Thursday, 1 May 2008

Why America Can't Get It Up

The alternating glory and squalor of American cities puzzled me for a long time. How could their denizens switch with such rapidity between ignoring the hideously unimproved and unmaintained, and revelling in the rarefied heights of neoclassical perfection?
I don't think I was asking the right question. The American landscape has two layers: a foundation of pragmatic industry, and a gleam of self-aggrandizing hubris. No explanations are necessary for the dirt, the mess, the unkempt busyness; instead of wondering how citizens could live in such contrasting aesthetic conditions, I should have pondered why the glorious monoliths were contrived at all, over what is a base of rust and sweat.
Objects of beauty in the American public sphere are paens to power. Nowhere exemplifies this so much as Washington D.C., which is a sprawling mausoleum of the past (surrounded by suburbs of the poorest, most homocidal men in the country). U.S. public works are relics of a Cold War mentality, where the poplace required continual assurances of greatness, invulnerability, uniqueness, and empire.
It is little wonder, then, that the Twin Towers site remains vacant. There is no precedent for memorialising America getting totally fucked. Without the usual lazy go-to sentiments such as Glory or Tradition, officials prevaricate endlessly over the issue. How do you construct a phallus that represents impotence?

No comments: