Vaguely Sexual Urban Ramblings

I received an email this evening at about 6pm suggesting that I submit a 400 word “essay” for Oregon Humanities.  I didn’t have anything I liked well enough to work down to that format, so I decided to just sit down and bust out something fresh.  So here it is.

 

 

Metropolis: Born of the City

by Andrew Pulliam, MArch student at Portland State University

 

The idea of the metropolis came from the Ancient Greeks who used the term to distinguish the “mother-city” from its ex-urban progeny, its colonies and rural settlements.  The feminine reproductive connotation is apt beyond describing the hierarchy of progenitor and dependent territories because it suggests a creative and nurturing human force that is most potent in the dense and built-up city.

In the architecture of the city the urban dweller can witness the material birth of the prevailing values and perspectives of their time alongside the historical accumulation of what preceded them.  In what we build and raze we are the midwives to the emergent will of our mother-culture.  The patterns of streets, laid out according varying systems of real estate and civic philosophies in collision with local topographies, are like fingerprints identifying unique places.  The dwelling spaces in post-industrial lofts, in towering condominiums, in unsheltered urban space, and in suburban tract houses are the dissonant brood of a complex and fickle parentage.  The living city is always in a process of reproducing itself readily incorporating the genetic influences proffered by its inhabitants.

Within its physical body the city has engendered much of the cultural production that we celebrate in the canon of western civilization.  From Plato’s Republic, to the Florentine aesthetic scientism of the Renaissance, to the literary products of bohemian flânerie of 19th and 20th century Paris, urban conditions have always proven fertile to the human poetizing tendency.  The arteries of the city provide for the peripatetics of the wandering thinker, opportunities to encounter different walks of life, to strike up collaboration, to come under the influences of others, to gather an audience.  By the cumulative force of multitudes it engenders and nurtures institutions, physical and social, which both allow access to the mainstream functions of the city and offer reference points for rebellion and counter-culture.  The city first made possible mass-culture, and can therefore be seen as the mother of the ubiquitous and placeless digital multimedia of the web.

The city throbs with the genesis of human expression and in its products we are revealed to ourselves as through a family resemblance.  Our cities give us identities inflected in our speech, clothing, values, and habits.  To follow the primordial and elusive directive to “know thyself” one must turn to their locus of origin.  In the metropolis human dwelling is given form in perpetual reproduction.

 



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