permanence & power

October 22, 2018

Thoughts on Simone Brott´s ‘Collective Equipments of Power: The Road and the City’ (Task 3):task3_illustration

“’At one end of the roadway, there is the engineer from Public Works—a regulator, agent, and subject of normality,” represented by the engineering school—“and at the other end, the one who is cut off or ‘off-circuit…’”

”The highway, as the equipment of power par excellence, is an investment structure that requires police assistance, but that is policed itself (for Deleuze the “pseudo-assistance” of equipment conceals its primary function of surveillance).”

The metro is the other of the city, a rational system, its tunnels constructed to be functional, not to be seen or inhabited. The stations with its entrance and exit points are intersections where the unpredictable human bodies of the streets are brought into this rational infrastructure, allowed contact under the precondition they follow the rules – rules enforced through design.

Trying to put the term ”equipments of power” to use as a tool for analyzing the metro station, Deleuze’s use of the term as ”the production of subjects under the reign of equipments” can form a starting point.

The need of transportation and communication is a necessity for the system to exist, in other words, the bodies were there before the infrastructure, but the bodies do not control the system – at least not at present or directly. For some of the users, a vague and distant control over the design of the system exists; they have been allowed certain choices through the democratic system. The correlation between elections (the main means of democratic influence) and execution of design is however – to say the least – vague, and at this point in time, the metro system has existed for much longer than most of the bodies, increasing the distance, giving the (infra)structure the appearance of permanence, of always having existed.

The system of tunnels that forms the foundation of what we call tunnelbanan, were constructed in order to ensure the prosperity of Stockholm when the population rapidly grew and land as a result became exclusive goods. The tunnels enable commuters, who in turn enable the system of commerce placed around the tunnel entrances, in a constant flow of servicing and being served. ”Equipments such as the Road turn humans into code to service (hold up), and not merely serve, state capitalism.”

Looking at photos of the station from the 1930s, the additions over time are obvious and yet, the tunnels, the pillars and the concrete platform are the same, and would most likely stay the same in the event of a disaster, when the commercial facilities (train service, gates, ticket machines, stores) would quickly fail.

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These durable structures are already in use, forming a separate system, spatially occupying the same infrastructural spaces as the metro, yet very much apart from its social infrastructure.

”It is by the chain of processes of subjugation that begins with the christening of a category of rebuts sociaux (social rejects), or “les outsiders”—thus separated from a population and from normative subjectivity—that a city and its equipments of power take shape.”

The infrastructures used by “les outsiders” are hence more resilient to societal change and time than the metro, as the homeless sleeping in the tunnels have already been excluded from the vulnerable comforts that form the reward given to the citizens that have been deemed ”legal”. The punishment for not performing according to the rules of the (capitalist) society – by choice or, more often, by exclusion – must be severe, as the system is more dependent upon the bodies it supports, than the bodies are upon the system.

”Evidently, the figure of the pirate or smuggler is not marginal but, rather, essential to Foucauldian equipments. The road emerges as the social borderline incarnate. ”

 

Thoughts on Ahmed’s ‘Happy Objects’ (Task 5):

”Anticipations of what an object gives us are also expectations of what we should be given.”

Since we take the infrastructure for granted our expectations are high to start with, and hence when using it, mainly annoyment arises. The expectations of the metro is that it take us where we need to go, fast. When we make it to a train we did not expect to reach in time, we are made happy. When we do not have a card and the gates are broken and stand open, we are made happy.

Erik Shouse´s Feeling, Emotion, Affect, clarifies the concept of affect. It is, he writes, ”a non-conscious experience of intensity”, and without it ”feelings do not ’feel’ because they have no intensity”. And further:

”The importance of affect rests upon the fact that in many cases the message consciously received may be of less import to the receiver of that message than his or her non-conscious affective resonance with the source of the message.”

I want to attempt to disassemble the metro station into its different parts according to the way they are encountered by the users, in order to observe them through the lens presented in Shouse´s and Ahmed´s texts, as objects holding affective value.

If the tunnel is the first category in a kind of hierarchy of affect, representing the bare necessity for transportation under ground, the next is the trails, trains, platforms and stairs. These, I would like to propose, exist in their own category as concepts, as timeless versions of the ones existing today, without the design applied on top of the functions, e.g. the stair being any stair and the trains just plain connected wagons on wheels that work but do not have any special characteristics. (Thinking about ”a metro”, in their minds different people will see differently shaped trains, but the function of the infrastructural system will appear more or less the same.) The next category consists of the claddings of wall, ceiling and floor, the material and shape of the trains, the constitution of the opening systems for the metro doors etc.

The fourth category contains the objects placed on top of the system for transportation, to direct the use of the infrastructure, to guide, support and structure the bodies using it: the gates, elevators, benches, railings, doors and glass panes. The last category as I see it, is the written messages, the posters, the signs and symbols, sometimes enforcing the messages conveyed by the built structures, sometimes, being advertisements, enforcing other societal norms not connected to this particular place but to the city.

The further back in this hierarchy, the less present in our conscious everyday lives the objects.

Reading the posters while waiting for the train, we might feel annoyed at its stupidity or interested in the product presented, but chances are we are well aware of the purpose, their sender, and react by feeling, and sometimes by expressing emotion. The elevator and gates, on the other hand, are experienced consciously mainly when they pose a problem, and hence these objects divide the users of the system. Ahmed writes:

”If the same objects make us happy – or if we invest in the same objects as being what should make us happy – then we would be orientated or directed in the same way.”

Unless there is a maintenance problem, the majority of the users do not consciously experience any feeling or express emotion when entering the metro station. However, the necessary steps they go through to be granted access reassures them, on an unconscious level, that they are worthy to be part of this society. Next to these ”legal” users are the ones for which the gates are an obstacle to be overcome at every entrance point. For them, some of the objects placed within and on top of the infrastructure contain affective sadness value, which is generally not expressed emotionally since any confrontation with the ”legal” users of the system must be avoided. Therefore, both the users experiencing the objects as ”happy” and the ones experiencing them as ”sad”, express similar emotions, or lack of emotion, although their feelings are on different sides of the spectrum.

”Maintaining public comfort requires that certain bodies ’go along with it’”, Ahmed writes. It is always the one in the less well-off situation that has to make the choice between being and causing others to be uncomfortable, or keeping quiet, going along with it. When choosing or being forced into a confrontation, the divide between ”legal” and ”illegal”, happy and unhappy bodies, becomes apparent. However, as this arouses an emotional reaction from the ”legal”, it can result in a change in power relations, the happy becoming distressed as the unhappy claims their right to behave as they need to.

/ÅSE SKALDEMAN

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