The constraint of flow

The river, like any other landscape, acts as a topologue of human life, a texture imprinted by or interwoven with the meanings of human need. In a loose reading, therefore, it is still possible to say that power relations force the river to take on the contingent form of a "cultural landscape" (Sauer 1963) for which "Culture is the agent, the natural area is the medium, the cultural landscape the result" (p. 343). However, the cultural landscape of the Thames in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century can be seen as a more problematic construction. It was a landscape of discipline, formed by the holding back and channelling of the river's water in response to the manifestation of the "real" needs generated by the material demands of living, the "imagined" wants generated by culture, and the "symbolic" desires created by people's feelings. It was these forces of generation that gave the meaning of value to the metabolization of the river, to its construction in the period under examination as a built environment.

The real landscape of the Thames was subjected to an engineered discipline so that capital could flow freely. The locks, as solid works of fixed capital, enabled the holding back of water to make navigation, and the circulation of capital, easier. They therefore acted as a means for legitimizing the existing social structure because they created the necessary conditions for the reproduction of capital and also acted, in the way suggested by Harvey (1996:183), as "manifestations and instanciations 'in nature'" of contemporary social relations.

The economic desirability of using waterways to benefit trade in England in the early-modern era led to the development of a movement for the improvement of rivers and the construction of canals (Jackman 1966) and a concern with the desirability of usable waterways came to motivate a number of thinkers' opinions about the Thames (Willan 1964). Through the installation of an engineered infrastructure the river was slowly but unavoidably changed into a partially metabolized work of culture. This process was carried out principally by replacing or supplementing the old weirs with new locks that were designed to ensure what Thacker (1968:1,2) described as a regime of "easy and inexpensive facility". Their effect was to provide a faster circulation of value, and allow what Naruhito (1989:24) listed as a "fall in freight rates.. .extra traffic generated.. .greater intensity in the use of barges, swifter speeds of passage, larger boats and lower costs".

Such improvements need to be seen in the context of the cultural imaginary of "circulation". The hegemonic discourse of circulation in the West went through a profound change at the beginning of the capitalist era, as Rublack (2002) showed, when medieval notions of the circulation of abundance gave way to notions of privately managed scarcity that were much better fitted for a new age of accumulation. Even so, according to Tuan's account of the hydrological cycle (1968), the influence of natural theology was such that as late as about 1850 the flow of the cycle was interpreted as a divine gift and the river's flow therefore to represent to some extent a divine bounty for human use.

According to Landreth and Colander (1994), until the late eighteenth century circulation was held to be of major importance in explaining the accumulation of wealth. In mercantilist theory, because the flow of goods was related proportionately to the level of wealth in the country, easy circulation was vital for the economy. The development of physiocratic thought in the mid-eighteenth century promoted the idea that transport was particularly important because it determined attrition of the value of the economy's productive surplus.

These ideas were reflected in the literature on the Thames. For Vallancey (1763) commerce was "the only means to render a State flourishing and formidable to its Neighbours" (p. iii) and Burton (A Commissioner 1767) claimed the principal benefit of "improving" the river would be to enable the "Encrease of Trade" (p. 13). By the 1770s the mercantilist concern with circulation had, though, begun to be replaced by a physiocratic concern with the "surplus" represented by the value of water. Increasingly, therefore, what became most important was not the circulation of traffic on the river but the conservation of the river's water—a change that led A Commissioner (1772) to criticize the "Spirit of Benevolence" (iii) formerly shown to the millers and their use of the river water, and praise the thrifty regime regulating the use of the improved Thames.

The disciplining of the Thames also had significant symbolic resonance for repressed individuals fighting to establish boundaries over the unruliness of their own feelings. The significance of boundaries can be seen in those psychodynamic interpretations of desire which, influenced by Freud's mechanical model, stressed the significance of the flow of psychic energy. Marcuse (1956) put forward the interpretation that the repressive binding of energy by power is an inevitable function of the reality principle in any class-based society, and Reich (1970) presented the damming of the flows of desire as a means to engrave oppression into the inner self. Poststructuralist thought, with its emphasis more on becoming rather than on being, has likewise tended to represent the disciplining of any flow as inherently authoritarian. For Lyotard (1984) it is the "damming" up the flow of libidinal desire by the investment of libido in a "device" that polices the flow of desire, stabilizing it to make "locks, canals, regulators of desire" (p. 98).

Humanist writers on psychotherapy have suggested that cruel societies create individuals capable of destroying the alienated other of nature. Fromm believed that destructiveness is generated by conditions of emotional impotence: "I can escape the feeling of my own powerlessness in comparison with the world outside myself by destroying it" (1984:158). For Miller the "repression of [emotional] injuries endured during childhood" acts as "the root cause of psychic disorders and criminality" (1987:4). Influenced by Miller, Maguire (1996:170) went further to suggest that "The unrecognized fear and hurt which fuel our absurd social and political process fuel at the same time both our aggression and our indifference towards the world we inhabit." These emotional pressures developed in modernity led to the instrumental relationship with nature characterized by Gutkind (1956:21) as "I-it", as without "intimate and personal contact".

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