Keith Hart on Fri, 24 Mar 2006 13:50:32 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> The Sudden Stardom of the Third-World City

I think Rana is right to insist that her polemnical essay was concerned 
with the depiction of Third World cities in recent western films, not 
with the sociology of an actual 'planet of slums' (Davis). Yet perhaps 
there was an implicit triumphalism in her notion that this might 
represent an unconscious recognition that 'the west' is on the slippery 
slope to oblivion or at least to a situation where we can no longer 
expect to run the world economy as a source of massive unearned income.

I recall Gandhi's visit to London in 1931 when, faced with the appalling 
housing conditions of London's East End, he declared that imperialist 
ideology was hiding from England's working class that their conditions 
of living were lower than those of the average Indan peasant.

But I truly wonder where Benjamin got the material for his riposte:

>I think you have a point about Westerners' changing perceptions, but
>perhaps you ought to have mentioned the vast gulf between those
>commodified images and the ways many who live in third-world
>megacities perceive their own environment: not as a vibrant,
>irrepressible source of unlimited creativity, but as a prison to which
>they resign themselves or from which they long to escape.  The lack of
>clear rules and the labyrinth of informal, parallel economic and
>political systems, with their merciless logic of nepotism and bribery,
>ruling over masses of disposable people, tend to breed Kafkaesque
>despair rather than the thrill of unfettered, improvised ingenuity.
>Perhaps this helps explain why, in those countries where popular
>movements have been most successful, as in Bolivia's recent elections,
>they seem to have relied heavily on the mobilisation of rural

All this stuff about prisons and longing for escape is pure ideology. Do 
you know any people who live under these conditions, Ben? Where do you 
get your information on Bolivian politics?The Guardian?

Rana's essay was a provocation, a line, if you like. I happen to think 
that Mireilles' Constant Gardener was a more vivid and realistic 
depiction of urban life in Africa than Sauper's nightmare documentary on 
how everything is dying there. But the main point of Rana'spiece is how 
is the America and Europe coming to terms imaginatively with the 
slippery slope? The depiction of city life there in stereotypically 
negative terms is precisely what you would expect from people in denial 
about this momentous historical transition. Extermninate all the brutes, 
I say.(See Sven Lindqvist).

Keith Hart

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