Wednesday, September 5, 2007

ambulations on Careri

From one who enjoys exploring the trapezoidal concrete drainage channels (er, rivers) of Southern California and tracing "lost" streams, those channelized or even buried waterways, I found the reading enjoyable and illuminating.

Walking for Careri, like mapping for Corner, is "the first aesthetic act" (p.20). Careri links walking and thus generation of the path to the first human intervention with a landscape, the menhirs. In this way walking is pre-architecture, it is the generation of an idea about a place before any physical intervention occurs. And for us, I hope walking about these unaccepted streets will itself be a generative act, a way to discover natural, intuitive ways about moving across space before we imagine something built.

Walking is action from our creative unconscious. Moreover, the tracings of our ambulations is a background to the foreground of restful spaces, which Careri argues has been too much the focus of urban history. With the expanding periphery of cities, we have now pockets of space within which is fertile ground for walking as a way to explore the under-belly of our metropolis. He is promoting the act of walking to reveal Smithson's "forgotten futures", the tracings of what-could-have-been (though not lamenting the lost potential, but extracting from those vestiges what-might-still-be).

The notion of walking as "simultaneous reading and writing of space" (p.26) draws the most clear connections between walking and mapping. In mapping, as per Corner, we are writing even as we record data; we are participants in the generation of the map, and thus of reality. With walking, we are enacting Smithson's entropy, and creating the badass idea of New Babylon, the nomadic city. When we walk, as when we map, we are recording an irreversible pattern, scattering the black and white sand until it is gray. In a map, our perception of reality is forever altered by its representation of reality.

And here's where the reading became really interesting , when Smithson talks about filming the child in the sandbox (p.12 in the pdf), then playing it in reverse as an attempt to reverse the chaos, but that entropy will eventually consume the film material itself. All simulation will eventually break down, and all that will be left is a forgotten future.

To escape from this paralysis, we have this other notion of transurbance. The creation of voids within city fabric from the rapid expansion of the periphery, which is, while entropic, not actually destructive. "Voids are the protagonist" (p.180), made up of many actors whom we may know as "diffusion dwellers". (I wonder what sort of "diffusion dwellers" we will find on the unaccepted streets--maybe we will become them!)

I think the thing for us to remember when we visit these sites is that empty is not actually empty, that "these urban amnesias are not only waiting to be filled with things, they are living spaces to be filled with meanings". (p.183)

The end of the reading, while quite enjoyable and poetic, breaks down a little bit for me in content. Careri expands a little on the "New Babylon" within the city, voids shifting like desert sands, navigating the seas and all that. It's interesting, and so is the idea about a person never actually "entering" the city but only occupying the "territory of going". However, this is contradictory to the notion of walking as a way of (paradoxically) rooting oneself in a place: finding orientation, contemplating where things have come from and where they are going, and what sort of habitation belongs to a place, which is where Careri begins. In conclusion, a little bit of rest and stableness can be a good thing too.

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