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07 September 2020
Post-urban specters

Andrés Carretero

In June or July 1937, Simone Weil wrote the draft of an article originally entitled “Méditations sur un cadavre”, translated into English as “Meditations on a corpse”. [i]

In it, she sketches a premonitory obituary about the foretold death of the Front Populaire government in France at the time; something that, according to Weil, was already a dead thing, a corpse. In the period of six months that goes from illusion to disillusionment, culminating in the resignation of the Prime Minister (the socialist Léon Blum), the philosopher and brigadista states that there have been no substantial changes in the facts of social life (despite the Matignon Agreements between the employer’s organization, unions and government in 1936), but in the area of feelings, of emotions. The collapse of the economy, the media campaigns against it, the rise of fascism, the imbalance between social forces and the collective imagination made visible postmortem for Simone Weil the effectiveness of Machiavellianism as a tool for political decision making in critical moments. Before the recognition of the death of politics arrive in the form of the voluntarism cry “à mort la politique!”, this is a lesson, a historical lesson that can be drawn from meditations on a corpse; that of a government prior to its liquefaction.


In February 1993, the Roman theorist, historian and architecture critic, Manfredo Tafuri, gave the inaugural lezione of the Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia, “Le forme del tempo. Venezia e la modernità”, where he points out the transition of the urban corpse of Venice towards its spectral condition: “The problem was not whether it would be better to put make-up on a corpse, better to put blushers on it, to make it so ridiculous that it would cause laughter even among children; or perhaps what we, the defenders, have achieved, but without power: unarmed prophets, that is, seeing the corpse liquifying before our eyes”. [ii] Fifteen years later, the philosopher Giorgio Agamben used these words to write a short text “On the uses and disadvantages of living among specters”, where he resumes the ideas hidden by Tafuri to project them into a later phase; that of the spectrality of the urban as a way of life. [iii]

The anticipatory images of the dead city (Death in Venice), of a decadent modernity which inhabits a post-historic and post-modern temporal limbo, belong nowadays to a standardized, internalized and gripped imaginary; they do not announce anything, but rather certify a posthumous and spectral state, but it is nevertheless mutating.  The artificial “new nature” incarnated in the old metropolis becomes “still life” before the experience of contemporary peripheral urbanity, once substantial changes have taken place in the facts of social life after the event. What is the time form of the emptied polis? The suspension of temporality, the dissolution of the past and the future, a confinement in the present. Solitary night walks in a silenced public space, denied its use, predetermined by the distancing of the bodies. Amongst the classicist remains of an old capital of the empire and Inditex’s shop windows with displays of mannequins wearing seasonal garments that are no longer nor do they matter. Listening through the airpods in “repeat mode” at times “NeoVdO” de Erik Urano (Nos dirigimos a una época de comunicaciones simultáneas, postindustrial, postliteraria, postindividualista, postcivilizada, que provocará una nueva confraternidad universal, desideologizada, electrónica, neotribal), at times  “Fukushima” de Triángulo de Amor Bizarro (En la periferia no hay nada que hacer, en la periferia no hay nada que perder). The recognition of a specific territory, the ways of seeing what is already known, what is already consumed, with a strange, ex-otic glance. The return of the sublime entropic. It would be the extension of the peripheral condition, the peripheries of the peripheries, the intensification of spatial segregation according to income levels and the swan song of neo-repopulation: the return to the small “cheap” cities, to the villages, to the countryside. Environmental re-naturalization as a technical euphemism (which translates into the injection of economic investments from the EU destined for large greenwashing plans on the urban spectrum, and greenness is post-Haussmann hygienism), at the same time that the organic deployment of non-human forms of life when they are not subdued are hindered or prevented, as well as certain degrowth de-urbanizing strategies. Are these effects typical of the modern or post-modern metropolitan experience? Perhaps not. The drifts of the flâneurs on the pandemic horizon (the one of the “riders”) walk on a tautness; that of the urban and its spectral reverse (the collective experience of death is as threatening, retroactive, and intermittent fiction), which is nothing but a threshold: that of the transitions towards an imploded, multinodal, interconnected eco-social polis, territorially redistributed according to democratic principles, accessible. Post-urban.


Throughout the year 2029, Major Motoko Kusanagi leads the Public Security Section 9, an armed squad that is part of the government apparatus of Japan, specialized in fighting cybercrimes in a context of geopolitical reorder immediately after the global cataclysm. [iv] The trans-scalar virtualization of social relations constitutes the new normality, a dominant logic that transforms the experience of the still necessary encounter of bodies in public space into a subsidiary reality, even for terrorism. In a world that awaits the coming of post-humanity, the great advances of technoscience of a Promethean nature allow the synthetic production of Kusanagi’s perfect and immune body, which is manufactured and put together on an assembly line and which does not need to be exercised or barely fed, but it needs to be maintained and cared because it remains vulnerable and can be affected. The physical, virtual, urban and digital drifting body of Commander Kusanagi takes refuge in her small cell, separate but open and connected to the city: she is the new nomad girl of Tokyo. Her habits give shape to a futuristic reenactment of that utopian project designed by Toyo Ito (1985 – 1986), in which a young Kazuyo Sejima put her body into the already set scenes by the Pao I and II, those neo-primitive, individual and lightweight huts; own rooms where to build an autonomous subjectivity that no longer guarantees the “minimum existence” but a symbiosis with the brilliance of a metropolitan anarcho-capitalist and cyberspace life in which all socialization has been commercialized.

The nudity of Motoko Kusanagi, an existentialist cyborg who meditates on her own corpse, allows her radical integration into an urban space that is now a simple speculative manifestation, one of the modes of Big Data. She decides to embrace this extension of the field of experience by renouncing imprisonment, to the reduction to the body. A body without organs, except for the brain and the bone marrow that harbor her ghost. The ghost of her self-consciousness, her identity, her own self; the specter of Kusanagi dispenses with her carapace, her shell. Being specters confined in shells or preventing the body from becoming a tool, used by “them”, from which to emancipate. It is up to us.

June 2020.


[i] Simone Weil, “Meditations on a corpse”, New Left Review 111, may-june 2018 [1937].

[ii] Giorgio Agamben, “De la utilidad y los inconvenientes de vivir entre espectros”, Desnudez, Anagrama, Barcelona, 2011.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Mamoru Oshii, Ghost in the Shell, Japón, 1995; inspired by Masamune Shirow’s eponymous manga.



(Featured Image: Major Kusanagi in her room; frame from Ghost in the Shell, by Mamoru Oshii (Japan, 1995)).






Andrés Carretero is an architect and a critic.
His practice covers an expanded conception of architecture traversed by art, theory and politics. Co-founder of ASSEMBLY - cooperative infrastructure of architectural production.

"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)