Mental Map for Visible Cities

I:  “Beauty Unforeseen” had the following epigraph:
It is as though beautiful things have been placed here and there throughout the world to serve as small wake-up calls to perception, spurring lapsed alertness back to its most acute level.  Through its beauty, the world continually recommits us to a rigorous standard of perceptual care:  if we do not search it out, it comes and finds us. 
Elaine Scarry, One Beauty and Being Just, 81.
This seemed appropriate for a series of photographs of back lanes that are really rather beautiful.

Page 3:  Back Lane 1:  Unforeseen  (The earlier title of this poem was “Blue Beauties.”
(Ottawa 2012)

With the good, the true, and the useful, man is merely in earnest; but with the beautiful, he plays. 
Friedrich Schiller, Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man

Page 7:  Back Lane 2:  Quiet City
(Chicago 2010)

This city which cannot be expunged from the mind is like an armature, a honeycomb in whose cells each of us can place the things he wants to remember:  names of famous men, virtues, numbers, vegetable and mineral classifications, dates of battles, constellations, parts of speech. 
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 15

Page 15:  Back Lane 4:  Wood door a la Rothko

Untitled (Purple, White, and Red), 1953 follows the characteristic format of Mark Rothko’s mature work, in which stacked rectangles of color appear to float within the boundaries of the canvas.  By directly staining the canvas with many thin washes of pigment and paying particular attention to the edges where the fields interact, he achieved the effect of light radiating from the image itself.  This technique suited Rothko’s metaphysical aims:  to offer painting as a doorway into purely spiritual realms, making it as immaterial and evocative as music, and to directly communicate the most essential, raw forms of human emotion. 
Didactic panel, Chicago Institute of Art

Page 19:  Back Lane 5:  Maps
(Ottawa, behind the Lord Elgin Hotel 2012)

A map to nowhere is not a true or a false map; it is not a map at all, except perhaps for the despairing.
Mark Kingwell, Concrete Reveries, 188 

Just as, in Heidegger’s famous formulation, language speaks us, we should be careful to notice that maps read us rather than the other way around.
Mark Kingwell, Concrete Reveries, 192

Section II:  “Questions in Our Pockets,” with a nod to the curiosity that lies behind the poet’s recreation of the lives the photographer has captured here.  The epigraph for the section came from Jane Jacobs, who is one of the manuscript’s patron saints, along with Mark Kingwell:

In the field, many fires are burning.  They are of many sizes, some great, others small; some far apart, others dotted closer together; some are brightening, some are slowly going out.  Each fire, large or small, extends its radiance into the surrounding murk, and thus it carves out a space.  But the space and the shape of that space exist only to the extent that the light from the fire creates it.

The murk has no shape or pattern except where it is carved into space by the light.  Where the murk between the lights becomes deep and undefinable and shapeless, the only way to give it form or structure is to kindle new fires in the murk or sufficiently enlarge the nearest existing fire.

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 376-77

Page 39:  De Chirico on Wall Street
(Broad Street and Pearl in the NYC Financial District 2011)

Architectural beauty belongs to what Arthur Danto calls the ‘third realm’ of beauty:  the realm of application, where beauty is neither natural (sunsets and fields) nor purely artistic (the so-called fine arts)….In the third realm beauty is always political because it always addresses, in some manner, how to live.
Mark Kingwell, Concrete Reveries, 81

The corporate state knows only one word:  more. 
Chris Hedges, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, xii-xii

Page 47:  Improvisation
Washington Square, NYC, 2011

We may even begin to find new forms of selfhood, new subject positions and nodes of identity, by way of our being outside ourselves:  the dance of movement on the streets, the kinesthesis of walking, the artwork of self-presentation. 
Mark Kingwell, Concrete Reveries, 235 

Intricacy is related to the variety of reasons for which people come to neighborhood parks.  Even the same person comes for different reasons at different times; sometimes to sit tiredly, sometimes to play or to watch a game, sometimes to read or work, sometimes to show off, sometimes to fall in love, sometimes to keep an appointment, sometimes to savor the hustle of the city from a retreat, sometimes in the hope of finding acquaintances, sometimes to get closer to a bit of nature, sometimes to keep a child occupied, sometimes simply to see what offers, and almost always to be entertained by the sight of other people. Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 303

Page 51:  Talking about the dogs
Chicago 2010 (E Delaware and Michigan Avenue)

There is no one narrative of a city, but many narratives construct cities in different ways highlighting some aspects and not others….There are many cities and many stories to be told.
Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson, “City Imaginaries.”  Blackwell Companion to the City, 14, 17.

Page 59:  Dare
Central Park, NYC, 2011

Only play, with its roots in undirected and nonutilitarian desire, its utopian overtones of refusing to assimilate or end or be located, can free us from the stalls of self.
Mark Kingwell, Concrete Reveries, 230

Page 63:  Ladders
Regina about 2005

With cities, it is as with dreams:  everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, a fear.  Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 44; italics in original

Section III:  “What Would Banksy Do?”—a bit of graffiti I noticed on the TransCanada highway in Ernfold SK.  Although all these poems deal with the ways a city’s citizens leave their marks on cityspace, Banksy only comes into this section in a minor way—though I still love the question.

Page 79:  Buds of romance under University Bridge
[Tombs or dolmens] mattered, in the main, as interior spaces, houses of stone for the special dead in the ancient embrace of the earth.  Exposed, today, they seem to have risen with awkward courage out of the soil and steadied themselves ponderously.  In their stark abstraction, they remind us of the primary urge in all architecture, the struggle to stand up against the pull of gravity. 
Spiro Kostof, A History of Architecture, 32

Page 83:  Yarn Bombing Passage Du Grand Cerf
(Paris 2013)

Just as that remarkable covered walkway had done for earlier generations, so today a few arcades still preserve, in dazzling light and shadowy corners, a past become space.  Antiquated trades survive within these inner spaces, and the merchandise on display is unintelligible, or else has several meanings….[A]lready they have about them something enigmatic.  “Albert at No. 83” will in all likelihood be a hairdresser, and “Theatrical Tights” will be silk tights; but these insistent letterings want to say more. 
Walter Benjamin Arcades Project, 871

Section IV:  “Reflections in a Camera’s Eye”

Page 103:  Restore
(ReStore:  Habitat for Humanity, Regina)

Thinking happens in places, and places for thinking are necessary to our narratives of self.  The interior, domestic or mental, is too often conceived as a place of comfort or security, a cozy escape or a private fastness.  That is a mistake, the latter conceptual, the former political.  An interior is always far more than a retreat, a contested space, a philosophical wrestling ring where insanity reflects on the mystery of being a self, a mind, a consciousness, of being here at all.  Where the thresholds allow, indeed demand, movement in both directions.  Where time and space themselves are up for grabs.  Where every crossing is a venture, every return a challenge.  Where we take time, not for paradise exactly, but to acknowledge that we cannot overcome the circumstances of thought through thought itself. 
Mark Kingwell Concrete Reveries, 215 

Page 111:  Flea Market
Randall Street, Chicago 2010

The market city, based on individual adherence to the power of the market (I am what I consume), provides little in the way of cosmic significance.  Consumption- and wealth-display provide only one layer of meaning and little by the way of spiritual depth and resistance to the contingencies of human life and suffering.  The market gives us social positioning, not human understanding; social ranking, not communal meaning.  At its existentialist bleakest the city becomes a setting for the meaningless passage of the individual through a blind universe, bereft of meaning. 
John Rennie Short, “Three Urban Discourses,” 23

Page 115:  Orchids in Grand Cerf Arcade
Paris 2013

□Light in the Arcades □ Mirrors □ The arcade is the hallmark of the world Proust depicts.  Curious that, like this world, it should be bound in its origin to the existence of plants.  Walter Benjamin, Arcades Project, 158

Page 119:  Rue St. Honoré
Paris, 2013

Richard Sennett wrote “Plate Glass and the Soul” to mark the 100th anniversary of Mies van der Rohe’s birth, noting that Mies was “the architect who more than anyone else made plate glass the material through which our century defines the relation between inner and outer:  the outside entirely visible from within, yet hermetically sealed off.”
Richard Sennett, “Plate Glass and the Soul,” 14

The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 11

Section V:  “Grids"

Even the grid, a seemingly secular form of urban design, contains a fantasy of turning chaos into order, transforming topography into geometry.  The very act of founding a city and planning a city was connected to how the wider world worked; human involvement in and responsibility for the world were embodied in city location, city form, and city shape.  The city was the cosmos, the cosmos was embodied in the city.  This macrocosm-microcosm also extended from city to body. 
John Rennie Short, “Three Urban Discourses,” 22 

Page 125:  Daedalus at work
(Elgin Street, Ottawa 2012)

Henceforth, as Fourier had seen, the true framework for the life of the private citizen must be sought increasingly in offices and commercial centers.  The fictional framework for the individual’s life is constituted in the private home….The attempt by the individual to vie with technology by relying on his inner flights leads to his downfall:  the architect Solness kills himself by plunging from his tower.
Walter Benjamin, Arcades Project, 20

From these office windows will come to us the feeling of lookouts [vigies] dominating a world in order.  Le Corbusier, Urbanisme, 154.

Page 129:  Threshold
Montreal, 2012

Buildings structure interiors within an exterior, and although they might be composed of materials such as concrete, glass and steel, they are actually made of thresholds; they could not exist but for the presumed crossing and recrossing of the boundaries they embrace….What is involved here?  That is, what relationships of time and space, of consciousness and identity, of necessity and freedom are created by the move from outside to in and back again? ... What do we seek in this crossing over, this transgression.  Is it comfort?  Security?  Control?  Or perhaps something deeper and more challenging:  the act of thinking itself? 

Mark Kingwell, Concrete Reveries, 89, 159.  Emphasis in original


Benjamin, Walter.  Arcades Project.  Translated by Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin.  Cambridge, MA.:  Harvard UP, 1999.

Bridge, Gary, and Sophie Watson.  A Companion to the City.  Oxford:  Blackwell, 2000.

Calvino, Italo.  Invisible Cities.  Trans. William Weaver.  New York:  Harcourt Brace, 1978

Donoghue, Denis.  Metaphor.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard UP, 2014.

Jacobs, Jane.  The Death and Life of Great American Cities.  New York:  Random House, 1961.

Heath, Joseph.  Enlightenment 2.0.  Toronto:  Harper Collins, 2014.

Hedges, Chris, and Joe Sacco.  Days of Destruction Days of Revolt.  Toronto:  Knopf Canada, 2012.

Kingwell, Mark.  Concrete Reveries:  Consciousness and the City.  Toronto:  Viking, 2008.

Kostof, Spiro.  A History of Architecture:  Settings and Rituals.  New York:  Oxford UP, 1995.

Lennard, Suzanne H. Crowhurst and Henry L. Lennard.  Livable Cities Observed.  Carmel CA:  Gondolier Pess, 1995.

Scarry, Elaine.  On Beauty and Being Just.  Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1999.
Observed.  Carmel CA:  Gondolier Press, 1995.

Rybczynski, Witold.  Makeshift Metropolis.  New York:  Scribner, 2010.

Schiller, Friedrich.  Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man.   Trans. Reginald Snell.  Mineola N.Y.:  Dover Publications, 2004.,

Sennett, Richard.  “Plate Glass and the Soul.”  Harper’s Magazine, June 1986:  14.

Short, John Rennie.  “Three Urban Discourses.”  A Companion to the City.  Ed Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson.  Oxford:  Blackwell, 2000: 18-25.

Thrift, Nigel J.  “With Child to See Any Strange Thing:  Everyday Life in the City.”  A Companion to the City.  Oxford:  Blackwell, 200:  398-411,

Weschler, Lawrence.  Vermeer in Bosnia.  New York:  Knopf, 2005.

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