goto Appendx main menu Spatial Rhetorics :
David Theo Goldberg
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In contrast, the meeting on black-Jewish relations over a weekend in Harvard's Department of Afro-American Studies was everything the convention was not: Sitting around a conference table in a suite designed to look like a cross between Wall Street law firm and Madison Avenue ad agency, participants engaged in an exchange that was informed, directed, creative, and controversial, open to (as it continued in and through and across) city streets. The work group, after all, was about a particular set of social relations, at least in part the social relations of the participants that we carry into our multiple and hybrid worlds. The Department of Afro-American Studies, pointedly, is located in an office building on Massachusetts Avenue, outside and across the walls from Harvard Yard. It neither shares nor suffers the cloistered space within the ivied walls. To get to and from the meeting, one was required to walk the streets, safe from the hazards of mall or convention hotel mania, past the outstretched hands of homeless people reminding one constantly of the residential policy, or its lack, in democratic America. The exhilaratingly fresh exchange that marked the meeting would have differed significantly, I am convinced, had we met within the bounds of Harvard Yard, thus forced into and through the protected space mapped out "with honors" by its hallowed and hushed paths, the history of conversations they have hosted (and silenced), encouraged (and excluded), covered (up) by the soft bed of fall leaves. Appendx 3 page break 170 | 171 

 The Arizona Biltmore, a resort hotel at the center of a compound of Bel Air-like "homes" ("houses" doesn't quite capture the affected and alienating silence of intimacy the place is designed to project), hosted the law and society meeting. The hotel, dating to 1929, was designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright (Wright's Taliesin West is located near the hotel) and built by the Chicago Wrigleys. Expectations were heightened by the society newsletter announcing the upcoming conference: "The hotel's fantastic architecture, original art deco pool (plus two new ones), the kiddy kabana for daycare, a thirty-six hole golf course and eight tennis courts make this a great place for fun. The New York Times . . . called the Arizona Biltmore a 'Temple of Relaxation.' While that, of course, is not the primary reason we are there, people may want to bring their families or a friend to enjoy these wonderful facilities and the beauty of the desert Southwest." Resistant academics and lawyers who are the society's members should allow themselves such bourgeois pleasures—all in the suffocating 110-degree June heat. 

The heat restricted activities largely to the conference center that was recently added to the original hotel building. Nevertheless, one had to walk occasionally to the hotel's rear through immaculate gardens (manicured no doubt by Mexican migrant labor) to find an annex to the conference facilities coiled around a lonely swimming pool that recalled the defining scene of Sunset Boulevard. A small problem with the central air conditioning reduced the heat of any academic argument to frigid exchanges virtually icing up as they slipped off the tongue. A large circular conference room, doubling as dining hall and lounge, aimed in its design for the intimacy of the teepee experience, but any intended intellectual intimacy dissipated into the expansive space produced by a decor closer to Twin Peaks than to the San Francisco Peaks. The hushed hotel lobby and lounge managed to mute any conversational edge, producing a tonal monotony better suited to a mausoleum or a country club than to the exchanges of academic activists. 

At a graduate student workshop on "Representation" that opened the conference, I caused a minor stir by using my limited platform to question the appropriateness—the representativeness, precisely—of holding the convention in a place so marked by what the association professes to resist: the disengaged environment made possible by exploitation of labor. I also questioned representing the meeting's attractiveness in terms of an exoticized anthropological gaze on American Indians. Here's the newsletter again: one of the plenary sessions will "include local American Indian activistsAppendx 3 page break 171 | 172 and will conclude in an evening reception. . . . all of the leaders of the Amencan Indian Nations of Arizona will be invited to attend as guests . . . At the social event, . . . a dance group of . . . Indian students will perform American Indian inter-tribal pow-wow dancing. Clearly, this is going to be a very memorable Annual Meeting!" The dance group, no doubt having second thoughts about the politics of place and (mis)representation, decided not to show! 

The Arizona Biltmore stands apart from the city of Phoenix, a city that in any case is virtually without a center. The hotel exists in that peripheral place from which wealth and power are able to speak in silent signs, managing capital and politics as re-creational projects. The International Institute for the Sociology of Law, in Onati, nestled between the Basque hills of northern Spain, again by contrast, is housed close to the town center in a sixteenth-century university building ordered about a square courtyard. Funded by the Spanish, Basque regional, and European Community governments, the institute plays a central part in the town's daily, celebratory, and self-defined identity. The residential facilities for the institute are housed a short walk away through the town center in a building equally updated. 

The conference convened thirty or so people from around the world about a large conference table to engage in spirited exchanges about the epistemology of law and politics, and the politics and legislative rationalities of epistemology. Spatial confinement within the conference sessions was offset by a major regional festival with which the conference was designed to coincide as well as by the wonderful Basque cuisine experienced at a different restaurant for every meal. Heated conversation wafted up and down the long tables between gulps of red wine and fine food. The headiness of theoretical labor was offset by the running of the bulls through the festive streets, dancing in the town square between frequent visits to tapas bars, and the cross-dressed street-square parade that simultaneously ended the conference and festival proceedings. Woven together in enactment and memory, conference and festival, academic culture and street style assumed intersected significance beyond the discrete confinements of each. The space of the conference room, set within the converted palazzo square of a university cut through by the winding medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque streets and buildings, at once consolidated intellectual exchange and opened us up to lived experience that forced theory to engage praxis. The conference, significantly, ended with a critical intervention by Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, and South American participants about Anglo-American intellectual dominance, an expression of resistance to epistemological enactments of ongoing cultural imperialism. Appendx 3 page break 172 | 173 This intervention was prompted in part by the management of conference time that had started out in English and was dominated by English speakers, but that by week's end quite literally was forced into bilingualism. This struggle over the space-time of language raises wider questions about the relation between space and time with which I conclude. 

Controlling space implies also power over time. In a conference setting, seating arrangements and the order of recognition establish control over time: the time to come and go, the time to travel and stay, the flow of events into each other or their discontinuity, and the ability to speak. It controls who gets to speak and when and for how long, or short. It enables some to be heard while others (even as they are acknowledged in their presences) to be silenced. 

Thus space and time structure experience in Kantian fashion, furnishing the frame of reference. But they are not mere frames, merely the outer bounds or limits within which experience is mapped. The specificity of spatiotemporal relations works to impute to the experiences they order a sense, a sensibility, and so a significance—a set of meanings and values—in terms of which the architecture of knowledge acquires and imparts power. In that sense, space and time and their variety of relations are as much a product of architecture and design as they are the structures within which the epistemology and practice of architecture are required to produce their effects. Space and place offer physical and symbolic environments of knowledge production, consumption, and circulation, at once shaping and defined by the intertwined contexts of epistemological experience and political power. In the disembodied and disembodying drive to knowledge and will to power, we all too easily overlook the interactive influences of and implications for "where we're at." 

the end David Theo Goldberg 
 


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