Monday, March 9, 2015

Authentica Habita

Photo by Carmen Young.

As I was saying, The Decline of the German Mandarins is a terrific companion for The University in Ruins.


Visited PK + RS in PDX over the holidays. PK asked how things are going in NYC. I repeated something that I've been saying to MK for awhile: that I've begun to feel...not uprooted, but un-rooted. I no longer feel at home anywhere. I move from city to city, always just a year or a few years too early or too late. Always -jected in some way, floating. Desychronized from my own prior experiences of a place, a scene. Not there.


"Of all the islands he'd visited, two stood out. The island of the past, he said, where the only time was past time and the inhabitants were bored or more or less happy, but where the weight of illusion was so great that the island sank a little deeper into the river every day. And the island of the future, where the only time was the future, and the inhabitants were planners and strivers, such strivers, said Ulises, that they were likely to end up devouring one another." —Jacinto Requena, Café Quito, Calle Bucareli, Mexico City DF, September 1985


From a project begun as a personal thing in PDX in June of 1995 and finished as an academic thing in NYC in May of 1997:
The nostalgia for destiny,
The destiny of nostalgia.
In order to meet Benjamin half-way, on common ground, or better: his ground, we must relinquish the idea of ground altogether. Common sense tells us that the exile is estranged, alienated, or divided from someplace or something—all the forms that can be organized as home. But exile in fact dissolves the entire concept of alienation and home.
The condition of exile initiates being-no-longer-from-anything.
The exile is simultaneously banished from everything, hence from nothing,
and by virtue of the estrangement from nothing, the exile cannot be at home anywhere,
The exile is always already not at home,
But there is no originary displacement,
The exile is displacement,
His nostalgia is for the void, that is, the messianic future.
In the writing of Benjamin, then, nihilism vies with melancholy — the nostalgia of the exile is for the condition of exile.
Salad days, baby. All this sounded so cool at the time, but I didn't buy it, not really.
Now it all sounds silly to me. Silly and true.


Adapted from an email to DA, March 23, 2013:

It’s easy to feel guilty here about not squeezing every last ounce of 'culture' from the place. After all, we know our stay is temporary – not tourist-temporary, but still.

Despite the motivations of guilt and temporariness, we’ve done very little in the way of exhibits and monuments and the like. I prefer Raucherkneipen and parks to galleries and museums. Our friend JD's visit will be a good forcing function to do some Denkmäler or whatever.

When I lived in New York I always felt anxiety that I wasn’t experiencing The Real City because I kept weird student hours, drank all the time, manipulated my responsibilities. I saw art and shows, classrooms and bars, not the inside of a rush hour 4 train. The Real City belonged to real people who had lives and real jobs and real obligations and struggles. People for whom the weekend was the weekend, not a continuation of the academic week by other means.

Now, in Berlin, the reverse: I feel anxiety that I’m not experiencing the city because I have a family, a domestic life, difficulties, obligations that prevent me from going out late and participating in the kinds of goings-on that, in NYC, made me feel divided from The Real City. I've been in Berlin for eighteen months, and I haven't stood on line at Berghain.

The author at Schloss Charlottenburg. Photo by Carmen Young.


I moved to leafy Bristol Street, in Cambridge, and immediately conceived a plan to document "The Grape Arbors of Wellington-Harrington." I would photograph the many grape vines planted in the neighborhood – they were usually entwined with a metal frame and wires or chainlink to form a carport – and then pin the photos into a Google map. (My landlord said the original cuttings were brought by Portuguese immigrants like his own parents.) I counted dozens and dozens over the years, all in Wellington-Harrington. In the end, I never photographed a single one. (Later, DA turned me onto the Bathtub Marys of Somerville; now we're talking.)

I struggle like an amnesiac against those eight years of Massachusetts. They are precisely a trauma. I can't recall them, but I experience their effects as a kind of deep internal bruising.

"Is it the stratified city or the prismatic city?" he had written in a forgotten notebook.


The Tempelhoferfeld at dusk, a knitting pattern of impatient bats take flight. OF + J are visiting. OF and I are discussing urban spaces, as always, and he casually lays something simple and clear on me that's transformed the way I look around when I'm on a city street. Of all the kinds of diversity we hope for in a neighborhood, age, perhaps, is the most important, for when people of all ages are living on top of one another, the street is alive around the clock. Children, young people, families, older folks, and everyone in between,—all have very different needs and use patterns. This plenitude of time and type of use is one of the things that undesirable gentrification interrupts. Pace Richard Florida, when the neighborhood becomes all coworking salons by day and hip bars by night, game over. You win, locusts.


The criticism of gentrification that concerns itself with authenticity is itself part of gentrification.

"What stuck with me was the way in which Heidegger’s Nazism suddenly explained some of the ideas in Being and Time (sorry, Sein und Zeit) that formerly I had ignored as mere agrarian German romanticism — all that stuff about 'rootedness' and 'destiny.' It turns out that 'rootedness' was a code word meant to differentiate authentic Germans from 'wandering Jews.'" —David Weinberger, in a comment on his blog, July 11, 2010


"Pour ce livre [Paris Passages] aussi bien que pour le 'Trauerspiel' je ne pourrai me passer d'une introduction qui porte la théorie de la connaissance—et, cette fois surtout sur la théorie de la connaissance de l'histoire. C'est là que je trouverai sur mon chemin Heidegger et j'attends quelque scintillement de l'entre-choc de nos deux manières, très différentes, d'envisager l'histoire." —Benjamin, letter to Scholem, January 20, 1930

View from the balcony of a Hobrechtstraße apartment. Photo by Carmen Young.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. From an email to NS, March 9, 2015:

    Yes, I’m sure everyone will be relieved that they no longer have to read Heidegger, or Derrida, or Arendt, or even people like Avital Ronell. Or Foucault for that matter, who -- apocryphal -- admits to being a Heideggerian on his deathbed. Whew. Finally, we can go back to Kant and Hegel because they weren’t racist in the least :-p

    Victor Farias plowed this field in the 80s, and pretty convincingly. But his case for Heidegger’s Nazism was built on interpretation. I worry that the writing in the Black Notebooks will be received as self-evident. This is not meant to diminish the relationship between Heidegger’s thinking and the Nazis. But I worry that we will take him at his word, precisely at the moment when interpretive labors are still required.

  3. "In the Habita Frederick granted imperial protection and safe conduct to all persons who traveled or resided in imperial lands for purposes of study both on the way to and during their stay at the place of learning" (Pearl Kibre, “Scholarly Privileges: Their Roman Origins and Medieval Expression,” The American Historical Review 59.3 (1954): 549).

  4. Brontosaurus

    I keep writing about dinosaurs.
    They lumber across the planet,
    swim in the warm currents of the sea
    and play all afternoon.
    They have to be home by five.
    I miss them.

    (Kimiko Hahn, from Earshot (1992))

  5. "He smiled, 'Why, you will go home and then you will find that home is not home anymore. Then you will really be in trouble. As long as you stay here, you can always think: One day I will go home.' He played with my thumb and grinned. 'N'est-ce pas?'

    "'Beautiful logic,' I said. 'You mean I have a home to go to as long as I don't go there?'

    "He laughed. 'Well isn't it true? You don't have a home until you leave it and then, when you have left it, you never can go back.'" (Baldwin, Giovanni's Room)

  6. "...the tiger must embody a contradiction: this large, pungent, extraordinarily charismatic animal must achieve a state of virtual nonexistence while operating inside the sphere of its prey’s highly attuned senses. Witnesses...agree that there is something almost metaphysical about the tiger’s ability to will itself into nonbeing—to, in effect, cloak itself." (John Vaillant, The Tiger)