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Everyone talks about space, but no one does anything about it.

This week’s essay explores the work of French Marxist Henri Lefebvre, a philosopher and sociologist whose life and work (1901-1991) spanned the 20th Century. Lefebvre’s influence continues apace; his writing on the urban, and on everyday life, in addition to spatialization studies, have only grown more relevant.

Be forewarned that this is only a broad introduction. 1974’s The Production of Space, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith in 1991, represents the foundational text for Lefebvre’s recasting of space (literal and metaphoric) as a fundamental and overlooked social force. At times, it can turn into a difficult work: learned, but non-linear, when not outright dense. Space is also a fountain of insight, contrary observations, and ideas that continue to resonate in fields as disparate as urban theory and literary criticism.

Lefebvre's Marxist humanism remains erudite if not a little prankish. At times, he seems to invite the reader to stop reading and open a window or take a walk. He's not frivolous in this, but understands rather the importance of a fresh view.

As he reminds his audience in 1970’s The Urban Revolution:

“Marx […] conceived of a path, not a model”
Translator Nicholson-Smith points out in a footnote that the French word espace possesses multiple meanings, some conveyed in English by alternate words such as “sector” or “sphere." Thus, in The Production of Space, Lefebvre surveys numerous sectors, spheres, and spaces in order to trace one path wherein space is defined as a “trialectic” or “spatial triad:”  a social force that informs time and history.

So what is space?

We often think of space as mere emptiness: as a container for meaning or material objects, awaiting inscription. To Lefebvre, our common conception of space is but a "double illusion," that comes into focus as two mutually-reinforcing forms: an “illusion of transparency,” conjoined with “the realist illusion.”

Thando Mama: mind-space, 2004 link

Space “appears as luminous, as intelligible, as giving action free rein” - Lefebvre, The Production of Space (p.29)
“[This] illusion of transparency” situates space as luminous, knowable and expressible, often given weight and flight by language. Said illusion downplays the environment (social, physical) in favor of what could be construed as a totalizing, philosophical idealism. We here encounter mental space as detached from the influence of material and social space. Latent revolutionary potential while present (p.29), remains solely that- potential. Space becomes sublimated to the world of the mind, as if the world existed solely in mental space.

On the other side of the binary, “The realist illusion” privileges “‘things’” (read: materialism) over “…the ‘subject,’ his thought and desires.” In other words, mental and social space(s) are here subordinate to physical space. Lefebvrean scholar Edward Soja, in Postmodern Geographies, addresses the manner in which the illusion enables the reduction of the natural world to so much grid-space: Space is [situated in this illusion as] "objectively and concretely there to be fully measured and accurately described" (p. 64).

Capitalism’s critics by now might suspect that “the realist illusion” masks a genuine peril; a world to win becoming nothing more than a world to demarcate, parcel out or otherwise commodify:


"Now when I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all the glories of exploration. At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all look that) I would put my finger on it and say, 'When I grow up I will go there.' […] But there was one yet – the biggest, the most blank, so to speak – that I had a hankering after." - Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Ultimately, these two illusions obscure the enduring presence of space as a social force. Lefebvre describes the double-illusion of space as a stratagem designed to mask the fact that space is, in essence, a social product; omnipresent, while paradoxically invisible.

Lest this come across as so much counting of angels on the heads of pins (weighing pie might be more apropos in DKos parlance), early in the text, he reminds the reader that overlooking what he calls the “truth of space” results in fragmented alienation:

[…] we are forever hearing of architectural, plastic or literary ‘spaces’; the term is used much as one might speak of a particular writer’s or artist’s ‘world.’ Specialized works keep their audience abreast of equally specialized spaces: leisure, work, play, transportation, public facilities- are all spoken of in spatial terms. […] We are thus confronted by an indefinite multitude of spaces, each one piled upon, or perhaps contained within, the next: geographical, economic, demographic, sociological, ecological, political, commercial, national, continental, global. Not to mention nature’s (physical) space, the space of (energy) flows, and so on. - Lefebvre, The Production of Space (p.8)

The three sides of space: the perceived, the conceived, and the lived

At the core of The Production of Space, there lies a triangle. Some (see below) might view it as a circle. As if to cover as much of the ground listed in the quote above, it represents Lefebvre’s emblem for the spatial process; “trialectic” (i.e. a three-sided dialectic), spatial triad… all of the terms suffice. However, the terms applied to each end of the triangle vary in complexity even as they have the same general designation.

 link

As you can see, the terminology appears to overlap in translation. Ignore for the moment the repetition of "representation" and focus on the visual. Lefebvre's discussion early in the introduction of the "double illusion" now makes more sense. Whether envisioned as a circle or a triangle, these three aspects work in concert with each other to produce space: a continuum at once physical, natural, and mental. However, this relationship, seldom "simple or stable" (Space, p.46), takes on considerable complexity as Lefebvre’s treatise progresses.

Space, Lefebvre argues, has been overlooked in favor of time and history; one could extrapolate that time and history might be better pictured as two sides of a lever, balancing on the pivot of space.

I will use the terms perceived space, conceived space, and lived space for clarity. Keep in mind (there's a spatial pun in there somewhere) that as envisioned by Lefebvre, overlap exists between these three types of space.

Perceived Space (spatial practice)
Embraces production and reproduction: spatial practice embodies how space is conceived of as well as how an individual within a city or a nation-state within an area "lives". By way of one example, spatial practice often includes the physical transformation of the environment.  

Lefebvre utilizes an effective example of this practice at work in describing the roads of medieval Europe. He expounds at length on the socio-economic forces that divide the rural town and urban city, noting that there was already a network of roads in place. These roads served multiple purposes; moreover, physical location tended to dictate the type of road present. The roads that connected these cities to each other were emblematic of the nascent commercial ties already extant. These particular thoroughfares would be far less traveled or might not exist in the absence of cities. At the same time, there were the local roads less known by the travelers between cities, but important to those who lived in the city or in the rural areas. Lefebvre then segues to one social activity that clearly demonstrated the need for both types of roads- religious pilgrimages. These pilgrimages fulfilled societal needs (few of them necessarily religious or spiritual as you might recall from your Chaucer!) and was made possible by these roads. The roads were perceived to fulfill such a need; conceived of for other social-economic needs; and came into use for this purpose as a result of the practices of everyday life.

Conceived Space (representations of space)
If perceived space embraces production and reproduction, conceived space buttresses the relations of production and to 'order' (i.e. social, natural). As its nomenclature implies, this spatial element includes fields as diverse as urban planning or archetypal criticism.
The practices embedded within said representations of space emphasize knowledge, signs, and codes, certainly influenced and shaped by the other two spatial elements; however, it also seeks to impose a structure that may or may not naturally 'emanate' from the other two.

The examples here are numerous as they "make" our workaday world: buildings, roads, houses, malls, subdivisions, and etc. Yet, the surveyor's map is every bit as much an example of conceived space as the subdivision it maps over the "empty" land it will supplant.

James S Scott's Seeing Like a State documents the manner in which bureaucratic ennui, and technocratic and ideological rigidity compromise conceived space. Scott's examples --including Tanzania's forced villiagization scheme under Julius Nyerere's ujamaa program and the planning and establishment of Brasilia as Brazil's capital-- tend to emphasize his thesis that grand social engineering schemes, in his view a hallmark of High Modernist culture, usually fail in that they seek to impose a lived space instead of being influenced by the lived spaces found throughout greater social space.

Lived Space (representational spaces)
The last of Lefebvre's spatial elements appears the most sweeping of the three. Given his work with the Situationist movement, it is likely the one most vivid in his imagination. Images and symbols --and the manner in which space is directly lived vis a vis symbolization-- create lived space. Lefebvre's examples here include painting, writing, architecture and other works of art; yet, he outlines the unsung role played by lived space in his emphasis on the symbolic (whether religious, political, economic etc.). For, Lefebvre 20th Century space as a whole was particularly defined and shaped by lived space: Jungian archetypal theory and Bachelard's spatial poetics constitute examples of literature, psychology, and philosophy redolent of lived space.
"Under the Pavement, the Beach:" Situationist motto, Paris May 1968.

To my mind, the famous Situationist slogan from Paris '68 --"Under the Pavement, the Beach"-- expresses the general tenor of lived space as Lefebvre defines it. City and Beach are settings almost diametrically opposed to each other: the former, an overt advertisement of its own commodification; the latter, a pastoral place (the Atlantic Gulf notwithstanding, post-Deepwater) that belies its own use value. One becomes reminded of its worth as a tourist or economic locale only when tourists or workers enter or otherwise reveal themselves.

Nonetheless, even the cities have their parks. In fact, in even the largest cities one can find pastoral spaces that serve as a testament to the power of lived time.

Is Space the Place? Concluding Remarks


No space disappears in the course of growth and development:the worldwide does not abolish the local. - Lefebvre, The Production of Space (p.86) emphasis Lefebvre
My original intent for this piece was twofold. First, I wanted to introduce an important theoretician to a receptive DKos audience. Of course, many of you probably already know his work, which brings me to my second reason; in reviewing my notes and sources and writing a piece meant for a general audience, I wanted to get Lefebvre's spatial triad clearer in my own thought.

If I’ve accomplished the latter, I also hope to have been successful in the former. Other avenues await exploration, including the connections between the expanding corpus of spatial studies in relation to its academic cousin, the study of place. With the relationship between the global and the local in a greater flux than at any time in recent history, viewing this relationship through a spatial lens might well lead to solutions otherwise hidden.

Sources consulted not linked above:

Charnock, Greig. "Challenging New State Spatialities: The Open Marxism of Henri Lefebvre." Antipode 42, no. 5 (2010): 1279-303. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8330.2010.00802.x.
Merrifield, Andy. Henri Lefebvre: A Critical Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2006.
Shaffer, E. S. Literary Devolution: Writing in Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Smith, Neil. Uneven Development: Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008.
Soja, Edward W. Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-imagined Places. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I am working on a project (6+ / 0-)

    but will be checking in all afternoon.

    "Space Available" is the largest retail chain in the nation.

    by Free Jazz at High Noon on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 03:04:38 PM PDT

  •  OMG You had me with the title! (6+ / 0-)

    So happy  to see this discussion of Lefebvre. I've learned so much from his concepts of space, place and the quotidian. I'm really looking forward to spending time with your diary later this evening when things calm down.  Thanks!

  •  I will check this tomorrow (6+ / 0-)

    when it can be savoured over morning coffee. It's too good for a glancing look on the way to bed.

    "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

    by northsylvania on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 03:18:00 PM PDT

  •  Wow, this is excellent. You have taken an (7+ / 0-)

    incredibly complex subject and made it not only understandable to those (like me) that have limited knowledge of the discussion, but also made it so interesting that I want to continue reading it to learn more about what you are discussing. I want to go back and finish reading to see if I can make an intelligent and intelligible comment, but I wanted to stop and thank you for all your hard work! Much appreciated FJ@HN! Many thanks!

    "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

    by NY brit expat on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 03:23:02 PM PDT

    •  Thank you much, NY brit expat (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NY brit expat, TPau, Justina, Brecht

      High praise, considering the quality of the writing here (week in and week out).

      The original version was longer and I decided on a last minute revision (which was why it was a little late to the queue!).

      "Space Available" is the largest retail chain in the nation.

      by Free Jazz at High Noon on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 03:28:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  One inane question, does the fact that I see his (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Free Jazz at High Noon, Justina

        conception as a circle as opposed to a triangle have any meaning in terms of the way that I analyse things or is it simply how I process things cognitively?

        "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

        by NY brit expat on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 03:33:16 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Not inane at all. I had hoped it was clearer: (5+ / 0-)

          The term "spatial triad" is almost universally used when describing Lefebvre's three spaces. When pictured, it is often drawn as a triangle. Imagine a Hegelian dialectic (Thesis/antithesis) with three elements, not two. Space would be the synthesis.

          Bo Grunland drew it as a circle on his site (linked above  and which I recommend highly) to emphasize that the three spaces work in concert with each other in on going motion. The types of space are correct; I agree with Grunland's take in that the sptial triad is fluid and alive, not static.

          Either is fine, I think. Edward Soja likes the triangle. :-)

          "Space Available" is the largest retail chain in the nation.

          by Free Jazz at High Noon on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 03:42:40 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The notion of a circle is far more dynamic (5+ / 0-)

            and as you say express a fluid interrelationship to me, far more than a triangle with arrows pointing in both directions. It is very effective for getting the idea of something in the state of becoming rather than something static along the lines of Being which is eternal and unchanging.

            "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

            by NY brit expat on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 03:52:59 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  This helps clarify it somewhat, though for me I (6+ / 0-)

            to see the concept "in vitro" -- how it applies to a concrete situation to really feel the dialectic.  At the moment, it still feels like a form without content to me and a little static.  Could you help us (well mainly me, I guess) by giving us a specific example of how these three components interacte in the real world --say the conflict over fossil fuel resources or the israel/Palestine conflict. I was trying to think of a couple myself, but am a little to shy and uncertain about the paradigm to try it without some guidance.:)

            •  It would help me also, I can see a lot of it (3+ / 0-)

              (again historically, sorry FJ@HN) but it would help to have some more concrete examples like the one Justina put below. Perhaps we can prevail on FJ@HN to write a follow-up to take the discussion to a more concrete level while linking it back to the theoretical analysis. That would be fabulous!

              "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

              by NY brit expat on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 05:29:04 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  TY, Geminijen. (4+ / 0-)

              I've been away from the PC.

              Let's take Israel/Palestine, for issues of territory and identity are well-suited to a spatial reading. I'll approach this from the Palestinian perspective.

              Perceived Space (spatial practice):One relevant example would be the physical regulation of space in the form of borders, checkpoints is a manifestation of control as well as a spatial practice. It is not merely the physical boundary markers, but the demonstration of power inherent in population control (long waits, too few checkpoints, hassles over identification).  The latter leads to...

              Conceived Space (representations of space): the legal apparatus vis a vis issues of nationhood and citizenship (I wouldn't use identity) here embody conceived space. A specific example would be the Israeli division of the West Bank into six areas.

              This division is conceptual; it may or may not be manifest in physical borders but it does exist on paper and on maps. It doesn't necessarily require physical boundary markers: the presence of law officials and the necessity for permits and passes enable hegemonic social control.

              The effect of this on a restless and disempowered populace leads to...


              Lived Space (representational spaces):
              Lefebvre wrote of the imagination and of art and literature in particular as a means of transcending perceived and conceived space. In my example above, I posited that the Situationist motto exemplified the protestors'  disdain towards the urban apparatus as well as the corrosive effect of boredom and ennui upon the heart and mind. An example of art in a similar sense that attests not only to lived space, but of living in a particular place would be Mahmoud Darwish's poem "Identity Card"

              [...]
              I have a name without a title!

              Write down!
              I am an Arab
              You have stolen the orchards of my ancestors
              And the land which I cultivated
              Along with my children
              And you left nothing for us
              Except for these rocks..
              So will the State take them
              As it has been said?!

              Therefore!
              Write down on the top of the first page:
              I do not hate poeple
              Nor do I encroach
              But if I become hungry
              The usurper's flesh will be my food
              Beware..
              Beware..
              Of my hunger
              And my anger!

              Therein lies a critique of the first two spaces from the perspective of the third (itself brought into being by these same two spaces).

              "Space Available" is the largest retail chain in the nation.

              by Free Jazz at High Noon on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 07:57:41 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Thank you. (2+ / 0-)

                These are good examples and make Lefebvre's thesis clearer. I agree with NYBrit that another diary (in your free time!) using more examples would be worthwhile. I have sort of circled around his concepts by way of Guy Debord, the Situationists, and their relation to street art. There are resonances with Foucault's Discipline and Punish as well. Interesting that in my courses in contemporary curation, he was not mentioned whereas Foucault was cited frequently. I'll have to look him up!

                "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

                by northsylvania on Mon Apr 30, 2012 at 03:34:52 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  tHANKS. tHAT IS GREAT. I think we should print (2+ / 0-)

                this as the next part of your diary.  Still want more though in terms of movement, The establishment of the space & control, the emotinal reaction, then what would be the material reaction on the space itself (Occupy space?tahir Square type). And other examples.

  •  Anti-capitalist meet-up diary schedule (5+ / 0-)

    Hi comrades, we need to start setting up the schedule for the next 3 months and were wondering if anyone has a diary that they can do or an idea that they want to write about or expand into a diary. We really have a great series and in many senses we are really one of the few voices for the hard left on the daily kos. So, if you have a diary that you want to write, we have many open dates for you to write it. In fact, we are almost totally open. So, please let us know if you can do one. The series relies upon the participation of members across political lines here to get out ideas and discussions, so if you can do a diary, we need your assistance to keep the series going. Please let us know here, write to the group at dkos, write to TPau, NY Brit Expat, Justina or Geminijen, or write to our group email: dkanticapitalistgroup@gmail.com

    The schedule so far is:

    May 1: publish something to celebrate May 1st (International Workers Day) in the Anti-capitalist chat

    May:
    6: Geminijen? Citizens United
    13:
    20:
    27:

    June:
    3:
    10:
    17:
    24: Isabelle Hayes

    July:

    1:
    8:
    15:
    22:
    29:

    "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

    by NY brit expat on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 03:40:26 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for This Interesting Post. (9+ / 0-)

    Reading it sent me to search a bit for more information on LeFebvre.  He has a fascinating history of Marxist and revolutionary writing and translations of original works by Hegal, Marx and Lenin.

    Henri Lefebvre (1901-91) was an independent French Marxist theoretician. An original, nonconformist thinker, Lefebvre was a prolific writer; in his lifetime, he published more than 60 books and 300 articles! In spite of his importance, very few studies have been devoted to Lefebvre's thought.

    Lefebvre was the first to make accessible to the general public key writings of Marx and Lenin that were unknown outside Russia and Germany. Marx's early writings, such as the 1844 MANUSCRIPTS, were first published in Moscow in 1932. Lefebvre, with Norbert Guterman, published the first foreign language translations in 1934.

    In 1938 he was responsible for the first foreign-language translation of Lenin's NOTEBOOKS ON HEGEL AND THE DIALECTIC. Lefebvre also published the same year an anthology of key extracts from Hegel's writings. Until then Hegel's philosophy was virtually unknown in France (Wahl and Kojeve had just begun their Hegel seminar) and Marxists ignored it.

    Lefebvre wrote the first major theoretical work to advance a new reconstruction of Marxism on the basis of Marx's early work and Lenin's writings on Hegel and the dialectic: DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM (1939), published the same year as Stalin's DIALECTICAL AND HISTORICAL MATERIALISM. The contrast couldn't be greater.

    His conceptual innovation is to have shown the centrality within Marx's thought of the concepts of "humanism," "alienation," "fetishism," "praxis," "total man." His originality is evident if one compares his methodological understanding of Marx and Lenin on dialectical materialism with the writings of Maurice Cornforth or, for a recent example, John Rees' ALGEBRA OF REVOLUTION.  

    Two important works by Lefebvre not discussed by Shields are MARXISM (1948) and his 1956 book on Lenin. Alienation and the dialectic were the cornerstone of Lefebvre's reading of Marx. The author notes that by extending alienation into the key concept in an entire critique of modern life, Lefebvre oversimplified Marx's and Engels' different uses of the concept. By extending the scope and meaning of alienation, Lefebvre had somewhat misread Marx. However, it is debatable to say that, for Marx, alienation was specific and restricted to the economic sphere.

    From News & Letters, October, 2003

    And from Wikipedia:

    Lefebvre argues that this social production of urban space is fundamental to the reproduction of society, hence of capitalism itself. The social production of space is commanded by a hegemonic class as a tool to reproduce its dominance (see Gramsci).

    "(Social) space is a (social) product [...] the space thus produced also serves as a tool of thought and of action [...] in addition to being a means of production it is also a means of control, and hence of domination, of power."[17]

    "Change life! Change Society! These ideas lose completely their meaning without producing an appropriate space. A lesson to be learned from soviet constructivists from the 1920s and 30s, and of their failure, is that new social relations demand a new space, and vice-versa." (Quotes from Lefebvre's work at fte18)

    Many of Lefebvre's ideas were celebrated by the revolutionary Situationist group in the streets of Paris in 1968.  The "Occupy" movement is very much in the revolutionary tradition of Lefebvre, turning the park near Wall Street into "Liberty Plaza", and generally taking back the public parks and plazas and buildings throughout the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.

    Convict Bush, Cheney and their torture cabal. Support universal health care,unions, WikiLeaks and Occupy Wall Street! Time for a totally new, democratic economic system. Turn the corporations into worker cooperatives!

    by Justina on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 03:48:37 PM PDT

    •  Very much so! (7+ / 0-)

      The article from NotBored! that I link to above quotes from Space in drawing a parallel between Situationist detournement and Lefevbre's ideas regarding lived time and lived space.

      "An existing space may outlive its original purpose and the raison d'etre which determines its forms, functions, and structures; it may thus in a sense become vacant, and susceptible of being diverted, reappropriated and put to a use quite different from its initial one.

      A recent and well-known case of this was the reappropriation of the Halles Centrales, Paris's former wholesale produce market, in 1969-71. For a brief period, the urban centre, designed to facilitate the distribution of food, was transformed into a gathering-place and a scene of permanent festival -- in short, into a centre of play rather than of work -- for the youth of Paris."

      This would be a good topic to explore further. Something that I had to edit out for brevity is that Lefebvre felt that capitalism, in creating its own urban space, was able to incubate itself and endure.

      "Space Available" is the largest retail chain in the nation.

      by Free Jazz at High Noon on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 04:05:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  "has been able" (obviously) ;-) (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NY brit expat, Brecht

        "Space Available" is the largest retail chain in the nation.

        by Free Jazz at High Noon on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 04:06:36 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Take Back the Space! (6+ / 0-)

        Your article reminded me of the sad lost of Detroit's old street railway trolley system, which provided convenient and economical public transport all over that city until 1956.

        The demise of the railway trolleys in Detroit (and likely other cities as well) is a prime example of how the auto-industry capitalists succeeded in destroying perfectly useful railroad-based local transportation in order to encourage the purchase of their gasoline powered cars and buses.

        Detroit once had a highly efficient trolley system, but General Motors wanted everyone to buy cars, trucks and buses, so they convinced the City of Detroit to abandon its trolley system and substitute gasoline powered buses for its public transport.  

        Rumor has it, however, that the street railway tracks are still there, although buried under cement, and could be resurrected for a more environmentally friendly electrical powered system.

        See Street-Cars-in-Detroit

        Convict Bush, Cheney and their torture cabal. Support universal health care,unions, WikiLeaks and Occupy Wall Street! Time for a totally new, democratic economic system. Turn the corporations into worker cooperatives!

        by Justina on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 04:23:26 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Excellent example justina ... I am also (4+ / 0-)

          thinking of all the freight rails that were abandoned that could be utilised for their original purpose closing off cities to heavy trucking except for final distribution? When I went to NY recently, they had taken one of these in Chelsea and the Meat Packing district and decorated it; I kept thinking that perhaps using it would have been more useful and environmentally friendly in a city heavily polluted by traffic caused by cars.

          "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

          by NY brit expat on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 04:36:26 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  tHANKS jUSTINA - THIS IS THE KIND OF EXAMPLE i WAS (5+ / 0-)

          LOOKING FOR TO MAKE THE PARADIGM 3-DIMENSIONAL FOR ME.

        •  The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler (5+ / 0-)

          subtitled The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape.  I kept thinking of this book as I failed to grasp the subtleties of this excellent and stimulating essay.  Thanks so much, Free Jazz at High Noon.  Incidentally, I learned about Kunstler from his fresh, insightful commentary in the eye-opening documentary, Megamall.

          I had intended to read all the comments before posting, but the ideas in that book kept coming up in the comments, so I'll post here in response to the remark about rail transportation.  But first, here is a hint of what this book is about, taken from a reviewer on Amazon whose response to the book was much the same as mine:

          Where you live matters. The space between buildings reflects the space between people and there is so much ugly emptiness in our physical environments these days that it is no wonder our "relationships" seem so banal, perfunctory and transitory. After reading this very well written history of American architecture, you will never look at wide curvilinear streets, flat roofs, box construction, parking lots, the no-man's land of front lawns, and the disappearance of sidewalks, trees, back alleys and rooms for rent over businesses in the same way again. Read this book and think real hard about where you want to try to "live" your life.
          Perhaps the diarist or someone else can help me grasp the kinds of space discussed by applying the analysis to some of the things in this comment as has been requested by other commenters.  I must warn everyone, however, that I am increasingly mistrustful of the abstract, which brings me back to what Kunstler's brilliant book was for me.  I was amazed to discover how much profound understanding can be revealed through discussion of the most mundane--such things as zoning ordinances dictating street widths and set-backs, the effect of blank walls without windows, the nearly perfect mirror of our times in the fake facades "decorating" public buildings these days.

          Naturally, Detroit was not the only city in America done in by both the naive and the calculated love affair with the automobile.  One of the several examples given by Kunstler is the use of an obscure British legal entity, the authority, by an automobile fanatic to bypass public influence in order to enrich himself and build roads such as the Long Island Expressway without SPACE in the center for possible future rail transportation as was being demanded by the legislature.  (I'm having to write from memory here.)  A quick google reveals none of the bald facts concerning the fundamentally anti-democratic origin and history of the various New York Transit Authorities.

          Although I have little understanding of this dairy, it seems that the following accurate summary of Kunstler's resonates strongly with Lefebvre's themes.

          Eighty percent of everything ever built in America has been built since the end of World War II. This tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside is not simply an expression of our economic predicament, but in large part a cause. It is the everyday environment where most Americans live and work, and it represents a gathering calamity whose effects we have hardly begun to measure. In The Geography of Nowhere, James Howard Kunstler traces America's evolution from a nation of Main Streets and coherent communities to a land where everyplace is like noplace in particular, where the city is a dead zone and the countryside a wasteland of cars and blacktop. Now that the great suburban build-out is over, Kunstler argues, we are stuck with the consequences: a national living arrangement that destroys civic life while imposing enormous social costs and economic burdens. Kunstler explains how our present zoning laws impoverish the life of our communities, and how all our efforts to make automobiles happy have resulted in making human beings miserable. He shows how common building regulations have led to a crisis in affordable housing, and why street crime is directly related to our traditional disregard for the public realm. Kunstler takes the reader on a historical journey to understand how Americans came to view their landscape as a commodity for exploitation rather than a social resource. He explains why our towns and cities came to be wounded by the abstract dogmas of Modernism, and reveals the paradox of a people who yearn for places worthy of their affection, yet bend their efforts in an economic enterprise of destruction that degrades and defaces what they most deeply desire. Kunstler proposes sensible remedies for this American crisis of landscape and townscape . . .
          I'll close this ramble with two final points.  Even though I live in America and I have my complaints and insights, it took Kunstler to point out the obvious fact that the vast majority of us live our lives surrounded by ugly, even antagonistic, architecture and landscape.  Second, the book was published in 1993 with some revision later.  Depressing as is Kunstler's analysis and vision, it reads as almost giddy with optimism in light of the degeneration of personal autonomy and understanding (to reference Marcuse) in the two decades since its publication.

          Hope this is at least somewhat on point.  Thanks again for the introduction to these ideas.

          The Congress exists primarily to ensure the reelection of members of Congress. - Bacevich

          by geomoo on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 08:26:20 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  I LIKE THE WAY YOU MAKE THE CONNECTIONS! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NY brit expat, Justina, northsylvania
      •  We Are Taking Back Their Spaces! (4+ / 0-)

        Just saw this article about Quebec student protests dislodging their Liberal Party from meeting in Montreal:

        MONTREAL — The Liberal Party of Quebec Premier Jean Charest, faced with a student protest movement that has turned violent, said Sunday it was relocating its annual convention to a city outside Montreal

        MONTREAL — The Liberal Party of Quebec Premier Jean Charest, faced with a student protest movement that has turned violent, said Sunday it was relocating its annual convention to a city outside Montreal.

        Link

        An article which reminded me of this recent story:

        March 5, 2012 (WASHINGTON) (WLS) -- In a brief written statement from the White House, President Barack Obama announced Monday afternoon that the upcoming G8 summit will be held at the presidential retreat Camp David in Maryland, and not in Chicago as had been planned.

        The announcement was unexpected and came without any warning, less than 12 weeks before the dual meetings were to be held.

        A building firestorm of controversy surrounded the summits; including threats by anarchist organizations to disrupt life in downtown Chicago; concerns about violence and civil unrest harming ongoing city business; gridlock and the inability to get from one place to another in Chicago.

         Link.

        Hmm... am I seeing a significant pattern here?  Seems we have them on the run.  Their spaces just aren't safe for them anymore.

        Convict Bush, Cheney and their torture cabal. Support universal health care,unions, WikiLeaks and Occupy Wall Street! Time for a totally new, democratic economic system. Turn the corporations into worker cooperatives!

        by Justina on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 07:32:22 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Hahaha. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          NY brit expat

          Back when Nixon was in office, I knew some Ft. Detrick folks who lived over the hill from Camp David. They used to send little greetings to their fellow soldiers using RC airplanes, though I would think that would be impossible now. Reportedly, Nixon's people certainly didn't like it.
          Unless they block off all of northern Maryland, there's plenty of opportunity to get creative around the Thurmont area on route 15. Of course the 1% will probably fly in on helicopters, but the press won't.

          "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

          by northsylvania on Mon Apr 30, 2012 at 05:24:55 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Well done, FreeJazz (7+ / 0-)

    I wonder what  Lefebvre would have thought of occupied spaces like Zucotti and other places claimed by the Occupy movement.

    Thanks for this great intro to this aspect of his work. Much to think about here.

    'Cause the fire in the street, Ain't like the fire in the heart/ And in the eyes of all these people, Don't you know that this could start, On any street in any town ~ FZ

    by cosmic debris on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 04:01:03 PM PDT

  •  Fascinating stuff, FJAHN (4+ / 0-)

    Thanks for introducing me to Lefebvre and making me rethink the concept of space in general.

    Pro Life??? Conservatives want live babies so they can raise them to be dead soldiers! - George Carlin - ROUND 3: Vote! Send me to Netroots Nation!

    by priceman on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 04:06:45 PM PDT

  •  This is an amazing analysis of space. Instead (5+ / 0-)

    of staying in the idealist perspective of how we perceive or understand space, this (if I have understood correctly) explores both how we use space organically and adapt it to fulfill our needs. Also how we alter what exists in a specific context to create a new context and hence a new space.

    When I think of Hegel, I always think of his perspective on aesthetics where he argued the art perceived by man had more reality than the original thing that the artist created. I have always been extremely skeptical of that point; what man creates is his interpretation of what is rather than something necessary more valid.

    We adapt to what exists and we adapt it to fulfill our needs and desires; there is a reason why people settled near rivers initially to enable easier travel and trade (and also access to food and more fertile soil). We then built upon that space and created new social space. I am certain that I am not doing justice to this; I find myself fascinated by this discussion and wanting to read more. I am hoping that you can write something more on this and link it to various movements that tried to give space to people or try to enable them to have a say in the creation of space through proper democratic participation in creation not only of urban environment and parks, but also usage of space in cities for permaculture; that is creating food in the context of spaces and reintroducing control over food provision. If I have not understood (a rather distinct possibility) can you tell me if I am wide of the mark and explain what I have missed. I am guilty of being concentrated on time and history and in many senses I am unaware of what philosophically underlies so many movements like take back the streets, so this is focusing me in ways that I normally do not examine. :)

    "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

    by NY brit expat on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 04:09:42 PM PDT

    •  This is pretty spot-on, NY brit expat (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NY brit expat, Brecht

      I think that what Lefebvre is trying to do here is reclaim the concept of space from physical nature, history, and time.

      I was thinking about what Justina wrote above re: Occupy before I was called away from the thread. In reference to both her comment and yours, Lefebvre is largely theoretical but he does suggest that space possess a mode of praxis:

      [the state's] ability to intervene in space can and must be turned back against it, by grass-roots opposition, in the form of counter-plans and counter-projects designed to thwart strategies, plans and programes imposed from above" Space p.383

      "Space Available" is the largest retail chain in the nation.

      by Free Jazz at High Noon on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 08:37:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  asdf (2+ / 0-)
      I always think of his perspective on aesthetics where he argued the art perceived by man had more reality than the original thing that the artist created.
      To a certain extent he is correct in that the viewer often has a very different dialogue with a piece of art that the artist intended while making it. I would argue that the best art, both abstract and representational, has an openness to interpretation which allows viewers to examine their own subconscious thoughts in ways that they might not otherwise, enabling them to create their own lived space so to speak. (If I understand that concept correctly.)

      "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

      by northsylvania on Mon Apr 30, 2012 at 05:46:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Hmmm (6+ / 0-)

    After reading this, I must admit I have no real grasp of what this is about.

    Capitalists and authoritarians see space as something to exploit, demarcate, and control, as if it that is the natural purpose of existence. So they chop it up, hand out titles of ownership, and act as if this is reality.

    So space is thriced and diced, and bought and sold, and it is endlessly packaged and bordered and fenced and delineated. And yet all of this is mere convention.

    Here's something from the Tao Te Ching (said to be possibly the earliest anarchist writings):

    Thirty spokes converge on a hub,
    but it is the emptiness that makes a wheel work

    Pots are fashioned from clay, but it's the hollow that makes a pot work

    Windows and doors are carved for a house, but it's the spaces that make a house work

    Existence makes something useful, but nonexistence makes it work.

    Here's another translation that is not as true to the wonderful simplicity of the philosophy:

    Thirty spokes converge on a single hub,
    but it is in the space where there is nothing
    that the usefulness of the cart lies.

    Clay is molded to make a pot,
    but it is in the space where there is nothing
    that the usefulness of the clay pot lies.

    Cut out doors and windows to make room,
    but it is in the spaces where there is nothing
    that the usefulness of the room lies.

    Therefore,
    Benefit may be derived from something,
    but it is in nothing that we find usefulness. ”

    - ~Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 55

    Everywhere you will find that the wealth of the wealthy springs from the poverty of the poor. - from The Conquest of Bread by Peter Kropotkin

    by ZhenRen on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 07:12:26 PM PDT

    •  ZhenRen, that is what the post was addressing (5+ / 0-)

      how we use and liberate space for different ends. You have got it if I have understood what the diarist was saying and what you wrote here. It is how we as human beings see, use and live in space and how altering both its initial use and making it our own shifts the paradigms. We live in space, we alter it, we create new ones; how space is used and the purposes and people that use it and what it is used for are as important as control of it or instead fitting our lives into the environment around us.

      "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

      by NY brit expat on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 07:31:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Exactly. As I understand Lefebvre, space is (5+ / 0-)

        produced and reproduced through human determination (as much as it influenced this same human intention).

        I think, in a way, that the key word in the title of the work (as it has been translated into English) is perhaps Production not Space. I know that I still have to undo a lifetime's worth of picturing space as emptiness when I read Lefebvre's spatial theory.

        "Space Available" is the largest retail chain in the nation.

        by Free Jazz at High Noon on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 08:26:42 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Interesting, the two words space and production (5+ / 0-)

          Not necessarily to be coherent, but I have a vague understanding of space, or the vacuum, as filled with energies arising and vanishing--a similarly vague notion of we humans ourselves as manifestations arising and vanishing moment to moment "within" that space.  It is said that with advanced meditation, the natural is seen increasingly as arising and passing away of temporary phenomena, with the pace of change perceived as ever faster as the meditator advances.  Or, to bring it back to Zhen's comment, and ancient Buddhist truth:  Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.

          "We create our own reality" thus can be seen as having two meanings--one being the illusions we create as we use terms such as "space" and the other being the deeper truth that we create ourselves moment to moment with more or less awareness of the power we wield.

          The Congress exists primarily to ensure the reelection of members of Congress. - Bacevich

          by geomoo on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 08:39:04 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Was just thinking how our sense of space has been (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ZhenRen, NY brit expat, geomoo

            conflated by our shift to a global mode of production.  We can now produce commodities in several places at once, all over the world, and assembly them in a final place and it all feels as if it was one big factory instead of a bunch of decentralized locations spread around the world -- and how this has impacted our economies in a very Marxian sense.

  •  Well, as i see it (4+ / 0-)

    How we create space, what we do with it, including architecture, design, city planning... all of this reflects who we are and what we accept as reality and what we believe. And how we shape our space, in turn, passes on to future generations those same ideas. It shapes people's thinking. It instructs, for better or worse, who we are as a people.

    Everywhere you will find that the wealth of the wealthy springs from the poverty of the poor. - from The Conquest of Bread by Peter Kropotkin

    by ZhenRen on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 10:43:14 PM PDT

  •  I am so sorry for my wanton abuse of ratings here (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Free Jazz at High Noon

    I did not read your diary,  Free Jazz at High Noon. Neither did I read any of your comments. They are probably pretty good, based on past experience.

    I have recced every comment of yours, on a whim, because what I love most is Rock. And I've seen you in translator's diaries, displaying both knowledge and taste in Rock.

    I'm in a bit of a hurry today, but I will try and read your next diary, and some of the comments.

    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

    by Brecht on Mon Apr 30, 2012 at 02:48:31 PM PDT

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