11: Marginal Bodies, Altered States, and Subhumans: (Dis)Articulations between Physical and Virtual Realities in Centro, São Paulo
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199 11 Marginal Bodies, Altered States, and Subhumans (Dis)Articulations between Physical and Virtual Realities in Centro, São Paulo Michael Heckenberger The very idea of a non-repressive civilization, conceived as a real possibility of the established civilization at the present stage, appears frivolous. Even if one admits this possibility on theoretical grounds, as an extension of the achievements of science and technology , one must be aware of the fact that these same achievements are being used to the contrary, namely, to serve the interests of continued domination. Herbert Marcuse (1962, vii) A schizophrenic out for a walk is a better model than a neurotic lying on a couch. G. Deleuze and F. Guattari (1983, 2) This chapter considers articulations, points of contact, and disarticulations, distortions, and other “disconnects” between virtual realities both of urban planning and mass media and on-the-ground or “lived” realities of human DOI: 10.5876/9781607321705.c11 200 Michael Heckenberger subjects whose identities and subjectivities are constructed in place, in this case, in Centro, São Paulo. It stems from a long-time interest in urban landscapes in Brazilian cities, developed while living in them for over five years, including São Paulo, Rio, Brasília, Belém, Manaus, and Porto Alegre, among others. This interest was at first a casual sideline to my primary research with Brazilian indigenous groups but grew into a kind of archaeology of urban palimpsests as I watched people’s movements and actions in diverse public and private settings and, particularly, how these movements and actions were constrained by and became sedimented in public space. In Centro this was always tightly tied to the urban homeless, sex workers, and drug users and traffic. The subject found me, so to speak, in the sense that it emerged organically , after wandering and dwelling in these places and getting to know some of its people, rather than by research design, and I must disavow any specialized training in the anthropology of urban poverty. However, what began as occasional visits over twenty years developed over the past several years into a more in-depth engagement in the downtown cityscapes, including “immersion ” in many of the marginal spaces of the city center, which happened to coincide with an ambitious program of urban renewal or “gentrification” in Centro (see Frúgoli and Sklair 2008). “Subjectivities,” digital and otherwise, are often taken to mean the personal feelings and responses, self-conscious identities, and direct face-to-face (or screen-to-screen) interaction of individual humans agents, as opposed to objective contexts. As a social construction, subjectivity can be defined more broadly as “the dynamic and unresolved tension between bodily, self and social/political processes” (Biehl, Good, and Kleinman 2007, 15).1 This chapter focuses on the bodily and sociopolitical aspects of subjectivity, as reflected in the actions and discourses that produce individuals and social groups, in particular in representations in electronic media and digitally based urban planning. I reflect upon the long-noted distinction between two urban realities : the virtual realities of urban design and planning and mass media, the bird’s eye view, and the street-level realities or experiences of urban dwellers , in this case, Centro’s homeless residents (Benjamin 2002; De Certeau 2002).2 This highlights the dual nature of inner-city urban spaces as hyperdesigned , rigid, and formal settings of social interaction and cultural life and, at the same time, dynamic, flexible, and contested areas reflecting emergent qualities of urban life. The historical cityscape of Centro was constructed as a landscape of grandeur a century or so ago, and monumental architecture and major public spaces are critical features of cultural memory, the historical subjectivity of the city center. The built environment—today in-filled with high-rise apartment and commercial buildings; interlaced by sidewalks, thoroughfares , and overpasses; and, in several edge areas, marked by small, “flat,” and, in some cases, dilapidated neighborhoods—provides the general stage and index points for social traffic, which, following Butler’s (1993) notion of 201 Marginal Bodies, Altered States, and Subhumans performative “citationality,” in which past practices and discourse orient the movements, actions, and experiences of the human bodies that inhabit these spaces. This citationality of spaces and practices, critical for the construction of the subjectivities of local residents and the flow of human bodies, equally applies to “marginal” and vulnerable social agents, such as the “homeless,” who are tied to both public and, notably, interstitial spaces. These other bodies and interactions that lie outside mainstream...

Subject Headings

  • Anthropology -- Philosophy.
  • Cybernetics -- Philosophy.
  • Online social networks.
  • Computers and civilization.
  • Virtual reality.
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