OMNI ESSE DEO DVBITANDVM
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Socrates, Samuel Johnson as well as Karl Marx are all well known for having issued certain epigrams which extol the virtues and necessities of city living if one is endeavored to try and understand human nature and existence. In addition to these musings, they also presented admonitions against the provincial and bucolic, Marx’s derogation being on display within the title of this essay. These feelings are ones that I have also experienced for the majority of my life, my native conurbation being the SF Bay Area. I have always felt a certain unease if not just plain alienation when ever I have been enjoined into a trip or “vacation” to the countryside (thankfully though these excursions have been mercifully few in number). And by the time I reached the age of reason, it became rather obvious that if one’s intractable interest was in humanity, with all of its progressions and failings, then there was no where else to study and realize its existential epitome than within the environs of a city, particularly a cosmopolitan city such as San Francisco. Now that I am an adult urbanite, I have come to view this notion as essential if not axiomatic for the literary metier, most especially for writers of prose.
In these United States, one often encounters in both past and current political populist rhetoric, appeals to rural or small town values. Concomitant with these populist conjectures is the defense of small town (or Real American as our conservative demagogues would have us believe) values against the Coastal Elitism. What could these provincially attempted oppugns mean or be referencing? It is an obvious acknowledgement of where America’s exiguous cosmopolitanism resides along with the locus of all progressive social valuations which are currently extant in this republic. Maintaining this view also reveals why the rural or Mid-West areas of this republic are fecundate breeding grounds and sanctuaries for all social and political reactionaries. This is why such puerile slanders are in point of fact compliments (even if unintentionally) as well as vindication for one’s own decidedly hostile views towards parochial ignorance.
Another urban realization of which I have come to understand is that there are two distinct types of native city dweller. The first type is found in the individual who through the course of their life becomes so overwhelmed by urban anxiety, that they end up exiling themselves from their city to some other more wooded and verdant patch of earth. Then there is the second type of urbanite who realizes that there is no place but within a city in which they could live, function, and prosper–no exaggeration. I can safely say that I belong to the latter category.
So what is the continuing attraction then, existentially speaking, that enraptures the city dweller? There is and always has been since antiquity a unique material manifestation which occurs when people live in dense proximity to one another. And more important still is the universal quality possessed and shared by all world cities that this kind of human construct creates: the intoxicating blend of sites, smells (from food that is, though there are many others not so pleasant), and cultures from around the globe; the ability to hear several different languages being spoken while only walking a few blocks; access to the world’s civilizational achievements through museums, theaters, and street fairs. This metropolitan reality enlivens a rich tapestry of social intercourse which is endlessly fascinating and informative to anyone interested in psychology and/or any other of the social sciences. This would be the chief defense and reason why city dwelling is so essential for writers such as myself–essayists, polemicists, and the like.
And we urbanites are well aware of how lucky we are to reside within the sublime heights of human existence with access to every type of cultural and heuristic endeavor. As an ardent urbanite, philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre was well aware that the metropolitan milieu is quite capable of inducing transcendence as well. Writing of city streets he said that “they are more than just thoroughfares, they are social milieus; you pause there, meet others, drink, eat, and live there. Sunday you dress up and go for a walk for the pleasure of greeting friends, to see and be seen. These are the streets that inspired Jules Romains with his ‘unanimism.’ They are infused with a collective spirit which varies with each hour of the day.” Unanimism, what a concept—for does one not intrinsically feel a cumulative urban consciousness arising from city living in which we all sip from? Does one not feel even if only tacitly like a supplicant entering a concrete and glass temple when immersed within the streets and alleys of an urban jungle? Even though I give no credence to anything that claims there is a possibility of transcending individual subjective consciousness in order to reach an objectivity, there nonetheless is something quite intriguing and yes, even true about this concept in its urban materialization.
The anoesis I experience just by walking the streets of my city I can not imagine ever growing bored of, let alone not have access to. Everything I need materially and philosophically is found here. So the attempted populist slanders which the small time townees hurl at urban elites can only arise from a place of jealousy and fear. Their benighted world is destined to dissolve and wash away while the continued evolution of internationalism will eventuate into a state of world urbanity. In the future, it will no longer be asked what country are you from or in which country do you reside (or hopefully any other such sectarian query)? Instead the question will be, what city are you from? This is a future I look forward to and long for with…oh yes, vellicating anticipation.
*All photos were taken by me in San Francisco during the years 2005-08.
I’d love to follow this post, but it seems that you are showcasing your vocabulary rather than your ideas. Forgive me, but it may be blogs like this that give credence to the complaint about “coastal elitists.” There is a difference between intelligent commentary and pedantic word vomit. In my humble opinion, yours is the latter.
Thank you Eric for your comment, it is indeed much appreciated. Despite your professed humility in issuing forth critical invective, you give me the awful impression of having not read my essay completely or thoroughly before executing your rebuff. One of course can take umbrage with literary style and presentation, but to accuse me of not presenting ideas at all is fatuous. You compound your error and make it all the more obvious when you solely accuse me of logorrhea and empty thought. Is that really the extent of your criticism? What of my notions on urban living and the cosmopolitan? What of the philosophical notions of the existential contained within urban life. What of my references to Sartre and Romains? You have nothing to say about any of these ideations and attempted syntheses. Are you even capable of saying anything about these subjects? You also seemed to entirely miss the point where I explicitly state that the attempted pejorative of elitist is always a compliment no matter the tone of voice in which it is issued (more often than not elicited by resentment and insecurity, intellectual or otherwise). I immensely love your comment though, as it perfectly encapsulates the main thesis of the essay. I do not think you realized that that was what you were doing, but I thank you anyway.