Death to the Home: War

EDIT: Ok, due to a complaint over my craptastic blog writing-style expression, I have rewritten/restructured this post so it makes more sense.

Sydney is going to need a mobility paradigm shift to sustain productivity and quality of life for the majority of its inhabitants. The current automobile-centric culture of mobility is — quite simply — unsustainable in the long run. As I have touched on elsewhere this is a very complex issue (in response to the anti-V8 laws, unsustainable cultures of automobility, problematics of hoon-centric governmental policies, etc). To come at it from the side, a useful way to think about the problem of mobility in cities organised around neo-liberal economies is in terms of scales of mobility. This breaks the hegemonic grip of centre-periphery geographies of habitation currently dominant in Australian cities. It recasts the debate by thinking about mobility on the scale of an individual’s lifetime rather than the popularist problem of everyday mobilities required to facilitate the current hegemonic geographies of habitation.

This is a change in my thinking as I am beginning to realise that problems of mobility cannot be addressed unless the structural problems (by ‘structural’ I mean instantiations of social structure or structurations that have a duration beyond normative human frames of temporality) are properly addressed. So I need to account for geographies of habitation. By this I mean I need to address the problem of technologically and architectually embodied constellations of affect that express a territory, which we call ‘home’. To dislocate this connection is the radical inverse of the argument forwarded by David Suzuki. It flies in the face of his argument that: “[The spiritual conection to home] is not foolish nostalgia but a hint of a new spiritual relationship with our homes that is of far greater value than anything economic.” The maintenance of ‘home’ does indeed reproduce economic stratifications and preposterous regimes of mobility/habitation. The problem is that such structurations of materially-embodied affect exist within a temporal series that exceeds the human. ‘Home’ is a reproduction that does not just resonate within a single lifetime, but exists across generations. ‘Home’ on different scales, from suburb to city to state to nation, that demands a fidelity from its constituent population to reproduce the constellation of affects that express a territory. Instead of a lifetime of mobility we need to cultivate a mobile life.

What do I mean by constellations of affect expressing a territory? J. Macgregor Wise on milieu, home and territory:

As practised, our life-world is flooded by the variant radiance of the milieus. Each milieu opens up onto others; indeed, it is these connections with other milieu beyond the immediate place that give the markers their resonance – ‘the identity of place is in par t constructed out of positive interrelations with elsewhere’ (Massey, 1994: 169). An encountered photograph glows with memories (though not necessar ily nostalg ia) of experience, of history, of family, friends. What creates that glow is the ar ticulation of subject (homemaker) to object (home-marker), caught up in a mutual becoming-home. But that becoming opens up onto other milieus, other markers, other spaces (distant in space and/or time). One’s apar tment opens up onto a distant living room in a house far away, or onto a beach with those waves. But it not only ar ticulates with a then (memory-space), but nows (that building has been pulled down, he’s now living in Phoenix, she’s in law school). The milieu opened up to is not just memory, not just the ‘real’, but also imagined places (where one has never been, photographs of objects that never existed, at least in that way). And it is not just photographs that open up in this way (see Bar thes’ Camera Lucida), but all marker s. A small . gurine – a Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god – sits on the shelf above my desk. Its milieu-radiance comes from associated meanings (Ganesha helps one overcome obstacles, an empowering reminder while at work), a childhood in New Delhi, my father who purchased the idol, and so on. No space is enclosed, but is always multidimensional, resonant and open to other spaces.
What creates the territory is an accretion of milieu effects. Each milieu affects the space, bends it, inflects it, shapes it. Compound these effects, but then make these effec ts expressive rather than functional (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 315): The resultant space is the territory. Territories are more bounded; milieu markers are arranged to close off the spaces (even while they themselves open up onto others), to inflect a more common character on that space. ‘An open system integ rates closure “as one of its local conditions” (closure enables, without preceding, “the outside”): and closure and openness are two phases in a single process’ (Morr is, 1996: 393, following from Massumi, 1996). Terr itor ies are not milieus. ‘A territory borrows from all the milieus; it bites into them, seizes them bodily (although it remains vulnerable to intrusions). It is built from aspects or portions of milieus’ (Deleuze and Guattar i, 1987: 314). A territory is an act, territorialization, the expression of a terr itory. The car with its rhythm, discussed earlier, creates a terr itory when the space it moves through does not just react to it, but when the car and its music expresses something. Though some objects are unique in the resonance they provide (the only photograph of a great-grandparent, a cherished childhood toy), what is most impor tant for the milieu is the effect of the object rather than the object itself, the effects on the space. In terms of terr itory, what is impor tant is how the object expresses (e.g. a home). So one might rid oneself of all one’s possessions each time one moves, but might recreate a similar space, a similar home, with a similar feel (a sense of light, of leisure, of tension) in the next place, drawing around oneself an expressive space from a var iety of markers and milieus. One makes oneself at home (and, indeed, is often asked to do just that).

The 1970s Autonomous movement in Italy developed from a working class defined by its mobility (see the excellent intro to Virno’s Grammar of the Multitude (online), and my rambling musings on Negri’s ideas in Time for Revolution). The response to the power of a mobile working population — a population that could change jobs to seek out the best working conditions — are the regimes of ‘flexible’ and ‘casualised’ labour in which most people I know currently find themselves. There is a parallel between mobile workers and mobile ‘inhabiters’. In fact, this can be traced back to the pre-capitalist land-owning aristocracy. It is a war that should be reinstigated.

There is a divide between what some call the asset-rich and asset-poor. From the perspective of job insecurity, Mel Gregg has discussed this problem on her blog, but I think she is coming at it from wanting to belong to the ‘asset-rich’ category. Not that there is any problem with that :). What I am interested in is breaking the hegemonic grip this mode of habitation (and lifestyle) has on the Australian imaginary particularly in articulations of ‘home’. Traditionally such problems have been discussed in purely geographical terms, ie of density of habitation. However, this only addresses one aspect of the Australian dream of having a house in the suburbs.

By increasing my macro-scale mobility (long and intermediate term temporal scales) I can not only decrease my small temporal scale (short term) mobility on the scale of the everyday, but I can work towards breaking the hegemonic grip the ‘assest-rich’ have on habitation reproduced as sedimented affects of territory in the ‘home’. The solution is not to ‘own your own home’ but for everyone to own a house that is rented out to somebody else. There are many problems with this approach I am advocating, in fact it would involve much sacrifice, but so does any war.

A strict focus on automobility and the system of automobility is taking the question of mass mobility in the wrong direction. However, any wholesale change to the way mobility is facilitated in contemporary Sydney society has to come from the grass-roots ground-up. One possible solution I would be lobbying for would be to introduce a ‘youth fare’ for public transport. Make it exactly half the price of adult fares. Two reasons for this.

Firstly, the only way to make sure people don’t die on the road is not to have them there. Obvious. This introduces a whole lot of other problems regarding violence on public transport, etc. Simple response to this problem is to ask the question: How many people died/injured on public transport compared to the roads and road users?

Second, to produce a culture that relies on mass transport systems for mobility means there has to be a culture enveloping it. There is no culture of mass mobility at the moment, not for most people in Sydney anyway. For example, Sweden has such public transport fare pricing. As well as our child, student/concession and full fares, they have a ‘youth fare’ that can be purchased until the day you turn 26. By the time people hit 26 they have already organised their lives around a use of public transport as have most of their friends. Most of the people I got to know in Sweden did not drive. Actually only one person out of about 50 had their license. Even ‘Mr A’ the executive producer of the Getaway in Stockholm series of films (who I interviewed) does not have a license! This subtle change in fare pricing could bring about wholesale changes in not only cultures of mobility, but in corresponding geographies of habitation.

Sydney is not Stockholm, and the sprawling suburbs of Sydney would not benefit, at least not in the short term, from a reduced ‘youth fare’. This is simply because the public transport system servicing the intermediate and outer suburbs is shithouse. I know this because of my brain-snapping three-train and one bus two-hour trips from Harris Park to Bankstown when I was tutoring at the UWS campus there. The only reason there would be no benefit to those implicated in the current situation is due to the geographies of habitation and forms of mobility that service these (centre-periphery) geographies. If a better option became available (much cheaper public transport for youth) then I think you would slowly see a change in geographies of habitation. Intermediate and large-scale time frames of mobility (moving house, moving jobs, moving cities, etc) would increase to decrease small-scale mobilities facilitated on everyday temporalities.

I am talking about something much more radical and yet so very simple. An example. My real estate agent miscalculated recently when he attempted to put my rent up. I view the concept of the ‘home’ as an outdated romantic myth that people like me — a postgrad and probably someone who will continually be ‘on the move’ for most of their working life — cannot hold. The idealised Australian imaginary of owning one’s ‘home’ is simply nonsense for people like me. However, this does not make me sad for some lost myth that I never had. The power of my mobility means that I can simply uproot when my real estate agent wants to increase the rent. No arguments, no explanations. Beyond the fact I will not let my relative sedimentation and rootedness become commodified. Or, better, I refuse to let my reactionary desire to (conservatively) maintain constellations of affect expressed as territory so it can be overcoded by capital. My ‘home’ would implicate me in a libidinal-political economy of habitation in which I am exploited. Someone said to me recently they hated people with mortgages. She already has a place, so I dismissed her argument out of hand. However, now I understand how the non-privileged (so-called asset-poor) can resist rather than simply dismiss.

Refuse it. To war!

Death to the HOME!