Saturday, February 26, 2011
To make the city disappear
Kandinsky - Ludwigskirche in Munich 1908
There are things we like to lean upon - like the city for example. Surrounded by the gray curtains, the city is recognizable and palpable. Occasionally the curtains are drawn and we are bathed in golden sunlight. But even in the gray, we can find our way. Along the snaking river, we have laid sign posts, so we know what we are looking at. Take away the sign posts, or smudge them with your thumb, and the city will begin to blur. Wear your reading glasses, and the details will reveal themselves, through maps, books, photographs and Internet. Without them will the city lose its identity? No, the city may still remain - in my mind and in yours.
Often when you have left your glasses, somewhere in your house, by the sofa or beside the bed, they are hard to find. Especially if you cannot see well without them. My grandmother does it all the time - and it can be quite unsettling, a bit like losing your mind. For if you became insane, how would you comprehend the world around you? How would you recognize the city, despite its signposts and myriad references in literature and documented history? You would read the signposts and yet not know what it meant. Or you wouldn't care to read them at all - the mind, like the ageing autocrat, will do what it pleases. The city will therefore cease to exist for you, if you lost your mind.
If you were to go mad, how would you know that you had? The people who share your apartment might seem unfamiliar, and you would scarce believe the one who shook you and told you he was your son. To you it would be normal, to eat when you are hungry and walk out in public view in your state of undress. Indeed, you might even wonder what was wrong with the world, for in your frame of reference you would be completely sane. But if the city didn't exist in your mind, would the city still exist at all? For there are others in the city, who might recognize it. Yes the city would exist, for their minds would make it real.
But cities do disappear. The lost city of the Incas, would have been resplendent during the reign of an obscure Inca emperor. What happened to the city then, that it remained on a hilltop, unrecognized for centuries? Through disease, famine or human depravity, the city would have shed its people. They may have left in a hurry, or in a slow trickle, like water leaking from a broken tumbler. More significantly, the memory of the city would have faded from their collective minds.
Although it helps, it isn't necessary for the inhabitants to leave the city in order to erase it. Cities may disappear from right under our noses, especially if the citizens were to lose their minds in unison. The sign posts could become unintelligible in degrees - lose their meaning gradually, one letter at a time. As though before a senile father, the city would shake its people to rouse their dodgy memory. They would fail to recognize it. The city would then lose its identity. It wouldn't matter then, if you or me, were able to identify it. The city would have simply disappeared without a trace.