Embodied Cognition vs. Urban Consciousness

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According to a traditional reading of Marx, the symbolic is not a vehicle through which to create social or political change. Change occurs only when the material conditions for the change already exist (A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy 21). Although materialist theorists of the urban in Spain like Malcolm Compitello, Professor of Spanish at the University of Arizona, and Susan Larson, Associate professor of Spanish at the University of Kentucky, fall within the Marxist tradition, they do not take such a rigid stance. Unlike classical Marxists, Compitello and Larson do take into account the influence of the symbolic on urban space. In fact, they stress:

Studying cultural representations of place and urban space in particular is fruitful because one finds that they often play a reciprocal role in the creation of the urban environment itself. City planners and architects need some image, some inspiration to inspire them as they set about creating new urban environments in which people work and live. (“Cities, culture…capital?” 237)

Nevertheless, the inspirational image is “the image of capital” (“Recasting Urban Identities”). Compitello, taking his lead from Marxist cultural geographer David Harvey, reminds us that even though urban consciousness may be “both formative of and formed by cultural and social forms,” we should never forget that “capital shapes consciousness” (“Recasting Urban Identities”). In other words, Compitello and Larson acknowledge that the imagination can have material consequences. What makes their approach to culture materialist, however, is, as they argue, that the symbolic serves state or capitalist form. That is, the urban consciousness from which the symbolic emerges is organized according to the closed, internal logic of capital. For Compitello and Larson, the link between the written word and urban space is, thus, modern, urbanized consciousness.

However, what if all thought did not emerge from urbanized consciousness? What if some imagination poured forth from another source like the body? If that were true, then it would have the power to defy capitalism. Theories of embodied cognition and affect pose that very possibility. Creativity that is not located in urbanized consciousness is not structured by the fixed relations of capitalism. Finding ways to harness the spontaneous connections between thoughts, words, bodily responses, and images would have tremendous potential in the fight against predatory capitalism. Creative activism is exploring how to do just that. I think theories of embodied cognition and affect in tandem with, not in place of, a Marxist materialist approach to culture will strengthen the possibility of resistance.

Works Cited

Compitello, Malcolm Alan. “Recasting Urban Identities: The Case of Madrid 1977-1997. Mapping Urban Spaces and Subjectivities.” Arachne@Rutgers 2.1 (2002): s. pag. Web. 10 abr. 2007.

Compitello, Malcolm Alan, and Susan Larson. “Cities, Culture… Capital? Recent Cultural Studies Approaches to Spain’s Cities.” Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies 2.2 (2001): 232-238. Print.

Marx, Karl. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. New York: International Publishers, 1970. Print.

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