City at a Time of Crisis



Tracing and researching crisis-ridden urban public spaces

in Athens, Greece.

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IV. Plastic Deformations of “Common Sense”

And so, we find ourselves at the cross-section between two crucial active processes that include, on the one hand, the shady characteristics of the financial crisis ––and hence, the articulations of the state of emergency as well–– and on the other hand, the persistent demands for the urbanisation of the military subject, with the necessary emphasis upon the asymmetric dimensions that characterise the contemporary environment of armed conflict.

III. Paradigmatic constructions at a time of crisis

Our brief but nevertheless demanding perambulation in both the world of linguistics and the field of epistemology aimed at setting the theoretical foundations for an alternative comprehension of the informal, undeclared and performative appearances of the state of emergency. We now ought to test out the limit of these, by peeking over the bleak present as outlined by the intensive police operations against select façades of public space in Athens and beyond. An opportunity to conduct such an exercise is offered by the coordinated eviction operations of specific squats that took place in the city of Athens in the period between December 2012 and January 2013 (whilst it is not yet possible for us to tell whether the current period, today, comprises a mere pause in the materialisation of this plan).

II. From language to paradigm.
The structural relationship between language (and therefore, its pragmatic function too) and law (and therefore, the state of emergency too) is also revealed in another, indirect way through Agamben's work. Many years before he attempted to offer some clarifications upon the central position of the notion of paradigm in his work, the Italian philosopher wrote: “exemplary is what is not defined by any property, except by being-called” [1].  It would therefore suffice to even briefly ponder over the definition above in order for one to see the similarity this holds with the exposure-to-language that Agamben focused upon in the late part of the same book, and to which he dedicated and continues to dedicate a large part of his work as a whole [2].

I. Linguistic (and other) suggestions


In the opening chapter of his book Violence: Six sideways Reflections, Slavoj Žižek adduces the following story: “there is”, he writes, “an old story about a worker suspected of stealing: every evening, as he leaves the factory, the wheelbarrow he rolls in front of him is carefully inspected. The guards can find nothing. It is always empty. Finally, the penny drops: what the worker is stealing are the wheelbarrows themselves...” [1]. Here, Žižek utilises the paradox of this story to reveal the hidden mechanisms of meaning-giving activated for the needs of the conceptualisations of violence. Part of a near-reflex associative process, the worker’s daily exiting of the factory with a wheelbarrow-form insinuates and logically presupposes the existence of an object-content. As part of his sideways reflections on violence, Žižek matches this automatism of thought to the “visible expressions of violence” that occupy the centre-stage of our minds and which, in the vortex of dominant symbolisms, take on their only too familiar moral and value form. The empty wheelbarrow ––let alone its repetition–– obviously comprises an act that is void of meaning, should one interpret it in a more or less self-evident context. Yet what the worker does comprises a deviation from the framework set by the automatism in question. The worker chooses to steal the wheelbarrow itself, showing that what had in its initial interpretation comprised form-for-some-content for him comprises, paradoxically, the content itself. The peculiar rupture in this meaning continuum helps Žižek claim that we must learn to disentangle ourselves from the fascinating lure of this directly visible 'subjective' violence” and to try to understand the contours of the background which generates such outbursts [2]. This attempt will inadvertently lead us, according to Žižek, to the revealing of a more foundational form of violence ––one that he terms “symbolic”–– which is embodied in language and its formsand that pertains to language as such, to its imposition of a certain universe of meaning” [3].

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City at the Time of Crisis is a research project tracing and researching the effects of the ongoing financial crisis on urban public spaces in Athens, Greece. Read more...