Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> Contemporary Media and Urban Space (About Ai Maeda)
Toshiya Ueno on Sun, 7 Mar 1999 16:28:54 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Contemporary Media and Urban Space (About Ai Maeda)

[This text was presented in the symposium 'Empire of Readers: Book, Image,
and Mass Subjectivity in Modern Japan, A symposium to Honor Maeda Ai,
November 6-8,1998. Maeda was an influential theorist in Japan.  He
combined encyclopedic learning and firm grounding in traditional
scholarship with a bold willingness to incorporate critical theory and
methodology and other disciplines. He died in 1982. His book collections
were presented at Cornell University and the symposium was held for the
celebrate the outcome of this book series. /TU]

Contemporary Media and Urban Space in the reading theory of Ai Maeda
(This paper is still a work in progress)

Toshiya Ueno

In this paper, I am focusing on one of representative articles of Ai
Maeda, 'T he Text of space, the Space of text'. I would investigate the
methodology, the concepts and the idea which he used in this piece and
also in some other wor ks. By looking back his methodological tactics in
the detail within the field of literature critique, urban studies,
semiology.etc, I wish to reestimate his works and results and then try to
examine the potentiality and applicability of his arguments for analyzing
the contemporary (or information) society and other different cultures
than literatures, like audio-visual cultures and event ually also cyber
cultures.  Very briefly speaking, in this article, Maeda adopted several
concepts and met hodological frameworks within human sciences. If by
raising them at ramdom, it is quite easy to enumerate the examples,
phenomenology of Husserl and ontology of Heidegger, antholopology of
Victor Tuner, sociology of Berger & Luckmann, semiology of Lotman, the
contemporary mathematics, and also Freudian psychoanalysis, etc. Actually,
after 'the lingulistic turn' in the discourses of human or social science,
it is not at all rare to see such kind of 'interdiciplinar y' works in
recent cultural studies or literature critiques in general. At lea st in
that sense, Maeda's works are not so noteworthy and has nothing special,
compared to other contemporaries.  Then, what is his originality or
singurality in literarture studies or cultura l studies?  Or what kind of
actuality for us do his works and texts have for l atest situation in our
society?  The response to this question is, in some extent, inscribed
within his text it self, especially in the very title of the article, 'The
Text of space, the Space of text'. Among others, he treats and difines the
text as the space and vis e vesra. In other words, he found a sort of
space, the spatial within the lite rary texts and discourses. But it does
not simply mean that he dealt with the questions of what kinds of spaces
or locations or place were used in any parti clular novels or literary
texts, neither that he analysed the meaning of the place mentioned in
literary texts and interpreted the relationship between real space and
those written in novels. Of course, some of his books concerned wit h such
research and analysis but I think he did more than this. Obviously, he has
already experienced and practiced a sort of the 'spatial turn' or
'geographical turn' within the recent paradigm change in human sciences
and social theory since 10 years.

But, actually, what is the 'spatial turn' or 'geographical turn' in this
conte xt? In his influential book, "The location of culture", Homi Bhabha
insisted that the space should be problematised within the cultural
politics of postmodern a nd at the same time, postcolonial situations, by
refering to many kinds of exp ressive cultures let alone the literatures.
It is very crucial that in that se nse, he used the term 'location' rather
than mere place or site. This term doe sn't simply mean the space in which
something exists, but rather includes the trace and trajectories of the
more od less forced and also spontaneous travell ing and moving. Generally
speaking, the philosophy and the social theory reduc ed the lived and
experienced space in which subject involved, to the ontologic al question
of how subject can exsist, and also to the landscape which cultura lly
prescribed and sanctioned each subject. But this ontology of subject itsel
f has to be reconsidered from the location, the moment o f travelling and
movi ng.  Needless to say, this problematic is connected to the works like
"Culture and Imperialism" elaborated by Edward Said, in which he is
developing the cultural politics to rethink the discusive formation about
historical or imperialistic events, from the radical review on hegemonic
relations of the power within the heterogeneous spaces. He treated the
history and the time also as the interw ined and overlapping spatial
structures, by using the metaphor of contrapunta l in music. And he
already used the term, 'the imaginative geography' in his f amous
"Orientalism" , that concept which tends to 'intensify its own sense of
itself by dramatizing the distance and difference between what is close to
it and what is far away.' In fact, his such strong interest for space has
been ve ry crucial, in parallel with 'linguistic turn' in human and social
sciences. But the fact that cultural politics and cultural studies are
deeply concerned with space, could not necessarily be reduced to the
epistemological paradigm change, rather there is much more practical
reason. The problem doesn't lie in seeing the politics and cultures from
the view of framework of space, but in pinpointing to the question of why
the spatial representations are always intro duced in the formations of
power, economy and society, in order to control and negotiate the cultural

In the first passage of the article, 'The Text of space, the Space of
text', first of all, Maeda says, the space with which the readers are
incorporated se ems to him to be that in dream. As it so is in dream, the
space which the read ers follow can be partly compressed and substituted,
and which is always alrea dy animated by subject's imagination. He was so
interested in this moment of space, sites and location within text.  
Sometimes these imaginative field has not been treated as space itself but
just as 'ground' set opposed to 'figure' of the meaning and
significations. But rather than, he tried to discover and explain what is
the space inside text (or the inner space) as substructures or u nconcious
structures for reading text.  Anyway, for him, the activity of reading
meant an attempt of finding the space inside reading text. He thought that
the reader can live in the space inside text by taking the point of view
of narrators of text and sharing the regard w ith that of characters. By
this idea, he begun to interpret M. Bovary configur ed by Flaubert.  By
reading this novel, he says, the interconnection and mutua l exchange of
points of view could take place between those of Charle, Emma, a nd
readers. They are involeved with a topological concentric circles.  By
following the arguments of Ingarden or Poule, he compared the notion
within phenomenogy, 'Zentrum der Orientierung', with the position set in
text and al so of reading text. As the readers is going to be attracted by
reading literary texts, their real center of positioning (or the centering
on position) would disapear progressively and bit by bit, and then
replaced by the fictive and im aginative positions. Around this zero point
of reading text, He says,

'The center of positioning in text is occupied by permanent and dominant
narrator or several characters, and the things and spaces drawn by text
would appea r as the space in which narrator or characters mainly are
located. By transfer ing and corporating in them, each one, 'I' as reading
subject will begin to li ve within the inner space of text. This center of
positioning will be changing in accordance with the moderations of the
inner space of text, and vise versa .' p.16

He analyzed and insisted the function of imagination during reading text
and d istiunguished the space intended by imagination (Vorstellungmeinen)  
from the space as representation (Vorstellungsraum), which is always
occuring as intuitive images during stopping the reading or after the
reading. It works just as t he imagination can represent the absent person
in a given situations. But this kind of imaginative space is not the inner
space itself of text. And also the space inteded by imagination is just
produced and opened by process in which the readers wish to intend to
unreal and unrepresented object beyond text itself.
He considered that the signes constituting litarature text are not mere a
med iator between the readers and pure meanings as in the mathematics it
could be possible, but rather the interface between the readers and the
unreal (fictive and imaginative) world. When one can not come up with the
signes as interface, the unreal world is developed by wrapping the space
as representation. That is the space as/within text or inner space
actualized by reading, not simply b y imagination. Through these
analysises, he tried to find and invent the parti clular type of space,
the inner space within reading.

In next section, by refering to M.Butor's view on the notion of book,
Maeda pi cked up the dictionary and archive as examples, which are
different from the b ook in general as linear text. He took the magazines
of weekly informations ' Pia' or 'Cityroad' (_Jyoho shi_ , those are
somethings like 'Time Out ') and a lso a telephone book as an example to
consider over what is non-linear text an d available for the reading by
random access. It is really interesting that in this context, he already
remarked the significance of media space. Both information magazine and
telephone book include the mapping and projection of the r eal urban space
into information space. The readers of infomation magazine(_Jy oho shi_)
in young generation have their own image of city and see the urban space
as matrix or tableau. The same kind of mapping and correspondence betwee n
real space and information space can be found out in the literature texts.
He says,
                                             '------the sets of names of
towns, streets and bridges introduced in accordance with the moving of
characters i n novels are the clue to investigate the psyco-walking for
interpretation of c ity done by the authors. The affected collections of
names of places themselves are said to constitute the metatext cut up from
city as text. The names collected in literature text are the interface
between the real urban space and the fictive the space of language.' p24
But the images and informations over the particular sites offered by
literary works are not the inner space itself of text, although these are
helpful mater ials to constitute it. In the case of information
magazines(_Jyoho-shi_), it m ight be possible to suppose the stable
correspondece between the real space an d the information of space for
specifying data, but in reading the literary te xts, the relation between
them depends on the perfomativity of readers which can produce the spatial
vector dirived from a linear text. The correspondence between the real and
unreal space is always so unstable, movable and changing t hat it would be
based on idiosyncracy of readers and their practices of langua ge. However
the problem should not be reduced to the personal and psycologica l level
of each readers. Herein we needs another model.

The passage quoted above reminds me the concept of 'Psychogeography',
which w as invented by Guy Debord and others involved with Situationist
International in late 60's. Since late 80's or early 90's, the movement of
situationists hav e been reexamined theoretically and politically in the
detail. The rivision an d the retrospective interpretations on it have
been done by the magazines base d in US, like "October" or "Zone". It is
well known that there is the affiliat ion between the aftermath of
situationists and some expressive cultures like p unk in music or the
simulationism in contemporary arts.  According to situationists, the
difinition of psychogeography is like that : "  The Psycogeography : The
study of the specific effects of the geographical env iorement,
consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of indivi
duals." in Definitions in Internationale Situationniste #1 At the same
time, the psycogeography can also problematise the influence of h uman
emotions and affects on literary texts. It deals with the interaction bet
ween the spatial situation and the psycological states in human subject.
It is extremley similar to the effort of Maeda, especially in the sense
that he used the term_psyco-walking_(mind walking) to explain the dinamic
relationship amongst the author, the narrator and the reader in a given
text, by featuring on the spaces in it. And this relationship is also
constituted by the correspondence b etween the real space and the
imaginative space. The effort to find out this relationship is called the
psycogeography and its practical form is the drift (derive in French). On
the other hand, the inner space of text is organised by the zero point of
r eading, whose core is actually each walking bodies. If one experience
the real moving over spaces according to any texts, then something
corresponding to lived space will be able to take place. But the its
mapping and function on the inner space of reading is a sort of black box
and so invisible for ordinary co nsciousness.  Certainly, the thoughts of
late 60's have been appropreated and refered very m uch since 10years.  
This fact is not restricted to the thoughts of situationist s. But during
early 80's when his last active and productive days, Maeda, at f irst
look, was not so ardent to pay attention to those at least outwardly. But
in his thoughts and writings, one can find so many similiar theoretical
tende ncies with almost same kinds of rhetorics within political actions
in 60's and the same way of using language as symptom. The colleagues who
were friends of him seemed to be also doing same things. Even in the
antholopological theory of Masao Yamaguchi, despite of his personal hate
against the geneology of radi cal thinking since late 60's, it is very
easy to see same symptomatic argument s.(For example, you can read one of
his articles, titled 'The folk art as Soci al science'._Shai-kagaku
toshiteno Geino_)  Maeda also mentioned the way of using the language by
the students in late 60' s, in the appendix for his book, "The
intoroduction to literary texts". By me ntioning the interpretation over
the students movements(_Zen Kyoutou_) by Masa o Yamaguchi, he admitted the
significance of the materiality of the way of usi ng language in message
boards(_Tate kan_). He analysed it as the rejection of signified and the
interesting to signifying. And also by refering to the nove l of
Yoshikichi Furui, he looked through the student movements, the carnivali
stic space and the ritualistic resistances. He also took the cultural
movement s like 'the folk guerilla' using music as example, in order to
explain the des ire and consiousness for liberations in those days.  Of
course, Maeda didn't know anything about the movements and theory of
situat ionists at all. I don't want and couldn't make any concret
affiliation amongst both of them, but in order to suppose their invisible
connections, it is just enough to point out his mentioning to Henri
Lefevre and his urban theories. Lefevre's works on urbanity and space were
also famous in Japan as it might be so in other areas, and it could be
said that Maeda was one of theoreticians who was indebted to his books.
And it should not be forgotten that Lefevre and Debord had close
relationship politically and theoreticaly until the breakdown of their
relationship becase of conflicts over the issue of priority of their
interpretations on Paris commune.

If one whould put the points which can be found out in both Maeda's
arguments and Situationists ones, it will be as below.  First, Both of
them loved very much a walking in the city by their own foots.  Of course,
the lineage of bohemian and vagabonds gestures in litarature could be
traced till Baudelaire, Benjamin and others as flaneurs. As some of
success ors of Maeda have already told so frequently, he was totally
enthusiastic abou t the drift in the city, which meant the dispersive
walking. In late 60's at Paris, Debord and his friends also loved it with
their very dissidental spirits . Thoretically speaking, the notion of the
drift as 'playful-constructive beha vior' should not be confused with
classical concept of stroll and mere journey and excursions. The drift
inextricably tied up with the critical view on the city consists of double
gestures : the active observation of contemparary urba n situations and
the elaborations of tactical hypotheses on the model of futur e (or
unknown) city, whick, in turn, is very significant for the everday life in
the city.  Second, both admitted that there are the interactions between
the drifter in t he city and the reader in text and discourses.In other
words, both insisted th e analogy and overlapping between the use of
language and the act of walking. Probably, in this context, one could
quote the argument of Michel de Certeau a round 'spatial practices' in his
influential book, "The Practice of Everyday L ife" whose title also has
the echo from the thoughts of Lefevre, by using the term the everyday life
distinguished from ordinary life in general. And obviou sly, Certeau also
was inspired by works of Situationists, in spite of his ten der and
sophisticated style that came from his background as Jesuit. Certeau c
laimed succinctly that ' the act of walking is to urban system what the
speech act is to language'.
For both of them, in so far as the city was readable and legible, each
body of subjects can articulated by others, in their trajectories that
make correspon dence of two kind of activity in the interwining and
unrecognized languages.Th e networks and web of these movings and
driftings, and also of intersecting wr iting and reading, could constitute
a multi-hyper body of story which neither author and reader could not
construct by alone(In this context, one can think about cyber space in
terms of same structure). So both of styles of reading an d drifting have
to do with a tactical and critical way of operating (of speaking, reading
and walking, etc.), which is also interwined with a way of being itself.
Third, both they regarded the notion of liminality as very significant for
spa tial and geographic imaginations and its practices. Any city has
always the particular affections on liminality around the margin, border
and boundry its sp atial formations. Sometimes situationists
over-emphasized and mythologized the lumpen or bohemian as marginalized
being in urban spaces. One of their import ant psycogeographic rearch was
done around the area of Les Halles where was p opulated by outsiders,
immigrants and proletariats since 19c. Their psychogeog raphy was deeply
concerned with the critical potentiality of the underground s cene of the
city and the zone of repressed. They imagined the subversive trans
formation of the city by walking around the marginal space of it and
looking c arefully the negotiative relations between center and margin.
And also they we re crazy about an attempt of discovering the linimal
space within the inside o f city itself (like markets, town of immigrants,
'dangerous zone' of undergrou nd cultures,etc.). As once the esthetic in
18c found out the notion of sublime which meant repugnant and attraction
for any object, situationists drift was trying to seek also the double
binded feeling for the city landscape, directly faced to the constant
diminuition of border regions in the city. Maeda also was interested in
the series of notions of liminality, margin, bord er and boundry in the
city. For him, this interesting was also connected to hi s essay to seek
out the inner space of reading text. He approached to this pr oblematic in
two ways. On the one hand, he tried to understand and define the
liminality in a 'formalistic' way. But on the other hand, he adopted the
antho lopological approach of Vicor Turner and others. He took the
terminology of mathematics to explain what is the liminality in a given
space, by using the method of topology. He used a series of the terms like
neighbourhood, interior, open kernel, exterior,frontier and boundry, and
th en he explained the positioning of readers within text during reading
by these topological relations. (It is also interesting that during 80s,
many of Japane se thinkers and critics liked to use the term drawn from
mathematics, but that tendency came from the arguments on the similarity
between 'deconstruction' and Goedel's thesis.) I don't want to stick to
the detail of this argument and I'm not so crazy about whether or not this
approach was rigid and correct in t he orthodoxy of contemporary
mathematics. In this moment, it is enough to check the procedures of his
arguments. And then, he connected these methodologies to the schema of
semiology of Lottm an, especially in his article titled 'On the meta
language of topological desc riptions of culture', which also contained
the interpretations over the relati on between inside and outside,
interior and exterior, 'we' and 'they' in which the latter is always
looked as inorganic, disorder, chaos and without structure. From just this
point, he has already entered in his second approach of 'th e dialectic of
the order and the chaos, the center and the margin, elaborated by Masao
Yamaguchi whose argument was akin to Turner's one.  He said that while, in
western novels, like "M.Bovary", there has always been the clear
opposition between inside and outside on the point of view of charac ters
and narrators in text, in the Japanese literatures, relatively speaking,
one could not find out such a exact distinction. For this comparison, he
often has taken the novel, _Mai Hime_written by Ougai Mori. He remarked
the moving from Unter den Linden as the center to Krostel district as the
margin, done by the main character, Ota. The story of this novel can be
summarized in the spa tial structure that Ota as stranger who entered into
the inside from the outsi de, was going back again the outside, by
escaping from the affair with German girl. According to the model of
Turner, Ota is the person on the liminality be cause of his inter-moving
between two heterogeneous spaces. In the scheme of T urner, the liminal
person is distinguished clearly from the marginal person, i n which the
marginal person is defined as neutral and ambiguous position which is
belonging in multiple values but , in turn, the liminal person can travel
and transit from one state to another. ( From this point of view, it was
possi ble for Turner to compare the 'communitus' and the liminal as the
anti-struct ural moment in the primitive society, with the counter
cultures and movements in late 60's) .  In a way, Maeda was aware of the
complicate nature of the articulations betwee n the inside and outside in
some novels. For example, in _Mai Hime_, in first moment, the Klostel
district was posited as the inside and then Unter Den Lind en where Ota
was living as the outside, but later, this relation was reversed
completly. When he came back to 'the ordinary life', the city center,
Unter De n Linden became the inside, and the town of poors, Klostel was
defined as the outside. In this novel, in so far as the position of main
character was trave lling and moving, the articulations of the inside and
outside were also changi ng.and shifting. That is why, Maeda needed the
model of neighbourhood in semio logy and mathematics. Although he examined
some differences of each methodology and terminology, it seems for us that
his arguments were somehow messy and inconsistent in some po ints. Despite
of his inventions and efforts for the dynamic model of liminality in
(reading) text, in some contexts, he reduced his whole arguments to the
 mere antholopological schemes and cultural theories around 'the dialectic
o f the order and the chaos'.

First, as Japanese thinkers and Japanologists in abroad sometimes have
done so , Maeda also overemphasized the meaning of border and boundry in
Japanese cult ures. He insisted that in 'our' Japanese culture, a series
of notions of the b ridge, the door, the beach, the corner,the slope,etc.
were so important in fol klore and literatures in general.  But also in
Heiddeger's famous article whi ch was frequently quoted by him, for
example, one can find same kind of remarks, for example, in the passages
that 'a boundry is not that at which something stops but, as Greeks
recognised, the boundry is that from which something be gins its
presencing" ("Building,dwelling,thinking") The interesting to the spa ce
of passages, interstices and in-between is not unique and particular with
Japanese cultures at all.

Second, he realized the significance of special space like the outsider
zone, the bad place (_Aku sho_), the unrelated space(_Mu En_), the asylum
and the ghetto etc., and pointed out the dynamic structure between the
containment and exclusion of outside moment in the city and urbanity. He
interpreted the space of unrelated (_Mu En_) as the reverse side of
liberation in the city as sanctioned space. The bad place (_Aku sho_) and
the unrelated space(_Mu En_)  are no t simply the exclued outside of the
city, but these are 'constitutive outside' of it, not simply posited as
mere exterior. Sometimes, this moment is subversive for the city and at
the same time is useful for the control and maintenanc e of the city.  
But the focus of his arguments tends to be shifting to the cosmological
grasp of spatial formations. He explained everythings again by using the
theories ab out the marginality in symbolic universe, just as Yamaguchi
and also Berger&Lu ckmann did so, although he could interpret the
unrelated space(_Mu En_) not as ghetto or medieval asyle, but as the
temporary liberated and autonomous zone (like the free zone, _Kaihou ku_
which he also mentioned in other article.)  I think that this confusion
came from the term itself, liminality. Probably, w ith this term, one can
hardly analyse and think about the meaning of boder and boundry in the
contemporary suburban city. It is no longer possible to grasp the
peripheral space in the suburban by the terms, liminality and marginality.  
Because the center-periphery relation in the city seems to be radically
homo logous to the economical and political power formations (for example,
class st ruggle or cultural movements). In other words, the centering and
nodality in t he city always presuppose a sort of social peripheralness;
Any periphery (as conceptually distinguished from liminality or
marginality) can come to be a ce nter not only theoretically but also
substantially, and also any center can be come a terminal, as one can find
such a situation in Internet. The center and periphery is always very
contextual so that in the suburban city, the sense o f distance and
neighborfood are unstable and changing, and it is really diffic ult to
define the belongness of person into whether center or not. The periphe ry
in the contemporary city and suburb itself is becoming topological. Even
if two suburban towns were distanced far away each other, in the sense of
periph ery, these are 'neighborfood' each other. Periphery is opened by
fictive, imag inative and emotional articulations of the space.  Despite
of his unawareness of such a reality of the contemporary cityscape and
also media scape, potentially, he has already speak about that kind of

It becomes obvious, especially when he talked and analysed the
contemporary n ovels like those written by Yasuo Tanaka("Somehow crystal")  
or Haruki Murakami . He said that in these novels, the disappearance of
border and boundry betwee n the outside space, the real city space and the
inside space, interior rooms is occuring. It is quite suggestive that this
aspect is realized by two techniques on writing : the using of music or
radio and the random enumerating of tremendous many proper names of
commodities or gadgets in the consumer society.  On the one hand, these
elements can interrupt and destroy the linear structure of the story and
one the other hand, these can set out the un-literary structure opened to
other expressive cultures. He was almost aware of that there is somehow
the transversality between the inner space of/by reading text and the
media space in various sense. Although he himself was totally involved
with the arguments of phenomenology, the 'theory of the order and
disorder', social histroy, the symbolic cosmology in some sociological
theories etc., eventially, I think, he was already going beyond these
schemes and paradigms. His reading theory is always telling us something
more than what he wanted to say in it. Now the time is coming to us to
find out the inner space as black spot by re-reading his reading theory.  
It could be developed toward the theory of media scape and cyber space in
general, because his concept of the inner space is also opened for the
interactive rel ationships amongst the subjects in the various situations.

#  distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo {AT} desk.nl and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  URL: http://www.desk.nl/~nettime/  contact: nettime-owner {AT} desk.nl