March 14, 2005

Aethetics and Urbanization: from Walden Pond to Skyscrapers

So many flavors of aesthetic beauty--I felt like I was eating rainbow sherbet on a hot day when I read these:

From Walden: "Sounds" and "Solitude"

Thoreau is one of my favorites. I mean, how can you not love a reclusive who lives by a pond and reflects upon his quiet existence? As a summer lover, I spent my afternoon reading away in dare I say, pleasure? at assigned readings. I think it has me entrance with the beauties to come in a couple of months, in Solitude, for example, images like, "the bullfrogs trump[ing] to usher in the night" or "the gentle rain," I daydream on this frosty night.

In "Sounds," however, I caught on to where the lesson is headed. Media, technology, of course. I think what hinged my mind to this was the placement of predators of nature in conjunction with technology:

Hawks are circling about my clearing; the tantivy of wild pigeons, flying by two and threes athwart my view, or perching restless on the white pine boughs behind my house, gives a voice to the air; a fish hawk dimples the glassy surface of the pond and brings up a fish; a mink steals out of the marsh before my door and seizes a frog by the shore; the sedge is bending under the weight of the reed-birds flitting hither and thither; and for the last half-hour I have heard the rattle of railroad cars, now dying away and then reviving like the beat of a partridge, conveying travellers from Boston to the country.


Through this placement of detail, one may see that his peaceful little world on Walden Pond is being intruded upon by the progress of the era, albeit distant in his time.

And then the urban...this weekend I am visiting NYC again--how appropriate to appreciate the aesthetics of the city before I actually visit. Great timing on this one, Dr. Jerz. Unintentional, probably, but nevertheless, perfect.

Concerning the poem: "The Great Figure" and the painting: The Figure 5 in Gold:
I love looking at artwork, but sometimes I cannot articulate what I see, so I really enjoy it when the written word inspires art.

In many ways the poem, with its sharp lines and lack of punctuation reflects the staccato beat of the city. In the same manner, the painting also indicates this no-nonsense attitude with sharp lines, some confusion--but still orderly composition of Demuth's painting.

McNeill's "Skyscraper Geography":
In this journal article, I was surprised at the timeliness of the information. Not only was Freedom Tower--the new building to replace the Trade Towers mentioned--but also relatively current films, such as Die Hard.

His ideas concerning skyscrapers as both a part of the surrounding area, the skyline of the city, and also an individual mark of human achievement, take on a new aesthetic value.

I always viewed New York City as a skyline, until I visited. When I did walk around, I noted, as McNeill states, these "gargantuan footprints on the urban geography of the city" and stood in awe at their individual demonstration of power. However, McNeill does not demote the skyline; in fact, he states, "Impossible to ever inhabit in its totality, existent in full dramatic form only from a relatively distant perspective, the skyline is nonetheless the most frequently invoked image when considering the impact of skyscrapers on cities."

I have much more to say about this article, specifically concerning these areas, but I will condense:

"Within a lot of architectural discourse, the rather crude 'global-local' construct recurs frequently...This presents particular challenges in the developmental states of southeast Asia that have explicitly adopted skyscrapers and infastructure projects as symbols of national modernization."--I have many, many things to say about this orientalist view of the "Eastern" (?) world. Let's just say Islam with Dr. Dardery has opened my eyes.

As for the cinematic understanding of McNeill, he is sorely lacking in chick flick knowledge. What about An Affair to Remember or Sleepless in Seattle? Hmm. I'll have to say something about that in class...

I particularly enjoyed it when McNeill cited Donald Trump in association with the egotistical and/or phallic. I could not have stated it better. :-)

His quote reeks of the typical egoism that makes me cringe when I see his image: "I like thinking big. I always have."

So much to say about this article, but I really must move on for now.

The poem: "To Brooklyn Bridge":

Dr. Jerz describes this poem as an "urban poem," but it sounds more like a nineteenth century work with anachronistic elements, such as traffic lights and subways, inserted. The combination adds an air of romantic mysticism to the urban life; for example, details such as, "immaculate sigh of stars/ Beading thy path--condense eternity" or "how could mere toil align thy choiring strings!" take the reader into an almost dreamlike state. How easily Crane makes the reader forget the litter and noise of the city.

The aesthetics of urban life can really be appreciated by an outsider from a small town, but to really study and live in NYC (perhaps, I haven't done a bio on Crane) and appreciate it still for its lovely scope is something to read with interest.

Dr. Jerz's WTC page:
One poem struck me:

David Lehman "The World Trade Center" (1996) I never liked the World Trade Center. When it went up I talked it down As did many other New Yorkers. The twin towers were ugly monoliths That lacked the details the ornament the character Of the Empire State Building and especially The Chrysler Building, everyone's favorite, With its scalloped top, so noble. The World Trade Center was an example of what was wrong With American architecture, And it stayed that way for twenty-five years Until that Friday afternoon in February When the bomb went off and the buildings became A great symbol of America, like the Statue Of Liberty at the end of Hitchcock's Saboteur. My whole attitude toward the World Trade Center Changed overnight. I began to like the way It comes into view as you reach Sixth Avenue From any side street, the way the tops Of the towers dissolve into white skies In the east when you cross the Hudson Into the city across the George Washington Bridge.

(From "Valentine Place" [Scribner, 1996]. Originally published in "The Paris Review." [source -- text not verified] )

Perception changes, this poem demonstrates when something monumental happens. The ugly finds its swan within. The towers found their swan, ironically, through tragedy. They reached a new standard of beauty--loaded with meaning of American ingenuity and strength, and finally after the collapse, the ability for America to persevere and save one another. But isn't that the best kind of beauty--when meaning and aesthetic standards finally find a medium?

It's lovely to think that from even ashes beautiful things may come.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at March 14, 2005 10:38 PM | TrackBack
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