About this publication
Since the turn of the millennium, the discursive tendency of classical Mediterranean anthropology to promote “unity in diversity” has increasingly met with discourses motivated by tourism and the market, which is positively emphasising the cosmopolitan. This speech manifests itself as a bourgeois longing and outlook of political helplessness towards the decolonisation dramas in the South and the political legitimacy crises in the North. A research trip to various cities in the Mediterranean circumference prompted us to reflect on this simultaneity and contradiction of current circumstances.
In order to enable us to catch and understand these dispositions in their simultaneity, we followed the approach of Henri Lefebvre and Cathérine Régulier’s “rhythmanalysis” and visited the Mediterranean cities, the “cradle(s) of the city-state”. We have added further dimensions of “rhythm” to the proposed approach of rhythmanalysis, which was outlined in the last quarter of the 20th century and has been much discussed periodically since then. We wanted to include questions and positions that assume contemporary political and theoretical relevance. Researchers and citizens of these cities are invited to join this open publication. We propose to use a broad concept of rhythm, which – as Lefebvre & Régulier have suggested – leaves sufficient analytical margin for individual sensory and intellectual urban experiences, the concerns of both historical experience and the burning questions of this rapidly changing epoch. It is also the crisis-laden present in its expressions, manifestations and non-dits, the discursively hidden dimensions, that call for alternative and open forms of scientific and political thought and expression, of engagement with the collective, the social. The authors of this publication are also concerned with the opening of a white and male scientific discourse that marks Eurocentric academia. This should initiate a “contrapunctal reading” (Edward W. Said) of the Mediterranean region. It is an attempt to tie in with anti-colonial traditions of thought that deal with the intertwined nature of the Mediterranean region and the inherent European hegemony in terms of socio-political conditions, economy, and the production of knowledge. The historical entanglements are not considered as relicts of past times, but as an attempt to develop an awareness of post-colonial and neo-colonial power and violence. With a view to this contested space, we would like to let the polyphony speak of how actors from different places of the Mediterranean come together to speak and create images.
Mediterranean port cities
The research focus of our project aims at the port cities of the Mediterranean Sea. Many of them are among the most ancient human settlements: in these locales, experiences of the coexistence of inhabitants from different backgrounds were condensed. Due to their coastal location, these cities have experienced periods of prosperity and decline as centres of trade and power, waves of conquest and liberation. The traces of this history can still be seen in the urban structure today. Does this heritage – so do we ask – also apply to the political dimensions of everyday life and society, to the long-lasting mental structures?
According to Lefebvre & Régulier, in the Mediterranean cities, “power and political authorities that sought to dominate the town through the domination of space, were constituted very early. These powers drew and continue to draw on space as a means of control, as a political instrument”. The inhabitants, on the other hand, according to their thesis, occupied time: “Through a certain use of time the citizen resists the state. […] This liberty does not consist in the fact of being a free citizen within the state – but in being free in the city outside the state.”
These quotations turn out to be anchors of a political-anthropological cultural analysis, and underline three moments of current socio-political interest. The first one is freedom from time constraints. How does such freedom become conceivable in concrete terms? What everyday cultural, political and social articulations of such freedom can be found today within the city and “outside the state”? The second issue concerns the possibilities of the multitude living together. In a certain sense, the ideal of the cosmopolitan resonating in the emic and etic discourses on Mediterranean port cities. According to Lefebvre & Régulier, the diachronic and synchronic polyphony and multilingualism of these cities – as of all cities – sensitises their inhabitants to “the perception of the diversity of the rhythms of ‘the other'”. What lessons do these cities teach the highly mixed crisis-ridden European cities of late modernity, for which the concept of multiculture is charismatically charged with the affects and aspirations of a left political utopia on the one hand, while it is a constant source of conflictual impetus on the other?
The third issue is the general question, which form contemporary urban citizenship can assume. It has been conceived in the type of Mediterranean port cities since their early beginnings and could be characterised – following Pierre Clastres – as a “société contre l’État”, as a stateless or even state-converse form of society. Mediterranean ports, according to Lefebvre & Régulier, are characterised by a refusal of any form of centralism, “hegemony and homogeneity”. As terres de passage, areas of transit characterised by trade, they have been taken, occuppied and exploited from the sea over the millennia in the various historical phases: once destroyed, then developed again. “The large Mediterranean towns appear to have always lived and still to live in a regime of compromise between all the political powers”. “Such a ‘metastable’ state is the fact of the polyrhythmic” a simultaneity of different movements and tempos formed in processes of a longue durée. This rhythm of the polyphonic is based on “a simultaneously private and public, sacred and profane, visible and secret organisation” of a rhythm of public time.
Heuristics of the rhythmic
What does “rhythm” mean in the context sketched out above? What can one imagine concretely and theoretically by “rhythm”? According to Lefebvre & Régulier, the rhythms of a city are based on movements that are expressed in cyclical repetitions vs. linear repetitions. In the context of everyday urban life, they interact in a way that is representing the space-time of the entire city. Rhythmanalysis captures these rhythms in their diversity, their social and economic contexts and in their interferences and interactions.
What is the value of this approach for urban research motivated and shaped by cultural studies and social sciences? It shifts the mode and the focus of research to interfaces, to convergence, to iridescent perspectivations, and in doing so it draws on “notions and aspects that analysis too often keeps separate: time and space, the public and the private, the state-political and the intimate”.
Rhythmanalysis reveals the city as a “temporalised place”, as local temporality and thus as a place of movement and therefore of a lively population. With a serendipitous attitude oriented towards the openness of perception, the rhythmanalyst captures the resonance of a city and critically and reflexively relates it to its historical disposition and its powerful dispositives. Here the concept of rhythm represents and interpretes a rhizomatic instead of hierarchical simultaneity of processes and their conditional spatial effects of society.
This heuristics of the rhythmic, which studies both the cyclical and the linear, also includes its disturbances. With Lefebvre & Régulier, we ask ourselves how the self-understandings and “ideologies of diversity” in Mediterranean port cities relate to the periodic eruptions of violent “ethnic cleansing”, armed conflict and revolt. When the harmonising ideals of coexistence of the different groups and the reality of life with injustice and bloody conflicts drift apart. Lefebvre & Régulier, with their understanding of “polyrhythm”, start at the centre of this confrontation: “Polyrhythmia always results from a contradiction, but also from resistance to this contradiction – resistance to a relation of force and an eventual conflict”. According to them, the alliance in compromise characterises the political rhythm of the Mediterranean cities, since it is here that firm and lasting relations are found, both in conflicts and in alliances.
Aims of the present publication
We want to set counterpoints in a knowledge production with this experiment. Thus, contrary to the usual economised rhythms of the classical production of knowledge with linear and increasingly stringent deadlines, we use the possibilities of the digital realm. Our proposal of open deadlines, a publication mode of the unfinished and expandable allows for virtually connecting the corporeal self, which thinks in concentric circles, with the writing collective. Therefore, this publication is an attempt to resist the rhythms of a hegemonic doctrine at various levels and to explore the possibility of an alternative production of knowledge, which is inherent in the emergence of alliances of resistance.