21 December 2013


'Atmospheres of Law: Senses, Affects, Lawscapes' by Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos in (2013) 2(6) Emotion, Space and Society is described by the author thus -
 In this article, I deal with airs and sounds and scents, while keeping an eye on the law. My field of enquiry is the interstitial area between sensory and affective occurrences, namely sensory experiences that are traditionally thought to be a causal result of external stimuli, and affective experiences that are mostly associated with emotional changes and generally allude to something internal. I am arguing that there is no constructive difference between internal and external origin of occurrences. In its stead, I suggest the concept of atmosphere, namely an attempt at understanding affective occurrences as excessive, collective, spatial and elemental. However, it quickly becomes apparent that an atmosphere is legally determined. The law controls affective occurrences by regulating property of sensory stimulation. At the same time, the law guides bodies into corridors of sensory compulsion - an aspect of which is consumerism in capitalist societies. The law achieves this by allowing certain sensory options to come forth while suppressing others, something which is particularly obvious in cases of intellectual property protection that capture the sensorial. I deal with the law in its material, spatial manifestation and in particular through what I have called the ‘lawscape’, namely the fusion of space and normativity. I employ a broadly Deleuzian methodology with insights from radical geography, affective studies, urban and critical legal theory in order to develop and link the various parts of the text.

From there it is on to -
Simply put, the lawscape is the epistemological and ontological tautology of law and the city (Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, 2007b, 2008). The neologism risks making the use of individual terms redundant. A city without law is a holy city of justice, perpetually floating in a post-conflict space where everything is light and forgiveness. Likewise, a law without a city is a law without materiality, an abstract, universal, immutable law that trammels the globe. Both the above are fantastic beasts that operate at best as horizon and at worst as cheap rhetoric. Think of the horizon of justice as a justice always-to-come, a messianic justice that demands present calculation (Derrida, 1992). Law is needed in the calculation part. After that, and once justice has been achieved (if ever), the law recedes for a well-deserved rest, since it becomes superfluous when the city is just. The law only emerges in conflict, in quest (for justice), and in need to capture the future. A just city, however, has captured time itself, engraved it right here, onto the surface of its urban sprawl. A just city is a theological concept and cannot accommodate anything that falls sort of divinity (contra Fainstein, 2010). Likewise, law as an abstract universal that is free from the constraints of matter and space is one of the illusions law (and some existing legal theory) insists on maintaining. Law as control is by definition material and more specifically spatial, for it is only through its very own emplaced body that the law can exert its power. Law comes from within the controlled, their bodies of appearance and their corridors of movement, as post-colonial theory has taught us (Bhabha, 2005). This is more than just biopolitical control, since it addresses the material nature of the law itself. To posit a law without a city is tantamount to positing, say, a universal human right that applies to everyone, without the need for contextualisation, namely that supreme need for closing in and eavesdropping on this particular body’s specific circumstances. For clarification’s sake, I should mention that by law I understand both standard law and regulation, as well as the generalised diffused normativity that characterises life - what Spinoza (2007) has called “rules for living”. This includes human and other bodies as well as objects. Just as a body, an object is already functionalised, normalised, never independent of its normative position in the world. The law is an expansive institutional affect that permeates the formal and the informal. What is remarkable, however, is that the latter diffused form of normativity exhibits the paradox of appearing both as a corporeally embedded preference for individual self-preservation, and a feature compliant with the current surveillance and control culture. This sense of normativity takes few risks and delegates conflict resolution to what it considers to be higher levels of judgement-making  -  indeed, to go back to Spinoza, a sort of guardian authority that pursues efficiently the individual interests of its subjects. The phenomenon of the “nanny state” is both an anathema and a desire, a direct result of which is the perceived political apathy. It is not all bleak though. This is a comfortable sense of normativity that covers specific needs, such as issues of belonging, constructions of home and community, as well as emplacement. It is, properly speaking, a product of its own spatiotemporal conditions, and as such it manages to make itself invisible and neutral, to recede from the surface and conceal its force. This works both ways: legal subjects recede from actively questioning the law (complacency or reassurance), and the law recedes from claiming a role in the construction of the everyday. This does not mean that the law is not there  -  simply that it is not perceived as being constantly there. This is a strategic move that aims at diffusing and dissimulating the force of law, offering instead a smooth, anomic atmosphere. Even so, things can on occasion overflow, exceed themselves and embark upon a flight of radical self-redefinition. In such cases, the already ‘contagious’ (in the sense of epidemic imitating, see Tarde, 1903) nature of the normative doubles up and becomes rapid, horizontal and fiery, engendering such eruptions as demonstrations, revolts, revolutions, coups. In all these cases, the law does not leave the stage. It is merely supplemented by a different normative direction and sometimes a higher velocity.
With city I understand the thick spatiality of bodies (humans, non-humans, linguistic, spatial, disciplinary), buildings, objects, animals, vegetables, minerals, money, communication, silence, open spaces, air, water, and so on. This spatiality is a fractal manifestation of what I have elsewhere called ‘open ecology’ (Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, 2011), namely the assemblage of the natural, the human, the artificial, the scientific, the political, the economic and so on, on a plane of contingency and fluid boundaries, or as Andrea Brighenti puts it, “a series of territories, which can be thought of as superimposed.or mutually exclusive.or even criss-crossed and overlapping” (2006: 80). The open ecology of the city is simultaneously open and closed. Hinterlands, globe, outer space, hybrid technohumans, technologically manipulated meteorological phenomena ‘and so on’ (see Anna Grear’s 2011 collapse of the anthropomorphic effigy) are all grounded on the urban materiality of here, itself open to any definition of materiality may come from over there. Thus, while infinite, open ecology is entirely immanent. Any transcending movement is inscribed within, in the recesses of the unknowable here. There is nothing that is not, actually or virtually, included in open ecology. And nothing that is not, actually or virtually, connected to everything else in some form of connection that enables everything to become everything else. This is a processual rather than value-based ecology and, to quote Deleuze and Guattari (1986: 4), “we make no distinction between man and nature: the human essence of nature and the natural essence of man become one within nature in the form of production of industry”. Instead of a distinction, a fractal fluctuation between human/artificial and natural. Instead of one city, an infinite multiplicity that repeats itself as difference. The lawscape therefore operates as a surface on which the open normativity of the law and the open ecology of the city emerge. Yet it does not constitute a new unity. The surface of the lawscape enables the reciprocal dissimulation of lawand the city. Thus, in the lawscape, the city sheds its asphyxiating normativity just as the law sheds its ever-present materiality. Law and the city are mutually exclusive in their emergence, thus dissimulating and diffusing the oppressive nature of the lawscape. In that way they can both carry on with their self-perpetuating myths, such as the city as an accueil of difference and the breeding ground of communitarian nostalgia, and of the law as a universal good that has the potential of universalising values such as right and wrong. Some elements remain, however. First, the inescapable lawscape. Wherever one is in the city (and arguably beyond it, in its global hinterlands), one swims with and against the various normative flows that constitute the materiality of its lawscape. Second, the posthuman lawscape. Defining the city as a slice of open ecology means that the lawscape lies beyond such distinctions as human/natural/artificial (Wolfe, 2009). Third, the fractal lawscape. While each lawscape is different, they all fractally repeat the reciprocally invisibilising embrace between open normativity and open ecology. There is no global lawscape that operates as a semantic and material common surface for the totality of cities, yet there is a plane of immanence, not unlike the earth or nature as Deleuze and Guattari put it (1986). This plane trammels the lawscapes like a line of flight, namely an internal movement that begins and ends within the plane of immanence yet pushes the edges of this plane always further. An example of such a line of flight would be the creative or competitive edge of any city that wants to attract the globe and that, by placing itself alongside other cities, manages to develop creatively its own potential.
For fans of Theory Bingo we have Bhabha, Deleuze, Derrida, Guattari, Lyotard, Sloterdijk and Virilio.