Profaning the (advertising) city: subvertising, common use and the potential of chaos

Authors: Thomas Dekeyser*, University of Southampton
Topics: Urban Geography, Geographic Thought, Cultural Geography
Keywords: advertising, urban space, Agamben, commons
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Bacchus, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The protagonist in Friedrich Nietzsche’s novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra proclaims that ‘one must still have chaos in oneself in order to give birth to a dancing star’. But he is quick to add: ‘Beware! The time approaches when human beings will no longer give birth to a dancing star.’ With this statement, Nietzsche predicts an obsession with fixity and order in which much is lost and forgotten, in which chaos, as pre-condition of (self-)transformation, is smoothed out to the point of depletion. Can we think of urban spatial hegemony as an expression of Nietzsche’s prediction, exerting its power in the guise of a ‘natural’ order and cleanliness?

In this paper, I draw on fieldwork with subvertisers (those illegally intervening into outdoor advertising space), to suggest that a particular ideal of urban space, that of a ‘regime of order’, is folded into the hegemonic spatial management of urban life by advertising actors. This 'regime' relies on separating worlds from common use, that is, on what Agamben (2007) has phrased 'consecration'. As an operation of ‘profanation’ (ibid.), on the one hand subvertising makes visible the ‘natural’ appearance of this urban regime, on the other hand it enacts highly temporary ‘placeholder forms for the commons to come’, in ways that exceed pre-fabricated systems of urban difference (Berlant, 2016: 408). Here I trace the alternative relationalities to urban space actively cultivated by subvertisers, and their insistence on taking seriously the affective charge of a disorderly city of excess, surprise, contestation and expanded social expressiveness.

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