TDSR 23.1 Fall 2011

Editor’s note

Dwelling in the Reality of Utopian Thought
Ghassan Hage
The Agonism of Utopia: Dialectics at a Standstill
Ananya Roy
Constructing Narratives of Kurdish Nationalism in the Urban Space of Diyarbakir, Turkey
Muna Güvenc
Sister Cities: Corporate Destiny in the Metropolis Utopias of King Camp Gillette, Thea Von Harbou, and Fritz Lang
Nathaniel Robert Walker
Phnom Penh: From the Politics of Ruin to the Possibilities of Return
Sylvia Nam

Book reviews


Editor’s Note

Dwelling in the Reality of Utopian Thought
Ghassan Hage
Throughout the history of modern Western thought, the concept of “utopia” has come to denote a detachment from, or lack of connection to, reality. To speak of utopias is to speak of ontologically nonexistent spaces, nonrealities. Indeed, the more seriously utopian one is the more in need of a “reality check” one is considered to be. The main ontological assumption lying behind this conception of utopia is what I will refer to as mono-realism: the idea that there is one, and only one, reality that our thought is or can be connected to. A relatively recent school of thought, building on a long anthropological tradition that questions the core ontological assumptions of modernity, has shown mono-realism to be one among those core assumptions. From it emerges the possibility that what we call “reality” is merely a dominant reality, and that there are always minor realities in which we are equally enmeshed. A further consequence of this is that thought, utopian thought included, even when not speaking to the dominant reality, is still emanating from and speaking to a reality; that utopia, rather than being a space inspired by an idealized past that has disappeared or a future-oriented imagining of a space that has no existence, is metonymic of minor and repressed spaces in which we already dwell in the present.

The Agonism of Utopia: Dialectics at a Standstill
Ananya Roy
In this essay I discuss utopias as places in time, bold panoramas of the future that are necessarily incomplete. My concern is with utopias of the new millennium, specifically the utopia of development. Unlike the “stark utopia” of the free market, which dominated late-twentieth-century ideology, millennial utopias are haunted by the specter of poverty. However, poverty functions as both the primitive other and primal history of millennial capitalism. The new visibilities of poverty depict economies of need as those of entrepreneurialism, ingenuity and creativity. To uncover the agonism of this utopia it is necessary to trace the dialectics of power through which the modern economy is constituted, to transform poverty from an object of primitive alterity into what, following Walter Benjamin, can be understood as a “profane illumination.”

Constructing Narratives of Kurdish Nationalism in the Urban Space of Diyarbakir, Turkey
Muna Güvenc
This article analyzes the making and remaking of Kurdish national identity in the absence of a Kurdish nation-state — specifically, the use of urban space to register claims to national belonging. Looking at Diyarbakir, the largest Kurdish city in Turkey, the article examines the political and social interaction between civil society and pro-Kurdish political parties to shed light on the invention of a “new” Kurdish identity and the dynamics of Kurdish nationalism there. It suggests that Kurdish nationhood “as a political and cultural form” is being institutionalized in Diyarbakir through the everyday practices of its residents, as pro-Kurdish parties prompt an agenda and vocabulary of Kurdish nationalism that recalls a traumatic past and imagines a common future. The article argues that Kurdish nationalism in Diyarbakir is being built through the urban experience of collectivity in diverse socio-spatial and political encounters, rather than solely through top-down interventions.

Sister Cities: Corporate Destiny in the Metropolis Utopias of King Camp Gillette, Thea Von Harbou, and Fritz Lang
Nathaniel Robert Walker
By the start of the twentieth century, many cultural, political and economic critics were torn by a profound ambiguity regarding the growing power of industrialism. While they were dismayed by the traumatic consequences of “progress” on “traditional” social and economic networks, they were also inspired by the raw productivity of corporate industry. Eventually, many alleviated their internal tension by exercising a faith that a better world, even a perfect world, could result if the “factory model” were civilized and harnessed to the common good by ethical and efficient business practices, and then elevated to its rightful, indeed inevitable, supreme authority — empowering it to resolve any systemic conflicts by remaking society, especially urban society, in the harmoniously operated image of incorporated industry. Their visions of the corporate future are here characterized as part of an “anticipatory tradition” in which modernity is imagined as the predestined replacement of
unjust, inefficient, and otherwise outmoded social and economic structures.

Phnom Penh: From the Politics of Ruin to the Possibilities of Return
Sylvia Nam
This article describes the various imaginaries and practices that underlie the contemporary building boom in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. One such imaginary is of a city of absence. In part, this relates to a discourse of the city in ruin, the result of material-historical processes that destroyed Phnom Penh’s urban fabric and society in the 1970s. Yet idioms of ruin and absence have been markedly resilient in Phnom Penh; indeed, they were widely appropriated during the colonial and postcolonial eras to justify experiments in city-making and urban-planning interventions. The article thus aims to relate these older representations
of absence to contemporary invocations of the city as tabula rasa — but an explicitly Asian one. Such representations, which organize perceptions of the city and govern the logics of its space, are key to current planning experiments that are seeking to remake it as the city of the future. With Phnom Penh an emerging space of circulation and a field of intervention, these efforts include a shift to building vertically, with highrise towers, in a town once acclaimed for its French provincial charm.

Book Reviews
Living with Heritage in Cairo: Area Conservation in the Arab-Islamic City, by Ahmed Sedky
reviewed by Rami Farouk Daher
Cold War on the Home Front: The Soft Power of Midcentury Design, by Greg Castillo
reviewed by Vladimir Paperny
Pride in Modesty: Modernist Architecture and the Vernacular Tradition in Italy, by Michelangelo Sabatino
reviewed by Andrew J. Manson
Design with Microclimate: The Secret to Comfortable Outdoor Space, by Robert D. Brown
reviewed by Traci Rose Rider
Biophilic Cities: Integrating Nature into Urban Design and Planning, by Timothy Beatley
reviewed by Nicola Szibbo

 

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