TWENTY THESES AGAINST SPACE AND TIME
Issued by the Committee for the Reconstruction of Space and Time on Pig Island (CROSTOPI)
The problems of the anti-traveller
He could not avoid travelling. He sat down in his study and leaned forward in his chair, so that most of his body lay between the four legs of his desk, the beast of burden that would carry his unpublished monograph, the various drafts, the half dozen appendices, on its bent mahogany back for the rest of its days and nights. The piled papers looked like half-finished construction plans for office blocks, he thought, as he leaned forward further, tugged at the curtain, and squinted out the window. The world was a hill and two clouds. He leaned back, and dug the heels of his slippers into the carpet, dug them in hard, so that the creaking of the villa’s uneven floorboards woke the dog that lay like a lumpy old rug beside the fireplace on the western edge of the room. He could not avoid travelling. The world continued to roll at his feet, under his feet, under the overburdened desk, under the Alaska-shaped stain in the carpet that the dog had risen to expose: the earth was carrying him forwards, or perhaps backwards, at a rate of exactly
The discovery of Space and Time, 1857
Karl Marx’s whole body shivers, but his right hand moves calmly, as he hunches, wrapped in a blanket as black and dirty as his beard, over a swaying pool of light, at the city end of his study. The lamp shakes; the whole house shakes, in the third storm of the winter. Marx has not slept properly for a week: he has to keep the right hand moving, he has to get it all down, the whole history that has backed up behind the crisis, like traffic behind an overturned wagon on Tavistock Place. The first great crisis of capitalism – the first and final crisis, perhaps. Marx has moved, in a matter of sentences, from primitive communism, the prehistoric hunter gatherer bands of the humid steppe, to the origins of feudalism, to the transition to the present, precarious system. He can move backwards as quickly as forwards in time. His enemies do not have the same luxury! In the morning, if he can find the change, he will walk to the corner of his street, and buy a copy of The Times
, and turn to the business section, and read about the latest bankruptcies, and chuckle at the bourgeois pundits’ explanations for the crisis of overproduction that has left units of special police guarding warehouses of rotting grain and corn.
Marx sits up suddenly in the lamplight. He can feel the world advancing steadily in his direction, across the deserts and market squares and steppes, through winding mine shafts and mill canals, aboard locomotives and steamships and ferries. The annihilation of space by time
, he writes, is one of the characteristics of the present age
. The world is the London dockyards, plus the reading room of the British Museum. The world is brazil nuts and bananas. The world is a monograph on Gold Coast Religious Beliefs
, and a paperback edition of Dante. The world is feather boa hats, absinthe, pig iron, coal slag.
The ouroboros is wasting its time
Marx explained that, like the ouroboros, capitalism could only survive by continually consuming itself. The fixed capital – railway lines, furnaces, dockyards, laboratories – which makes profit possible will eventually become an obstacle to profit, as its features become outmoded, or are replicated more efficiently elsewhere. Capitalism builds spaces, and establishes time-flows, suitable to its needs, and then finds that it must destroy these spaces, interrupt these time flows, as its needs change. The modern becomes archaic. Engineers move out, and preservationists move in. A power station becomes an art gallery. Bohemians squat in old workers’ cottages. A wrecker’s ball swings into a room, ignoring the volumes of Dostoyevsky on the rickety homemade shelf.
The movement of space
Geographer David Harvey has developed Marx’s insights into the changes in space and time created by capitalism. Harvey emphasises that under capitalism space is not so much ‘annihilated’ by time as transformed in a variety of ways. Space is not a static, neutral category: space is in motion, as much as time, space brims at the edges of our maps, or recedes from our theodolite-eyes, depending on its relation to time, and to human behaviour. Harvey uses the term ‘spatio-temporality’ to express the way in which changes in time and in space affect each other. Harvey calls for an ‘anti-capitalist notion of spatio-temporality’ to be added to the arsenal of socialist politics in the twenty-first century. Space and time must be reorganised, along with politics and the economy.
Seasons in flight
Instead of the rhythms of the seasons that dominated agricultural society, capitalist society established a rhythm based around the nine to five working day and the working week. Leisure time and work time alternated. The worker, rose, excreted, showered, breakfasted, commuted, worked, lunched, worked, commuted, ate dinner, fucked, read Hegel or watched television, slept. These were the seasons of Hull, Bruges, Detroit, Otahuhu. With the deindustrialisation of the West and the rise of new, intrusive technology, the old seasons are being eroded. Work creeps into leisure time. She began to consult her blackberry in the adverts, she listened to the answer phone unload itself while she fucked her husband, or read Hegel.
The conquest of time
Say that it is July the 11th, 1863, in Auckland, which is still the capital of the discontinuous, incomplete nation of New Zealand. In Auckland, a town of landless settlers reduced to buying food exported north by the Maori tribes they would like to dispossess, the time is measured by the hour, the minute, the second. The invasion of the Waikato Kingdom will begin at six o’clock, on the morning of the twelfth of July, as General Cameron’s army crosses the Mangatawhiri Stream. The protests of friendly natives and confused clergymen are irrelevant: the time has been decided, the signal has been sent, the ironclads on the Waikato River have aimed their cannons at Maori fortifications. And yet the passage of the order from Auckland to General Cameron’s camp at Pokeno, on the northern side of the Mangatawhiri, is compromised, as a horseman bearing the message bogs down in a swamp near Drury, after having to leave a stretch of the Great South Road made dangerous by Maori guerillas, who have been launching ambushes and burning roadside cottages for months.
The Maori struggle against Cameron’s advance to the border of the Waikato Kingdom has been a struggle against the imposition of a certain spatio-temporality. The Great South Road must be destroyed, because it destroys distance. The Pakeha troops must be made to move at the speed of a horse over rough country, or a waka upstream.
The hazards of map reading
Every map has its point of departure in pedagogy. No map is neutral. Medieval maps showed Jerusalem at the centre of the world. The first Maori map showed Hokianga as the centre of the world. The map on the wall of your primary school classroom showed Africa as far smaller than it really is, and put New Zealand at the bottom of the world, when it could just as easily have sat at the top. Introduced Aliens
Cambridge, Morrinsville, Hamilton - the very names of the towns built in the heartland of the vanquished Waikato Kingdom were determinedly alien, were defiantly familiar, for the soldier-settlers and property speculators who established them. The straight lines of the new land blocks, the willows and oaks planted where kahikatea had stood, the well-trimmed hawthorn hedges that stood like lines of troops along the frontier with the King Country, where the Maori rebels still lurked – these were ways of affirming a new culture, a new spatio-temporality. An old culture, an old spatio-temporality. Adventures in an Official District History
I stare back at the theodolite, its steady cyclops eye. The surveyor would stand
, the surveyor stands, behind the subtle instrument, which he aimed
, which he aims, into the middle distance, which has hitherto been nothing but gross, uncharted space
, which was, is, space of another order, a land subject to mana whenua, not the Country Records Office, a land awarded to those who use it, those whose placenta are buried under the puriri trees by the sandspit, in the long grass behind the wall of andesite, halfway up Karioi. A land with no bounds was given shape and order
, a land of subtle distinctions is replaced by the straight lines of fences and hedges, the tidy stone walls
built by young men from Devon and Northumbria, the puriri timber fences thrown up over scum-green wetlands drained like wounds, imposing an order which was a prerequisite for economic development
, the low ragged walls which attracted the sunlight, until each lump of scoria was hot to touch, until the kumara swelled through the gravel layer of the plot, without the theodolite and the surveyor’s careful work this colony would still be waste, the history of New Zealand would scarcely
Botany and zoology as warfare
Sit in the Auckland Domain, beside the foaming pond where ducks and geese struggle for stale bread, across the road from the banks of colour-coordinated flowers. Next to the bench where you mooch in your trenchcoat, an anaemic Bohemian amongst the flocks of holidaying children and snap-happy tourists, is a small, dirty plaque commemorating the construction of this pond and the nearby gardens by the Auckland Acclimatisation Society
, which marshalled its army – its gorse bushes and willow saplings
, its blue ducks and Jersey cows
– in the Domain, on the eve of the invasion of the Waikato Kingdom. It was these forms of life which would continue the work of the solider, in the decades after the conquest of the Waikato, by occupying and subduing native ecosystems, until the only autochthonous creature in parts of the Hauraki Plains was the eel, which hid deep in the mud of the canals which had drained its old swamp home.
Like Queens Redoubt, the square of raised earth which sheltered Cameron’s army on the evening before it crossed the Mangatawhiri, the Auckland Domain deserves to be classified as an historic military site.
Horology as warfare
The temperature-compensated, mercury-regulated longclock was built in 1869 by AG Bartlett, one of Auckland's first horologists, and is displayed in the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Bartlett's clock recorded the times in London, Wellington, and Auckland with an accuracy unprecedented in the 1860s. The train and the factory required the precise keeping of time, and not only horologists but the new industrial working class had to adjust.
The caption to Bartlett's clock describes it as evidence of the growing establishment of a public time infrastructure in New Zealand
. Bartlett's clock was made six years after the invasion of the Waikato, at a time when the vast amounts of land confiscated from Tainui and other iwi were being made available to British-born capitalists. Along with the musket and the theodolite, Bartlett's clock is a charmingly old-fashioned symbol of globalisation.
Into the acid bath
Since it was firmly established by the aftermath of the invasion and conquest of Maori nations in the nineteenth century, New Zealand has gone through several significant spatio-temporal reorderings. After the end of the wars railways were pushed into the hinterlands of both islands, and the market gardening and subsistence economies established by the Maori and by plebian settlers were supplanted by large-scale sheep and dairy operations geared to the demand from markets in Britain.
The expansion of industry after World War Two brought hundreds of thousands of immigrants, most of them Maori, to the city, and for a time New Zealand began to imagine and present itself as an advanced industrial nation, like Sweden or Belgium. Muldoon’s ‘Think Big’ schemes represented the zenith of this tendency, but they became mired in debt, and a section of the capitalist class organised the deindustrialisation and thoroughgoing globalisation of the economy in the second half of the eighties and the early nineties. As Roger Douglas talked of putting the economy through an ‘acid bath’, in the hope that something ‘meaner and leaner’ would emerge, factories were closed, railways were rolled up, and whole towns were closed down.
When the economy eventually rebounded, it did so on the back of agricultural exports and tourism. Both the exporters and the tourism operators had rebranded New Zealand as a ‘clean green paradise’: a virginal land of lakes, forests, and snow-capped mountains. Particularly delectable areas of the country have been cordoned off, cleansed of humans, and described by tourism brochures as ‘unspoilt wilderness’.
Like the Victorian industrialists who expelled crofters from the ‘scenic reserves’ they set up to salve consciences disturbed by the pollution of the Tyne and the Thames, the New Zealand tourism industry cannot imagine the healthy, non-alienated interaction of humans and nature. Wherever there are humans, damage must be done. Small farms must be closed on Stewart Island, where they have operated for generations, or the attempts to rebrand the island as a ‘wilderness’ will fail. Maori must be prevented from harvesting birds and other traditional foods from national parks, for fear that they will ‘spoil’ the forests there.
Artists and writers whose work seems to threaten the new ‘national brand’ are condemned. When he exhibited a photograph of a dead cow lying beside a country road in the nineties, Peter Peryer was called unpatriotic, because of the fear that the image might damage the image of New Zealand’s dairy industry. National Minister John Banks went so far as to call for the repression of the image.
Industrialised wilderness and purified histories
The ‘wildernesses’ established in various corners of New Zealand offer a simulacrum of timelessness to tourists, who arrive by the bus full to wander in eerie
goblin forests or stand on majestic
mountaintops. But the wilderness is run on industrial time: to walk the Milford Track, one must book a series of huts months in advance, and specify when one’s journey will begin and end. Mountain guides carry cellphones, and charter helicopters to bring down customers who overestimate their reserves of strength.
When human history and culture is allowed to intrude into the ‘clean, green New Zealand’ it must take a sanitised form. Maori culture is exhibited to tourists in a deliberately archaic form, in certain ‘traditional’ areas like Rotorua; scrubbed-up ‘pioneer villages’ are allowed to adorn the old goldfields of central Otago.
Areas of New Zealand which contradict the requirements of the new national ‘brand’ are effectively quarantined: they do not feature on the maps tourists are given, little money is provided to maintain their infrastructure, and their residents are encouraged to move to other, more desirable zones. Time flows through the urban nerve centres of New Zealand into the farms and ‘wildernesses’ at a steady rate, but it falters in the ‘quarantined zones’. Roads turn to potholed gravel there, and cellphones fall silent.
Marx describes the way that capitalism maintains a ‘reserve army of labour’, which can be called up for service if the demand for goods increases, and which in the meantime helps keep the demand for labour, and thus the bargaining power of workers, relatively low.
Capitalism keeps space as well as labour in reserve. Turn off State Highway One at Te Kuiti, climb into the country around Ohura, and admire the eroded hillsides ablaze with gorse. If the demand for dairy products from China redoubles, these hills could yet carry cattle for a few years, until the boom is over. If the price of oil rises very sharply, then the coal that lies under the hills may be worth extracting. If the new prison in the lower Waikato overflows, then this area’s isolation and terrain may be turned to good purpose. In the meantime, the hills and the ancient cottages and corrugated shacks which cling to them persist, as invisible as a shell company. A List
of ‘quarantined’ areas: the old coal and hydro towns of the King Country, whose residents have refused to move out (in a TV programme dedicated to the woes of this area, economist Gareth Morgan lost his temper and bellowed ‘Mangakino should no longer exist! There is no reason for the place!’, giving voice to a common sentiment in Wellington); the ‘Tuhoe Country’ between Whakatane and Wairoa, whose residents’ denial of the authority of the New Zealand state, refusal to dance in grass skirts for tourists, and desire to clear fell parts of the Urewera National Park terrifies the custodians of ‘brand New Zealand’; the rugged ‘Limestone Country’ between Port Waikato and Raglan, where Maori and Pakeha small hold farmers have resisted the encroachment of the tourism industry and factory farming, and have integrated their families and cultures; the ‘Takimoana Republic’ near the East Cape, where dissident Ngati Porou have attempted to secede from New Zealand; the Whangape and Herekino districts of the far north; the upper Hokianga...
The museum of times and spaces
For a small boy in the 1980s, everything about the Auckland War Memorial Museum - its cold marble walls, its long echoing halls, its interlocking rooms cluttered with dimly-lit exhibits, the half-legible scripts and impossibly long Latin names on the captions under the exhibits - created a sense of displacement. Wandering through the innumerable rooms of the cave, the boy began to understand that there were other worlds - worlds that existed in the past, over the sea, on the other side of my city - radically different to the one he inhabited. The languid gaze of a God's carved head, rescued from a swamp in Northland a century ago; the still bodies of Anzacs on Gallipoli beach; the dry blood on a special policeman's long baton; the fierce grimace of a New Guinea mask: all of these were invitations into new worlds.
A museum’s subversive quality comes from the sense of otherness it induces, and from the traces of different spatio-temporal arrangements it preserves. The commercialisation of museums has gone hand in hand with a faux-populism which has sought to destroy this otherness, and to close the portals to other times and spaces. The dim rooms of the old museum must be replaced with the garish lighting and wide open spaces of the casino, and the artefacts must be mediated by jokey, vernacular captions, or else hidden away and replaced by ‘interactive learning features’ like computer games. Take the Time Warp, and find out you have a lot in common with your ancestors. What would you do if you were Napoleon? Find out why dinosaurs are cool.
A map is a type of museum. As a boy he loved to flip through his grandfather’s old school atlas, to run his hands over the ink-red expanses of the British Empire, to gaze at Africa and wonder at the fragments of liberty (green was the colour of liberty, of recognised independent nations, as distinct from colonies
) called Liberia and Abyssinia, fragments almost lost amidst the sprawl of contending European Empires. There were smudged areas, where authorities overlapped (Tangiers, an international city; New Hebrides, a British-French condominium
), and there countries which he knew no longer existed (the Kingdom of Siam; Tibet, a British protectorate
It is not a matter of valourising ‘slow’ time and ‘empty’ space, against the fast time and cluttered landscapes of capitalism, but of supporting spatio-temporal arrangements which favour communities – real communities, not the imagined community of the ‘New Zealand brand’. To support the people of the King Country coast, who demand cellphone coverage so that they can call for an ambulance if they roll their cars on their narrow steep roads, and not be left to die. To support the people of Ngunguru when they campaign against the building of a new, exclusive housing development, complete with a grid of roads, a cellphone tower, and wireless internet coverage, on a peninsula whose open spaces they revere.
A Modest Proposal
We propose mapping the real flows of time and space through the entity variously known as New Zealand, Aotearoa, and Pig Island. We want to create maps which eschew the false objectivity of official cartography in favour of the proliferating realities of personal and collective fantasy. We will map islands, reefs, estuaries, mountain bogs, heresies, tramways, coal shafts, the trajectories of migratory birds and bacilli, the production rates of poets, the death rate of statisticians. It is time for the map to find its proper place in the arsenal of New Zealand artists and poets.
He loved unfolding the map, loved the way the peninsula extended itself into the squares of empty blue, loved the brushstrokes of pale gray that laid sandbars on the harbour’s shallow bottom, loved the thin mercury-red lines that denoted altitude, the way the knots of terrain between them turned from dark to light green to white, as they closed in on the black triangle that spelt summit. He never wanted to fold the map up again: he was always afraid of turning the sea upside down, of letting it pour over all that land, until it brimmed around the mountains, so that the mountains became mere hills.