ruins and silicone mountains
on the death of the cherished and the dawn of the cheap
“We are now at the beginning of an era whose constructions are far scarier than ruins.” — Rebecca Solnit
“We are not living in an era of change, but a change of eras.” — Pope Francis, November 10, 2015
Who is asking: what is on the other side of decolonization?
On the other side of an empire and its colonies, what will remain?
The constructions, Rebecca Solnit says, are scarier than ruins. Partly because the constructions of the new world aren’t quite real.
I’m writing this in the Lawrence House, which is an old SRO turned into a “luxury housing complex.” But nothing about it is quite luxurious. The lobby is decorated with, at press time, ten different versions of armchairs and sofas that all look like Wayfair variations of the Le Corbusier and Barcelona chairs. The lamps (four different designs spotted) are gilt and vaguely gilded age in style.
The decorations evoke art nouveau, but it is not new. It’s not art, either. It’s mass-produced in a style that indicates luxury. But is any of it that expensive? I wonder what the lobby would cost if it were created by local carpenters, and if it might be a little more real then.
Things, like writing, are supposed to be made by someone. Perhaps writing is the final thing that is becoming mechanized and de-humanized. But the effect that automation has on writing isn’t any different than the effect that automation has on the rest of our physical environment. We live in plastic constructions, hungering for a world that comes from the same dust we’re made of.
Bit by bit, we have to build something that’s not any of the things that most of us have known. The answer to a crumbling empire is not another, older, already-crumbled empire. The answer to the ghetto is not the suburbs.
We are trying to create a new world, not just export the old one or download a bad old operating system.
We are living on the edge of an era. And on the other side is not a nothing, but maybe the thing that disappeared: the local. Perhaps the local—that sweet songbird you never notice until its absence—will return.
Relationship confounds authorship, as it’s a narrative of two people. Perhaps it expands it. Hard to make authoritative statements solo.
Ezra Klein is worried that the internet has degraded our ability to pay attention, and I am worried about that, too. The internet used to be altruistic, and then was monetized, and now, perhaps it is something that simply saps our energy, energy that could be conserved, sustained, and invested elsewhere.
I am on the hunt for travel grants to Israel/the West Bank/Palestine for the month of June to finish a book that is under contract. If you have any travel grant leads, send them my way! ChatGPT may be the future of search, but so far Google is proving more helpful.