But perhaps the most striking experience of encountering a ‘different space’ that seemed to reverberate with Foucault’s principles and features of heterotopia occurred when attending various music festivals, in particular the now hugely celebrated Glastonbury Festival in the UK.
Since its inception in 1970, Glastonbury has become the biggest green-field music and performing arts festival in the world and a model for many other festivals. Similarities with Foucault’s brief sketch of heterotopia seemed to include how the vast, teeming space grows. suddenly and then disappears each year; how the space marks both a temporal and spatial break, how it features a play of the ‘transient and precarious’ as well as a ‘system of opening and closing’, how it involves a series of rituals and, finally, how it incorporates various utopian themes. The festival might seem a rather clichéd example, but it struck me that taking Foucault’s spatial precepts threw a new light on how it functions without drawing upon two standard and opposing interpretations: a Bakhtinian example of the ‘carnivalesque’, expressing a utopian space that utterly disrupts the usual hierarchies of power, or an example of Adorno’s notion of reification, where modern ‘culture impresses the same stamp on everything’.
Foucault’s approach seemed to not so much attempt to synthesise these opposites in some dialectical process, but take a different direction altogether, an analysis that captured a certain ambiguity that belies the perennial complaints that the festival is ‘not like it used to be’. The festival is a hugely successful and thoroughly organised event that provides glimpses of a different world, disrupting for a short while the familiar landscape. The organiser, Michael Eavis, hesitantly suggests that it might sound ‘corny, (but) well, it’s a kind of utopia, really, something outside of the normal world we live in’ (an image taken from my tent at the Glastonbury Festival 2010 is therefore the banner image for this site). Heterotopia=a fragment of utopia, or utopian debris?
24 May 2012