Thursday, May 6, 2010

Smooth Space, Becoming and the Aesthetic of Migration

The following is a chapter taken from a textual framework I am recently working on. This work tempts to elaborate the notion of ‘The Aesthetic of Migration’ that I understand as the (non) logic of my cultural practice (includes artistic practice, educational work and political activity). In this chapter I tried to create points of references to contextualize the phenomena of ‘migration’. In the later chapters it will be visible how ‘The Aesthetic of Migration’ can transform itself into practice.

The overall Essay is structured in seven chapters:
The first valley, valley of quest: Where are we?
The second valley, valley of Love: Theory and practice
The third valley, valley of understanding: Migration
The fourth valley, valley of Independence and Detachment: Aesthetics
The fifth valley, valley of Unity: Practicing Culture: Art, Education and Politics
The sixth valley, valley of Astonishment and Bewilderment: A Collective Memory
The seventh valley, valley of Deprivation and Death: Better not to use words!

The title of each chapter refers to the poem “Manteq aṭ-ayr” (the parliament of the birds) from 1206, by Attār, a Persian poet and theoretician of Sufism:
Led by the hoopoe, a group of birds travel through seven valleys in search of their King Simurgh. At the end of the road, only thirty birds accomplish to reach the last valley. But there is no Simurgh anywhere to see. The birds Experience extreme sadness and dejection after the difficult travel they had behind, they feel that they know nothing, understand nothing. They are not even aware of themselves. Simurgh's chamberlain, the hoopoe, keeps them waiting for long time. Until, the birds recognize that they themselves are the si (thirty) murgh (bird):

The third valley, valley of understanding: Migration

On the very basic level of understanding, migration describes a movement of people, objects or organism (like birds) from one space to another. There are various types of migration movements I believe: physical, mental or virtual. On our site, the context of the term migration will be the human being. Later on the road we will also discover a theory of how the migration of objects and forms can be understood, specially in context of film space.

Migration is less characterized by temporality – in term of holidaying or residing temporally in a new place. Although I fully agree that temporality is one of various conditions of Migration. Temporality exists within migration, but migration itself is not a temporal phenomena. In my opinion the global discourse of migration is poorly limited to social, economical and political issues, which do not provide us a complete framework of migration, that’s why we will here seek to embrace migration from a formal-aesthetical, philosophical and psychological entrance. Reasons of migration such as the economical, social and political circumstances of a place are the conditions for the process of decision making of people when they want to migrate.

When does the process of migration starts and when does it end? One element of migration is disregarding borders; can we approach migration in a way that goes beyond pre-defined academic or social-political narratives?

I want to suggest an intellectual-experiential space of migration as form of engagement with the phenomena migration. I believe that the experience of migration itself creates a particular understanding of life, which we can’t deny its current existence. Through elaborating my practices and through the so-called theoretical investigation of the matter, I want to manifest this particular understanding I call ‘the aesthetic of migration’; which understands migration as a space of mind, rather as social-political phenomena.

So what is the experience of migration? And how does it lead to a space of mind? And what does migration have something to do with the aesthetics?

Before I narrate what the meaning of my thoughts are, let me bring an example which can metaphorically prepare the climax of our shared thoughts: In a conversation between Walter Murch and Michael Ondatje (from ‘The Conversations – Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film) Murch suggests a space which he calls as the three dimensional space which is for me a concrete analogy to what I call migration-space or assimilation process: “… Your left eye sees one thing and your right sees something else, a slightly different perspective. They're so close and yet different enough that when the mind tries to see both simultaneously, to resolve their contradictions, the only way it can do so is to create a third concept, an arena in which both perspectives can exist: three-dimensional space. This "space" doesn't exist in either of the images–each eye alone sees a flat, two-dimensional view of the world–but space, as we perceive it, is created in the mind's attempt to resolve the different images it is receiving from the left and the right eye.” 1

Linguists claim that language is the first and most crucial element, that creates the logic of each person’s way of thinking. Architects are (ideally) aware on the influence of their suggested building on the physical behavior and daily life movement of the urban citizen’s, as any cook is extremely sensitive on the culture of taste and aliment, which s/he establishes through his/her food. The language, architecture and taste/sense of each place creates a particularity which we call culture.

So what happens when someone with a particular culture migrates to a new place, to a new home, to a new environment that has its own logic of thinking, tastes and architecture? He will assimilate and he must embrace the new culture. Also in the case of resistance towards the new culture (it happens often when migration takes place unwillingly), one will unconsciously assimilate her/himself to the conditions of the new environment, at least on the surface level.

Homi K. Bhabha, in a public discussion in 2003 on “Defining ‘Home’: Divided Loyalty or Dual Loyalty”, said: "We don’t get to define where we come from. We are defined by where we come from. … We carry where we came from through the stories we tell and the food we cook. The most important thing is to be able to bring these things to a new home and combine them without losing the sense of their uniqueness”. Further he said that “Assimilation is futile” and he resulted that “The best outcome is when a host culture adopts the culture of its new residents, becoming like a millefait.”2 Bhabha, Professor of English and American Literature at Harvard University, related his experience as a Zoroastrian Parsee raised in Bombay by Jesuits, educated in England and now working in America to reference his arguments as it is recorded from the meeting.

Bhabha’s quote does not contradict to the fact that the process of assimilation and transformation is a crucial part of experiencing migration. In every circumstances, whether in the case of right wing integration legislations in Germany or in the case of states such as New York which is defined by many emigrational movements, the transformation of language, physical/mental behavior, tastes/senses keeps being a crucial experience. Based on what Bhabha claims, assimilation can happen both for those who move and for those who host their culture. It is also important to know that I do not disvalue assimilation as a traumatic experience or loss – again with regard and agreement to Bhabha I believe that one is able to carry her/his culture also after migration, if not only carry, getting more conscious and reflective upon it – rather I claim that the experience of assimilation and conscious reflection upon it can be a potential for a particular productive way of intellectual-practical engagement with the world. You may want to stop me here and say that this is not new knowledge; I say, yes, you are right, but let me explain how the experience of migration can be used as a form of engagement, a form of criticism and resistance towards (administrative) rationalism and (political) central perspective.

Through experiencing the process of assimilation we might get to a special way of looking/viewing things, to a particular state of mind which would disagree with the frontal view on object/subject rather leaving spaces for shifts to the right as well to the left. One might call this dynamic ambiguity. Yet this space is related to the poetical or the surreal as a political gesture. But there are also other terms and theoretical models we can use for it, such as ‘smooth’ or ‘becoming’:

Now, for you, I am going to link concepts from western philosophical thought to the kind of experiences one will have while going through assimilation processes. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari known for seeking thought throughout the body of their collaborative philosophical work on the model of ‘becoming’ – as an opposite to the notion of ‘being’ – did suggested a space named as the ‘smooth space’ within their major philosophical work: “A Thousand Plateaus”. Deleuze/Guattari investigate in the chapter “The Smooth and the Striated” basically two forms of spaces which they put, in the first glance, in two binary conditions: ‘smooth’/striated’. Further they suggest also ‘nomad space and sedentary space’ and ‘the space in which the war machine develops and the space instituted by the State apparatus’.3 Deleuze and Guattari characterize the ‘smooth’ as a space, which is ‘occupied by intensities and events.’ The ‘smooth’ is haptic rather optic. It is vectorial, like a sea, steppe, ice and desert. For me a very crucial metaphoric description of Deleuze and Guattari, (that made me secure to use the concept of the ‘smooth’ as a link to migration-mind), is their claim that: the ‘smooth space’ is occupied by packs and nomads. As we recognized earlier, the migrant has another understanding on the notion of ‘border’ because s/he must psychologically deny the border to be able to decide for movement. So do Deleuze/Guattari understand the ‘smooth’; they explain the ‘smooth’ as a texture of “traits” consisting of variations of free action. The characteristic experience of ‘smooth’ space exist without any visual model for points of reference or invariant distances, and exactly this characteristic is the link to the experience of assimilation that results in multi-perspectival and multi-dimensional understanding of the world. But if we inhabit the ‘smooth’ as a constant totalitarian space we will find ourselves in contradiction with the concept itself which Deleuze/Guattari are providing us; so we would disagree with the model of ‘becoming’ and also with migration as a state of mind: “… we must remind ourselves that the two spaces in fact exist only in mixture: smooth space is constantly being translated, transversed into a striated spaces; striated space is constantly being reversed, returned to a smooth space.” 4

To create an ontological path of Deleuze/ Guattari’s work, it is important to mention that the notion of ‘becoming’ for Deleuze and Guattari arrives at the very immediate moment of the ‘Death of God’ and the question we ask ourselves: ‘How might one live?’ Taking this question and occupying the immanence as their playground, Deleuze and Guattari provide us the model of opposing the being: ‘form Thinking’ with becoming: ‘Casual Thinking’. They do so in which they claim that Human being is the result of processes and it is always in the process of becoming, becoming the other, becoming animal through being influenced by the other and the environment. This means that we are constantly in the process of assimilation and transformation. We carry our cultures with us and interlink them with the new culture we get confronted with everyday. ‘The aesthetic of migration’ is a practice, which creates ‘smooth spaces’. ‘The aesthetic of migration’ creates a space through which one will have the ability to look on the matter in a multi-dimensional manner. ‘The aesthetic of migration’ is an aesthetic in which not the ‘being’ (form thinking) exists, rather the ‘becoming’.

1.Michael Ondaatje, The conversations: Walter Murch and the Arts of Editing Film (Alfred A. Knopf New York, 2008) (p. 209-210)
2.World Economic Forum web page, Defining "Home": Divided Loyalty or Dual Loyalty
3.Gilles Deleuze / Felix Guattari, A thousand platteaus (University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota, London) (14.1440: The Smooth and the Striated / p.474)
4.Gilles Deleuze / Felix Guattari, A thousand platteaus (University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota, London) (14.1440: The Smooth and the Striated / p.474)


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