- The Geographical Unconscious by Argyro Loukaki
It is both intriguing and challenging for a social anthropologist to be reviewing The Geographical Unconscious, a book that boldly elides various relativist and constructivist conventions that are central to contemporary anthropology. Loukaki’s monograph is a long and rich, polemical book that undertakes an ambitious survey of themes ranging from Homer to Japanese architecture. The book aspires to be a manifesto/guide against the failures of the present world and a macrohistory that recuperates the political potential of what the author identifies as an enduring Greek sensibility against its alleged misrepresentation by Western scholars.
One could summarize Loukaki’s core argument as follows. The “bleak present situation” (9) of the world proves the “shortcomings of the promise of the Enlightenment” (1). This world, which remains throughout the book somewhat loosely defined in terms of its spatial and temporal components, contains various elements such as individualism (1), a “bleak technological panopticon” (303), destruction of natural resources, lack of democracy, “blind faith in technology” (339), commoditization (1), and “authoritarian control” (1), all of which the author treats (and condemns) as symptoms of “Western outlook” (passim). The ills of this world begin for Loukaki with the development of notions of perspective in the Renaissance, which set to render the world as a measurable object, while breaking with older traditions in which subject and object fused in endless, embodied possibilities. This is an argument found in some ways in Martin Heidegger and other twentieth-century theorists and social critics. It is this same idea that more recently has been critically reviewed by Martin Jay in his oft-cited “Scopic Regimes of Modernity” (1988), which does not appear, nevertheless, in Loukaki’s book. Jay “for convenience” calls this specific modality of vision “Cartesian perspectivalism,” the visual mode “which we identify with Renaissance in the visual arts and Cartesian ideas of subjective rationality in philosophy” (1988, 4). But Jay then sets out to locate tensions and internal contestations that relativize the assumed uniformity and omnipotence of “Cartesian perspectivalism” (1988, 10–11). He even cautions, in fact, against a “too uncritical” embracing of alternatives to Cartesian perspectivalism, which in his view are potentially pregnant with new reifications or obliterate the exclusionary and manipulative capacity of other visual modalities (1988, 20). Loukaki’s task is quite a different one, however, as she is more interested in polemically celebrating modes of vision that may counter the dominance of perspectivalism. The remedy against the global ills sketched out early in the book is to be found in a [End Page 407] sort of re-spiritualization and Benjaminean re-enchantment via aesthetics, Loukaki argues. This would require us to re-appreciate aesthetics and to grasp those fragments of “spiritual” (309), “participatory” (3), and “intuitive” (7) vision that remain from previous epochs and get occasionally unearthed in modern art and architecture. This is where her concept of the unconscious steps in as that semi-negated (though often visible) realm, which offers the hope that the “deep wisdom” endorsing “unity between humans, nature and space” may prevail (7).
Even though the author argues that the periphery is not merely the place where developments from the center appear with delay (an argument advanced par excellence in postcolonial studies), she does not abandon the vision of shared humanity, and thus she does not critique the Enlightenment project from an entirely Other perspective. Loukaki endorses a certain Eastern heritage in which, nevertheless, the Greek/Hellenic sensibility reigns over other traditions (for example, the ancient Egyptian) and potentially restores the world to proper humanist values. The book proceeds then from a grand diagnosis of a tainted world and a dichotomy between Eastern (spiritual, subjective) versus Western (objectifying, controlling) perspectives. It then proposes a re-humanizing recovery of dignity and of the subject that may happen by embracing a putatively suppressed (Greek) sensibility/perspective. Written in a personal tone, the work bombards the reader with a tremendous array of material (often in the course of the same page from The Bourne Ultimatum to impressionism). The book conducts a macrohistory...