Experimental Geographies

"There is tenderness only in the coarsest demand: that no-one shall go hungry any more" – Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (1974: 156)

W.J.T. Mitchell on the “Arts of Occupation”

In a recent issue of Critical Inquiry, W.J.T. Mitchell examines the particular image (or imaginary) that, in his view, links the Occupy Movement to the Arab Spring. The article is well worth a read even if I have strong reservations about the author’s reading of contemporary art in the second half of the paper. In particular, the author’s turn to the work of Antony Gormley as a point of departure for re-thinking “the problem of public art and the occupation of public space” is, it seems to me, deeply unsatisfying (though his reading of Wallinger’s State Britain is spot on). Setting aside for the moment some of my reservations towards the Occupy Movement, Mitchell does nevertheless make some important (if perhaps unremarkable) observations. I’ve included some select quotes below.

On the figure of occupation: “The figure that circulates globally, that embraces both Tahrir Square and Zuccotti Park, and has perhaps been overlooked because it is hiding in plain sight, is the figure of occupation…” (9)

Occupation as tactic/rhetorical device: “It is directly linked to the trope of occupatio, the tactic of anticipating an adversary’s arguments by preempting them, taking the initiative in a space where one knows in advance that there will be resistance and counterarguments.  In the context of the rhetoric of public space, occupatio is, as the original meaning of the word reveals, the seizure of an empty place, one that is supposed to be res nullius, not owned by anyone, not private property. It is a demand in its own right, a demand for presence, an insistence on being heard, before any specific political demands are made; a demand that the public be allowed to gather and remain in a public space. But the demand of occupatio is made in the full knowledge that public space is, in fact, pre-occupied by the state and the police, that its pacified and democratic character, apparently open to all, is sustained by the ever-present possibility of violent eviction..”.(9-10)

On occupatio, the Occupy Movement and the production of a space of plentitude “The Occupy movement is a dramatic performance of the rhetoric of occupatio. It refuses to describe or define in any detail the world that it wants to create, while showing this world in its actual presence as a nascent community. It renounces the demand that it make specific, practical demands, while opening a space in which innumerable demands can be articulated” (10).

Occupation as parodic mimesis: “Occupy performed an uncanny repetition and parodic mimesis of a preexisting condition, namely, the occupation of the world by a global system that has oppressed and impoverished the vast majority of the world’s population and degraded the environment at the same time” (12).

IMAGE: Eric Drooker/StreetPosters.org

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2 comments on “W.J.T. Mitchell on the “Arts of Occupation”

  1. urbanculturalstudies
    December 13, 2012

    Reblogged this on urbanculturalstudies.

  2. Pingback: Mitchell, Harcourt and Taussig on Occupy | Progressive Geographies

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