New expressions of independence

July 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

As the country prepares to celebrate its independence, more & more American flags are springing up on street windows, by doors, on vehicles of all descriptions. We are made to reflect on the nation willingly, unwillingly — perhaps just willy-nilly. Those residents looking to explore the roots of the nation more actively might go to their respective temples. I have found myself doing just that.

The death of gods

Approaching the New York Public Library, once lovingly called the people’s palace, you find the shady refuge of Bryant Park, home to inner-city recreation, iced coffees on the lawn, & a bed to the unlucky few. It is summer. You get the impression that the Library building is at least in part designed for the shadow it casts, like any other monument must be I suppose. I can’t help but notice the widespread failure of the American people to connect with, & grow from, the figures of their greatness. The impression this shadow leaves is not awe but a grateful relief from the sun, a basic form of notarization I admit.

I am a little more prudent in my praise; my steps bound joyously past the neoclassical archway. They make it inside the library, but do not run to any nationally defined part of it, though these boundaries still exist under titles of Americana, Africana, Germanistic, &c. The praise is above culture, above heritage: as there are more useful ways to divide books, so it is with people. Nationalism is becoming antiquated, hard to look at without lolling one’s head to the side. Individuals prefer to define themselves by their subjects of interests or specialities [granted, the study of a culture is a valid study].

It is Prometheus that greets us at the Jill Kupin Rose Gallery, from which the main rooms of the building disperse. It is the sole fresco in the building which carries an image, the story of which can be taken for the American dream (cf. the Rockefeller Prometheus); the reading rooms & remaining galleries are empty of myth, making do with the loftiest of clouds & not a single cherub to grace them! These are soft with their flamingo overtones & only the slightest secret greys; they do encourage flight, my own or that of any individual that looks upon them. Frescoes feed the classicism of the building although their presence only makes it all the more obvious that here there is nothing to believe in but the self.

This is the Capitalist dream realized. It has replaced beauty for emptiness & does not even hide the fact. The pendants people carry that thump against their hearts carry no icon. We are taught to be our own gods in this system.

Prometheus, above human hardship

Prometheus, above human hardship at the NYPL

The death of the city

The city is not, all things considered, a single text but the amalgamation of many in the acts of unification, classification, & interpretation. We cannot speak of the cities themselves, only of their depictions — what is dubbed in Stadt-Bilder >Stadttexte<. In these, there is a thematic logic to individual places by their recurrent subjects & preoccupation; the repetitions & similarities of diverse portrayals seem to suggest that there is a common object as the source. “This is the illusion of mimesis. Indeed, the opposite is  conceivable also: namely that the prevailing city was brought out of & modelled from its textual representations. That is the craft of imagination. Products of such an imaginative process, we may call >Textstädte<” (12). Andreas Mahler utilizes the semantic trick of portmanteau — the combining of two or more words — to fix the dependent, bidirectional relationship of city text.

“Every isolated text — & this is particularly true of fiction — begins in the same informational vacuum[…] This results in the rule that informational density, from the beginning of any text, with the reader’s help can construct when & where a text is played out, who the protagonists are, the complications that arise, &c.” (14). Very often to make a construction the real & fantasized worlds are combined. We do not, in fact, start from scratch, expect to learn existence with every new fiction. Referentiality orientates the reader in the text & the text in the world. Mahler proceeds to divide the textual instances into that of listening (Wahrnehmungsinstanz) & of evocation (Erzähl/Sprechinstanz): the two discursive aspects of the meaning-creating forces. On the side of the former we can assume the presence of an “illusion-willing reader” (29), or one who is complicit in the falsification by their mere desire to understand what has been written.

Further still, on the more truly crafted side of the author, by means of metonymic association, semantic collection, & an assumed coherence, a city is imagined, sketched (if poorly & incompletely). “[I]n the generated >Textstadt<, developed by means of a secondary semantics which is ineluctably excessive, the city’s elements are piled in abandon, as in a dumping ground, & amount to mere allegorical cities” (25). This remains true even of the functionally “realist” depictions of a place. [We may be tempted to pursue this thought to the end that signifiers can never satisfy signifieds.]

What’s left of these imaginary cities? “Such mental constructions of city — such world-, or rather, city-making (after Nelson Goodman) — is obliged to the dismissal of the verbal arts of their imitative paradigm” (33), although word games & highly alliterative poetry have proven that a sensory mimesis is possible in a narrow range of subjects (clucking, clicking, the sea, & city trams).

[A]s a reflection of reality, [>Stadttexten<] are revealed obsolete; as constructs of the imagination, their main currency is in postcolonial literature or as gendered projections in phantasmagory. The city loses its position as Everyplace & as Noplace (after Marc Augé); it loses it prototype, its semantics, its specificity, to become interchangeable instead. (35)

& soon after, it is added that “The denuded of essence, undistinguishable city is no city at all” (36).  Is it something else that is constructed then? We look for ways to begrudge being, or the awkwardness of necessary situationism. By reducing the city to its common denominator of space, an irrelevancy is faked. This agrees with our inter-web aesthetics where all space is anonymous & absolutely surmountable. We ask the same for ourselves.


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