What We Remember When We Walk in the City - Lauren Elkin. 그리고 아무말도 하지 않았다.

What We Remember When We Walk in the City: Lauren Elkin on the Yearning to Leave an Imprint

... This is the opposite of what I usually do, by habit, when walking down the street in New York City, or in any city, really: look for traces of an unknown past, hoping they will come to life in a flash of historical overlap. Walter Benjamin, that scholar of the Paris passage, called this the “now of recognizability” (das Jetzt der Erkennbarkeit), when the moment from the past is welcomed into the present day. The now of recognizability has the power to stop time and reason, putting “dialectics at a standstill”; to place us outside real time, allowing traces of the past to emerge and play tricks on us.

“In the dusty, cluttered corridors of the arcades,” he writes, “where street and interior are one, historical time is broken up into kaleidoscopic distractions and momentary come-ons, myriad displays of ephemera, thresholds for the passage of what Nerval (in Aurélia) calls ‘the ghosts of material things.'” We begin to read the city not only as it is, but as it was. I live for moments like that, actively go out looking for them, or find them, unexpectedly, as I round a corner and get that distinct feeling, even if I’m alone in the street, that someone else is there.

... We city-dwellers are recording devices, forever observing the micro-adjustments time works on our neighborhoods, noting what used to be where, making predictions about what will last and what won’t. We note, privately or to our friends, the locations of certain personal landmarks, places on our private maps that glow with intensity. We are continually negotiating the interplay between the visible and the invisible.

... But what, he asks, as well, of the spirits who dwell not in the sacred spaces but in the marketplace, in the square, in the everyday spaces of being, the “dimly lit zones of human activity”? As we move through our cities, looking, we come to understand their shape as a blend of the machinations of industry, municipal jockeying for control, and the occasionally successful resistance of the inhabitants. The shape of the city is the shape of power. And I am forever trying to defy that power in order to touch the past.

... But what is that past? I suffer from no illusions of an idealized “then”; I’m not trying to get out of the now. If anything, I’m trying to climb further into it. And I am persuaded that the now is steeped in the then; if not its sum total, perhaps its reduction.

... We walk in the city because we don’t want to forget, and also because we don’t want to be forgotten.


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