Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dreams, Environs

[Conversation between two people in a car on the westbound lane of Route 119, ten miles outside Boulder, Colorado.]

"What I'm saying is that there is something in the city, every city -- in particular the long-established metropolises: your Philadelphias, New Yorks, Seattles, and San Diegos -- that seems deeply tangled up in the surreal. Waking, moving about, working, resting, watching the sun rise and set in such a place, you can't help feeling a sense of the uncanny. A kind of déjà vu, displacement -– a psychic itch. As though a doppelganger were staring back at you from every street lamp, crossing sign, and turnstile. It's like an altered state of consciousness. A pre-lucid dream that never gives itself away, but never totally fools you into supposing it's real, never jostles you awake. I’ve lived in many cities....and it never stops. It never leaves you. Am I dreaming? Is this place for real? Because it is a dream. To live in the city is to be within a composite sculpture of humanity's soul -- a vision of our secret self that understands only desire and geometry, rendered in brick and steel, glass and garbage. Every constituent piece of your surroundings was devised by a human mind, wrought by human means, crafted to facilitate human purposes and interests. Man's perception, intelligence, experience, and understanding of what is possible, incarnate as a landscape. That's what the city is. But then -- what's all of this? These mountains, these forests? Where is the artificer? Involuntarily conceived across eons, collected into cohesion and form through currents operating independently of intent or intelligence...such things would be inconceivable to us were our terrestrial existence not shared with theirs -- but they are still fundamentally alien, outside of us, independent of our nature. Malleable at best, hostile at worst. And yet we are profoundly bound to it, shaped as we were by the same inscrutable engine of action, reaction, cause, and effect..."

"I suppose it follows that it isn't our dream, but --"

"We are part of its dream. Or of the dream containing it."

"So our cities are dreams within a dream."



"What isn't?"


  1. Interesting. So I take it you were involved in this conversation? Where you the one waxing philosophic or the sounding board?

    As someone who lives in a city (Seattle if you're curious) I can see what this person is getting at. There is something interesting being surrounded by something completely designed by man. Sometimes I love it. Other times I hate it and long to live in the country where my nearest neighbor is separated from me by trees and grass as opposed to me being able to look out my living room window and in to his.

    Which mindset I subscribe to seems to relate to how often I've gotten out recently.

  2. Hey Pitchfork, is there any way I could contact you through email or an instant messenger? I'd like your counsel on a decision.

  3. Adam: Actually, it's an excerpt from this novella/novel I've been working on for the last few months and is DRIVING ME CRAZY. I think I was struck by the thought that inspired this thing about a month ago -- after taking the early, early train into Manhattan (from the suburbs, mind you) and watching my new environment materialize as the sun rose. It seemed brilliant at the time, but I was also very tired and caffeinated.

    Zade: Strange. I thought there'd be a mailto link somewhere on this thing.

    I would strongly advise you not to take any of my advice, though.

  4. I think I know the feeling described here, thank you for presenting it so lucidly. Have you read The Fountainhead? This reminds me of certain passages from it (the parts that I like). Despite the praise the book has drawn from the tea party/libertarians and the bafflingly vehement scorn of at least one Buddhist I know, I don't completely hate it.

  5. You've talked me into thinking about giving it a shot.