viernes, 11 de febrero de 2022



"I used to write", in this way begins the melancholic lyrics of a song by the Arcade Fire, whose refrain then states: "Now our lives are changing fast". On the web, this song - "We used to wait" - is associated with an interactive video clip by Cris Milk, entitled "The wilderness downtown". In it, we are invited to indicate the place where we grew up, only to see it integrated into the video clip itself through a series of manipulations of internet data. The street where we played as children ends up being shown as part of the route of the young hooded jogger who stars in the video clip. It is hard to find a more accurate example of how our relationship to territory - and territory itself - is being transformed. To begin, the images of "our" places used in the video clip are those of Google Maps: the generic past of the song - "when we were writing" - and our own past, are summarised in the present: the images of Google Maps are current. The memory of the territory and of our experience are reduced to a generic evocation shared by all the users of the network. But, even more interesting is the invitation to identify the "wild city centre" of the song with the landscape of our childhood generates a radical doubt: were all the places of all childhoods "wild neighbourhoods"? The same neighbourhood? For example, I grew up in a village which in no way could resemble a "wild neighbourhood" - although, as it quickly lost its agricultural characteristics to mutate into something similar to urban, like so many other places in Europe, perhaps that will be its future. The video clip illustrates perfectly how the multiplication of modes of representation of territory, both in terms of our personal experience (photography, video) and in terms of maps and media, has, in fact, two apparently contradictory consequences. On the one hand, the possibility of an unprecedented expansion: an enormous quantity of images reproduces every corner of the territory. There is no street, square or building that is not represented on Google Maps, Instagram, Pinterest and so many other image archives - apart from our own domestic archives. But, on the other hand, these images all tend to look alike: selfies, sunsets, cityscapes are genres with well-defined forms.

The light, the framing, the point from which it is taken, everything is common, even if we have taken the photograph or video ourselves - the most common thing is to repeat the form that we have found most beautiful or most appropriate and that we have seen before on the networks. This "formatting" has consequences not only for the image itself, but also for our own experience and memory. Part of these personal dimensions is always common to the other members of the groups we join: we repeat learned gestures, we follow paths designed by others, we speak languages that we did not invent ourselves. What is new is that the mental images that make up our memory are becoming indistinguishable from the generic images conveyed by the media. Remembering the places we go to increasingly depends on the images of those places that are already in circulation. Our experience of the world, of the territory and of ourselves is therefore being redrawn in a very particular way, based on common mental images disseminated by the media. This mutation implies a reversal of the sequence territory-experience-representation, which has characterised our relationship with the territory. Before, we visited a place and we represented it in order to remember it. Now we

arrive at a place with a representation already constructed and we try to find it in situ. This new form of experience is so well established and powerful that the physical territory is beginning to adapt to the representations. Our cities, for example, are reconfigured according to a logic of the tourist and consumerist image. The same brands display similar shop windows in similar pedestrian streets, in historic centres refurbished in similar ways all over Europe; shopping centres create similar environments all over the world; beaches and mountains are urbanised according to the same visual logics on all continents. The loop between the representation of a territory and its suitability for representation has never been so powerful.

Benedict Anderson, in his classic "Imagined Communities", reminded us of the fundamental role that the printing press played in the creation of "nations" at the beginning of the 19th century: " readers, linked through the printing press, formed the embryo of the nationally imagined community". "I used to write" sing the Arcade Fire, "Now our lives are changing fast"... In the world of consumer and mass media geography - and with it, naturally, political geography - has undergone a radical transformation. It is no longer writing that defines how a community thinks of itself, but audiovisual images. The United States has been the pioneer in this transformation, linking from the beginning of the 20th century its own identity to cinema - and later to television - much more than to the written press. Griffith, a key figure in the articulation of modern cinema, presciently entitled one of his most important films "The Birth of a Nation". The United States has explored its own society and history through images, in a conscientious way, representing itself in a complex and articulate manner. Consider how its inner cities - the "wilderness downton" of the song - are an essential element of American iconography. In this way, the deep class conflicts that run through American society are inscribed in the country's own imaginary - without, of course, signifying their solution.

Audiovisual images have a much greater potential for communicability than printed language. By directly using the real thing in front of the camera to generate meaning, they do not need a long apprenticeship, as do languages we do not know. Nor do they need translation. They are directly legible and their montage is also easily decipherable. This potential universality of the recorded image - which silent cinema enjoyed to the full - has however a paradoxical effect, of which we are now beginning to be aware. Universality detaches images from the reality that produced them and allows them to travel autonomously. The American case is, once again, exemplary. In his book "Mainstream - An essay on the culture that everyone likes", the French sociologist Frédéric Martel carries out an exhaustive analysis of where and how "mainstream" culture is produced today and demonstrates that the diffusion of American culture is no longer the work of Americans alone. The blockbusters produced by Sony, with Japanese capital, are by no means less American than the rest of Hollywood production. On the other hand, such American films as the recent "Comancherie" or "La La Land" have been directed by European directors. It can be argued that the images that made up the typically American imaginary have detached themselves from their territory and now circulate as a common imaginary - as a kind of "lingua franca" of the imaginary - all over the globe. This is not only an Americanization of the world but also a globalization of American culture.

These radical transformations of territories, of their perception and of how societies imagine themselves, imply political changes of the first order. What is commonly called "politics" has tried to adapt to this new context, oscillating between two opposing poles. On the one hand, it has tried to harness the universal audiovisual "language" to sustain discourses and institutions.

However, since this "language" does not refer to any specific territory, not to any specific community, it produces an irremediable effect of lack of definition that profoundly undermines political action. The sense of genericity and interchangeability conveyed by current political discourses, both with regard to the territory and community to which they refer, and with regard to the initiatives they wish to undertake, bear witness to this. On the other hand, as a reaction to this constitutive indefinition, a longing for the past appears, often condensed around a nostalgia for the nation defined by the borders of language, understood, in turn, as political borders. But this longing runs up against the reverse problem: the written language is no longer the majority "language" in any country - it is now the audiovisual language and is common to all of them. Territories are redrawn under a universal personal and social imagination and, moreover, they adapt physically to this imagination. Thus, a paradoxical situation arises in which the written language, which in the nationalist tradition defines a territory, wants to be conveyed through the audiovisual "language", which is, on the other hand, fundamentally deterritorialized.

In both cases, there is an attempt to use the audiovisual "language" that does not really take into account the radical mutation that has taken place, nor its potentialities. As in any transformation, we have the feeling that the old is natural and the new artificial. However, the old was itself artificial when it was articulated: the mutation reveals its constructed character. Since territories and our experience of them are now produced by audiovisual "language" - and are no longer a stable and ancient plinth of experience and politics - we can ask ourselves a new question: what territory do we want to produce? What mental images do we want to articulate the imaginary of the territory and the territory itself? These are the questions of the new politics. I risk a hypothesis. The possibility of this new politics depends on the possibility of creating a local inflection in the universal audiovisual language. An inflexion that would mean a landing point of the common mental images in a place. The effort to create a local inflection means being aware that we are not preserving a territory, but rather we are producing it. A territory that is not born out of nothing, but a new territory that integrates its history prior to the mass media and its history as a territory defined by the mass media - with its load of media universality deposited in the details of the landscape. The awareness that we are producing a territory should also be a definitive incentive to keep the possibility of this creation always open. The universal audiovisual language already has its academy - a good part of what is taught in film and television schools, for example. Like any academy, the attempt is to limit the possibilities of opening up to the new. The new policy will essentially consist of keeping together the histories of the territory produced, the possibility of continuing to produce it, and knowing how to communicate and integrate all of this into the world.

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