M I A M I V I R T U E : Choragraphy of the Virtual City


  • Gregory Ulmer
  • Barbara Revelle
  • John Craig Freeman
  • William Tilson



        Introduces the members of the Florida Research Ensemble (FRE) and describes the genesis of the Miami project



        Explains the concept of an online consulting agency as the frame within which to develop courses or research concerned with the internet. Paul Virilio's concerns about the general accident focus the challenge posed to this consultancy.  This framing has proven to be an effective way to organize courses involving the internet in such diverse disciplines as Architecture, Computers and Writing, Cultural Studies, Fine Arts, Media Studies.



        This section focuses on the method used to map the Miami River zone.  All three sections of the book are organized as an unpacking of the image category held together by the mood of the photograph entitled "Crossroads."


        1.1     Occasion

        The picture was taken by the creative photographer Barbara Jo Revelle, acting on behalf of the FRE, during her fieldwork stay at the Miami River Inn.  The contributions of each of the FRE members is outlined (Freeman, Revelle, Tilson, Ulmer).

        1. 2    Place

        The site is documented as it is represented in the discourses of history, tourism, policy formation, and Revelle's journals.

        1. 3    Situation

        The choral method of the mapping is described, relative to psychogeography, placing the situationist drift in the context of a tradition joining contemporary theoretical mapping (Deleuze and Guattari) with the ancient practice of "theoria."

        1. 4    Encounter

        An important precedent for choral mapping is the poetic encounter, practiced by modernist writers from Baudelaire to Joyce.  The method is that of the epiphany, the flash of revelation illuminating the sentiment of being triggered by a meeting with an abject "other" or "object."  The connection between the poets and photography is Roland Barthes's notion of the photographic third meaning (punctum).

        1. 5    Memory

        Choral mapping is further related to the history of topology, specifically the invention of topology by Euler in solving the puzzle of the seven bridges of Koenigsberg.  Lacan adapted topology to theorize the collective extimacy of the human subject (interpenetration of inside outside in the structure of all borders and frontiers).  In a sense Lacan put Koenigsberg inside his model of the Unconscious.  MV extends this connection between place and psyche into the internet:  a tour of the Miami chora (Miautre) constitutes reasoning.



        "Myami" refers to the city of Miami as it is constructed in the spectacle of media discourses.


        2. 1    Allegory

        The photographic image provides a groove or coherence as the site of convergence of a set of different extant narratives already operating to make sense of the heterogeneous chaos of the river zone.  These multiple narratives, each guided by default values that determine their outcomes, are sorted into the four levels of allegory, updated to contemporary secular conditions in the "mystory."  The allegory as a whole constitutes a "cognitive map" (Jameson) connecting individual experience with collective forces operating in the zone.

        2. 2    Mystory 1:  Family

        Revelle's memories of her childhood adventures in the forbidden neighborhood of "Skeeversville" provide the "moral" (personal) dimension of the allegory.  The purpose of the mystory is to construct a "dialectical image" (Walter Benjamin), juxtaposing the consultant's past with the present of the historical situation on the river.  Image categories are "singularities" rather than universals.

        2. 3    Mystory 2:  Entertainment

        The immediate representative of this discourse directing the image of Miami (Myami) is the TV series MIAMI VICE, still shown in syndication around the world, updated now by CSI:  MIAMI.  The genealogy of this neo-noir narrative is developed connecting it to the myth of the Frontier through the genre of the Western.  The Frontier myth through its scenario of the showdown is drawn upon equally by screenwriters and policy makers.

        2. 4    Mystory 3:  History

        While there are many policy stories circulating in the zone, the one featured in this consultation concerns Operation Safety Net, the Caribbean Code of shipping standards enforced by the United States Coast Guard (whose terms were outlined in 1.2).  The effects of this policy on the people involved is documented in several interviews with Haitian traders and Coast Guard officers.

        2. 5    Mystory 4:  Theory.

        The "anagogical" register of the allegory is represented by the discipline expertise of the FRE.  This discourse is shown to have its own default moods -- the ascetic tradition of the sages and their mood of "ataraxy" -- and predetermined typology for the denizens of the zone.  The Haitian traders in this case embody the archetype of the "chiffonier" or rag-picker, one of the chief modern heroes identified by Baudelaire and monumentalized by Walter Benjamin.



        This section describes the working features of the Miami chora, named "Miautre" to distinguish it as potential or virtual city from the actual city and the spectacle city.  The name is a macaronic pun generated from treating "miami" as a creolized "my friend," so that "miautre" is "my other."  This name alludes to Derrida's study on "the politics of friendship.”


        3. 1    Reading

        The allegory (mystory) of Myami produced a pattern, a repetition across the four discourses, that is the point of coherence holding the diverse narratives together in a holistic mood.  This unifying item is a mattress, featured prominently in "Crossroads," used mattresses being one of the primary cargoes transported to Haiti by the traders (chiffoniers). This repeating object is the punctum trigger of the group epiphany, a dialectical image showing the transference between the consultant's childhood situation and the policy scene.  The impoundment of the Haitian boats by the Coast Guard evokes Revelle's feeling about her own life situation.  The mattress is a "sublime object," an "objectity" or "quasi-object," constructed in a field of desire, which is to say that it escapes entirely the empirical methods of conventional consulting. Electrate categories expose a dimension of reality causing the intractability of problems conceived strictly in utilitarian terms.

        3. 2    Invention

        With this mood established, the logical operators of the practice are elaborated.  The chora renders perceptible and intelligible the invisible cultural forces shaping the propensity or trajectory of events in the zone.  Each of the key features of the image scene is connected to its history, showing where, when, and by whom it was invented.  The iconography of Myami is unified within the Frontier myth, including the cowboy, the femme fatale (Salome), the hard-boiled detective, and film noir.  The genealogy of each of these figures is traced, with all of them representing cultural adaptations to conditions of the industrial city. The point for the EmerAgency is to democratize this process of the invention of the icons and scenarios guiding the public sphere in politics, ethics, and entertainment.  The immediate point is to connect the Caribbean Safety Code policy to its motivating value in the Frontier myth in which the "other" (such as the Creoles) is necessarily excluded.

        3. 3    Jazz

        The Frontier myth was invented and maintained by the hegemonic interests of American society (beginning with the WASP elite in the era of Teddy Roosevelt) in response to a fear of "the crowd," the dangerous classes of the industrial city.  The consultancy proposes a revision of the Frontier myth by foregrounding a voice already present in it, representing the crowd -- the jazz ensemble.  Jazz was invented in the same period as the other icons included in the Frontier scenario, representing an experience (emancipation) as important to American exceptionalism as "the strenuous life" inculcated through "westering." The creole traders in the river zone represent this Afro-Caribbean heritage, including a direct connection between Haiti and New Orleans, with the association of jazz and the blues with Vodou rituals.  The jazz jam session is proposed as an alternative to the showdown as a scenario for public policy formation.  The forensic state of mind of empirical consulting (problem-solution) is supplemented by the blues mood of the EmerAgency (aporia-impossibility).

        3. 4    Vortex

        The question of how to design the interface for Miautre as a category written in digital media is addressed.  The consultation process was designed from the beginning as a syncretism between Western and non-Western epistemologies.  Before touring the river zone Revelle posed a "burning question," following the conventions of divination.  This question concerned a personal difficulty (her relationship with her partner), thus transforming the unfamiliar circumstances of the river into a "situation" that matters to the consultant.  The focus on the Caribbean Code policy emerged from Revelle's fieldwork, considered as an attunement of the zone, following Heidegger's theory of mood or Stimmung as an intersubjective or collective orientation within a situation.  The tradition of the search for a universal language, specifically Pound's Vorticism as a syncretic invention based on Chinese wisdom and the ideogram, is developed as a guide to the design of an image category (chora).  Miautre is configured as one situation in a larger process, modeled on the trigrams at the core of the Chinese Book of Changes, the I CHING.

        3. 5    Choramancy

        The future task of the EmerAgency is to coordinate collaborations with the educational community in the national project to compose a contemporary "oracle" projecting a global (glocal) American wisdom. Miautre is translated into the terms of a hexagram, establishing a form that is transportable to other policy zones in other cities transnationally.  Divination is proposed as an interface capable of supporting cross-cultural interaction, given its ubiquity across nearly every civilization and society, including New Age self-help divination in first-world societies.  In the tradition of the I CHING which accumulated philosophical commentaries in its long history, Miautre as a situation is identifed as an instance of "aporia" or impossible dilemma theorized by Jacques Derrida.