On Longing – Susan Stewart

November 4, 2009


“Let me begin with the invisibility and blindness of the suburbs.  Between classes, a fundamental slippage – the absence of the landscape of voyage.  The suburbs present us with a negation of the present; a landscape consumed by its past and its future.  Hence the two foci of the suburbs: the nostalgic and the technological. A butterchurn fashioned into an electric light, a refrgerator covered by children’s drawings, the industreial “park,” the insurance company’s “campus.”  The celibacy of the suburbs articulates its inversion of nature: the woman becomes a sun, the man a revolving moon.  Here is a landscape of apprehension: close to nature, and not sonsumed by her; close to culture, close enough to consume her.  In the topography of the suburbs is revealed the topography of the family, the development , a network of social relations and their articulated absences.  To walk in the suburbs is to announce a crippling, a rennunciation of speed.  In the suburbs only outsiders walk, while the houses are illuminated as stages, scenes of an uncertain action.  In these overapparent arrangements of interior space, confusion and distance mark the light.
The countryside: space ideal, space of childhood and death.  The forest remote, water mirroring not ourselves but the infinite distance of sky.  WIthin patterns of nature, we search for traces of the human: a tiny rowboat pulled up to shore, the oars folded and asleep.  Perhaps a figure, but microscopic, and on the edge of some oblivion — a cliff, or the other side of the painting.  Everwhere signs of cultivatoin and wilderness: the plowed field of poetic lines, the ax left leaning against a colossal tree.  The countryside unfolds, maplike before us, simultaneous and immediate.  And yet always the problems of horizon and distance, the problems of depth and breadth.  As we begin to traverse the field of vision, the tragedy of our partial knowledge lies behind us.  The distance becomes infinite, each step an illusion of progress and movement.  Our delight in flying comes from the revelation of countryside as sky and sea, from the transcendence we experience over vast spaces.  Yet to see the thin and disappearing signature of the jet is to see the poverty of this flight to omniscience; in each photo appears the grim machinery of the wing.  In the notion of return, of cycle, of the reclamation of landscape, lies the futility and productive possibility of human making.
To walk in the city is to experience the disjuncture of partial vision/partial consciousness.  The narrativity of this walking is believed by a simultaneity we know and yet cannot experience.  As we turn a corner, our object disappears around the next corner.  The sides of the street conspire against us; each attention suppresses a field of possibilities.  The discourse of the city is a syncretic discourse, political in its untranslatability.  Hence the language of the state elides it.  Unable to speak all the city’s languages, unable to speak all at once, the state’s language becomes monumental, the silence of headquarters, t he silence of the bank.  In this transcendent and anonymous silence is the miming of corporate relations.  Between the night workers and the day workers lies the interface of light; in the rotating shift, the disembodiment of lived time.  The walkers of the city travel at difference speeds, their steps the hand-writing of a personal mobility.  In the milling of the crowd is the choking of class relations, the interruption of speed, and the machine.  Hence the barbarism of police on horses, the sudden terror of the risen animal.
Here are three landscapes, landscapes “complete” and broken from one another as a paragraph is.  And at the edge of town, the camp of the gypsies.”

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