The Architecture of Self-Measurement

[Image: From a great series of photos called Coasts of Britain (2006), by Jacob Carter].

There's a particular book I've read eight times now – and, as of yesterday's lunch break downtown, I'm reading it again. This sounds unbelievably boring, even to me, but I can't help it; this particular book, a novel, which I'll call ***, in both an evasion and a clue, just haunts me. In fact, I'm sure I'll read it a tenth time someday – but, then, some people have seen Titanic twenty-five times, and other people have never even read one novel, let alone one novel every few years, so it is what it is, because it worked out that way.
In any case, I first read this book way back in middle school – and there is a point to all this, so bear with me. I then re-read it, borrowing it from a friend out of sheer desperation for anything published in English, living abroad for the first time about ten years ago – and I was genuinely stunned to find that the book said literally the exact opposite of what I'd remembered it saying. It was like being confronted with a distorting mirror, or an old set of photographs – a very visceral, even embarrassing, way of realizing how much a person might change. Given time, how different are your sources of significance. For good or for bad. On top of that, of course, I found I really liked the book.
So I read it again a few years later – and, because I was traveling again with nothing else to read, a few days after finishing it I started back on page one.
And so on. If anything, it's like a form of happenstance that became a behavior.
Now it's March 2008 and I bought a new copy of the same book yesterday on a whim from a bookstore near my office – and, being a person who underlines things, I found myself last night underlining totally different passages, little sentences here and there that had never struck me as even remotely interesting before, or meaningful, or really anything more than neutrally descriptive.
It occurred to me, then, that everyone should pick a book – a novel, a work of theory, poetry, biography, whatever – and re-read it every few years, but they should do this for the rest of their lives. It becomes an indirect kind of literary self-measurement: understanding where you are in life based upon how you react to a certain text.
So it's not some weird sign of obsession, then, or awkward proof that you've been caught in a nostalgic rut. It's more like running a marathon every few years: the same distance covered, huffing and puffing at a different age.
How do you measure up?
And how does it measure up to you?

[Image: Via Old UK Photos].

Of course, I realized, that's why some people read the Bible over and over again, or even the Koran: it's less a form of worship, or a sign of spiritual neediness, than a kind of literary way of marking your height in the same old doorsill, seeing how high you now stand. You are, so to speak, being measured.
But why should we only do these sorts of thing by reading books?
Why not measure ourselves, and our movement in life, against a piece of architecture?

[Image: Piranesi].

The idea here is that you'd pick a building somewhere in the world, something outside your normal sphere of experience, and you'd visit it every few years. You were there as a kid – or as a teenager, or as a young man or woman – and you were terrified by the unlit marble stairways... but that view from the third floor is just astonishing. The Musée d'Orsay, or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or Westminster Abbey, or the Pantheon, or the Pyramids. The Temple of Heaven. Angkor Wat. The docks of Rotterdam.
You show up; you've set the whole day aside, like going to see a very long film. Or running a marathon. And you proceed to ride the elevators and escalators. You sit down at certain windows. You stand there in the corner just looking around. You go into rooms you once knew.
Maybe it's an old hotel or hostel you've stayed in; maybe it's an entire town, or a hospital you basically lived in for three weeks because someone in your family was sick. Maybe it's your best friend's house.
It doesn't matter.
You drink some coffee, or you cross your arms, or you walk back and forth for an hour, paying attention to things you never would have noticed had you not come back.
You take notes, and you compare them to last time. Maybe it's a train station in New York. Maybe it's an airport. Maybe it's an old garden outside the city that no one visits. Every time you're there, you're different.
As a kid you liked it because it made you feel lost; now you hate it because it makes you claustrophobic.
Come back in ten years, and that landscape of routes and perimeters is exactly what you need again: it's expensive and confusing and not even well-designed – but it's much-needed proof that you can always disappear. You're there for hours.

[Image: Via Old UK Photos].

Or maybe it's a hiking path out in the woods somewhere, or the Appalachian Trail, or a ruined cathedral. A whole neighborhood or district of the city.
You're standing inside the Colosseum in Rome, and you can build whole new chains of significance and reason now, plugging in variables, making room for things beneath the outward armor of age – and it's all because you came back, to see or feel how things might be different for you in reaction to something you're not.
It's like taking an exam every few years – only the exam is a piece of architecture, and the questions change every time you answer them.

[Image: Piranesi].

In any case, is there an architecture of self-measurement? Is there a way to time ourselves across whole lifetimes through buildings? Is that what religious pilgrimages have always been about? And is that what architecture critics should be forced to do?
Or is this nothing but distracting nostalgia?
Could you somehow test yourself against the built environment, regularly, over the course of a lifetime, and do so deliberately, with purpose, the way people once wrote philosophy or read poems or traveled the world?
You enter the building.
You notice something new.
It clicks.

[Image: Temple at Angkor, photographed by flydime].

Is the experience of architecture ever an accurate form of self-assessment – assuming there's a real self to assess? Or is all of this just useless melancholy, looking back through a haze of sentimental desperation for anything with significance – and attempting, unsuccessfully, to alight upon the gates of architecture?
Or might the regular re-experience of certain buildings be a kind of emotional or intellectual marathon for the people who come back to experience them? They measure themselves through the experience of built space.

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46 Comments:

Blogger Paula said...

First time commenting here, though I've been reading your blog through my feedreader for some time (congrats, BTW).

I would like to know (I'm sure you realized someone was going to ask) which is that book you talk about. Not very important, anyway.

Some of this measuring you talk about is definitely what we do when we go back to the places of our childhood. Or when we come across that very spot where we remember something important in our lives, like kissing someone for the first time. It's not about how the building or place changes, finally, but how our vision of it changes with time, as you have said.

March 25, 2008 11:18 AM  
Anonymous nomitasawhney@gmail.com said...

It seems that the act of re-visiting and measuring becomes a reflective idea of the self. The acts of travelling and absorbing newness to disassociate from ritual and norm. The surreal and fantastic are envsioned in new contexts and associations are new.
Spontaniety and newness, with metaphysical and surreal projections travelling with the mind to many locations and creating from that spirit can bring a richness and diversity in contemplating a building.

March 25, 2008 11:24 AM  
Anonymous Len Albright said...

An interesting idea. How about flipping the idea upside down? For example, let's tell the story of self-assessment from the architecture/building/site/neighborhood's point of view. How can we think of a site's sense of self as developed over time? How does this sense of self change as its surroundings change, as history unfold, as its concrete and organic materials are recontextualized, rot away, and regrow? As its history is reconstructed, retold, and reoriented?

Let's take Walden Pond as an example. Walden Pond could certainly be a place that a person could revisit every couple of years and reflect on their sense of self. But what about retelling Walden Pond's story every two years? Did Walden Pond suffer a terrific anxiety complex during the preservation years of the National Parks Movement? How do the raccoons , moss, and maples feel about their role as prop to Thoreau's memory? Can we imagine maple trees that gain an evolutionary advantage because of the literary and historical memory that humans impart on them? Will we have entire forests of Thoreauian Red Maples spreading across New England?

The challenge here would be to keep from succumbing to the tendency to read a place or a building from the human point of view. Rather, by freeing the narrative from the stories of individuals, the stories may uncover relationships and processes between larger social forces. For example, the politics of preservation and the evolutionary process of selection. The geologic processes of climate change and the academic politics of the literary canon.

March 25, 2008 11:41 AM  
Blogger Ana María said...

responding to len albright, this is similar to what aldo rossi wrote in the architecture of the city. urban facts, as buildings that remain and change and adapt to different circumstances, changing context, etc. over time.

i also have 'a novel' that i reread every so often. i actually reread lots of books, but i've found some are better for rereading than others- i think this is because the author has made it this way- a piece of writing with more depth, with more ambiguity, is better for rereading because it's easier to find something different- so i think it works both ways, as self measurement but also the measure can sometimes be more elastic than others. which leads to the question, if you can write books that lend themselves to more rereading, how can you design architecture that lends itself to revisiting? it goes back to the question of discovery and reading architecture.

March 25, 2008 12:11 PM  
Anonymous exurban escape said...

My "***" is The Golden Compass.

Go on, tell us yours!

And don't we all measure ourselves against our childhood homes and neighborhoods in the way you described? Maybe banal ranchhouses from the 70's and housing developments from the days of the Internet bubble weren't exactly what you had in mind as a piece of architecture to measure oneself against, but I definitely do.

March 25, 2008 12:12 PM  
Blogger Matt Doar said...

I have a few books like this ("touchstone books"?). "The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini" is one, "The Lord of the Rings" is another, and of course the Bible is presented in so many ways all the time.

Fascinating idea doing it with a location. Particularly since I recognize the abbey pictures from my childhood.

~Matt

Geoff, I do enjoy your posts greatly. Please keep going!

March 25, 2008 12:55 PM  
Blogger Tim Susman said...

Nice article, Geoff. I posted a response on my writing blog (http://timsusman.blogspot.com/2008/03/self-measurement-through-writing.html), because I think your idea of self-measurement applies not only to things other people have built or written, and what you see in them, but also in things you yourself have done that you can put aside and then pick up again.

And may I hazard a guess that your book is "Trinity"? I've never read it, but the three stars seems to fit and I know people who've read Uris tend to read his stuff over and over...

March 25, 2008 2:02 PM  
Blogger onetenchelsea said...

That's Bayon. Not Angkor Wat.

March 25, 2008 5:39 PM  
Blogger coplandesque said...

Sounds an awful lot like Rilke's Notebook of Malte Laurids Brigge, particularly the part where he describes his childhood home and the passage where he describes time made visible by architecture in a wall of a demolished building. It may be the greatest passage of descriptive prose ever written.

March 25, 2008 5:58 PM  
Blogger Denise said...

I love this article. I went to visit my pre-home grandparents house for the first time in several years after my grandfather died and I was shocked to see that the backyard did not actually go on for miles and the house was not surrounded by a jungle of vines, which is normal for Burlington Ontario. At the time I had wished I hadn't gone back to preserve those memories, but I'm glad I did. It makes you realize it's not the bricks that makes a home, but the people in it.

My book is Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins.

March 25, 2008 6:10 PM  
Blogger danny said...

See the fourth photo? I live about two to three miles away from there.

Thanks for reminding me to visit the place more often, I love that Abbey.

March 25, 2008 8:53 PM  
Anonymous Ian Milliss said...

This all sounds like the theater of memory to me and one of the books I reread occasionally is Frances Yates The Art of Memory (she's not perfect but she is great). There is an excellent post at http://www.imaginativeuniversal.com/SurrenderingToTechnology.aspx about the internet as the (unreliable) theater of memory. And call me girly, but every few years I reread all of Jane Austen although she is slowly being replaced (now that I am now old enough to understand him) by Proust. You don't have to reread him because he goes on for eternity. Also interesting are the authors you once loved but now couldn't stand to reread eg James Joyce, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Thomas Pynchon, JP Donleavy.

March 25, 2008 9:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please let us know what that book is.

March 25, 2008 9:36 PM  
Anonymous jean said...

ah, you have just explained to me why I am still living in the city of Providence RI, why I stay here to watch the city being slowly and simultaneously demolished and gentrified... I mark myself against it, my legs' pedaling strength against its hills and streets, my perceptions against its realities, my experiences against its shifting existence. you carry the city inside you (memory, rambles, conversations) as it continues to change -- but it also holds you, your past selves and past visions, and without its places you would have nothing to anchor those memories to...

"the first time I ever crossed that bridge, I was a little bit tipsy, totally lost, and there was a black cat lying dead in the gutter, right there..."

along the same lines of thinking, one of the strangest thing about living in a city where so many buildings have been torn down is that (if you are an explorer of abandoned buildings) you can position your body's past history relatively precisely in vertical empty space, two or three stories up in the air above what is now a parking lot...

thank you bldg blog.

March 25, 2008 9:37 PM  
Blogger Axel said...

Indeed, jean, my elementary school was a particularly potent touchstone by which to measure my life, until I arrived one year to find a precisely graded slope in place of its tree covered terraced campus. It would have been one matter to find a completed shopping center or office complex, but there was something more disturbing or even threatening about finding that freshly graded hillside. Perhaps it was because I was still young when it occurred.

March 25, 2008 10:48 PM  
Anonymous The Worst of Perth said...

Buildings, the environment and your physical size change, so it is different but no less rewarding to measure yourself against the built environment. The book remains exactly the same. The book chosen must be very good though (Heart of Darkness for me). Also while scouring for something in English to read while in China, I found a Robert Ludlum. I used to love his books when I was in school and thought it would be pleasant nostalgia. Unfortunately it was so badly written as to be almost incompetent. Very shocking experience. That's not going to happen with Conrad.

The Worst of Perth
Art, design, Architecture & Humanity
http://theworstofperth.com

March 25, 2008 10:57 PM  
Blogger Gilles said...

"I then re-read it, borrowing it from a friend out of sheer desperation for anything published in English, living abroad for the first time about ten years ago (...)"
 
You couldn't find any book published in english? Where was that?

Or -

You can't read any other language besides english?

March 25, 2008 11:34 PM  
Anonymous geoff said...

it's a fascinating idea. i wonder though about the difference between the "self" changing and the environment changing. unlike the relationship between the linguistic narrative and the self in which the novel remains the same but the person's experiences and opinions evolve and thus read the novel in a new light, the built environment frequently changes, especially now more than ever. in this way, while i don't doubt a touchstone experience is possible and most definitely worthwhile, i wonder how similar it is to the relationship between self and novel. with architecture am i learning about myself or the world around me? in a way it seems as if there are now two variables as opposed to one.

regardless, i think these experiences are incredibly valuable. coming back to places and spaces that informed your growth and stopping for a moment to take note of them, to reassess, to reanalyze them is an incredible idea.

as for my "***" it is conrad's "heart of darkness," masterfully and powerfully written with a strong theme; what's yours?

March 26, 2008 12:09 AM  
Anonymous The Worst of Perth said...

Hey Geoff, we snapped! H.O.D.

The Worst of Perth
Art, Design, Architecture & Humanity

March 26, 2008 5:20 AM  
OpenID m-nestor said...

I think there's an abyssal projection/reflection meme going around, as just before I read this entry earlier, I read that existential Garfield strip over at Ectoplasmosis.

March 26, 2008 5:49 AM  
Blogger Kosmograd said...

A truly great post.

I guessed Heart of Darkness from the top image alone - do I win a biscuit?

My most reread book is The Great Gatsby, but I don't really measure myself against it. Instead it's a kind of comfort food, like macaroni cheese, something I know I'll enjoy without trying too hard.

Building wise I'd love to go back to see the Rietveld-Schroeder house (in Utretcht) and see if still has the profound effect it had the first few times.

I identify with Jean's comment about measuring herself against the city while cycling. I ride the same route to work in London everyday and on the hills I can gauge how I'm feeling. Sometimes I win, somedays the city totally kicks my ass.

March 26, 2008 7:32 AM  
Anonymous Ian Milliss said...

The film I go back to again and again is Apocalypse Now, the Heart of Darkness in a different medium. And Alphaville which stars architecture in the form of the modernist office corridors of Paris.

March 26, 2008 7:35 AM  
Blogger Paula said...

The book I reread most in my childhood was "The neverending story" by Michael Ende. Then, when I was a teenager, I got addicted to "Lord of the rings". I still like both, though I have not read them again for some time.

There are not many books I have read more than twice since I was 20. There's "Demian" by Hermann Hesse, and The Odyssey, which I have read at least six or seven times in my life. And "The dead souls", by Nikolai Gogol, I'm rereading that one for the fourth time now.

I never got the knack of Conrad, though I have tried "Heart of darkness" at least twice, and "Nostromo", and "The secret agent".

March 26, 2008 7:48 AM  
Anonymous The Worst of Perth said...

Paula. Dead Souls is another masterpiece. Such a laugh out loud funny book, but great as well. Trying to describe and cure all Russia in one book? Outrageous. I will always remember Chich's jacket in the colour of the flame and smoke of Navarino.

The Worst of Perth
Art, Design, Architecture & Humanity

March 26, 2008 8:05 AM  
Anonymous geoff said...

um, sorry i think there was some confusion because of my name. conrad's heart of darkness would be my "***," but unfortunately i just happen to have the same name as mr. manaugh. i don't think we know what mr. manaugh's "***" is yet. i apologize for the mix up, i never intended to mislead people!

March 26, 2008 8:46 AM  
Blogger Lope de Aguirre said...

Not a building but a city, and the most obvious of choices: Paris. Hated it in 1993, loved it in 2007. In between lay Proust, Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project and changed interests. Book: Philip K. Dick’s VALIS. Will read it every five years I guess.

March 26, 2008 10:05 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Indeed: different Geoff - although I have read Heart of Darkness three times, and will undoubtedly read it again. In fact, Heart of Darkness comes up in both BLDGBLOG's interview with Simon Norfolk and BLDGBLOG's interview with Patrick McGrath, if you want to see what a photographer and a novelist have to say about the book, in the context of landscape and architecture.

The book I've read so many times is just a book - nothing special. I think, in fact, revealing what it is now would be strangely anti-climactic! It's certainly not a masterpiece, and is more like an accident of circumstance that became a habit than anything I'd push upon others.

And, Gilles, I was in Beijing at the time of the anecdote you're citing, eleven years ago, and the main English-language bookstores I had access to - and there weren't many, to be fair - were all full of Charles Dickens and Sherlock Holmes. I was in the mood for neither of them; I hadn't spoken a word of Chinese in my life until arriving in Beijing to take language classes for several months, and so I couldn't read Chinese; and reading a novel in English, something I will probably always enjoy doing, was like a godsend. I'm unapologetic about this. Working on my English, so to speak, is extremely important to me, despite the fact that I'm a native speaker.

Anyway, glad you all seemed to like the post.

Anyone with a particular building they visit, or that they accidentally found themselves visiting, over and over again? Or a landscape, a garden, a city - business trips to Brussels over the last ten years have revealed more about yourself than you ever thought possible... or some such story...

March 26, 2008 10:22 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

@ lope de aguirre: I loved Paris as a teenager - the first city outside the United States I ever visited, and under extraordinary circumstances - but then I hated it a year later, walking around in the grey, feeling ripped off and disappointed by what seemed to be fading significance. Then I went back and hated it again a few years later - before returning again just a few summers ago on a business trip and genuinely, hugely, intensely loving it.

And, Ian, I'm a compulsive film re-watcher.

As well as a big fan of The Great Gatsby, kosmograd.

March 26, 2008 10:28 AM  
Blogger Professor Estevez said...

This is a very interesting and provocative post. I think I'll bring it to my writing classes after the break and see what I can do with it there. I'm a bit unsure, since many of my freshman students have graduated from american high schools never having ever read one book in its entirety.

I do have one question though...Geoff (Manaugh) did you think that reading a book eight times was a lot? I have to say I have at least a dozen or more books I've read close to a hundred times for a variety of reasons, both pleasure and profession. I'm not sure which would be the novel that I've re-read the most. Probably a toss up between Rosamund Lehman's "The Weather in the Streets," and Hardy's "Jude the Obscure." Both of those would easily clock in at over a hundred times. In terms of non-fiction, its probably John Lahr's bio of John Orton, "Prick Up Your Ears," which I re-read as a basic style refresher in between reading other things. Adorno's "Minima Moralia" is always on my desk (though I only tried to limp through it once in German). Then there's books I re-read just for descriptive passages (usually on clothes, food and gardening...)

I guess I have the most similar experience to the one you described when I pick up a book I read in college and read my formerly "brilliant" marginalia. Yikes! That's almost always an embarrassment!

March 26, 2008 10:41 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

in a recent trip down I-71 through cincinnati, i decided to exit with the aim of showing my wife my childhood home. since it had been years since i'd been there, i inadvertently turned left instead of right and spent forty-five minutes trudging through a 2 mile stretch of traffic and back before returning to the interstate leaving the mission unfinished. the landscape of sprawl and congestion was quite different from what i remembered (as my dad has since told me, when we moved in there was just one gas station). i guess in this case it was in not getting there that the self-measurement took place.

March 26, 2008 11:00 AM  
Anonymous Ian Milliss said...

One of the schools I attended as a teenager in the inner city of Sydney was closed down a year later and became a famous artists' squat. A girl I had a brief liaison with about ten years later lived there and I awoke the first morning to realise I was in my old classroom, more or less in the same place as my old desk, as if my bored schoolboy sexual fantasies had suddenly morphed into reality. Another ten years later it had all been turned into very fashionable apartments and I found myself (unsuccessfully) attempting to rent the same classroom. I have a suspicion the building will make yet another appearance somewhere in my life, perhaps I'll end up there when it has become an old folks home.

But because I now live in a small town where I spent part of my early childhood I am surrounded by (and live in) buildings I knew as a child, then only passed by occasionally for several decades. At first I found it deeply depressing, a whole life of adventures and misadventures to get no further than a few hundred metres up their road from my first kindergarten.

Because once it would have been common to live in mostly the same buildings all your life, it makes me wonder whether we are just discussing the flip side of modern alienation. When even buildings have become so impermanent the few buildings we do feel connected to become noteworthy. It reminds me of a friend now in her forties who grew up in Surfers Paradise (a Queensland tourist area bit like Florida) where within her lifetime she has seen the same block of land rebuilt on 4 or 5 times, going from a small house to a 20 story apartment block. Books, films, art works now seem more permanent, substantial, than that.

March 26, 2008 11:11 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Ian, that's a hilarious story.

They'll probably turn it into a jail next: one night, after a fight at the pub - which you did not start - you wake up to find... your old classroom.

With bars over the windows.

Self-measurement, indeed.

March 26, 2008 11:15 AM  
Blogger Paula said...

Wow Ian, what a story!

Nothing I can say regarding the buildings and places of my life can even come close.

I'm writing it down so I can remember it, it seems such a good idea to use in a short story... if you don't mind of course (you'll never probably get to read it, anyway).

March 26, 2008 11:30 AM  
Anonymous Laura said...

I think part of the reason I re-read novels so often is to fall back into their landscapes. I find my perception of those imaginary spaces also changes. As I travel and experience new physical environments, my imaginary landscapes become richer and more coherent. I think part of it is sensory. For example, now I know what a desert smells like, tastes like, and feels like. I have those sensory experiences to draw on when I fall back into my favorite imaginary landscapes.

March 26, 2008 12:25 PM  
Blogger Kosmograd said...

Right, so no biscuit for me then.

Ian, if the girl you woke up with had turned out to be your old teacher then we'd be in serious David Lynch territory.

I can't wait to read John Dos Passos' USA again - now there's a book to measure oneself against.

March 26, 2008 4:14 PM  
Anonymous Scott Writer said...

Geoff - what a great post, bring on the book. (and Ian, I echo the comments of others regarding your story - incredible.) I have done repeat trips to a number of out of the way places and each time seem to have the very experience you describe - central Asia as a vast canvas for a self-portrait, at least it is cheaper than therapy.

But the comment I actually wanted to make is this:

I went to a screening of Godard's Histoire(s) du Cinema (4.5 hours!) here in Melbourne last night, and then the first thing I read this morning was this, so I hope you understand if the two have merged in my mind to some extent.

One of Godard's themes seems to be how the history of cinema tells (or has the potential to tell) all other histories, collective and individual. So I wonder if your idea of texts/places as tools for self-measurement could go in a different direction, where one inhabits places encountered in texts, the first arrival in the physical space being in fact the second time you've 'been there', and how that might evoke some sense of sense of melancholy for the virtual spaces of one's personal cinematic past.

An example - you travel to San Francisco, but the city you encounter is really made up of the fragments it brings back of your the film, 'Vertigo'. (And google informs me that there are companies set up to provide this very experience.)

Another thought your post elicited was the many stories I have heard from older Taiwanese about how when they were finally able to visit China in the 1980s they realised it scarcely resembled the imagined China they had been taught to identify with in their youth; a kind of national-level space for self-measurement, if you will.

My *** - Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino.

March 26, 2008 8:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My guess for your ***-
The name of the rose.

March 26, 2008 10:23 PM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Then, as designers, we have to consider our part in the making/remaking/undoing of others' stories. Scary.

On another note, I'm in the process of updating my portfolio and am reviewing past work, putting together new drawings from old sketches, etc. It's interesting to re-visit my own work, seeing through past decisions, enjoying little discoveries and wondering what in the world I was thinking at different times. What about revisiting our own past projects... from scratch? How would today's design with today's knowledge and perspective differ from past efforts, and what could I learn about myself (and ourselves) in the process? Takes post-occupancy evaluation to another level, and it highlights technology's role in our own personal progression. Also scary.

March 26, 2008 11:08 PM  
Blogger markw said...

I moved to New York in 92 for arch school. One of my first assignments was to map the Upper East Side in perspectival views, so I tuned into the hoity-toity shop windows and their ornamental strips of metal. Now I visit NYC about twice a year, always take one of the trains up into the 50s and end up at MOMA. The dark but swanky mid-block cut throughs and the original/now new museum have to be my most frequented public spaces. The visit feels like being wrapped in successive layers of concrete, until you're mummified in the stuff and looking at some trippy warhol video or psychotic lifesize felt model. The experience seems more and more absurd as the years go on, like a one night stand with an ex-wife. Something to do with feeling divorced from but still attracted to an environment of wealth and surrealism. What used to be normal now feels slightly ridiculous.

March 27, 2008 2:20 PM  
Blogger heidi said...

Wonderful post! My building is the Menil Collection in Houston. My father described the building's dark floors to me when he learned I'd be attending school in Houston. So my first visit was a description. I visited many times as an architecture student, finding a sense of relief in just how right the building was, both as a project to study and as a place to just be. The light, color, even the smell are still very clear to me ten years later. I visit every time I am in Houston.

My other place is Mt. Tam. in California. I visit often, each visit changing me, and I think it will be part of my artwork for the rest of my life.

March 27, 2008 10:03 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

from Catcher in the Rye:

“The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move…. …Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you’d be so much older or anything. It wouldn’t be that, exactly. You’d just be different, that’s all. You’d have an overcoat on this time. Or the kid that was your partner in line last time had got scarlet fever and you’d have a new partner. Or you’d have a substitute taking the class instead of Miss Aigletinger. Or you’d have heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom. Or you’d just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them. I mean, you’d be different in some way - I can’t explain what I mean. And even if I could, I’m not sure I’d feel like it.”

March 28, 2008 5:32 AM  
Blogger AlgoMantra said...

Cool post! Have you heard of Wilfried Hou Je Bek's "algorithmic psychogeography"? In the context of your post, it doesn't sound like a crazy thing - though a bit extreme, yes.

http://www.socialfiction.org/psychogeography/algoeng.htm

& my own version of it..

http://algomantra.blogspot.com/2007/07/cellphabet-10-how-i-can-walk-in-english.html

March 29, 2008 1:25 AM  
Anonymous Mu said...

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself...

March 29, 2008 8:15 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Mike, amazing quotation - reminds me that I need to re-read Catcher in the Rye someday. It's been fifteen years at least.

AlgoMantra, I have heard of algorithmic psychogeography - but I have to admit that a part of me thinks he sort of misses the point of psychogeography by trying to mathematize it. It's an interesting way to engage with urban space - but perhaps my problem with it is that it seems to misuse the word "psychogeography"... but who knows.

In fact, I'm reminded of this exchange with Iain Sinclair, from an old interview on Ballardian:

Ballardian: Psychogeography is quite a buzzword now; Will Self’s got his column in the Independent

Iain Sinclair: Which to me has absolutely no connection whatsoever to whatever psychogeography was originally, or in its second incarnation. It was something very specific in Paris in the 50s and 60s – the Lettrists and Situationists had this politicised conceptual movement called Psychogeography. Then it was reinvented into London with people like Stewart Home and the London Psychogeographical Association, who mixed those ideas with ideas of ley lines and Earth mysteries and cobbled it together as a provocation, and I took it on from that point. Now it’s just become this brand name for more or less anything that’s vaguely to do with walking or vaguely to do with the city. It’s a new form of tourism.

***

It's the last bit – the idea that psychogeography has "become this brand name for more or less anything that’s vaguely to do with walking or vaguely to do with the city. It’s a new form of tourism" – with which I'm in strong agreement.

March 29, 2008 6:04 PM  
Anonymous John Dabney said...

Stunning post. I can only imagine what Ian must've felt. Unlike Ian, I left home and rarely look back.

Phillip Larkin's poem captures that sensation:

Home is so Sad

Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft

And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at what things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.

March 30, 2008 7:37 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

I do this every year with a movie. "Donnie Darko". It's not a particularly epic film, and it has some very strange assertions about the world. The acting, however, reveals something new each time to me, and I've long ago decided to see how much I've changed every time I see it. Sometimes I don't like it, sometimes I do. It's very interesting that way. I'm glad to know other people are having the same sorts of thoughts, and that they're interested in living examined lives.

May 04, 2008 3:37 PM  

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