owner-nettime-l on Fri, 21 Nov 1997 18:17:53 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> The Flaneur and his Duck 2/2

As a side effect, through blind insistence on the fluid character of the
net without accounting for any fixations one also runs the risk of
overlooking the production of new centralities like World Cities. A
phenomenon Saskia Sassen is continuously insisting on: The electronic
'free-floating' financial capital actually needs infrastructural fixations
(Manhattan, London, Tokyo, Bombay). Sassen is even going one step further.
With Cyberspace, she claims, a new - transterritorial - form of centrality
is popping up. The net doesn't have a center; the net is the center (or one
of the recently articulated centers, one could add).

We conclude that if the Internet had a 'natural' and stabile center, there
would be no dislocation and, thus, no production of meaning. The process of
articulation would stand still and we would enter a frozen world, where
every sign is bound to its natural referent, and absolute transparency
prevails. A world of total and eternal 'meaningfulness'. But if the
Internet had no center at all, if meaning was not being articulated through
the partial construction of nodal points, and no signifier established a
temporary relation to a specific signified, then we would have no meaning
either. A world of total and eternal 'meaninglessness'.

'Our March Towards Order' (Linearity vs. Looseness)

The exact opposite to the Deleuzian account of the Internet is the
modernistic Curbusean idea of planning (significantly Sadie Plant's article
bears the title: 'No Plans') . What is at stake here is not flow but order.
In the first part of his seminal 'The City of Tomorrow', Le Corbusier gives
one of the clearest examples of the formalist branch of modernistic
discourse constructed around the binary distinction of straight vs. curved:
'Man walks in a straight line because he has a goal and knows where he is
going; he has made up his mind to reach some particular place and he goes
straight to it. The pack-donkey meanders along, mediates a little in his
scatter-brained and distracted fashion, he zigzags in order to avoid the
larger stones, or to ease the climb, or to gain a little shade; he takes
the line of least resistance. But man governs his feelings by his reason'
(Le Corbusier 1987:5).

What is Le Corbusier describing here in the pack-donkey if not the unitary
urbanists of Situationism (avant la lettre, as it goes without saying); and
what is he describing when speaking of the pack-donkey's strolling way - if
not the very motion of derive. If we believe Le Corbusier for a moment, we
come to the surprising insight, that the situationist's attitude of putting
themselves into a relation of detournement towards the city is far less
subversive than they thought. Since, as Le Corbusier holds 'the
Pack-Donkey's Way is responsible for the plan of every continental city;
including Paris, unfortunately' (Le Corbusier 1987:6). If the plan of the
city is already a large detournement itself, and if it is built and planned
according to the (non-)laws of the derive, how can one sell the same
detournement and derive as a particularly subversive tactic. This is a
logical problem the whole would-be dissident and subversive discourse
around political practices of defixation of meaning has to struggle with  -
be it situationist derive, Deleuzian libidinal flows or Hakim Bey's concept
of the Temporary Autonomous Zone. If the terrain on which we act, if
post-fordist capitalism for instance, is in itself deterritorializing or
nomadic what sense does it make to bring one more nomad or guerillero into
play? If communication is always already distorted and haunted by
parasites, what sense does it make to bring one more rat into the channel?

Le Corbusier proposes the opposite extreme. He seeks to eradicate any
distortion, any derivation, any curves, as 'a modern city lives by the
straight line, inevitably; for the construction of buildings, sewers and
tunnels, highways, pavements. The circulation of traffic demands the
straight line; it is the proper thing for the heart of the city. The curve
is ruinous, difficult and dangerous; it is a paralizing thing. The straight
line enters into all human history, into all human aim, into every human
act' (Le Corbusier 1987:10). And some paragraphs later: 'The winding road
is the result of happy-go-lucky heedlessness, of looseness, lack of
concentration and animality. The straight road is a reaction, an action, a
positive deed, the result of self-mastery. It is sane and noble' (Le
Corbusier 1987:12).

To be sure, Le Corbusier does stand in the tradition of emancipation. The
order he calls for is not meant as a disciplinary order, it is supposed to
be part of a liberatory project which nevertheless relies on a pre-given
'nature' of man (here, his discourse inherits enlightenment's natural law):
'When man is free, his tendency is towards pure geometry. It is then that
he achieves what we call order' (Le Corbusier 1987:22). Given the
common-sense idea that unrestricted freedom leads into chaos and confusion
this claim is truly revolutionary. In its underlying assumption that the
state of nature must be a state of pure geometry and order he advocates the
most radically anti-Hobbesian position one can imagine.

But let's have a short look on the articulation of the Corbusian discourse.
On his discursive 'march towards order' (Le Corbusier 1987:16) he
establishes two chains of equivalence confronting each other:
man/reason/order/self-mastery/sanity/nobility/straight line/right angle vs.
=2E What the exemplary avant-gardist Le Corbusier articulates here is more
than just a certain set of particular demands, it is a linguistic programme
since it involves the antagonism of an aesthetico-political project in
favour of the fixation of meaning against a traditional society defined -
for Le Corbusier - by more fluid, irrational and unfixed states of meaning.
Clearly, today the antagonism between the two equivalential chains Le
Corbusier constructs is easily perceivable as intrinsically related to the
modernist conjuncture. But our very point here is somewhat different: We
hold that modernism is not a period in history but a modernist conjuncture
arises wherever antagonization occurs - thus, modernism is defined by the
tendential division of a signifying system into two opposed fields whereas
post-modernism is defined by its dispergent antagonization.

Now, we can introduce an important differentiation into the concepts of
detraditionalization and defixation of meaning, as the logic of
signification is in no way necessarily coupled to the content of the
signifying chain. So, Friedensreich Hundertwasser's donkey-claim of the
straight line being godless and immoral - which is a direct answer to Le
Corbusier's assessment of the curve being ruinous, difficult and dangerous
-, far from having anything to do with post-modernism, opens up a
micro-space of reactionary modernism. Thereby, Hundertwasser fuels the same
antagonism as Le Corbusier; only through a reverse focalization. Its
proposed content 'defixation of meaning' is not to be confused with the
logics of defixation of meaning (reactivation). Hundertwasser's proposed
content could be different, it depends on its historical context (in the
given context it is reactionary), but it is formulated by means of strict
antagonization (and in regard to this logic it is modernistic). On the
other hand, Le Corbusier's programme of 'defixation of-meaning' - which
from his own focal point is a programme of fixation of the urban flux of
meaning - is not in itself modernist (only the way it is articulated is) -
although it is the core part and the very (self-)definition of our historic
avant-garde: the programme of detraditionalization.

In order to make these rather abstract considerations about the distinction
between the logics of signification and its content a bit more intelligible
let us approach the programme of detraditionalization from another angle,
namely as a programme of 'forgetting'. Anthony Vidler detects in Le
Corbusier's plans a strong desire 'to forget the old city, its old
monuments, its traditional significance, which were all seen as being too
implicated with the economic, social, political, and medical problems of
the old world to justify retention. Such a forgetting would, in Corbusier's
case, take the form of erasure, literal and figural, of the city itself, in
favour of a tabula rasa (...)' (Vidler 1992:179-180). However, memory is
equally possible as a content, or programme: 'the modernists made no secret
of their desire to forget as well as to remember' (Vidler 1992:179), even
if the tendency was to forget, that is to detraditionalize. So we see that
historical modernism - or avant-garde - can equally be filled with a
programme of forgetting as well as a programme of memory (this depends on
the specific topography of the conjuncture), but logical modernism has no
content in itself, it is the simple movement of progressive antagonization.

=46rom Cyberspace to Disney-Space (Drive-by Analogizing)

It should have become clear that - at the end of the day - none of these
analogies works. Let us suppose for a moment one could find a fitting
analogy, or at least, a slightly better suiting one than the analogies
proposed before. In that case perhaps one would start from the axiom that
Cyberspace/Internet is a popular space, where popular fantasies are
overlaying artist-elitist fantasies (like Baudelaire's flaneur fantasy or
the situationist's derive fantasy). One would probably refer to Disneyland
which already has been observed as one of the city models of Cyberspace.
Since there is a lot of studies on Disneyland/world we shall concentrate on
the analysis of Michael Gottdiener and develop a - admittedly rather
sketchy - semiotic analysis of Cyberspace along the lines of Disneyspace.

On the syntagmatic axis Gottdiener, who silently draws very much on
Greimas' 'For a Topological Semiotics', discerns nine different though
interconnected systems of signification: transportation, food, fashion,
entertainment, social control, economics, politics, and the family. The
specific meaning of these significatory systems arises out of their
opposition or difference to the ordinary, everyday, suburban life you leave
behind when entering D-Land. Hence, each system is organized around this
specific binary opposition, or, in terms of Luhmannian systems theory,
around its code. Within the two columns of Disneyland/Suburbia these
oppositions for each system are, according to Gottdiener:
transportation: pedestrian/passenger; food: celebration/subsistence;
fashion: tourist/resident; architecture: fantasy/function; entertainment:
festival/spectacle; social control: communion/coercion; economics: the
market/capitalism; politics: participatory democracy/representative
democracy; family: child-directed/adult-directed.

It is impossible for us to go into much detail here, however, most of these
pairs do speak for themselves - given that one has a vague idea of
Disneyland. Gottdiener concludes: 'In sum, the urban environment of
Disneyland offers a world free from the crisis of the quotidian; free of
pathological urban experiences produced by an inequitable and class society
such as slums, ghettos, and crime. (...) It  possesses the "illuminating
potentiality' of a space occupied by the symbolic and the imaginary, in
which something fantastic can and usually is always happening' (Gottdiener

What are the similarities? In D-Space, like in E-Space, the passenger or
driver supposedly becomes a pedestrian or flaneur. Most of the reversals of
binarisms Gottdiener mentions are similar to the ones encountered in
Cyberspace. Cyberspace too seems to be a carnivalistic republic - defined
by a good Bakhtian reversal of binarisms - where celebration and fantasy
overrule subsistence and function, where a free market still prevails over
capitalism and centralist states and where everybody turns into a child
again. In other words: The Californian Ideology with its central
conjunction of free market liberalism and direct and participatory
democracy where the people are bound together via a rhetoric of communion
(one only has to think of Rheingold's classic The Virtual Community,
praising the communion of the happily united family of nettizens).

=46or Gottdiener, though, it is not the Californian but the midwestern
ideology which is present in D-space via its founder. On the paradigmatic
axis Disneyland is subdivided into the following realms: 'Frontierland',
'Adventureland', 'Tomorrowland', 'New Orleans Square', 'Fantasyland' and
'Main Street'. Gottdiener now argues that 'each of its areas corresponds to
compartmentalized aspects of the world of a young boy growing up in a
midwestern town' (Gottdiener 1995:114). In this world  Adventureland for
instance is the playing ground for games like 'cowboys and Indians',
=46rontierland alludes to the central American metaphor, the frontier, as it
is acted out in Boy Scout vacations, etc. It is not difficult to see how
the paradigmatic axis too relates to the Ideology of the Internet as final
frontier and Wild West.  One has to come to the conclusion that it is not
only that Cyberspace shares with Disneyland the carnivalistic structure of
the heterotopos (reversal of oppositions), it also shares the specific set
of binarisms and ideological elements that define both spaces as
intrinsically - both on the syntagmatic and on the paradigmatic axis -

But what about situationist drifting? Let us proceed to another study of
Disney-Space. Scott Bukatman observes that what DeCerteau calls a tactic,
or what situationists called detournement, is meaningless in the dominating
strategic D-Space: 'The parks actually assimilate the tactical trajectories
of its visitors, returning them in the form of strategies. Walking across
the grass loses its subversive appeal . it's easier and more efficient to
keep to the walkways. Subversion is rendered pointless or even (...)
impossible'. Drifting has become impossible. Instead, according to
Bukatman, we can find 'simulations of tactics: simulations of the derive,
that aimless traversal of the complexities of urban space so cherished by
the Situationists; and simulations of walking, in the specific sense of
inscribing oneself upon the territories of strategic power. There is no
discovery to which one is not led, no resolution which has not already
occurred, no possibility of revealing =EBthat man behind the curtain', the
Wonderful Wizard of O(rlando) Z(one)' (Bukatman 1991:69). While Bukatman is
right in dismissing the drift and while he is also right in pointing at the
difference to the land of OZ - there is no machinist who keeps this
simulation alive - he is wrong in calling it simulation. Simulation still
supposes something to be simulated (even if Baudrillard suggests the
absence of an original). Since it is precisely because there is no
machinist that we don't have it to do with simulations but, rather, with

=46rom Disneyspace to Duck-Space

What is a duck? Marcos Novak, in his contribution to the same Architecture
and Cyberspace issue of AD, assumes - alluding to the classical booktitel -
that: '[l]earning from software supersedes learning from Las Vegas, the
Bauhaus or Vitruvius: the discipline of replacing all constants with
variables, necessary for good software engineering, leads directly to the
idea of liquid architecture' (Novak 1995:43). Definitely, a sincere
analysis of software construction might be rewarding as well, but yet,
Novak bypasses any concrete discussion of software-dependent Cyberspace by
directly referring to the general idea of liquid architecture. Again, a
broad analogy serves as a means for evading concrete analysis.

Let us assume that Novak is wrong and that learning from software doesn't
supersede Learning from Las Vegas. In this case, what is far more promising
than the superficial analogies we could develop at this point - as a
supplement to discourse and narration analysis - is an iconography of the
internet (still to be elaborated) which would locate the visual appearance
of the net, especially the WWW, within the broader realm of our cultural
iconographic repository. As Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven
Izenour suggested in their seminal 'Learning from Las Vegas' what is needed
in regard to architecture is an iconography of the contemporary popular
imaginary. We believe that this goes for electronic networks as well.

So, what could Telepolis-theoreticians learn from 'Learning from Las
Vegas', more than twenty-five years after it was published? First, it is
astonishing that, usually, most of them compare cyberspace to the modernist
city of the flaneur or - again very broadly - to the post-fordist sprawling
of today's Global Cities. It doesn't come to their minds that we are facing
a phenomenon of popular architecture that has more to do with Las Vegas on
the one hand and a German 'Schrebergarten'-colony on the other than it has
to do with 19th century Paris. Isn't what we encounter in Cyberspace first
and foremost a pop-phenomenon? Doesn't the strongest of the Internet
experiences (the experience of the World Wide Web) - from a naive
phenomenological viewpoint - resemble the visual experience of the 'moving
sequences' of shining billboards? Hence, by referring to the analogy of the
Las Vegas Strip, rather than to the agora of Athens or the passages of
Paris ('Las Vegas is to the Strip what Rome is to the Piazza', as
Venturi/Brown/Izenour remark, 1988:18), at least the following conclusion
concerning the semiotic nature of cyberspatial architecture could be drawn:

What we encounter in WWW-'architecture' is what Venturi/Brown/Izenour call
'a duck'. Duck - derived from 'The Long Island Duckling' - serves them as a
family name for any kind of architecture which is its own symbol - and
nothing more. This original duck store is a kind of an undecidable between
the sculptural symbol of a duck and an architectural shelter in form of a
duck. The building is the sign, as the authors conclude. Or, to put it the
other way around, the symbol of the duck is a duck. The surface of
representation falls into one with its functionality. In the words of
=46redric Jameson, 'the duck ends up - far from emitting a message with a
radically new content - simply designating itself and signifying itself,
celebrating its own disconnection as a message in its own right' (Jameson

In the design of a WWW-homepage, again, it would be absurd to assume any
kind of architecture behind the visual appearance, any kind of deeply
hidden structure (the source code is not the functional structure, like the
material building structure of the 'Long Island Duckling' is not its
function as a shelter). If you stay at somebody's homepage you're are
staying 'at his signs': a plain facade, a mere space of representation. And
it is on this representational facade, on this billboard, where certain
discourses, narratives, tropes, and iconographies appear and engage in a
hegemonic struggle around the very meaning of Cyberspace. But whoever is
going to achieve a temporary hegemony, he will always be a duck, he will
always be lacking any ontological grounding in 'real', or 'material' space.

It is important to note that the duck is not the simulation of a shelter:
it is a shelter. Different to the land of OZ, in the land of language there
is no magician or ideologist who hysterically deludes us and makes us think
there was only a duck while at the same time hiding the very infrastructure
of the shelter. If we insist on speaking about derive in this case, then
derive within Disneyland or Cyberspace is not a 'simulation' of
situationist derive - it actually is derive. Yet without being overcoded by
the would-be subversive and bohemistic gesture of French post-war
intellectuals (Since if what the situationist called derive has never been
subversive there can be no 'abuse' or 'simulation' of the term).

Being well aware of overstressing both the theoretical model and the lame
joke accompanying Venturi's example we finally have to assume that language
itself is a duck - and if the 'Long Island Duckling' is also duck, it is
because it participates in this general form of linguistic duckness.
However, we must not understand this coincidence of symbol and function as
something like a communion between sign and referent. Quite on the
contrary, it points to one well known poststructuralist insight: There's
nothing behind the duck; from Lacan (there is no metalanguage) to Foucault
(there's nothing behind the mask, everything what can be said has been
said) to its declined popularized version in Baudrillard (the simulation is
simulation without original). Or, to put it differently again, what
actually is behind the duck is only another duck, or better, the same

If the Internet could be an allegory for anything then for this
unsurpassable achievement of poststructuralist thought, anticipated by the
second Wittgenstein. For example: What a certain spherical object is
depends on the language game in which it is used (its function within a set
of rules) - which is not to deny its material existence but to insist that
it is always the set of rules (the context) that determines our
understanding of the object. The spherical object, hence, can be a football
or a religious fetish of some crazy cults (and sometimes it is both). Or,
to put it differently again, 'representation' and 'function' are one and
the same thing since the object functions exactly in the way it is
represented by the rules regulating its function/appearance. There is
nothing behind your homepage. And precisely because of this reason it lies
in the hands of competing groups to define - through the process of
articulation - what the duck, sorry, the Internet, actually is.


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Narratives, Glasgow

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Sign. An Introduction to Urban Semiotics, New York

Gottdiener, Mark (1995) Postmodern Semiotics. Material Culture and the
=46orms of Postmodern Life, Oxford/Cambridge, Massachusetts

Greimas, Algirdas J. (1986) For a Topological Semiotics, in

Jameson, Fredric (1988) Architecture and the Critique of Ideology, in The
Ideologies of Theory, Vol.2, London

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Telepolis - das Magazin der Netzkultur: http://www.heise.de/tp

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Wired - UK (1994) Vol 1 No 1

"Derive" is what designates a process of drifting through urban space
without any specific target in order not only to develop urbanistic utopias
but also to "experience" them. This form of movement is meant to free
choreographed space of its fixity according to the laws of the unconscious.
What follows from here is that, strictly speaking, there is no
diachronicity either: in order to be represented the diachronic has to
become synchronic.
DeCerteau asserts that the 'bridge is ambiguous everywhere: it alternately
welds together and opposes insularities. It distinguishes them and
threatens them. It liberates from enclosury's supposed features seems to be
particularly attractive to its theoreticians: This city-space 'flows' and
its inhabitants flow with it. Immediately Benjamin's resp. Baudelaire's
flaneur, the situationist derive and the utopist-organicist urban fantasies
of the 60ies were encountered in this flow.

=46lorian Roetzer, for example, sees the task-less movement of the
psychogeographic derive  nowadays realized in MUDs and MOOs (Roetzer 1995);
Peter Weibel assumes that the flaneur becomes a data-surfer, the
hitch-hiker on the data-autobahn (Weibel 1995). The City itself and thereby
architecture infiltrates the individual via cyberspace and vice versa, for
example in the case of the bodynet as it was proposed by Mitchell which
connects walkman, pager, personal digital assistant, data-glove, electronic
jogging-boots and the internet.

The question is: Is it purely by chance that 'cyber-urbanists' align
themselves with the bohemistic avant-garde of the Parisian arcades and with
the post-war avant-garde of situationism or with architectural utopists of
the 60ies. What these avant-garde groups had in common was their heroic
programme of defixing the meaning system 'City'. Hence, by observing these
discourses on (cyber-)spatial practices like surfing, derive or flanerie,
we are immediately thrown back not only at the problems around the
production of narratives and of discursive meaning but also at a whole set
of problems connected to the very ancient topic of space. Does Cyberspace
has anything to do with space? If it has, ' and destroys autonomy'
(DeCerteau 1988:128)
In another passage his rhetoric comes near to a modernist Declaration of
Independence. Here, Le Corbusier seems to declare that all men are created
equal and rectangular: 'I repeat that man, by reason of his very nature,
practises order; that his actions and his thoughts are dictated by the
straight line and the right angle, that the straight line is instinctive in
him and that his mind apprehends it as a lofty objective' (Le Corbusier
Refering to Mitch Kapor's and John Perry Barlow's 1990 idea of Cybersapce
as a frontier regien, William Mitchell for instance holds about the early
years - not without some nostalgia: 'It was like the opening of the Western
=46rontier', and he adds: 'This vast grid is the new land beyond the horizon=
the place that beckons the colonist, cowboys, con-artists and would-be
conquerors of the 21st century' (Mitchell 1995b:9).


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