Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mathematical and Sensual Knowledge, the Body and the City 1.3

Returning to the moving image aspect of this mapping, historian and architecture critic Anthony Vidler poses the question of whether Walter Benjamin had suggested such a map in his life-long unfinished Arcades Project. In The City as Film in Kracauer, Benjamin, and Eisenstein, Vidler states that Benjamin in his writing of the Arcades Project “opened the possibility of yet another way of reading this work: was it not perhaps the sketch of a screen play for a movie of Paris?” (28)

“Could one not shoot a passionate film of the city plan of Paris? Of the development of its different forms [Gestalten] in temporal succession? Of the condensation of a century-long movement of streets, boulevards, passages, squares, in the space of a half an hour?” Walter Benjamin, Arcades Project

We do not know if that was Benjamin’s intent and we do not know what such a map would have been like, however as has been so far demonstrated, we must explore this filmic potential in the making of our maps. And that of much importance are these filmic, real life experiences in the relationship between the human body and the city body. Film critic and former architect Siegfried Krakauer in Once Again the Street, states that “the flâneur is intoxicated with life in the street” (29) suggesting that he, in this case the strolling inhabitant is obviously affected by the sensory experiences triggered by its immediate environment, the city it travels. In this case, “intoxicated” as if the body has been overdosed by phenomena and the complexity of activities of the city as if substances now moving within the blood flow of the human body.

Krakauer recalls the first film he saw as a child; “What thrilled me so deeply was an ordinary suburban street, filled with lights and shadows which transfigured it. Several trees stood about, and there was in the foreground a puddle reflecting invisible house façades and a piece of sky. Then a breeze moved the shadows, and the façades with the sky below began to waver.” (30) And even though this description comes from his observation of a film, something that had been choreographed by a director, the observation is a typical representation of an everyday moment in the life of any city. Let’s imagine this as a real life perception, something ephemeral and intangible. If captured, is this something that we can chart and even analyze? Could we not calculate the exactitude of those vibrations as mapped by the size, frequency and speed of the ripples in the water?

In that same essay, Krakauer speculates; “perhaps cinema helps us to move form ‘below’ to ‘above’?” (31) and while this is the opposite of what I have been proposing, does it suggest the potential of the below returning us to the above. Does it suggest what the observation of the individual ants interacting tells us about the overall system?

Yes possibly, but what Krakauer is referring to as the ‘above’ in this case is celestial and even spiritual, this being the opposite of sensual and of the body and while contradicting my main argument it also supports it. It emphasizes the flaw of this sole superior point of view as totalizing, abstract, removed and disconnected from the tactile realities of the below experiences and interactions that make up the reality of the city. It is important to also note that Krakauer’s recollection also describes something very physical and sensual; the reflectivity, transparency, movement…the physical aspects of place as affected by each other and as perceived by an inhabitant of the city in that particular moment and space. Let’s now bring the potential of the GPS into this and speculate on the potential also of it deciphering the multiple forces defining that fleeting moment… the wind, the rain, the time of the year, the passing resident and his particular placement on earth in relationship to these elements bringing us back to the importance of looking at these devices, GPS/audio/video, as interrelated and capable of combining the “mathematical” and the “sensual” of these bodies.

28 Kracauer, Sigfried, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality. Oxford University Press, 1965, p. 52
29 Vidler, Anthony. Warped Space, Art, Architecture, and Anxiety in Modern Culture, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England 2000. P. 115
30 Kracauer, Sigfried, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality. Oxford University Press, 1965, p. 52
31 Kracauer, Sigfried, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality. Oxford University Press, 1965, p. xi

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