Sunday, November 16, 2008

Spatial dimensions and overheard conversations

"the words of built space, or at least it substantives, would seem to be rooms, categories which are syntactically or syncategorematically related and articulated by the various spatial verbs and adverbs - corridors, doorways, and staircases, for example - modified in turn by adjectives in the form of paint and furnishings, decoration, and ornament .... Meanwhile, these 'sentences' - if that indeed is what a building can be said to 'be' - are read by readers whose bodies fill the various shifter-slots and subject-positions; while the larger text into which such units are inserted can be assigned to the text-grammar of the urban as such" (Jameson 105).

If you know me, you'd know that such examinations of the textuality of space really enthrall me, and caused me to pause my rigorous reading of Jamesons' mammoth text, to sit back and examine the text of my own surroundings. If we're to render the space a text, however, we would have to examine the actual text that exists in these surroundings - namely, overheard conversations of my particular location.

Sitting in Panera, Jameson's lecture on the capitalist notion of post-modernism as it relates to space and architecture is remarkably telling. Panera's text is an incredibly sumptuous and inviting one - yet one that speaks to that certain economic bracket that is a step above fast-food, and, perhaps, a step below the average sit-down gourmet restaurant (after all, Panera is anything but dimly lit). The menu speaks to those who wish to eat healthily, which unfortunately, in our consumption-driven society, speaks once again to a higher financial bracket. Strange, how health becomes a commodity. If the text of the place, and its advertising, invites a certain financial bracket of capital wealth, this might be reified in the conversations I've overheard while sitting silently in the corner, munching on my four-cheese egg souffle and whole-grain bagel, sipping on my coffee.

At one table, a family of four (man and woman, of course, with two children), were visiting with who appeared to me extended family. All well-dressed (must have just come straight from church - amazing how church-dress exhibits its own examples of capitalist commodification...). A few things overheard, regarding Christmas:
Wife: "I need to get some new shoes" (shoes current state of shoes)
Extended relative: "Oh! Yes, you do!"
Wife: "I've had them fixed once before, but I don't think they'll last much longer"
Husband: "And we just went to Harold's to find some - can you imagine some of the prices on those shoes? And I consider myself having a decent job!"

At another table, I noticed two women discussing church matters, and they even prayed over their food. Their conversation seemed to center on helping some person with one thing or another. Now, I'm not against religion. I'm not against church. I'm a spiritual person, and try to go to church when I'm able. So allow me to attempt this into an objective critique, relating to the spatial implications of the clientele. They are extremely well dressed, and the tone of the conversation allowed me to speculate that they occupied a privileged place in society. The religious connotation of Jameson's concept of po-mo and capitalism sends my mind spinning at this point. I just overheard "The church told him 'we're not getting enough new people, so you're out of here'," regarding someone apparently responsible for a budget, or "revenue." How telling is this regarding the importance of commodification and capitalism within our very religion?? Commodification of religion within commodification of image, within commodification of place/people/wealth/space. The language of Panera does, in fact, reify the notion of commodification - proven by the clientele that surrounds me.

As a disclaimer, I know it's rather odd for me to be eavesdropping in conversations. But, reading Marxist theory, the mind is prone to search for any and every distraction possible :-). And, of course, this doesn't ring true for everyone that comes in here (I'd love to consider myself exempt, but I'm not sure if I can). Just some interesting thoughts I thought I'd write down, so I wouldn't forget I had them ;).