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o say that I enjoyed the commentaries by Andrew Shmuely, Jesse Proudfoot and Mark Davidson would be a gross understatement. Truth is I am moved, and more than impressed, by the thoughtful and carefully formulated readings they provide. Highly nuanced, their remarks could be left to speak for themselves, especially as they show a sensibility to the text that commands my deepest respect. Still, I will briefly comment on the main points of their critiques: the absence of a political-economical perspective; the problem of de-historicisation; the overemphasis on the figure of Dionysus.
Starting with Davidson’s and Shmuely’s (and also Proudfoot’s) point that in my analysis of urban planning I tend to underplay the political-economical perspective. I agree. It is indeed problematic, or at least controversial, to speak of these matters without mentioning the issues of financing, because money undoubtedly shapes the planners’/architects’ acting space. Shmuely is quite right when he observes that in my book I give to these professionals “both too much and not enough agency”. Let me nevertheless emphasise that it was never my intention to assess the size of the planners’/architects’ acting space, nor to paint a “true” (i.e. objective) picture of current urban planning as it is today. Instead I tried to follow the practice of psychoanalysis and pursue my insights in a certain direction; the point is that aspiring to the conflicted truth of the planning profession means something different than being objective. Thus, it was by going to extremes that both Nietzsche and Freud created insights into a few but fundamental aspects of the incessantly complex human psyche. Likewise I too found exaggeration to be a most useful tool for understanding the thoughts-and-actions of planners/architects – their basic rules of reasoning, their possible origins as well as their felt effects. I am not saying that the reviewers ignore or criticise this ambition, quite the contrary. But important things may (perhaps should) be stressed more than once.
Now to the issue of historicism, Shmuely’s central concern. I agree that it is problematic to de-historicise the architect, the flâneur and the city itself. However, for my purposes of critically understanding rather than empirically describing, I deemed it necessary to do so. In particular I felt compelled to defend the desire for the poetry of the urban, which is related to, but quite different from, our needs of the various functions of the city. This was important because in the Swedish planning debate it has been claimed that we do not have to mourn the loss of a real, traditional city or public space, since our needs are not the same now as in the nineteenth century. After all we have refrigeration so we don’t need to shop every day, we have the Internet so we don’t have to leave our homes to meet strangers. A reasonable argument that nevertheless upsets my romantic spirit and passionate attitude towards urban life. Although I knew I was not alone in identifying with the flâneurs of yesterday, it was most encouraging to read Shmuely’s reflections.
I now turn to Proudfoot’s feeling that I place too much hope in Dionysus and in the idea that his example will help us solve the problem of alienation/boredom. Once again I agree and I want to thank Jesse for his insightful discussion. There is indeed much to say about this fascinating topic, but let me merely stress how skeptical I am towards talking about solutions in the first place. I know I’m not fully consistent in my pessimistic view of planning – I do touch upon possible solutions in the book –, but there is no doubt that I am deeply inspired by the Olssonian view of planning as a human activity steeped in predicament:
“We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t” (Olsson, 1980: 11e).
As to Proudfoot’s observation that “despite the book’s overtly psychoanalytic disposition, it is in fact Nietzsche’s influence that resonates most prominently,” I strongly agree. As proof it might be mentioned that the book’s Swedish title – Planerat, alltför planerat (Planned All Too Planned) – is an allusion to Nietzsche’s Human All Too Human. The subtitle has been slightly changed as well, the original En perspektivistisk studie i planeringens paradoxer (A Perspectivistic Study in the Paradoxes of Planning) turned into A Psycho-Analytical Perspective. From beginning to end a demonstration of Freud and Nietzsche intertwined – and of dialectics as the outstanding mode for understanding the inherently contradictory phenomena that lie at the heart of the social sciences.
Finally, Davidson’s interesting and perceptive remarks about honesty, scholarship and today’s academia, a reflection that moved me deeply and for which I am most grateful. As he observes, my book embodies a disregard of what is considered strategic for getting on in academia. Had I followed the normally recommended route I would have written many short papers instead of a book, breaking up the five-year process of thinking into shorter “projects”. All, however, with the sad consequence that I would have learned less from the experience. I would nevertheless be lying if I did not admit that the contemporary academic climate – condensed in the motto publish-or-perish – is affecting me too. Since I defended my dissertation (essentially the Swedish version of the book now under discussion) I have lived through periods of both unemployment and intense application writing, and as of today I don’t have a permanent position. As most academics (employed as well as unemployed) are well aware, today’s political-ideological climate has significant effects on the choices we make as researchers.
Neoliberalism – shortly defined as the act of putting economic rationality at the forefront in nearly all spheres of society and life – not only affects the lives of our cities, but also the lives of researchers of cities. Educational philosopher Riyad A. Shahjahan (2015) has illustrated how today’s dominant notion of time in higher education colonises our bodies. To be precise, “[i]n the neoliberal academy, time is meant to be used to accumulate grants, publications, and patents, as well as to improve teaching evaluations, and structure service commitments: these are marks of a ‘good academic citizen’. … The proper use of time has become a measure of moral character” (Shahjahan, 2015: 492). These internalised temporalities have exclusionary effects on particular bodies and selves. Someone who thinks slowly but thoroughly, thoroughly but slowly, may even begin to consider herself lazy. And laziness is perhaps seen as the biggest sin in today’s academia.
This problem goes right to the heart of what we regard as knowledge – a topic most central to my book; mind-centered epistemologies are by definition relegating “other sensorial modes of knowing to the periphery. As such, our bodies as ways of knowing are rendered invisible” (Shahjahan, 2015: 494). The course that academia has taken is deeply problematic, not least to those of us who share the Nietzschean insight that the body is “the mind’s corrective” (Olsson, 2007: 102).