Now is the new (old) urban history

Mehretu_Immanence

Readers! I have neglected you for far too long. For my absence, I offer my regrets and apologies. These long months of internet silence can someday be counted as archeological evidence that blogs (like humans, languages and machines) cannot so easily deliver on their promises: Noise is always already in the signal, diverting, disrupting, generally destabilizing. Here we are once more though, with feeling (and a snazzy new look). So let’s put the past behind us, shall we?, and remark instead upon the present.

As a means by which to resuscitate the blog and my neglected relationship to its small pool of beloved readers (i.e. you), I give you a brief  summary of my thinking on loving and wandering a city you’ve long known:

I have lived in Los Angeles for the vast bulk of my adult life and, of late, have been spending a good deal of time in neighborhoods, on corners, in buildings that I avoided, ignored or had simply forgotten for some years. Happenstance has had it, however, that some of these dormant domains in my cognitive map of the city have beckoned me back.* The eternal return of the same, I suppose, but such a return offers a nice, if sometimes uncanny, avenue of access to memory and to the ways in which it is so concretely spatial and materially present in the city.**

Spaces make the folks who wander through them aware, in exactly the haptic ‘now’, of a history to which their access is both immediate and distinctly mediated, and to the fictions (some personal, some social) on which we all ground our experience of place. At any moment a wanderer roams a space they confront in the present whatever weird and weighty remembered moments they shared with it, whatever weird and weighty stories they told themselves or were told about it. Place might well be described as the present experience of the environment thick in its presence with the past.

Here’s an exemplary gloss: I’ve had the good luck in the last few weeks to find myself on the rooftop of a building across the street from an apartment in which I used to live. From this rooftop I can see my old apartment, can map from that vantage point a spatial relationship between the place I’m standing, the apartment I lived in visible below, the other spaces of the city I have inhabited or with which I have engaged in some manner, and so on… And my mapping in turn becomes the milieu in which I make my knowledge of me, on that rooftop, looking at the Los Angeles I know and the Los Angeles I am coming to know and the Los Angeles I knew and lost.

If this sounds like philosophical jargon, it might be. But much in the muddy memories I’ve made in Los Angeles*** is linked to the ways I grew here to think about memory itself, about history, and about cities. The urban landscape, maybe all space, won’t hold memory so much as offer it as an immediate and ephemeral marking of the experience of wandering precisely where and when we wander. And all wandering (all experience) is always and only in and of the moment, or better, the millisecond, or better still the now.****

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*Yes, I am aware of the ridiculous amount of alliteration in this sentence. I make no apologies.

**I did it again. See if I care! You’ll see that I don’t.

***”What? She wrote another alliterative sentence?” That’s what you’re thinking. Yeah, dude. She straight did.

****Blame the obscure poetics of this post in its entirety on Itinerant Me’s recent and intense work on the closing chapter of her dissertation. You may either forgive her (me) or despise her (me) according to your disposition and constitution. And, of course, according also to where you are, right now.



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