Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Concept of life in cities by Hatto Fischer

The concept of life in cities


Hatto Fischer

Naturally exemptions set aside, the most baffling fact of life in cities is that things are set so far apart, that it becomes already a major news item when still another person, one of the aged, have died and no one noticed it in the neighborhood until two weeks later. No one seemed to notice that this particular person was no longer coming to the bakery to pick up aside from milk some bread. Something like this happened to the writer Uwe Johnson who lived somewhat excluded, outside an English village; since his house had automatic switches to put on and off the lights, and because his cleaning lady did not go to the house for two weeks, his death went unnoticed for quite some time.

Indeed, people can disappear in cities even before they have died. Some call it the result of social exclusion. Others, like Durkheim when researching into the causes of suicide, mentioned social isolation. At literary and therefore descriptive level, it seems as if neighbors and other urban residents remember only vaguely that quivering hand when begging for some coins or else when in the post office taking lots of time in search of coins in order to pay. The others get immediately impatient. They are in a hurry. Life in the cities has become in that way almost unbearable.

Factors which are testing constantly the social fabric still left intact in urban environments, whether now in New York or Heraklion, they can be described as burdens, hardships, tendencies, feelings (especially out of place). There are now not only the isolated old people, the homeless, the beggars and alcoholics, but also the children growing up between cars and / or only in apartments. That altogether seems to indicate that the social fabric is thin and not well adjusted to the many negative outcomes of the system we have been living in for at least the last fifty years, that is since the end of Second World War. Given in addition to that the many accidents on the roads or the rising costs of renting any kind of space, the crucial question becomes what can urban society still sustain? The rejects cast aside or left to cope alone, that is without any significant support by either family or community, shows already the alarming sign of a rising number of people who are either not integrated or are not willing to join society in its present formation.

There is also confusion about what society can do or offer to sustain desired for living patterns. It is not easy to step outside some ideological notion and confront reality full on, but that is what is needed.

Of course, aside from the homeless people living out in the streets, the bags people as they are called in America, there are those who feel excluded by not finding the right partner for life. Hence they feel the urban culture in which they are growing up in and forced to respond to, that precisely this culture does not recognize them in terms of their own needs or what they can do potentially themselves in human terms to contribute to society.

Self understanding is and has always been a problematic premise for differentiating individual from social needs. Things cannot be done without some recognition. It is something that everyone needs and without which every person would be reduced not only to the level of mere existence but at risk to feel nothingness in terms of personal value. In practical terms, many end up working as salesman or saleswoman despite having a university degree, but then without jobs people have to sell the ‘self’ or downgrade their own personality in order to just get a paying job. Thus you can find in supermarkets very often the most beautiful woman offering you a yogurt or some other new product as part of an advertising strategy linked to the wish to market a new product.

Interestingly enough, it seems that in countries like Greece doing such a job seems possible without loss of status; in other countries taking on such a job would mean degradation par excellence. However, this observation must be qualified according to how people manage to cope differently given support, for example, by the family or not. Generally these jobs are not well paid and most often the dirtiest ones. They are done by people with little or no formal education and if not by them then by immigrants. It means that any kind of social fabric must give some form of protection to people being forced to work under all sorts of dismal conditions. In short, whatever the work culture must give human self-esteem the possibility to express itself actively and therefore give to every individual a chance to live in dignity.

When talking to people of all walks of life, they would say that they can no longer cope. They don’t like big cities anymore. They hate the noise, the many people and suffer due to a lack of sleep. They miss the kind of dexterity in how things, animals and people are treated. They see urban landscapes having been destroyed by housing complexes out of human scale and most often next to super highways exposing them to both air and noise pollution.

In other words, there are many escape syndromes visible at the end of twentieth century, but instead of fleeing a continent and trying out their luck in the New World they try to leave the urban society behind by moving not into the countryside but to the suburbs. Always such escapes are accompanied by resignation. They have drawn the conclusion that life is no longer possible in the city.

General speaking, a great majority of people living in cities is paying a high price for doing so and not everyone succeeds in finding his or her niche to survive within the urban grid. Most of the time people end up scratching at the bare minimum when it comes to having resources available not merely to live on but to go on and do interesting things. Is this an outcome of Western civilization having come into crisis by having extended itself beyond the limits of the city after having driving people from the rural villages into urban centers? Or is it a sign of indifference because everyone seems to be just out to get for oneself what one manages to grab, and yet although not satisfied continues to act in that selfish way. Quite often the question is never really asked if that person did really enter a conversation with others to go beyond ‘doing nothing’ or ‘only for oneself’, in order to include a social dimension. It would mean not merely ‘passing the time’ or worse just killing time. Usually the latter is linked to simply ignoring what other people want and need.

Certainly it is not self-evident that true solutions are found by heeding others, but there is the ‘dialectic of life’ very often neglected or even worse forgotten altogether. It might be a minimum of ethical standards that other people’s needs have to be satisfied before one is able to fulfill one’s own and vice versa. That dialectic is conditioned by what Adorno said, namely that personal and social needs have to be brought into a balance for otherwise egoism shall overrule everything and end up destroying freedom (Horkheimer). It would make impossible just as much small as large things.

Thus the question is: have cities become egoistical centers with no concern whatsoever for the true substance of life and hence we experience all these different types of escape syndromes?

The problem cannot be resolved without considering the fact that true needs are hardly articulated since there appears to be no true, indeed self fulfilling life possible especially if caught in wrong structures which damage life. Here Adorno cautioned that ‘no true life can be possible in wrong structures’. One does know this about the person taking drugs, but does one know this about those who followed a model of leisure, build a house with swimming pool and still wonder why they are not really happy inside? What is that makes this ‘self’ so elusive, so difficult to convince by what we claim as being if not true then still as the most realistic possibility to be lived under these circumstances? There are many ‘selfs’ which go missing in wrong conversations whether small talks or superficial gossips with intend to exert some kind of power, even magical influence, just to feel not to be existing in vain.

Of course, such questions about social superficiality cannot be answered at those social levels which have developed an art to play around with superficialities while realizing fully what power resides inside of them. Thus make up, hair dos, types of shoes or clothes worn become a part of the standard repertoires by which people judge each other as if an indication to have made it in society or not. The difference is a sharp cutting edge, and it goes often with basic denials of other people who are flatly refused to be considered as being worth any further attention. In literature Robert Musil, but also in sociology Durkheim showed that the individual is not nearly strong enough to stand up all alone to these social structures due to their inherent powers. These very same structures seem to have grown in power as the urban society expanded and left the individual ever more stranded in abstract configurations of possible spaces in which he or she can interact with others. Hence many are driven into passivity or else they crowd exactly into those spaces which seem to be filled with ‘meaning’. In the past, these were the churches, nowadays everyone seems to go there where everyone else goes. Time is then consumed, or filled with entertainment as a kind of distraction from the real questions of the time. Spaces are filled with all kinds of disco sounds and flashing lights but which are on top of it all really experienced independently when at home to watch on television the surreal existence in cities. That means the lonely individual drowns out or forgets the lack of social ties by watching till late in the night all kinds of television programs one more superficial than the other and therefore most powerful as persuasive force this is the way life should be, can be or should not be lived. The does and don’t’s are varied with Hollywood coming up with ever new versions of entertainment as serious business to counter the emptiness of life by means of a magical story told in a very simple, that is convincing way. People want to believe what they hear and see even though they know such fantasies are far away from real life and what they have to endure on a daily basis. But then there are the poets to counter all of this.

The poetess Katerina Anghelaki Rooke is certainly oneperson who can never stand it when someone says to her, that ‘he or she is just killing time’! She revolts against the thought that life can be wasted. She is certain: it cannot be wasted at all. It is too precious. It is all what we human beings got! Her outcry resonates through all of her poetry. In them she describes life as something precious but equally inexpensive for it cannot be bought like a commodity in a department store even though there are those women who believe by buying a new hat they might just find their luck in life and be happy ever after. Poetry becomes a critical mirror for the self in what can be believed in and what has to be resolved without finding any convincing answers.

This element of what has made poetry into a mirror of life was perhaps something Ritsos had in mind when he wrote following poem:

The same night

When he switched on the light in his room, he knew at once

This was himself, in his own space, cut off from

The infinity of the night and from its long branches. He stood

Before the mirror to confirm himself. But what about these keys

Hung from his neck on a dirty string?

Perhaps the keys stand for property, without which a person has no identity and risks therefore never to be considered both as a person and human being. At least, this is according to the cruel sentence uttered by Hegel who claimed a person without property has no identity. That philosophy of negation has continued to date in a society which pretends to recognize only those as real persons with success stories of their own if they have property. That has fueled the creed to build more and more houses. There is this underlining drive to obtain through possessions of all kinds recognition even though a paradox. For once the door has fallen shut behind you, then you are all alone in your own space, but that is all. Things even like the mirror do not recognize you. Hence life does pass by with or without property. Things remain indifferent to what you say, do or think. Life is not only like that but to be found elsewhere.

We human beings tend to do trivial things and yet try to convert them into such important matters as if the entire world would depend upon them. That is why some things are overloaded with meanings while other things with deeper meanings are completely ignored. Indeed, there is at risk that we take things too seriously by taking ourselves too serious and therefore forget to laugh. Rather we should leave spaces free and untouched as Paula Meehan would put it. For life in cities does depend upon the dialectic between the ‘tamed’ and ‘untamed’ just that we retain in our imagination a sense of the ratio city to nature and vice versa un-build areas to built-up areas. Their differences can already be noticed that we begin to imagine quite different things as to what we can and are prepared to do in the urban space compared to what is for us possible in wild nature. That difference has been spanned by what is not called culture but civilization: a progress of mankind when it comes to use of tools and thoughtful manifestations about life in cities.

Without nature and city brought together in a meaningful, comparative and non comparative way, life would be out of balance. It would not be accessible due to the absence of a ratio of thinking about both in awareness of their differences. Some reduce, however, nature to mother earth while the city becomes one of God as if the power of abstraction assures some kind of unity of perception. This is not the case. It is both more simple and complicated at the same time than what can be articulated even as the most sophisticated urban philosophy. It is of interest that a poet like Brendan Kennelly recommends strongly the book written by Lewis Mumford about the ‘City in History’ and has published an anthology called ‘The Dubliners’ while recommending Paula Meehan to join this conference ‘Myth of the City’. At the same time, the writer Sofia Yannatou has written texts for her sister, the singer Savinna Yannatou who produced a radio program about Calvino’s invisible cities. There are many more examples of poetry transgressing the visible to reach out for the invisible something which takes you beyond the borders of a city and allows you to come to your senses once again. Nevertheless the ease by which they describe sometimes this transgression is in reality a progress made over time. It goes with the realization what unhealthy life many of us live when confined to only modern city life and its banishment of any true signs of nature safe for the weather and the air polluted by the number of cars and not only. Still, the surprising element of those who follow James Joyce is that all this poetry and descriptions of life in the city does not end up being an anti-city leaflet.

But once out of balance, we tend to forget the ‘golden rule’ needed to be followed throughout life. Otherwise it cripples our creativity. We tend to forget it when we become ourselves selfish and egoistical tyrants in our own little spaces which we claim to posses or to occupy ourselves. No one else is allowed to enter and to touch things without having obtained first our permission. In that sense a hierarchical disposition towards things is already off-setting not only the balance but the free dialogue between people.

One way to legitimize our own rule is to deduce falsely out of our own misperception that because the others don’t care what we do nor what impact their actions have upon others, that we do not care either. This “not caring’ has become a general attitude towards life in cities and is treated by economists as indifference curve along which another ratio is being set: we do not care as long as the others do not interfere in our own lives. The trade-off can be stretched along several parameters from driving in heavy traffic to going about doing one’s own business. All goes well as long as the economy keeps everyone happy i.e. in a position to earn the necessary money to uphold these stakes of privacy from owning a house, car and maybe a second home to being able to do things without having to ask anyone’s else for permission as one can pay for everything from the ride in the bus to an expensive dinner at the top floor of a five star hotel. Everything changes once that basic assumption about the economy no longer holds.

Indeed the spaces in cities have created layers upon layers of invariant liberties. They express and are equated with independencies people live to enjoy as they go about their daily businesses and activities. Poetry since Homer has shown, however, by overcoming distances in terms of travel time from one destiny to another, they have created in reality even greater time distances between themselves. That is why Homer’s Odysseus could only be retold by James Joyce as an urban version of traveling not for 22 years but for 24 hours or for one day through a city. Here an equivalence to differences of time in times is spelled out. It says that life can be full, provided it is lived to the full and no time is wasted.

In saying all of this, the most important thing to remember is according to poetess Katerina Anghelaki Rooke something she appeals for, namely ‘never to take life for granted since that it is the only thing we got truly in our own two hands!’ She would repeat over and again that ‘life is the most holy gift we receive when we are born and what we must hold onto while trying to do our best with it; we should not complain too much for then we stop living and then life means nothing to us.’ She does not settle for anything less: ‘my darling, we should get on with it and stop complaining about life. For heaven’s sake!’

Certainly what Phil Cooke says about ‘excellence of culture’ can be translated into such cultural moments to be experienced when the other is not just bored, cynical or a just a stubborn mule when one is trying to argue for something, but becomes inspired as well by what life offers. We know to appreciate those conversations when are free to search for matters outside the city’s outer edges and yet activates feelings for being inside the city’s borders and thereby happy to share life with the person we decided to live with. Such cultural moments in practical terms are entailed in conversations which reinforce convictions in life.

It is quite another matter when talking with unemployed people. They live in their own specific ghetto and see no way out of their dismal state. When asked ‘what’s up’, they merely reply with ‘nothing’ or else go even a step further to reinforce the negative by underlining the permanency of their state, insofar they say ‘just the same as always’. Unemployed people cannot help each other. They cannot motivate each other to unfold their own personalities and to start to live. This requires quite another, indeed positive self evaluation. As one orderly in a German hospital put it, had it not been for the student revolt of the ’68 generation, he would have stayed in his unskilled job forever; but because he suddenly realized he too was beautiful, a human being of value, he picked up his socks, started on a path called ‘second educational chance’ in Germany and after completing his high school education studied to become an orderly for hospital work. He had made it out of self esteem. A positive culture does the same to a lot of people.

It goes without saying that an active life is also mental work. There is a need to keep up the memory work and to work through all contradictions in life. There is unfortunately a tendency to avoid this. Instead people prefer to live in a suggested world which is not contested at the same time because in such a world anything goes what money can buy. And especially cynics in America would say, everyone can be had for money. With that politics has been made into a skillful corruption scheme to the point of letting people produce ideologies for a living as was especially the case during the Cold War era. Intellectuals writing for the Encounter were factually on the CIA payroll and professors were selected according to this camp mentality. But it is not true that money can buy or fix everything.

Nothing is within a short walking distance. Things are only to be found out if it includes going around the corner to find out more. One question leads to another. By getting involved, action translate into experiences on the basis of which insights are gained. It leads to challenging untruthfulness and positions taken against the honesty and goodness of mankind. Philosophy needs to but has not been very successful in upholding and in supporting this search for knowledge which allows to relate consciously to the life of others inside and outside the city or urban realms of reality. Consequently through this ongoing search the concept of life can begin to mediate between own wishes and that of others to make life in the city possible.

Without such a concept everyone would be at a loss. There would be no cultural orientation given by those who live in the city. Moreover, it would mean no language would allow reflection of the outcomes of actions undertaken in reference to the others and one’s self.

Adorno said being and not being is connected always by something; this something would be missing without such a concept of life. For out of that develops a cultural identity to indicate how we intend to exist in the city. Such a cultural identity is neither self understood or ever complete; it reinstates what Adorno said ‘the whole is the untruth’ (in contrast to Hegel’s claim that ‘the whole is the truth’). There are always more questions begging for answers than what we can spare in time and energy to find answers. As a matter of fact, the best answers are those which allow a reformulation of the question while the lived through experiences – le vecu by Sartre – form a memory path. The latter shows how one has lived already in view of the unknown. At the very minimum, it allows a minimum understanding of what life is about. As Katerina Anghelaki Rooke puts it so well, life is always more than what we can imagine.

Understanding the other is not easy, if at all possible. Existentialism went here to the extreme since it claims the other exists only as long as I decide to let him or her exist in my consciousness. There are other ways of putting the problem.

Ritsos would say, you can look out the window, see across the yard, in the other house, another person who appears to be close by as going about doing things in his own space and yet one does not know a damned thing about that person. Who is he, when was he born, what does he do? Ritsos describes this feeling in the poem


Every time he opened his window, he’d see himself

Through the window of the house across the street

In the long mirror of the other room, clandestine,

As if he’d entered it to steal something. Unbearable – not being able

To take a little air, a little sun – nothing. One day,

He took a stone, he aimed, threw it. With the noise

His neighbor appeared at his window. ‘Thank God’ – he said –

‘whatever I tried to look at myself in my own mirror, yours

Looked at me in a shifty way, behind my back; - unbearable.’

The other

Turned back into his room, into his open space. There, in his


Stood his neighbor, facing him, a knife between his teeth.

Is the city really then about such mental blockages with edges as sharp as the knife in the mouth of the neighbor, a life without empathy for the other and all imaginations not merely fenced in, but cemented over till no sound of the imagination reaches our ears? Compare to that the uproar in the arena of Rom when slaves were thrown to the lions or today what happens in football stadiums on a Saturday afternoon, then that urban silence can only be noticed in what comes after the game is over and everyone tries to find their way home. It seems as if all try to cling to that frail cloth called ‘collectivity’, even though a brazen one, for it is one perfectly executed by the media aiming to create a frenzy around really trivial results. Whether a team wins or looses, it does not mean the end of life nor of this world, but inflationary words drive people on to think in those general terms, all hyped up to overtake the reality people could otherwise better imagine if given the time and allowed to think about the others.

For the sake of argumentation, and to illustrate the point of media frenzy a bit further, there is the description exaggerated into sheer sensation of a club hiring a basketball star from America for 7 Mill. and when that stars arrives in Greece loyal fans turn up at the airport to greet him as if a lost son was returning finally home. All wishes he may lead their team to utmost victory are entailed in those projections upon this star. This not absurdity, but a real dramatization wanted by doing business with sports. Such moments as the arrival at the airport count as much as the money the club stands to gain by having such a star on the team.

As everyone knows in show business, such crucial moments come when the stage is set for the star with the audience fully in suspense. The star needs to make just a hint e.g. how long he intends to stay with the club, and immediately numerous speculations are set into motion. If such astuteness prevails, then the show business and media game is perfectly tuned to transform something trivial into something of utmost importance, as if all fortunes of the club and in turn the lives of its followers are at stake.

The full impact of the game of frenzy can only be appreciated when acknowledging that there are many who think in their lives to have no impact whatsoever as if the world exists independent of them. They compare themselves to the star whose mere hint can set off that frenzy. This apparent difference is really an illusion for there is really no choice. People know that and therefore settle into the life in cities in the knowledge that they will never escape those trivial existences. They know nothing shall change, yet everything can happen. It is the dogs and the chauffeurs who sleep outside the limousines while the so-called rich remain inside where they soak up like a sponge yet another one of those numerous cultural events, whether a gallery opening or a concert. About those events everyone who was there shall talk about what took place. It makes it immediate apparent who is an outsider since he or she will not partake in those trivial conversations.

Traces thereof will find their way into the gossip columns published on the next day by the boulevard press. They play on curiosity when in fact a form of vanity by remarking, ‘did you see with whom she was with last evening?’, ‘what horrible dress did she wear!’ or ‘my God, did you see the way he kissed that woman?’ It covers descriptions of the banker’s wife on how mundane she was dressed even though it means she had barely anything on. Vanity fair or a case of viewpoint in terms of show time underlines business is merely business for the money must be rolling on, but there is the hidden power in social structures reflected in how people talk about others, often in the most demeaning way. That frightens many into early submission and lets them betray their true feelings whenever they step into the public glare reinforced by them thinking, even if not the case, that everyone is watching. Or is it just a case of viewpoint when differentiating those who know how the game is played from those deprived of views taken by show business and therefore never really in the public glare throughout their entire life?

Yet aside from that often dirty, superficial or noisy level surrounding fashion as much as car shows, there is a life going on. It is based on a demand to be accepted and even loved in own terms. This includes also being loved in one’s own peculiar craziness. The latter is practically the only outlet or escape left for people trapped like prisoners within the urban grid. Again Ritsos expresses best that special and distinct love for the craziness of the other in the poem called ‘The Potter’:

The Potter

One day he finished with the pitchers, the flower pots, the cooking pots.

Some clay

Was left over. He made a woman. Her breasts

Were big and firm. His mind wandered. He returned home late.

His wife grumbled. He didn’t answer her. Next day

He kept more clay and even more the following day.

He wouldn’t go back home. His wife left him.

His eyes burn. He’s half-naked. He wears a red waist-band.

He lies all night with clay woman. At dawn

You can hear him sing behind the fence of the workshop.

He took off his red waist-band too. Naked. Completely naked.

and all around him

The empty pitchers, the empty cooking pots, the empty flower


And the beautiful, blind, deaf-and-dumb women with the bitten


Life anywhere, and not only in cities, is all about details: little things to be noticed as making a big difference in life. In that way life finds its own proportions while the outcome may be a crazy love, even if all alone, but able to sing in the morning. It is important that what is reasonable to oneself may be but a crazy thing in the eyes of the other. That is why it is of great significance that Michel Foucault started his book about the history of insanity with a quote taken from Dostoevsky saying: “you don’t prove your own reasonableness by imprisoning the other for his craziness.”

There are different accents to be heard and other things to be said when in the streets of cities marked by people from all walks of life coming and going. If things are best experienced when original oscillations between reason and imagination become a consistent way to unfold in a natural way, and this by becoming free to let love mature into a deep and further going relationship, then life is like a poem simply made.

Max Ernst knew very much about this. He anticipated the Second World War and left Germany before too late. In Paris he showed a critical distance to Surrealism by showing that not everything should belong to the grip of power, even if fuelled by paranoia as was the case with Salvadore Dali. At times it is better to leave some things unsaid. Many novels touch upon this, only poets and writers cannot gloss so easily over these ponds of silences. Victor Hugo is just one example. And then, of course, when the city comes up, there is no greater novel than ‘Great Expectations’. It deals with the fallacy of someone becoming mayor to escape his past even though the policeman in pursuit catches up finally with this great man. In the process all expectations are exceeded, that is negatively. The moral of the story seems to be that the strive for greatness does usually no justice to life and therefore given the justice of life truth eventually catches up. It would be wise to accommodate that wisdom right from the beginning in how life plans are laid out and pursued. Many a mayor having to leave finally his office due to unfulfilled expectations can testify to that. It was always and will be always difficult to accommodate the wishes of many people, including their hopes and disappointments, while still having the courage to continue with the attempt to find solutions. The latter depends as much as taking the initiative as giving space to others so that they can work on solutions. It makes possible that everyone goes on with his or her life as best as they can, given the circumstances but also chances offered to them by the city.

Once I walked with a friend through London. We started off 10 o’clock in the evening and reached the fish market when just opening by six in the next morning, that is when the city was awakening. Throughout this walk we saw the city shedding layers after layers of different categories of living possibilities. Like a strip teaser shedding off her clothes not straight away, but almost in a deliberate teasing manner in order to touch upon various nerve cells to make the erotic tension become more tense. Layer after layer: at eleven the crowd emptied from the theatre into the street, at midnight the nightbirds turned up, at two the gangsters and gamblers started to dominate the street while others tried to find their way home either full or half drunk. There were those who slept under bridges or else would break into cars to find a more comfortable resting place. By four the cleaning gangs started to come on their way to various destinies, including those high rise offices or else street cleaners began to remove the waste left by the night from the most prominent streets. Always there was someone on the outlook for a marginal reason to exist. A young couple demonstrated their own happiness by going to London bridge in order to link their love with the Themes flowing towards the sea. At the fish market it was amazing how suddenly the silence was disrupted with more and more workers arriving from all corners, crossing each other, in order to open up the stands with fresh fish arriving in wooden crates filled with ice. Seen out of such a perspective, the city appears like masses of people clinging onto life as if they fear to drown not in the sea but in their own fears not to live. Instead of wishing to seek refuge in life boats already overfilled, they seek distraction in the night. In short, the city is full of perils and silence with shades of the unknown testing each person’s courage to probe still deeper into yet unknown territorities which are for someone else completely familiar grounds. The strange and the trustworthy intermingle all the time but at different times they reveal another level of existence or rather type of interaction with what the city offers. And all this is perceived only from street level and therefore has not yet entered the clubs or the houses where people reside. And there are the institutions like the British Parliament or the numerous banks in the City which alter as well how life in the city can be perceived.

Thinking about that experience, one thing made a strong impact. For in the pale morning light an atmosphere of desperation was created especially by those civil servants hurrying shortly before five from the commuter trains to their office towers. Sleepless and restless, this mass of people with their umbrellas coming in from the suburbs give London a special feature. On the one hand their secure jobs leave them unhurt by the ruthlessness of the city itself; on they other hand they demonstrate strongly that they feel uneasy, indeed not safe as if they do not understand what they missed during the night by not being out but tucked away safe in their typical little houses with a bit of front lawn and a garden at the back. Conformity in life leads to alienation from life. It is not entertaining then, but leads to a taste for all kinds of entertainments as distraction from this nagging question whether the life lived is really what one was destined to be when born a free citizen in a great country and even more famous city of the world. Many hide therefore behind all kinds of clothes, including those with bowler hats and proper suits as part of the civil uniforms. They carry with them their umbrellas and the Times underneath their arms by which they wish to indicate that they do belong somewhere, to a kind of social strata, which exists somewhere close to upper society and which may be dependent upon them for continuing their life style in an undisturbed manner. In their entire behavior they may well underline that ‘no changes are allowed’, so as not to disturb something sacrosanct, namely tradition based on a set of values which would be misunderstand if labeled solely as being Conservative. To this belongs also the pubs visited after work and at the door of which can be seen the sign ‘no dogs may enter’. But soon come as well closing hours and everyone rushes home, if not already immediately after work, to leave the city behind.

Naturally, if they live in those quiet suburbs or ‘New Towns’ (there was the Garden Town movement of Howards in the 1930’s) while working in districts of London which host only offices, then they are perfectly ‘safe and sound’ to assume that no one lives in the inner city visited merely by tourists and those catering in their businesses to them. It seems as if they do not realize that by clinging to a notion of a save life they have made more with their decisions than anything else in many other places life a lot more unsafe than what can be described here. And there needs no reference be made to the former colonies and what entailed the British Empire which converted a city like London into a conglomerate mix of those who returned from there and brought with them if not outrightly slaves, then servants, their relatives and many others who followed that path of re-emigration into the mother land of the empire ruled by Her Majesty, the Queen. Life is unbearable when without a steady income and always at the fringe of everything. Those outside know quite well what are the ramifications of power, including of those privileged ones who by their tastes and distastes draw already distinctive lines and borders not merely by what someone wears, but how he or she speaks. ‘My fair lady’ refers to that kind of ill fated upbringing and only a British version of the American dream can imagine an aristocrat teaching a girl coming out of the gutter, so to speak, on how to pronounce ‘the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain’. Tongue twisters, they are called. But Cockney dialect is the tongue of the taxi driver who glances with knowing eyes towards those who cannot afford a cab nor even the Tube, for they are the ones who can only afford to walk if not the line, then along the traffic flow heading in and out of the city all day long.

To experience life in a crowded bus when heading home can provoke thoughts as to what segregation of life by not merely economical, but also social and cultural means. It can reflect feelings about life in cities like London, but not only. Something similar can be found everywhere, insofar as the well off, middle layered and really poorly off can be seen in all places.

Since that walk through London by night that city has become a confused, nearly unbearable monster in my eyes. I perceived since then more clearly its intimidating forces of power. That is expressed in the form of unmoved buildings stretching into the sky especially in that financial district called the ‘City’. The post modern architectural features hem in the river Thames along which differences can be observed when heading out to Richmond. That contrasts to the northern suburbs starting after Hamstead. They are all equally crowded and colorful, but virtually unknown territories to the civil servants and upper class. It is like Andre Loeckx described it in his excellent paper given at the Fifth Seminar ‘Cultural Action for Europe’ held in Athens 1994. he calls the city as an expression of a ‘culture of ambivalence’ with life in certain streets well adjusted to the demands of the times while a few streets over nothing seems to work and everyone there seems lost in-between parked cars and dismal even run down housing estates. If the new quality of interconnection between people is networking, then districts are marked by those moving out or never in if they have a better income than those left behind and without that ability to network on their own. Social isolation takes on another quality nowadays. While some areas seem to die, others seem safe to walk through them even late at night. It all depends on how this ambivalence is being played out at the moment.

All this may be but a partial observation about life in cities, and more so specifically about civil servants. By contrast there are, for instance, most admirable those countless bus drivers weaving the red double-deckers through disjointed streets, past endless number of people and parked cars. They take these civil servants everyday to their habitual destinations as much as everyone else on the bus trusts these drivers to be diligent and careful in order not to create an accident. All this takes place within created, functional, patched and renewed street and city networks defined by junctures, intersections, round-about places, bridges, squares, tunnels etc. When referring to how impressive a city can be, then as distraction from any possible depression about not being able to find your way. It may be the trust in the city that thrusts its inhabitants into the future.

At the level of friendship, there are special moments in the city when they are shared with those who are more than mere acquaintances. There is a need to socialize and to dream about life ahead over a cup of coffee at one of countless bars, restaurants or tee houses. These time differ in the morning from those in the evening. These distinctions need to be made if the texture of the specific moment is to be captured if not with the hands, then in a poem. The wrinkle in the face is also an expression which lurches forward to spring into the eye and ask for attention, even if underlined by the demand that may only be done for a pence or two. It is good to enjoy a morning coffee together. It is especially good if possible without any further commitment. Call it illusion of freedom, it is important to city life to be able to move about but also to relax and not to be pushed around by the need to make it to the next appointment. An art has developed out of Benjamin’s Flaneur insofar as many more people have taken on this resistance against times pressing everyone on to go the next task. No, stay here for a while, relax, enjoy the sun, the music, the people and forget for one second what you have to do next. That will come soon enough, so don’t worry about it.

In that sense life is never arbitrary nor finite enough to be grasped as if a calculatable risk or paradigm out of which will become apparent the definite destitute for life. When mankind was still working hard in the fields in an agricultural society, determination of being was much more evident than what is now the case. Urban life means abstraction from all possible determinants. Instead there is the freedom of choice. It makes everything more anonymous and lets the city be experienced as changing all around you without you playing necessarily any part in these ongoing changes. That mirror of a constant changing society like the flowing river has a morphology to it that is seldom perceived but which is both frightening and inspiring. This is life in cities. People get lost in an amazing labyrinth and come out of it changed just as Ernst Schnabbel described it in his novel ‘I and the Kings’. It is about Dadaelus who created for King Minos the labyrinth, but due to a lack of money could not put mirrors at the end of each cul-de-sac but left there bare brick walls. Of interest is that people came out of it changed; most of them looked older, only a few emerged looking younger. The city as labyrinth can be equally a car racing through the streets or a sleeping cat by the wayside or someone growing tomatoes on his window sill. It can be as well the screaming couple across the court yard who do not let you go to sleep.

Coming back to that one night experience in London, affluence and poverty with all the differences in-between could be perceived as layers of activities unfolding at certain or more so peculiar times of the day and night. And then there were the inner city differences when comparing Hamstead and Soho at night or for that matter what took place at the Fish market. It was most amazing to see the transformation within a brief moment. When we had arrived, it was still silent, empty, hardly a soul there but within split seconds things came to life. First two, then three and more men made their appearances. Stands were opened, lights switched on. From every direction someone brought something or left to fetch more. Within half a hour the place was a hustle and bustle so that it was nearly impossible to make your way through the early morning crowd. The city had come to life.

All that took place in 1969, when seen out of the perspective of 1995 (and now when revising the paper a bit in 2009) really a long time ago. Since then many ideas have moved people to try and to rectify that what is going on in cities. London is perhaps a special case. In revisiting the city in 1994, it became noticeable for the first time that the city had become more polarized. Gone was the Greater London Council, that governmental body at communal level, thanks to the interventions by Thatcher, and in the wake of which many more discrepancies between those who made it and those who did not marked the crowds in the streets. No tourist seemed to venture to the River banks and its dismal urban areas, while everyone crowded in and around the converted Convent Gardens. Gone was the opera and the ‘My Fair Lady” like atmosphere. Instead the tourist orientated halls had become a shopping and restaurant plaza where once the fruit and vegetable stands were found. Like the banishment of ‘Les Halles in Paris, there could be noticed this discrepancy between the high and low touch in terms of what market places were deemed for in the past: a sustainable common life in the city.

Likewise Centre Pompidou had replaced Les Halles and the central market of Paris. Today it stands for those working with invisible, clean, soft and ever faster technological gadgets, the computer included. It contrasts with those left behind. They are the ones who work with their hands and therefore are bound to make them dirty and rough. As in India where the discrepancy between the ‘touchables’ and ‘non touchables’ exist, so in the Western world new cultural barriers are erected to fortify the social divide. Even though Charles Dickens had lamented about it as much as did George Orwell these examples of social injustice say reality is quite horrific at times. It is glossed over by such types of modern urban developments designed to let tourists intermingle with relicts of the past. They have become a typical feature in many cities, including the Plaka in Athens or the old town in Chania, Crete.

People who need to restore their senses tend to go to such places because they feel all of a sudden a need not to perform according to the demands of modern life, but be different by being just themselves. It is as if the predictions of Orwell and Huxley are coming true. Everything is forgotten in this world of ‘New Speak’ or ‘Political Correctness’. The exceptions are those left over places where some authentic identity is still retained in some relicts of the past. Certainly in the Plaka of Athens the craziness that people exhibit is more natural than customized behavior demanded by multinational companies of how clients should be treated by their staff. That differs from rich suburbs with consumer temples implying a different perception from the back of the store as to those passing by outside, in the streets. Advertisement lure into these shops for perfumes, hand bags, shoes on the simple premise, that anyone wishing to buy something, must know what he or she wants immediately. Thus the glass stained shops of Kifissia have a sales personnel which poses in a stiff, even upper lip manner as if ready to descend only to the really rich. Apparently personal services come with a price. It should not be mistaken with human gestures. And as to the air, it is quite thin, since everyone has to project to know already what is the best. Only those who know are on top of the world. The hidden barriers are designed in a way to make sure not everyone can reach that higher level. Again privileges and upper social belonging come with a price. The danger comes with a provocation, namely ‘try to prove you are both better and different from the other’, since even a slight doubt of not being any different or better can make this escape into matters of illusion into a costly failure.

In saying all of this about life in cities, some key observations can be gathered in order to point more explicitly towards what has changed, shaped, created, conditioned, destroyed and contorted cities over the years since 1945 and the end of Second World War. One general phenomenon can be attested to, namely that many cities change in a much shorter time frame of merely five to ten years when before the duration of their main characteristics had lasted in the past that much longer, if not exceeded the life time of a person growing up, working and finally retiring in such an urban environment. As this is naturally a biased view, for it reflects how the city is being seen, it becomes another matter when places are left and revisited after years of absence in order to see the same place but this time not from inside, but from some outside perceptions. There is the risk to take on a superficial projective standpoint and from there to generalize too much in a wrong way. But something can be gained out of that when compared to an inside view held by someone living and working in that city and thereby experiencing all the pain of being at home without feeling really the city capable of providing the cultural, social, economic and political prerequisites to sustain such a trust worthy living process over time.

Human pain is important to be felt and noticed when it comes to perceive things as they are in reality. To explain that a bit more, Solshenitzyn told a story indicative of that. For there is a huge difference between appearance and reality. He describes an experience he made just after he had been released from jail and after he had sat down on a bench to soak in the sun shining upon Moscow. As he pondered what now to do with his life, another man sat down beside him on the bench. He noticed how that man started looking with interest at the traffic passing by. It turned out that this man was a journalist working for ‘Le Monde’ in Paris. As they were sort of communicating with each other more silently than overtly, the journalist could not help but exclaim his amazement at the many meat trucks passing by. He concluded that Moscow must have a very good meat supply system and wrote accordingly that observation down in his note book to report about it later. Solshenitzyn smiled to himself and noted that the journalist had not noticed that these trucks were not used to deliver meat, but to transport prisoners. Only someone having gone through the pain of imprisonment could look behind the camouflaged reality.

The poetess Heike Willingham makes in her poems another point about perception as it relates to all the ‘hustle and bustle’ making up the life in a city. She describes the city as we perceive it by a glance for that is how we tend to see things. One important remark she adds: the ability to perceive human reality recedes as a city is filled with signs to strengthen a different way of life: the faster, equally glittering motorbikes with their powerful engines, the high rise building competing with others around the world as to which one can claim to be the tallest, the shop decorations praising the latest fashion of beauty as being out of this world etc. Indeed, a key term of modern ideology can be linked to all those factors and attribute made to appear as if they would ‘strengthen life’. The outcome is that people no longer see into each others’ eyes, never mind perceive the other but from a mere side glance, in order not to show that one is really interested in the other.

It has become an art to keep distance from others if not behind newspapers when in the subway, then by appearing to be absent minded and not really looking straight ahead. Certainly women have their own means and difficulties when it comes to dealing with, and more importantly to avoiding the male glance. Here the video to be shown by Bart Verschaffel in Chania when the Myth of the City conference shall be held there, will underline this aspect, especially if a mirror has seen a woman’s face ten times before ever a man can put his eyes upon her. Equally of interest is Martin Jay’s treatment of life in terms of how the glance has changed in the twentieth century. His treatise is called ‘Denigration of Vision in Twentieth Century French Thought’ or “Downcast Eyes” to explain how disenchantment has contributed towards a perception of the world no longer seen with keen interest in developing new kinds of opportunities for people.

Yes, people are generally visually orientated, but then they loose the ability to see. This is especially the case if not only one person constructs something ugly, but if everything does the same thing and not only builds something horrific, expensive, stylish etc. but on top of it all calls it beautiful, then all share the belief that it is beautiful when in fact it is ugly. Collective rationalizations of this kind pervert the real meaning of words into something else. When that happens, then things can get really out of hand, politically speaking. It is the case when a negative aesthetic justifies the ugly above everything else and includes thereby disrespect for life. That then becomes a huge problem because it lets things break apart and behavior become negligent of everything mankind needs to uphold life.

If left unchecked, it shall even threaten what the European Commission considers to be of utmost importance for urban policy and planning to achieve, namely ‘social cohesion’ in cities and regions of Europe. While it is one thing when work is being undertaken, that things lie around and everything appears to be in a mess, while in the final end it will take on quite another shape, it is quite something else once urban sprawl spills over and creates traffic congestions and pollution problems to the extent that life becomes nearly impossible. That is felt when a daily chocking becomes a sign of breathing problems affecting everyone while weaving their way through the traffic.

Above all life is threatened when people no longer make experiences. They tend then to go to extremes in order to have some experiences. That compulsory thrust into all kinds of distractions while disenchantment eats away at the soul makes boredom become a real risk. Thomas Mann said in ‘Magic Mountain’ boredom was the greatest single factor that led to First World War. People went to war because they sought adventure as a way to get away from boring desk jobs. Little did they anticipate into what ugly mess they got themselves entangled in once the endless trench wars started. Since then many lessons of violence and war have been drawn but obviously in areas like Yugoslavia violence can easily spiral out of control due to what Louis Baeck called ‘ethnic assertiveness’. It may be complemented by those street gangs who get just a kick out of it by racing down the street on wailing motor bikes and in showing off it takes on a similar tense life like walking over the trapeze without safety net. Life seems only worth living when risks are taken, and the more these risks underline how dangerous it has become, the more these pranksters with their and other people’s lives can relate to reality how they have imagined it is when provoked to the extreme end. What they and many others don’t seem to realize is that life under such conditions has become too dangerous to enjoy.

Living at the edge becomes then a kind of frantic life which Brendan Kennelly describes so well as cities filled with all kinds of violence. Some of it stems from those men who only half listen while putting labels on everyone else i.e. those Protestants, those Catholics, those Jews etc. That kind of violence takes a risky ride on general assumptions as if this is the best way to get to understand the others. It is not. But given the social pressure to be able to convince others that one knows better than all others labeling leads to that kind of entanglement in a common false assumption. Plato described this guessing game as to what the shadows represent in his cave analogy.

Brendan Kennelly rights says, “after such knowledge”, in recognition of ourselves if not prisoners, then in having to live in cities without ‘myth’ (a thesis which Baptiste Marray shall explain later in Chania when speaking about Paris exporting life to the outskirts), “we are damned to be convincing and urbane.” In order not to face that truth, we out-scream not merely each other, but also our longing for silence. And with it we tend to silence those voices which raise doubts in our alleged truths by which we want to live by.

It has to be said in a critical way that life risks to break down once there is no longer any differentiation possible and instead only labels used to get, so to speak, around the next bend and this without really bothering whether or not one makes it. This is how twists in communication reproduce all kinds of misunderstandings. It happens that then too many go too fast while many are left behind while too few remember since too many are busy in trying to forget. Freud attempted to recover the unconsciousness from underneath layers of suppression and oppressions. Most of the time he identified the interest to forget a conflict as the reason why there exists a kind of mental block between short term and long term memory capacity. He linked as well to neurosis and the readiness to panic but these are extreme cases into which here it would be impossible to enter into.

But if memory flow is one thing, then continuity of life another, then the vitality by which things are upheld belongs to a stream of thought and emotions which allow things to be done in the midst of other people. It can take them by surprise but also take them with the idea of belonging to a common idea even though something put to practice can be discussed, hesitated upon, refined or taken back if things go wrong. There is dexterity and also prudence. Most of the time many engage themselves in a kind of ping pong debate reflecting their oscillation between pessimism and optimism, but then vitality comes along and makes things happen. Important is to have a horizon, a life with future. Sartre said only when that is known, can life in the present be possible. Naturally moods can change as fast as friends, but then continuity in life suffers and loneliness returns as there is no more perspective for meeting and talking with anybody of interest and of mutual understanding. Next to loss of love, the ruined friendships take their toll and weigh down upon human sentiment.

The superficial perception of what goes on in life in a village or city is really the consequence of being out of touch with human pain. When a person working for amnesty international was asked, what is the most difficult part of his work, it was expected he would answer to talk with people who have been tortured. Instead he replied due to the fact that he travels around a lot and therefore hardly meets the same people more than three times at the most, they never get around to tell him their personal stories, there where they have pain and when they tell them touch his pain. Consequently in a society like India in which there exist so many categories of poor people he can never keep apart a fake from a real beggar; only once you live daily in such a society do you develop the skills of a differentiated perception and know more fully what is going on in reality.

Life is in art and about how we realize this art. A lot has to do with perception in more than one way. Children running down the street incorporate one positive moment, but what happens when a car smashes into the school children walking home? We have created really in our cities with the cars such a hostile environment that the first thing mothers and fathers teach their children is to watch out for cars and not how the rain drop tastes. There seems to be no way out of a car driven society. Add to this the need by the rich to drive prestigious cars and thereby gain in recognition, then many other things apparently not important because they do not add to prestige, are forgotten or left at the way side even though they are important details of life. Often that goes hand in hand with desiring still more or that what everyone has already. The need to have the same thing reproduces a conformity and flattens social perception people have of each other.

There was this one man attempting to park his new BMW. He took for the parking at least half a hour because he was so afraid that he would damage his newly purchased car. Of interest is that exactly this kind of fear produces accidents as people once inside the car become insensitive to what is around them. As this has become a massive collective behavior, city streets and road systems have been designed in such a way that all resistance i.e. natural and human obstacles are removed, in order to allow for a fast flowing traffic. By not heeding the need to learn out of resistance that not everything goes, important life experiences vanish and make the urban environment boring. With it comes also an over abundance of artificial rules which negate life. The many neighbors who complain about the noise children make when playing outside is one of these indications as to what is deemed to be a disturbance of a wished for quietness, but which Ernst Bloch has identified as the desire for the silence of the cemetery. But that may be more prone in a German than in a Greek society. The latter is known to favor boisterous voices and loud motorbikes. Yet to come back to the man parking his BMW it may be said for an outsider such behavior can be deemed as really stupid. If you are so afraid, then don’t buy such a car, would be the logical conclusion. But since marketing strategies have convinced this man to be intelligent he needs such a car, it is impossible to convince him otherwise i.e. that with the car there is being sold as well a certain kind of stupidity.

To remind, the category ‘stupidity’ has been reflected upon by Adorno and Horkheimer in their ‘Dialectic of Enlightenment’ (1944):

“One of the lessons which Hitler has taught us is that it is better not to be too clever. The Jews put forward all kinds of well-founded arguments to show that he could not come to power when his rise was clear for all to see. I remember a conversation during which a political economist demonstrated – on the basis of the interests of the Bavarian brewers – that the Germans could not be brought into line. Other experts proved that Fascism was impossible in the West. The educated made it easy for the barbarians everywhere by being so stupid. The farsighted judgments, the forecasts based on statistics and experience, the comments beginning ‘this is a subject I know very well’, and the well-rounded, solid statements, are all untrue. Hitler was opposed to mind and to men. But there is also a spirit which is opposed to the interests of men: its characteristic is clever superiority.” [1]

This quote stands for a critical measure of our times as they revolve around the question but are we really so stupid or intelligent when it comes to treating the environment and cities the way we do? It seems ‘clever superiority’ is often propelled by man’s wish to control reality. In its wake much has succumbed if not to the race to the moon, then to have a bigger house with more cars and a better equipped kitchen, technically speaking. Here the media serves to the viewers another juicy scene while food is reduced to a fast pizza brought by a man on a motorbike. In the end, as one movie maker stated it, a film without ‘sex and crime’ does not sell. In all of this arbitrariness is the rule. Te outcome of such attitudes towards life is that nothing seems to make sense while nothing is left outside the sphere of influence by the entertainment industry. Propaganda in this modern sense is made to dramatize human life as depending upon money and money only. Money has become today’s ‘invisible God’ which everyone carries around with him or her. This ‘invisible God’ rules over everything but never has to justify himself as to how money is spend or what is being purchased. Money is like God a given with ‘take’ only possible under certain conditions. That is significant. The given must not be questioned. That is all. Difficulties begin only when the finances of a city need to be accounted for and no one knows where all the money comes from and goes to. Like the cars streaming past on a super highway, it alters the perception of life in cities. Money as dominant factor cannot be understood even though everything is made dependent upon it and thus exerts more influence upon life than anything else.

The complexity of life is thereby transformed into a perplexity while the one knowing the mechanisms of dependencies can manipulate better this powerful gearbox. Things are then set into motion. It makes it nearly impossible for people to find a niche, away from this dependency. Any concept based on modesty, honesty and vitality has no chance of being realized without it. On the other hand, there are the ones who aspire to be ‘stars’ and that means to make it, money wise. Thus, the real figures of poverty are not only figures like Diego Madonna who rose from poverty to become a world football star only to fall tragically after many stories of dope and other deals having to do with his time at the football club in Napoli. He became a tragic figure in a modern sense. Upon returning to Argentina he became the controversial national hero who would shoot at reporters and yet who also seeks his rehabilitation i.e. freedom from his drug addiction. Whether he will make it to become a positive hero again depends what support society gives him. Certain is that there are many who love and adore him so that the fallen star may rise later again under different circumstances. An important aspect of this stardom is that football stars are sold around the world by their clubs very much like art works at Sotheby’s. The more they are handed around, the greater their value and thus with a higher margin of profit once traded off at the next round of negotiations.

People are fascinated by the huge sums of money being discussed when such art purchases take place. They can never figure out how is it possible to earn so much money through one single turn-over. The recent box fight with Tyson in the ring was not merely a sensation because he knocked out his opponent already in the first round – and who cried in the audience that they did not get their money worth when after all they had bought tickets at horrific prices to sit at the ring side – but he collected a record sum of $ 1 Million within such a short time. Speculation fever runs high, therefore it is high time to leave the arena before it is too late to escape such a collective fraud.

Unfortunately it is equally true that no further questions are asked once such frauds have been brought successfully, so to speak, over the stage and everyone goes home maybe angry but still accepts the bitter sweet outcome. After all Tyson is the champion. In short, no one doubts anything as long as the business venture proves to be highly successful, even if that means accepting the fraud that goes with it.

The problem with fraud is that this happens more generally than admitted. It includes on a broad scale above all the education systems. Society is made up of many people who do not really want to listen; they want merely to see results. Hence they are unwilling to see the consequences upon nature and human beings by the kind of development path taken as of late. As long as everyone remains positive along the slogan ‘keep smiling’, there is no need to worry. Victimization of life is hardly a theme. Yet it happens daily, both at home and at work. It marks as well life in cities.

There is a true dilemma to be faced here in Heraklion where we speak right now and elsewhere. While people are busy making money, others are asking themselves already if they had made the right decisions and choices. For instance, the people of the village Kamilari in Crete where to we shall go next, are asking themselves what has happened to them. They remember that they had in the sixties still no running water, no electricity, but they knew where the olive oil they were using for cooking and in their salads was coming from. Today they say everything is the reverse. People have left for the big cities, if not Heraklion, then Athens or even further away. At the same time, the powerful distribution system of big companies has made people abandon the production of their own olive oil and instead they go to super markets where they purchase the oil without knowing where it comes from. Transposed upon modern urban life, city means nowadays an increase in anonymity. More importantly they sense a lack of information and answers to the most important question they have: if they have been misled to follow a development path which does not give them any true knowledge as to what they are working for and with whom they are collaborating.

Indeed, people feel misled and do not trust the political answers given as to what they can expect out of future developments. Hence it is most crucial to find out how they will respond to some of the more crucial signs that not everything is alright. This includes a drop in tourism, in the increase in forest fires, in what amounts to a destroyed landscape due to uncontrolled building sprees with especially those who can afford it putting up illegally buildings faster than the authorities can intervene. Creating facts on the ground it is called. The fortifications are not so much concrete as they are erected in the minds to ward off any critical questioning. By giving up their love in the landscape of Crete and replacing doubt with dogmas, they document in reality that their identities have been lost. As things continue more or less along that path of consumption and misuse of places, they loose in living abilities by trading in stone houses for newly constructed cement buildings already ruins before they have been completed. As a matter of fact by giving up traditional houses since to them a symbol of poverty, they loose out on real work as it is linked to handicraft and masonry work. What happens then to people’s cultures if no real work is in sight or at least that kind of work which had given them pride in how they treated the land, the animals and other people? As the mayor of Heraklion admitted already at the beginning of the “Myth of the City” conference preparations, the people of Crete stand to loose their culture if they loose their ability to make the greatest of all gifts to any stranger, namely hospitality!

The concept of life is in reality about the freedom to live. For that needs to be developed a basis of articulation and an ability to stay in tune with rhythms of life. Without the imagination actively used, that would be impossible. Otherwise the love for life is lost or becomes tainted by bad experiences. Passion, compassion, a positive kind of craziness, you name it, all take on a familiar and strange tune at one and the same time when walking through the streets of a city. It may be the annoying loudness of an old motorbike hardly making it up the hill or the rumbling commotion of the garbage truck that cuts through the otherwise quiet afternoon air, but still these are signs of life. It includes radio sounds coming from some open window or else there can heard shouts of welcome as visitors have just arrived. Life is complex but very, very beautiful if lived consciously in an appreciative way. The concept itself is very evasive. The descriptive stance taken here is meant to circumscribe life rather than invent it by a definitive definition. It is a reminder that it is not at all self understood to live in the cities and still be able to make sense of the life as experienced when perched in some ground-floor apartment looking out into the courtyard and not out to the sea as used to be the case during my early childhood. Nature and city are not so easily intertwined. There are real differences to be noted when moving in from the country side into the city. Adjustments to the urban environment are never easy. It is very different to run through a forest than through the streets filled with parked cars. In search of breathing spaces, they are not to be found like in a forest where there are clearing spots with the light suddenly coming through. Instead in the city there are other locations with meaning: a newspaper stand, the market place and the coffee place where to meet friends. All these spots amount to an effort to make some intelligent use of places with meaning and thereby create a map which differs between familiar and unfamiliar routes.

Yet the real problem begins at work where institutions make urban reality look quite differently from what can be experienced at personal level. This is especially the case when these institutions aim to make society look more intelligent then what is really the case but the counter proof in waiting would be to let people get together, in order to decide by themselves on how to move forward. All that and more would include resolving in a very practical way issues of governance. Here a start could be made by responding first of all to the question but what stories about life in the city have not yet been told?

Much more could be said about life in cities. As said above, the very concept of life is more than just defining livable solutions compared to what way of life evolves in the suburbs compared to down town. Naturally every city offers some pleasures but entails also many shortcomings. It may differ in the winter compared to the summer. Some are abandoned virtually when too hot and only the old and poor stayed behind, therefore trapped in the heat smoldering away in-between cement buildings and unbearable apartments due to a lack of circulation of air. Still a realistic appraisal of life in cities should be attempted. It will have to conclude something Adorno and Horkheimer said about the urban game amounting to stupidity versus cleverness with both sides aiming to claim superiority in order to stay on top of the game. What does this mean exactly?

First of all, when Adorno and Horkheimer speak about a “historical tendency for cleverness to prove stupid”, then it means really a loss of reasonableness upsets and undermines the normal give and take making possible the functioning of society at everyday level. This given and take needs to be respected in terms of being understandable to everyone. The very discrepancy between mega projects and small bargains made at the corner of the market are two different terms of trade. While the former has an enormous impact due to its interventionist character upon the city, the latter is a matter of friendly exchanges going on all the time while there are obvious hidden and expressed dependencies to determine the outcome of that bargaining. If people accept the prices offered, then there is not much negotiation going on. Still, even then, with prices set, there is a long term impact if supply and demand is not matched by what people can agree upon individually and collectively. It is a matter of bargaining for fair prices all along. Naturally prices reflect a reality e.g. if the season has been good to the farmers or the fishermen did not suffer setbacks such as storms or even losses due to truck drivers who deliver the fishes on strike. In all of this one thing does matter all along: reputation and by which token a fair price can be set as a mark for all to see and to accept.

Then, there are significant changes off-setting the culture of the market. This is especially the case when, as Nikos Stavroulakis has remarked, life in cities changes due to the central market being replaced by something else as the case in Paris and London. Once central markets are no longer just food and fish selling spots, but include as the case overall in Heraklion or Chania tourist shops, then the interface alters and therefore the setting of a fair price becomes more difficult to be judged. Once leather goods, ceramics and other cheap tourist items have entered the slate of possibilities, then this means a new bag of tricks. Quite different rules are applied to lure the potential buyer into all kinds of bargains. It reveals that the central concern of a food and vegetable market to secure food distribution for an entire city is no longer a prime orientation. With that goes a loss of authenticity as far as central markets are concerned. It leaves those selling vegetables, meat or dairy products worried, for they end up not knowing anymore what future they need to sell to themselves to stay on with the business they are doing right now.

At a philosophical level, seeking orientation in terms of what future is in store for oneself, that has implications for politics. Here Adorno and Horkheimer claim the following:

“Reason is based on an exchange. Specific objectives should be

achieved as it were on the open market, through the small benefits which

power can obtain by playing off one concession against another and following

the rules of the game.”

- Dialectic of Enlightenment, p. 209 – 210

As long as no extraordinary gains outdistance what a newspaper man or a taxi driver can earn, then social reasoning shall govern life due to what is happening falling within the norm of everything being a ‘fair’ exchange. Yet this would understate the complex relationship between life and money. Both are crucial orientation points with often points of references in-between being what money cannot buy or only with money something can be done about it. But coming back to the two philosophers who left Germany due to foreseeing the rise of Hitler and what it meant for all people, but especially for intellectuals and Jewish persons, it is significant what they state in view of the inevitable:

“But cleverness becomes meaningless as soon as power ceases to obey

the rules and chooses direct appropriation instead.”

- Dialectic of Enlightenment, p. 210

These are true words of caution: when land is seized, ideas appropriated and every opportunity seized upon to gain advantage in a deadly game, then exploitation to the fullest seems to be the only choice. Then there are no real distances between normal and negative practices, while calls of distress follow every incidence augmenting in still further violence, threats thereof if not willing to go conform to power claimed and gained by claiming it more viciously than the others. No one seems to be able to withstand that spiral of terror. All respond to the single fact that they feel in their lives threatened.

The two philosophers equate threat to life with the end of discussion. I would add ‘discussion at the conceptual level’, for if everything has to appear as being intelligent when in fact it is stupid, then cities become void of human thoughts and life. Following condition prevails then as described by Adorno and Horkheimer in anticipation as to what will follow once ‘bourgeois culture’ breaks down and ‘end of discussion’ determines what is to follow:

“Individuals can no longer talk to each other and know it: they therefore make the game into a serious and responsible institution which requires the application of all available strength to ensure that there is no proper conversation and at the same time no silence.”

If the cultures of European cities cannot find a path between those two poles made up by ‘meaningless conversations’ and ‘silence’ then ‘reason’ shall be destroyed by sheer carelessness but also systematic suppression. Some political forces in Europe have already accepted that fate and begin again to propagate techniques which combine cleverness with stupidity, insofar as they want to make believe that ‘reason’ has become inaccessible to average man or woman. Here then lies the main contradiction. The European Commission proposes to make European cities livable again and wishes to do so by implementing the Agora concept in reference to Ancient Greece. The aim is to make the centre of a city become again both human and accessible. Yet that program leaves out considerations as to what constitutes accessibility to reason. Thus the question prevails whether or not European programs and therefore European projects can contribute to what is called the ‘sustainability of cities’ especially if this matter of accessibility is neglected or overlooked? By calling for ‘holistic concepts’, it seems one variation of how this contradiction is overcome but it does not guarantee that the discussion about the future of European cities will ever reach such conceptual level, that ideas about cities in need of having breathing space shall be heard. That is itself a major question as to how authenticity manifests itself in all efforts undertaken to attain sustainability of cities and sustainable development. Bart Verschaffel suggests that authenticity may afterall be hidden behind a mere gesture, yet that is both a subtle and definite answer to the question posed above.

The reason for European cities in crisis is that many of them seek only a quick and an easy access to ‘culture’ as if a dignified life can be obtained almost similar to how an institute for norms would approve the quality of products produced by the market and by giving them a stamp of approval guarantee that the urban environment satisfies certain criteria e.g. consumer friendly, children safe environment, healthy living conditions etc. The measurements taken to establish this quality is not explained since the entire process succumbs first of all to the labeling business and image making process. Cities invest a lot of money to sustain the image rather than doing something in reality to alter that conception. At the same time, the over dominance of the environmental question misleads discussions and makes them become one sided. The whole point of attempting to discuss life in cities would be missed, if this would be linked solely to the criterion ‘quality of life’ as if this has to do with accessibility to culture understood as exhibitions, artistic performances, exhibitions, architectural and cultural heritage sites etc. As demonstrated, for instance, by Antwerp when European Capital of Culture in 1993, this effort could do little to contribute to making life in the city become sustainable and this by making culture become an asset for European integration.

It may mean that Adorno and Horkheimer can take the discussion away from ‘life in cities’ and focus much more on some of the reasons for the failure of the Enlightenment in view of what happened in recent history. Yet it is thought this reference can further chances to regain some conceptualized levels of thoughts and reflections. If that can be achieved, then the discussion within this conference about ‘Myth of the City’ can be quite powerful for the future.

Life in cities does not necessarily mean another kind of holocaust, but it can become easily once certain conditions are no longer fulfilled. Yugoslavia is shown that currently, in particular what is happening to a city like Sarajevo. Still, there is a concept of life for otherwise we would not miss it if not around to lift up our spirits. Life gives us the space to find out own expressions and in general give our thoughts some orientation otherwise forgotten, if we did not believe in the ‘concept of life’ when attempting to come to terms with our daily urban practices.

[1] Adorno and Horkheimer (1993), Dialectic of Enlightenment. New York, p. 209

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