Reading Marc Augé’s study ‘Non‑Places’ (1992) on the conditions of our contemporary situation one can imagine that the processes which make our situation a ‘supermodern’ situation will not suddenly halt but instead continue. In these times, efficiency is key. Technology allows us to keep up with its demands. Consequently, human beings might soon become so closely linked to the apparatuses they create, and which keep them alive and healthy, faster and more secure at the same time that the differentiation between living being and machine becomes obsolete. Then, human beings might enjoy freedom from the hassles of daily life. At all times, they might be aware of the geographical location of everyone they care about, and think of it as a prerequisite to perfect timing.
Marc Augé warns us that a sense of place might be vanishing in supermodern times. Obviously, once humanity has perfectly adapted to the capacities of technology, and once the body is constantly controlled in favour of security and efficiency, narratives of place are not needed anymore. We can work, consume, educate ourselves, and even engage in politics without connecting to the communities that create places and their narratives. Being a citizen does not anymore require an embedding in anthropological places.
However, there are questions which have not been answered. Does the process of increasing technologification truly lead to a replacement of anthropological places in favour of spaces which appear perfectly adapted to the conditions of a super modernity, and which are – for Marc Augé – closed and without future? There is probably no better location to rethink the relationship between technology and place than one of those locations that have entered the global media as images of superlative spatial design. These newly created and newly mapped locations appear from many viewpoints as perfect settings for supermodern life.
To which extent these new spaces may be understood as closed spaces, or as ‘blank spaces’ into which new generations can inscribe their own future to create places – possibly through technology, and possibly on the basis of desire not necessity – is outlined in this paper. It is suggested that it might be instrumental to re‑consider the newly created spaces of the East through suspension of assumptions that belong to Western culture. Such suspension means a radical shift in thought. It could allow an entirely new approach to the phenomenon that Dubai presents and to its possibilities. A journey with an expert of detours in favour of suspension – François Jullien – leads via China, via ‘blandness’ and ‘impossible nudes’, and via an Art that has a long history in thinking the observer as creator. Through an exercise in thinking suspension, the paper attempts to initiate a state of mind that makes different futures possible.
- Claudia Westermann, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, CN