The phallic city

May 27, 2007

To become is never to imitate, nor to ‘do like,’ nor to conform to a model, whether it’s of justice or of truth. There is no terminus from which you set out, none which you arrive at or which you ought to arrive at. Nor are there two terms which are exchanged. The question, ‘What are you becoming?’ is particularly stupid. For as someone becomes, what he is becoming changes as much as he does himself. Becomings are not phenomena of imitation or assimilation, but of a double capture, of non-parallel evolution, of nuptials between two reigns. […] The wasp and the orchid provide the example. The orchid seems to form a wasp image, but in fact there is a wasp-becoming of the orchid, an orchid-becoming of the wasp, a double capture since ‘what’ each becomes changes no less than ‘that which’ becomes. The wasp becomes part of the orchid’s reproductive apparatus at the same time as the orchid becomes the sexual organ of the wasp. One and the same becoming, a single bloc of becoming […].

-Gilles Deleuze, Dialogues II

I have a particular strategy for cities that seems hardly to change, no matter how many of them I visit. Though I may have a few places I explicitly want to visit, I spend the vast majority of my time simply walking myself to absolute exhaustion. It isn’t uncommon for me to walk between 100 and 150 blocks a day when I visit New York City, as I did this weekend. And when I lived in Korea, I would often stay out most of Friday night at the Westerner bar, then take the first bus into downtown Seoul at 5:50 AM, catching a little bit of sleep on the way. I would spend almost the whole day walking from there, usually not arriving back at home until around 10 at night. Another one of my favorite memories is when I walked to the Fukuoka airport in the pre-dawn rain and waited in a phone booth for the airport’s doors to be unlocked.

This is not the only kind of energy expenditure I undertake in cities. Usually parsimonious, I somehow don’t mind shelling out for extravagances when I’m on one of these urban treks. I bought some very nice tea this weekend, for example, and ate at a fairly pricey Korean place.

Is this expenditure – expenditure to the point of scrimping at other times – a type of invagination? A way of contributing myself to the massive enterprise that is the city, so that it will, for at least a little while, have the fruits of my exertion circulating on the surface of its incredible facade? A method of bilocation or preservation such that, on my next visit, I can compare my present self to the self whose energies still coruscate in that city (or at least in my mental image of that city) and thus gauge the changes I undergo?

The city as mnemonic device, each scene being an index to the last time I visited it. Walking by the southeast corner of Central Park this weekend, I remembered the times I was there with Clif and with Jia-Jia, and remember getting an idea for a blog entry about the shape of the Apple Store. Memory is recovered in these scenes, the space for which is created through the evacuation of intimate resources. It’s once I’m exhausted that I find in my surroundings an impetus to continue through my tiredness, that there’s a greater exchange between the city and me – or, as the quote from Deleuze might suggest, a greater sense of becoming.

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3 Responses to “The phallic city”

  1. sleepy kev Says:

    Your last paragraph reminds me of a similar phenomenon that I experience frequently, in cities and elsewhere: if I feel strongly about something that happened in a particular location, I will keenly remember whatever music I was listening to at the time when I go back to that location. Even if the song was the thing that I felt strongly about, the recollection will occur. It works the other way, too: the song evokes the place. I wish I could make a little catalog of all these matches, but I have to stumble across them.


  2. me- “man, where is this place?
    you- “…I don’t really mind just walking around”.
    Truth is, neither do I. Though, I prefer walking endlessly in a little cooler temperature. 😉

  3. Nathaniel Says:

    Oh, Nanet, you know that the Japanese sweets were totally worth wandering around for!


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