e p i g r a p h y v 2
"You were an ally of the great metaphysics, looking for epistemic breaks and clear cuts. All those border patrols along your unmodulated identities. It's odd that today we still worship you in a residual kind of way. Despite the calm, we need substitute mysticisms. You should have seen it coming. Especially when you housed electronic culture, which meant, as you said, a certain swipe at metaphysics. You got scared. Cybernetics was being superseded by the more sophisticated agents of artificial intelligence, but it had the lasting effect of retaining an essential distinction between human and machine. This is what you failed to see: that before all man-machinic hybridizations, a technology of the human was already in place. The age of the chemical prosthesis had already begun. Secretly, with phenomenal discretion." -Ronell

quotes for notes / notes for quotes / or epigraphy


reading Rem Koolhaas with The SYborg / The City encore

PREDICTION
In 1807 Simeon deWitt, Gouverneur Morris and John Rutherford are commissioned to design a model that will regulate "the final and conclusive" occupancy of Manhattan. Four years later they propose—above the demarcation that separates the known from the unknowable part of the city—12 avenues running north-south and 155 streets running east-west.
With that simple action they describe a city of 13 x 156 = 2,028 blocks (excluding topographical accidents [here, the topographical "real" and not the cognitively topographical]): a matrix that captures, at the same time, all remaining territory and all future activity on the island [indeed, The SYborg captured in the matrix but gaining thereby odds for an interiorization—where  is the territory?—that opens the question of inside/outside in relation to the matrix, any matrix...and material, matter...how to think the relation of the matrix's material and its conceptualization? How to think material in the first place? Marx's blindspot. In dialectical materialism, the instability of the meaning of material, which submits to a necessary conceptualization contradicting its unthinkable materiality].
The Manhattan Grid.
Advocated by its authors as facilitating the "buying, selling and improving of real estate," this "Apotheosis of the gridiron"—"with its simple appeal to unsophisticated minds"[John W. Reps,  The Making of Urban America (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1965), pp. 297-298.]—is, 150 years after its superimposition on the island, still a negative symbol of the shortsightedness of commercial interests [the Real Estate History of Manhattan: a remarkably continuous course of fuckings].
In fact, it is the most courageous act of prediction in Western civilization: the land it divides, unoccupied; the population it describes, conjectural; the buildings it locates, phantoms; the activities it frames, nonexistent.
REPORT
The argumentation of the Commissioners' report introduces what will become the key strategy of Manhattan's performance: the drastic disconnection between actual and stated intentions, the formula that creates the critical no-man's-land where Manhattanism can exercise its ambitions.
[...]
Manhattan is a counter-Paris, an anti-London.
"To some it may be a matter of surprise, that the whole island has not been laid out as a city; to others, it may be a subject of merriment that the commissioners have provided space for a greater population than is collected in any spot this side of China. They have been governed in this respect by the shape of the ground.... To have come short of the extent laid out might have defeated just expectation and to have gone further might have furnished materials to the pernicious spirit of speculation...."[William Bridges, "Commissioners' Remarks," in  Map of the City of New York and Island of Manhattan (New York, 1811), p. 24.]
The Grid is, above all, a conceptual speculation [accordingly, it can be bet against by the itinerant iconoclast. The SYborg as a charmingly doomed attempt to make experience in and of The City adequate to its concept...but then, there  are those spots of time].
In spite of its apparent neutrality, it implies an intellectual program for the island: in its indifference to topography, to what exists, it claims the superiority of mental construction over reality [again, The SYborg as a persistent query of the interface between mental construction and "actual" city].
The plotting of its streets and blocks announces that the subjugation, if not obliteration, of nature is its true ambition.
All blocks are the same; their equivalence invalidates, at once, all the systems of articulation and differentiation that have guided the design of traditional cities. The Grid makes the history of architecture and all previous lessons of urbanism irrelevant. It forces Manhattan's builders to develop a new system of formal values, to invent strategies for the distinction of one block from another.
The Grid's two-dimensional discipline also creates undreamt-of freedom for three-dimensional anarchy. The Grid defines a new balance between control and de-control in which the city can be at the same time ordered and fluid, a metropolis of rigid chaos [cf. Benjamin's "erstarrten Unruhe"].
With its imposition, Manhattan is forever immunized against any (further) totalitarian intervention. In the single block—the largest possible area that can fall under architectural control—it develops a maximum unit of urbanistic Ego.
Since there is no hope that larger parts of the island can ever be dominated by a single client or architect, each intention—each architectural ideology—has to be realized fully within the limitations of the block.
Since Manhattan is finite and the number of its blocks forever fixed, the city cannot grow in any conventional manner.
Its planning therefore can never describe a specific built configuration that is to remain static throughout the ages; it can only predict that whatever happens, it will have to happen somewhere within the 2,028 blocks of the Grid.
It follows that one form of human occupancy can only be established at the expense of another. The city becomes a mosaic of episodes [or, a.k.a. bars], each with its own particular life span, that contest each other through the medium of the Grid.
[...]

[Early Coney Island developer ("Dreamland," which burned to the ground) Sen. William H.] Reynolds' triple arena is thus a precise metaphor of life in the Metropolis, whose inhabitants are a single cast  performing an infinite number of plays [emphasis-SYborg].
[...]

"Total architecture!" That is [Theodore] Starrett's antihumanistic proposal as he reveals the essence of his Manhattan project: a diagram of "temperature and atmosphere regulating tubes" that are supposed to emerge from the oak-paneled partitions—complete with fireplaces—of his structure [the impulse here is cybernetic, for by way of the environmental network ("regulating tubes") of the structure, the body is integrated into a system of feedback mechanisms, and architecture encompasses the human as internal secretion, messages...air conditioning and related technologies pick up where Starrett's proposal leaves off...The Street becomes uninhabitable because it is outside the block-organism; Street as membrane, as  para-; The SYborg pursues instability: inside, outside, inside...]
The outlets of this psychosomatic battery are keys to a scale of experiences that range from the hedonistic to the medical [...outside, inside, outside, Avital helps out: "Crisis in immanence. Drugs, it turns out, are not so much about seeking an exterior, transcendental dimension—a fourth or fifth dimension—rather, they explore  fractal interiorities. This was already hinted at by Burrough's 'algebra of need'" ( Crack Wars: Literature Addiction Mania).].
The Irresistible Synthetic [Koolhaas' fancy little term] pervades every corner; each compartment is equipped to pursue its private existential journey: the building has become a laboratory, the ultimate vehicle of emotional and intellectual adventure.
Its occupants are at once the researchers and the researched [emphasis-SYborg].
[...]

Manhattan turns into a dry archipelago of blocks [anyone want to play hot lava?].
[...]

The Grid is the neutralizing agent that structures these episodes. Within the network of its rectilinearity, movement becomes ideological navigation between the conflicting claims and promises of each block [further, physical movement becomes, more or less, rectilinear, while for The SYborg, the  cognitive map, conceptual movement, bends; a repertoire of emotions, experiences, memories, etc., attached to specific zones, re-modifies the itinerary].
[...]

LAW
The 1916 Zoning Law describes on each plot or block of Manhattan's surface an imaginary envelope that defines the outlines of the maximum allowable construction.
The law takes the Woolworth as norm: the process of sheer multiplication is allowed to proceed up to a certain height; then the building must step back away from the plot line at a certain angle to admit light to the streets. A Tower may then carry 25 percent of the plot area to unlimited heights. The last clause encourages the tendency of single structures to conquer the vastest possible area, i.e., a whole block, in order to make the 25 percent that can be a Tower as large (profitable) as possible.
In fact, the 1916 Zoning Law is a back-dated birth certificate that lends retroactive legitimacy to the Skyscraper [structure primarily responsible for "canyonizing" the topography—walking The Street, one's perspective becomes instantanized; turning a corner becomes starting all over again].
VILLAGE
The Zoning Law is not only a legal document; it is also a design project. In a climate of commercial exhilaration where the maximum legally allowable is immediately translated into reality, the "limiting" three-dimensional parameters of the law suggest a whole new idea of Metropolis [this emergent idea of Metropolis ultimately bets against the poker-faced pedestrian who zoning out, bluffs, raising the stakes; Metropolis will never be total except as idea].
[...]

To construct a House haunted by its own past and those of other buildings: such is the Manhattanist strategy for the production of vicarious history, "age" and respectability. In Manhattan the new and revolutionary is presented, always, in the false light of familiarity.
[...]

[the mostly North Star:] While the Empire State is being planned, the European avant-garde is experimenting with automatic writing, a surrender to the  process of writing unhindered by the author's critical apparatus.
The Empire State Building is a form of  automatic architecture, a sensuous surrender by its collective makers—from the accountant to the plumber—to the  process of building.
The Empire State is a building with no other program than to make a financial abstraction concrete—that is,  to exist. All the episodes of its construction are governed by the unquestionable laws of automatism.
[...]

[hotel as synecdoche in The City, cinematic:] A Hotel  is a plot—a cybernetic universe with its own laws generating random but fortuitous collisions between human beings who would never have met elsewhere.... Only the territory of the block frames all stories and lends them coherence.
[...]
[holy cow!] The centerpiece of Maxwell's party is  Molly the Moët Cow, a cow that milks champagne on one side and whiskey and soda on the other [cf. Fitzgerald].
[...]

Bastions of the antinatural, Skyscrapers such as the [Downtown Athletic] Club announce the imminent segregation of mankind into two tribes: one of  Metropolitanites—literally self-made—who used the full potential of the  apparatus of Modernity to reach unique levels of perfection, the second simply the remainder of the traditional race.
The only price its locker-room graduates have to pay for their collective narcissism is that of sterility. Their self-induced mutations are not reproducible in future generations.
The bewitchment of the Metropolis stops at the genes; they remain the final stronghold of Nature [oh? we shall see, we shall see...]
[...]

He [Raymond Hood!] travels in Europe—the Grand Tour—then returns to New York.
Paris represents "years to think," he writes; "in New York one falls too easily in the habit of working without thinking on account of the amount of work that there is to do."[Walter Kilham,  Raymond Hood, Architect—Form Through Function in the American Skyscraper (New York: Architectural Publishing Co., 1973), p. 41.]
Manhattan: no time for consciousness [The SYborg in search of...to find time by losing it].... He is restless in the absence of work; he "marks up many a tablecloth with his soft pencil [cf. Emma Bovary and Anna Karenin]" with architect friends Ely Jacques Kahn (the Squibb Building) and Ralph Walker (One Wall Street).
He marries his secretary.
His nervous system get intertwined with that of the Metropolis [more instability between inside and out, the cybernetic organism caught up in a network of messages that blurs the boundary between human and city].
[...]

[Proto-appropriation:] According to the stratagem of self-induced schizophrenia, the scheme is actually presented as the answer to the condition it is determined to exacerbate...
[...]

[The Grid, again, at last?] In the completeness of its [Radio City Music Hall's] facilities and mechanical equipment, in the selection of its human and animal menagerie—in its  cosmogony, in other words—each of Manhattan's 2,028 blocks potentially harbors such an Ark—or Ship of Fools, perhaps—recruiting its own crew with competing claims and promises of redemption through further hedonism.
Existing in such abundance, their cumulative impact is one of  optimism; together, these arks  ridicule the possibility of apocalypse [but are nonetheless haunted, as Baudrillard correctly insisted, by the profile of  their disaster: blackout; NYC-blackout/LA-earthquake, the vertical city versus the horizontal city...Sonic Youth, Lee singing: "LA is more confusing now than any place I've ever been to, I'm from New York City, let it out, and breathe it in"].

[n1][back to cognitive mapping][back to preLoaded][back to LBBIV][back to Sonny's][back to Interview 1][back to fall] [back to Performatively]

fragmenting Kevin Lynch with The SYborg / cognitive mapping encore

THE IMAGE OF THE ENVIRONMENT

At every instant, there is more than the eye can see, more than the ear can hear, a setting or a view waiting to be explored. [And how often the so-called cares of the world distract us and prevent such exploration.] Nothing is experienced by itself, but always in relation to its surroundings, the sequences of events leading up to it, the memory of past experiences. [Yes, except perhaps nothing itself is experienced too in relation to something.]
Moving elements in a city, and in particular the people and their activities, are as important as the stationary physical parts. We are not simply observers of this spectacle, but are ourselves a part of it [cf. crowd], on the stage with other participants. Most often, our perception of the city is not sustained, but rather partial, fragmentary, mixed with other concerns. ['Most often?' Try: "Always."] Nearly every sense is in operation, and the image is the composite of them all.
Legibility
It [ The Image of the City] will concentrate especially on one particular visual quality: the apparent clarity or "legibility" of the cityscape. [Are we to read this 'or' as a differentiation or a synonymization?] By this we mean the ease with which its parts can be recognized and can be organized into a coherent pattern. Just as this printed page, if it is legible, can be visually grasped as a related pattern of recognizable symbols, so a legible city would be ['would be' is not 'is'] one whose districts or landmarks or pathways are easily identifiable and are easily grouped into an over-all pattern. [The comparison of city to text is common in writings on urbanity. As with most persistent figurations in a discourse or discursive field (pleonasm?), it clarifies (here 'legibility') up to a certain point, but—in an ironic twist—if we are to read,  actually read...cf. Interview 1.
In Lynch's figure, the terms are 'a legible city' and 'this printed page.' Note first that he must provide a condition for 'this printed page,' mainly 'if it is legible,' i.e., a presupposition of legibility is required for a simile that is supposed to spell out a concept of legibility. In other words, Lynch's condition functions rhetorically, for in order to understand the condition in the first place, it must already be operable; you must be able to read, that is, understand 'if it is legible,' and in this movement, Lynch implicitly equates legibility and what we might call readability—the possibility, maybe, of meaning. Secondly though, 'this printed page' is not precisely 'text' insofar as Lynch never raises the question of reading/readability per se. The grasp of which he writes is  visual. If we read the simile back into itself, we are left with a tension between legibility and meaning. One can identify patterns of symbols on the page, yes, but this does not mean that one can read them (semantically, etc.). Lynch fails to distinguish between legibility (in his sense) and readability, so that we are left with the impression that a legible city can appear as 'a related pattern of recognizable symbols,' the meanings of which are not necessarily available...or less abstractly, the feeling that arises in the urban wanderer, that something is going on, but s/he cannot access what it is. The way in which Lynch's simile unravels points up the ambiguity of what it is supposed to exemplify. Recall his first sentence here, in which clarity is yoked ('or') to legibility; but it is not only clarity, but  apparent clarity, while legibility appears between quotation marks. Clarity, legibility, readability, and in addition, recognizability ('recognizable symbols')—all of these appear at the outset of Lynch's own text, but the reader is left to wonder at their relation. Cf. Benjamin's  Anschaulichkeit (graphicness), as well as his  Erkennbarkeit (recognizability), especially as developed in the  Passangenarbeit.]

THIS reREADING OF LYNCH BY THE SYBORG WILL TAKE AWHILE, SO BY ALL MEANS CONTINUE TO CHECK BACK FOR ONGOING DOT DOT DOT. QUESTIONS? email The SYborg.

[n2][back to Performatively]

notes for quotes [back to top]

n1: Yep!  all of this is taken from: Rem Koolhaas, "Introduction"-"How Perfect Perfection Can Be: The Creation of Rockefeller Center,"  Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan (1978; New York: Monacelli, 1994). The SYborg is reading in '[ ]'s, and perhaps you're reading too...in spite of its "early" date (1978) and in spite (or because) of its exclusion of the boroughs (duh),  Delirious New York is fascinating, if not essential, reading for those curious about what a theory of Manhattanism might be... [back up]

n2: All from: Kevin Lynch,  The Image of the City (Cambridge: MIT, 1960), an essential text for those on the trail of The SYborg, which is rereading in '[ ]'s, with "jumpcuts" marked by ellipses gone missing; thus, "fragmenting Kevin Lynch..." [back up]

"back" to epigraphy

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fantasized by Theo A. Nusyg
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