Thous wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generation tread thee down;
The voice I heard this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown […]
- John Keats: “Ode to a nightingale”, 1819.
[…] Us the most fleeting of all. Just once,
everything, only for once. Once and no more. And we, too,
once. And never again. […]
- Ranier Maria Rilke: “The Night Elegy" (trans. J.B. Leishman) , 1912-1922.
This diagnosis is to my mind confirmed by the great reflective glass skin of the Buenaventura […] Now one would want rather to stress the way in which the glass skin repels the city outside; a repulsion for which we have analogies in those reflector sunglasses which make it impossible for your interlocutor to see your own eyes and thereby achieve a certain aggressivity towards and power over the Other. In a similar way, the glass skin achieves a peculiar and placeless dissociation of the Bonaventura from its neighbourhood: it is not even an exterior, inasmuch as when you seek to look at the hotel’s outer walls you cannot see the hotel itself, but only the distorted images of everything that surrounds it.
- Fredric Jameson: “Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism” (1991) - National Security Agency headquarters, Fort Meade, Maryland (1986). Wikimedia.
If you are outside of the intelligence community, if you are the ordinary person and you start seeing a bunch of headlines saying, U.S., Big Brother, looking down on you, collecting telephone records, et cetera, well, understandably people would be concerned. I would be too if I wasn’t inside the government.
- US President Barack Obama, news conference at the White House, Aug. 9th 2013. Washington Post (transcript).
In September 1986, the Operations 2A and 2B buildings, both copper-shielded to prevent eavesdropping, opened with a dedication by President Ronald Reagan.
- National Security Agency Wikipedia entry.
Crowds came to form a shield against their own dying. To become a crowd is to keep out death. To break off from the crows is to risk death as an individual, to face dying alone. Crowds came for this reason above all others. They were crowds to be a crowd.
- Don DeLillo: “White noise”, 1-15.
The flâneur seeks refuge in the crowd. The crowd is the veil through which the familiar city is transformed for the flâneur into phantasmagoria. […] he is also the explorer of the crowd. within the man who abandons himself to it, the crows inspires a sort of drunkenness, one accompanied by very specific illusions: the man flatters himself that, on seeing a passersby swept along by the crowd, he has accurately classified him, seen straight through to the innermost recesses of his soul -all on the basis of his external appearance. […] But the nightmare that corresponds to the illusory perspicacity of the aforementioned physiognomist consists in seeing those distinctive traits -traits peculiar to the person- revealed to be nothing more than the elements of a new type; so that in the final analysis a person of the greatest individuality would turn out to be the exemplar of a type. This points to an agonizing phantasmagoria at the heart of the flânerie. Baudelaire develops it with great vigor in “Les Sept Vieillards”, a poem that deals with the seven-fold apparition of a repulsive-looking old man. This individual, presented as always the same in this multiplicity, testifies to the anguish of the city dweller who is unable to break the magic circle of the type even though he cultivates the most eccentric peculiarities.
- Walter Benjamin: “Exposé of 1939”, D. Baudelaire, or the Streets of Paris I, II.

Several days later Murray asked me about a tourist attraction known as the most photographed barn in America. We drove 22 miles into the country around Farmington. There were meadows and apple orchards. White fences trailed through the rolling fields. Soon the sign started appearing. THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. We counted five signs before we reached the site. There were 40 cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photographing. All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits. A man in a booth sold postcards and slides — pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot. We stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers. Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book.

"No one sees the barn," he said finally.

A long silence followed.

"Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn."

He fell silent once more. People with cameras left the elevated site, replaced by others.

We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies.”

There was an extended silence. The man in the booth sold postcards and slides.

"Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see. The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We’ve agreed to be part of a collective perception. It literally colors our vision. A religious experience in a way, like all tourism."

Another silence ensued.

"They are taking pictures of taking pictures," he said.

I quote this at such length not only because it’s too good to edit but also to draw your attention to two relevant features. One is the Dobynsesque message here about the metastasis of watching. For not only are people watching a barn whose only claim to fame is being an object of watching, but the pop-culture scholar Murray is watching people watch a barn, and his friend Jack is watching Murray watch the watching, and we readers are pretty obviously watching Jack the narrator watch Murray watching, etc. […] But most of the writing’s parodic force is directed at Murray, the would-be transcender of spectation. Murray, by watching and analyzing, would try to figure out the how and whys of giving in to collective visions of mass images that have themselves become mass images only because they’ve been made the objects of collective vision. […] since to speak out loud in the scene would render the narrator a part of the farce (instead of a detached, transcendent “observer and recorder”) […] With his silence, DeLillo’s alter ego Jack eloquently diagnoses the very disease from which he, Murray, barn-watchers, and readers, all suffer.

- David Foster Wallace: “E Unibus Pluram. Television and U.S. Fiction” (quote from Don DeLillo, “White Noise” 1-3)
In a stack of material I found some family photo albums, one or two at least fifty years old […] Children wincing in the sun, women in sun hats, men shading their eyes from the glare as if the past possessed some quality of light we no longer experience, a Sunday dazzle that caused people in their churchgoing clothes to tighten their faces and stand at an angle to the future, somewhat averted it seemed, wearing fixed and fine-drawn smiles, skeptical of something in the nature of the box camera.
- Don DeLillo: “White Noise” (1984)
In photography, exhibition value begins to displace cult value all along the line. But cult value does not give way without resistance. It retires into an ultimate retrenchment: the human countenance. It is no accident that the portrait was the focal point of early photography. The cult of remembrance of loved ones, absent or dead, offers a last refuge for the cult value of the picture. For the last time the aura emanates from the early photographs in the fleeting expression of a human face. This is what constitutes their melancholy, incomparable beauty.
- Walter Benjamin: “The work of art in the age of its mechanical reproducibility” VI. (1936)
Dancin’ in Chicago (dancin’ in the street)
Down in New Orleans (dancin’ in the street)
In New York City
Philadelphia P.A., Baltimore and D.C now,
Can’t forget the motor city.
— Martha and the Vandellas: “Dancing in the Street" (1964)
Detroit, the cradle of America’s automobile industry and once the nation’s fourth-most-populous city, filed for bankruptcy on Thursday, the largest American city ever to take such a course.
— The New York Times, Jul 18th 2013.
While produced as an innocent dance single (it became the precursor to the disco movement of the 1970s), the song took on a different meaning when riots in inner-city America led to many young black demonstrators citing the song as a civil rights anthem to social change […] “Motown records had a distinct role to play in the city’s black community, and that community—as diverse as it was—articulated and promoted its own social, cultural, and political agendas. These local agendas, which reflected the unique concerns of African Americans living in the urban north, both responded to and reconfigured the national civil rights campaign” (Smith, 220)
— Wikipedia entry for Dancing in the Street; quote from Suzanne Smith: “Dancing in the street” (2003)
Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says ‘Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.’ Man bursts into tears. Says ‘But, doctor…I am Pagliacci.
- Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons: “Watchmen” (1986-1987)
Boredom began to be experienced in epidemic proportions during the 1840s. Lamartine is said to be the first to have given expression to the malady. It plays a role in a little story about the famous comic Deburau. A distinguished Paris neurologist was consulted one day by a patient whom he had not seen before. The patient complained of the typical illness of the times -weariness with life, deep depressions, boredom. “There is nothing wrong with you,” said the doctor after a thorough examination. “Just try to relax -find something to entertain you. Go see Deburau some evening, and life will look different to you.” “Ah, dear sir,” answered the patient, “I am Deburau.”
- Walter Benjamin: “The Arcades Project”, D: Boredom, Eternal return. [D3a,3]
Deburau himself was hissed, and he vowed to play thereafter before no other public than those “naïfs and enthusiasts” who were habitués of the Boulevard du Crime. (…) But some of that public, however admiring, made the mistake of confusing his creation with his character, and one day in 1836, as he was out strolling with his family, he was taunted as a “Pierrot” by a street-boy, with ugly consequences: the boy died from one blow of his heavy cane.
- Wikipedia entry for “Jean-Gaspard Deburau”

Well it happened years ago, when you lived on Stanhope Road. We listened to your sister, when she came home from school, cos she was two years older, and she had boys in her room. We listened outside and heard her.

Well that was alright for a while, but soon I wanted more. I want to see as well as hear, and so I hid inside her wardrobe. And she came round four, and she was with some kid called David, from the garage up the road. I listened outside I heard her: “Oh I want to take you home. I want to give you children. You might be my girlfriend, yeah.”

When I saw you next day, I really couldn’t tell, cos you might go and tell your mother. And so you went with Neve, and Neve was coming on, and I thought I heard you laughing, when his Mum and Dad were gone. I listened outside, I heard you: “Oh I want to take you home. I want to give you children. You might be my girlfriend, yeah.

Well I guess it couldn’t last too long. I came home one day, and all her things were gone, I fell asleep inside. I never heard her come. And then she opened up her wardrobe, and I had to get it on. Oh, listen we were on the bed when you came home, I heard you stop outside the door. I know you won’t believe it’s true, I only went with her ‘cos she looks like you. Oh I want to take you home. I want to give you children. You might be my girlfriend, yeah.

- Pulp: “Babies" (1993)

Seventeen, high-school queen. Yeah you’re pretty cute, I can see. Well you’ve come a long way since September but, Sylvie, you oughtta remember: you know he’s mine.

Sylvie, girl, I’m a very patient person but I’ll have to shut you down if you don’t give up your flirting. Leave him alone, ‘cause I know he loves me. Leave him alone, ‘cause he tells me he loves me over and over and over and over again.

Seventeen, high-school queen. Yeah you’re pretty cute, I can see. Well you’ve come a long way since September but, Sylvie, you oughtta remember: you know he’s mine

Sylvie, girl, although you’re my little sister, well you’re not without your charms I’m not sure that he’ll resist you. Give it all up, for we see you crying. Give it all up, ‘cause I know you’ve been trying over and over and over and over again.

- Saint Etienne: “Sylvie" (1998)