What follows is a response, well maybe more of a subconscious flow, a series of thoughts, the beginnings of a possible manifesto (maybe), a way of thinking and acting. My launching point was the public consultation exhibition for the Cathedral Quarter regeneration project here in Belfast. The exhibition, as is usual, included computer generated visualisations of the scheme. Architects and developers like these, because they can control the scene — nice weather, happy people, clean streets, no graffiti, no rough sleepers. It is a branding exercise really. But there, in the top right hand corner of one of the visualisations, on a roof top terrace, with bizarrely a dog for an audience, were a couple of lovers positioned in a passionate embrace, kissing. So happy were they with the new development that their only response was to display their excitement though a public display of passion!
There are any things to write about the proposed scheme, particularly from an urban planning perspective, and many better placed people to write them than me — so I will leave it to them to add their much needed voice to the conversation. But for me, in adding my voice to the conversation, I have taken as my point of departure the roof top lovers (who I am sure are only their as part of some ill conceived joke) for, who I take to represent how not to think about regeneration, because regeneration doesn't make lovers; it is for lovers.
What follows is quite theoretical, I make no apologies for that. I am not seeking to provide pragmatic answers but rather to help us find ‘lines of flight’; sparks of imaginative thinking; new ways of thinking about the city. I am just trying to add something to the conversation. If it’s not for you, that’s okay, just read the next few lines. In short all I am saying is that regeneration, real regeneration, is for lovers of the city, lovers of the cities inhabitants and lovers of life. Lovers who think differently, lovers who act differently and lovers who speak differently. That’s it really. So if that’s enough for you, no need to read on. On a personal note I find answers boring so my hope is that what follows will generate questions.
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Regeneration is for lovers. It is for lovers of dirt; the dirt of pure immanence. Those who know that if now doesn't matter then nothing matters at all. It is for those who know that “the painter never arrives at an empty canvas when she begins to paint, but encounters a canvas that is overcrowded with habit, opinion and cliche, or by dominant modes of representational thinking” (Frichot, 2016:80). It is for those who think the "milieu" and do so without recourse to an image of an otherworldly transcendence onto which they can tether their ideas of the good life — there is no perfect city on a hill to which we must conform; there is just a plateau of interconnected, entangled flows pulsating at different intensities that go to make up the heterogeneous assemblages that are our cities — lovers know this. In fact, it is the freedom gained from the inexistence of an ontotheological ground that allows us to hope for a new world (Meillassoux, The divine inexistent, 232).
There is no ideological existing objective reality against which we can measure the city as the critical realists would want us to believe as they try and “recover traces of sunken essences from beneath the cover of appearances” (Doel, 1999:190). Rather, lovers are non-reductive materialists, who refuse to constitute the world, with themselves at the centre, “as if it were a set of mere objects” (Connolloy, 2011: 31), to be manipulated into machines for the sole purpose of capital accumulation. They are those who realise that each moment of duration in which we live is “a cross section through the universe” itself (29) and that “‘everyday life’ is the potential site of ‘activist practice’” (Baker, 2015:138). They are attentive to the rhythm of the city; city-jazz; the infinitesimal, interconnectivity of entangled happenings that from the molecular to the macro never cease in their unique, always new, always different-in-themselves perichoretic dance — pure ceaseless movement.*
They are those who “participate in bringing forth the world in its specificity”, meeting “the universe halfway, to move forward what may come to be in ways that are accountable for our part in the world’s differential becoming (Barrad, 2007:353).” In other words lovers realise that it is upon this stage that we get to imagine a thousand possible better futures and actualize them in the present for the good of each other and those who are yet to come; to “rediscover the slow unfolding of structural realities” and “to see things in the perspective of the very long term,” attuning ones senses to “the almost imperceptible movement of history” (Braudel, 1972: 23) realising that “all real living is meeting, and each meeting matters” (Barrad, 2007:353).
And lovers know, as Ernst Bloch once wrote, that “on this road discontent lasts best”, for they know that the good life is already here; lurking; hiding in the intersections of becomings that are yet to be actualised; weaving gently in-between the softly spoken narratives of a people who live the way of dust. And it is the possibility of the ‘yet to be’ that for lovers haunts the pregnant present with the echoes of voices of those who will follow us. Regeneration is for lovers and lovers think differently.
They break free from the ‘zombie categories’ of representational thinking; of binaries; of this and that; the in’s and out’s; the you and them; and instead think in ands — and this and this and this and this and this, not asking ‘what is it?’ but ‘what possible futures might it create?’. Lovers think circles “not to understand the world … but rather to create the world differently.” In his book the Three Ecologies, Psychoanalysts and philosopher Felix Guattari proposes that in order to combat the mentalities that perpetuate capitalism there must be significant modifications to the way we are conditioned to think. He writes that here, we are in “the presence of a circle that leads [him] to postulate the necessity of founding an "ecosophy" that would link environmental ecology to social ecology and to mental ecology”. What happens to humanity is “therefore by mutual universal participation ... nothing happens in man that does not have a bearing on the elements which constitute the universe” (2014:121). For Guattari it is an ecosophical society that can counter the machine of integrated capitalism but this requires a different way of thinking. It requires that we understand ourselves, our society, and the ecosystem we inhabit as differing yet linked scales of ecology. “Now more than ever, nature cannot be separated from culture; in order to comprehend the interactions between ecosystems, the mecanosphere and the social and individual universes of reference, we must learn to think ‘transversally’” (42).
Lovers think transversally they refute thinking in singularities; but thinking differently is not enough, it is not circle thinking, because learning to ‘think transversally’ is only possible by being part of communities that learn to act transversally. Lovers are a people of conspiracy. They conspire together in the original Latin sense of the word; conspirare, from con, together with, and spirare, to breathe. To conspire is to breath together.
Lovers are poets. They refuse to become caught in the powerful machines of approved state language — “it’s the commercial reality!” — machines that dictate how space must be used, inhabited and monetised. Henri Lefebvre called this kind of space “abstract space”. “A space that reduces the complexity of space as a whole to a homogenised and standardised grid on which the regime of private property can define equivalent entities that can be measured, recorded and exchanged in the market (Frichot, 2016:104). Poets refuse this capitalistic overcoding of space. Coding that is always asking questions of those who inhabit its so called public spaces: “Who are you? Where do you come from? Whose son are you? What’s your role? What is your value?” (Berradi, 2015:118).
Instead, poets speak a different language, they speak in minor tongues; erring, wandering nomads inhabiting the edges and cracks of the dominant culture, operating “within, through and against the strategies of dominant discursive practices (Winquist, 1996:127).” The poetic here is not a romantic language but rather reveals “a possible sphere of experience that was not previously experienced: the experienceable. It acts on the limit between the conscious and the unconscious in such a way that this limit is displaced, and that parts of the unconscious landscape — the inner ausland, the intimate foreign country — are lit up, or distorted, and re-signified” (149). The poet refuses the centre and instead knows that all the action happens at the margins. As the poet speaks, draws, writes, designs and protests they do so as those who refuse to have their imaginations co-opted, satiated or numbed by the inaudible din of the engine room of late-intergrated-capitalism. For it is imagination that is the fuel of protest.
Let us be clear, the poetic imagination is not an abstract use of language, rather it is about imminence. It is about “what the present reveals about the future, the horizon where the present discloses a looming possibility.” It is a powerful act of language that is “inscribed in the present.” And knows that“Every possible evolution is already here.” And that “the possibilities are many, and different.”