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History and memory in relation to gentrification have for a very long time maintained a large presence in conversation almost daily, both in my former home city of New York and my present home city of Berlin. I had in mind this discourse when choosing the following two essays, which I have physically combined to create a quasi “cut up.” My contribution can be read as one totalizing text or each essay individually, together in juxtaposition. The first is an essay by Rosalyn Deutsche entitled Breaking and Entering: Drawing, Situationism, Activism written for the catalogue of the Drawing Center’s exhibition The Activist Drawing, Retracing Situationist Architectures from Constant’s New Babylon to Beyond. This essay gives a history of gentrification in New York from the 1940s to the late 1990s discussing the segregation and annexation of certain minority communities from the neighborhoods of Manhattan in relation to Henri LeFebvre and the Situationists ideas of “the right to the city.” The second is an excerpt taken from “Present Pasts, Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory” written by Andreas Huyssen touching on the subjective relationship between history and memory in an analysis of our relationship to the architecture of the urban and its visceral palimpsestic nature which shapes “collective imaginaries.”


In New York, the situationist critique of the urban environment is more pertinent
The explosion of memory discourses at the end of the twentieth century has added
than ever. To say this is not to imply that nothing has changed since the 1950s,
significantly to the ways we understand history and deal with the temporal
although certain differences are more apparent than real. One difference is that in
dimensions of social and cultural life. Issues of memory have become part of public
the last three decades, since the heyday of redevelopment in the 1980s, the
discourse and cultural life in ways rarely achieved by professional historiography
production of space in New York has taken place not under the banner of
modernism – object of the situationist challenge – but under that of
At the same time, we need to acknowledge that the value of history is contested
antimodernism. Historical preservation, contextualism, and mixed-use zoning
today in ways that differ from Nietzsche’s critique of the archival and the
became guiding principles of architecture and planning in the 1980s, and
monumental. The pressures on the traditional notion of history as objective and
advocates presented them as a critique of New York’s 1961 zoning resolution,
distinct from memory are so manifold today that it would be hard to weigh them all
which, they said, embodied the tenets of European modernism. Yet the shift from
in their respective validity. The critique of historiography as a tool of domination
modernism to antimodernism conceals an underlying continuity, for the
and ideology, forcefully articulated by such socialist historians of the late nineteenth
segregating and isolating ambitions that situationists attributed to modernist
century as Walter Mehring in Germany, and later Walter Benjamin in his radical,
architecture and planning – and against which they counterposed “unitary
though overstated, political critique of all historicism; the post-Nietzschean attacks
urbanism” – the segregating and isolating ambitions that, according to Henri
on linearity, on causality, and on the myths of origin or telos as articulated in the
Lefebvre, suppress the urban form of society, have been promoted using modernist
work of Foucault, Lyotard, and Derrida; the post colonial critique of Western history
and antimodernist rhetoric alike. More, these ambitions persist in the Planning
as fundamentally implicated in an imperialist and racist Western modernity. The
Department’s most recent rationale for high-density development – New York’s
attack on the history-modernity linkage has become such an idée recue in certain
need for good, innovative architecture. What endures through all these changes of
intellectual circles today that one may well want to come to the defense of the
heart, provoking little controversy, let alone and organized or official protest, the
embattled enterprise of writing history that, to my mind, remains an essential
attempt to preserve the city center for the elite, which has been accepted policy in
component of the power of memory discourse itself.
New York since at least the 1940s and 1950s, when Robert Moses’ urban renewal
But something else still underlies the current political and conceptual arguments
and slum clearance projects removed thousands of African-American and Puerto
against historiography. The enlightened notion that one can learn from history has
Rican residents to the Bronx and Brooklyn. Then the segregationist policy
been so violently disproved both at the social and the political levels as well as in its
was supported by Mayor Lindsay, whose 1969 “plan for New York City” viewed “the
experiential dimension that the vary legitimacy of the history enterprise is shaken.
preservation and enhancement of the central areas for the elite” as crucial to the
Who can today give a confident answer a la Friedrich Schiller to the question to
future of the city. In the 1980s, the segregationist policy was furthered by massive
what end one should study universal history? Although we would probably first
redevelopment and gentrification, which took place at the same time as global
want to question concepts like “universal” and “history” in line with one or two
migration streams were adding an unprecedented mix of foreigners to the city.
other of the above-mentioned critiques, we would no doubt continue and engage the
It would be a mistake to view the Giuliani years as a break with, rather than a
past with gusto. Today’s turn against history is very unlike Henry Ford’s infamous
continuation and strengthening of New York’s earlier Mayoral regimes, under
“history is bunk.” The desire for narratives of the past, for re-creations, re-readings,
which public land and money have been used to create a city divided into luxury
re-productions, seems boundless at every level of our culture. History in a certain
enclaves in the center and areas reserved for poor people and minorities, including
canonical form may be delegitimized as far as its core pedagogical and philosophical

growing numbers of new non-Western immigrants, on the periphery, especially the
mission is concerned, but the seduction of the archive and its trove of stories of
outer boroughs. What have intensified under Giuliani are moralizing crusades to
human achievement and suffering have never been greater.
improve the so-called “quality of life,” a term the mayor borrowed from the
What good is the memory archive? How can it deliver what history alone no longer
conservative think tank, the Manhattan Institute. Quality of life campaigns have
seems to be able to offer? We know about the notorious unreliability of memory and
placed at the top of the agenda the imperatives of comfort, beauty, and utility,
the false promises of authenticity it is often endowed with. The issue today cannot
imperatives despised by the situationists, who referred to them as “blackmail,” and
be Nietzsche’s creative forgetting, which would be nothing more than selective
criticized by the French sociologist Raymond Ledrut, who cautioned that “the
memory. Clearly, for Nietzsche the “free spirit” was the agent of creative forgetting,
perspective of comfort is not that of involvement in real history.”
but such aristocratic intellectualism is both undesirable and unrealistic at a time
Residents made homeless during the 1980s by changing employment patterns,
when the threat of socially produced amnesia is just too great to ignore. Nor can the
cutbacks in social services, and municipal government’s support of real estate and
solution be a simple return to the promises of the future, as they are again being
big capital now face arrest. Public space is increasingly controlled by the housed
articulated today in the neoliberal discourse of economic and technological
residents of neighborhoods or ceded to non-accountable entities representing
globalization. Such triumphalism of global flows is nothing but a form of uncreative
private profit. The conditions of gay public life have been endangered as Times
forgetting that ignores the history of capitalist cycles and the crashes of
Square is redeveloped into a family entertainment area, the Hudson River piers – a
technological utopias. Already the globalization fantasies of the 1990s have
long-standing refuge for gays – are fenced off for redevelopment, and gay bars and
themselves become part of the memory archive and its cabinet of delusions. It is
dance clubs are harassed and closed. A new zoning law threatens to eliminate the
more important that at a time when an avalanche of memory discourses seems to
vast majority of legal sex businesses, which provide venues for gays to form a public
have overwhelmed an earlier activist imagination of the future, we actually do
sexual culture. The zoning bill deprives gays of what Henri LeFebvre famously
remember the future and try to envision alternatives to that status quo. It just will
called “the right to the city,” a right that ”legitimates the refusal to allow oneself to
not do to replace the twentieth century’s obsession with the future with our newly
be removed from urban reality by a discriminatory and segregative organization.”
found obsessions with the past. We need both past and future to articulate our
Lefebvre’s “right to the city” is not primarily a declaration of the right to the
political, social, and cultural dissatisfactions with the present state of the world. One of the most interesting cultural phenomena of our day is the way in which
physical urban space or the right of access to a preexisting city, though it my well
memory and temporality have invaded spaces and media that seemed among the
claim these rights. It is not a right to neighborhood, at least as that term is
most stable and fixed: cities, monuments, architecture, and sculpture. After the
currently used, in an exclusionary spirit – against the rights of others, against
waning of modernist fantasies about creation ex nihilo and the desire for new
heterogeneity, against what the ethico-political philosopher Emmanuel Levinas
beginnings, we have come to read cities and buildings as palimpsests of space,
calls “hospitality” and “the welcome of the others.” Recall that it has been in the
monuments as transformable and transitory, and sculpture as subject to the
name of neighborhood that gays and people without apartments have been evicted
vicissitudes of time. Of course, the majority of buildings are not palimpsests at all. As
from urban space – to name only two groups. Unlike today’s discourse of
Freud once remarked, the same space cannot possibly have two contents. But an
neighborhood, the right to the city declares a right to an urbanistic social and
urban imaginary in its temporal reach may well put different things in one place:
mental form which, for Lefebvre, is characterized by heterogeneity, encounter, and
memories of what was there before, imagined alternatives to what is there now. The
simultaneity. This is the right that is threatened by the zoning bill, which isolates
strong marks of present space merge in the imaginary with traces of the past,
gay sexual culture by mandating three changes in the organization of sex business
erasures, losses, and heterotopias. The center of Berlin and its reconstruction after
from concentration to dispersal, from conspicuousness to discretion, from
unification provide a key example for the workings of such and imaginary.
residential to remote sites. Lefebvre might have said, as he did of other aspects of
Literary texts have never, not even in modernism, been able to deny their
urban planning, that these changes “kill the city.”
palimpsestic nature, and the philological problem of differing editions has always
If the situationists’ critique of urban life is still vital, their ideas about how to
distinguished literature from buildings or monuments. The trope of the palimpsest
transform the social order and their love of bloody revolutions like the Paris
is inherently literary and tied to writing, but it can also be fruitfully used to discuss
Commune have been called into question by shifts taking place across a host of
configurations of urban spaces and their unfolding in time without making
discourses. The shifts include the challenge to the orthodox Marxist idea that
architecture and the city simply into text. Reading the city of Berlin or Time Square
society is governed by a single, economic antagonism, the pre-given ground of
as palimpsests does not mean to deny the essential materiality of extant buildings.
emancipatory struggle. They also include the proposal, first made by Ernesto
Literary techniques of reading historically, intertextually, constructively, and
Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, influenced in this by the poststructuralist critique if
deconstructively at the same time can be woven into our understanding of urban
being as presence, that society in the sense of a closed entity is “impossible.” Any
spaces as lived spaces that shape collective imaginaries.
conception of society is constituted by a gesture of exclusion, by, that is, the
If the 1980’s were the decade of a happy postmodern pluralism, the 1990s seemed
creation of an exterior that not only affirms but also threatens the closure of social
to be haunted by trauma as the dark underside of neoliberal triumphalism. The
space. Further, and perhaps preeminently, the shifts include feminist explorations
concern with trauma radiated out from a multinational, ever more ubiquitous
of the way in which totalizing images of social space produce and maintain
Holocaust discourse. It was energized, in the United States as in Latin America or
masculinist human subjects, whose orientation towards completion repress
South Africa after apartheid, by the intense interest in witness and survivor
otherness. Claiming to encompass the whole – to perceive the foundation that
testimonies, and it merged with the discourses about AIDS, slavery, family violence,
totalizes society – the masculinist subject construes the social world as an object
child abuse, recovered memory syndrome, and so on. The privileging of trauma
for itself. Another name for the disappearance of the totalizing image of social
formed a thick discursive network with those other master signifiers of the 1990s,
space is openness to the other, by, openness to that which manifests itself as
the abject and the uncanny, all of which have to do with repression, specters, and a
precisely what cannot be encountered from a position of full understanding and
present repetitively haunted by the past.
cannot be reconciled with ‘me” or with “community.”