ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AUG 15, 2014
INOX of Exeter has placed a sign on the A390 to the west of Truro. The sign proudly announces the imminent arrival of a ‘major urban extension’, although building on open countryside well outside the current urban area looks more like a new village than an ‘extension’. Be that as it may, INOX tells us that Langarth will be ‘a place to live, a place to work and a place to enjoy’. This slogan is well worth de[a]constructing.
Let’s start by contrasting it with another, very similar, slogan that has been around among our friends in the Breton autonomist movement for some decades – ‘vivre, décider et travailler en Bretagne ‘ or ‘Live, decide and work in Brittany’. If we borrow this we could apply it to Cornwall as ‘Live, work and decide in Cornwall’. Let’s call this a Cornish slogan and compare it with the INOX version.
In the INOX world, ‘decide’ is replaced by ‘enjoy’. Citizenship is swapped for hedonism. What we have here is a combination of three things: the familiar tourist gaze, a shallow consumer culture oriented towards immediate gratification, and a corporate ideology. In the latter, individualised household units live; they work (to get their money); they enjoy (by spending it again). This is a depoliticised message, stripped of the political action that’s part of the Breton/Cornish trilogy. ‘Enjoy’ replaces ‘decide’. Passive consumption replaces active community action.
They’re not that different. Indeed, the first two elements (live and work) are identical. But the third makes the overall message very different. Moreover, INOX’s explicit reference to ‘place’ might be more significant than it first appears.
What about the explicit reference to the ‘place’ that INOX invites us to enjoy? Their ‘place’ looks like a convenient backdrop, a location for the functional activities of living, working and enjoying. There is little sense of ‘a place’ having a deeper, more aesthetic meaning. It’s merely a means of easing the quiet desperation of the production and consumption cycle.
More than that, place is itself incorporated into the consumption process. It’s not the specific utility or beauty of a place that matters; it’s the provision of ‘open space’, some trees and greenery and community ‘facilities’. Any place could be redesigned to provide this package. Which suggests that it’s not the actual place where the building occurs that matters, but the context of that place. What’s important is what views it commands, how near it is to other consumption foci, or the communications infrastructure linking it to other places.
Places can of course mean a lot more than this. From a native perspective, local places are imbricated in our identity, entwined with our heritage, rooted in our pasts. Those who come to live at Langarth, whether from other places in Cornwall or, more likely, places well outside Cornwall, will not be able to view this place in that light. In fact, if the place does hold that deeper, denser texture for anyone, it will be irrevocably lost as the place of memory is replaced by the place of the INOX dream. Or nightmare.
Each slogan, the corporate and the Cornish, also has its missing aspects. The INOX slogan coyly omits mention of a fourth function of ‘place’ – ‘a place to make profits’. Meanwhile, there’s the autonomist implication. Where the unstated corollary of ‘live, work and decide in Cornwall’ would be ‘a place to (decide to) be Cornish’.
This has no place in INOX’s place.
These two visions are not just alternatives. INOX’s Moloch devours the landscape in order to create new places for us to live in, work in, and ‘enjoy’; the autonomists’ Cornishness, incorporates the landscape in our sense of identity. They’re locked in fundamental conflict. This is a zero-sum game. They’re not complementary; they may not be compatible. INOX’s places can only thrive through the destruction of these Cornish places; in the Cornish places, there would be little place for INOX’s money-making. It’s not just a question of ideas. It’s about control and power, about democracy and finance. They have the money, own the places and command the ear of decision-makers; we have the moral high ground, know the places and will surely ultimately prevail.