Regionalism often appears as a fixed and knowable set of beliefs or a centered totality (Painter), an “ism” to put alongside all the other “isms” we appear to know as finished acts or things completed; ways of seeing and being, thinking and operating that reassure us and provide a clear horizon and a stable boundary within which to function. In 1997 Lucy Lippard summarized this well:
Today the term regionalism . . . continues to be used pejoratively, to mean corny backwater art flowing from tributaries that might eventually reach the mainstream but is currently stagnating out there in the boondocks.(36)
With this in mind, Deleuze and Guattari might term “regionalism” an “order-word” functioning to “mark stoppages or organized, stratified compositions” while reassuringly reminding us that “There are pass-words beneath order-words. Words that pass, words that are components of passage” (Thousand 110). What I am arguing here is that since Lippard’s comment of 1997 there has been a shift toward what I have termed “expanded critical regionalism” defined by “components of passage” that saw region as decidedly mobile and diverse, rather than static and closed-in, and engaged with multiple disciplines beyond architecture (Campbell, Rhizomatic).
Such reimagining began in 1980 with Anthony Alofsin’s early move toward a definition of critical regionalism as “an architecture that both follows local traditions and transforms them” (qtd. in Canizaro 370). Later Kenneth Frampton developed Paul Ricoeur’s idea stating that the central tension in critical regionalism was “how to become modern and to return to sources; how to revive an old, dormant civilization and take part in universal civilization” (Frampton 16). These simple-sounding but complex arguments formed the [End Page 69] dramatic elements through which regionalism might take on a new and different complexion within western studies.
An expanded critical regionalism would, therefore, no longer be associated with nostalgia or defined as simply “local” and, therefore, as a “place of lesser achievement and the source of backwardness, provincialism, and chauvinism” (Canizaro 12), as suggested by Lippard above. Instead it would be about placing the “local quality of life” at the forefront, “not in spite of global concerns and possibilities, but in order to better take advantage of them . . . [and] to re-embed us in the reality and diversity of our local places—critically and comfortably” (12).
More recently regionality has developed as a new “pass-word” brim-full of “components of passage” insisting upon “becoming” rather than fixity, moving, in every sense of that word, as it gathers up senses of people, place, and things as a complex assemblage of region (Campbell, Affective 15). Jane Bennett refers to “the quarantines of matter and life” that, for me, suggests the closed weight of regionalism needing to be challenged with what she calls turbulent and “vital materiality” (vii). Such vitality and becoming is, for example, expressed in Ellen Meloy’s struggle to articulate the wonders of the western desert, where she senses no single stable thing but rather the “uncountable thousands” of colors that make up “some exquisite combination of Place” (15).
Regionality is, therefore, a form of “vital materiality” or “exquisite combination” that moves still further beyond Canizaro’s position above, placing the emphasis upon process and becoming rather than established ground and invariance (or “re-embedding”)—so that encircling unanimity is constantly and productively challenged by multiple, critical processes, little refrains of difference, vital local histories, and the interruptions of the “minor” (acting like a foreign language within the dominant language, as Deleuze and Guattari define it). Regionality is, therefore, less about “comfort” and reassurance of a settled place in the world and more about an active critical presence that turns the proximate and local outward in dialogic relations with the world. In this process, regionality unashamedly worlds. [End Page 70]
Regionality, in Kathleen Stewart’s seminal essay of the same name, comes alive through her swirling, descriptive passages, forming and deforming what she calls “the tactile compositionality of things” (277), tracked in voices, actions, places, memories, and histories. Regionality is an “edgy composite” (281) of the material and immaterial, the human and nonhuman as an active and energetic presence: “it permeates the contours of the...