Monday, 8 March 2010

Monday 22.2. What is the city?

Michel Serres (Rome, a book of Foundations): "This is not about ordinary writing of history. This is about being able to see community to take form."

1. The city is the place of man.
The city is not a specific place where man (human being) dwells, it is the form in which man exists in the world. Human beings do not exist in the abstract, but always in some concrete form. And in a form that is both material and symbolic, at the same time. Man builds because he dwells - because his relation to the world is such that it contains dwelling.

People make the city: place, space, dwelling is made and constructed, not something existing independently of human beings. Dwelling is a skill that has to be learned, like a language. Learning and dwelling itself takes time, happens over time (creates time) - there is no instant dwelling. It is something shared, not solitary.

Dwelling happens in the movement of departure and return. It is in motion, agitated - the place is kept by keeping it in motion. The movement creates differences in the world, between here - there; near - far; familiar - strange; culture - nature; us - them ... etc. Dwelling creates directions and meaning, forms a cosmography.

2. The city contains strangers
"Cities are, by definition, full of strangers" - and one has to learn how to get along with them. Jane Jacobs, the Rise and Death of Great American cities.

Cities are not made of people who are all the same, like a family. Strangeness is not a property of somebody or a thing, it is a social relation. At its densest this strangeness manifests itself in the urban crowds, the anonymous masses.

Masses are an age-old problem of governance, politics, democracy. They are the plurality of cities, the stuff that urban texture is made of. Baudelaire's poem:

Amid the deafening traffic of the town,
Tall, slender, in deep mourning, with majesty,
A woman passed, raising, with dignity
In her poised hand, the flounces of her gown;

Graceful, noble, with a statue's form.
And I drank, trembling as a madman thrills,
From her eyes, ashen sky where brooded storm,
The softness that fascinates, the pleasure that kills.

A flash . . . then night!--O lovely fugitive,
I am suddenly reborn from your swift glance;
Shall I never see you till eternity?

Somewhere, far off! Too late! never, perchance!
Neither knows where the other goes or lives;
We might have loved, and you knew this might be!

Says Benjamin: "..the crowd is nowhere named in either word or phrase. And yet the whole happening hinges on it, just as the progress of a sailing-boat depends on the wind." Some Motifs in Baudelaire/ Silmä väkijoukossa. - Here is maybe the corner-stone of the course: not so much looking at narratives and stories about cities, as looking at narratives and stories which are irrevocably set in urban context.

3. Metropolis
The metropolis is the city that has overflowed all it's borders. It has no one centre and no definite form or circumference. More than an interface, it is a platform.

The metropolis is to the knowledge worker what the factory was to the industrial labor. It is both the space of production and consumption.

Films of the day:
Ettore Scola: Nuovi Mostri/ Hostaria
Ettore Scola: Nuovi Mostri/ Pronto Soccorso
Riddley Scott: Blade Runner - Cityscapes
Woody Allen: Annie Hall/ queue scene

And we watched all of Matti Kassila's Kaasua, komisaario Palmu - where 1950ies Helsinki is the wind in the sails of the story. (Link is not to the film or excerpt, but an article about the film).

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