Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Detroit 1863

Riot, mob violence

Doing research tonight, I stumbled across a remarkable, primary account of the race and draft riots in Detroit in 1863. Part of the document included this poem, written by a black citizen in the city at that time:


'Twas in Detroit city, the State of Michigan,
Where mob law reigned rampant, disgraceful to man,
In killing and beating both women and men,
And sacking and burning beyond human ken.

The crowd ran collected and beat every one,
Whose skin were not colored exact like their own,
And swore they'd have "Falkner," and hang him that day,
Or kill every "nigger" that came in their way.

The only pretext for this outbreak in fact,
Was "Falkner" committed an now nameless act,
Although given up to the law right away,
The mob sought to lynch him in broad open day.

Now be it remember'd that Falkner at right,
Although call'd a "nigger," had always been white,
Had voted, and always declared in his shop,
He never would sell colored people a drop.

He's what is call'd white, though I must confess,
So mixed are the folks now, we oft have to guess,
Their hair is co curl'd and their skins are so brown,
If they're white in the country, they're niggers in town.

To keep from a rescue, and take him to jail,
The soldiers were ordered to come without fail,
But they were insulted and stoned at--pell mell--
Till some of them fired and down a man fell.

The mob, disappointed, now hied to a place
Where some humble coopers, of the sable race,
Were honestly working to earn their own bread,
By rowdies were set on and left almost dead.

They enter'd, and beat them with billets of wood,
Then fired the cooper shop just as it stood,
And as they attempted to rush from the flames,
They met them with bludgeons to dash out their brains.

Then they took the city without more delay,
And fired each building that stood in their way,
Until the red glare had ascended on high,
And lit up the great azure vault of the sky.

The sight was most awful indeed to behold,
See women and babes driven out in the cold,
And old aged sires, that fought for the land,
Beat almost to death by a desperate band.

Whilst females were heard crying, "kill them"--Oh; shame,
They urged on the mob, yet there's no one to blame,
'Twas got up to please our friends of the South,
Now don't say a word--nay, don't open your mouth.

We go in for the Union just as it was.
And slavery also, and all the slave laws;
Now do not think hard if we do behave rash,
By burning those houses we pocket some cash.

'Tis said that those houses and inmates were bad,
And hence the excuse that the outragers had,
Yet was it the true love of virtue alone,
That made the mob anxious to pull a church down?

Strange as it may be, yet 'tis true without doubt,
Mobs do not discriminate if once let out;
So when they had fired the huts of the poor,
They ran with the torch to their rich neighbor's door.

This brought the community plainly to see
The danger in which all were likely to be;
The rich and the poor, the black and the white,
Stood a chance to be mobbed and burned out that night.

I blush when I think that such deeds should take place,
Not heathens or Turks, a civilized race,
Not where savage nations alone have the rule,
But here amidst churches, the Bible and school.

Humanity wept, she lamented the sight,
The groans, blood and tears of that terrible night;
Yet, oh, may the town of Detroit never see
Such a day as the sixth of March, sixty-three.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Silent Life of Photons

Days at Promontory Point

Sitting in church this afternoon, I was reminded by the light entering the windows at the base of Beacon Hill rising over the Common that I am beckoned south and west. Generally. Without doubt, I am sometimes beckoned east, sometimes north. In Chicago, I am pulled both west and east, the former out to the prairie and the grassy hills, the latter out over the lake and into Michigan. In cases of being beckoned north, this often has to do with the western light, and sometimes with cloudy weather, mostly in winter but at times and for different reasons in the summer. In winter, the western light, in late afternoon, recalls the crisp air of the northern hills where we took long weekends as children and plowed through sixteen inches of snow on our way to play on these wooded knolls. Here the western light streamed easily through the barren trees where my brother and sister and I dug in the snow and played innovative little games. When the cloudy winter light settles I am sometimes beckoned north, in recollection of that magnificent grey landscape on the same long weekends where we drove subtle curved paths through orchards and woods on our way to ski trails and country diners and sometimes haunts. In summer I am beckoned north as well, but again due to the western light, which brings vivid impressions of late afternoons when the air finally dries out and the insects settle back into the wood save the tiny bugs that hang in the air stubbornly like gumps, and when the lake water begins to cool and the hum of boat motors die down and the world and catydids are turned over to crickets and slightly breezes that come from nowhere but the stuff of night itself. Occassionally, I will be beckoned toward the north and east in both summer and winter as a result of the eastern light which is in essence (and essence) the western light minus the angles of incidence that otherwise would make it equally vibrant. the eastern light has a way in both winter and summer of morphing the landscape into the sky, blurring and erasing the horizon line or the tree line in a singular palette. Here, the moon is most silver(-set-against-blue). The same eastern light beckons me east across the horizonless lake on Chicago summer evenings. As though the city were silent save a slow-rendered soundtrack, the gnats and bugs are flickering head and brake lights up the avenue, the dotted glows of windows and the planes flying overhead, blinking red and white, into Midway and O'Hare. Time moves at a rate less than 1, the foot feels no concrete but rather a mere ground, the air is devoid of breeze and weight. Just the silent music of photons creating the western light beckoning you east, highlighting the bellies of planes and softening the textures of tree and brick, upending the road and pulling the horizon up along the dome of the sky, wrapping it up back into the sky where it fades into intensity to west at your back. One has the sense of watching pure life, without identifying names and places, objects and species. Plane is gnat is oak is brake light is stone is water is street is dome is sky is person is eye is light is west is east is north is south. Is then is now is winter is summer is hill and plain and house and forest and adult and child and teenager and geezer. When time moves at less than 1, the rest seems to accelerate, warp and collapse into a stream rushing by as you face east, west, south, north...

Chanson: TNT, His Second Story Island

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Unfolding the Accordian, then Squeezing It Back Up Again.

Idea and Ontology

I spent somewhere around four hours in the past two days trying to track down a song that I heard on This American Life. Thinking about any number of micro-dilemmas brought to course in the passing of a day, I set bow to break and dug in a virtual landscape of placelessness for an ontological cue. This post is about idea and ontology. Chords are ideas. They are measurable, discernable, recognizable and identifiable; they are finite and tangible. They are not invisible. Circumstantially, our sensate capacities come to measure, discern, recognize and identify such cues like music, and waves of fluctuating air become ideas. A single piece of music, as a deliberately considered construction, denoted on paper and executed with a different rule of measure, communicates intention. This too is discernable; intention begets consequence, begets consequence, begets consequence, and on and on until we ( I ) ruffle my whiskers and call it causality. Last night I had a conversation about altruism and justice, and it was in the end a silly conversation because the other person involved and I weren't acknowledging the words that we were dodgings by proclaiming them. Besides, it was late and I was exhausted and I wanted to sit under the flourescent lights in the studio and stare forward, sipping on the lukewarm beer that stood at hand. Justice is black and white, she said, referring to Scripture. I said yes, it is. But we know it only in greytones. I don't believe in altruism, I said. I don't believe such a complete conviction is possible--sip--we declare it isn't. We're talking around the center now. At the end of the day I don't know what God's justice is. There's no way for me to a priori determine whether God's standing on a divide hoarding the murdered into hell. I cannot do this because I only see greys, but never black and never white. Of course, she said. But you have faith that God is correct. Right, that's the temptation as well as the pain of it. Yet how can we then turn around, admitting that faith in correctness is the best we can do, and send our own into a hell of our own making? What is this nihilism? How can you stand by the exactly ambiguous with an ambiguous exactness? Is it so easy to swing back and forth between poles, and miss the dialectics of moving in between? Sip. I wanted to say that I believe in one justice because the very concept doesn't allow for duplicity, and that we don't have relative palettes of choice. Sip. But that's the paradox of Christian ontology; that we depend on the relative to know the universal. This is a melancholy of all things in parallel--greater knowing yields only the possibility for greater unknowing. A god of justice is a god of torment then, if justice is univeral and singular, but we cannot know it in such terms. The extent to which we know justice is described most essentially by the extent to which we don't know, and the extent to which we don't know is the extent to which we are exacted the torment of not knowing, of building up in an origin-less world according to what can be seen and heard and tasted and felt around us; the melancholy of all things in parallel. In such a world, we will spend skewed time digging for the ontological cue. It is a grounding, as sign measures intention, measures consequence, and consequence, and consequence, and consequence...Sip. The whole time with two hands in two poles, two ends of the arc of a swing, eyes cast down along the trajectory of in between, constantly dropping swings from the right hand to pick it up with the left, and back again. Sip.

Chanson: A Perfect Circle, Judith.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Someday I Will Draw a Map of Idiocies

A journalistic note on the sublime

I have decided to post the beginning of the introduction to my term paper for an independent study I did this past semester in theory. This work shows that I am a poor critic, because I divert extensively from actually introducing the topic of the paper. And yet, I find it so impossible to resist the complexity of idiocy that such diversions help to indicate. Happy.

In the vacuum of modernism’s failed idealism, the infrastructure of the modern city is, in its global-economic situation, an infrastructure of the super-modern city. It is no mystery that the development of cities runs in tandem with the development of economies; this has always been the case. Even through tracing the history of capitalism, it is indisputable that the cities of the Renaissance thrived according to their mercantilist prowess, and colonial cities of the 18th and 19th centuries according to their locations en route between trade capitals. When capitalism latched onto the global-economic ideal, as only it could, following the trauma and opportunities of World War II, it brought with it a new idealism for the global-economic city, a step—or many steps—more ambitious than the domestic-scaled, comparatively modest union between technology and livelihood and living that Corbusier dreamt.
Within this new idealism, Corbusier’s vision matured and gave way to its natural zenith, just as capitalism gave way to a global economy, metastasizing into a deeper unity between worldwide forces and universal notions of the human condition, in which it posited the consumer as the commodity while providing the terrain for its harvesting regardless of place. Implicit with this vision is the selection and distinction of human ranks—who would do the production?; who would do the consuming?; what would be consumed?; and what are the spaces necessary to effect these relationships as necessity? In addressing these questions a hierarchy emerged within the global economy that invariably identified human geographies of control and others of ‘otherness.’ What I mean by using ‘human geographies’ is referencing the incredible link between terrain boundaries—political and, within these, social and often ethnic—and the capitalization of space. It was from the western powers that the free-market apotheosis developed, but the persistent accumulation that fed it was deployed across a different human geography, in which it could be “burned off” or incubated for future exploitation.
Rosa Luxemburg noted that “the keen dialectics of scientific analysis were required to reveal how the right of ownership changes in the course of accumulation into appropriation of other peoples’ property, how commodity-exchange turns into exploitation, and equally becomes class rule.” David Harvey, in The New Imperialism calls the link between accumulation of capital and the tactics of using it to generate more capital, accumulation by dispossession. The term can be legitimately interpreted in a number of significant ways. On the one hand, Harvey speaks of the distribution of capital across spatial absorption, such as built infrastructure and labor forces, while noting that this absorption is, to some extent, speculative in that it can reenter the market as developed capital. On the other, the term intimates at the ‘dispossession’ by capitalistic institutions of the communities on which it depends to provide resources and consumption. Moreover, this begs the ethical conundrums of capitalism that illustrate the incredible social and psychological destruction that these exploitative tactics leave in their wake, witnessing the breakdown of cultural identities large and small and the uprooting of people groups from landscapes of belonging.
It is the combination of these two aspects of Harvey’s term that interests me most, in that it understands accumulation by dispossession as the continuous seeking and reaping of new locales of resources and consumption, like a turbine that can only speed up but needs an exponentially increasing feed of locales in order to make it run at all. The resulting forces embody, in a diagram, a spherical globe of dependency, requiring that all nodes in the weave be functional lest the entire network collapse. The sustainability of such a system grows more infeasible and perilous as the weave itself expands, forcing out the institutions and practices—be they businesses or local networks—that don’t have the resources to risk in participating—even paying the admissions deposit—in such a dizzying web of interdependency. The subdivision of peoples and classes fuels the turbines necessary to generate the economic vision of the global-economic city and characterizes the spatial infrastructure from which it operates. David Harvey writes on the political components necessary for this vision in The New Imperialism. I will not write directly about these components—hegemony and neo-colonialism/imperialism—but Harvey has many insights into the social and spatial implications of global-economic idealism, and in discussing political considerations succeeds in indicating (a mere taste of) its complexity.
In the 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi, the urbanism of the modernist city is eerily compared to the architecture of a microchip. The comparison, of course, is not intended for juxtaposition; it is a very editorial sequence despite (filmmaker’s name) insistence that the film, charting the destructive will of human exploitation of resources and its social and spiritual consequences, takes no such editorial position. The global-economic city is a microchip, machine-built for transferability and mass movement across infrastructure and economy. Transferability not only of commodities and technology but of individuals as well occurs at a sublime scale—in cars, snaking through freeway corridors like whitewater canyons, and in the public domain, walking atomistically across the vast, windswept plazas of modernist urbanism in which the only place to go is the building-object at the end of plaza. Through control, there is no alternative exit route. Both instances of individual transferability contributed to the economic gerrymandering of cities, in which spatial choking assured that people, as economic entities, would be appropriately directed—the car and the plaza, two edges of the same sword.
Each worked at extremes. The modernist plaza emphasized space for individual isolation, or, in the case of the housing project, the stockpiling of family units, while the freeway provided for the safe transfer of individuals across the city (and economic) boundaries and beyond, emphasizing the networks of a depopulated infrastructure, where only the destination mattered and the transit to the terminus. It was the middle ground that was eliminated at the cost of these polarized spaces; encounters of individual to individual and the communities that they formed were routed out by these spatial control strategies. It is such small-scale, quotidian interaction that is the irrelevant breed of transferability under the guise of the global-economic city. It is increasingly castigated as a ‘sentimentality’ prohibitive of progress, development—growth—and is conceded to only in illusion—a bone thrown to desires for a vital and prolific public realm.
This effect is demonstrated in a number of American cities, both large and small. Towards this influential and hard-to-control sentimentality, the global-economic city is presenting certain strategies of deference that operate according to the social categorizations that fuel its progress. Luxury condos fronting the pre-global-economic wastelands of industry are fitted with scarcely-occupiable balconies, and global chains occupy the ground floor and street front of parking structures. The so-called (and so-marketed) “lifestyle center” animates a contrived “lifestyle” experience. Strip malls with pastiche, pseudo-nostalgic individual façades surround parking bays that open up through the exit-lane narrows to the ocean of global-economic marketing dysfunction. Yet despite the apparent sentimentality of these product innovations, the origin of their economic niche stems from localized balances of capital within the global economy—a spatio-economic instance. Entire neighborhoods in American cities are experiencing economic regeneration according to the marketability of urban lifestyle development. But much like the suburban lifestyle center, they too are terrains of accumulation by dispossession, fortifying undeveloped or underdeveloped land with excess capital in the guise of credit backed and accounted for by both development financiers and the consumers that will amass within its spatio-economic boundaries.
The irony is rarely noted. Pseudo-traditional architectural façades of pre-cast, airbrushed concrete conceal the spatio-temporal fix behind a sentimental veneer. They are not mere architectural affronts; they are façades of information—credit systems; digital networks of commerce and information tracking; identity marking and identity proof; height and weight on the driver’s license linked to blood type on the birth certificate, and the social security number on the same linked to the credit report, linked to buying power and credit limits, consumer class and marketing demographic—and façades of community—security cameras and surveillance, canned music of popular imagination and totem communality as mechanisms of the marketing psychology—and façades of transferability—so your neighbor sells you a new garment over small talk down at the boutique; its foreign creditors affirm the dispossessive stratagem of their manufacturing operations within third-world labor pools.
But even these deferences are deployed within the polar framework of control described earlier. It was the architecture of modernism and its particular and strategic place in modernist urbanism that removed the planes of individual expression and tangibility, accentuating and rather forcefully asserting the neutrality of constructed space. The posture of this neutrality is towards the propensity of the individual to inhabit to her surroundings according to the spatial modes of control that architecture facilitates. An architecture of neutral assembled spaces—both public (the windswept plaza) and private (the housing block apartment)—is one that resists the autonomy of an individual and limits her capacity to respond; it is a cap on personal volition in an environment where the architecture, both alone and within its urban framework, requires the lack of volition by its very assembly, its very purpose for assembly—to scourge the middle ground, the places of meaningful cultural interaction between individuals in what amounts to a sort of micro-localism antithetical to the spatio-economic paradox of individuality by de-individuality.
Therefore, a conception of the human condition in a theoretical or speculative sense was necessary to effect such spatio-economic strategies within the global-economic ideal. The early application of modernist dogma was, after all, a utopian application, in its purest form a dream of human liberation by the machine and the I-beam. But as suggested earlier, it was capitalism that latched onto this dream and expanded—by realizing—its scope and methodologies. Before long, the old bottom-up folk conceptions necessary for vital culture were more akin to the modernist dream in its own origin, becoming a folk tale itself, espousing the utility of humans to comply to the programmatic diagrams of dwelling and communities of dwellings within its own cultural platform. Modernism missed its historical origins and fancied itself a self-born, autonomous entity, indicated by the philosophical champions and fore-founders of modernism—Nietzsche, perhaps Kant—in assuring that history up to the apotheosis of humanity is a story of sickness and the denial of sheer autonomy and the pure will to power. Kant would remind us that phenomena are distinctly autonomous, being disjoined from any noumenal ontology.

Chanson: Air, Dead Bodies

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Need for Roots

An inversion: Resurget Cineribus? Peramus Meliora

For those Latin-heads out there, Detroit's motto means "We hope for better things; It shall rise from the ashes." The more pertinent question, however, is the opposite: will it rise from the ashes? We hope so. Detroit ought to change its motto to simply: "Resurgit Cineribus?" that is, "will it rise from the ashes?" Detroit, Detroit. Some of us love to say it because it makes us feel grizzled. I've often wondered what the name sounds like to someone who didn't grow up hearing it constantly referenced. What does, for instance, 'Phoenix' sound like to me? I can answer that: it sounds like a mall ploy, a theme park, a practical joke, a corporate marketing concoction, and a fake. What the world is seeing--willingly, this time, thanks to the endless parade of mindless but voluntary hype--is that Detroit is none of these things. I grew up with Detroit in my life. Aside from visiting fairly frequently (with respect to my peers), I knew that my history had roots in Detroit; important roots. What kills me is the polarity of the thing. Through and through, Detroit is a city all about and constitutive of polarity. Not even considering the obvious wealth, race, landscape, and economic polarities that Detroit maintains even within itself, I am torn between acknowledging the dismal dysfunction of the entire metropolitan clusterfuck and the meaningful tangibility of both its triumphs and its decay. And, of course, I have the polarity of nostalgia. Ladies and Germs, someday I will write an essay, or a book, entitled "In Defense of the Sentimental." In it, I hope to articulate what I cannot now, as I fall asleep writing this poorly written entry. That is that nostalgia matters, it is real dammit. Sentimentality is required reading. Did I have beer tonight? No, but maybe I should have. Gonna git a whippin from the school marm if you don't do the reading. Detroit's embarrased (embarassed?) itself so profoundly already. One big happy show. Happy, happy, charade. No cars in Motown. Isn't that ironic, like stupid Danny Liebeskind. Better than belligerant (belligerent?) Zaha. ZAAAAHA. Oh man, I think I'm giong to go to sleep. Here's an experiment: I'm going to doze off and type what I dream. Ready? Big boy and dad driving by the car dealiership in rochester. ah this only partly worked. you can feel your brain stimulated when you have to suddently do somethign conscious when youtr'e otherwise only semi so.