Memory and migration: Towards a hybrid space

Memory and Migration: Towards a Hybrid Space

19.5.2013

In his book Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization Michael Rothberg writes that,

…pursuing memory’s multidirectionality encourages us to think of the public sphere as a malleable discursive space in which groups do not simply articulate established positions but actually come into being through their dialogical interactions with others; both the subjects and spaces of the public are open to continual reconstruction. [1] 

He continues that the borders of memory and identity are ‘jagged’ and that memories are not owned by a certain group. The anachronistic quality of memory, he asserts, is what gives memory its ‘powerful creativity, its ability to build new worlds out of the materials of older ones’. [2]

The discussion of migration in this series owes much to Rothberg’s concept of multidirectional memory and its, ‘potential to create new forms of solidarity and new visions of justice.’ [3] Having spent the two previous pieces discussing the problems of hegemonic single narratives in the context of migration, I want now to explore the alternative spaces of myriad voices, as articulated by cultural theorists and created by artists.

In an interview with Jonathon Rutherford in the book Identity: Community, Culture, Difference Homi K. Bhabha articulated a ‘third space’, a space of hybridity. He explains that it is not a position of identity itself but an identification, a process of identifying with and through another object, an object of otherness. Like Rothberg’s multidirectional space Bhabha see the hybrid space as a site of potential: ‘The process of cultural hybridity gives rise to something different, something new and unrecognisable, a new area of meaning and representation.’[4]

The cultural theorist Ien Ang also notes the creative potential of this ‘third space’. In the forward to her book On Not Speaking Chinese Ang suggests that the, ‘diasporic intellectual may in fact be especially well placed to analyse this complicated entanglement [of the hybrid space] because it is embodied in her own life trajectory’. [5] She asserts that:

[A] critical diasporic cultural politics should privilege neither host country nor (real or imaginary) homeland, but precisely keep a creative tension between ‘where you’re from’ and ‘where you’re at’… the productivity I am referring to fills that space up with new forms of culture at the collision of the two: hybrid cultural forms born out of a productive, creative syncretism. [6]

I would argue that this is exemplified by the work of Arambe Productions, an African theatre company based in Dublin who create opportunities for often excluded African actors by, ‘ producing classic and contemporary plays in the African tradition, [and] reinterpreting relevant plays in the Irish canon’. [7]

In 2006 Arambe staged The Kings of the Kilburn High Road during the Dublin Fringe Festival. The play, written by Jimmy Murphy in 2005, is set in London twenty-five years after a group of Irish men sailed to England in hope of making a fortune and returning home. They meet up to drink to the memory of a dead friend and look back at their ‘lives, lost dreams and their place in the new Ireland’. [8]

Poster for The Kings of the Kilburn High Road, 2006, Arambe Productions.

In an essay entitled Who’s Laughing Now? Comic Currents for a New Irish Audience Eric Weitz notes how the humour in the production demarcates in-groups and out-groups of belonging in the audience, at once demonstrating cultural differences and creating a space of positive potential. [9] On the subject of articulating the traditional migration narratives of Kings through the African voice he writes:

Remarkably there are passages of text from Kings which played like an up-to-the-minute cautionary tale for African-born spectators who have emigrated to Ireland for economic betterment… Speaking through the mouth of Irish characters, there were many poignant opportunities for the Arambe actors – all but one of whom were born in Nigeria and spoke in their own accents – to give voice to yearnings and disappointments concerning the concept of ‘home’. The spectacle of five young black men caught in similar circumstances and enacting the potentially destructive social rites of their adopted country implies a hard glance in the rearview mirror at a wave of Irish emigration, even as it looks forward to our African-born immigrants. The oscillation between them evoked lament and warning simultaneously, though surely in different measure for the two main groups of spectators. [10]

At this juncture it should be clearly stated that I do not believe that expressing the cultural experience of one group through the voice of another automatically creates a site of multidirectionality or hybridity. Indeed I believe it can often be used to present an acceptable face of competitive memory or as an exercise in multicultural containment.  However as Weitz notes, it is the view of contemporary African migration to Ireland, through the renegotiated memory of Irish migration that opens up a space of solidarity in this case. [11]

In so doing the Arambe production created within the audience a site of collected memory. James Young suggests collected memory, as an alternative to Maurice Halbwach’s problematic concept of collective memory, proposing a space where,

… we recognize that we never really shared each others actual memory of past or recent events, but that in sharing common spaces in which we collect our disparate and competing memories, we find common (perhaps even a national) understanding of widely disparate experiences and our very reasons for recalling them. [12]

Like Bhabha and Rothberg, Young is proposing space, physical and theoretical, that brings memory together in recognition of inescapable differences.

The video installation How Capital Moves by Kennedy Browne also opens up a site of collected memory by creating space within the work to understand the trauma that globalisation exerts on local communities through the disparate and overtly competitive experiences of communities affected by the migration of transnationals. The work features six avatars, played by the same actor, each delivering a monologue addressing a particular experience and attitude to The Company, a large multinational computer firm which relocated from Limerick to Lodz in 2009. [13]

Image still ‘believed_in_company’ from How Capital Moves (2011) Kennedy Browne

The script is ‘an accumulation of translations and transcriptions’; from the language of the online accounts, into the written UK English of the script and then into the spoken Polish’. [14] This process of translation is extremely important; as Bhabha says, ‘the act of cultural translation (both as representation and as reproduction) denies the essentialism of a prior given original or originary culture then we see that all forms of culture are continually in a process of hybridity’. [15]

Denying this essentialism is vital. The real event on which How Capital Moves is based is in its very nature a site of competition. It is the nature of multinational companies to site themselves in the most competitive context, creating a climate of competition where countries lobby for business, often by undercutting their own citizens. Press reports at the time, exemplified by the Irish Independent’s headline Poland celebrates: ‘good for Lodz, bad for Ireland’ [16] gloss over the company’s role in the job losses in favour of drawing comparisons between Ireland and Poland, sites of capital migration, in a contest of economic hardship and unemployment woe.

Rothberg writes that ‘Comparison, like memory, should be thought of as productive – as producing new objects and new lines of sight – and not simply as reproducing already given entities that either are or are not “like” other already given entities’. [17] In contrast to the narrative presented by mainstream media outlets the work by Kennedy Browne presents the memory of the event through the medium of the Polish actor’s monologue, thereby ensuring the remediation of the memory to include and be read through the Polish perspective. [18] In so doing they transfer the critical focus onto The Company and their complicity and draw a ‘new line of sight’ through the integration of the Polish voice. [19]

It is in this use of voice and readymade, in the form of anonymous online testimonies, that multidirectionality is anchored. In the foreword to the script that accompanies How Capital Moves they state:

These fictions tend to be developed from existing, marginalised materials from within the plots and subplots of global capitalism. The use of readymade, found material in combination with a collaborative method of scripting ensures that Kennedy Browne’s fictions are networked to a multitude of referents rather than tied to a singular author. [20]

By presenting a ‘multitude of referents’ and weaving them together through the process of fictionalisation Kennedy Browne build on the strength of these combined stories and what they reveal about each other, to direct a critical refocusing on the effects of global capital migration. This, says Bhabha, is the power of the third space, to displace, ‘the histories that constitute it, and sets up new structures of authority, new political initiatives, which are inadequately understood through received wisdom’. [21]

The third or hybrid space, multidirectional or collected memory, all foreground the conflict that is inevitable in the collision of cultures that is commonplace in our contemporary world. As citizens we need to advocate for these spaces and their potential for building new visions for our future states. They reject the negation that is inherent in multicultural containment and in doing so make room for the creative tension in those spaces of complex, antagonistic entanglement. Here we can redraw critical focus onto the hegemonic voices of power which have privileged single narratives in the name of cohesion but instead breed xenophobia and fail to make room for migrant memory.

Written by Ruth Annett

[1] Rothberg, M. (2009) Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization Stanford: Stanford University Press, p.5

[2] ibid

[3] ibid: 4-5

[4] Bhabha, H (1990) The Third Space: Interview with Homi Bhabha in Rutherford, J. [ed.] (1990) Identity: Community, Culture, Difference London: Lawrence & Wishart, p.211

[5] Ang, I (2001) On Not Speaking Chinese: Living between Asia and the West London: Routledge, p.3

[6] ibid: 35

[7] Arambe Productions, 2013, Accessed:18/3/2013 Available at Arambe Productions online.

[8] Playography Ireland, 2013, Accessed: 22/4/13 Available at <http://www.irishplayography.com/play.aspx?playid=284>

[9] Weitz, E. (2009) Who’s Laughing Now? Comic Currents for a New Irish Audience in Brady, S. And Walsh, F (2009) Crossroads: Performance Studies and Irish Culture, London: Palgrave MacMillan, p.226

[10] ibid: 228

[11] ibid; Rothberg, 2009:4-5

[12] Young, J.E. (2010) Memory and Monuments after 9/11 in Crownshaw, Kilby and Rowland (2010) The Future of Memory Oxford: Berghahn Books p.81

[13]  Kennedy Browne (2011) How Capital Moves – The Script [online] Accessed: 18th April 2013Available at<http://www.kennedybrowne.com/> p.7

[14] ibid

[15] Bhabha in Rutherford, 1990:211

[16] Byrne, C. (2009) Poland celebrates: ‘good for Lodz, bad for Ireland’ The Irish Independent 9th January [online] Accessed: 18/4/2013 URL:http://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/poland-celebrates-good-for-lodz-bad-for-ireland-26504420.html

[17] Rothberg, 2009:19

[18] Erll, A. (2011) Travelling Memory, Parallax, 17 (4), p.12

[19] Rothberg, 2009:19

[20] Kennedy Browne, 2011:35

[21] Bhabha in Rutherford, 1990:211

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Memory and Migration: Imaginary Homelands

Memory and Migration: Imaginary Homelands

12.5.2013

When thinking about diaspora I return again and again to the writing of Salman Rushdie:

It may be that writers in my position, exiles or emigrants or expatriates, are haunted by some sense of loss, some urge to reclaim, to look back, even at the risk of being mutated into pillars of salt. But if we do look back, we must also do so in the knowledge-which gives rise to profound uncertainties- that our physical alienation from India almost inevitably means that we will not be capable of reclaiming precisely the thing that was lost; that we will, in short, create fictions, not actual cities or villages, but invisible ones, imaginary homelands, lndias of the mind. [1]

In the context of contemporary Ireland looking back has become a demand of the migrant individual and the inter-generational Irish diaspora throughout the world. The language of imaginary homelands, Irelands of the mind, saturate public discourse on the transcultural flow of people, leaving little room for other narratives, as I discussed last week. However an image of Ireland is increasingly being sold that does not reflect the country it is but rather portrays an imagined homeland demanded by a global market.

On the website of UCC’s EMIGRE project a fascinating array of media representations of diaspora and homeland have been gathered. The most recent addition, the animation Origin from 2012, portrays the journey of a man trying to leave the country who gets drawn back by connecting with a mythic past.

The emotive imagery of this piece exemplifies the problematic understanding of emigration and diaspora, assuming that all who leave are driven away by the problems of modern life and can only be drawn back by the imagined purity of a romantic past.

This type of narrative has also been consistently seen in the promotion of The Gathering which purports to ‘provide the perfect excuse to reach out to those who have moved away, their relatives, friends and descendants, and invite them home’, assuming and indeed demanding a look back from those who have left. [2] The question of whether or not this is a commoditization of culture, a cynical peddling of Irishness to reap economic benefits, has been exhaustively debated so far this year. Nonetheless I would like to revisit it within the context of this discussion on memory and migration.

On the webpage What it means to be Irish on thegatheringireland.com we are told that:

From a rock in the middle of the ocean, we have populated the globe with approximately 70 million O’Sullivans, Murphys and Walshes, not to mention the roughly one million Irish-born people who are currently living abroad.

On the page Global Community this theme is continued:

The point we’re trying to make is that you’ll find people with Irish blood scattered right across the globe, and that many of them made a huge contribution to society in their new homes.

It is hard not to view the latter statement cynically, given the obvious source of much needed revenue that such an initiative provides, and the obligation of diaspora that is implied.  Indeed as we cast the critical eye of hindsight on the recent history of globalisation in its economic guises, it is worrying that such an initiative has become a national calling card. Given how the unquestioning embrace of global capitalism has damaged the collective Irish self, continuing to cater to it seems an odd choice.

In the foreword to the book The Irish in Us, published in 2006 Diane Negra notes that;

Over the last ten years a particular set of cultural and economic pressures has rapidly transnationalized Irishness. Recruited for global capitalism, Irishness has become a form of discursive currency, motivating and authenticating a variety of heritage narratives and commercial transactions, often through its status as a form of “enriched whiteness”. 

There is obviously demand for Irishness as a product. In the essay Still “Black” and “Proud”; Irish America and the Racial Politics of Hibernophilia  from the same book, Catherine Eagan explains that much of this appetite comes from America where pervasive hibernophilia not only manifests through consumption of identity symbols but more insidiously through an assertion of alterity and the (re)appropriation of suffering. [4] This I would argue is a condition of postmemory, a term devised by Marianne Hirsch who explains:

[It] is a powerful form of memory precisely because its connection to its object or source is mediated not through recollection but through projection, investment and creation… [it] characterizes the experience of those who grow up dominated by narratives that preceded their birth , whose own belated stories are displaced by the stories of the previous generation, shaped by traumatic events that they can neither understand nor re-create. [5]

In the case of Irish America these narratives are derived from a collective ancestry of famine émigrés and the well-documented historic oppression of Irish immigrants in the United States. Generations of Irish Americans have acted as carriers of this memory which has been fed and mediated by the memory of late-twentieth and twenty-first century economic migration. The contemporary experience of Irish Americans has, however, no parallel with the oppression of earlier Irish immigrants, leading to the conflation of Irish and African American oppression, interest in the Northern Irish conflict, and solidarity against racial oppression against contemporary African diaspora. [6]

While aspects of this solidarity have positive out-workings there is an edge to this identification of ‘ethnic’ Irishness.  While there is potential to understand discrimination against the Irish through the subjugation of the black community and vice versa, in line with a multidirectional reading as proposed by Michael Rothberg, what has taken place so far has been distinctly competitive. [7] Writing of the push to educate the American public with an awareness of famine history in 1997, Eagan notes that ‘[d]espite the scholars best efforts, the attendees of these events were at times overeager in their excoriation of the English and their willingness to engage in competitive suffering matches with Jews, Native Americans, African Americans, and other oppressed peoples.’  [8]

It follows that the identification with suffering that has become an inherent part of ethnic Irishness should not lay emphasis on the collective histories of migrant suffering as this fails to recognise the differences in cultural experience. It also ignores the conflict that arises between migrant communities, in favour of a harmonious narrative of collective suffering. The equation of Irish and black oppression in American pop culture products, exemplified by the film Gangs of New York (Scorsese, 2002), eradicates conflict in favour of a narrative of cohesion, in this case by failing to acknowledge the lynching of African Americans carried out but Irish Americans angry about the inequality of the Civil War draft. [9]

This act of negation demonstrates how highly mediated Irishness travels between the diaspora and home nation in a cycle of re-appropriation, or as Hirsch puts it, ‘projection, investment and creation’, reinforcing problematic stereotypes. In the words of Chimamanda Adichie, quoted last week and who warrants reiteration, ‘the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete’. [10]

Though the commoditization of Irishness has been widely debated in the year of The Gathering what is equally difficult to stomach, but less often discussed, is the incompleteness of the commodity it seeks to sell.  Though its cheery colloquial tone does not venture anywhere near the darker side of this collective identity, by quietly implying an ethnic Irishness it is nonetheless implicated. By emphasising the ties of diaspora to their homeland, whether for economic gain or not, these problematic understandings are underlined. For those in Ireland’s racially diverse population who identify themselves as Irish, this is especially unhelpful as these narratives, as they are broadcast to the diaspora, only serve to restate their alterity. As such by catering to this global demand for Irishness through this commoditized view of imaginary homelands and ‘politically insulated ethnic whiteness’ a stereotype is peddled that leaves little room for the many who don’t fit the profile, and little opportunity for a contemporary re-negotiation of Irishness.

Written by Ruth Annett
 

[1] Rusdie, S. (1992) Imaginary Homelands London: Granta Books p. 10
[2] The Gathering, 2013 Available at < http://www.thegatheringireland.com/About.aspx#.UUbyUxfQaSo&gt;
[3] Negra, D. (2006) The Irish in Us: Irishness, Performativity, and Popular Culture in Negra, D.(ed.) (2006) The Irish in Us: Irishness, Performativity, and Popular Culture, London: Duke University Press, p.1
[4]Eagan, C. (2006) Still “Black” and “Proud”: Irish America and the Racial Politics of Hibernophilia in Negra, D.(ed.) (2006) The Irish in Us: Irishness, Performativity, and Popular Culture, London: Duke University Press, p.23
[5]Hirsch, M. (1999) Projected Memory: Holocaust Photographs in Personal and Public Fantasy in Bal, M et al [eds.](1999) Acts of Memory: Cultural Recall in the Present Hanover: University Press of New England, p.8
[6] Eagan, 2006:28-29
[7] Rothberg, M. (2009) Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization, Stanford: Stanford University Press p.3
[8] Eagan, 2006:41
[9]ibid: 32
[10] Adichie, C (2009) The danger of a single story [online video] Available at <http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html&gt;

The Psychic Turn in Labour (Part II)

The Psychic Turn in Labour (Part II)

26.4.2013

Labour is described, in classical economic terms, as a ‘factor of production’, along with land and capital. The Future State turns its attention to labour in a year when Ireland commemorates the centenary of the 1913 Dublin Lockout and, over the coming weeks, will explore cultural engagement with labour related themes: migration flows, workers’ resistance and violence and contemporary work phenomena such as outsourcing, flexible working, working from home and the mobile office.

 

Image from ‘Working at Deloitte for a Month’ Powerpoint presentation from ‘The Trainee’ by Pilvi Takala

As cognitive capacity replaces physical capacity to become the essential productive labour resource, Franco “Bifo” Berardi foregrounds the psychic turn in the economy. Part I explored Bifo’s Schizo Economy[1] through Mark Curran’s art work The Breathing Factory[2], a multimedia installation that illuminates precisely this shift in labour conditions, revealing the impact of advancing technologies on Hewlett Packard factory workers in the small town of Leixlip in Ireland.  In acknowledging the shift, what do we understand are the implications?

Bifo argues that to fully understand the current condition, particularly the global economic crisis, the “psychic and emotional state of the millions of cognitive workers” must be taken into account and further he proposes that the depression of the psychic worker is the cause of the financial crisis rather than the result.

Contemporary capitalism manifesting as increased competitiveness, complex digital networks and the concept of Business @ The Speed of Thought has, he puts forward, placed the worker under such constant “attentive stress” that it induces “a state of permanent electrocution that flows into a widespread pathology which manifests itself either in the panic syndrome or else in attention disorder”.[3] Technology, or the “mediascape”[4] is in a race to evolve.  Apple, Samsung, Sony and others battle to develop smarter, faster, more innovative and more mobile functionality.  In parallel the “infosphere”[5] is expanding exponentially, new components transmitting more signals day by day: Google, Twitter, Facebook, instant messaging, blogs, YouTube, Vimeo, Pinterest and more. But the third component, the human mind, and in particular its processing power, has largely remained the same, creating a lag between the transmitting technology and signals and the receiving human mind.  This has foregrounded the psychic collapse of the individual.

According to Bifo, this collapse, evidenced by the rise of the psycho-pharmaceutical industry selling millions of packets of drugs such as Prozac and Ritalin, is due to oversaturation in informatic stimuli, which in turn triggered a collapse in the economy and society. Whether or not the wellbeing of the global financial system can be attributed to the psychic health of the globalized, networked brain-worker is arguable but the acceleration of digital stimuli and the resultant increased burden on the worker is irrefutable.

 

Image from ‘ Working at Deloitte for a Month’ Powerpoint presentation from ‘The Trainee’ by Pilvi Takala

Artist Pilvi Takala’s work can be used to think about how modern working practices have evolved to accommodate the acceleration of informatic stimuli. Her project The Trainee exposes workers’ values that are tightly bound to a continuous cycle of receiving, evaluating, processing and communicating information.  Takala does this by passively subverting normative working practices and challenging the dominant narratives that exist around working and efficiency. In The Trainee the artist spends a month in the Marketing Department of Deloitte & Touche, a global tax, accounting and consulting firm, one of the so called ‘Big Four’, as student intern ‘Johanna Takala’. Only a few people within the firm are aware that her presence is part of an artistic project.

February 26, a Day at Tax & Legal  documents Johanna’s day spent in the library of the Tax and Legal department of the firm. She doesn’t consult any books or seek to engage with visitors or staff while she is there.  She sits and looks out the window.  When asked what she is doing, or more truthfully why she is not doing, she explains that she is a trainee from the Marketing Department and is doing brain work and thinking about things. This passive subversive act of ‘non-activity’ generates surprise and concern and an email exchange captured between Deloitte & Touche workers reveal that some people even find it ‘scary’.  In capitalist value systems it becomes unthinkable not to want to desire efficiency, productivity and competitiveness and explicit non-conformance is interpreted as a threat.

In February 25, a Day at Consulting Johanna spends a day in the Consulting Department of Deloitte & Touche. Consulting services offer expert resource to clients on a short term, project basis.  Clients can buy as much or as little cognitive expertise as they wish, when they wish, and consultants typically charge an hourly or daily rate for cognitive capacity. Consultants maintain records of the time spent working for each client and the firm charges the client accordingly. Consulting services exemplify what Bifo describes as the fragmentation and fractionalisation[6] of contemporary labour whereby a worker is no longer perceived as a human but as cells of time that can be bought in accordance with need, without recourse to offering social protection for the worker.  In the film Johanna sits quietly at a desk in the middle of a busy office. One work colleague is taken aback when she notices that Johanna does not have a laptop. Johanna explains that she is thinking / doing brain work.  In a space where time not spent working for clients is categorised as non-chargeable time, Johanna’s non-activity is unexpected and unsettling. She cannot be competitive unless she is connected to the digital network. The absence of a machine and technology is a refusal to contribute economically to the firm.

 

Still from ‘Working for Deloitte for a Month’ Powerpoint presentation from ‘The Trainee’ by Pilvi Takala

What strategies for the future?  Bifo proposes three. Firstly, collective deceleration, a refusal or cancellation of potentialities, but he rightly acknowledges this is almost impossible. Secondly, upgrading to post-human by bio-engineering digital components into human bodies. This would seem a natural direction for the already voracious development in the mediascape.  Finally, a distancing from the vortex, a retreat from capitalism.  A possibility perhaps for a privileged minority. What would you choose?

Written by Stephanie Feeney


[1] Berardi, F., ‘Schizo-Economy’, translated M. Goddard, Il Sapiente, Il Mercante, Il Guerriero, unpublished (online).  Available at http://www.erinmovement.com/htm/text/bifo%20text.htm [accessed 14/4/2013]

[2] Curran, M., (2006) The Breathing Factory, Heidelberg, Edition Braus.

[3] Berardi, F., ‘Schizo-Economy’, translated M. Goddard, Il Sapiente, Il Mercante, Il Guerriero, unpublished (online).  Available at http://www.erinmovement.com/htm/text/bifo%20text.htm [accessed 14/4/2013]

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

The Psychic Turn in Labour (Part I)

The Psychic Turn in Labour (Part I)

14.4.2013

Labour is described, in classical economic terms, as a ‘factor of production’, along with land and capital. The Future State turns its attention to labour in a year when Ireland commemorates the centenary of the 1913 Dublin Lockout and, over the coming weeks, will explore cultural engagement with labour related themes: migration flows, workers’ resistance and violence and contemporary work phenomena such as outsourcing, flexible working, working from home and the mobile office.

“In the semiotic becoming of capitalism, the soul is set to work.”[1]

Rapid and significant shifts in working practices in the last decades of the twentieth century have seen production turn away from physical capacity towards cognitive capacity. To an increasingly greater extent the knowledge economy is replacing manual labour; mind is replacing muscle. Franco “Bifo” Berardi asserts that today “cognitive capacity is becoming the essential productive resource” a a progression from the industrial age where ” the mind was put to work as a repetitive automatism, the physiological support of muscular movement.”[2] Now the mind is being put to work in new ways. Economic production has become cognitive, spurred on by a continuous evolution of technology, media forms and the speed of global information flows. The industrial age has given way to the information age.

 


From the series of work ‘The Breathing Factory’ by Mark Curran

In Ireland the industrial revolution and subsequent industrial age didn’t feature to a significant extent. Ireland’s economy continued to rely on pre-industrial agricultural production for the home and export market. But by the late 1990’s Ireland’s economy had leap-frogged into the post-industrial knowledge economy by nurturing the economic, labour and political conditions that encouraged multinational corporations in high tech industries to establish manufacturing bases there.  Thus contemporary factories, the manufacturing plants of Dell, Hewlett Packard and Intel, were built “in the middle of country fields, on the edge of a historic town, within a short bus ride of a global city… amidst new industrial locations and new communities that sit halfway between the rural and the urban, where people draw on elements of the ‘traditional’ and the ‘modern’”. [3]

The Breathing Factory by Mark Curran, a photographic documentation of a Hewlett Packard site in Leixlip, County Kildare, Ireland, takes its title from an economic concept developed by Peter Hartz.  Hartz describes the desire to achieve a ‘breathing’ factory, one that opportunistically flexes to the constantly changing demand of the market. Inside the factory, production processes, working conditions and hours expand and contract to the rhythm of the market. Equally, the factory boundaries are porous, drawing external factors such as education, social behaviours and the labour market into its rhythm too.

 


From the series of work ‘The Breathing Factory’ by Mark Curran

The Breathing Factory foregrounds some pertinent and complex issues that arise from contemporary labour conditions including migration flows and multicultural societies, gendered labour, the longevity and sustainability of neoliberal economic policies, the precarity of contemporary working patterns, the hegemony of the market and the continual competition to follow capitalism’s ever mutating vortex.  Curran’s work illuminates the shift in labour-power from manual to cognitive, exactly that to which Berardi refers.[4]

Interviews conducted with the Hewlett Packard factory employees, by the artist, reveal the true implications of technological advance: shifts from labour intensive to machine intensive production, job losses, redundancy and obsolescence, relocation, re-skilling and unemployment. In one interview, Susan, Logisitics Co-ordinator, asserts that the work is getting “easier”. But for whom? Fewer and fewer humans are required to manually control the machines as information technologies evolve at super-human speed.

for production lines out there … they … they seem to always need less and less people to operate them there … every different production line we bring in, it has more capabilities within itself … whereas the first one, we probably needed 12 and now we only need 6 people to run it … so technology is constantly changing … machines and computers are doing more work all of the time … life, work is being made a hell of a lot easier … I think

Susan, Logistics Coordinator, Samuel Beckett Meeting Room, Hewlett Packard Ireland, 23rd October 2003.[5]

 


From the series ‘The Breathing Factory’ by Mark Curran

The shift to the cognitive is, nonetheless, still evident in the context of a factory, a place historically associated with workers and manual labour.  What The Breathing Factory tells us is that the contemporary factory has cognitised too, inhaling technologically advanced machines and exhaling manual labour.  In high tech industry the cognitive capacity grounds itself on the digital technology of the machines. Workers with the cognitive skills to cope best with the increasing volume, speed and complexity of information, those with the mental agility to decipher specialised digital signals and semiotics, can contribute to the corporation’s drive for maximum development, progress and competition.  Cognitive skills become increasingly valuable; the higher up the cognitive chain, the more valuable the labour.

we have 4,200 employees here in Ireland at the moment, 1,800 in the manufacturing side here … and we are growing that investment, we are growing it on the R and D side … up the value chain …

Una, Director, Government and Public Affairs, Canteen, Hewlett-Packard, June 1st, 2004[6]

Berardi calls the new economy that demands more and more cognitive capacity, a schizo-economy.[7] He points to the increasing use of anti-depressant drugs such as Prozac as symptomatic of the economy’s psychic collapse.  Capitalism, he argues, has created the constant drive towards competition, a need to be at the forefront of development and progress that is manifest in, for example, investment focus in research and development (R and D) activities by Hewlett Packard, as evidenced in Mark Curran’s The Breathing Factory.  Capitalism’s schizophrenia is in demanding mental energy, cognitive capacity and brain power, while simultaneously exhausting it by bombarding the mind with informatics stimuli. According to Berardi, society is, as a result in “a state of permanent electrocution”.

Written by Stephanie Feeney.

Next week: expanding Berardi’s schizo economy to unpack the effect of contemporary labour conditions on individuals and groups.

 


[1] Berardi, F., ‘Alterity and Desire’, translated C. Mongini, Deleuze, Guattari and the Production of the New, ed S. O’Sullivan, S. Zepke (London, Continuum, 2008)

[2] Berardi, F., ‘Schizo-Economy’, translated M. Goddard, Il Sapiente, Il Mercante, Il Guerriero, unpublished (online).  Available at http://www.erinmovement.com/htm/text/bifo%20text.htm [accessed 14/4/2013]

[3] O’ Riain, S., (2006) ‘Space to Breath in the High Tech Workplace’ in Curran, M., The Breathing Factory, Heidelberg, Edition Braus.

[4] Berardi, F., ‘Schizo-Economy’, translated M. Goddard, Il Sapiente, Il Mercante, Il Guerriero, unpublished (online).  Available at http://www.erinmovement.com/htm/text/bifo%20text.htm [accessed 14/4/2013]

[5] Curran, M., (2006) The Breathing Factory, Heidelberg, Edition Braus.

[6] Curran, M., (2006) The Breathing Factory, Heidelberg, Edition Braus.

[7] Berardi, F., ‘Schizo-Economy’, translated M. Goddard, Il Sapiente, Il Mercante, Il Guerriero, unpublished (online).  Available at http://www.erinmovement.com/htm/text/bifo%20text.htm [accessed 14/4/2013]

Global Ghost Towns: Film Showcase

Global Ghost Towns: Film Showcase

29.3.2013

For the duration of March, Emma Cummins is curating The Future State blog around the theme of contemporary ghost towns.  In this week’s post, she selects three very different films that reflect the problems of property-led growth in the US, Ireland and China. 

Foreclosures – Detroit: The Troubled City (8mins)

Bruce Gilden

http://vimeo.com/44404424

In Bruce Gilden’s series Foreclosures, the effects of the US subprime mortgage crisis are explored through short films set in Florida, Las Vegas and Reno, Fresno and Detroit.  Through interviews with residents and local communities, he reveals how the proliferation of empty homes has impacted the physical and social fabric of American cities.

As seen in Detroit: The Troubled City, Gilden blends still and moving images to reflect the complexity of contemporary urban change.  In his words: ‘when I arrived in Detroit I saw a city government that does not take care of its people and a lot of those people have stopped caring […] Property values go down, nobody wants to live in these areas.  To me it almost seems like they are left standing so that one day they drive everybody out and grand new subdivisions can be made’.

For more on Gilden’s work, see his website: http://www.brucegilden.com

Vacancy (2mins 19)

Paddy Baxter

At The Future State of Ireland conference last November, the subject of Ireland’s so-called ‘ghost estates’ proved a fascinating and contentious topic.  Often described in “ghostly” or spectral terms, these unfinished developments have inspired many artists and film-makers.

In Paddy Baxter’s experimental ‘horror documentary’ Vacancy, the artist explores Carrig Glas Manor in Country Longford.   Through a collaboration with the Manchester music collective Tubers Music, the film blends atmospheric soundscapes with photos and video footage.  As Baxter explains: ‘Vacancy became for me a fascinating lesson on the power of music in film.  Fiction film invariably uses music to manipulate our emotions more effectively. The use of music in documentary can be more problematic – it allows the filmmaker to exert a huge degree of control over how we view real people and political or social standpoints. There is no denying that this film comes from a subjective political viewpoint, however its intention is not social critique, but rather it seeks to explore in some way the embedded emotional confrontation between myself as the filmmaker and this disrupted landscape’.

Vacancy was inspired by a photo-article on the recent phenomenon of Irish ‘ghost estates’.  Read the article here: http://castlesbuiltinsand.wordpress.com/ghosts-and-the-machine/

Ordos 100 (1hr 39)

Ai Wei Wei

Directed by China’s most famous living artist, Ai Wei Wei, Ordos 100 is a fascinating, hour-long documentary on a huge, architectural project in Inner Mongolia.  For the Ordos 100 Desert Villa project, Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron – best known for their conversion of Bankside Power Station into Tate Modern – invited 100 international architects to design 100 private villas, each covering 1000 square metres of land.

As seen in last week’s blog post, which cited the work of photographer Michael Christopher Brown, the new city of Ordos has failed to attract many residents.  Often described as a ‘ghost town’, it is but one example of the many under-populated new cities in present-day China.  In this context, Ordos 100 offers unique insights into the country’s political and economic ambitions.  Whilst the Desert Villa project has never been realised, it reveals the ways in which architecture is used as a strategy for economic growth.

As Michael Alexander Ulfstjerne explains in the article ‘Creative land grabs: The Ordos 100 spectacle revisited’: ‘After several visits to the idle construction site and interviews with developers, architects, urban planners and local engineers working there, it became evident to me that creativity incubation zones and developments such as the Ordos 100 are good investments even though they might never actually be built. In the initial stage, the production of images, models and plans most likely serve as feasibility criteria to convince the local government to allocate land-use rights at a bargain price’.

Plans for the proposed villas at Ordos 100 can be viewed here: http://www.archdaily.com/tag/ordos-100/

Global Ghost Towns: Photography Showcase

Global Ghost Towns: Photography Showcase

23.3.2013

Emma Cummins continues her exploration of contemporary ghost towns by showcasing the work of five artists and photographers. From Anthony Haughey’s images of Ireland’s ‘ghost estates’ to Richard Allenby-Pratt’s photographs of deserted cities in Dubai—the effects of the global economic crisis are revealed in a very visual way.

Attracting attention from newspapers such as The Guardian and The New York Times, ‘ghost towns’ are a common architectural landmark across today’s globalised world—but what do these images reveal about neoliberal development?

 

Anthony Haughey – Settlement (2011)

 

‘Settlement XI’, Anthony Haughey 2011

 

‘Settlement I’, Anthony Haughey 2011

Following years of intense development, a devastating property bubble emerged in Ireland, which eventually burst in 2008.  As a result, the effects of the global economic crisis have been painfully exacerbated by homeowner equity problems and a shocking profusion of empty and partially constructed buildings.  Recently recategorised as ‘ghost estates’, these modern day ruins have inspired a wide range of photography and visual art projects—from Michael O’Hallaran’s images of the rise and fall of the property market, to Valérie Anex’s striking photo-essay ‘Ghost Estates’ in The New York Times.

Amongst the many photographic projects that explore the thousands of unfinished buildings in Ireland, Settlement, by Anthony Haughey, has attracted the most critical attention.  There is good reason for this: in addition to his beautifully-shot, long exposure photographs – produced between sunset and sunrise – Settlement brings together proposals by students and architectural firms for how these developments could be improved.  As Dorothy Hunter explains: ‘[…]whilst these particular proposals shall probably never be realised, it is through this work that we consider what alternative methods exist for gaining control of a paralysed environment – be they artistically expressive actions, or spatial solutions’.

Settlement has been exhibited at venues including Belfast Exposed and The Copper House Gallery, Dublin.  Haughey’s work is currently on view at the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Beijing as part of the group show New Irish Landscapes.

For more on Settlement see the artist’s website: http://anthonyhaughey.com/projects/settlement/

 

Edgar Martins – This Is Not A House (2008)

 

From the series ‘This Is Not A House’, Edgar Martins (2008)

 

From the series ‘This Is Not A House’, Edgar Martins (2008)

Edgar Martins’ unforgettable images of abandoned homes explore the subprime mortgage crisis and property market collapse in the United States.  Rooted in the development of a vicious housing bubble that began in 2001, “mortgage meltdown” reached a peak in 2006 with an unprecedented rise if foreclosures.  By the end of 2007, nearly 2 million Americans had lost their homes, leaving streets in Florida, California, Michigan and beyond with many unoccupied properties.

As seen in Martins’ touring exhibition This is Not a House, his images have a surreal, almost apocalyptic quality.  Originally commissioned for a feature in The New York Times, the photographs sparked controversy when it was revealed that Martins digitally edited some of the images in the series.  As the artist explains: ‘Photojournalism has never felt the need to challenge or contravene certain rules, aesthetic or ethical.  Yet, within this framework there is a perpetual search, not to mention a real need, to find new ways of assimilating and representing the real.  I viewed this project, from the outset, as a platform to explore new models for conceptualising a particularly contemporary phenomenon and landscape.  The work was therefore structured as ‘a photographic intervention into a crisis, a crisis that is only in part economic’’.

This is Not a House has been exhibited at several venues, including The Wapping Project Bankside in London and more recently The Gallery of Photography in Dublin.  Martins’ work is currently on show at Somerset House, London as part of the exhibition Landmark: The Fields of Photography.

For more on the artist’s work see his website: http://www.edgarmartins.com

 

Richard Allenby-Pratt – Abandoned (2011)

 

‘Hyena’, Richard Allenby-Pratt (2011)

 

‘Ibex’, Richard Allenby-Pratt (2011)

Following decades of economic growth, Dubai’s economy began to decline in 2009 with the dramatic bursting of its investment and property bubble.  As Patrick Collinson writes in an article for The Guardian: ‘House prices in the desert sheikhdom dropped by an extraordinary 40% in the first three months of 2009, outpacing falls anywhere else in the world […]’. With the collapse of the country’s lucrative property market, capital fled Dubai at speed, leaving many buildings unfinished and motorways unused.

These strange urban landscapes are the subject of a stunning series of photographs by Richard Allenby-Pratt.  Simply titled Abandoned, the series depicts exotic animals – such as gazelles, zebras, rhinoceroses and hyenas – in environments originally intended for wealthy people and businessmen.  As the artist explains: ‘The project imagines a future without people, where the relics of our unrealised ambitions are populated by some of the species we have, in the present day, come so close to exterminating.  I hope to highlight the fragility of our economic systems and the desperate need for us to be responsible guardians of our environment’.

Abandoned was included in the 2011 London Association of Photographers Awards.  The project was also awarded an honourable mention at the Paris PX3 Awards and came second in the international category of the Al Thani Awards in Qatar.  Abandoned is currently being exhibited at Shelter in Al Serkal Avenue, Dubai, to coincide with Art Dubai week.

For more on Allenby-Pratt’s work see his website: http://www.allenby-pratt.com/en/

 

Michael Christopher Brown – Ordos (2010)

 

From the series ‘Ordos’, Michael Christopher Brown (2010)

 

From the series ‘Ordos’, Michael Christopher Brown (2010)

The impending implosion of China’s real-estate market has been the subject of countless articles and TV documentaries.  Less well documented are the millions of empty buildings that have proliferated in recent years.  Estimates suggest there could be over 16 million vacant homes in China—many of these lie unsold, whilst others have been bought as speculative investments.

In the impressive series of photographs Ordos, Micheal Chrisopher Brown reveals the effects of rampant development on a wealthy coal-mining town in Inner Mongolia.  Collected in a photo-essay for Time magazine, images from this series focus on the Kangbashi district—an area replete with office blocks, administrative centres, government buildings, museums, theatres, sports fields and acres of middle-class houses.  As Time’s editorial explains: the only problem is that ‘the district was originally designed to house, support and entertain 1 million people, yet hardly anyone lives there’.

Brown’s other projects include Xiasi (2010) – a two-part series produced during train and road trips in China – and Broadway (2009) which explores American identity amidst a global financial crisis.  Brown has worked as a contributing photographer at National Geographic Magazine since 2005 and was a finalist for the Emerging Photographer of the Year award for three years running.

For more on Brown’s work see his website: http://www.mcbphotos.com

 

Markel Redondo ­– Tu Casa es Mi Casa (2011–2012)

 

From the series ‘Tu Casa es Mi Casa’ (Residencial Francisco Hernando in Sesena), Markel Redondo (2011)

 

From the series ‘Tu Casa es Mi Casa’, Markel Redondo (2011–2012)

Between 1998 and 2007, Spain’s housing stock increased by approximately 5.7 million units.  Responding in part to increased demand – afforded by factors such as immigration, rising divorce levels and an increased interest in buy-to-let properties – an astonishing number of new buildings were constructed in urban, rural and suburban environments.  When Spain’s “boom decade” reached an abrupt halt in 2007, the damage produced by years of frenzied development was revealed in a very visible way—estimates suggest that there are over one million vacant or unfinished houses in the country.

Coterminous to Spain’s housing crisis, levels of unemployment remain astonishingly high.  At the beginning of 2013, the country’s unemployment rate was 26%, with joblessness among young people reaching an unprecedented 55%.  As evidenced in Markel Redondo’s emotive series of photographs, Tu Casas es Mi Casa, the demise of Spain’s property-led economy has transformed the country’s social and material landscape.  Focusing on the lives of unemployed people living in two Andalucian ‘ciudades fantasmas’ (‘ghost towns’), the series highlights the impact of economic crisis on people and places.  As Redondo explains: ‘Even in this corner of the developed world, the impact of economic crisis is resulting in the often surreal juxtaposition of a hand to mouth existence lived amongst the ruins of failed urban and economic development’.

Markel Redondo’s work has been featured in numerous publications including Time, Le Monde, New York Times and Wall Street Journal.  He came third in the Lens Culture Exposure Award in 2012, and was a finalist in the International Photojournalism Award in 2010.  Tu Casa es Mi Casa is currently on show at the Espai de fotografia in Barcelona.

For more on Redondo’s series Tu Casa es Mi Casa see his website: http://www.markelredondo.com/story-crisis.html

 

Contemporary Ghost Towns and the ‘Murdering Middle Classes’

Contemporary Ghost Towns and the ‘Murdering Middle Classes’

15.3.2013

Following on from last week’s photo-essay on the property crash in Ireland and Spain, Emma Cummins draws attention to two recently published crime novels that take place on unfinished housing developments.  Telling stories of alienation, murder and marriage breakdown, ‘Broken Harbour’ (2012) and ‘Gone Girl’ (2012) dramatise the devastating impacts of austerity and unemployment—but what can we learn from these popular works of fiction?  Beyond their undeniable, commercial success, what do these tales of ‘murdering middle class’ residents reveal about the psychological effects of neoliberalism and austerity?

In the opening pages of Broken Harbour, Detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy is offered a ‘high-stake’ case—a family of four, brutally attacked in ‘one of those new places’ in Ireland.  Ocean View, a fictional development in a new Dublin suburb, is a recently constructed town designed for middle-class families and smart investors keen to climb the property ladder.  Contrary to the developers’ plans, Ocean View lacks basic infrastructure and amenities.  As one resident explains, the nearest pub is  ‘twelve miles away’, and she has to go ‘five miles to buy milk’.  Replete with many unfinished properties, Ocean View is, in popular parlance, a ‘ghost estate’—a development of ten or more houses where 50% of the properties are either vacant or under-construction’[i]

As author Tana French explains, Broken Harbour was inspired by the ‘generation of thirtysomethings’ who rushed to buy property in Ireland during the boom years: ‘People doing this were people trying to do the right thing, the thing that everyone was telling you to’.[ii] Although this sensibility is most pronounced in the behaviour of Patrick and Jenny Spain – one of the first couples to move to Ocean View – it extends, in various ways, to other characters in the book.  Even Scorcher himself, who lives in a bachelor pad in Dublin, says he is a ‘big believer in development’:

‘I’d rather see an apartment block any day, all charged up with people who go out to work every morning and keep this country buzzing and then come home to the nice little places they’ve earned, than a field doing bugger-all good to anyone except a couple of cows.  People are like places are like sharks: if they stop moving, they die’.

Despite the optimism of Ireland’s ‘Celtic Tiger’ years, the fictional environs of Ocean View suffer a fate worse than death or demolition.  Mirroring the story of thousands of properties in present-day Ireland, the development lives a painful half-life; an aborted existence haunted by ‘the ghosts of things that never got the chance to happen’.

‘Ghosts’ of the present: unfinished estates in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland

The background to the economic crisis in Ireland has been well documented, however its psychological impact is less easy to put into words.  If, to quote Bernardo Soares, ‘some truths cannot be told except as fiction’, it is imperative to explore what works of art and literature reveal about the problems of neoliberal development.  With record levels of unemployment, drastic public sector cuts and increased taxation, Ireland’s fall from grace is almost unfathomable.  Subsequently, French’s cautionary tale of a family who thought they had done the ‘right’ thing – worked hard, bought property, started a family… – is a fascinating meditation on the contemporary Irish psyche.

As Ireland struggles to meet the terms of an €85 billion bail-out package from the EU and IMF, the families and individuals who bought into the ‘national speculative mania’ of the boom years are often denigrated by the media.[iii]  Furthermore, it is often said that Ireland’s ‘ghost estates’ are a poignant reminder of the country’s overly extravagant past.  Yet despite approximately 290,000 properties (at least), the search for a neoliberal solution to a neoliberal problem continues in Ireland, and many other countries worldwide.[iv]  Rather than radically rethinking the workings of the housing market, or the system at large, the aim is to resuscitate a struggling market and continue to promote high homeownership levels as a hallmark of a functioning, liberal society.  In this context, the inadequacy of the term ‘ghost estate’ comes into stark relief: rather than being relics of the recent past, these ‘pathological geographies’ paint a vivid picture of the present.[v]

Doing the ‘right’ thing: The politics of aspiration

Before moving to Ocean View, Patrick and Jenny Spain are perceived as the quintessential, ‘Celtic Tiger’ couple—an attractive and reasonably affluent husband-and-wife who signed ‘a hundred and ten per cent mortgage’ deal in 2006.  Escaping city life for what seemed like the suburban dream, the Spains wind up stranded, distressed and unemployed in a development of ‘skeleton houses’ and broken promises.

Displaying strong parallels with Gillian Flynn’s bestseller Gone Girl, Broken Harbour paints an unsettling picture of today’s broken, middle-class.  Indeed, one of the strongest commonalities between the Spains’ trajectory and that of Nick and Amy Dunne in Gone Girl is the impact of unemployment on family life.  Both newly-wed couples, the Spains and the Dunnes are portrayed as smart, hard-working people—Nick and Amy were successful writers in New York, whilst Patrick Spain worked in financial services recruitment before ‘they let him go’.  Even Jenny, who quit work before moving to Ocean View, ‘got really serious about being a stay-at-home mum’, keeping the place ‘spotless’ even as her family life unravelled.   In turn, the fall of both couples into a violent, domestic dystopia is accentuated by the belief that they had done things ‘right’.

In contrast, however, to French’s narrative, Flynn’s newly-weds do not move house out of choice.  Coterminous to Nick and Amy losing their jobs in New York City, Nick’s Mum contracts cancer whilst his Dad suffers the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.  Spurring a move to Nick’s hometown of Missouri, the couple end up in ‘a miniature ghost town of bank-owned, recession-busted, price-reduced mansions, a neighbourhood that closed before it ever opened’.  Incidentally, the couple’s decision to leave ‘the frantic, thrilling futureland of Manhattan’ was seen as the right thing to do at the time.  Little did they know that this change in environment would elicit a murderous descent ‘into the darkest recesses of the human psyche’.[vi]

Mortgage foreclosures and the ‘murdering middle classes’

Gone Girl is a three-part tragedy that implicitly references the American subprime mortgage crisis.  Facilitated by a laissez-faire attitude to lending, “mortgage meltdown” reached in a peak in 2006 with an unprecedented rise in foreclosures—by the end of 2007, nearly 2 million Americans had lost their homes.

Although Nick and Amy’s property is rented, their experience of living in a ‘failed development’ with many foreclosed properties has deep-seated, psychological impacts.  As Nick explains:

‘Driving into our development occasionally makes me shiver, the sheer number of gaping dark houses – homes that have never known inhabitants, or homes that have known owners and seen them ejected, the house standing triumphantly voided, humanless’.

Unsettled by their new environment, Nick and Amy ultimately blame each other for their plight.  Thus, through twists strikingly resemblant of Broken Harbour, an internecine husband-and-wife battle ensues.

At ‘The Future State of Ireland’ conference last November, Professor Luke Gibbons described a new trend in Irish film and crime fiction, that of the ‘murdering middle classes’.  Citing books such as Broken Harbour and Alan Glynn’s Winterland, and films such as What Richard Did and Kisses; he explained how contemporary portrayals of a ‘dystopian Ireland’ offer new readings of the ‘fallout of the Celtic Tiger’ period.

Forced to live in strange recession-scapes, the couples in Gone Girl and Broken Harbour blame themselves and each other.  Resulting in madness and murder, the psychological trauma experienced by the Spains and the Dunnes is accentuated by the fact that they internalise their worries.  Whilst both couples are portrayed as busy, sociable people during the ‘boom years’, all four protagonists retreat, in different ways, from their friends and the few neighbours that they have.  Notwithstanding a close relationship between Nick Dunne and his twin sister Go – who has ‘moved back home after her own New York layoff’ – there is a sense that the main characters in these books are too ashamed to share their feelings.

Whilst Broken Harbour and Gone Girl capture the mood of a generation; whilst they act, in some ways, as barometers of the post-2008 psyche, neither French nor Flynn can bring themselves to write a happy ending.  In the end, both books are tragedies because the authors make it so, but that does not mean we cannot learn from them.

As the past few years have taught us, societies shaped by markets and debt are unsustainable.  In this context, it is interesting that the Spains and the Dunnes rarely acknowledge the elephant in the room.  Like many cultural representations of the crisis, Broken Harbour and Gone Girl portray the irrational actions of people as the cause and effect of the crash.  In both books, unfinished ‘ghost towns’ – produced by an irrational boom-and-bust economy – often symbolise the dysfunctional behaviours of the developers that produced them; the bankers that funded them; the politicians that encouraged them and the shortsighted people that moved into them.  In other words, the idea that these developments are the product of human follies belies the complexity of the capitalist mode of production.

Surviving on a diet of crisis and contradiction, capitalism reproduces itself through a process of constant modification and self-destruction.  In Mark Fisher’s words, it ‘is fundamentally and irreducibly bi-polar, periodically lurching between hyped-up mania (the irrational exuberance of ‘bubble thinking’) and depressive come-down’.[vii]  Whilst we are all complicit in the movements of capitalism, it is important to remember – particularly in times of crisis – that capitalism is itself traumatised.  In this way, the distress experienced by citizens in present-day Ireland, America or elsewhere can be understood as an expression of a much bigger pathology—a disease that no one individual can solve.

Perhaps then, by refusing to provide happy endings, both Flynn and French understand that change will not emerge through blame or introversion.  Although the authors often gloss over the economic details of the crash, the books intimate that we should rescue from situations of crisis a sense of solidarity and community.  Reflecting the need for more compassion, more empathy and communication, Gone Girl and Broken Harbour show that to tackle the effects of neoliberalism and austerity, we must look much further than our doorsteps…

 


[i] Kitchin, R., Gleeson, J., Keaveney, K. & O‟Callaghan, C., ‘A Haunted Landscape: Housing and Ghost Estates in Post-Celtic Tiger Ireland’, July 2010, NUI Maynooth, NIRSA Working Paper Series, no. 59, http://www.nuim.ie/nirsa/research/documents/WP59-A-Haunted- Landscape.pdf, p.30[ii] Tana French, quoted in Flood, A., ‘Tana French: I’m haunted by Ireland’s ghost estates’, 27 July 2012, guardian.co.uk, http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jul/27/tana-french-interview %5Biii%5D Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Banking Sector in Ireland, Misjudging Risk: Causes of the Systemic Banking Crisis in Ireland, March 2011, Department of Finance, retrieved 1 April 2011http://www.finance.gov.ie/documents/publications/reports/2011/nybergreport. pdf, piii[iv] In total, the 2011 Census revealed that there were 289,451 vacant properties (14.5% of total stock) in April that year.  Of these 59,395 were classed as holiday homes.[v] For discussion of the term ‘pathological geographies’, see my paper ‘Pathological Geographies: The Materiality of the Global Financial Crisis’, http://www.mara-stream.org/research/1091/[vi] Johnstone, D., ‘Gone Girl, By Gillian Flynn: When love goes brutally wrong’, 3 June 2012, The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/gone-girl-by-gillian-flynn-7813299.html[vii] Fisher, M., Capitalist Realism Is There No Alternative?, O Books, United Kingdom, 2009, p35