May 21, 2007

The Body Civic

{I doubt this film exhibit is still up, as this piece goes back a while. One of the reasons I started a blog is so that topical pieces of this kind would have at least one immediate home in the world of actually receivable texts}

The art film 'Sleepwalking,' currently being projected on the skin of MOMA in New York, sounds interesting (Tilda Swinton's in it, that'st enough to get me watching all by itself), but I don't know about the shooting script. This is how it begins (as quoted in Simon Houpt's Globe and Mail column):

"This is a city that resembles a human body in every way, from the sidewalks, Internet cable and subway tunnels that are its veins, to the people and vehicles, fuelled by gasoline, coffee and alcohol, that surge through these veins like blood. The city's heart pulses to the rhythm of the street noise and flashing traffic lights, but it's the mind that drives everything. The city's visceral human nature--its passion, violence and lust--is obsessed with time, as the city, like the body, constantly replenishes itself. The city lives nowhere more strongly than the present."
Perhaps somebody who's seen the film can tell me how that passage (and others like it--I fear there must be more) is rendered onscreen. Sounds about as filmable as a passage from the phone book.

Apparently that's also as far as the scriptwriter carries the 'city/body' analogy, but there's lots more parts to a body than that, and inquiring minds want to know:

What part of the city resembles the lymph nodes?
the clavicle?
lungs in perfect balance beside each other, inside their cage of bone?
eyebrows? earlobes?
humerus or funny bone?
toes? toenails? opposable thumb?
white and red corpuscles in the blood?

A city has lights and so has the body, but they certainly don't resemble each other. Eyes don't resemble a city's lights, since at best lights aid the function of the human eye: they see nothing independently. No more do the omnipresent cameras, in any case they more resemble a fly's multiple eyes than a human's one pair to a customer. (Do they call the parallax view that, because it's the inevitable effect of having a pair of eyes? If so they should use their spell-check. And how is it that with so many eyes a fly, easily half the time, doesn't see the swatter coming?)
A human whose bowels were no more efficient than an average city sewage system would be in serious trouble: hookups to monitors of beeping and humming machines. Then again, many if not most of our cities are in serious trouble, due to backup of sewage among a wide array of other problems. So perhaps this resemblance holds.

Pubic hair, body hair, facial hair? Ferns and shrubs seem an imperfect analogy, and if grass is a city's body hair, there can't be many cities that resemble Robin Williams.
If city grass is body hair, the closest analogy to a parking lot would be a shaved leg. Now I don't know of a single city anywhere in the world that concentrates all its parking lots in two long strips on the south end. Unsurprisingly--it would be utterly impractical. More than that, I don't know any city that has parking lots on every side of two heavy thickets of bush, hedgerow and forest that protectively encircle the city's main pulsing generators. So the analogy is flawed here as well.

Traffic lights are a city's nerve synapses? not really because 1.) the instructions given by nerve synapses are considerably more varied and complex; 2.) the nerves pay attention to signals from the synapses.

Neon is probably not the city equivalent of semen--but you tell me what is. Billboard and subway advertising? Window displays? Metron and pixelboard explosions, shimmerings and reconfigurations? Possibly it's ubiquitous, seeping through every porous hole in asphalt, cement and plain back alley dirt--civilization (which at root means city living) is regularly cited by historians and anthropologists as a seminal human development. If semen's ever been known to leak out every pore of the human body, it certainly hasn't when I've been observing. Gah! I hope it never does.

"The hand of God in the heart of the city"; is that a grotesque image or what? It shows what happens when you mix your metaphors too freely. It only gets worse when you insist two things are identical "in every way." because you've thought up a couple slight points of resemblance.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

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