Defining the urban: boundaries and jurisdictions

Notes on a conference on boundaries and edges, due not least to my living within a stone’s throw of Wonderful Copenhagen.

Boundaries and jurisdictions: defining the urban (#UHG2017) was the 2017 conference of the University of Leicester’s Centre for Urban History (@CUHLeicester), taking place on 30-31 March.

Boundaries define towns and cities; jurisdictions legitimate those authorised to manage areas within them. While cities frequently annexed adjacent areas as a means of extending their authority, peripheral townships, regional jurisdictions and individual landowners have often resisted that process of absorption and the consequential loss of identity and autonomy. Do cities transmit ideas and ideologies to areas beyond their boundaries, urging compliance with administrative procedures and participating in infrastructural projects governing health, education, and transport? Were economies of scale in service provision a force for urban amalgamation? How have inhabitants navigated and perceived these boundaries, and what effects have they had on movement or identities? The conference will explore this theme of the urban ‘edge’.

Understanding where and what the edge is, though, is complex. Municipal authority is, of course, not bounded just by the city limits, but also by innumerable internal boundaries; boundaries that are not neutral in their management or their construction. We all live in multiple authorities – parishes, districts (school, medical, electoral), neighbourhoods, conservation areas, economic and regeneration zones. Myriad internal boundaries exist whose spatial extents rarely overlap and authority over them is vested in a mixture of legal bodies and informal authority. Informal authority reigns where the boundaries of mental maps are shaped by custom and practice – ‘safe’ areas, ‘red light’ districts, pedestrian precincts, ethnic and religious concentrations. The mosaic of overlapping boundaries and jurisdictions questions the use of the term city, since urban environments constitute so many different cities.

Sessions on the permeability of borders included Anna Feintuck (Embra) on Leith, amalgamated into Edinburgh in 1920 against the will of a plebiscite. The session on boundaries, space and traversing the city included the boundaries of social space and improvement, ie public parks.

Crossing and defining the urban and rural included Tracey Logan (IHR) on Chiswick, sounding a little like Hvidovre’s experience:

Chiswick’s mid-19th century experience of life near the urban edge, eight miles west of St Paul’s, reveals how new and shifting metropolitan boundaries dramatically shaped its development and identity. Those boundaries were topographical and sanitary, ideological and political and shunned by Chiswick for their cost, not ideology. Its response was ancient and modern, the defensive beating of parish bounds and litigation.

Chiswick, mainly agricultural in 1849 but by 1867 on the cusp of industrialization and urbanization, had much in common with other contemporary parishes near big cities. Their priorities and even basic amenities were subsumed by costly, metropolitan utilitarianism and its voracious land-and-rates-grabbing. Chiswick’s case illustrates what it meant to be first granted, then denied a metropolitan identity by Acts of Parliament in quick succession. One consequence was its disappearance from newspaper columns, whose focus became the big city, to the detriment of historiography.

Places like Chiswick became part of an ill-defined ‘suburban’ entity, assumed dominated by housebuilding, railways and Villa Toryism, seen in relation to the big city but banal by comparison with its cut and thrust of power politics and commerce. When Disraeli’s Reform Act sought to extend London’s boundary westwards again, Chiswick pushed back on financial, not ideological, grounds, but with ideological consequences for its working classes, thus denied the vote. Owen showed no uniformity in the parochial response to metropolitan inclusion. Now a new study, including new tools, shows no uniform response to metropolitan exclusion. In this presentation, about a case study of Chiswick, the forging of an extra-metropolitan urban identity will be discussed and illustrated in ways conventional sources cannot.

The Space Syntax Lab Session (@SpaceSyntaxNet) looked at the role of spatial infrastructure in definitions of urban community:

Urban community is a place-bound idea typically represented by physical boundaries such as walls, courtyards and gates but the spatial configuration of urban street networks also serves to bring people together and keep them apart. Research in urban history using space syntax methods can help reveal how socially significant boundaries have emerged where particular topographical conditions, infrastructural interventions and patterns of urban development have distinguished regions of the street network as threshold or transitional areas in configurational terms. The spatial-morphological description of these liminal spaces is important in accessing, as it were, the ‘deep structure’ of urban neighbourhoods and jurisdictions. It also suggests why the power to disregard, as much as to assert, the authority of customary boundaries is a reliable analogue for the exercise of social power.

Investigating these themes involves undertaking historical research of sufficient temporal scope for the interplay of socio-spatial, socio-economic and cultural processes to become evident in the configuration of urban space. This extended time-scale begs the question of the urban streetscape as a source of communal memory that can serve both to perpetuate and undermine the legitimacy of historical boundaries. This panel presents three papers that address these themes over a time-scale from c.1800 to the present day. They draw on the theories and methods of space syntax to explore the configurational dimension of urban boundaries as these have represented, contested, fragmented, consolidated and enlarged the definition of urban and suburban communities over time.

Papers:

  • Chipping Barnet: urban edge or suburban centre? (Laura Vaughan; @urban_formation & Ashley Dhanani, UCL) – The traditional narrative of London’s suburban history claims that the coming of the railways transformed previously “knowable communities” (Williams, 1969) into something like ‘edge cities’ dominated by anonymous commuters, ultimately ‘engulfing’ these with less affluent populations, disconnected from their locale. The problem with such narratives is that they present urbanization as proceeding in linear stages: from local village, to connected suburb, to urban sprawl. Yet the peripheries of growing cities are messy and dynamic environments, comprising diverse spatial morphologies, topographies and socio-economic structures; hybrid socio-spatial forms that are not easily classified typologically. This paper will take the example of Chipping Barnet, the site of a twelfth-century market situated on the old North Road out of London as an example of an edge-city settlement characterized by a hybrid spatial morphology and the persistence of multiple social affiliations maintained across space…Barnet’s history as a place, therefore, has been forged historically both spatially, in relation to its immediate community, and across space, in relation to the surrounding counties and London.
  • London railway terminals: segregation and the inner ‘edge’ city (Tom Bolton, UCL)
  • Place-situated historic photographs in European cities: negotiating the temporal boundaries of urban community (Sam Griffiths & Garyfalia Palaiologou, UCL) – this paper interrogates the recent phenomenon of European municipal authorities situating physical and digital historic photographs of public spaces in their equivalent contemporary locations. It develops the concept of the ‘virtual community’ from space syntax theory to discuss the important questions place-situated photographs raise for the historical understanding of urban communities in relation to changes and continuities in the built environment of cities.

See also:

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The architectural imagination (1): form and history

EdX MOOC from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (based in The Trays), started 28 February, runs for 10 weeks. All quotes edited.

The study of architecture allows us to see culture representing its own values to itself and affords us access to a kind of knowledge about culture and history that would not otherwise be available.

Architecture is not just about the need for shelter or the need for a functional building. In some ways, it’s just what exceeds necessity that is architecture. And it’s the opening onto that excess that makes architecture fundamentally a human endeavour.

Architecture is a technical answer to a question that’s not technical at all, but rather is historical and social. The study of architecture is the study of human thought and human history. This is about the architectural imagination. It’s how to think about architecture, but it’s also about architecture as a mode of thought.

Architecture is one of the most complexly negotiated and globally recognised cultural practices, both as an academic subject and a professional career. Its production involves all of the technical, aesthetic, political, and economic issues at play within a given society. And indeed, in some ways, architecture, as we’ll see, helps articulate history itself.

These are all big claims. And we’ll need big ideas to address these claims. And we’ll also need very specific, concrete examples of architectural projects and events from history.

Goals of the course

Architecture engages a culture’s deepest social values and expresses them in material, aesthetic form. In this course you will learn how to ‘read’ architecture as a cultural expression as well as a technical achievement. Over the course of ten modules we’ll examine some of history’s most important examples that show how architecture engages, mediates, and expresses a culture’s complex aspirations.

In this course you will learn:

  • how to read, analyse and understand different forms of architectural representation
  • social and historical contexts behind major works of architecture
  • basic principles to produce your own architectural drawings and models

The first part of the course introduces the idea of the architectural imagination as a faculty that mediates sensuous experience and conceptual understanding.

Two examples of the architectural imagination – perspective drawing and architectural typology – are explored through video presentations and hands-on exercises.

You will be introduced to some of the challenges involved in writing architectural history, revealing that architecture does not always have a straightforward relationship to its own history.

Module 1: The architectural imagination: an introduction

In our first module we borrow the framework of the imagination from the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, whose work has been very influential on the study of architecture. For Kant imagination is the necessary mediation between the senses with which we experience the world and the cognitive processes through which we understand it.

A preliminary model of the architectural imagination: the mental process of constructing a schema that organizes our perceptions of an architectural project or set of projects.

Very theoretical…luckily we have sketchnotes:

More practical was the optional vid on perspective:

The basic distinguishing feature of perspective – a way of seeing the world – is as a drawing in which parallel lines converge at infinity, way off in the distance. The place where these lines converge, which we can think of as being infinity, or far, far, far away, is called a vanishing point, placed on what we call the horizon.

This means that things that are closer to you will seem larger and things that are farther away will seem much smaller, even if these two objects are actually the same size.

There are three major kinds of perspective drawings –  one point, two point, and three point, differentiated by the number of vanishing points used. In a three point drawing there are two points on the horizon, where the parallel lines converge to the left and right, and one on a vertical line, where parallel vertical lines converge to a vanishing point far above us. This is especially useful for tall buildings.

And on orthographic (perpendicular) drawings:

  • the plan – a horizontal cut (usually 1.2m above the floor) through the building that lets us see how the different rooms and spaces are arranged
  • the section – cutting vertically through the building, generally on the most important axis of the building
  • the elevation – cut well in front of the building; in particular for showing the composition of the facade

Draw a floor plan

Choose a space that you are intimately familiar with – your home, your workplace or a favorite public space – that has at least three discrete and adjacent rooms.

By hand, draw a floor plan of your space. Carefully chose the height of your cut line so that the plan includes all the information you find important. Make sure to indicate locations of doors, windows, and walls.

You may choose to include secondary information you find important, such as furniture or decorative elements. Do not use a ruler to measure; however, make sure to pay close attention to relative dimensions. Choose a method of measurement that is appropriate for the space — for example, you could measure a length of a wall by counting your paces alongside it. Be sure to include an indication of your units of measurement on your drawing.

Write one to two paragraphs reflecting on the experience. How did the method of measurement you chose influence the way you drew the space? How did you decide on where you would cut the plan? In observing your space and drawing it, did you see anything new or surprising you had not noticed before?

Must break my drawing phobia…meanwhile, some examples from the class:

Module 2: Reading architecture: column and wall

We examine another historical example of the use of the architectural imagination to interpret an architectural project. Rudolph Wittkower analyzes Leon Battista Alberti’s designs for four different church facades as a single pursuit of an ideal façade type, beginning with Alberti’s assertion that the principal element of architectural ornament is the column. He then moves on to associate the column with proportion and measure – the “classical idea of maintaining a uniform system of proportion throughout all parts of a building”.

This abstract approach is an important first step in demonstrating that architecture is a mode of knowledge. When we normally consider architecture, we include its function, materials, techniques of construction and its physical and social context, as well as its formal property or aesthetics…to really focus on architecture as exceeding mere building we have to detach a portion of that common-sense world and establish some aesthetic distance from ordinary concerns…for just a time we free architecture from its function, but we also free ourselves from our own interests, and prejudices and expectations.

This part of our model borrows from Kant’s theory of aesthetics. It’s highly intellectual. It’s self-reflexive and recursive. And it’s very abstract – a philosophical exercise, not an historical analysis.

Note that Wittkower’s Architectural principles in the age of humanism (1949) strongly influenced modernism, due to its revolutionary approach to the understanding of geometry, modular pattern and the ways in which diagrams can be used.

Module 3: Hegel and architectural history

The first two modules of this course sought to open up a vision of architecture as a project of imaginative formal speculation. Wittkower’s interpretation of the work of Alberti gave us an example of a Kant-inspired historian attributing to architecture the status of an ongoing formal project – a project of speculation and conjecture that takes place in the architectural imagination.

We now want to put the idea of a formal project into dialectical play with the movement of architecture through history. In Module 3, we will complement Wittkower’s interpretive project by insisting on the historical dimension of architecture, indeed the historical determination of architecture’s formal project. Architecture changes through time because society and culture change through time, and architecture is inextricably tied to the social.

To return to history is to return this internal world constructed by architecture, this world of aesthetic perfection, to the more robust world in which we all reside.

How do cultures represent themselves to themselves through their art? In this module you will explore a model for a philosophy of art history as expressed by the German idealist philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. The very idea of art as having a history, a progression, comes from Hegel, and you will learn more about his attempt to “gather up all the cultures and all the epochs of art into a single, coherent, unified system…a system wherein art discloses truths about the world by giving those truths appearance”.

Beauty is, for Hegel, the perfect harmony of form and function. His division of symbolic, classical, and romantic is then partially generated by the fact that beauty can be either achieved (classical architecture) or not achieved (symbolic and romantic art), and that this failure to achieve beauty can be either the result of the inability to conceive of beauty’s form/function harmony (symbolic architecture), or the result of the conscious acknowledgement that beauty is impossible given architecture’s opaque and insistent materiality (romantic architecture).

John Sallis makes the point that Kant’s system of the imagination allows him to distinguish between beauty or art, on the one hand, and knowledge or truth, on the other. Hegel, by contrast, develops a concept of art in which art is not only a matter of sense and feeling but also of truth.

Sketchnotes please…

Module 4: Aldo Rossi and typology

In the first three modules, we’ve built up our idea of the architectural imagination with two fundamental components: the understanding of form and the experience of history. In this final module for Part I, we give one more example of the architectural imagination at work.

The modern Italian architect Aldo Rossi, perhaps, shares Hegel’s understanding that architecture is one of the fundamental human postulates of our existence in the world. For Rossi, too, architecture is a central medium of human thought and human memory. But in Rossi’s work, we find the suggestion that architecture’s origin is not simply behind us, as Hegel insisted, but that architecture is constantly finding its origin again and again, and that this beginning must constantly be reimagined. The imagination uses historical precedents to create new architectural projects.

Adolf Loos: “If we find a mound six feet long and three feet wide in the forests, formed into a pyramid, shaped by a shovel, we become serious and something says, ‘someone lies buried here.’ That is architecture.”

From the quiz…the idea of architecture as something with a history comes to us from Hegel, and Rossi explores this in his own unique way. For Rossi, an understanding of type is not merely visual or perceptual, rather his architecture engages the full sensorium of its experience. It is a structural and formal urban fact and complex experience.

Rossi understood architectural tradition as an extrapolation of the formal world of antiquity. FALSE:  Rossi’s concept of type allows him to sample from a far greater range of objects and periods of history. For example, in the Monument to the Italian Partisans at Cuneo, Rossi uses the concept of type to construct a monument that links to earlier commemorative monuments, perhaps to ancient examples as well as to modern ones, but not to any specific one monument from a particular historical style.

The architectural type is a primary means of communicating meaning through architecture. Architectural types, specifically those in the urban context, persisted despite changes in the functions and uses of the buildings. Rossi’s classic example of the persistence of type is the coliseum in Lucca, where the formal element remains legible despite functional change from coliseum to marketplace to housing.

Typology is intended to link new architectural projects to collective memories. Rossi’s work used the concept of typology to link architectural projects to collective memories. In Giovanni Antonio Canal’s (Canaletto) Capriccio con Edifici Palladiani, Rossi provokes us to examine the fantasy view of Venice as a means to describe the power of architecture to access an idea of the total city, albeit virtually. For Rossi, architecture is producing knowledge of the world beyond itself. To finish, here’s an article about Rossi’s San Cataldo Cemetery in Modena.

Otherwise, sketchnotes, please!

Two exercises follow, which the class did fabulous things with.

Build a model 

In previous exercises, you have explored conventions of the predominant drawing types of the architectural profession: the plan, the section, the elevation, and the perspective. In this prompt, you will become familiar with another major form of architectural representation: the physical model.

Just as perspective and orthographic drawings were used historically for the purpose of representation and construction, architects made scale models to represent their ideas. These models were useful not only for the architects and builders themselves, but also as a means to demonstrate architectural ideas to the public.

Aldo Rossi’s project for the Monument to the Resistance in Cuneo is based on a cube of 12 meters. It is represented by simple but precisely drawn plans, sections, and elevations. Spare as they are, the drawings contain all the information needed to construct a three-dimensional model of the project.

Your assignment is to construct a physical model of the Cuneo project at a scale of 1:100 (drawings provided; idiot’s guide).

Transform a type

Prompt B asks you to draw and compare diagrams that display transformations of architectural types. You will apply the concept of architectural type, first, to analyze an architectural project, and then, to transform that project to produce variants of the type deduced from a preceding formal organization, ie begin with simple typological elements and then transform and combine them into new organizations.

Find the constituent elements of the project: column, extruded triangle, extruded rectangle, and stair. After you’ve identified these elements, diagram two new possible variations for the project, changing the relationships among the elements to create your variations. You may use two of any one of the elements. For example, you may use two columns or two stairs but not two columns and stairs. Or you may double the length of the wall, but not of the wall and the extruded triangle. (Example diagrams provided.)

The philosophy of walking

Update: Phil Smith on GrosWhy we walk and Why walking helps us think (The New Yorker, 2014)

Frédéric Gros’ A philosophy of walking (Amazon), published in March 2014 and translated by John Howe, is a primer for the Gallic Romantic strain in walking. Gå!, a Danish translation published by Kristeligt Dagblads Forlag, appeared in July 2015, inspiring a vandringsessay by Kim Skotte in Politiken. 

Gros is a “prodigious walker”. While the book charts the many different ways we get from A to B (the pilgrimage, the promenade, the protest march, the nature ramble…) it is more concerned with exploring the power of walking as a “necessary weapon in the era of speed, efficiency and consumption” – and what it tells us about our experience of time, pleasure and solitude.

Back in 2014 I Storified @VersoBooks’ #philosophyofwalking stream, starting with a playlist in January, livetweeting the book launch and finishing up with Gros in conversation with sculptor Richard Wentworth at Tate Modern on 15 May. See the foot of the post for a trio of bon mots.

I made some inroads via a library copy in autumn 2014, getting about halfway, or as far as  Thoreau. Then I read On going for a walk, which made the unassailable point that the book’s focus is fairly narrow, favouring walking silently and solitarily in pristine rural landscapes with scant attention given to walking in urban settings. At this point I moved into scan mode, never a good sign. to be sure to finish it off before it was due back to the library. (Another factor was Carol Cadwallader on the portraits: “they’re all men; it’s unclear if women don’t walk or don’t think”). Maybe it depends which walking primer you start with – for me, it was Nicholson (who also appreciated Cadwallader’s take).

I have now invested in a copy for the bookshelf via Verso’s Xmas 2016 offer – below is a summary of my key points. (See also Laurence Coupe’s 10 insights). While very French, tending to the abstract with many a rhetorical turn (or just French rendered in English?), the opening salvo already makes the whole thing worthwhile. Other sections to come back to are Schelle’s Promenade als Kunstwerk (19:164-7) and indeed the section on urban walking (21:178-180).

The book consists of 25 shortish chapters each headed by a woodcut. Seven of the chapters are about individual thinkers who saw walking as integral to the creative life: Nietzsche, Rimbaud, Rousseau, Thoreau, Nerval, Kant and Gandhi.

  1. Walking is not a sport: no specialised equipment here: “Walking is the best way to go more slowly than any other method that has ever been found…If you want to go faster, then don’t walk…Once on his feet, though, man does not stay where he is.”
  2. Freedoms: a process of self liberation, the suspensive freedom that comes from walking and rediscovering simple joys, throwing off the yoke of routine and illusions about the essential; “disentangled from the web of exchanges, no longer reduced to a junction in the network redistributing information, images and goods”; a liberation from time and space, alienating you from speed; this is usually only a temporary ‘disconnection’, but one can also follow the call of the wild on the ‘vertical axis of life’, escaping from the idea of identity and recovering our animal presence; the third stage is the freedom of renunciation and perfect detachment, leading to an intensity of presence. (Echoes here of Ludvig Feilberg, Denmark’s philosopher of walking.)
  3. Why I am such a good walker (Nietzsche): walking was Nietzsche’s element, the precondition to work; he hated to sit: “think of the book as an expression of physiology. In all too many books the reader can sense the seated body, doubled up, stooped, shrivelled in on itself. The walking body is unfolded and tensed like a bow: opened to wide spaces like a flower to the sun, exposed torso, tensed legs, lean arms”. Books by authors “grafted to their chairs” are like fattened geese, “on the level of recopying”. Writing with our feet means the potential for “reversals of perspective…exclamations where something else is observed”.
  4. Outside: “walking means being out of doors, outside, ‘in the fresh air’. When you go ‘outside’ it is always to pass from one ‘inside’ to another: from house to office, from your place to the nearest shops. You go out to do something, somewhere else. Outside is a transition: the thing that separates; almost an obstacle between here and there…Outside hardly exists: it is like a big separating corridor, a tunnel, an immense airlock..It is some space that takes some time.” Major walks invert this – ‘outside’ is no longer a transition, but the element in which stability exists. The big separation between outside and inside is turned upside down by walking, as  you live in the landscape.
  5. Slowness: a good slowness, not exactly the opposite of speed: an “extreme regularity of paces, a uniformity…a bad walker may sometimes go fast, accelerate, then slow down…large involuntary movements, a new decision every time the body is pushed or pulled…Hurrying means doing several things at once, and quickly…time is filled to bursting, like a badly arranged drawer in which you have stuffed different things without any attempt at order. Slowness means cleaving perfectly to time, so closely that the seconds fall one by one…this stretching of time deepens space…a slow approach to landscapes that gradually renders them familiar.”
  6. The passion for escape (Rimbaud): never having studied French I have a big gap here; like Nietzsche this isn’t exactly a happy tale, but glad to have made his acquaintance; “I’m a pedestrian, nothing more” – a sense of walking as flight, leaving behind, departing.
  7. Solitudes: ought one really to walk alone? Nietzsche, Thoreau, Rousseau, the Dane, all thought so. “Being in company forces one to jostle, hamper, walk at the wrong speed for others…the right basic rhythm is the one which suits you.” So much for group walking, although up to three or four may allow moments of shared solitude, “like bread and daylight”. More than four and people “form groups which soon become clans. Everyone boasts about their equipment…it’s hell.” However, one is never entirely alone, not least because of the constant dialogue between the body and the soul.
  8. Silences: just as there are  several solitudes, so there are several silences; the silence of walking itself, of woodland, of tough summer afternoon walks, or.  early morning, through the snow, of night. Silence in walking is the abolishment of chatter, the dissipation of our language. “One should beware of those expedition guides who recode, detail, inform, punctuate the walk with names and explanations to give the impression that everything visible has a name, that there is a grammar for everything that can be felt.”
  9. The walker’s waking dreams (Rousseau): like Nietzsche, Rousseau claimed to be incapable of thinking properly, of composing, creating or finding inspiration except when walking. Another recurring image is the homo viator, walking or pilgrim man, the natural man not disfigured by culture, education, art – the absolute primitive.
  10. Eternities: “when you walk, news becomes unimportant”…more of the same, if perhaps a nod to the issue of unconnected facts.
  11. Conquest of the wilderness (Thoreau): opens with the factoid that Thoreau was the third child of a pencil manufacturer; otherwise, by now, familiar territory.
  12. Energy: sources of energy: the heart (self), the earth, landscapes.
  13. Pilgrimage: a codified form of walking with its own conduct, termination and purpose, however a pilgrim (from peregrinus, follower or exile) is essentially one who is not at home where he is walking, but is a stranger or foreigner; “every man is a pilgrim in this vale of tears…his true dwelling place can never be reached here below”; rather than peregrinatio perpetua a metaphor, perhaps a contemplative retreat or a visit to a sanctuary, can suffice.
  14. Regeneration and presence: the myth of regeneration, citing Mount Kailash, and the utopia of presence, transfiguring the day when you arrive at your destination.
  15. The cynic’s approach: as in the Greek Cynics.
  16. States of well-being: joy, pleasure, serenity, happiness…
  17. Melancholy wandering (Nerval): of pet lobster fame, one of Richard Holmes’ subjects; walking as part of an active melancholia: “the streets are an excellent environment for maintaining, nourishing and deepening the illness…the drumming of thousands of feet on the pavements”.
  18. A daily outing (Kant): aka the Königsberg clock, who emerged from his house for his brief constitutional every day at 8 as a distraction from work; he never left his native town, found change unbearable and “displayed no caprice or oddity…his life was as exactly ruled as music manuscript paper”; his route became known as the philosopher’s walk; Kant’s walks highlight three important aspects of walking: its monotony, which liberates thought, the role of regularity and repeated effort in creating an output, built up stone by stone, and the inescapable nature of ritual, a mastered inevitability, a destiny of will.
  19. Strolls: or promenades, “less suited to grand mystical poses, metaphysical frauds and pretentious declarations”; of three types: as an absolute ritual, the creation of a childish soul; as free relaxation, mental recreation; as rediscovery. HT to Karl Gottlob Schelle’s Die Promenade als Kunstwerk (1802), which established that walking produces a relaxing effect on the body – it could stand up straight, but “it was really the mind which rejoiced most”. Walking means defying the constraints, choosing your route, place, representations (see pages 164-7).
  20. Public gardens: musing on the Tuileries.
  21. The urban flâneur: via Benjamin, a form of strolling which presupposes three elements: city, crowd and capitalism.. an experience far removed from Nietzsche or Thoreau; the urban stroller subverts the crowd, the merchandise the and town, along with their values; not a matter of opposing but of evading, deflecting, altering with exaggeration, accepting blandly and moving on; the flâneur subverts solitude, speed, dubious business politics and consumerism (pages 178-180).
    • the city: imposes an interrupted, uneven rhythm; urban concentrations where you can walk for hours without seeing a piece of country, passing through districts like different worlds, separate, apart; cities with enough scale to become a landscape
    • the crowd: among and through the nameless masses, representatives of the new civilisation; everyone was in a hurry and everyone else was in their way, a competitor, with contradictory interests – anonymity is the norm
    • capitalism: as in the reign of merchandise, extending beyond industrial products to include art works and people; now: “spaces where strolling is compulsory are being made, but no one has to go there”
  22. Gravity: the experience of walking is always a perception of gravity, an invitation to die standing up.
  23. Elemental: the useful, the necessary, the elemental, revealed as fullness of presence; ” to walk without even the necessary is to abandon yourself to the elements”.
  24. Mystic and politician (Gandhi): and protest marcher
  25. Repetition: the need to distinguish between monotony and boredom

Experimental walking (and writing): Surrealists and Situationists

Brief notes kicked off by the chapter on experimental walking in The art of wandering: the writer as walker.

Francesco Careri (Walkscapes) has identified three moments in art history when an experience linked to walking represented a turning point:

  • the period of transition from Dada to Surrrealism (1921-24)
  • the emergence of the Situationist Movement from the Letterist International (1956-57)
  • the movement from Minimal Art to Land Art (1966-67) – Fluxus, non-object-based art as exemplified by Richard Wentworth, Janet Cardiff and Francis Alÿs; with the rise of performance art the act of walking itself has become art

Dadaist and surrealist walks

On 14 April 1921 in Paris, at three in the afternoon, in the rain, eleven Dadaists conducted a ‘lay pilgrimage’ to the church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, the first in a proposed series of urban excursions to the ‘banal places’ of the city (p183-4) – it was not a success, and remained the sole example. However they had an influence on getting people to look and look again, to notice and how to notice what you notice, daring to leap into the abyss and explore things in a different way.

In May 1924 the three founders of surrealism set off haphazardly on foot on a ten day stroll from Blois, a town picked at random from a map. Largely they “resolutely followed their lack of itinerary”, composing automatic texts during rest stops.

This and further déambulations, practised on the outskirts of Paris, found expression in three novels:

  • Louis Aragon’s Le Paysan de Paris (1926) – describes two places in Paris in great detail, providing a realistic backdrop for surrealist spectacles such as the transformation of a shop into a seascape
  • André Breton’s Nadja (1928) – “one of the iconic works of the French surrealist movement”
  • Philippe Soupault‘s Les Dernières Nuits de Paris (1928)
  • see also Readux’s A little guide to the 15th Arrondissement, “a playful piece of surrealist flâneurie and psychogeography” by Roger Caillois, translated by Ryan Ruby; see article

For the surrealists walking was about chance encounters and irrational meetings, an inspiration for their experimental writing (source).

The Lettrists and the Situationists

A generation later, after WW2, the act of walking shifted from aimless strolling to revolutionary subversion.

The Lettrist International (1952-7), the product of the earlier Lettrist Group (1948) and a forerunner of The Situationist International, identified the act of walking as a means of challenging the status quo, but like later movements such as CoBrA and the Imaginist Bauhaus was hampered both by a lack of direction (irony alert) and, more crucially, members.

Step forward the Situationist International (1957-72; SI Online | archives | Internationale Situationniste in English) under the firm/tyrannical grip of Guy Debord.

Debord coined the term psychogeography in his Introduction to a critique of urban geography (1955):

the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals

This replaced R/romantic notions of walking as an artistic practice with the concept of a scientific experiment, the results of which would be rigorously analysed and form the basis of a new cartography characterised by a disregard for traditional and habitual practices.

This experiment was, of course, the dérive, as outlined in The theory of the dérive (1956).

The dérive “has the potential to transform the everyday, to illuminate and challenge narratives of privatisation, commodification and securitisation of space, and navigate increasingly blurred boundaries between public/private”. The ideal outcome was that “pedestrians would become more aware of their overlooked urban surroundings and begin to see new possibilities of experiencing everyday life in the city” (source).

The purpose of a dérive is as much to derive or document the psychogeographical contours of an urban space as to uncover alternatives. This can be in the form of artistic maps, drawn not in Cartesian gridlines but according to a subjective navigation scheme, or through subversions of pre‐existing maps. Both kind of map exemplifies the détournement, a ‘diverting’ or ‘rerouting’ of pre‐existing elements, with an ultimate outcome such as the utopian city (source).

Debord’s Psychogeographic guide of Paris (1955)/The naked city (1957; same??) replaced the ‘official’ map of Paris with 19 cut-out sections rearranged and connected by red arrows indicating the flow of energy around certain ‘pivot points’ (source). Map users choose their own route by using a series of arrows that link parts of the city together.

Further tactics:

  • one city to the map of another – wander through one city following directions from a map of another city (I’ve never quite got how this would work in practice)
  • cities as historical landscapes – being aware of how your surroundings can draw you towards the past
  • here’s a reverse dérive – The naked city mapped onto a Google map of Paris

Hence strolling becomes drifting and detached observation becomes a critique of post-war urbanism (Elkin p18) – there was nothing aimless in Situationist drifts; they wanted to transform everyday life.

Debord became increasingly dogmatic in his insistence upon a rigorous examination of the Society of the Spectacle (1967; more), a society whose seductive surface belied the repressive realities of capitalist consumption. The essential emptiness of modern life is obscured behind an elaborate and spectacular array of commodities, leading to a world of rampant consumerism and regimented monotony. Shucks.

See The Situationists and the city | Andrew Hussey for more.

Debord and Jorn

Denmark klaxon! In 1954 Debord met Asger Jorn (1914-73), a Danish polymath who had worked with Le Corbusier on the Pavillon des Temps Nouveaux for the 1937 Paris World Exposition. Jorn was a co-founder of CoBrA (1948-51) and involved in one of its offshoots, the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, which in 1957 fused with the Letterist International and the London Psychogeographical Association to form the Situationist International (SI). Enough already.

It’s not quite clear to what extent Jorn had a hand in The naked city, but their collaboration resulted in the production of two art books critiquing the Society of the Spectacle.

Created in 24 hours at the printing house Permild & Rosengreen after a single visit to a local news stall, Fin de Copenhague (1957) was composed using the technique of détournement. The book consists of fragments snatched from other books and magazines in a collage linked by colourful splashes. Intended as a critical engagement with urbanism along with advertising and consumerism, it “satirises gemütlich Europe in general, the author’s native Copenhagen in particular, and Le Corbusier in passing”:

Copenhagen is satirised not only as a seat of ancestral boredoms, and in other standard terms, but also for being a ‘well-planned city’, in the sense of making a pretty pattern of black and green in the planner’s report – only in this case the pretty pattern is produced by applying place-names to patches of mechanical tint superimposed on (apparently) and action-painting that has run.

a spread from Fin de Copenhague (1957)

More: Wikipedia | Situationist map of Denmark

Debord and Jorn’s second collaboration, Mémoires (1959; in English), also employed the latter’s situlogical technique, but is now perhaps best known for its sandpaper cover.

Mémoires (1959)

A founder member of the SI, Jorn resigned in April 1961 believing it had become ineffective, but remained in friendly contact.

In 1960 Jorn’s brother, Jørgen Nash, set up the Situationist Bauhaus, later the Second Situationist International, on Jorn’s farm in southern Sweden. Most famous among their actions was the decapitation of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid in 1964.

Other Scandi SI members included Peter Laugesen (article), friend of Dan Turèll; in his time attracted to the dérive, but expelled in 1963 for refusing to give up poetic practice.

For more on Scandinavian Situationists see the Situ-Research & Archive | Scandinavian Situationism | Cosmonauts of the Future.

Experimental walking today

In 2005 Lonely Planet published a Guide to experimental travel, conceived by Joël Henry (of Latourexsome examples):

Experimental tourism is a novel approach to tourism in which visitors do not visit the ordinary tourist attractions (or, at least not with the ordinary approach), but allow whim to guide them. It is an alternative form of tourism in which destinations are chosen not on their standard touristic merit but on the basis of an idea or experiment. It often involves elements of humor, serendipity, and chance. (Wikipedia)

Here the “imposition of arbitrary restrictions serves to heighten the tourist experience”. It can also heighten the local experience – see Counter-Tourism, A mis-guide to anywhere, Pattern walking, the Temporary Travel Office and Ways to wander, “54 intriguing ideas for different ways to take a walk” collected by Claire Hind and Clare Qualmann.

I have the Lonely Planet guide and stake my claim in that we have often travelled to the end of a metro line for the hell of it. A particularly memorable example was in Istanbul, a world away from the Blue Mosque. It took hours to get back. Sadly I can’t find the website of the group who travel to the end of metro lines in Moscow on the last Sunday in the month, otherwise I’d be there.

On the everyday level my walks more often than not make use of suggestion 15 from the LP guide: Dog’s Leg Travel:

If you don’t normally walk a dog, take one for a walk and be led by what interests the dog.

Ludic performances and tours which “subvert space in creative and exciting ways” abound in the experience economy, with the game often the key element. See Play the City Now or Never |

Meanwhile, is walking (or marching) as political dissent about to make a comeback? On 17 February Senate House Library and the Passage project held a one day conference on Radical walking (more), presenting the historical perspective.

Opening keynoter Katrina Navickas (interview) shook things up a bit on ‘the problem of the flâneur’ and critiquing literary studies’ ongoing obsession with walking:

walking – using the eyes of history to examine the traces and parallels in the past – is an activist practice, and one connected directly with politically activist histories

the flâneur seems to privilege the elite perspective of the landscape viewed from a distance

For me it’s the anonymity of the flâneur (of/in the crowd), the observations and perspectives of the outsider, which appeal (exclusive can also mean excluded) – it’s an explorative tool I use. See also under What gives? in my post on #walkingwomen. BTW Wikipedia on the flâneur is worth a look, not least for “how the same language can differ depending on the location” (source). It’s an intriguing combination of immersion and openness.

But I’m with her on the obsession with nature writing at least.

Next stop: more cultural geography, Doreen Massey.

Oulipo and Perec: writing with constraints about place

Oulipo (Ouvroir de litterature potentielle/Workshop of Potential Literature; Wikipedia), founded in 1960, is a loose gathering of (mainly) French writers and mathematicians who seek to create works using constrained writing techniques.

Members seek out “new forms and structures that may be used by writers in any way they see fit”, founded on the paradoxical principle that through the use of a formal constraint the writer’s creative energy is liberated. The resulting work may be ‘complete’ in itself, but it will also gesture at all the other work that could potentially be generated using that constraint; exhaustion being the ‘necessary corollary’ of potentiality.

More than tricksy gimmicks? Compare the rules of classical tragedy with the poet who writes that which comes into his head…a great Oulipian work is both a statement of what it knows and a gesture toward something infinitely larger than itself – see for example Queneau’s Hundred Thousand Billion Poems, ten sonnets printed on perforated paper.

The French avant garde loves a game, with rules of engagement and an unknown outcome – but for Oulipo it has to be capable of producing valid literary results. The constraint is not an arbitrary choice but a technique adopted to explore, to the point of exhaustion, a subject within its given parameters. It creates an environment in which creation can be helped along – instead of a blank page the Oulipian can begin with a project. The challenge is to find the virtue in the constraint, a seriousness of purpose.

In Oulipo Lite, her essay in The end of Oulipo? Lauren Elkin asks whether its brand of “ludic literary experimentation” pursued through “wit, humor and public performance” has a future. Like a writer’s workshop exercise inspired by a prompt, Oulipian writing today is all too often mechanical and formulaic, even derivative. The group has become inbred, as concerned with archiving its history and carrying on its traditions as making new literature. Has Oulipo exhausted its potential by becoming a societe de spectacle? Or is it an antidote to “writing programs which produce fully competent and easily forgettable books”?

Sources: Oulipo: freeing literature by tightening its rules | The end of Oulipo? An attempt to exhaust a movement

Perec and s/p(l)ace

Anything vaguely Oulipian I’ve encountered up to now has lacked heft, but when it touches on place and space things get more interesting, due in the main to Georges Perec (1936-82; Wikipedia).

One of those irresistible figures (see pieces by Tom Payne and Lauren Elkinthe cat pic), there’s a further personal appeal due to the librarian within me. With temporary jobs in market research giving early experience in classification, Georges worked as a research librarian (“a low-paid position”) from 1961-78. His taxonomies of the everyday “use excess to slip the bounds of realism” (Elkin) and draw attention instead to the infra-ordinary.

His writing goes beyond the merely quirky. See the Gdn’s best of Perec, or this non-exhaustive list:

  • Portrait of a man (1959; rediscovered 1993, published in English 2015)
  • A void (1967; Wikipedia/La disparition) – uses a lipogram, ie the novel does not contain the most common letter (e) in the French language; the missing e, pronounced eux (them) in French, refers to all those (including Perec’s parents) who went missing during WW2; as Dennis Duncan put it on R3’s Free Thinking, the most difficult way to write is without an E, while the most difficult way to live is without the m/paternal
  • The Art and Craft of Approaching Your Head of Department to Submit a Request for a Raise (1968; in lib)
  • Life a user’s manual (La Vie mode d’emploi, 1978; Indy) – ‘to exhaust not the world’ but ‘a constituted fragment of the world’
  • The winter journey (1979) & Winter journeys
  • La Boutique obscure: 124 dreams (Joanna Walsh) – a ‘nocturnal autobiography’
  • on crosswords

In 1974 Perec spent three days on the Place Saint-Sulpice in Paris observing what happens when nothing happens, resulting in An attempt at exhausting a place in Paris (Lauren ElkinKarl Whitney | Jacket2: “a nonambulatory flâneur” | Soundlandscapes: “a contra-flâneur” | Jimmy Lo’s 2010? attempt at re-exhausting the same place | James Riding’s Writing place after conflict: exhausting a square in Sarajevo, forthcoming, on Academia.edu | Mitch Karunaratne in Milton Keynes | writer Tom McCarthy was born OTD).

the Place Saint-Sulpice (3 Jan 2017)

An attempt… is part of Lieux (Places) a grand projet aimed at systematically recording memories and descriptions of twelve Parisian locations over the course of twelve years, one of those self-imposed personal projects which all too easily slide…

Perec

(from Eight glances past Georges Perec, p25)

Perec’s/Perecquian geographies have become a thing, with a conference at Sheffield in May 2016, and his influence is noticeable in much writing about place. Perecquian fieldwork in Copenhagen awaits, with lots more to plunder in the collection Species of spaces and other pieces/Espèces d’espaces (Amazon; Angela Last | Toulisan).

Update, June 2017: the latest issue of Literary Geographies (vol 3 no 1) has a focus on transdisciplinary approaches to Perec, examining the impact of in particular Species of spaces on approaches to space and place in the visual arts, dance and music.

Tempting titbits:

  • home vs not-home, the ambivalence between two different modalities: feeling at home, connected to a place, and feeling not-home, in a place that has to be conquered each time
  • map streets on an x axis and level of alienation/mood on a y axis

Oulipo in Denmark

In 2015 Oulipian Jacques Jouet (article) sent 101 poems to random residents in Aarhus over the course of nine days as part of Fresh Eyes 2015. The poems were published in book form at Fresh Eyes 2016 (På…/En…event | review | another | yet another).

Jouet (RU sure that’s yr name?) is also known for his Poèmes de métro (Subway poems), and once spent 16 hours in the Paris metro on a route taking him through all 490 stops – the CPH metro is rather more limited, however fans/emulators include Martin Larsen (CPH Metrodigte), Danish artist books curator Thomas Hvid Kromann (see arkiv uden titel, ditto in Paris) and Christian Yde Frostholm, author of Paris en brugsanvisning (2013; inspired by Life…) and translator of Espèces d’espaces et al (2016).

In Eight glances past George Perec, his essay in The end of Oulipo?, Scott Esposito is cutting in his critique of the metro poems:

the least pleasurable kind of automatic writing…of little literary value; the quality is so middling that I find it all too believable that Jouet hurriedly jotted them on the train…his conceits are simple, beguiling creations that enable his followers to believe that they too can create literature, just like he does…the only grounds on which the metro poems might be interesting as art is as conceptual art

#FLtranslation: working with translation

Update: more from Translation Studies corner at The translator made corporeal: translation history and the archive, at the British Library on 8 May 2017 (see @translator_2017#translatorcorporeal | website | in Asymptote)…”the tension between certain translated texts needing to look as if they were written in that language, and other situations where texts need, for one reason or another, to look more ‘foreign’” (source)…

Working with translation, started 24 October, four weeks, from Translation Studies in Cardiff’s School of Modern Languages (@cardiffmlang).

What is translation?

Definitions, perceptions, misconceptions…are translators ‘just’ messengers who ferry things across borders? This view is rooted in the history of the word ‘translation’ in English and European languages. Other languages offer different images and metaphors, eg bridging, carrying the sense across, a creative retelling, turning over an embroidery, giving a new life…

Types of translation:

  • interlingual – between languages
    • literal: close to the original; translations rendering each word separately (interlinear) are rare
    • sense-for-sense or free: focus on conveying the sense or meaning, even if the words or ways of expression change; what counts as freely conveying the sense to some people may be criticised as taking too many liberties by others; depends on beliefs, ideologies and ideas about the purpose of the text and its translation
  • intralingual – within the same language
    • shares with translation ‘proper’ the idea of changing form but maintaining meaning and the need to adjust to different audiences and expectations, eg between registers, as in formal and informal speech, or between regional varieties
    • indicative of the richness of perspectives, knowledge and cultures that exist within linguistic traditions (however forgotten; see Robert Macfarlane)
    • language does not just explain but helps generate meanings, create new understandings and bring new energy to familiar entities
    • err…related to editing, eg exercise on translating a parking ticket from technical writing to Plain English (“Your translation should be readable, easily understandable and cover all the points of the source text.”)
  • intersemiotic – moving between different types of language, such as verbal and visual codes; between media or sign systems, when ideas expressed verbally are translated into images and/or movement

Pillar of salt metaphor: a ‘backward gaze’, ie staring at or obsessive working with the text results in something that lacks life.

The dictum that something gets lost in translation further suggests that the ‘imitation’ is inevitably imperfect, with the figure of the translator subordinated to that of the creative author.

The origin of the English word ‘translation’ suggests that translation is about transferring meaning in space. One influential perception is that meaning can be carried over and reach the other language or culture intact:

It’s as though there was some core content that you wrap in paper (ie express in language) and send on its way. At the border the packaging or language is changed but the content remains the same, to arrive untouched at its destination…These images ignore the profound connection between meaning and language as well as culture, and the fact that changing the language may affect meaning itself.

Translators mediate between two sides without taking sides – they are neutral and render information ‘faithfully’. At the same time, as bilinguals having access to information in both languages, translators have always been viewed with suspicion.

Techniques (editing again):

  • substituting words
  • paraphrasing meaning
  • simplifying sentences
  • reorganising information

Cultural translation:

  • creative solutions tailored for a new audience and locale (transcreation or localisation)
  • cultural factors can affect translation, from simple everyday contexts like the social norms associated with drinking coffee to complex phenomena such as localisation
  • translators as ‘cultural mediators’, needing not just linguistic but also cultural knowledge and cultural awareness (always remember to check your own assumptions)
  • professional ethics aim to avoid interferences caused by unconscious bias and assumptions
  • the meanings carried by verbal language (and by visual language or gestures) are coloured by cultural assumptions, social habits, expectations
  • in the 1990s translation scholars proposed what is now known as ‘the cultural turn’ in translation studies; besides Source Text/Language and Target Text/Language we also need to think of Source Culture and Target Culture
  • types of cultural communication:
    • intralingual – a set of behaviours, including language conventions and habits, associated with a particular activity or profession; see also Barack Obama’s ‘anger translator’
    • interlingual – combined with specialist translation, for instance when translating a legal text into the language of a country whose legal system differs substantially from that of the Source Text
    • localisation – eg the American Dream in other locales…localisation is all about the audience; it’s not about the original in itself, it’s about that text making sense and being usable for a particular place and for a particular set of people

Dilemma: when translating material for a publicity campaign for an international company, the translator becomes aware of possible issues due to cultural stereotyping which might negatively affect the reception of the advertisement. – The translator should contact the client and point out the problem. ( In this case the relationship is between client and translator only and discussing the issue will not cause undue interference.)

Who translates?

According to the ITI’s code of conduct, a professional translator should:

  • Only translate into their native language or ‘a language of habitual use’. The translator’s competence in those languages is assessed and certified by the professional body. (Art 4.1.1)
  • Translate in a way that ensures ‘fidelity of meaning and register’, unless they have been specifically required by the client to re-create certain elements of the source culture or context. (Art. 4.1.2)
  • Notify the client if there are errors, omissions or imprecise language in the source text. (Art. 4.1.4)
  • Keep information and material translated confidential. (Art. 3.5.1)

While the terminology used to discuss translation leads us to divide the world along linguistic and national lines (between source and target cultures, source and target language speakers), in our increasingly multilingual and globalised world there are many people who write, think and speak in more than one language but would not see themselves as translators. Languages often co-exist within the same geographical space, the same community. (This is like the Pole who doesn’t watch British TV, he’s Polish…)

Salman Rushdie describes post-colonial subjects and migrants as ‘translated men’, individuals who are forced to live a life ‘in-between’ in the constant negotiation between different languages, conceptualisations of the world and cultural traditions. Multilingual speakers are often oblivious of translation because they themselves live ‘in translation’, forging their identity and relationships in a constant tension between different languages and cultural allegiances.

Being a migrant, an exile, a traveller, makes you aware not only of the multiplicity of linguistic landscapes that surround us but also of the often very concrete examples of the impossibility of translation. When are multilinguals translators – and when does a non-native become a multilingual? Is it ‘interlingual’, ‘intralingual’, ‘translation between sign systems’, ‘cultural translation’ or a mixture of all of them?

Spectators as translators – what happens when you hear a song or listen to a performance in a foreign language? Research on intercultural spectatorship suggests that the response to foreign language performance, be it in the field of music, theatre or film, is never complete non-understanding. Even if we do not understand the language that is spoken in performance, we respond to it in a different way and create a different relationship of meaning. As spectators, we are used to giving meaning not only to sounds and language but to objects, gestures, facial expressions, and put those meanings together to create a story in our own mind. (Or we just like the tune. The ‘meaning’ of a lot of English pop music my partner grew up with was actually about completely passed him by.)

Some discussion of ‘non-native’ translators – see Exploring directionality in translation studies.

Where does translation take place?

Ooh, the spatial turn, you do wonder if it’s compulsory with FutureLearn:

We will look at the relationship between translation and space. Translation is, literally, all around us, whether we see it or not. We encounter it on the pages of books and on our computer screens, on the streets of our cities, in airports, museums and schools. And the way in which we think about the space around us, the way in which we inhabit it, whether we feel at home in it or not, is closely linked with languages and with translation.

We will discuss how translators like to organise their own space, as well as how they are at times forced to work in spaces and places which are less than ideal. And we will discuss how just by looking at the position of text on the page we make assumptions about what is or is not a translation.

The spaces of translation:

  • a book and its pages, in which translation and the original can be both visible or can collapse, one into the other
  • the public space of the museum, in which multiple languages encounter each other
  • a conflict zone, in which interpreters mediate between factions, often in very difficult circumstances
  • on the borders between states, between languages, between cultures
  • inside our nations and inside our increasingly multi-lingual cities (see The city as translation zone)

Linguistic landscapes:

  • the way in which different languages are displayed, mixed, perceived or contested in public spaces
  • the way in which languages face each other, overlap, or mix in multilingual cities
  • polyphonic cities – translation and multilingualism sit side by side, often mixed through forms of ‘translanguaging’
  • translation is not neutral – it changes spaces, it transforms them, and it transforms the way in which we can access space, who can access it, and to what extent; example: gender
  • space is also not neutral –  where do we position something on a page? translation and its original will change the relationship of power between those texts
  • a world in constant movement and mobility, constantly bringing previously disparate and distant ideas, representations and experiences into local frames of references
  • islands and bridges are not the only spatial images of translation (36 metaphors) – translation can also be found within one location, such as one city or even one street where multiple languages co-exist, clash, overlap or are creatively mixed
  • graphic and spatial arrangements, eg parallel texts – most people in the West will instinctively assume that the text which appears before the other is the source text (from top to bottom of the page and from left to right); spatial arrangement is enough to indicate a ‘hierarchy’ of reading

When does non-native become peer translation? Translanguaging – a book written by an author in a language which is not his or her mother tongue (translingual authors often make use of multiple languages in their writing), see also multilingual rock bands.

Key considerations when dealing with space and translation:

  1. Type: what type of translation (or interpreting) is appropriate in a given scenario?
  2. Visibility: how visible (or invisible) is the translation going to be in a specific place, and why?
  3. Location: what are the physical locations in which translation will take place and how can they be adapted, if needed, to ensure that the space is suitable for the activities that are being planned?
  4. Participants: who are the people taking part in the translation process and what is the relationship among them?
  5. Power relationships: are there any power implications in the situation and, if so, how are they going to influence the translation process or its outcomes?
  6. Ethical issues: what are the ethical questions posed by the specific situation in which translation will take place?

Tips:

  • it is essential to think about space when dealing with translation and interpreting
  • always question the assumptions we instinctively make on the basis of spatial arrangements, for instance assumptions about authority, power and originality
  • proximity and distance are important when translating or interpreting, too distant and translation becomes difficult, if not impossible; too close and it may become uncomfortable
  • space arrangements often have implications for privacy when translating and interpreting.
  • in many cases it is important to create a safe space in which translation can take place; how we do this varies from case to case

What is a good translation?

The Big Question: should a translation mirror the style of the source or refer to the style of the target (linguistic description vs social evaluation)? It depends on what the translation is trying to achieve.

The source text model: comparing the profiles

Anecdotes about interesting mistranslations abound, attracting so much attention that it may be easier to explain what a good translation is not than what it actually is. The understanding of quality depends on text and translation types as well as the context: the clients, users, audience and so on.

Some approaches concentrate on the relationship between the source text and the translation, expecting them to be equivalent in meaning and, sometimes, form. To measure how successful the transfer of meaning has been, some scholars suggest analysing the source text first, using criteria borrowed from linguistics such as:

  • the subject matter
  • the communicative situation (who is addressing whom)
  • register (the level of formality)
  • cohesion (logical links within the text)
  • the genre or text function (for example, an informative report vs a persuasive political speech)
  • the argumentative or narrative structure (how the points are made or how a story develops within the text)

The quality can be judged by analysing the translation using the same criteria as for the source text (genre, subject matter, etc.) and then comparing the texts’ profiles. If they are very similar, it’s a good translation; if there are mismatches, it’s not so good. Some models allow departures from the source text if they bring the translation more in line with the preferences and conventions of the target language – a translation that fulfills its purpose in the target language and culture is a good translation, even if it changes the source text.

The user and purpose model: assessing the function

Translation defined by purpose: in privileging the purpose, this approach is interested in the target text and context and a connection to the source text may become secondary. Some people are critical of this, suggesting that if a translation is very far away from the original, it would be misleading to call it a translation. Another point of criticism is that it is not always clear what the ‘function’ should be and whether it has been fulfilled.

A translation brief (from Sonia Colina’s 2015 book Fundamentals of translation (adapted):

brief

Good enough?

In the translation industry this criterion ensures resources are allocated effectively. How long would you expect the translator to spend working on your text, with what level of attention and how much revision? How much do you wish to pay for?

Technology has had a huge impact on how translations are produced to meet tight deadlines and sufficient quality standards. Given the industry focus on efficiency, the use of MT may be acceptable for some ‘quick and dirty’ internal tasks, where the gist matters.

Quality concerns not just the product but also the whole process, from recruitment/the commission, process management via a project manager with a system for handling queries, the scope of revisions depending on the available resources, and the profile and purpose of the project (from sample checks against the source text to a quick skim of the target text for basic readability and typos or a bilingual revision against the original).

Read the target text more than once, each time focusing on other issues such as flow and logic, or spelling and grammar. Consistency is extremely important: from the use of terms, to style, to punctuation. Some clients may prefer a particular house style, i.e. a set of language and editing rules. Other tips for efficient revision include reading on paper and not on screen and having the translation revised by someone else (not the translator).

Further stages of the translation process may involve IT checks (especially for specialised formats), product testing (for example, in game localisation) and client surveys.

However, quality control does not have to be present at every stage – eg a call for voluntary translators may have some quality control at a later stage.

Specialised translation:

  • translating specialised, as opposed to general, content from a field of knowledge (eg medical, legal, scientific, technical)
  • specialised texts tend to contain terms (as opposed to regular words) from the relevant field, as well as abbreviations and acronyms
  • some acronyms have an established target language equivalent, while others may be left in the original language, especially in translations from English, and explained in the target language
  • a key marker of translation quality is to render terms accurately and consistently

Key methods and resources for researching terminology:

  • specialised dictionaries, monolingual dictionaries or lexicons
  • reading about the subject in the source language and the target language
  • consulting specialists and fellow translators (eg on a forum)
  • looking up authoritative translations of similar texts, which show how relevant terms have been translated before
  • online terminological databases
  • translation memories

Sometimes it’s not easy to find an equivalent term – there may be more than one term (one borrowed from another language and one ‘native’)or there may be none. If there is no term in the target language a new term may be introduced through translation, by eg literal translation or calque (a French word for tracing paper), or by borrowing, eg importing the English word.

Specialised translation can sometimes pose cultural problems, as conventions for writing specialised texts vary across languages. For example, in English it’s acceptable to use personal pronouns such as ‘we’ in technical writing. The dominance of English means that Anglophone ways of writing and presenting knowledge exert a huge influence on how specialised texts are translated and written in other languages. The situation is so serious that scholars find non-Anglophone ways of constructing knowledge under threat and warn against ‘epistemicide’, or the killing of knowledge.

Literary translation – favouring fluency?:

  • from experiments in literalism to free adaptations
  • the dominant view among many contemporary publishers is that a well translated book reads naturally and the language flows well, sometimes to the extent of creating an illusion that the book has been originally written in the target language – this rests on the assumption that translation is simply about re-packaging the content in another language
  • “make the narrative read fluently” – making the language idiomatic and natural, so it does not read like a translation;  a good translation is ‘invisible’ (translators are only noticed to be blamed, never to be praised)
  • vs translation as a truly creative process – instead of seeing a translation as a mere copy of an original, we may consider it a text among many texts
  • what about literature that strives for unique ways of expression, sculpting language into shapes unseen before (or just using different effects)? If language in a literary piece is not a transparent container for meaning but instead draws attention to itself, how will such pieces be translated? – many translators and publishers prefer not to experiment too much
  • allowing foreignness – calls for literary translations that bend and inflect the target language, sound foreign and, indeed, read like translations
  • if a text is complicated, ambiguous and challenging, it may be inviting us to pause and see things in a new way or to develop our own interpretations – that complexity should be recreated in translation, even if the resulting text may become even more unusual than the original because of a close or experimental translation
  • eg long sentences should be recreated, even if the target language normally uses shorter sentences
  • translations should signal linguistic and cultural foreignness to expose readers to other cultures (‘foreignising’, making translators more visible and raising their status, making a difference through translation)
  • vs strange sounding texts may appear elitist or scholarly and put readers off; politically progressive translation depends on the context, eg if the source culture has been negatively stereotyped by the target culture, ‘foreignised’ translations could reinforce stereotypes of strangeness, primitivism
  • how to render foreign cultural references – ricotta or cream cheese?
  • good literary translation is about representing others in a responsible way – many dilemmas!

From comment:

Translations: either compare with originals or focus on the target audience and the translation function (as in industry)

Type of translation:

  • specialised – a high degree of accuracy is important
  • literary – opinion is divided:
    • for some people a well translated book or novel or poem will read very naturally as though it had been written in the target language
    • others prefer to know that they’re reading a translation for they like the style to be a bit different or unusual, or they want to see words and concepts from another culture
    • yet others prefer, whatever the message, to represent the source author, and maybe the community that’s depicted in the literary work in a fair way

The myths about translation, that it is easy, that anybody can do it, it’s just a matter of transposing one word for another or perhaps the opposite that it is an impossible task bound to betray and to fail the original every time…How to prepare for translation so that you can perhaps pre-empt some of the difficulties and issues that might come up.

Museums and the experience economy

Update, Mar 2017: the theme of ODM’s Formidlingsseminar 2017 (programme | vids) was Hvad er museerne værd (#MuseetErTilFor) exploring how museums demonstrate their social value. Examples: work with people with Alzheimers (demente) in Den Gamle By, educating the young about democracy at Arbejdermuseet, initiatives for refugees at Nationalmuseet. Day 2 included streams on communication and research…Vestegnen’s very own museum, Kroppedal, has got itself an objects exhibition: 99xVSTGN (objectsarticle | Tingtale catalogue by Harald Voetmann), although Forstadmuseet objected: På besøg på VestegnenBorgmestre: Vi er ikke bare dem med falske øjenvipper)

Update, Sep 2016: on a trip to Hamburg and Ratzeburg we lunched in BallinStadt, Hamburg’s emigration museum (review | another | Politiken), and went photo amok in the Grenzhus Schlagsdorf and Kreismuseum Herzogtum Lauenburg, as well as any number of art galleries on the Ernst Barlach trail…here’s an interesting article on museum locationsAroS has got itself a formidlingscenter, a Danish version/not of the Hamburger Kunsthalle’s Transparentes Museum…the outgoing director of Medical Museion posits The point of museums is to play with material stuff…interesting piece on the National Trust, if tl;dr, and Treasure palaces, a book of essays in which celebrated writers revisit museums, inc Alan Hollinghurst at Thorvaldsens…OH at Crystal Palace Museum: “it’s just things in glass cases”…CPH’s newest museum, Enigma (lives up to its name)…virtuosic essay by Reif Larsen on US county museums, the curation of literary space and Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence…the American Writers Museum opens (story)…

During June and July 2015 I audited Leicester’s Behind the scenes at the 21st century museum MOOC, resulting in a suite of #flmuseums posts. Since then I’ve cast a rather more critical eye on the museums I visit (see Museums and me in Poland) and begun to explore the Danish curatorial scene.

Previously mostly confined to childhood and holidays, in the era of the experience economy museums have moved into a different place. This is not necessarily positive – the refurbishment of what I know as The Museum at Chambers Street in Edinburgh has caused widespread consternation among those who grew up with the goldfish. For many something is lost as museums (like cities) become homogenised.

On my 2014 trip to Embra I noted that the two old art galleries, the portrait gallery and the national gallery, had made some concessions to fashion but maintained a traditional feel. This meant they didn’t feel too dumbed down – it’s a gallery not a visitor attraction, or maybe it can be both? The displays were a little folkelige in places, but we’ll let them off. The Minette display in the portrait gallery was a treat for Jean Plaidy fans. There was also any number of new museums-cum-experiences I’ve never heard of – Museum on the Mound, Dr Neil’s Garden…and the Saltire Heritage Centre in Athelstaneford.

Often it’s the quirk which works – put a newly polished museum experience next to the Cork Butter Museum or the homemade relief maps in the NVA-Museum in Prora, and I know which I prefer. For now the two styles coexist – compare and contrast Helsingør’s achingly trendy Museet for Søfart with the rather more traditional Værftsmuseet.

Museums are playing their role in the spatial turn, with the city/urban museum increasingly de rigueur. A breathless post on the Gehl blog highlights museums “sharing exhibits in the public realm [and] acting as a catalyst for public life” via  events, entertainment, educational programmes, cafés and shops. Opening up facades, improving wayfinding and overall integration plus offering opportunities to linger is seen as key, together with collaboration between institutions – see Copenhagen’s Parkmuseerne and proposed ‘museum island’. Rethink Museums, a project by digital agency MMEx, is charged with exploring ways of rethinking stories in public space. The museum as place, but where’s the art?

Art isn’t always about participation and popularity and relating everything back to us. Museums shouldn’t be, either.

Migration museums are also increasingly a thing, with the Migration Museum Project (article) aimed at creating one for the UK. Eithne Nightingale has visited a number of Danish museums with an immigration focus, including Liebeskind’s Jewish Museum (with Louisiana) and the unlikely Immigration Museum in Farum. It will be interesting to see how the new Museum of Copenhagen tackles this subject – the approach taken by Being a Copenhagener was a bit of a turn-off.

For lurkers, the Organisation Danske Museer‘s programme of events are well amplified (not so though for the Nordisk Museums Forbund’s Dialog- og udviklingsseminar in September 2016, tsk). The vids for #formidling16, an annual seminar held in conjunction with Formidlingsnet (ODM’s digital platform) and Museumsformidlere i Danmark, came up in no short order. MiD’s leader centred around the LCD vs elitism debate, which has a slightly different slant in Denmark, while Pelle Guldborg Hansen (@Peguha), chair of the Danish Nudging Network, expounded on oplevelsens tyranni (the tyranny of experience; basically, research is lacking on the relationship between experience and behaviour, memory and storytelling).

Worth a watch was artist Jesper Rasmussen, who asked whether the elusive formidling (broadly curation and its dissemination) has become an end in itself, more important than content, in the hunt for visitors and coverage. He criticised labyrinthine, dark exhibitions where the lone visitor is passively taken onwards – it’s not possible to discover your own route without a torch. In this scenario objects are reduced to tools in the service of iscenesaettelse (staging/presentation- the story). Instead of making connections or showing something in a new light there’s sensory overload for its own sake, in particular sound, “because we can”. While this can work – for me at the Northern Lights exhibition in Rovaniemi – it’s over-use makes it often plain annoying.

Jesper also highlighted installations as frequently banal, making the objects they present equally banal. Perhaps learning can happen via the senses, creating a mood and a context for the objects, came a comment. It’s like soundmaps and scent maps, the latest way to experience architecture. He also criticised the extensive use of user surveys, paraphrasing Steve Jobs: customers don’t know what they want until they see it.

An SDU seminar on The post-representational museum gave examples of “forms of curating that challenge representation and relate to the concept of the assembly”, with presos discussing the new role of the museum, changed means of communication and the tensions between “knowledge, sensation/affect and agency”. Interesting looking paper by Ida Brændholt Lundgaard (Aarhus) on museums, atmosphere and sense of place, plus presos on a number of projects funded by Velux, including one from Jakob Ingemann Parby (Københavns Museum/RUC; Academia.edu) on Urbaniseringens møder og mennesker. No coverage, sadly.

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