Robert Smithson, who upon taking a walking tour of his hometown of Passaic, New York, encounters such dystopic landmarks as a series of sewage pipes, a car dealership, and a highway construction site. Reflecting on these forces upon the landscape, he thus considers the nature of our society to be one of entropy. He uses an interesting illustration of a sandbox, in which the sand has been equally divided in two within the space, on the one half, the sand is black, and the other white. A child then runs in circles within the sandbox, mixing the sands until a visual state of grey is reached. Were this child to run counter-clockwise equal to his initial run, the sand would not be put back into its original state, but would remain just as muddled. If a film were made of this, it could be shown in reverse, but the material state of the film would disintegrate with time, thus also revealing the lie of media (Smithson, The Monuments of Passaic). Where Smithson may have been linearly trapped is within his consideration of the abstract space of time, and that no matter which way you go, processes of entropy become naturalized. Henri Levebvre considers time not as abstract, but rather as a process that develops relatively, and acquires its absoluteness only in regards to the individual person’s being in the world (Lefebvre, The Production of Space). Time can be considered then, in Levebvre’s terms, as a representation of space, or a conceptualization of space. Here in our world, we mentally divide and compartmentalize time into metrics of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, and History. This is not a fact of time but rather a relative division and framing of a space based on prior knowledge of it. Harvey states that our core consciousness since the Renaissance “rests upon the dichotomy of all reality into inner experience and outer world” (Harvey, Social Justice and the City). Presuming that time and nature are so black and white in the first place, as Smithson does, is perhaps a premature conclusion, a conclusion we have all been trained in, for time is a form of knowledge.
Lefebvre considers the world’s natural, unexplored regions as a global space, an abstract void seeking to be colonized and dominated. Perhaps it would be helpful to consider not that we can create absolute dominance over nature, but rather that dominance itself is an illusion. Dominated space, according to Levebvre, is “closed, sterile, emptied out.” How truly sterile a space can actually be produced? As I walk down a sidewalk and take a moment to glance downward at a slab of concrete pavement; I come across a crack. Several cracks, even. One is sure to have noticed, on occasion, where a tree root’s growth pushes upward from underneath the ground, crumbling the concrete above in a slow, methodical upheaval. A tree is made of wood, and wood is considered to be metabolically softer than rock, of which concrete is made. That is, a tree is made of tree, fleshy and filled with sap, water, and covered in bark skin. A tree can be, in our culture, converted into wood when it is chopped down and divided into a resource; but this is not the ultimate conclusion of a tree, nor a life, but merely an orientation of compartmentalization and division towards life. So a tree’s living, fleshy constitution is able, through its own processes, to utterly confound and dismantle the space of the concrete. Remove all the trees and one can still find a less dramatic example in that of the weeds that grow in the space of a crack in concrete. Grasses and dandelion seeds find their way into the small crevasses of non-porous concrete surfaces, mingle with other dust and soils, find a way to establish roots and grow, eventually spread and through similar processes as the tree, disrupt and dismantle the concrete. In the middle of one nearby street crossing I observed moss in the cracks of the roadway, black from the contaminants that are excreted by automobiles but alive and making for itself a process to grow nonetheless. What does this mean? Lefebvre thinks that nature is slowly disappearing, resilient perhaps, but “it has been defeated, and now waits only for its ultimate voidance and destruction.” Guy Debord quotes Karl Marx as saying, “Men can see nothing around them that is not their own image…their very landscape is alive” (Debord, Theory of the Dérive). Perhaps that is because the landscape is alive, not necessarily in the projected anthropomorphic or phenomenological way that Marx identifies with capitalist systems and ideals of modernity, but in a system of life in which space itself constitutes a type of living body, and no amount of dominance or compartmentalization can utterly destroy it.
Concrete again. Assembled, it form the surface of the world in which we primarily move. It appears and feels cold and impervious, completely covering and dominating the soil beneath. However, in order for concrete to retain it’s imperviousness, it must constantly be replaced and repaved, otherwise the natural processes described prior will actively seek its destruction. It is easy (perhaps lazy) to presume that it will always be repaved. Defining concrete as impervious is to grant it status as representational space, metaphor to the imperviousness that is produced by the absolute space of capitalism. These spaces need not dominate and they thus need not be perpetual, foregone conclusions. Concrete must continually be remade via street cleaning, pothole filling, repaving, and rebuilding. Each minuscule moment of the space is in revolution - the forces of nature, or of society, must constantly be convinced of the prior dominance. Harvey describes Karl Marx’s view of capitalism as “permanently revolutionary…mov(ing) in contradictions which are constantly re-established”. Cell structures of roots slowly develop within the concrete; or perhaps in the form of the Deleuzian rhizome. People must accept one more day, one more hour of repression and injustice, but perhaps slightly, even minutely, they are progressively less inclined to do so. There is as much possibility that at some point in this circuitous loop, it will not be allowed to repeat. This would imply that to change life then, we must change space, but I wonder if this is necessarily so.