Art and cities

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On this page, contributors from around the world pick one item from the world of media culture which they particularly associate with urban living.

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Rosie Wallace picks American Psycho

It may not be the happiest of choices, but American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (1991) sums up for me a lot of city living, or life in this possibly-postmodern world generally. The emphasis on surfaces and appearances -- picked up well in Mary Harron's film (2000) of the book -- is done with spectacular precision. I also recognise the emptiness, and anxiety, and the search for excitement. I want to just quote three bits that I highlighted on my copy when I first read it:

"I have no patience for revelations, for new beginnings, for events that take place beyond the realm of my immediate vision." (p.241)

"There wasn't a clear, identifiable emotion within me, except for greed and, possibly, total disgust. I had all the characteristics of a human being -- flesh, blood, skin, hair -- but my depersonalisation was so intense, had gone so deep, that the normal ability to feel compassion had been eradicated, the victim of a slow, purposeful erasure. I was simply imitating reality, a rough resemblance of a human being, with only a dim corner of my mind functioning." (p.282)

"There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there. [...] I am a noncontingent human being. [...] Each model of human behaviour must be assumed to have some validity. Is evil something you are? Or is it something you do? My pain is constant and sharp and I do not hope for a better world for anyone. In fact I want my pain to be inflicted on others. I want no one to escape. But even after admitting this -- and I have, countless times, in just about every act I've committed -- and coming face-to-face with these truths, there is no catharsis. I gain no deeper knowledge about myself, no new understanding can be extracted from my telling." (p.376-377)

[Biog]   Rosie Wallace lives in New York and recently turned 27, the age Bret Easton Ellis was when American Psycho was published.
 

Dan Laughey picks the song Parklife by Blur

The song 'Parklife' by Blur reminds me of my first experiences of city life whilst a fresher in Manchester. That singalong chorus was a bonding force to our group as each of us lost our inhibitions and conversed with people of whom we knew little except that we were students who shared the same hall of residence. I remember one of our first nights out at a club in the city centre. About ten or fifteen of us filed into a surprisingly well-refurbished place and formed two or three groups by hidden consent to enable comforting conditions for sociability. As the dance floor beckoned, we huddled together to form a circle so that every now and then someone could take the plunge and exhibit themselves by stepping into its middle. Once the trumpets hailed the opening to 'Parklife', we all went knees-up whilst entwined in each others' arms. Students are 'supposed' to listen to serious pop music in a meaningful way. What we were loving was a music hall-style anthem with a chorus intro ("allll the people") reminiscent of one from a song that we'd grown up with on family holidays ("ooh-okey-cokey-cokey").

[Biog]   Dan Laughey received an MA in Communications Studies from the University of Leeds in 1999
 

Tim Anderson picks the novel Dhalgren by Samuel R Delany

This 70s novel by Science Fiction writer Samuel Delany (and later novels such as Triton) provide an insightful picture of the different cities within a city as new groups based on interest, projects and sexuality constantly develop and disappear. In Dhalgren the "underground" of sub groups inhabits a version of the city from which "normal" life has disappeared as a metaphor for their lack of engagement in the mainstream. All interests are commodified and tightly defined to market niches that can be as small as a single person, and individuals evolve through a series of personae based on their current interests and peer groups.

[Biog]   Tim Anderson is the Single Point of Access (joined up government) Officer for Norfolk County Council, and chair of the East of England Telematics Development Trust.
 

Taber Buhl picks the website Cowplop.com

Cowplop.com paralells a city's need for information and order as quick as possible. People don't have time to wait for subways, walk 10 blocks in the rain, or get into a crowded bus. At the same time, people using the web don't have time to wade through thousands of meaningless search results. cowplop.com provides its users with selective informative links to sites that matter and make a difference, according to what they're looking for. This is shown best through their slogan: "Hot shit. Now."

[Biog]   Taber Buhl is a senior computer graphics major at Syracuse University. While he interned at MTV Animation (mtv.com) and worked at Robert Greenberg Associates (rga.com) in New York City last summer, he grew to like city life, and plans to begin his career at Underline (underline.com). His work has appeared in Print Magazine, The Washington Post, and Empire Magazine UK.
 

Alessandra Guigoni picks Una ignota compagnia by Giulio Angioni

To represent a possible kind of city life nowadays in Italy I have chosen to write a note about a book by Giulio Angioni, a distinguished Italian anthropologist, "Una ignota compagnia" published by Feltrinelli, Milan (1992). It tells a story of a friendship between a young man from Sardinia, emigrated to Milan, a chaotic, smoggy metropolis in Lombardia, a northern rich industrial region of Italy, to get a job as a workman and a young man from Africa, gone there with the same dream and goal. It is a witty, poetic long novel. The title, in my opinion, is the key to understand complex and deep meanings of the various episodes of the personages under the surface of the novel; it is a quotation from a drama of Aeschylus, The Supplicants, and the context is the dramatic feelings of stranger women in a hostile country. The phrase would sound in English: Strangers are always "under exams" and it is very simple to misunderstand them. Jacques Derrida has recently remarked: "a hospitality sign is nothing but poetic", maybe a little bit of poetry will help us.

[Biog]   Alessandra Guigoni is an anthropologist involved in research about cultural changes in food and food habits in Sardinia after the discovery of Americas. See her personal website and site on anthropology.
 

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