Friday, December 23, 2011

Ontology of the American City

Aleksandar Hemon
Aleksandar Hemon, "Mapping Home"  
The New Yorker, Dec 5, 2011. p. 40 - 49
"In the Sarajevo I knew, you possessed a personal infrastructure: your kafama [café], your barber, your butcher; the landmarks of your life (the spot where you fell and broke your arm playing soccer, the corner where you waited to meet the first of the many loves of your life, the bench where you first kissed her); the streets where people would forever know and recognize you, the space that identified you. Because anonymity was well nigh impossible and privacy literally incomprehensible (there is no word for "privacy" in Bosnian), your fellow-Sarajevans knew you as well as you knew them. If you somehow vanished, your fellow citizens could have reconstructed you from their collective memory and the gossip that had accrued over years. Your sense of who you were, your deepest identity, was determined by your position in a human network, whose physical corollary was the architecture of the city."
"Chicago, on the other hand, was built not for people to come together but for them to be safely apart. Size, power and the need for privacy seemed to be the dominant elements. Vast as it was, Chicago ignored the distinctions between freedom and isolation, between independence and selfishness, between privacy and loneliness. In this city, I had no human network within which to place myself. My displacement was metaphysical to precisely the same extend to which it was physical. But I couldn't live nowhere. I wanted from Chicago what I had got from Sarajevo, a geography of the soul."

Photo from The Guardian, Sept. 27, 2009, by Murdo Macleod

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