Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Moving through the bazaar (T. Edensor)

"Bazaars constitute an unenclosed realm which provides a meeting point for a variety of people and multiple activities, including forms of  'recreations, social interaction, transport and economic activity' (King, 1976: 56). Not dominated by one economic activity, bazaars mix together small businesses, shops, street vendors, public and private institutions and domestic housing. Hotels co-exist alongside work places, schools, eating places, transport temini, bathing points, political headquarters, offices, administrative centres, places of worship and temporary and permanent dwellings. This multi-functional structure provides a mixture of overlapping spaces that seem to merge Western dichotomous notions of public and private, work and leisure, and holy and profane. And the bazaar contains a host of micro-spaces: corners and niches, awnings and offshoots, providing a labyrinthine structure with numerous openings and passages which enables a flow of different bodies and vehicles with criss-cross the street in multi-directional patterns, veering into courtyards, alleys and cul-de-sacs.

Bazaars are 'centres of social life, of communication, of political and judicial activity, of cultural and religious events and places for the exchange of news, information and gossip' (Buie, 1996: 277). Everyday social activities such as loitering, sitting and observing, and meeting friends, are organized around particular micro-spaces such as transport termini and tea stalls. The street is often a site for domestic activities such as collecting water, washing clothes, cooking and child-minding. For some, streets may serve as a temporary home, necessitating the carrying out of bodily maintenance such as washing. Such temporary sites and activities challenge notions of ownership, and the distinction between private and public (Chandhoke, 1993).

[...] Heterogeneous spaces such as bazaars are typically subject to contingent and local forms of planning and regulation, and surveillance is rather low-level. Rather than security guards and video surveillance, local power-holders exercise policies of exclusion and control. Forms of restriction over movement do apply. There may be gendered conventions about who should pass through particular public spaces, and other local struggles over space, shaped around class, ethnic and religious conflicts, may persist. Yet such restrictions are often foiled by intrusions that challenge the spatial ordering of the city. For instance, the 'unintended city' of the 'shanty town' insistently projects into and subverts planned urban spaces.

[...] Whilst formal traffic rules exist, vehicles pay little heed to them as they jostle for position, creating a competitive and rather chaotic race for road space. Itinerant beggars and workers are rarely advised to 'move on', and while the animals that share the streets may be subject to cruelty, there are few systematic attempts to control their movements or numbers. Aesthetically, the maintenance of a cultivated appearance through control or theming is rarely imposed; an unplanned bricolage of structures is infested with ad hoc signs, contingent and personalized embellishments, and unkempt surfaces and facades.

The pedestrians who move through this protean space are denied the option of seeking refuge in an aloof disposition and are often thwarted in their desire for rapid progress. For it is often difficult for them to move in a straight line. Instead they must weave a path by negotiating obstacles, and remain alert to hazardous traffic and animals [...]. The abundant simultaneous cross-cutting journeys mean that pedestrians must take count of others who will cross their path at a variety of speeds. In addition, the miscellaneous collections of vehicles and other diverse forms of transport, all moving at different speeds as they manoeuvre for space, provides an ever-changing dance of traffic which echoes the stop-start choreographies of pedestrians. Walking cannot be a seamless, uninterrupted journey but is rather a sequence of interruptions and encounters that disrupt smooth passage.

This disrupted progress is not only produced through the exigencies of avoiding collisions, but also by the distractions and diversions offered by heterogeneous activities and sights. There is an ever-shifting series of juxtapositions and assemblages of diverse static and moving elements which can provide surprising and unique scenes. Such haphazard features and events dis-order the gaze as the eye continuously shifts, alighting on changing episodes to the left and right, far ahead and close at hand. Moreover, the pleasurable jostling in the crows engenders a haptic geography wherein there is continuous touching of others and weaving between and amongst bodies. The different textures brushed against and underfoot render the body aware of diverse tactile sensations. These impacts on the haptic system of the body produce distinct forms of feeling and experience (see Lyon and Barbalet, 1994). Additionally, the 'smellscapes' and 'soundscapes' of the bazaar are rich and varied. The jumbled mix of pungent aromas (sweet, sour, acrid and savoury) produces intense 'olfactory geographies', and the combination of noises generated by numerous human activities, animals, forms of transport and performed and recorded music, produces a changing symphony of diverse pitches, volumes and tones.

It seems as if the sensual and social body moving through the bazaar is continually imposed upon and challenged by diverse activities, sensations and sights which render a state at variance to a restrained and aloof distraction. Rather than being a distanced spectator of manufactured spectacle, the pedestrian is part of a heterotopic diversity where the senses are excited by a more variegated set of stimuli."

Edensor, Tim (2000) "Moving through the city". En: Bell, David; Haddour, Azzedine (eds.) City Visions. Essex: Pearson Education Limited.


Buie, S. (1996) Market as mandala: the erotic space of commerce. Organisation, 3, 225-32.
Chandhoke, N. (1993) On the social organisations of urban space - subversions and appropriations. Social Scientist, 21, 63-73.
King, A. (1976) Colonial Urban Development: Culture, Social Power and Environment, Routledge, London.
Lyon M. and Barbalet, J. (1994) Society's body: emotion and the 'somatisation' of social theory. In Csordas, T. (ed.) Embodiment and Experience, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Kitsch As Only Kitsch Can (C. F. Brown)

"After All, If Kitsch Isn't a Pleasure, Why Bother?

Bonjour, pardner, and a real warm wlcome to a wunnerful world of charm and elegance, heart-warming adorableness, and delightfully perverse American ingenuity.

Like it or not, kitsch is the daily, everywhere art of our time, and because we are surrounded by it - in stores and shoppes, in mail-order catalogs, in public events and popular entertainment - we accept it, decry it, or try, probably futilely, to ignore it. If you're a snob, kitsch is the stuff the neighbors collect, not the lovely things that add to the joy and richness of living in your gracious home.

First, a ground rule before we begin our Gradus ad Parnassum to the dizzying heights of kitsch at its most flamboyant, most outrageous, and - Heaven help us all - its most lovable. Don't think of kitsch as either "good" art or "bad" art. Most of it hasn't the least idea of being the first, so why should it be labeled, by default, the other? Certainly, kitsch has its grandiose pretensions, its pomposities, its megalomania, even; but its aspirations are not toward what the collective opinion of critics calls Art. Kitsch objects are not more the "opposite" of art than kitsch social phenomena are the counterpart of "nice" norms of behavior or "acceptable" attitudes. Instead, kitsch fills another kind of bill: it feeds the mass appetite for the slick, the sentimental, the sensational, and the supercolossal.

Kitsch need not mean the fall of Western civilization through cultural selft-abasement. Like Archbald MacLeish's rationale for a poem, kitsch doesn't mean, only is.

Let's begin our Stairway to Paradise with a simple example, a sweat shirt emblazoned with a printed likeness of Leonardo's Mona Lisa. Few people are likely to mistake that combination of art and apparel for Art. The buyer is perfectly aware that the decorated shirt is not unique, but a widely available commodity. However, even a sweat shirt, if it bears a picture of a Timeless Masterpiece, not a campy or trendy one of Bugs Bunny or Mick Jagger, can transcend the utilitarian and spell Class.

That is what much of kitsch art generally is, a mass-produced item that its purchaser believes endows him with an air of richness, elegance or sophistication. (The American art critic Meyer Schapiro wryly defines kitsch as "chic spelled backwards")."

Brown, Curtis F. (1975) Star-Spangled Kitsch. New York: Universe Books. p 9.
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