The Distributed Unconscious: What happens in Vegas?
Professor Steve Pile (Faculty of Social Sciences, The Open University)
In this paper, I will explore the relationship between the city, people's experiences of urban spaces, and affect. Cities are, famously, as much states of mind as states of government, infrastructure, economies and so on. Grasping the city as 'a state of mind' has often focused upon their discourses, representations and imaginaries – and, in doing so, treated the city as a text that can be "read" as a forest of signs and symbols. The affect turn in the social sciences has, alternatively asked that nonrepresentational aspects of city life and experiences be taken into account. Commonly enough, affect is found in the ordinary experiences, interactions and etiquettes of urban life, much as Simmel might have wanted. In this paper, I would like to come at the question of city life and urban experience from a slightly different angle – through the recent film, The Hangover (2009). Set in Las Vegas, it follows three men as they attempt to reconstruct the night before. The movie plays heavily on Las Vegas' reputation as a sin city, in which not only anything can happen, but where it is somehow OK that it happens because "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas". The question is whether this film, contrary to this injunction, actually has something to tell us about people's experiences of cities and their affectual life. In part, the movie highlights the ordinary surrealism of city life. But, perhaps as importantly, also how urban experiences need to be reconstructed in face of an over-hanging knowledge of their absurdity and of our inability to determine what has actually happened.
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