a cage.43
Well now, is that all there is left, the work of art in the age
of global capitalism?44 Is a caged up silent terror, that wild and
cunning beast at the heart of creation, still the centre of our
culture? If so, where will that lead us now? Should we still be
satisfied by such mythologising explanations? Kutazov's technique,
as successful as it might be in avoiding capture, still leaves us,
as self and other, in a (linguistic) conundrum with nowhere apparent
left, logically, but to remain in separation, as if we are at war.
In thinking further about this problem, and I'm thinking out aloud,
right now, at least part of the dilemma seems to be of situation,
as Sartre45 might have replied, of discerning when to withhold or
withdraw into-beyond one's location, and when to uncloak and become
an other-self in language. Because, more than just a connoisseur,
the flâneur finds the animal in its cage not only picturesque,
he also wants to engage it. Paradoxically then, the German Parliament
may be quite right to re-occupy the Reichstag and confront the questions
it raises head on. Danger remains, however, whether we leave that
animal locked up or we open up the door.
Conventionally, The City-State resolves this problem by deferring
special properties - for example, when the migrant becomes entitled
to the mantle of the citizen. This solution, however, reproduces
the mechanisms of capture and colonisation by re-instating boundaries
between our selves and others. Are other language games possible,
then, as suggested by Ernesto Laclau,46 that seek to move through
empty spaces without filling them with a rigid, sealed off self?
What is needed is a kind of multiple epistemology(ies) that allow(s)
an ever-emerging ontology(ies) to dissect both time and space, by
constantly entering unknown time-spaces that remain logically (and
linguistically) irreconcilable. What is missing, it seems to me,
is an extra-sensory, out of body experience, a sense of that other-self
- the body of a traveller if you like - always moving within/without
The City. Must that traveller remain contained and invisible, like
a Trojan Horse, even if, on the margin, they are reduced, accept
in silence? Is this a silence of respect?
If we conclude, as Markus Wolf, one time Stasi boss conceded,47
that the erection of the Berlin Wall was as much a sign of failure
and defeat as it was a sign of force and (attempted) containment
of The People, then we must also recognise that closing the city
gates (like Fortress Europe) on those unwanted migrants and tourists
is an admission that we have yet to learn from history. For if we
really want out of the cage, and bridge the gap between our selves
and our imprisoned others, we must be reconciled to being with them.
We are still haunted by the question - can we co-habitate?
Image 15: Car showroom, Potsdamerplatz,1998. Dreaming of freedom
or base material aspirations?
Perhaps the greatest legacy we've inherited from the moderns is
an inescapable sense of exile, an exile not just from our physical
homelands, but also from the home that is ourselves. As postmoderns
we still know this condition, although it does not seem as strong
as the alienation our parents and grandparents might have felt.
Unlike their sense of total separation through migrant duality,
we merely feel displaced, as tourists, today, decentred, disjointed
subjects, somewhat incoherent, and unintelligible, like drug-fucked
addicts going through cultural withdrawal.
Berliners know such feelings, but at the same time, maybe they don't,
or maybe they've forgotten. Nevertheless, its important to acknowledge
that Berlin today has come a long way from the war ravaged tyrant
city of the twentieth century. The beginning of the end came when
Real Living Socialism tried to contain and direct the people's imagination.
Yet in spite of all intention, the vacuum at the Berlin Wall still
gave people space to roam and soar and climb once more, over the
strictures of the everyday.
On the other hand, it could be said that the greatest "success"
of the West is its rapacious capacity to occupy and exploit free
and empty space. But where is that now leading to? Is there still
space for an other-self? For, as capitalism drives us harder, into
the immersive immediacy of the moment, have we succumbed to the
desire of the present, without regard, as Derrida might have put
it, for others-spaces deferred to others-times? Can the invisible
still be seen beneath the drying concrete on the holes within the
Berlin provides a somewhat glossy reminder of where Western culture
has come from, and where it might be going. In such peaceful scenes
of civic reconstruction we may yet find ourselves in a moment of
new creation, symbolic as well as geographical. But just as surely
as our chiefs of capital seek out ever new and unexploited places,
they bind them up with money, the language of our power, and lock
them up behind the glassed in walls of sanitised shopping malls.
You could see this literally taking shape at Potsdamerplatz, where
the empty space that once signified a longing place for freedom
has today become a shopping arcade. Inside are exclusive showrooms
where dreams of freedom are underwritten with credit cards.
Now, yet again, another timely reminder: The City must still fulfil
its founding task, to allow the people to actualize their lives,
not just as tourists, migrants, or citizens, but simply as The People
- for that is the meaning of a metropolis.48 Is there still room,
one has to ask, for that strange, mystical power, the source of
our creative energy, name it what you want, "God"49 if
you like, to surge us forth and point towards a yonder, a beyond
dot com? Or are we about to find that, in the end, our dreams were
only ever primed for ads?
1This paper will be published under the title "Empty Space
and The City; The Re-occupation of Berlin" in a forthcoming
issue of Radical History Review: Citizenship, National Identity,
Race and Diaspora in Contemporary Europe, issue editors Ian C. Fletcher
and Van Gosse, Duke University Press, number 83, forthcoming.
2For a classic history of the city, see Lewis Mumford's The City
in History: Its origins, its transformations, its prospects (Middlesex:
Penguin Books, 1974).
3See also the description of Potsdamerplatz during the 20th century
in Peter Conrad, Modern Time, Modern Places; Life and Art in the
20th Century (London: Thames and Hudson, 1998) 62-64.
4For other views on life in Berlin and German during the Cold War,
see ed. Charles E. McClelland and Steven P. Scher, Postwar German
Culture; An Anthology (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1974), Jeremy Isaacs
and Taylor Downing, Cold War (London: Bantam Press, 1998), and ed.
Rob Burns, German Cultural Studies: An Introduction (Oxford and
New York: Oxford University Press, 1995). For a more general sociology
of major developments in Germany during the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries, see Norbert Elias, The Germans (Cambridge, UK: Polity
5Karen Jaehne, "Angel Eyes: Wenders Soars," Film Comment,
24.3 (May/June 1988): 19-20.
6See the photo caption for the image of Kurfürstendamm between
pp 852 and 853 in Alexandra Ritchie Faust's Metropolis; A History
of Berlin (London: Harper Collins 1999).
7For some contemporary views of the postmodern city, see ed. Jonathan
Crary, Hal Foster et al, Zone 1/2; City , (New York: Urzone Publications,
1986). See also Jonathan Raban, Soft City (London: Harvill Press,
8Markus Wolf, Man without a Face: The Memoirs of a Spymaster (London:
Jonathan Cape, 1997), 114.
9For analytical surveys of Wenders' films, see ed. Roger F. Cook
and Gerd Gemünden, The Cinema of Wim Wenders: Image, Narrative,
and the Postmodern Condition (Michegan: Wayne State University Press,
1997), Thomas Elsaesser, New German Cinema, A History (London: Macmillan
1994), Kathe Geist, The Cinema of Wim Wenders: From Paris France
to Paris Texas (Michegan: UMI Research Press, 1988), and Robert
Phillip Kolker and Peter Beicken, The Films of Wim Wenders: Cinema
as Vision and Desire (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press
10 Wim Wenders cited in Jacques Derrida, Kurt Forster, and Wim Wenders,
"The Berlin City Forum Symposium", Architectural Design,
62 (Nov-Dec 1992): 53.
11Jacques Derrida cited in Derrida, Forster, and Wenders, "The
Berlin City Forum Symposium", 45, 50, 51.
12Brian Ladd, The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in
the Urban Landscape (Chicago & London: University of Chicago
Press, 1997), 7-39.
13Jürgen Habermas, The Berlin Republic (Cambridge & Oxford:
Polity Press, 1998), 17-40.
14Ladd, The Ghosts of Berlin, 18.
15Dick Hebdige, "Guilt Trips; Coming Up Against The Wall",
Art + Text, 36 , May 1990, (Sydney: College of Fine Arts Press)
16Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, (Los Angeles
and London: University of California Press, 1988), 99.
17For more on the way tourism may be transforming toursists' senses
of identity, and time-space and location, refer to "Chapter
10: Mobility, Modernity and Place" in Scott Lash and John Urry,
Economies of Signs and Space, (London: Sage, 1994), pp 252-278.
18Susan Sontag cited by John Urry, The Tourist Gaze : Leisure and
Travel in Contemporary Societies (London: Sage, 1990), 138. See
also Walter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era
of High Capitalism; trans Harry Zohn (London: New Left Books 1973).
For an analysis of walking in the city, see de Certeau, The Practice
of Everyday Life, 91-130.
19Walter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire, 35-54.
20de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, 91.
21For an exposition of the "classical" technique of relating
space and memory, see Frances A. Yates, The Art of Memory (London:
Pimlico Press, 1992), 17-41.
22Wim Wenders, The Logic of Images (London: Faber & Faber 1992),
23For an analyses of Margaret Thatcher's economic rationalist policies
on the un(der)employed, see Will Hutton, The State To Come (London:
Vintage 1997), 35-41.
24Howard Caygill "The Futures of Berlin's Potsdamer Platz",
ed. A Scott, The Limits of Globalisation, (Routledge: London 1997),
25In Wings of Desire, Homer is the storyteller who remembers Berlin
as it was in the 1920s and eventually decides to go looking for
Potsdamerplatz amongst the ruins and the shadows of the Berlin Wall.
26Wim Wenders, The Act of Seeing (London: Faber & Faber, 1997),
27Caygill "The Futures of Berlin's Potsdamer Platz", ed
A Scott, The Limits of Globalisation.
28In a recent interview, Eugene Victor Walter recently made the
point about the (linguistic) distinction in Ancient Greek between
topos as empty space and choros as a place that is enrichened with
a sense of love or affection for it by walking, talking and singing.
Walter went on to add that the word choros was linked to chorus
and thus talking and singing (as a linguistic act) where intimate
acts tied to the rendering of empty space (topos) into a sacred
place of love (chora). Refer to Phillip Adams, "Late Night
Live", broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation
on Wednesday 15th August, 2001. See also E. V. Walter, Placeways:
A Theory of the Human Environment, (North Carolina: University of
Nth Carolina Press, 1988) 120-121.
29See the treatise on nomadology, the refrain, territorialisation
and deterritorialisation in Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari,
A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian
Masumi (London: Athlone Press, 1988), 299-302, 312, 317, 321, 347-348.
30For a discussion on the differences between officially sanctioned
writing (such as advertising) and unofficial writings (such as graffiti),
see Tim Cresswell, "Night Discourse", in Images of the
Street: Planning, Identity, and Control in Public Space, ed. Nicholas
R. Fyfe (London: Routledge, 1998), 268-274.
31Ladd, The Ghosts of Berlin, p 28.
32See also Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage 1978).
33There are trends that suggest that China is being cajoled into
again taking up this role, something that would certainly restore
the linguistic system of the West, but would be disastrous for global
34There are many useful ideas in Chambers' first chapter "An
Impossible Homecoming", where, in addition to his own thoughts,
the author also refers to Rudolf Pannwitz who was quoted by Walter
Benjamin. See Iain Chambers, migrancy, culture, identity (London:
Routledge 1994), 2, 3, 4, (the quote comes from page 4).
35Paul Carter cited in Chambers, migrancy, culture, identity, 5.
36Emmanuel Levinas, "The Trace of the Other", in, Deconstruction
in Context, Literature and Philosophy, ed. Mark C. Taylor (Chicago
and London: University of Chicago Press, 1986), 345-359, (especially
37Jean Luc Nancy, The Birth of Presence (California: Stanford University
Press, 1993), 189-207, (the quote is from 197).
38I refer to David Cronenberg's (dir.) eXistenZ, (1999), a film
in which people have computer ports inserted at the bottom of their
spines so that they can participate with other living subjects in
a computer generated game that combines reality with the simulated
possibilities of the game's codes and rules.
39Nancy, The Birth of Presence, 189.
40See the entry on Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in The Icon Critical
Dictionary of Postmodern Thought, ed. Stuart Sim (Cambridge, UK:
Icon Books, 1998), 362.
41Homi K. Bhabha, "Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial
Discourse", October, ed Rosalind Krauss and Annette Michelson,
28, (Massachusettes Institute of Technology, Spring 1984) pp 125
- 133. Refer also to the entry on Subaltern Theory in The Icon Critical
Dictionary of Postmodern Thought, ed. Sim, 366.
42Tzvetan Todorov, "Bilingualism, Dialogism, and Schizophrenia,"
New Formations: The Question of 'Home', 17 (London: Lawrence and
Wishart, summer 1992), 23.
43Mikhail Epstein, Alexander A Genis, Slobodanka M. Vladiv-Glover,
Russian Postmodernism; New Perspectives on Post-Soviet Culture (New
York & Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1999), 326. (Thanks to Slobodanka
Vladiv-Glover for introducing me to Epstein's work.)
44For more on art as a sign system where meaning is seen as an 'operative'
language, see Alphonso Lingis' "Translator's Preface"
in Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, ed. Claude
Lefort (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968), l-liii.
45William L. McBride, Sartre's Political Theory (Bloomington &
Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991).
46Ernesto Laclau has developed a cogent argument for the preservation
of progressive language games based on a "universalism"
as a "contingent historical product." In the concluding
paragraphs of his Emancipation(s) (London & New York: Verso/New
Left Books, 1996), 122-123, Laclau rejects the use of terms like
"God" and "Nature" on the grounds that they
discourage people from becoming "strong poets" - that
is to say, terms like God and Nature, as it seems to Laclau, reduce
people's capacity to act out of their own volition, and are instead
inclined to defer their creativity extrinsically. I see similarities
between the idea of "strong poet[s]" and Heinze von Foerster's
notions of the self creating "autopoesis" of "non
trivial machines." Foerster ascribes the term autopoesis to
the Chilean neuro-philosophers F. Varela, U. Maturana, and G. Uribe.
See Lynn Segal, The Dream of Reality: Heinze von Foerster's Constructivism
(New York and London: W.W. Norton, 1986), 127-128.
In contrast to Laclau, I use multiple epistemologies and emergent
ontologies (similar, perhaps, to the idea of ontochronology found
in Heidegger) because I am not completely comfortable with the word
'universalism'. I remain committed to ideas of "multiculturalisms"
as a recognition of multiple, co-existent languages. I do concede,
however, that Laclau speaks about (multiple) language games, so
perhaps this is more an argument over our choice of words.
47Wolf, Man without a Face, 98-122.
48See also Scott Lash and John Urry, Economies of Signs And Space,
49I use of the word 'God' because I want to suggest that there is
almost certainly always something inexplicable about space that
the human mind cannot fully know and understand within or through
language. Recognising the limits of human language means, first
and foremost, that we remain humble about our own capacities and
capabilities to apprehend space and any claims we might wish to
make over it, our sense of place, and the faith we have in our knowledge
and understanding over it.