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Planning to Play

Origins of thinking about “play in the city

Last year’s ESems:
Section 024   Ecological Imaginings
Instructor:  Anne Dalke
This course invites you to re-think how we represent the world. We'll focus on the diversity of languages available to us for linking natural and cultural ecosystems, as we study the emerging biological and social systems within which we all live. We'll start by attending to the words we chose and the shape of the sentences we construct, then look at essays and stories that express the shaping action of humans in the environment; we'll pay particular attention to the modes most used by women. We'll conclude by reflecting more broadly on the ways others have written, and how we ourselves might write, about matters of ecological concern.  We will make our own weekly observations of the world in which we live, work and imagine, and bi-monthly forays into the world beyond the classroom, seeking a variety of ways of expressing our ecological interests. We'll read both classical and cutting edge ecolinguistic, ecofeminist, ecocritical and ecoesthetic theory, along with a wide range of exploratory, speculative, and imaginative essays and stories. Possibilities include texts by Henry Thoreau, Rebecca Solnit, Marilyn Waring, Gary Snyder, Ursula LeGuin, Paula Gunn Allen, Mary Austin, Rachel Carson, Carolyn Merchant, Susan Griffin, Terry Tempest Williams, Michael Pollan, Jamaica Kincaid, and Evelyn White.

Section 28  Imagine: The Creative Process and the Occasion of Cultural Life
Instructor:  Mark Lord
This seminar is loosely structured around ideas about the creative processes that artists use in imagining and making their work and the various roles that the spectator/reader has in responding to creative work. In addition to recent writing about the work of the imagination, like Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine and Peter Handke’s The Weight of the World, we will explore modern and contemporary work in visual art, writing, live performance, and music, including Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire, Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America, Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel,  Are You my Mother?, and Lee Breur and Bob Telson’s Gospel at Colonus, a musical adaptation of Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus.

Students will write about these and other works in relation to the works’ own senses of themselves as instances of creativity and touchstones for ideas about the imagination. We will also make use of event as a metaphor for approaching works of art and our critical responses to it and to the role of the imagination in contemporary cultural life. The seminar will consider the occasions of our written responses in relation to the form of the response and those responses will vary from letters, to tweets, to the multi-draft essays that will be the focus of our work. Students should expect to attend performances, lectures, readings, and film screenings both on and off-campus in addition to assigned reading. Participants will share writing with one another and will have responses to their writing from their classmates in addition to the opportunity for feedback and discussion at bi-weekly conferences with the instructor.

Etymologies for our evolving new project:

Play, origin uncertain: perhaps cognate with Middle Dutch pleyen
to dance, leap for joy, rejoice, be glad
Jody (a teacher): "a moment in which you are liberated from your social position,
 and forget that you have to negotiate one"

Serena (a student): "pushing against what you are expected to do"

City: a relatively large and permanent settlement [cf. the unpredictable serendip of play...]
originally "any settlement," regardless of size, from Old French cite "town, city" (10c., Modern French cité), from earlier citet, from Latin civitatem, originally "citizenship, condition or rights of a citizen, membership in the community," later "community of citizens, state, commonwealth", from civis "townsman," from PIE root *kei- "to lie; bed, couch; homestead; beloved, dear" (see cemetery). The sense has been transferred from the inhabitants to the place. [cf. the permanence of cemetery; cf. also the weight of citizenship, w/ play...]

Anne’s first list of possible sites in the city for us to play:

Zagar’s Magic Gardens
Village of Arts and Humanities
Fairmont Park
Franklin Institute, National History Museum
Parkway: Barnes, Rodin, Art Museum
Pennsylvania Academy
City Hall tower--> then all four “squares”
Academy of Music/Kimmel/Wilma/Merriam/Suzanne Roberts....
small theaters: Arden, Lantern, Society Hill Playhouse, Adrienne’s, Plays&Players,Grasso’s...
Labs @ Painted Bride
Live Arts Festival Sept. 6-21:
Play On, Philly! (thinking about play = education)
what’s @ the Annenberg/Penn/West Philly more generally?
Public Art Actions (“Ranger Jenny”)
creating parklets:
Park(ing) Day: September 20, 2013
Laurel Hill Cemetery

Mark’s counter-list:

St. Augustine, City of God
Measure for Measure (Vienna)
Patti Smith, Just Kids (NYC)
Stoppard, Travesties (Zürich)
Brecht, In the Jungle of Cities
Wings of Desire (Berlin)
Woody Allen, Manhattan, Alice…
3 19th c. volumes w/ Phila in title (?)
a poverty melodrama (?)
Derrida, Structure, Sign and Play
new collection on Performance and the City
Duchamp on/in the museum?
Slought Foundation @ Penn
restaurant  renaissance (Judy Wicks)?
we’re doing the opposite of Bocaccaio—instead of fleeing the city,
as the characters/authors do in the Decameron, we will write tales about going into it…
Linda Brodkey, “Writing on the Bias” (use as source for lingo on writing?)
The Nine Eyes of Google Street View (and the whole project)
A Rittenhouse Square Sound Walk

Anne’s Reading Notes

St. Augustine, The City of God:
The book presents human history as being a conflict between what Augustine calls the City of Man and the City of God, a conflict that is destined to end in victory of the latter. The City of God is marked by people who forgot earthly pleasure to dedicate themselves to the eternal truths of God, now revealed fully in the Christian faith. The City of Man, on the other hand, consists of people who have immersed themselves in the cares and pleasures of the present, passing world. Christianity, he argued, should be concerned with the mystical, heavenly city, the New Jerusalem — rather than with earthly politics.

I found lots more "cities of God,"

including an interesting novel by Doctorow:

but i think i'm more interested in the city that immerses us
in the cares and pleasure of the present, passing world....

Brian Sutton-Smith’s 1997 classic, ‘‘The Ambiguity of Play,’’ cited in
ROBIN MARANTZ HENIG, Taking Play Seriously. NYTimes (Feb. 17, 2008):

"For all its variety...there is something common to play in all its protean forms: variety itself. The essence of play is that the sequence of actions is fluid and is at its core ‘‘a behavioral kaleidoscope'....the best way for a young animal to gain a more diverse and responsive behavioral repertory."...‘‘I think of play as training for the unexpected”….”Behavioral flexibility and variability is adaptive; in animals it’s really important to be able to change your behavior in a changing environment.’’ Play…leads to mental suppleness and a broader behavioral vocabulary, which in turn helps the animal achieve success in the ways that matter: group dominance, mate selection, avoiding capture and finding food…..”children do not have unlimited imagination…Their make-believe and, by extension, other play forms, is constrained by the roles, scripts and props of the culture they live in.’’

Playing might serve a different evolutionary function too, he suggests: it helps us face our existential dread. The individual most likely to prevail is the one who believes in possibilities — an optimist, a creative thinker, a person who has a sense of power and control. Imaginative play, even when it involves mucking around in the phantasmagoria, creates such a person. ‘‘The adaptive advantage has often gone to those who ventured upon their possibility with cries of exultant commitment,’’ Sutton-Smith wrote. ‘‘What is adaptive about play, therefore, may be not only the skills that are a part of it but also the willful belief in acting out one’s own capacity for the future.’’

Clifford Geertz, Deep Play

Paul Grobstein, taking play seriously

Serendip, playground/ interactive exhibits

Jill Bean, What Is Play?

Anne Dalke, What Happened When Teaching the Canon Became Child’s Play

Corey Doctorow, Anda’s Game (on the commodification of play):
“One person’s play is another person’s work”
Marx on “the alienation of play”=power-leveling
“We sell our labor to someone else; it does not belong to us….
inevitable in capitalism? Play is an irreducible element of life…
what happens when it is commodified”?
“the virtual world is the perfect global village, this small place
where players from all over the globe can play together
“but it is also a divided world: those things that divide us in the real world still divide us–
On who else’s labor does your gaming depend?

ask Jeff & Carola for key texts they use on being in the city

Notes from Jody’s  F08 CSem on Urban
Identities:  Difference, Conflict, and Community

Observation exercise to be completed @ any point during the semester: Go with a partner from our class and visit a site of interest in the city of Philadelphia.  Observe the activity in an urban space of your choosing for at least an hour. Record your observations in notes and visually, by mapping the space. Who is using and/or passing through this space?  What are they doing and with what purposes?  With whom (if anyone) are they interacting?  What patterns do you see emerging? What explanation might you give for these patterns?

Find 2-3 photos, paintings, or other visual representations of the same city.  (You should choose a city that you do not know well.) What story do these images tell you?  Do the images agree with each other? What can you read from these images about diversity and/or community in this city? 

Anne's current state....

I’ve called in Travesties, In the Jungle of the Cities, Wings of Desire, and Performance and the City, and will look again @ The City of God, Metropolis, and “Structure, Sign and Play,” but for now/until I’ve spent some time with that material, I’d like to put off listing texts--and think the experiential city-based stuff is our hook anyway.

I’m also exploring some other avenues/angles; am thinking, for instance, about our modeling a range of ways of being in the city. On Friday, I mentioned Charles Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin, who celebrated the flâneur, a leisurely stroller cultivating “the gastronomy of the eye.” You talked about Guy Debord, who used “spectacular images and language to disrupt the flow of the spectacle,” in what he called “detourment.” We talked, too, about how to help our students “go deeper,” not be “dilettantes.” The blurb for the upcoming exhibit @ the Art Museum, on ““Modern Art and the Metropolis,” describes Léger’s “desire to engage more directly with new urban spaces, experiences, and audiences.”  

I’m thinking especially about how women have-and-might occupy urban spaces; the feminist appropriation of the streets, for example, vs. the female homicides in Ciudad Juárez. My daughter Mar is deep into Capoira—a male fight/dance form that she and some other women are occupying, and I’d love to take our students to one of their rodas (they play in North Philly). I also ordered Our City Dreams—a film about “the intersection of location and imagination" for 5 women artists in NYCity. And I want to follow up on the work being done by the folks who appeared @ the MoMA Symposia held last fall about The Child in the City of Play.

I found some good soc leads, too, from an Esem Jody did a few years ago on “urban identities”: some classic essays by Elijah Anderson and Jane Jacobs, as well as a newer collection called City Worlds: “Exploring how different worlds within the city are brought into close proximity, this book demonstrates that cities in the world are essentially open, their very dynamism being a function of their interconnectedness. Analysing cities through this spatial understanding, City Worlds outlines new ways to address some of the ambiguities of cities: their promise and potential, their problems and threats.”
Anyhow, for now I think the key pragmatic questions are
1) how often we want to say we are going into-the-city;
2) how much/what we want to say about writing on-line; and
3) where the $$’s going to come from for this game.


I had a glimmerish picture of a grid structure for the course. Bi-weekly city visits/provocations. Quarterly Big Assignments in different media (novel, play, visual art, film?). weekly short readings to provoke weekly writing.

Imagining a strong grid which we could play in relation to.


Anne Dalke's picture

"the power of a country road"

My husband is reading Walter Benjamin's Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings (Schocken, 1978), and last night, he read aloud to me this wonderful passage from "One-Way Street":

"The power of a country road is different when one is walking along it from when one is flying over it by airplane. In the same way, the power of a text is different when it is read from when it is copied out. The airplane passenger sees only how the road pushes through the landscape, how it unfolds according to the same laws as the terrain surrounding it. Only he who walks the road on foot learns of the power it commands, and of how, from the very scenery that for the flier is only the unfurled plain, it calls forth distances, belvederes, clearings, prospects at each of its turns like a commander deploying soldiers at a front. Only the copied text thus commands the soul of him who is occupied with it, whereas the mere reader never discovers the new aspects of his inner self that are opened by the text, that road cut through the interior jungle forever closing behind it: because the reader follows the movement of his mind in the free flight of daydreaming, whereas the copier submits it to command. The Chinese practice of copying books was thus an incomparable guarantee of literary culture, and the transcipt a key to China's enigmas" (66).

So--this seems to me, first, a possible way into the learning practices of our Chinese students, which we might well attend to..."reading" that follows the movement of the reader's mind (which we have been valorizing as interactive) might well prevent the reader from really carefully attending to the contours of what is read, from having her soul "commanded" by the text.

Second, it's a wonderful riff on the pair of essays I used last year, when Carman Papalia led my Ecological Imaginings students on a "blind field shuttle": Michel de Certeau's Walking In the City, The Practice of Everyday Life (1984), and Paplia's riff on that, Caning the City, Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry 1, 2 (June 2007); I'm hoping we can still find a place for these in our "Play in the City" course, as we invite students to compare how the city looks (for example) from the top of Comcast Center with what they can see from the level of the street.

(one of Ava Blitz's aerial photographs....)

mlord's picture


One of the starting points for thinking about this course, for me, is my reading of Derrida's "Structure, Sign, and Play." It's a fundamental apect of my intellectual and creative life that the groove relating structure (grid, fixed meaning) to play (freedom, chaos, unlimited potentiality) and it meant a lot for me, back in the other century, to have it laid out in a clear but playful way. As we've developed the course, it's become much less important to me that we actually read this essay together (I imagine it comes off as dated, mannered, and too assumption-ridden for freshmen to really dig into), but I am still looking for ways to help us to play out a primary (not abstract, but concrete) way of thinking about the relationship between grid and play.

This essayette feels as if it may be directing traffic towards some art/people/writing to look at.  

mlord's picture

Two websites to draw on.

The Grid Philly

Hidden City Philadelphia

These are both rich.

A little farther afield (geographically and conceptually), but still cool for exploring: 

Philadelphia Salvage

Anne Dalke's picture

creating an architecture of serendipity

thanks for these (re)sources; i esp. like how grid magazine plays w/ our notion of playing on the grid that is philly.

seemingly even further afield, but i think spot on, is this piece by cass sunstein on creating an architecture of serendipity....this, too, i think, articulates what we are aiming towards, taking the city (rather than books) as our primary text for interpretation and re-creation....

Anne Dalke's picture

"the world history of the spirit"

don't know where you are in working your way through the syllabus....

last you left me it was looking like this...

...and/but I wanted to add a few more notes here. I've gotten intrigued by the collection you recommended, Philip Stevick's Imagining Philadelphia: Travelers' Views of the City from 1800 to the Present (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996). I like the way he describes descriptions: 

travelers…all carry…an immense load of experiential and cultural baggage that disposes them to “read” a place in a particular way, to see things that are scarcely there, and to be unable to see other things, even though they may be staring straight at them…there are as many Philadelphias as there are observers of the city…how idiosyncratic travel, and writing about it…are….visiting Philadelphia has always had about it a fluid, indeterminate quality….

older, more complicated cities have a diverse and vivid collection of iconic images that are likely to precede anyone’s visit there….And each of those epitomizing images is likely to evoke a dimension of longing in the traveler…it is possible to manipulate one’s field of vision so as to replicate the image held in the mind….Philadelphia is not like that…So…Philadelphia is…a carte blanche for the visitor….

 …the versions of Philadelphia that seem most engaging, most plainly interesting for our century, contain two simultaneous levels of response to the city. One is a tangible, sensory immersion in the life of the physical city, a sense…that Philadelphia was really visited, at street level, on a specific time during a particular journey. The other level is a mythic, transformative response, in which a visit to Philadelphia becomes the occasion for a play of mind, a complex act of the imagination, so that...the report of the visit becomes fictive…an invention, something “made up”….

Stevick also led me to George Simmels' "magisterial" 1950 description of the relation of the city to self, The Metropolis and Mental Life, which is intriguing, and troubling (and which I've just folded in, early on, to our already-overfull syllabus, so there!). Simmels says, in part,

The psychological foundation, upon which the metropolitan individuality is erected, is the intensification of emotional life due to the swift and continuous shift of external and internal stimuli….the metropolitan type…creates a protective organ for itself again the profound disruption with which the fluctuations and discontinuities of the external milieu threaten it….There is perhaps no psychic phenomenon which is so unconditionally reserved to the city as the blasé outlook….The mental attitude of the people of the metropolis to one another may be designated formally as one of reserve….It assures the individual of …personal freedom….The most significant aspect of the metropolis lies in [its] functional magnitude beyond its actual physical boundaries and this…gives to it life, weight, importance and responsibility….the city exists only in the totality of the effects which transcend their immediate sphere….. Cities are above all the seat of the most advanced economic division of labor…..The decisive factor here is that in the life of a city, struggle with nature for the means of life is transformed into a conflict with human beings….The necessity to specialize…is conducive to differentiation, refinement and enrichment….This leads ultimately to the strangest eccentricities, to specifically metropolitan extravagances…the meaning of which is…to be found…in…’being different’—of making oneself noticeable….the metropolis places emphasis on striving for the most individual forms of personal existence….From one angle life is made infinitely more easy in the sense that stimulations, interests….present themselves from all sides….But from another angle, life is composed more and more of these impersonal cultural elements…which seek to suppress peculiar personal interests…..When both of these forms of individualism…are nourished by the quantitative relationships of the metropolis…..the metropolis attains an entirely new value and meaning in the world history of the spirit.


Anne Dalke's picture

"the grid shapes our insides"

And here's another play on our theme: a little essay on Grids: Rows and Curves, which focuses on the Latin American city, where "the irregular coast...was the problem," "making the establishment of a clear checkerboard impossible. Regular plans and straight streets had to distort and adapt to difficult coastlines and other obstacles such as hills and marshes.”

And here's the punch line: "the grid shapes our shape ourselves differently will involve something more than changing the roads."

Anne Dalke's picture

some more resources...

This site about places in time--intended as a "collaborative, immediate, rich" venue for historical scholarship about places in the Philadelphia area--just turned up on Serendip...something for us to watch...

Also, still chewing on Zadie Smith possibilities, I note both this interview with her in The New Yorker (July 23, 2012), which is illuminating both re: her process and her style. She speaks of deciding to let herself "be led by whatever appeared in front of me as I was writing it," just thinking of the book "as a collection of found items." She talks about trying to make "a fragmentary third person work" (because "single-voiced monologues" bore her), of showcasing "fundamentally significant" "varietals of voice and lifestyle." Also striking to me is her observation that both her main characters, Keisha and Leah, "tend to feel that their real life occurred between the ages of about twelve and eighteen." Perhaps a draw for our students, perhaps not...?

See also the short story, Permission to Enter, which Smith discusses in the interview--published @ the same time, it's an excerpt from the end of NW. So we could do these things instead of the novel, if that just seems too ponderous (though don't get me wrong: I'm drawn to big baggy books like this one!)

mlord's picture

Seven Journeys.

Given. One structuring element of the course is seven trips to the city, between September and December. Possible Structures:


1. to the west.

2. to the east.

3. to the north.

4. to the south.

5. to the top.

6. to the bottom.

7. within.


1. See

2. Hear.

3. Taste.

4. Touch.

5. Feel.

6. Intuit.

7. remember.


1. Line

2. Grid.

3. Landscape.

4. Crossing.

5. Spiral.

6. Collapse.

7. Border.


1. Ancient/Geological

2. Precontact/Aboriginal

3. Early

4. Colonial

5. Industrial

6. Post-industrial

7. Virtual

E. (parlor game)

propose a 7 part structure.

Anne Dalke's picture


I love these structures, and love the multiplicity of them. I like, too, the notion of inviting each of the students  to adopt--or create--her own structure, in order to organize her experiences in the course; you'll see on the syllaship, just after fall break, I've suggested that--as a mid-semester course evaluation--each individual designs/redesigns this freshman writing course within the rubric of urban play, and that we then collectively re-orient will be fun @ that point to see which structures (of those you list above, or others that the students generate) seem to be most used, and which are most robust....

I note, too, that "A" -- to the west/east/north/south/top/bottom/within--privileges "without" (6 directions of the 7); that "B" -- see/hear/taste/touch/feel/intuit/remember--ditto (5 of the 7); and that "D" -- ancient/geological, precontact/aboriginal, early, colonial, industrial, post-industrial, virtual--similarly privileges the historical. Does this indicats that our class may be privileging the external and historical over the internal and virtual? I'm asking this because of a dinner table argument last night about whether Snowden is "stuck" because he can't get out of the Moscow airport--if he has virtual access to many secret things, maybe geographical location doesn't matter so much...?


mlord's picture

"The Philly Art Experience"

So. There's an art gallery owner in Philadelphia who has an idea that is somewhat similar to ours. Check out her site, which includes a link to a pdf guide to Philadelphia arts and culture. What's fascinating to me so far is that her motives, which are--ultimately--to sell more art, color her planning and gear the hotel, restaurant, and spots to see list towards the affluent. This, despite the fact that part of her (noble, wise, and shrewd) goal is to increase the number of people who buy art at art galleries. It's possible that some of her "recommendations" involve sponsorships...but if you read her writing through, she has what sounds like a very old fashioned way of looking at the world: neighborhoods are crowned "important" and even snack foods are rated "the best." There's a spectre of greatness and stature that is lurking behind the way she writes about the world.

No doubt, there are old fashioned ideas and ideals that underpin my own interests and which sponsor the program that I am putting together on the Big Paper. Connoisseurship is perhaps a froght notion in the post-modern era, but I don't want to let it go. (And I won't.) But we need to be selecting and evaluating expereinces with a richer set of terms than placing them on the big old greatness scale. And part of playing is precisley in this: a playful relationship to an experience, a city, a walk, an art object is simply a fuller, richer experience than an experience which is focused on estimating the level of "greatness" in it.

The distinction between "great" and "not great" is, finally, a phony one--or at least one that need not have any real impact on my own experience of it in the moment. Great/Not Great may BE a difference, but it is not a very interesting difference. What I take (first from Stein, but it really undergirds almost all of the processes I try to be engaged in as an artist and teacher) to be true is that there are MANY kinds of difference and that experiencing the full diversity of differences is what gives us a) the capacity to approach Knowing and b) the ability to minimize kinds of difference (of race, class, gender, orientation) that our culture tends to highlight, as a strategy of oppression.

OK, so the politics of this is out of the bag. Well, alright. But I don't find the Political/Not Political spectrum to be any more worth Overpriviliging than any other. Or that's my operating principal this morning, anyway. I am very interested in Bridget Mayer's program--and I share her enthusiasm for helping more people to come to live more closely to art and to expereinces of the culture of our time. Changing the way that people think about art objects and experiences is a very important impulse. As is thinking through the natural biases that flow through all of our efforts to make the world better.

mlord's picture

Looking at biased views of the city

There are interesting passages in the book of historical tourist writings that give clearly biased opinions/reading of the city. Here are a few more:

1. The Ye Olde Philadelphia trope (historical fetishism).

2. The Anthony Bourdain tour of dive bars and etc.

3. The contemporary tourism marketing campaign.


Anne Dalke's picture

the insider's guide

I like (= agree with!) what you say about the uninteresting-ness of the 'great/not great' distinction, and also think that having our students look @ Philly Art Experience: The Insider's Travel Guide might invite them to consider the varieties of ways in which the city gets packaged and represented  (and might be presented differently). So I've loaded that guide, too, onto our syllaship, day 4.

Plus: what's the Big Paper? say more!

mlord's picture

Watson's Annals of Philadelphia

So, I own the three-volume version of this book, which is crumbling and cumbersome, but filled with scads of (and not always 100% accurate) tales of Philadelphia in the Olde Dayse collected in a book first published in 1830. He pretty much just went around asking old people (who, in the 1820s, might well have recallected pre-revolutionary events) for stories. It's a pretty gridless romp. 

The Watson in question lived from 1779-1860 and published, in addition to the Annals, "Historic Tales of Olden Times, Concerning the Early Settlement and Progress...of Pennsylvania" as well as a similar series on New York. This is, in my experience, a great book to look at because it is impossible to read it systematically. You really get lost in the history. And you experience the first draft of the work of thinking about what is important about place. It's a free ebook on Google.

Some of the mementos and scraps he saved (real physical objects) are in the archive of The Library Company.And there is also an interesting web essay regarding his cabinet of curiosities, or relic box.

Anne Dalke's picture

Zadie Smith tours....

So I'm getting intrigued by the possibilities that Zadie Smith's October 9th visit to campus might open up for our course. Her most recent novel, NW, is about city life, and it has an experimental structure that attempts to represent the urban experience.

There are a couple of fun little you-tube videos she's made of excerpts from the novel: check out Zadie Smith's Tour of NW: KilburnZadie Smith's Tour of NW: Willesden LaneZadie Smith's Tour of NW: Camden Lock, and Zadie Smith's Tour of NW: 37 Ridley Ave for teasing superimpositions of words over the images they evoke.

You might also preview a short teaser of her reading the opening to the novel, as well as some Live Shorts: Changing my Mind. I read, too, a piece called The North West London Blues that she published in The New York Review of Books (July 12, 2012), which is a lament for the possible closing of the local library: "Everybody knows that if people hang around for any length of time in an urban area without purpose they are likely to become 'antisocial.'" See also the follow-up, Keep Willesden Green.

What'cha think?

mlord's picture


Your descriptions have me intrigued. Right now I am submerged in the grid of the semester, but I need to get to these texts. Her visit falls in week 6  of the semester, right before fall break (break is after week 6 not 7.) So we'll be at a kind of critical juncture. Do you think we should read the novel and the additional pieces (or some) and use the videos? If so, might we devote two weeks to this? With a two-week pairing of writing projects (one setting up the other?)...sorry to be so brass tacks.

Anne Dalke's picture

brass tacks galore

I have studded the working draft of our syllabus with brass tacks--see what you think?

Anne Dalke's picture

"editing the ways that were often not successful…."

some notes from
Knowles, Scott Gabriel, Ed. Imagining Philadelphia: Edmund Bacon and the Future of the City. University of Pennsylvania, 2009.
Harris Steinberg, "Philadelphia in the Year 2059," pp. 112-144:
"Penn’s vision for Philadelphia balanced the concept of protecting the public good with private gain. His 1682 city plan, first published in 1683 to market the colony in London, was a simple Cartesian grid of streets…framing five, generous public squares. It privileged no single person; in essence, it was the nonhierarchical design of a Quaker meeting house on a city scale. What Penn called his 'greene country town' was laid out by his surveyor general Thomas Holme to reflect the highest safety and public-health standards of the day…ample-sized city lots were originally intended to be four acres in size for light, air, fire protection, and orchards…Penn bordered the north and west of his city with verdant liberty lands, a green belt around the city in which 'First Purchasers' received land both outside the city proper and a city lot. This established the precedent  for the city’s incomparable park systems….Most notably, his five squares…were leading-edge public spaces in an era of monarchy and prestige….he created a physical plan for his city that became a prototype for the quintessential American city plan—the archetypal urban gird that marched westward as the city and the nation expanded. This relationship between democracy and physical planning was critical to Philadelphia’s success from the beginning….

…the great French architect Paul Philippe Cret did more to affect the physical face of Philadelphia than any other architect or planner besides William Penn…Cret...oversaw the design of many municipal works…His remarkable legacy includes Rittenhosue Square…the Benjamin Franklin Bridge…the Federal Reserve Bank…the Barnes Foundation…and the gracious Rodin Museum…the 1927 Wissahickon Memorial Bridge on Henry Avenue demonstrates the power and poetry of Cret’s contributions to place-making in Philadelphia…Edmund Bacon assumed the Cret mantle just as Philadelphia was unknowingly entering a long period of decline….swimming against a tide that could not be held back with physical planning alone…editing the ways that were often not successful…."

"The Site Plan," illustration from the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, 1963,
"The Plan for Center City Philadelphia."

Anne Dalke's picture

On the grid...

The other course I'll be teaching this fall is Critical Feminist Studies, with a focus on questions of transgender. Getting myself up to speed on those issues, I've been looking through The Transgender Studies Reader 2, where I've come upon several relevant-to-our project passages, with regards to how our environment shapes both our becoming and our writing:

* “cities built on grids probably help us become straight, insofar as how we move must affect how we are moved...the comfortable feeling of knowing where our bodies are at all times might not in fact be a very queer feeling…” (Lucas Cassidy Crawford, "Transgender Without Organs: Mobilizing a Geo-affective Theory of Gender Modification,” p. 477)

* “the etymology of ‘direct’ relates to ‘being straight’ or getting ‘straight to the point.’ To go directly is to follow a line without a detour, without mediation. Within the concept of direction is a concept of ‘straightness.’ To follow a line might be a way of becoming straight, by not deviating at any point” (Sarah Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology, 2006, p.16; qted in TSR2, p. 478).

Anne Dalke's picture

thinking spatially

So Mark and I got together (in person) twice this week, to compare his spatialized thinking process (= colored post-it notes on a large sheet of paper) w/ my much more linear form...I'm hoping he'll put up some of his rich the interim, here are some of mine....

* Imagining Philadelphia: Travelers' Views of the City from 1800 to the Present looks like a great resource for us!
--as does the too-similarly named Imagining Philadelphia: Edmund Bacon and the Future of the City

* a neat project might be to assign students to look @ different newspapers,
to capture different representations of the city (what does Philly look like,
as seen by the Philadelphia Inquirer? City News, etc.?)

* the students' last foray should be taken alone

* the penultimate one might be in pairs or triplets,
w/ an intentionality re: forms of transportation-->a bus down Lancaster Avenue?
the Norristown High Speed Line --> Market/Frankford Line?
the Paoli/Thorndale line?
a car? or: what about biking the River Walk??
--thinking about the paths we make through the grid—
and then could we plot them on a grid?

* what is the city? where are its limits? will we define them?
place certain neighborhoods off-limits?

consider Bacon’s metallic orb in the middle of city hall
consider the rivers/watershed as the "first play on the grid"
(or: as play prior to the grid....?)

We played a parlor game, naming what we might be offering in this course:
1. Varieties of ways to read: not just texts/various objects
incl. images (which we can interpret on a more even footing?)
exploring the mystery of "where it was…"
street views can be read, for instance,
as pictures, as made (the contextual apparatus), as art projects
consider close reading, vs. strategies for thin reading,
zooming in or out, shifting lenses: changing it up, with different perspectives,
finding the edge—Zagar couldn’t frame his paintings/the mosaics just keep going….
(there's a new documentary re: Lily Yeh's work in the Village of Arts and Humanities)

2. Writing
our basic structure/secret hope is that each student will (repeatedly!)
have an experience, then write a thoughtful essay responding to it/
then we will stage conversations, challenging and expanding those experiences,
by placing them in play w/ essays others (in class and out) have written,
encouraging students to re-see them from point of view of their own experience,
but also from outside….
some helps here might be "The Loss of the Creature" and "Reading the World"-->
how to "trick yourself into freshness"?
rather than asking, "what do you like/not like,"
ask/answer "Where’s the heat? What do you notice? What does it stir?"
can we get to the "pre-categorical," the experiential?
it can be difficult to name what we are really curious about;
students may come "wanting to stop the verb of knowing…"
but this is never possible!  there is heat to search for...
also the "crack" in what it is we think we know...
despite being taught that we should bury anything that disagrees w/ our thesis...
can we help 'em learn to hold, simultaneously, two points of view that are not the same?

3. Talking
how to be in conflict in a conversation?
how to fight without being snarky?
how to be in productive difference?
how to build a tower?
what's the role of critical thinking? of making fun?
the importance of having multiple points of view;
see Elbow's essay on the Believing Game and the Doubting Game-->
test your perceptions/ make your own point of view untenable,
to see how strong your perspective is…

4. Reading/Writing/Talking-->
these are all forms of Seeing/Perceiving...
Acts of Perception….

travelers see what they will (from "Imagining Philadelphia")
see also Cynthia Ozick's "Shock of the Teapot"
“Visit to a Strange Planet”: what are the rules/the people like….?
shifting back and forth: making the stragne familiar, the familiar strange…
the structure of the course is dialectical…
let's be alert to that…
but not announce it ahead of time…?
being able to understand our intellectual work as an investigation…
that goes where it goes….

for sure (?) we'll do, together:
1) Live Arts Festival
2) Leger/Modernism/Metropolis @ the Art Museum (though "unpacking the Barnes could be fascinating!)
3) The Magic Garden (do we want a tour? or to wander in search of the street murals?)
4) grid of the city: City Hall and four squares?
or a square and three heights (Christ Church, City Hall and the Comcast Center)?
and then the students will do in small groups
and alone...

each visit could be a cluster of experiences…w/ some optional…
though 30 pp., training in and out 7x, plus tickets to one/several events
could get very expensive....

Anne Dalke's picture

last night

@ the Phillies game, my son said, "this is where this city plays."
He has a point (though this kind of high-financed, highly-structured play
will be a little off our radar...)

mlord's picture

The play of friends

Mark Lord

12 hours ago near Swarthmore ·

  • Philadelphia-folk: if you could take a class of freshmen on a series of visits from the suburbs to the city between September and December, where would you take them? Could be culture, but could also be other kinds of experiences that encourage thinking and playful inquiry.

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    • D.J. Hopkins, Carol Loper-Cloud and Heather Oakley like this.

    • Lisa Wright Not a Philly-folk person any more, but I always loved the Italian Market and the Wanamaker organ (though I think they got bought out by someone?).
      12 hours ago · Unlike · 3
    • Alison Graf The museum of Archeology and Anthropology at U of P. Art Museum, Rodin Museum and Barnes foundation museums.
      12 hours ago · Edited · Unlike · 4
    • Joseph Browne Comcast Center Lobby, Elfreths Alley, definately Italian Market, Old City
      12 hours ago · Unlike · 1
    • Kevin Knorr Poe House on Spring Garden Street
      12 hours ago · Unlike · 3
    • Michele Sharp Mutter museum
      12 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 8

    • Alison Graf The Ben Franklin house and print shop museum that is all the way down market a few blocks from the water. One of my favorite spots.
      12 hours ago · Unlike · 2
    • Sebastienne Mundheim Village of arts and Humanities, Ben Franklin Bridge, a Mural Arts tour, to meet Thaddeus Squire (and Nathaniel Popkin?) and have him/them talk about Culture Works and Hidden City, maybe a charter school(s), Crane Arts complex to see how well used real ...See More
      12 hours ago · Unlike · 5
    • Martha Michaela Hutchman Brown Eastern State Penitentiary. Also, up and down broad street, just cuz.
      12 hours ago · Unlike · 2
    • Inger Hatlen Daniels People-watching on septa. Three hour minimum. Must ride the 33 bus through north philly. Take a tour of Community College of Philadelphia. Explore the Central Library.
      12 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 3
    • Sarah Martin When I think playful, I think Philadelphia's Magic Gardens at 1020 South - so many details to get lost in exploring.
      12 hours ago · Unlike · 6
    • Margit Detweiler Wagner Free Institute of Science, Mutter, Valley Green/ Wissahickon hike, Eastern State P., Winding tiny streets in Bella Vista and Queen Village,
      12 hours ago · Unlike · 1
    • Mauri Walton the Tall Ship Gazela on Penn's Landing... Kelly Drive bike path including the whispering wall.. Franklin Institute... Rodin Museum... Barnes Foundation... the Willows park (western suburbs)... i'm still thinkin'...
      12 hours ago · Unlike · 1
    • Pam Brickley Magidson Mural arts tour, University City (biowall at Drexel, Furness buildings at Penn, among other sites)
      12 hours ago · Unlike · 1
    • Margit Detweiler On a related note, something cool they do here in NYC which might be fun (if they don't already do it in Philly) are these explorative artist walks by Elastic City:

    • About | Elastic City
      www.elastic-city.orgElastic City intends to make its audience active participants in an ongoing poet...See More
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    • Inger Hatlen Daniels Well the Franlil Institute *is* a kind of experience: overpriced, a bit dirty, overcrowded, rude/anxious people, depressed staff. Kinda depends on what you are going for.
      12 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 1
    • Sara Zatz Mutter Museum - that will certainly provoke thought.
      12 hours ago · Unlike · 3
    • Mauri Walton whoaa Inger ~~~ guess i haven't been to the Franklin Institute recently. so ixnay on the RanklinFay
      12 hours ago · Unlike · 1
    • Anneliese Butler also Bartram's Garden
      12 hours ago · Unlike · 5
    • Ann Hoskins-Brown Lots of good suggestions. North Philly tour to include Village of Arts & Humanities.
      11 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 2
    • Courtenay Wilson Wagner Free Institute and the Athenaeum come to mind as oft overlooked gems, in the burbs, the Mill at Anselma and Chester Springs Studio are other favorites 
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    • Abby Kay You'll have to double check but the Franklin Institute used to be free after 4. The reason to consider it, if it's free, is the pendulum is cool When you think about how it works (only briefly). I second the magic garden, especially if Isaiah Zagar is ...See More
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    • Karen Rosenberg How about Philly's Magic Gardens? Lafayette's headquarters? Reading Terminal Market, the Art Museum
      11 hours ago · Unlike · 2
    • NeighborhoodHouse Ccnh We've been known to take the right kind of group up the steeple or into the basement archives where the deed to the church lives (it predates the city of Philadelphia). Old building + new artistic work = food for thought.
      11 hours ago · Unlike · 2
    • Britney Leigh Hines Eastern State Penitentiary Twilight Tours. Haunting, beautiful, and thought provoking.
      11 hours ago · Unlike · 2
    • Jessica Wong I'm a huge fan of the Constitution Center. Teach them how to use the Norris High Speed Rail and the El to get into the city!! It's cheaper, you get to see the "With Love" murals and it'll get them used to taking city transit!
      11 hours ago · Unlike · 2
    • Zoe Cohen everything Sebastienne Mundheim said. especially POST! ( open studio tours) and: mural arts tour in north philly. urban farms of philadelphia.
      10 hours ago · Unlike · 1
    • Abby Kay Smith playground
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    • Violet Phillips Rosenbach Museum to see the Ulysses and all the Sendaks, PAFA -- for the building, let alone the collection, the PSFS building (ok, the Loews Hotel), Walt Whitman's house in Camden (and drive over what has to be the only bridge in America named for an ...See More
      10 hours ago · Like · 1
    • Whit MacLaughlin The Philadelphia underground sewer system. To learn about municipal water treatment and grading.
      10 hours ago · Unlike · 1
    • Whit MacLaughlin The Cave of Kelpius off Henry Ave to understand the history of mysticism in Philadelphia.
      10 hours ago · Unlike · 1
    • Whit MacLaughlin Bartram's Garden, as mentioned above, to check in on the history of industrialization and the river. These are probably familiar to you. But much experiential information has come to me from Larry Loebell, who is a font of Philadelphia historical understanding.
      10 hours ago · Edited · Unlike · 2
    • Abby Kay If someone were to compile this thread we would have a unique new underground guide to Philly (literally & metaphorically)
      10 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 3
    • Michelle Francl Mutter Museum, Eastern Penitentiary, Chemical Heritage Museum, ride the NHL, South Street, St John Neumann's shrine
      10 hours ago · Unlike · 1
    • Carol Loper-Cloud With a deep desire within, I'd like to visit the Powelton Village House that celebrates the art and life of the late Ellen Powell Tiberino reflecting her natural ability with the paintbrush & the kind of art devoted life she led
      9 hours ago · Unlike · 1
    • Jacqueline Goldfinger The Magic Garden, A Mural Tour
      9 hours ago · Unlike · 1
    • Kim Neely-Smith Take them into the woods.....the mountains......
      9 hours ago · Unlike · 1
    • Kim Neely-Smith With NO Ipods, Iphones etc....
      9 hours ago · Unlike · 1
    • Laura Vriend take them to look for toynbee tiles
      8 hours ago · Unlike · 2
    • Flash Rosenberg Take the R-7 from Center City to Trenton (or any thread of a passage on public transit). Get off at every stop. Students have until the next train to find the "The Essentials of Life" (according to me): (1) An Attraction (2) A Refreshment and (3) A Funny Thing
      3 hours ago · Unlike · 1
    • Flash Rosenberg When they find these things, they have to photograph, draw, write about or collect them....
      3 hours ago · Unlike · 1
    • Madi Distefano Ellen Tiberino Museum. Furr sure.
      about an hour ago via mobile · Unlike · 1
    • Zoe Cohen The rotunda, bindlestiff books, the a-space during food not bombs, the wooden shoe, studio 34 for a Saturday night concert, I-house for a film, the Philadelphia cathedral art installations, the Philadelphia museum of Jewish art at Rodeph Shalom...
      about an hour ago via mobile · Unlike · 1
    • Zoe Cohen Neighborhood bike works, Philadelphia orchard project, spiral q, the schuylkill center, how Philly moves, the MOVE bombing block, anything produced by Billy Yalowitz & temple students, first person arts, the waterworks museum.
      about an hour ago via mobile · Unlike · 1
    • Miriam Jones Billy Dufala and Fern at RAIR like to give tours of the recycling plant and art studio there. Seeing how recycling works and thinking about art made out of that scale of material was mind blowing to the group we took from MICA.
      about an hour ago via mobile · Unlike · 1
    • Raymond Ricketts Founders Hall, Girard College. With the nearby Eastern State Penitentiary, it's another good example of the architecture of power. The scale of it must of cowed over the orphan boys who were brought there in the 19th c. ( Add City Hall to that list, btw.)
      33 minutes ago · Unlike · 1
Ann Dixon's picture

Some food for thought

Italian Market, Pat's and Gino's (and English only spoken here), food trucks in west philly, Reading Terminal, water ice (the food of summer playgrounds), the pop-up PHS garden on Broad....

Anne Dalke's picture

"play is ... supreme value"

Okay, I think I am done w/ my review of readings about the city. There's lots, and I've created a page w/ my many reading notes. To summarize--In The City Reader, LeGates and Stout have assembled a cluster of classical texts (Lewis Mumford's “What Is a City?” Louis Wirth's "Urbanism as a Way of Life," Shaon Zukin's "Whose Culture? Whose City"), which I think we could draw on. I also "discovered" a French philosopher named Henri LeFebvre  whose thinking seems particularly akin to ours. Some selections from his 1996 translated collection of Writings on Cities:

* play is…supreme value….to city people the urban centre is movement, the unpredictable, the possible and encounters. For them, it is either “spontaneous theatre” or nothing.... The right to the city manifests itself as…right to freedom, to individualization in socialization, to habitat and to inhabit. The right to the oeuvre, to participation and appropriation (clearly distinct form the right to property), are implied in the right to the city

* the city can be read because it writes…However, it is not enough to examine  this without recourse to context…what is below the text to decipher (daily life, immediate relations, the unconscious of the urban…) hides itself in the inhabited spaces—sexual and family life—and rarely confronts itself, and what is above this urban text (institutions, ideologies), cannot be neglected in the deciphering…..the city cannot therefore be conceived as a signifying system, determined and closed as a system. The taking into consideration the levels of reality forbids…this systematization.

* propose a first definition of the city as a projection of society on the ground….not only a far order, a social whole, a mode of production, a general code, it is also…times, rhythms. The city is heard as much as music as it is read as a discursive writing. …another definition ….the city as the ensemble of differences …. another definition, of plurality, coexistence and simultaneity in the urban of patterns….These definitions…do not exclude other definitions. If a theoretician sees in the city the place of confrontations and of (conflictual) relations between desire and need….Today, by becoming a centre of decision-making…the modern city intensifies by organizing the exploitation of the whole society….

* On Urban Form
Mentally: simultaneity (of events, perceptions, and elements of a whole in the ‘real’).
Socially: the encounter and the concentration of what exists around, in the environments (assets and products, acts and activities, wealth) and consequently, urban society as privileged social site, as meaning of productive and consuming activities, as meeting between the oeuvre and the product….in so-called modern society, simultaneity is intensified and becomes more dense..the capacities for encounter and assembly become strengthened. Communications speed up to quasi-instantaneity….circuits of information flow and are diffused from this centrality….under the same conditions dispersion increases: the division of labour is pushed to the extreme segregation of social groups ….Movement…reveals…the dialectical (conflictual) movement of content and urban form: the problematic…Before whom and for whom is simultaneity established, the contents of urban life assembled?

* The situation of…the city is eminently paradoxical. Theoretically there are two opposing points of view. The first is an anti-city tradition, which has a lengthy past. The city is the site of corruption, of Hell, Babylon…an infamous place….a place of constraints…beset by tensions…the place...of breakup of society….There is another tradition of Greek origin which is that of the City. It is the place where civilization, culture and art develop. It is in the City that art appear and is produced….the modern city is not thought out because we haven’t resolved the contradiction between these two traditions

* Liberty is..the maximum of possibilities of each citizen in the city…We must find the link between the mode of production and what is called free time…free time can be fully productive in the widest sense, of art, of knowledge, of the lived. It is a delicate question which supposes the mastery by each person of their time, with a multiplicity of possibilities. This disjunction which we make between ‘productive time’ and ‘free time’ is very symptomatic

Anne Dalke's picture

dead cities and other tales

Just finished reading through Mike Davis's Dead Cities and Other Tales (2002). It gives quite the story both (in the preface) of the fear that mitigates against play and (in Chapter 8) of what Davis terms the "the vast, infinite game of urban design": a "relentless competition between privileged players." Also not the sort of play we have in mind, but probably not a bad idea to @ least acknowledge this background (foreground?). Some reading notes....

Davis's Chapter 17, "Dead Cities: A Natural History," belongs more properly in the planning notes for Eco-Literacy...though I am also beginning to see how very much my urban and eco-courses are imbricated in one another!

Anne Dalke's picture

"Our City Dreams"

So this week I also previewed four movies as possibilities for our class:
(which I like, a lot…but it’s not very playful!);
Fire in in the Mirror (also: marvelous…and just as tough re: the racial issues, but w/ much more play, because the whole range of positionalities is performed by a single woman…might this be a possibility??);
In the Realms of the Unreal (also compelling, but not about the city…); and
Our City Dreams
(which traces the history/showcases the work of five women artists…several of them speak of the energy of New York as central to their work, but again: there seems to be not enough focus on that).

I’m realizing that PLAY AND the CITY is a tricky combo…so far, not much that really works this dynamic...

Ann Dixon's picture


Anne Dalke's picture

"The Impact of the Cities"

I read through the collection of Bertold Brecht’s Poems 1913-1956, w/ a focus on “The Impact of the Cities,” 1925-1928. Adding to these bits the piece Mark put up a while ago, “Of Poor B.B.” (who was “carried off to the asphalt cities/From the black forests”), I’d say Brecht, too, is not exactly the advocate for urban play I’m looking for….

Some excerpts:

“Of the Remains of Older Times”
Still for instance the moon

Stands above the new buildings at night
Of the things made of copper

It is
The most useless. Already
Mothers tell stories of animals

That drew cars, called horses.
True, in the conversations of continents

These no longer occur, nor their names:
Around the great new aerials

Nothing is now known
Of old times.

“Song of the Machines”

…This isn’t the wind in the maples, my boy
No song to the lonely moon
This is the wild roar of our daily toil
We curse it and count it a boon
For it is the voice of our cities
It is our favourite song
It is the language we all understand
It will soon the world’s mother tongue.

“Ten Poems from a Reader
for Those who Live in Cities”

…The man who hasn’t signed anything, who has left no picture
Who was not there, who said nothing;
How can they catch him?
Cover your tracks….

When I speak to you
Coldly and impersonally
Using the driest words
Without looking at you
(I seemingly fail to recognise you
in our particular name and difficulty)

I speak to you merely
Like reality itself
(Sober, not be bribed by your particular nature
Tired of your difficulty)
Which in my view you seem not to recognize.

“Poems Belonging to a Reader
for Those who Live in Cities”

The cities were built for you. They are eager to welcome you.
The doors of the houses are wide open. The meal is
Ready on the table.

As the cities are very big
Experts have drawn maps for
Those who do not know the programme, showing clearly
The quickest way to reach
One’s goal….

Everything is completely ready.
       All you
Need to do is come.

“Concerning Spring”

We swooped on  oil, iron and ammonia
there was each year
A time of irresistible violent leafing of trees
We all remember
lengthened days
Brighter sky
Change of the air
The certainly arriving Spring.
We still read in books
About this celebrated season
yet for a long time now
Nobody has seen above our cities
The famous flocks of birds.
Spring is noticed, if at all

By people sitting in railway trains.
The plains show it
In its old clarity.

High above, it is true
There seems to be storms:
All they touch now is
Our aerials.

“Late Lamented Fame of the
Giant City of New York”

…what a melting pot was America in those days…
This inexhaustible melting poet, so it was said
Received everything that fell into it and converted it
Within twice two weeks into something identifiable.
All races which landed on this zestful continent
Eagerly abandoned themselves and forgot their profoundest     
Like bad habits
In order to become
As quickly as possible like those who were so much at home there.

And they receive them with careless generosity as if they were utterly different
(Differing only through the difference of their miserable existences).
Like a good leaven they feared no
Mass of dough, however enormous: they knew
They would penetrate everything.
What fame! What a century!....

What a bankruptcy! How
Great a fame has departed! What a discovery:
That their system of communal life displays
The same miserable flaw as that of
More modest people.

Anne Dalke's picture

"Instructions for performances in cities"

Check out Carl Lavery's Instructions for Performances in Cities, which I think might engage you...

mlord's picture


I have been away from this landscape, away at work in a rehearsal room in Maine, and am returning now. I want to record how dizzying it is to attempt to find an entry into this space now. I feel its playfulness and its impulses to engage--in virtually every link and sentence. But I can't feel a sense of its base--I don't have a sense of the grid here anymore. There are so many conversations opened and each one seems so rife with multiple possibilities. I wonder if this is how students feel when they waft their way into our worlds--as if there are just so many things to think about and potentially to engage with and the tools to tell the essential from the interesting diversions are not, as Heidegger would say, present to hand.

I want to draw a map now. I want to name the main streets. I want to identify the nurturing spaces and the business zone and I want to say why the city and play are both important spaces to enter into and also why it feels as if these require entrances and why we are not there already which is, I think, in part, that the self that is our "ownmost potentiality" is in fact divided from us, in ways that are at least analogous to what Handke describes.

The city I imagine is both a real place and an idea. It is the secret outdoor space at the foot of Elfreth's Alley where you can sit and be alone in the afternoon, the hump on the back of the man making hoagies in the Reading Terminal Market, the pennies on Ben Franklin's grave, the high-pitched voice of the old man wandering along Girard Avenue, looking just like Walt Whitman in tattered 70s polyester. It is the pleasures of the senses of all of these things and it is also my capacity to find them interesting, my joy in moving through them and reimagining myself in relation to them. There is a doubleness at work here, a way in which the city requires of me a capacity for play. If I am *there,* then a kind of playful willingness to engage is necessay. When I am in the city, the city is, perhaps equally, in me and to the extent that my neural pathways are lit up by my urban adventures, I am possessed by the ecstasy of connection. 

Is it the same doubless, or a second doubleness, that allows my city-playing to also allow me to connect very deeply to the experience of disconnection that the city provides. To perceive the myriad othernesses that separate the citylives with one another. To feel the mutual mistrust of the races, the sexes, the classes on the train. To know the dance of eyes that all look away. 

In any case, given: the city as both real and ideal. Play as a set of techniques of coming to know but also as an attitude (or a set of attitudes) that constitute deep modes of being in the world. Also given: doubleness and probably, multiple doublenesses, practices of distinguishing and dividing that become a pluralistic, textured  experience of knowing. Knowing as a verb of becoming and not of having or possessing. And so "given" is not, precisely, "given" as in for god so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son but, rather, given in the sense of perpetually uncovered, discovered, recovered, known.

Writing, here, is a kind of a talisman of being (?), it is shorthand recording of the knowing of becoming. We write to record our moves in the grid, to know where we have been, but also to know the spirit that animates/d our trajectory. Writing helps us return our flights of fantasy to allow them to be seen in relation to certain grids (grids our our own selection and perhaps devising. Handke's writing is important to me because it feels like a mapping of the self's journeys in relation to itself. (Not arguing for its inclusion in our class, just saying.) In writing we have a chance to puzzle out our play and to imagine our own version of the city.

Writing and speaking and wandering together are all double forms of self-engagement and fellow-traveling, which is to say that when we write we write, potentially, for ourselves and for others. (Miss Stein: "I write for myself and for strangers.") Our students will, I hope, come to understand that writing can funtion as either for oneself OR for ones readers OR both.

From the point of view of. In the city, which is given (as above) two of the nurturing zones of business for me are "directed curiosity" and "from the point of view of." More on these and more flesh on these bare bones soon.

Anne Dalke's picture

on the aridity of plays...

Well, I’m continuing to work my way through your reading list, Mark…still not turning up much I’d like to use in the class, so far. I read In the Jungle of Cities. I like Brecht’s work a lot (and have some hopes for some of his other poems about cities, which are now in the reading pile…) but I can’t see how this piece would give us much leverage in the course…

Also I am going to need some help teaching plays in a classroom, as a script…
seems so…

Missing all the good multi-modal stuff.
Just the outline.
A novel w/ everything but the dialogue removed.

Anyhow: Stoppard’s Travesties engaged me much more than Brecht’s play…largely because it’s so much more playful—all that extravagant literary pastiche: the parody, the puns and limericks, the comedy of all these bits and pieces filtered through Carr’s distracted mind…

But, still: it’s old and far away. I want something more current. Closer by.
Europe doesn’t do it for me any more…

Anne Dalke's picture

on the aridity of plays...

Well, I’m continuing to work my way through your reading list, Mark…still not turning up much I’d like to use in the class, so far. I read In the Jungle of Cities. I like Brecht’s work a lot (and have some hopes for some of his poems about cities, which are now in the reading pile…) but I can’t see how this piece would give us much leverage in the course…

Also I am going to need some help teaching plays in a classroom, as a script…
seems so…

Missing all the good multi-modal stuff.
Just the outline.
A novel w/ everything but the dialogue removed.

Anyhow: Stoppard’s Travesties engaged me much more than Brecht’s play…largely because it’s so much more playful—all that extravagant literary pastiche: the parody, the puns and limericks, the comedy of all these bits and pieces filtered through Carr’s distracted mind…

But, still: it’s old and far away. I want something more current. Closer by.
Europe doesn’t do it for me any more…

Anne Dalke's picture


So today I wandered on down to The Magic Gardens, to get a wedding gift for some folks who got engaged there, and find the site makes them feel like there really is limitless potential for this city...

And so I got engaged, imagining where all our class might go.

I thought:

We could start w/ the Philadelphia Art Museum: it’s such a fortress, so safely inaccessible.

It might be interesting to compare that experience with a jaunt to Eastern State Penitentiary
(which offers “playful” Halloween experiences….)

(and/or we could also ask the students to go, afterwards, on their own, to another museum of their own choosing…)

We could then go, as a group, to a show in an established venue, like the Wilma.

We could then ask them to go, in small groups, to something out-of-doors, @ the Live Arts Festival…

We could then give them maps (see the trajectory? ever more less boxed and bound…?) and ask them to check out a dozen of Zagar’s mosaics (I loved a quote I saw from him today, about the whole city as a landscaped mosaic…)

They could also do a walking tour of the Mural Arts Program, and compare what’s going on with the two initiatives.

And then we could ask them to each go up to the observation deck in City Hall tower, to get a sense of the city from above, and then go do the Rittenhouse Square Sound Walk before visiting the three remaining “squares” of the city.

Great reading for this venture would be Michel de Certeau’s Walking In the City and Carmen Paplia’s complementary Caning the City.

And then there's the Reading Terminal Market, in cf. w/ the Italian Market...

Okay. So I think I have a vision of how the jaunts might work.

Now I want to pin down some readings, ways to prod ‘em beyond their experiences into something more reflective. Second thoughts…

Stay tuned…

Anne Dalke's picture

pleasures of the present, passing world...

Okay, so I tried to read—I really did!-- Augustine’s treatise on The City of God against the Pagans. And I think that I understand its basic premise: starting out with reflections on the sack of Rome, Augustine develops a contrast between the elect, who have been chosen for the City of God, and those lost members of the earthly city. Both of these communities transcend space and time, and each is united by an agreement: the first by their love of God, the second by their love of self. This means that the pagan state institutionalizes human weakness--greed, vanity, lust for power and glory--and also that the state is primarily a means of restraining and controlling disruptive human behavior. Arising from these roles is an association of political power with sin (=that is base and destructive), and the concomitant—and utter—dependence of human kind upon divine grace: which unites people by the common worship of God.

So why in God’s name would we do this book? Or even selections therefrom ??

Like that sad angel-man, Damiel, in Wings of Desire, I want to play in the city that immerses us in the cares and pleasure of the present, passing world....

mlord's picture

realpolitics: money, play, and the city

I was pleased to be invited to have dinner with a gathering of former students this week. We met in the home of one of them, a relatively recent graduate, who is using the skillset she has as a performing artist to live a comfortable life which is, for the short term at least, sustainable. A walk through her playful relationship to the economy shows how she is able to relate to the Grid of middle class living AND pusue her art.

She lives in a room above the offices of a web design company. She pays her rent partly in cash, but partly in cleaning the offices and cooking breakfast for the employees of the company on Mondays. She works part time as a historical tourguide. She is paid sometimes for the development of her own art projects. She is also paid occasionally to perform in the work of other artists and in plays produced by conventional theaters. I suspect that she also, occasionally, does other kinds of work that are not related to her art.

We had dinner at the confernce room table of the company and, afterwards, we hung out on the roof deck of the offices, which has as charming a view of the city skyline as there is.

The take-home point, which my HPI colleagues give to the students there, is that it is possible to have a creative relationship to money and to working. The template that our parents lived, of having one job in one industry for a whole career is not the only possibility now. The notion that the only way to have access to pleasant surroundings is to own them is not true. And the assumption that individuals who are creative will not succeed in the economy is false--in part because that assumption misjudges the capacities of creative people, it misdefines success, and it misunderstands the economy.

Ann Dixon's picture


Hey playful planners,

I liked the story of the alum and how she is creating the life she wants. I would be interested to hear more about how you think the ability to comfortably take and assume risks has a role in work, play and creativity in general. The template that our parents lived, of having one job in one industry for a whole career is something many people still actively want.


Anne Dalke's picture

On being free to play

And I'm interested in the related question of who gets to play...or: how much security one needs to have before one is "free" to take risks. I just finished Zadie Smith's new novel, NW (thinking it might work for this course. since the jacket flap says, "This is the story of a city...Cheek-by-jowl living. Separate worlds").

Here's an example of that separateness.
Frank (who was raised in wealth) says to his wife Natalie (who was not),
"Your family for whatever reason refuse to help you--"
"They don't refuse to help me, Frank--they can't!" cried Natalie...
"Cheryl could stop having children. Your brother could get a job. They could leave that money-grabbing cult. Your family make poor life choices--that's just a fact...."
It seemed that Natalie Blake and Francesco De Angelis had opposite understandings of this word "choice." Both believe their own interpretation to be objectively considered and in no way the product of their contrasting upbringings (272).

So, too, I think, with the possibility of "play"....?

Ann Dixon's picture

working group notes

Have you taken a look back at /exchange/workinggroup/risktaking recently?

Anne Dalke's picture

the play of choosing--and not mattering?

Thanks for suggesting this look-back; I'd forgotten about this sequence of conversations, and enjoyed re-reading the archive.

What struck me, first, was how different an invitation into "risk-taking" is from one into "play"--> play seems less risky, because more bounded, more rule-driven (see Mary Flanagan ideas about Critical Play....). It actually seems as though the conversations we hosted on Choices and Constraints, the year after we talked about risk, come closer to our current project about playing with/in the grid....

I was delighted to see, for example, that the first discussion in this series, led by Mark, was about The Play of Choosing. Mark said then that he "attempts to make the act of choosing playful and fun for his audiences, structuring situations in which there is 'no cost for selecting one option over another'"; "he would like to create dramas...where there is an 'unceasing delight in play, discovery, recognition, connectedness...and choicelessness, understood as meaning either that the 'alternatives don't really matter,' or--if they do--that the audience is making them 'without anticipating the negatives.' Such choices 'are not dominated by thinking about the consequences'; they 'take place only in present time.' We might call these 'unconscious choices" in which we can revel and take pleasure.'"

Is that a good/accurate description of what we are after in this new course? Creating a space where what is chosen doesn't matter? Hm.....

Anne Dalke's picture

nice story...

it's got me thinking about "play" as an interruption of capitalism -->
how we feel we have to work and be productive...
and how play ties into self care....

also - i'm thinking of starting each class with a quick game, which may or may not be relevant to the topic on the table for that day...
Anne Dalke's picture

Critical Play

When I told Katherine Rowe about this course, she recommended Mary Flanagan’s book on Critical Play: Radical Game Design (MIT Press, 2009). Kathy also suggested that we might want to bring Flanagan to campus this fall, perhaps in juxtaposition with some of our colleagues in the Cities Program…

I’ve just browsed through the on-line edition of Critical Play, and think that this just! might! be! our key theoretical text. Flanagan opens w/ a quote from Foucault—“By the madness which interrupts it, a work of art opens a void, a moment of silence, a question without answer, provokes a breach without reconciliation where the world is forced to question itself.” Then she goes on to ask, “What if some games, and the more general concept of ‘play,’ not only provide outlets for entertainment but also function as a means for creative expression, as instruments for conceptual thinking, or as tools to help examine or work through social issues?”

Her book investigates “games designed for artistic, political, and social critique or intervention, in order to propose ways of understanding larger cultural issues as well as the games themselves.” The introduction includes nice overviews/definitions of “play,” “games” (“activist games” in particular), and “disruption” that I certainly think we can play with (for instance, she draws on Costikyan’s work contrasting the “inherently linear” design of stories, in which characters always make the same decisions, no matter how many times we re-read the tales, with games, which are “inherently non-linear. They depend on decision-making…real, plausible alternatives….” (What I really like here is the emphasis on agency, “the player’s ability to make choices that mean something to him or her”).

The book @ a whole looks at a whole range of “complex play environments”; the chapters most useful to us, I think, include Chapter 4, on “Language Games” (don’t know if we’d assign this, but it gave me some ideas for writing games we might use to open each class, and we might draw on it more generally to invite students to be more inventive in their writing, more open to the impulses of the unconscious, and to multiple meanings and interpretations). Also on-target are Chapter 5, on “Performative Games and Objects” (with its great question, “Who gets to play?”), and Chapter 6, on “Artists’ Locative Games” (with the claim that “play is never innocent,” and some good questions about the problematic assumptions re: space and the city built into location-placed play environments: how “colonialist” are they? how class-based their assumptions about unrestricted movement?). Also very useful might be the final chapter, “Designing for Critical Play,” which includes a number of over-arching ideas.

Bingo! And now I think I'll go rest up a while....

mlord's picture

the play of the city as run

Citypaper this week has a piece about the play of urban landscape as viewed from the Broad Street (10K) run. Interesting.

Anne Dalke's picture


where's the "play" here? it seems a run-down...

At Jeff Cohen's suggestion, I just watched William Whyte's video, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces--The Street Corner, which documented an extensive project of trying to figure out what makes some city plazas "work" as places of sociability, while others remain so bleak and empty. Rather than looking @  running, Whyte focused on sitting.

His major finding was that cities are hard places to sit--so his #1 recommendation was to make the plazas more "sit-able." It also seems that the number one activity in the lively plazas is people looking @ people. Whyte observed that an important part of a space is its relationship to the street: vigorous street life in front of and w/in a park, which shouldn't be cut off from people walking by-and-through it. Light is also very important (this doesn't have to be direct sunlight--it can be "bounce light" from nearby buildings). Other amenities include accessible water, trees (planted in groves to make canopies), food, and what Whyte calls "triangulation"--some activity (an arrest, a mime, a sculpture, vendors) that draws the attention of a crowd, providing a connection between them. Scale matters, too...

Whyte's finale: "Street is the river of life for the city.
People come to these places not to escape it, but to partake of it."
So: maybe it is about movement after all....

Anne Dalke's picture

dreaming. blurring.

So I’ve re-focused (sic) my reading-and-viewing on artists in the city.

First, I watched In a Dream, the film Isaiah Zagar’s son made about his father. I’m enchanted by Zagar’s South Philadelphia murals (and want us to go see them, as part of this class; I’d like to explore those on the street, outside The Magic Garden); the film just shimmers with these. Zagar’s very compelling in talking about his search “for encounter,” for the “mysterious momentum in everything,” wanting “to be alive in the work, to impregnate the work with his life, exposing himself to us, because it’s what we want…’I do work that’s so candied….people call it eye-candy…but I don’t stay there…I give you some other stuff to chew on…’”

The film is filled with insight into the sources of Isaiah’s art (think how “life sustaining” it can be to “polish mirrors”…? As his wife Julia says, @ one point, Isaiah “lives in a fantasy…he puts me in his work…but the cement doesn’t talk back; he doesn’t want conversation; he just wants to live in his own world… He became incarcerated in everything he had built…”). Though the film is of course set in South Philly, and there are lots of streetscapes, it’s is a little thin on the urban dimensions of Isaiah’s work. He tells some tourists that he spends “$50,000 a year on the city…all artists buy supplies, but mine are all out here, on the street…a hundred murals, seven buildings, seven alleys…it’s a lot of work.” He and Julia bought a number of derelict buildings, which Isaiah mosaic-ed, and then they rented ‘em out; @ the end of the film, they are looking @ yet another abandoned warehouse, and Isaiah says he is “beginning to think about what it could be….”

Another film that might get us closer to (what I think?) I’m searching for (more a back-and-forthing between the grid and the play w/in it, and more an exploration of women’s experiences) is Our City Dreams, about five women artists…will report back when I’ve seen it…

I also looked through two books you’d flagged, Mark--Performance in the City and Performance and the Contemporary City—and found nothing in either of them which (I think) we’ll want to read as a group, though each has interesting moments. Neither volume had anything about Philly particularly, though, in the first volume, the description of a project called Blur Street caught my eye: in this project, students in different countries use video imagery to situate themselves in their local environments, and then post two-minute edited video sequences and urban self-portraits online. Rather than having our students go on scavenger hunts (or, maybe? After having them go on a designed hunt?--

--a friend suggested a range of scavenger hunts: Gorilla Challenge, Philly Challenge, Urban Adventure Race, and PhilAmazing Race; but, Mark, you know someone (more creative) in this business?--

I think we might give them cameras (or ask them to use their own cameras or phones?) to create stills or videos of what they see, walking around… They could juxtapose these images with texts we’ve been reading. They could provide voiceovers (or not? In Blur Street, this wasn’t allowed, so “the images could not deliver a secure narrative…”). Even more interesting, and interactive (less "watching" than "doing"--so others might watch?) was Carl Lavery’s Instructions for Performance in Cities, in the second volume, which is full of fun ideas we might draw on..

Some more possible texts for us emerged for me from these collections:
Elizabeth Grosz, Bodies-Cities

Carman Paplia, Caning the City, Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry 1, 2 (June 2007), in cf. with
Michel de Certeau, Walking In the City, The Practice of Everyday Life, 1984

Henri Lefebvre, “Right to the City,” Writings on Cities (1996), about his notion of “the ludic city in the form of the ‘festival’ or ‘collective game,’ which he saw as the ultimate expression of social revolution…
Brecht, “On Everyday Theatre” (you must know this!)

Anne Dalke's picture

exploring liveable spaces

I was delighted, this week, to meet with Nell Anderson about offering this class as a Praxis I/ Exploration/ Developmental course--Praxis I Departmental Courses provide opportunities for students to explore and develop community connections in relation to the course topic by incorporating a variety of activities into the syllabus, such as: field trips to local organizations, guest speakers from those organizations, and assignments that ask students to research local issues---

VERY nice! to have the financial support, of course, to pay for our multiple trips into the city.

But also most wonderful to be invited by Nell to think (even!) more expansively about what we are up to.

In line w/ some of her ideas are a few others received this week....
So great to have so many colleagues to think-along-with!

from Alice Lesnick: Making Cities Liveable: Community Hubs
from Jeff Cohen: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

alesnick's picture

Who is the "we?"

This question seems to be flickering around a good deal of this thread.  When your classes go "into" the city -- what "we" will be so constituted?  Whose city?  When extrinsic and when intrinsic?  What we pees on trees?  How much of being within a we is about policing, or defining, boundaries?  I've been remembering the old Take Back the Night times when I was in high school.  Was that play?  I remember feeling loose of some fear I knew when a girl in Philadelphia.  Are today's Slut Walks play?  Or, like Occupy, are they leveraging play as discourse?  

Anne Dalke's picture

whose city?

I'm asking some of the same questions, below
(also noting that! the "grid" of this page is getting a little unwieldy,
in terms of holding all this playfulness...)

mlord's picture

The importance of play in relation to fixed structures.

Here is the grid-in-relation-to-play idea in a wholly different context.

“What do you say we send this whole vegan thing to hell and get some milk around here?”

Anne Dalke's picture

fruit activism

“There is a new political philosophy emerging in which literally anybody can be an agent of transformation,” she said. “It’s bringing attention to the cumbersome and always-expanding regulatory apparatus of the city"--from Fruit Activists Take Urban Gardens in a New Direction

Anne Dalke's picture

Cultural variation? in grid-in-relation-to-play?

So I just finished Gish Jen's collection of essays, Tiger Writing (which I'd celebrated below); now I do not think we should assign it as text/model for our students’ short autobiographic explorations, but there are a couple of ideas in there that we might use for short writing prompts (and I note them here, as prompts to our own thinking/design of the “grid”):

* Jen describes the Western emphasis on individualism, the isolated, the particular, and the extraordinary, as contributing to a conception of art as proceeding from within--in contrast to the emphasis in Eastern art on moral utility and mastery, on artistry as tied to study and practice (p. 76)--> so, in our terms: art as play, vs. art as the grid?

* “In contemporary individualistic America…even famously activist writers…have maintained that ‘the writer is nothing but a questioner’…encouraging…all-absorbing play and ‘purposeless purpose’…A piece of art…may be designed…But in the dominant Western view, it is studiously non-instrumental….Works of art are…like people, autotelic…Like their makers…they are ends in their very own selves” (95-96)--> in our terms, play for its own sake, not altering the grid w/in which it is performed?

Over the course of her lectures (as in her novels), Jen works towards a balance of the independent Western and interdependent Eastern views. She describes, for instance, a 2006 documentary, 

in which Ou Ning gives easily-operated cameras to citizens who were evicted from their homes, which were being demolished for the Beijing Olympics. The footage they shot was “a balance between the individual and the collective….a participatory project: a documentary in which the distinction between those in front of and behind the camera has been blurred, the subject of the film actually becoming involved in its production” (117)--> in our terms, grid and the play it enables, play and the grid it constructs, becoming indistinguishable?

Jen also cites a song by Fleet Foxes called “Helplessness Blues,” in which the self, once conceived as “naturally” unique, celebrates being a contributing part of an industrial system:
“I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes
Unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking I’d say rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery
Serving something beyond me.”

Similarly, she describes installation of The Forty Part Motet—40 speakers around a room, each projecting an individual voice, with words clearly distinguishable if you stood close to it, while, from the middle of the room, you can’t make these out-- only the motet, heard as a whole (156-157)--> in our terms, play as making the grid “work”…?

alesnick's picture


The Fleet Foxes song reminded me of this poem of Milosz:

Love means to learn to look at yourself 
The way one looks at distant things 
For you are only one thing among many. 
And whoever sees that way heals his heart, 
Without knowing it, from various ills. 
A bird and a tree say to him: Friend. 
Then he wants to use himself and things 
So that they stand in the glow of ripeness. 
It doesn't matter whether he knows what he serves: 
Who serves best doesn't always understand.


~ Czeslaw Milosz ~

 (Collected Poems)

mlord's picture

intrinsic city baby

Our recent tales and reflections remind me of a birthing story my good friend Tim tells. Although Tim grew up in and around Philadelphia, he moved to New York for graduate school and settled there. His wife delivered their son at the hospital of Coulumbia University, and Tim speaks with great pride of being able to take his son, fresh from birth and newly swaddled, to the window of the delivery room and to hold him up to the view: skyscrapers, bridges, the river. And he lifts his newborn boy up to see all this, spread out before them in the middle of the night, and he says, "This is your city."

Anne Dalke's picture


Funny--to me this is still a story that's quite explicitly about the extrinsic.

Looking @.



From a distance.

But, since the idea I'm playing (hard!) with today is your notion of refusing the easy dyad between grid and play, I'm going to apply it now to this distinction we've set up between the intrinsic and extrinsic, the inside and outside. My example is the current exhibit of "Outsider Art" @ the Philadelphia Art Museum

(which, alas, we will not get to see as a class...but if you're anywhere close by, before June 9th--go to it!)

First: the Art Museum is a palace.

A castle on the hill.

Very imposing.

It's not easy to get to or into.

Set apart, it thereby sets apart anything that's on display inside it.

...which is (in part) what makes the current exhibit of
"outsider art" in this insider space so interesting.

Compare the images of the exhibit space (above) with some
of what is being exhibited (both below and @ this posting....).

Much of the wall commentary dances this dance between inside and out, explaining that

* the artists are self-taught,
* “literally creating what cannot be taught,"
* exhibited in a wide range of sites--in the barn, at the State Fair, on the street
(in an individualized version of mural arts).

"Not categorized by styles, movements, or trends, it is art made by individuals who are driven to create by their own particular inner compulsions." The exhibit is set up not to demonstrate any interactions among the artists, or to trace any conventions or connections, but with all the artists "living by themselves" in their own alcoves.

And yet, for me, the overwhelming impression of that there is, really, “no such thing as being outside":

* one artist said that her work was "born in the garden of my imagination" (and yet her
sources of inspiration were explicitly cultural--Mexican jewelery, Spanish Colonial
architecture, Middle Eastern minatures...);

* a number of the artists, we are told, are "no longer 'outside' the art world,"
but actually having an "influence" in the art scene;

* their subjects taken, "not from experience, but popular imagery,"

* their art, done because of commands or signals from God,

* often incorporating long Biblical texts;

* one exhibitor originally made yard art, including screens set up outside his house to shield
against evil forces (so: the art is positioned "outside," in order to protect the "inside"...);

* many of the artists underwent psychiatric treatment;

* many had visions of "another world,"

* visions of "metaphysical essence...."

which places us, in the everyday, then...

inside or out? within or without?

surely, both/and...

mlord's picture


Wrote a very long reply to this, but it was eaten by serendip deamons. will rewrite/repost. but the subject heading was YAY (+). Really adore this vision/writing.

mlord's picture

today's find

Sharing this link I got from my friend Morgan Jeness, a dramaturg, theatrical provocateur, artist's agent, and active participant in the Occupy movement. I've just glanced so far, but it looks like a potential resource related to subversive political play and perceptions of the ownership of public (grid) spaces. 

I also wonder if we/our students might like to rethink the tilted arc controversy from the 1980s.

All play is probably political. Play in the city happens in relation to space that various constituencies have stakes in. See also: graffiti, illegal sidewalk cafes, dog parks, and the politics of the possible high line in the loft district.


Anne Dalke's picture

aesthetic education

This is the first I've heard of the acronym POPS--privately owned public spaces! I love it! (and what a great example of the "refusal of the easy dyad" you write about elsewhere). And I would love for us to follow this lead, spending some time exploring the politics of play in Philadelphia's private-public spaces. Certainly public art highlights this dynamic--I'm thinking of all the work of the Mural Arts Program, which does not own the murals it designs and executes, and which has an often uneasy relationship w/ the neighborhoods in which it exhibits (and where, by exhibiting, it hopes to upgrade...). MAP has a very explicit public improvement agenda (it began as the anti-graffiti network), and walks an interesting line in response to the questions Serra raises, re: whether art (public art in particular) need be "pleasing," "democratic," "for the people"--whether, indeed, it appropriately attempts to educate "the people" into an aesthetic different from the one they currently inhabit....

Behold the Open Door @ 17th and Snyder

mlord's picture

A question.

Is the internet to my children what the city was to me? (If so, then what is the city to them? This will be a Big Question for our classes.)

alesnick's picture

internet as city?

i think this is a really interesting question. i think the analogy works well in many ways (lots of neighborhoods, languages spoken, commercial and non-commercial places, a sense of broadened/broadening possibility, countable infinities.  i wonder what it means that the internet now goes with our kids wherever they are.  

Anne Dalke's picture

Huck Finn, redux

I'm remembering an essay (can't find it now....) suggesting that the open spaces for play available to the children of my generation, in woods, fields and streams, has been replaced, for our children's generation, by sites of unsupervised play on the internet...the point here being less the endlessness of it all than the freedom to figure it out on your own, w/out adults telling you where to go and how to get there...

mlord's picture

poor b.b. (plus)

Of Poor B. B.

I, Bertolt Brecht, came out of the black forests.
My mother carried me into the cities while I lay
Inside her body. And the chill of the forests
Will remain inside me until my dying day.

In the asphalt city I’m at home. From the beginning
Provided with every last sacrament:
With newspapers. And tobacco. And brandy.
To the end distrustful, lazy, and content.

I am friendly to people. I put on
A stiff hat according to their custom.
I say: They’re animals with quite a peculiar smell.
And I say: What does it matter, I am too.

Occasionally in the morning I sit
A woman or two on my empty rocking chairs
And gaze at them thoughtlessly and say:
In me you have someone who can’t be trusted.

Toward evening, I gather men around me,
We address one another as “gentlemen.”
They rest their feet on my tabletops
And say: Things will get better for us, and I don’t ask when.

Toward morning in the grey light the fir trees piss
And their vermin, the birds, begin to chirp.
At that hour I drain my glass in town and chuck
The cigar butt and worriedly fall asleep.

We have sat, an easy generation,
In houses thought to be indestructible
(So we have built those tall boxes on the island of Manhattan
And those thin antennae that amuse the Atlantic swell).

Of these cities all that will remain is what passed through them, the wind!
The house makes the consumer happy: he empties it out.
We know that we are only tenants, provisional ones,
And after us there’ll be nothing much worth talking about.

In the earthquakes to come, I very much hope
I don’t let my cigar go out, embittered or not,
I, Bertolt Brecht, carried into the asphalt cities
From the black forests inside my mother long ago.


This poem may get posted twice, as I seek to overcome my rusty Serendip skills. But I wanted to share it--partly because it's another exploration of urban play, but partly because it creates an opening to think through how we come to city-play. I'll leave it to Anne, if she chooses, to inscibe her own tale, but here is mine. In it is the origin of my interest in the "topic," and also the roots of my biases.

I didn't grow up in the city. Rather I grew up in the suburbs. Actually, until I was two and a half, we lived in an apartment in an18th century house, which my parents decorated with cheap antiques. Someplace I have a photo of this aprtment, and it really looks like I must have been a civil war baby. But I wasn't. And we had a car and a TV a big white metal box, with gold painted trim. And every day, my father would go to the city to work. And the city was not spoken of.

When we moved into a tract home in a suburb with Good Schools, it became clear to me that everyone's fathers went to work in the city. Some in white shirts and ties in their cars and others in checkered shirts without ties on the trolley (this was how we understood diversity where I grew up). And it wasn't until I became interested in baseball, at 6 or so, that the city began to be a site of meaning. Philadelphia, it turned out, was where Our Team played. And since Our Team, played there, we *were* Philadelphia. So those of us who played little-kid ball in Springfield had blue hats with an "S" on them to wear to our games on Saturdays *and* we had red hats with a "P" to wear on our annual excursion into the unspoken of city. And to wear in our backyard games, where we pretended to be our heroes, imagining ourselves to possess the prowess of "real" baseball players. In our run-the-bases and stickball adventures, we fancied ourselves to be a part of the city, to be playing beneath its bright lights, in its integrated stadium, our majesty broadcast throughout the region, onto the black and white TVs that everyone's families (presumably) owned, throughout the region that was (to a six-year old boy) inited in its baseball fantasies.

It wasn't until I was a teenager, fully appalled by suburban tract house living, bored by my town, embarrassed by its conservativeness, and frustrated by there being Nothing To Do, that I began to really feel the city as, again, a site of potential meaning. It was the primary terrain against which my adolescent explorations of self were played out. From walking to the trolley tracks, to taking the trolley to the El and the El to center city, to exploring the axes of its primary grid (north and South of city hall on Broad Street, East and West on Market), I discovered that ther was art in the city, that there was Very Serious Politics in the city, that there was commerce in the city and that there was sex in the city. I saw Penn and Teller busking in the street (as The Asparagus Valley Cultural Society). I heard Ramona Africa cursing out the city, dreadlocks and f-bombs flying around her bull-horned tirades. I visited the voodoo supply store. And I discovered a community that was beginning to come together around The Rocky Horror picture show. Later I joined with freakers from all over and around the city, rebels without causes who stalked up and down South Street, trying to invent the strategies of haberdashery that would become punk fashion. 

Somewhere along the line, I discovered that if you cut class and went to the art museum, you would never get caught. And that you could buy a used book cheap, and read it until the changing-daily double feature of Real Films was going to start. And that all kinds of music drifted out of the bars and churches there. And that there were people living in the thousands of rowhouses. People whose backgrounds and outlooks were mostly different than the one I had grown up with.

The City to me was a kind of salvation. There were other things that I encountered, theater-making, libraries, other suburban discontents. But I experienced Philadelphia in my youth in ways that seem analagous to the ways my own kids experience the internet. You could find EVERYTHING there. You didn't search for one specific thing, because you didn't know just what you were looking for. But there was possibility in every new block, potential in every storefront, there was unpacked significance in every alleyway.

To be continued...

So. The reason for telling this story is that I feel as if it's important to state that I feel extrinsic to the city--that is to say that, like Brecht, I came to the city from not so far away, but from a very different landscape. Although I have, at various times and in various ways, found myself "at home" in the city, I experience it differently, I think, than I would if I had been born into one of its neighborhoods. Although, the residents of the neighborhoods often feel a sense of apartness from "downtown;" I had someone tell me that they were escorting an elementary school field trip from South Philadelphia to the Franklin Institute, which was about a mile's ride on the schoolbus. The kids were astonished to drive around city hall because, they were amazed to report, it was "just like at the beginning of Action News."

Maybe it feels to all of us as if we are set down somewhere on the grid and have to make our own rules. Heidegger, I recall, writes of "dasein" as having been "thrown into the world." And maybe my story is just my version of an existential event.

Anne Dalke's picture

"I feel extrinsic to the city"

Thank you for telling this story, Mark; I find it a very compelling one--and it forms an interesting contrast to my own point of entry into city-play. I was raised in the rural South, about two hours from D.C., which was "my city"--but really: not. We didn't go there often; we had the notion of city dwellers as living in ticky-tacky houses, all thinking the same (as opposed to the cussed individualism of us rural folk). They were always caught in traffic, while we had the free road. They also didn't work like we did; work was what gave our lives value.

[Just to supply a visual of how things were: this mill, built by my great-grandfather in 1888, came down last month.]

When I finally came to live in the city of Philadelphia, I was 25 years old. At that point in my life, I loved losing the very tight grid of familiar associations and ties, the knowledge that everyone I saw knew me, and my family, and was watching everything I did. I loved the anonymity--not having to be responsive to everyone I passed on the street; I loved the freedom of being able to ignore much of what was going on around me. This felt like an increased capacity to play--and it certainly felt like a release of responsibility. So if you were experiencing the vapidity of a suburban life without associations or meaningful connections, and came to Philadelphia seeking events and scenes to tie yourself to, I found the opposite--an untethering from such connections.

Which means, I think, that we have to tread a little carefully here: for both of us, as for Brecht (or @ least as for Brecht as imagined in the poem), the city felt extrinsic--and therein lay its excitement. But we ought also to be able to offer different sorts of experiences than those that were so foundational for the two of us. We will certainly have students who have grown up in the city, whose relationship to it, and to play therein, will be very different, more intrinsic. They are the city, perhaps?

Makes me think we could start class by asking our students to write brief personal essays like the one you wrote here, and like I've also just gestured towards: how do they see themselves/what was their experience in the city?

Then, ditto re: play.

mlord's picture

city and play introductions

I think asking students to write a personal essay early on is a great idea. Maybe it takes off from their own experience of city/ies, but maybe the assignment also wants to allow them to share senses of themselves as players...but maybe that comes later.

I also note that some of your story is in my fuller story, the sense of excitement that comes from having been excused from the unitary identity you are cast into in your town/family/landscape of origin.

Anne Dalke's picture

"only connect"

So last night Jeff and I began working our way through Mark’s list, by watching Wings of Desire.

Oh, my. We have! SO! much! to! talk! about!

I started out by thoroughly enjoying myself…I felt as though I was back in college, watching Fellini and Antonioni and Bergman (maybe with a few Men in Black thrown in…), thinking that they were exploring, on my behalf, all the universal themes that I was interested in….I especially liked the sequence that portrayed lots of different folks in their cars—the sense of multiple lives, passing one another, not intersecting….and, @ first, I liked the angel’s face, and I liked his wistfulness…I understand this wistfulness.

…but the more I watched, the more I entered into the isolation and estrangement the film portrays, the more I began to wonder whether this was really the sort of film I want to be sharing with first-semester students @ Bryn Mawr. I noticed that all (or all but one, briefly glimpsed?) of the angels were male. I noticed that the film focuses on the sad displacement of an older man, who longs to hook up w/ a younger woman, who doesn’t seem as needy or lonely (?) as he is…I thought about Lolita…and I wondered if our students really will be Columbo fans….Thinking  about gender and age difference...I started to think about racial difference (I think I saw a couple of people who may have been Turkish…but it’s a very white crew).  And then I thought about the difference in era, and in geography (this is all about the angst of post-war Berlin, and seems very far away)…

I’ll watch the remake, City of Angels, to see if a more contemporary setting might address some of these questions…but I am also wondering if other city films—how about Crash?—might do the trick “better." And of course now I’m very curious to hear what trick you think Wenders is up to, Mark, and why-and-how you think his film might speak to our gals.  I’m also thinking about focusing more in particular on the experiences of women in the city—women who feel vulnerable? women who learn ways of taking up that space for ourselves…?

Also (having thought about gender and race and era and geography), I’m also thinking about class, having some second thoughts about whether our focus on “play” in the city might run the danger of exoticizing the space, making it seem as though we’ve framed it as a playground for us, coming in from the suburbs. What about the city as a place for work? As a place for family, and community, and lives lived in a grounded—a gardened?--place? A place where people are more connected with one another...?

mlord's picture

Angels Thoughts...

I don't recommend City of Angels. Some better ways to "build out" from the film are:

To watch the documentary about its filming/construction. (This comes witht he DVD in the BMC library.)

To read Peter Handke's THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD, which is the source for a lot of the whisperings that the Angels hear/record. This book was written when Hankde--who had burst onto the literary scene as a wunderkind/enfant terrible in the 1960s--felt as if he had reached the end of the line as an artist...and was living in Paris and raising a child alone. The task he set himself was to write every day and to write only what seemed "true" to him. It constitutes, to some extent, a process of teaching himself how to write and to understand the world.

To review the film. Almost every time I see it, it shows itself as a different beast. Sometimes it's about the story of Damiel, other times it's a portrait of divided Berlin, others it's about the poetic aspects of ordinary lives, and (recently) I've seen the role of the storyteller, Homer, as being the "center" of my experience as a viewer. It's also a kind of Rilke in action adventure...

I do hear everything you say about why this may not be an easy film for our students, though.

Anne Dalke's picture


So I did read Handke's journal, as suggested. It seems to be built around--and repeatedly testify to--a profound sense of a self divided from oneself (I'm thinking of W.E.B. DuBois's double consciousness--only here the doubling is existential rather than racial). And throughout the book Handke is trying to cross that divide, to arrive @ some sense of utter presence, where his experience is not separate from himself, where the unmediated experience of childhood is recaptured. His way of trying to do that is to write, without relying on cliches or formulations, but the very act of writing, like the act of reflection, further separates himself from his perceptions....

Here's a taste of this repeated dynamic (which seems to me not the least bit playful....
so: I'm not feeling inclined to use either the film or this text for our class...)

"The main thing: not to claim history for myself, not to let myself be defined by history, not to take it as an excuse—despise it in those who hide their personal insignificance behind it—and yet know it, in order to understand people and above all to see through them (my hatred of history as a refuge for be-nothings) (11).

For fear of forgetting my insights, learn not to repeat formulations of them, not even to myself; formulation as a way of forgetting (12).

The feeling that almost everything I have seen or heard up to now loses its original form the moment it enters into me…but is instantly metamorphosed into something quite formless….Thus, writing would be an awakening of thousands of unformed pupate experiences to new forms….the thought that now arises of all the innumerable, terrifyingly formless pupate hybrids within me….and of the work that lies ahead of me to fixate in speech and idea these hybrids…and to fashion them into something radiantly new, in which, however, one senses the old, the original experiences, as one senses the caterpillar in the butterfly! (21)

Something that upsets my balance; my mind is often a little ahead of whatever action I am performing; this brief moment of cleavage between consciousness and activity sometimes impedes my feeling for the activity... (31). we have to hold these things close to our faces if we want to smell and feel something which in childhood permeated us without any need to pick it up....what in those days we 'just' took as it came, we must now purposely, intentionally, deliberately bring close to us (34).

My feeling of self...isolates my own self.... (35).

There is really no solution, the eternal cleavage between me and the world remains, and the hope of overcoming it once and for no better than an injection of some placebo...(87).

The complacency--another kind of armor--that comes of basking in thoughts that one has experssed successfully in the presence of others: such arrogance ... impedes the constantly renewed perception without which there can be no life. Perhaps it's an affection, a pretense, to express thoughts that don't arise in the moment of speaking (88).

While I am here, I am somewhere else--
ahead or behind
elsewhere another:
Unrest, an unself.
I am only here
I am only now:
I am rest itself

The psychoanalyst said, 'I have the impression that yo have put certain areas of feeling on ice. You ahve grown hedges around yourself' (110).

Most of the day I was one among many...I looked on with an open mind, but....without participating as a witness (115).

For children there seems to be no gap between knowledge and existence...whereas my little bit of knowledge is of no use to me in my daily existence.....(123).

Someone said: 'Nobody dies of hypotheses'--meaning: we need the old convictions (which are worth dying for) (126).

My power to identify with myself, with my gestalt, with my life, is always failing me--and I make no attempt to overcome this periodic failure of self-identification: I need these calamities (148).

Memory: life's most intense experience, after all.... (152).

New feeling of remoteness, unconnectedness, of congealed beside-myselfness (156).

Doppelganger experience: '...his specific way of thinking--his profoundly quiet way of letting his own life recede into the background....' (168).

Just as a often do things absentmindedly, so I sometimes think absentmindedly (for the last year I have been trying so hard to pay constant attention to what is passing through my mind) (185).

At last: blissful deafness to all possible impressions (191).

My special gift: extreme distraction, followed by extreme concentration (211).

'Perception is attention' (Novalis) wish to go out into the street as a wish to experiment ('Don't look for anything behind phenomena; they themselves are the doctrine'--Goethe) (224).

Anne Dalke's picture

"Changing My Mind"

I'll do those things...

just to note, in the interim, that my push-back is not about whether Wenders' film will be easy for our students--I don't @ all mind requiring hard things! It's whether it will be good (oops! can I really put that on the table here?). I'm resisting our sharing an image of the city that is alien, anonymous, disintegrating, exoticizing, interior, dangerous, intellectual: a place to be a spectator, an Other among Others...a place seen from afar...

though of course there are other dimensions of the self-in-the-city in Wings of Desire--the fluidity, the freedom, the self-definition, the intentionality of relationships--which draw me.

Last night I read (=previewed for our course) Zadie Smith's collection, Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, thinking that her focus on revision might be useful for the re-writing/re-thinking dimension of our class. I don't think we want to use the book; it's mostly reviews of a variety of authors whom our students will not have read. But I do want to record here a couple of passages from one essay called "Rereading Barthes and Nabokov," because it describes an interesting shift in Smith's thinking about structure and freedom, which might be useful to us. As a student, she believed in the absolute freedom of the text; now she's more interested in the discipline of her writing practice as an intentional, directional act. I love her image of novels as spaces we inhabit:

“The novels we know best have an architecture. Not only a door going in and another leading out, but rooms, hallways, stairs, little gardens front and back, trapdoors, hidden passageways, et. cetera. It’s a fortunate rereader who knows half a dozen novels this way in their lifetime…When you enter a beloved novel many times, you can come to feel that you possess it, that nobody else has ever lived there. You try not to notice the party of impatient tourists trooping through the kitchen...or that shuffling academic army, moving in perfect phalanx, as they stalk a squirrel around the backyard (or a series of squirrels, depending on their methodology). Even the architect’s claim on his creation seems secondary to your wonderful way of living in it…..

It was meant to be obvious, to the college reraders we once were, that any restriction on the multivalent free flow of literary meaning was not to be stood for. But to speak for myself, I’ve changed my mind. The assumption that what a reader wants most is unfettered freedom, rather than limited, directed, play…none of this feels at all obvious to me anymore. The house rules of a novel, the laying down of the author’s peculiar terms--all of this is what interests me. This is where my pleasure is. Yet it must also be true that part of the change in my attitude represents a vocational need to believe in…a vision of total control…. I think of that lovely idea of Kundera’s: ‘Great novels are always little more intelligent than their authors’….

I’m glad I’m not the reader I was in college any more, and I’ll tell you why: it made me feel lonely. Back then I wanted to tear down the icon of the author and abolish, too, the idea of a privileged reader--the text was to be a free, wild thing, open to everyone, belonging to no one, refusing an ultimate meaning. Which was a powerful feeling, but also rather isolating, because it jettisons the very idea of communication, of any possible genuine link between the person who writes and the person who reads. Nowadays I know the true reason I read is to feel less alone, to make a connection with  a consciousness other than my own. To this end I find myself placing a cautious faith in the difficult partnership between reader and writer, that discrete struggle to reveal an individual’s experience of the world through the unstable medium of language. Not a refusal of meaning, then, but  quest for it….in a relationship that is...hesitant and delicate…we are stumbling toward meaning simultaneously, together” (p. 42, pp. 56-57, emphasis mine).

mlord's picture

not changing mine.

This is really interesting...and maybe this excerpt sets up something for us to look at: the consequences, if you will, of a playful realtionship to text (or urban grid). But I reject the easy diad she creates, between a juvenile tearing down of authors and a wholly unfettered flow between signifier and signified, and the fiction of a communion between an Author, her fixed meaning, and the connected consciousness of the reader. I should read the whole essay, because her description of "stumbling toward meaning simultaneously, together" strikes me as a richer and less diagrammatic way of articulating the reading experience.

Think about what she's saying in relation to our fantasy(ies) of urban play. There is more to it than, on the one hand, a riot/chaos in the street/carnival backstreet craziness, and, on the other, the city grid staidly laid out beneath the watchful gaze of the erected founder perched atop city hall to oversee the meaning of his plan. The city is wilder than that--and books are, too. City Hall itself is a 19th century "play" on the Original Grid, covereing over the Center Square. (That a part of this square is currently excavated delights me btw.) Even the grid is a slightly playful attempt to insert civic meaning between the two rivers, which are themselves an ecocentric "grid" of an irregular system. All the civic attempts to organize and regulate meaning in the city are subverted daily by the needs/desires/habits of actual people. And part of the majesty of the cityspace is its absolute resistance to efforts to fix its meaning--but also its reluctance to turn into complete chaos.

I am reminded of something I saw aftet the Phillies won the world series and I walked from Clark Park to 30th Street to meet my friend Tim who came in from New York for the parade. The grid of Public Transit could not come close to containing the (literally) millions of people who were in the street. We walked from 30th Street to  the stadiums, where we sat and hailed the victorious heroes. Walking back north, we came upon a park not far from the stadiums. Although the city had put out trashcans and portable toilets, there simply weren't enough to accommodate the large number of (mostly orderly) revelers. And in this park, planted nicely with scores of trees in a randomixed pattern approximating nature, I noticed that each of the trees was wet from waist-height down. They were all painted with beer-ish urine. In this image, I see literal and metaphoric signs that go back and forth between the city's capacity and impulse to order and the human urge to tweak that order and between the inevitable imperfection of the grid and the human need for some kind of order. (Why we pee on trees remains a mystery to me, and in this case, when I say we, I mean, naturally, other men, not me.)

Anne Dalke's picture

"It's only a role...."

So much here...I'm having lots of trouble inserting order in the multiple different trajectories/ideas your writing is generating for me...suggesting that I need another form than the linear essaylets we've been writing...

so...I will experiment, this time round, w/ the form of the bullet point (point by point, except not following your original order), illustrated w/ images of the outsider art now on display @ the Philadelphia Art Museum (about which I will also write elsewhere...just a way of flagging our unwieldy this page is getting!)

* "when I say we, I mean, naturally, other men"--> and when you say we, you clearly don't mean me, or all the other women who will be in our class. So, to flag this keynote again--> I want to think/learn/explore more about the experience of women in the city; have just checked out Daphne Spain's How Women Saved the City, which I don't think--w/ its focus on the creation of "redemptive spaces" like boarding houses, vocational schools, settlements houses, public baths, playgrounds--is going to get quite @ what I'm aiming....but maybe. There's something here about creating a built environment in which newcomers can learn to become urbanites...Hm...and so: maybe not so different, after all, from pissing on trees to mark one's territory? We'll see; I'll report back if this line of pursuit uncovers anything interesting-or-useful (or gender-specific or non-specific?)

* speaking of which: I like your refusal of the "easy dyad" between "fixed meaning" and "unfettered flow," and also of any "easy dyad" between city and nature (trees planted in parks to approximate nature, cities planted inbetween rivers as playful, ecocentric attempts to order that space...); what we'll be looking @ throughout this course, as you say, is the back-and-forth between the impulse to order and the urge to tweak it. I'm wondering if there's a cultural specificity we also need to attend to, here. I've just begun Gish Jen's little collection of essays, Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self, which both puts into play and unsettles the easy dyad between "the independent, individualistic self that dominates in the West..and the interdependent, collectivist self that dominates in the East." This is relevant because we're likely to have a number of Chinese students in our class, relevant because, as Jen says,

"I am struck very year by how consistently President Drew Faust's addresses to Harvard freshmen emphasize free exploration and playfulness--an emphasis appropriate to a stable, egalitarian, individualistic society. And one can easily see that ... the Chinese wildly at odds with Western ideas about art...It is, rather, far closer to the kind of piano 'training' described in Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother...the traditional Chinese template...was geared toward attaining safety and social standing in a dangerous, interdependent, hierarchical world....."

* which is to say (for our purposes) what are the conditions necessary to play? How stable does the world have to be before one can begin to re-invent-and-reimagine it? Or (to the turn the query around): to what degree does a stable world incessantly-and-inevitably provoke play? Here's the final story Jen tells, of her father @ the point of retirement from the City College of New York:

"'I notice all the students are waving at you so happily. Why is that? What is going on?' To which my father replied...'Because I gave them all A's'--an answer that surprised...since my father was, as you might imagine, a famously tough grader.....It was for him a way of ...saying, I'm taking my hat off now, and you know, it was just a hat...a very interdependent view, humor, and gamesmanship, and role-playing; it's as if he were saying, it's important to know your role, but it's important to know, too, that it's ony a role...."

So: maybe this little book would be a good opening text for us: not about the city, but a model of a cross-cultural intellectual autobiography, that looks (among other things) @ the question of what enables playfulness....

alesnick's picture


I am following this with interest -- hearing the concerns about class here . . .  city as appropriated, as providing special experiences, as needing to entice people in, to support commerce, jobs -- almost as infantilizing suburban visitors, too . . . but instead of broadening by moving to scenes of work and family and community in addition to play, what about broadening perception of play so that it encompasses work and family and community -- play of everyday?  So -- rather than places of play, exclusively, it's also rhythms or dances of play that move through a wide range of spaces.  ALSO, what about the city playing with/on/for/in people not within its borders . . . 

alesnick's picture

strong grid/strong play

How utterly awesome. And great that it arises from daring. I wonder what kind of grid a dare invokes/takes off from.

Grid: fascinating. I am taken with the painting of Jennifer Bartlett, who plays with/on grids:

I also recommend the playful word space of  Check out:

Also, I will be taking my esem back to Magic Gardens (as I did last fall).  Talk about grid dreaming grid stoking.

jccohen's picture

playing along

this looks like such play-ful fun!  so cool to see the process laid out like this, both over time and then also in the funny depth-space of online-ness and the multidirectional space of cities.  i'm intrigued by the way city moved from people to place, and a back and forthness here seems to run through.  and speaking of running through, love the impulse toward movement, and specifically women's movement, which happens to coincide with a wonderful discussion i had with a student y'day about gender and space and dance, and a crazy impulse i'm having to learn/do some dance -- and she was telling me about a dance teacher, jasmine, who works in bi-co and i think also in the city...  all inspiring toward starting to think about my play course n 360, thanks!

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