Friday, 22 October 2010


Today at 4:00pm. Meet outside Hanbury Hall. From there we shall have a look at some bits of Shoreditch and Hoxton, ending up in Shoreditch Park. The original idea was to circumnavigate Hackney's Alcohol Control Zones - but Hackney stole a march on me and have turned the whole borough into a zone, with very little fanfare - well, none at all, I completely missed that one.

So, I have had to re-think things a little. If the whole borough is a zone, but it is clearly not enforced, what is it?

Councillor Alan Laing says in the comments to the Hackney Post article linked above "...this is not a ban on public drinking. This point has been made throughout the process and through the consultation. The council and the local police have expressly stated that it is not a ban on public drinking..." If it is not that, what is it?

It seems to me like Zizek's description of totalitarian regimes as regimes of tolerance. In such a state the law, if stringently applied, would make anyone guilty of something. So the state benevolently does not enforce the whole of the law, or not all the time. They keep it there just in case. Remarkable generosity. it looks like an extension of the de-normalisation strategy that is used in public health campaigns, previously against smoking, now against alcohol use - also latterly against recieving state benefits or living in council housing.

The problem seems to be not so much with alcohol as the people who are percieved to be the users of it. Hence, alcohol control areas frequently contain licensed premises, often with tables outside, as well as benches, walls or whatever other accommodation that street drinkers might find conducive. However, the licensed premises and their clientel are unlikely to receive the attentions of the local constabulary. 

If alcohol is so dangerous and corrosive to manners, health and morals why not ban it altogether? There are already laws that have been on the books for some generations against assault, threatening behaviour and public urination. This measure looks excessive because it is aimed at prevention, a drastically illiberal aim. Despite the advertisements exhorting us to "Drink Responsibly", there is apparently a class of people who cannot be trusted to do so. For their own good, they must be discouraged from drinking at all. Incidentally, I have often wondered about "responsible" drinking - responsible to whom? Purely by coincidence, the irresponsible class against whom pre-emptive measures are to be taken are those who drink on the street because pubs are too expensive. The poor should not be on the street at all, let alone congregating in groups.

Ironically, the designation of an alcohol control zone is DPP, (discussed here in some council minutes) a "Designated Public Place". That these places were public beforehand - streets, parks, benches - is not the point. The were providing a space for the wrong sort of public. The tautological nomenclature is necessary, the capital p "Public" is not the same entity as that negative designation of small p public space ie. not privately owned, open to all without the specifying the characteristics of "all". The "Public" who will use these spaces is brought into being by that designation. The spaces that they will inhabit are already demarcated and shaped by the law, an un-enforced ban. This is a sober, law-abiding, hard-working polity, the "hard working, law-abiding Britons/families" who politicians and columnists never tire of conscripting into whatever illiberal fantasy they are flogging.

Anyway, time is getting away from me, I have to leave very soon. Suffice it to say that I have re-thought the walk as a whole in light of this development and have moved from physical to psycho-geography as an approach. This seems to make sense as we are looking at something without edges, an undefined space - the space of the ban. Because it is not necessarily enforced it has no specific content, so everything exists under the ban. What can be done is to look at some tropes that cut across this contentless authoritarianism.

So, I have come up with, liquids, sewers - the possible derivation of Shoreditch, "sewer-ditch" - and holy wells, Holywell street. Liquids flow, they reflect, and constantly leak from wherever they are meant to be. The other two sites are the Curtain Theatre and specifically the character of Falstaff, and John Frankland's boulder sculpture in Shoreditch Park. Anyway, will post more on this later.


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