Thursday, June 10, 2004

Green Cross Code Man, pray for me. This is a long one, and before we start, you need to know that 'Park' is Chicago school sociologist Richard E. Park. Ready now?
"To get from my flat to the nearest tube station, I have to walk round two sides of a grassy square full of pigeons, then cross a tumultuous main road on which heavy trucks persistently thunder. Park seems to suggest that because these trucks fulfil someone else's 'recognised needs' I ought to say to myself: 'I don't mind being kept hopping in fear of my life for ten minutes at the side of the road, because quite clearly Mr X needs to transport his tractor parts to the Continent in container lorries and I recognise his right as a fellow citizen to temporarily inconvenience me.' In fact I feel about the road much as a primitive tribesman might feel about a dangerous river given to unpredictable floods. I personify and apostrophise it, I attribute mysterious and malign volitions to its traffic, and it frequently disturbs my dreams. The example is perhaps frivolous: the general point is not. When the needs and reason for things of 'culture' become sufficiently divorced form our own personal needs and wishes, they turn as intractably alien as anything in nature. A road full of container trucks blocking my path seems to me, at the time of barely-avoided impact, almost uniquely irrational; a park full of grass, trees and pigeons strikes me as a thoroughly sensible arrangement." - Jonathan Raban, Soft City.
[Soft City, by Jonathan Raban, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1974. Although rather dated in the intensity of its despair about civic planning, this captures a lot of the sensations of being new and lost in a big city. And if only they'd bring it back into print, I could stop buying secondhand copies and giving them to people.]

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