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Notes Towards Day 2 (Thursday, 9/5): What is a City? What's its relation to our Mental Life?

Anne Dalke's picture

What Philadelphia looked like when Mumford was writing: 1937

I. Circle the chairs, then get up and introduce yourselves,
by identifying your avatars

II. welcome back! (did everyone come back?)
checking in re: Serendip accounts--how'd it go?
did everyone sign up? is everyone recognizable?
(needing back stories, more explanations?)
who needs a hand up w/ this process?

other questions/obstacles/successes to report?
accomodations for athletes?

additional course-keeping
*writing conference schedule now on-line:
verify that what looked likely on Tuesday still looks do-able today;
begin next Tuesday morning w/ Jessa, Claire, Hanna & Tessa...

* weekend plans!
You will have a 3-pp. writing assignment due by midnight every Sunday this semester;
the first one is due this Sunday (to get you writing straight off....).

We’re going to be talking today about three different urban theorists,
who have very particular (and abstract?) ideas about what a city is,
and what its relationship is to our mental life.

We want to lay alongside their ideas our own (more concrete?) stories about the city,
and we’d like you to start the essay not w/ a quote, or an epigram
(which you might have gotten used to doing in high school?),
but instead with an image, something that “figures” your relation to the city.

This can be a photograph you have taken yourself; it can be one that you find using Google Image
(but then BE SURE TO CITE its source/URL). You can write this as a personal meditation;
you can write it as a dialogue with one of our theorists,
or in response to something that is said in class today;
you can write it as a more formal essay, citing our readings…
whatever format allows you best to say what you have to say.
What form will best "contain" and "feature"/highlight your content?

By midnight on Sunday: log on to Serendip, go to our course forum, post your image, and
then the essay explaining it, the same way you posted your introduction last night.

By classtime on Tuesday: you will read-and-respond to essays by two of your classmates
(I'll give you those instructions @ the end of class--remind me if I forget!)

We will follow this pattern all semester:
our readings every Tuesday will be one another’s writings—
we are writing  ½ the texts we are reading for this class.


III. Our readings every Thursday will be by someone "outside" the class.
For today, we asked you to look @
Lewis Mumford's 1937 essay, What Is a City?”
George Simmel's 1950 The Metropolis and Mental Life
summary of Sharon Zukin's 1995 work on The Cultures of Cities,
and a video (and/or transcript) of a 2010 interview with her.

We asked you to come having underlined passages that had some sort of energy for you--
told you the truth/raised some question/nudged you in some way...
we also asked you to think about how these essays speak to your experience,
whether your own experience affirms-or-questions what they say....

Those are the two things we're going to focus on today:
first--what the texts say; second--how they "fit" (or fail to...) w/ what we know.

A) a text rendering (we'll repeat this for each text, in turn)--
look over your notes:
draw a rectangle around a single sentence that called out to you,
draw a circle around a phrase,
draw a line under a word...
then write a word that sums up these readings for you: an idea, an emotion...
we'll read around, sequentially, with pauses and no comments...
let's write our own words on the board...
what do we hear/see in the (increasingly distilled) poem we have created?

(start w/ Mumford; repeat for Simmel and Zukin)

(remember what we agreed upon, as our "structure" for talking....?)

how do their claims respond to/correct/differ w/ one another?

B) how do these ideas intersect with your own experiences?
how has the city fed/sapped your own mental life?
do any of these essays describe what you know?
do you have experiences that challenge their claims?

Georg Simmel and "The Metropolis of Mental Life"

IV. By classtime on Tuesday: you will use this technique of text-rendering
to read-and-respond to essays by two of your classmates;
Mark and I (who meet on Friday mornings to plan the next week's work),
will send you an e-mail over the weekend, assigning you to partnerships)
You will perform on one another's essays exactly the
same sort of "text rendering" we just did w/ Mumford,
read through your classmates' papers, marking the
sentence, phrase AND word that has the most "heat" for you;
then write down a word that describes your interaction w/ the text;
(not sure yet--on-line, or to bring to class?)
along w/ the full texts, and we'll work w/ them in small groups.

Then we'll put your essays into conversation w/ one another's,
as well as w/ those we've just discussed,
thinking about the overlaps and disjunctures:
how are our experiences of the city like/different/predictable/surprising?

Anne's reading notes:
a theater of social action…
social drama comes into existence through the focusing and intensification of group activity…
in its various and many-sided life, in its very opportunities for social disharmony and conflict,
the city creates drama; the suburb lacks it.
One may describe the city, in it social aspect, as a special framework directed
toward the creation of differentiated opportunites for a common life
and a significant collective drama….

Simmel: deepest problem of modern life: maintaining independence, individuality
metropolis intensifies emotional life, creates sensory foundations of mental life
intellectualistic quality a protection against domination of the metropolis
psychic phenomenon of the city: the blasé outlook
(incapacity to reaction to new stimulations/
indifference to meaning of distinctions between things)
mental attitude of people of the metropolis: reserve/suspicion
aversion, strangeness, repulsion, distantiation, deflection assures personal freedom
mutual reserve and indifference significant in independence of individual
obverse of freedom: loneliness, desertion—freedom is not only pleasant
most significant aspect of metropolis: functional magnitude beyond actual physical foundaries—
embraces totality of meaningful effects
essential characteristic of freedom: particularity, incomparability actually expressed, laws of inner nature become perceptible, distinguished from others as irreplaceable
cities seat of advanced economic division of labour
necessity to specialize->
conducive to differentiation, refinement, enrichment->
narrower mental individuation-> making oneself noticeable
value of the metropolis: individual independence and elaboration of personal peculiarities
unique place for development of the mental life--
don’t complain, condone but only understand!

Zukin: culture made explicit, pluralist and problematic,
connected to power, dialogic, inequitable, placed
on the search for the “authentic” (?? = not homogenous?)
cities survive on the basis of diversity
density of economic activityà regeneration/authenticity
be aware of your cultural power, to shape your built environment
crucial to level playing field
“taste is socially made,” an expression of a group w/ a common cultural background
discomfort between old/new residents, businesses catering to different tastes
(“gentrifies don’t use the street as much”)
Jane Jacobs’ criticism of massive urban renewal,
celebration of "Ballet of the Street"
(eyes keeping it safe, making it sociable)
no focus on the culture of the people, social capital of the neighbors
“BoBos”= bourgeous bohemian, term coined by my neighbor!

[urban public space increasingly appropriated, privatized by corporate, commercial forces
on-going cultural war on city streets: explicit site of conflicts over social differences and urban fears]