Schismotopia Diagram

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February 11, 2020 - 9:19am

Critical Commentary

This diagram represents an attempt to think semiotically about "place" in Austin in terms of thirds (Kockelman 2010), of a relation to a relation (Serres 1982), and as a process of trito-order learning (Bateson 1987). Aucoin (2017) emphasizes the analytic distinction between “space” and “place” where the former is understood as a medium that can be materially, structurally, or symbolically altered to take on certain meanings for different groups. The latter, by contradistinction, is defined by how a space is lived or, to be more precise, how it “comes into being through human experience, dreaming, perception, imaginings, and sensation, and within which a sense of being in the world can develop” (Aucoin 2017, 396). This distinction creates a useful binary to think with but, as toxics often elude binary thinking (Fortun 2011), I place this dialectic relation in relation to another.

Lefebvre’s now classic triadic model of social space made use of its perceived, conceived, and lived dimensions. Using this model, space, in Aucoin’s sense, can be further broken down into a dialectic between Lefebvre’s first two dimensions: the perceived and the conceived. These dimensions were derived from the structural linguistic notions of signified and signifier. But, as a Marxist humanist committed to developing theory of political practice, Lefebvre bristled at this linguistic approach’s denial of the revolutionary potential of art and other non-linguistic forms of meaning and signification. He therefore introduced “lived space” as a third term that set the dialectic off balance and allowed for temporality and difference to be incorporated into spatial structure.

While this “third term” does indeed create room for politics, given our focus on toxicity, I am interested in how these relations can become progressive in ways that are deleterious. I will put forth that place, or the lived dimension of space, does not simply emerge in relation to either the perceived or the conceived, or in equal relation to both; it is not simply triadic, but rather a third. That is, place is a subjective phenomenon that emerges, phenomenologically, through collective relations to the relationship between the ontological and the discursive dimensions of social space.

For a closer look at a breakdown of the concepts that build up to Schismotopia, see this photo essay.