Rachele Megna. 16.01.2016
Judith Butler, among others, have discussed the role of language as performative, as an agentic element of which the subject is “made up”, and through which an individual is enabled to enter social life. Language is simultaneously injurious and enabling — violently reducing subjects to strictly-defined identity categories, and allowing individuals to become intelligible social agents. In this sense, Butler crucially asks the question: What is the power of “the naming” that language performs, or what is the “name/language” of power? And how are we re-inscribing, or disrupting, the agentic power of language in the very moment of questioning its nature?
I wish to extend a similar line of investigation to the “space” of the city: can spaces be agentic or performative? Is the movement of bodies through spaces simultaneously enabling and yet limiting, in a similar manner to what Butler describes in her reflections on language? Take as an example the city of London. Does London have an “agency”? What are the geographical and imaginary “borders” defining this city? How does London enable and limit social life? And how to reconcile this questioning with the reality of being-in-London?
London represents an extremely paradoxical space, with blurred geographical borders as well as with an incredibly peculiar imaginary nature: the diverse demographical nature of the city reflects the manners in which people from “everywhere” aspire to come to London, being immersed in the vibrant and artistically, intellectually and politically stimulating spirit that characterises the city. But “in” London there are multiple cities. If one side of it is dominated by skyscrapers and Victorian-style buildings, many other angles are built around council-houses, i.e. housing provided by social welfare. The class-based structure of housing and of the system of transportation is further reflected in the racialized and gendered division of the population between North-South-East-West and Central London. The historicity of the city and its urban structure refers to a contradictory colonial heritage, which made of London a hub for those who desired to violently conquer or curiously explore geographical and imaginary borders not yet discovered. Now, London is still shaped by a similar spirit of colonial capital, in which “everyone” is simultaneously displaced and finds a “home”, or in which everyone, at some point and with different intentions, transits.
However, it is extremely hard to “leave” London, wherever you are based within its limits. There is a spirit of constant movement, a vibrancy which does not let the ear go so easily. The role that “affect” plays in shaping one’s relation to London can work in different ways — London has the potential of making one extremely lonely, given the long distances that to be covered daily. On the other hand, London can put into contact hundreds of different people who research, perform, write and express how the movement of/in London affects them. Its own text, as a city with many contradictions, many faces and a rhythm made of different instruments, offers to London a creative dimension for the imagination. Personally, I would associate London with the sound and the vitality of a Samba band, which transports and invites to engage in a collective dance.
What is the performance that this multiple and moving nature, named “London”, exercises over the subject? As a feminist, I took a long time before being courageous enough to “live” London at its fullest, being able to “breathe” it, “speak” it and move with/in it. The rhythm of London is particularly complicated to “enter”, especially if you are at its geographical, demographic, or economic borders. The ethics of “hospitality” that economic migrants encounter in London differs greatly from a spirit of “unconditional” love for the “foreign” as defined by Derrida. However, at its multiple and shifting centres, London offers to those concerned with the questioning of “differences” an incredibly productive intellectual and political platform.
Postcolonial feminist Gariatry Spivak writes that, in the struggle to reach an “ethical” translation, the concerns that the translator needs to face are not exclusively linguistic, but refer to the rhetoricity of a text. The task of the translator is thus to go beyond the boundaries of the aesthetic towards the “erotic”. It is the intimacy of the conversation between each word, the author of a text, and its translator, that needs to be transmitted: a feeling of love, of profound fidelity and surrender. These values are at the basis of the Ethics in/of translation, requiring an openness towards the other-in-the-text. And still, this enterprise is never reached: it represents, in the words of Derrida, the Untranslatable.
It is in the in-between of the movements between people and spaces, which is constantly taking place in London, that love emerges and that affect is shaped. As a feministx, I cannot ethically do justice to the feeling of deep love that I have for/in London. My position within it irrevocably shapes my questioning, and defines my aesthetics, intellectual and erotic relation with “the city”. I run through her streets, I talk to/with her and I live her daily. I could not imagine any better place to “be” as being/moving with the rhythm of the city, and of the millions of people, languages and ideas living and conversing within its spaces.
In sunny, end-of-summer days, London is pure light. There is an air of imminent change, of prospectus of ends and always-new beginnings. It is a rhythm of nostalgia and excitement simultaneously, with a warm sun but an already autumn-like breeze. We move towards different directions and we will probably never meet again, but this movement itself is the source of love. Good morning London, you are Beautiful today, and I cannot wait to live with your energy again.
Image from: http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2011/10/28/follow-money-it-leads-to-latino-market/