Monday, April 11, 2011

The City

Anamnesis Journal: The Soul & the City: The House of Our Realities by Wilfred McClay (via Peter Haworth)

In short, we humans are made by, through, and for relationship with one another. The forms of these relationships are various—in marriage, in family, community, nations, the Kingdom of God. Each has a unique valence. Perhaps the most powerful of all Biblical insights into relationship is in the organismic model put forward in I Corinthians 12, in which the individuals comprising the Church are compared to the specialized organs and members of the body—powerful when they operate in concert, but useless in isolation.

But what about great cities, then, such as New York, Paris, London, Rome, Los Angeles? Are they not a very particular kind of relationship, one in which anonymity, impersonality and instrumentality are often the watchwords, and tend to replace fully human face-to-face personal relations as embodied in small-town life? Aren't the great cities of our age dehumanizing and mechanistic by their very nature, tending to produce people who have lost touch with the lived realities of nature?

Such has very often been the verdict that Americans have rendered about their own great cities. Indeed, the problem of the city may be more advanced here, precisely because we Americans have, for most of our history, lacked an urban ideal.

What I mean in saying this is that Americans in general have had a hard time reconciling what they think of as characteristically American aspirations with the actual life of modern American cities. It's a certain disharmony between the way we think and the way we live. Our fierce attachment to ideals of individualism, self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and closeness to nature do not always seem, for many Americans, to comport with the conditions of modern urban life. Perhaps that is because America, as historian Richard Hofstadter quipped, is a nation that “was born in the country and has moved to the city,” but has never entirely adapted the city’s mentality. Or to put it another way, altering a famous saying about the British Empire, we became an urban civilization in a fit of absence of mind, having never fully adjusted our ideas about ourselves to the conditions in which we find ourselves actually living.
I have some things to say about the United States and whether we have any true identity as a people or peoples. The main weakness of this essay is that it does not take into consideration the question of size. Even if some semblance of a human life can be found in neighborhoods, rather than in the megapolis as a whole, the megapolis is a problem because it is not sustainable without cheap energy and it cannot be governed well (much less self-governed as a republic),

Traditionalists may believe that the city is the ideal political arrangement, but they would be looking primarily not at the material culture or products or buildings, but at the associations and the differentiation of labor that makes natural human perfection possible. What then, of historical memory and permanence? Do these not presuppose that one is able to identify with places or objects as belonging to one's heritage?

Sheep presume that there is no threat of violence, and they may be too trusting of the strangers who surround them.

Last morning I had a dream about da Jimmy and his sister. I can't say it was a restful night; what prompted the dream? md.

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