Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

What patterns emerge out of consumption?

Present cities are no longer known by a substantial urban movement with a clear identity. Increasingly technology as logic of organization has led to a kind of neutralization of many former identities linked in the past to craft, trade and function. Then what people did was easily recognizable by the clothes (more costumes and work attires than uniforms) they wore, the tools they used and with what materials they worked e.g. carpenters differ from chimney sweepers. As Sartre put it, they showed in that way a design on how they plan to exist, and that is very different from the intellectual who only wonders how he will exist in society, if at all. Today everyone appears to be freed from any concrete design to work or at least once they leave the work place, they leave behind the clothes they worked in. In the streets they are under way like anyone else. It is impossible to gauge from outer appearance where they come from, where they are heading and what they do for a living. It seems no one has a need or wishes to show when walking through the streets what design shall be followed to earn a living.


The mass of consumers is not directed in that sense of gaining in identity. Sartre would explain it by the fact that consumers are treated as a mass of people from which to extract energy (support for certain products) best indicated by their willingness to spend money to purchase those things. They should not take on a specific identity which they could challenge this kind of channeling of their energies. Rather they are kept in dependencies and subsequently entangle themselves in a growing web of highly suggestive things needed but which does not stand the test of ‘real needs’. Naturally this requires further differentiation insofar an upgrading in quality can mean not driving a simple but a luxury car or even a Porsche.

Linked with such purchases is the status of being able to afford it and thus a matter of not identity, but what kind of visibility in society is desired. The reverse of that is conspicuous consumption which can very often reflect dubious ways by which money has been acquired e.g. Mafia bosses or gangsters driving around in black limousines. Often it is meant in a very innocent, but still provocative way to show off; but as demonstration of power, it can send as well the wrong message. As a matter of fact, conspicuous consumption is a way to demonstrate that this expensive item can be afforded because no one dares to question how the wealth was attained.

In reference to real needs, it can be said any car would do to satisfy the need for transportation, but cities and the car are no longer just dependent upon each other to find the way. Rather other things can be read into the cars which the main companies bring onto the market and what people prefer. There are evident as well time differences insofar as various time zones are covered by older, medium and brand new cars in circulation in the streets. It reflects as well governmental regulations in terms of safety and health standards, but is driven primarily by technological innovation, design and fashion of the day. Interesting is the correlation between society being at war and the kind of semi-military vehicles in circulation e.g. jeeps, four wheel drives, Humvees etc. The latter reveal a new desire for greater safety and power to push one’s way through not merely war zones, but equally through ordinary traffic.

Something else can be observed on how false or more specifically ‘artificial’ needs are literally cultivated to drive clients away from adventurous searches for accommodation and directly into the hands of tourist and hotel operators. Already Americans booked always the same standard hotel room at Hilton out of fear of infections, bad food, theft, etc. While in the past Greeks would spend holidays outdoors on camping beds underneath trees spending shade during the day and a kind of protection during the night, seems no longer suitable as showers and a proper bed are deemed as absolute necessity in order to have ‘good’ holidays. With such hotel service go still other things in order to ensure that tourists not only come to the specific area or location, but stay as long as possible.

When Nikos Stavroulaki describes the transition of the old port city of Chania, he speaks as one of the few permanent residents still left in that area around the port. Almost all other houses have been converted by now into hotel like pensions to serve the growing tourist sector. Consequently the population which resides there fluctuates daily. With it have come changed needs. It can be observed on hand of old bakeries disappearing while fast food joints replace old taverns.

The dominance of a pronounced ‘fear’ factor to prompt people to seek safe havens and places sounds strange in a world tired of a lack of adventure. But it explains why cities convert themselves into an illusionary place offering everything on the save side and yet different from other places, in order to attain some marketing niche and advantages. In the end they all begin to look just the same since the service and cultural industry tend towards similar solutions everywhere. The dominance of fear explains why people are afraid not to find their way in a strange city. Hence they take recourse to all kinds of services offered to them from guided tours to taking only pre arranged cruise routes or worked out travel plans. Many of them are either unwilling or not capable of finding the way on their own, but they all demand much of the same, namely to have a ‘good time’. Therefore they pay a tourist operator to map out for them the route and to book for them in which hotel they shall stay, where they shall eat and what excursions can be selected as extra options. Everything costs a bit more money but then there are the so-called package deals in which is included naturally some ‘free time’ when they can do what they like.

All this is also done just to suggest not everything needs to be planned in order to have a good time. The masses of tourists are channeled through like boats with their passengers never going really on land to explore by themselves what local people think and do. Tourism has become a most alienating business striving on keeping the visitors separate and apart from the local population whose representatives they meet only in the form of bus drivers, waiters or cleaning personnel in the hotels they stay in. They will return back home without knowing much more about the countries or cities they have visited, let alone that they would have taken up contact with people living in the places they passed through. Partly this is the craft of the tourist business to separate the tourists from the rest of the population but it shows as well that much is preferred a superficial perception of the world and of cities. The aim is simply to bring across some major icons of already well known places made interesting and therefore worthwhile to visit e.g. the Louvre, the Eifeltower and perhaps Quartier Latin in Paris. Cities have to compete with these tourist maps if they are to be considered by these map makers as interesting places apart from the well-known ones.

Such tourist plans take literally people by the hand, in order to show them what needs to be seen, if one is to be able to say afterwards that one has been in that city. That kind of qualification can be elevated into more sophisticated categories of tourists who may want to include the possibility of experiencing a mass at Notre Dame in Paris or at a special church of the city since known for its organ. Tourist operators specialize already on tourists with a distinct religious background and therefore an interest group which might prefer to pray en route or even sing as a choir in a special setting. Other interest groups may want to play wherever they are a round of golf while staying at a particular hotel equipped with swimming pool, night bar and sun roof. Amenities of these kinds underline that equipping and decorating such places to suit all kinds of different needs can be quite a lucrative business, but as always such things are not sustainable, especially if cities become one sided and cater only to tourism. For what can they do in the off season? Like Greek islands, it can mean a village will have in the winter months perhaps not more than 500 inhabitants, but during the high season the population that can swell up to 20 000. That is a lot of people in need to cope with and can easily over demand completely local infrastructures, Municipal services like hospital, police, accommodation, and other resources e.g. for water. Since that requires outside forces who come in to cope with the extra demand, these forces have a tendency to take over on a temporary basis the locality. They do so without any clear accountability to the political responsible bodies at local level as they much prefer to by-pass any official requirements and just get on with their business i.e. without many legal responsibilities. This they call the free spirit of global marketing.

What concerns poets and city planners is that this new kind of service sector catering to needs of tourists shall over exploit the original ideas born at this particular place. Poets will have to deal with the loss of authenticity or originality in a most profound and direct way without them becoming in turn traditionalists or a part of the force which wants to exclude in future strangers coming into the local area. The conditions of survival have changed the ‘game’, so to speak. That is why the dialectic between the known and the unknown has altered; tourists no longer wish to feel that they are strangers. Consequently they are kept as a rule to their own environment consisting of hotels, places to go to and safe passages. It means that they can visit a city without coming into real contact with the local people. Poets must ensure these invisible walls separating the two groups are taken down and a flow of energy allows both locals and visitors to form together forces which sustain and respect the local place.

On the hand, a certain myth of the city needs to be strengthened such as being the best place to have a good time. Since the production of myth entails more than just making a movie at this location, although it can help to attract more tourists if they know this famous film has been screened at this location, certain new rules in terms of semi-cultural production of images have been created. They are designed in such a way that the tourist seeking adventure as a kind of tickle of experience is not exposed unnecessarily to a hard reality. He or she is kept at a safe distance from possible dangers but special brands like adventure sports, mountain biking etc. have sprung up to cater to this need. Again this leads to the importance of retaining open and wild places so that people do experience nature in raw and not merely as an attraction when passing by on a bus or boat.

Poets may bemoan the fact, but no one is allowed within those safe zones to do something extraordinary. Only the tourists are allowed to mingle amongst themselves. This new order within the service sector is designed so that no one jeopardizes the game being played by enticing people to enjoy still more by paying simply less. Rather the game is designed to have the adventure of one’s life time brought to a successful end by having an exclusive dinner for two in a very expensive restaurant. At least, these suggestive powers allude to such places as if the only ones where to spend a romantic evening.  Instead of having to go out alone into the streets and seek life, done best by exposing oneself to the unexpected, the real living conditions of the others vanishes in the candle light and in the promise of finding that way a magic ticket to sound future without any economic or other worries. This artificiality has become a fact of modern life.

Organizational strategies to make money of tourists involve business arrangements with cities, as it requires a special management of resources. A prime aim is that all resources blend into one as if only accessible for those willing to pay for the entry price. To that strategy belongs an effort to disrepute and to undermine public authorities and services. They are a part of an ideological favoritism of privatization schemes since nothing should be offered for free, as part of the public goods a city has to offer, especially if there is to be made money of such specific asset. Although a clear contradiction, it does end free camping and finding places to stay thanks to the incredible hospitality of the locals. If people are to use instead hotels, this personal contact must be prevented or undercut. The major of Iraklion mentioned to the participants of the conference ‘Myth of the City’ how sad it is to see Cretans loose that wonderful quality they used to have, namely enormous hospitality. Such intangible assets can never be replaced by even the best service offered by hotels.

The requisitioning of cities and their monuments is a story all by itself. Once cities follow through on that, they will appear on the surface as lacking any interface needed to promote cultural identity. But without such reference points based on making cultural heritage accessible, cities fail as well to show a responsibility for the public good. It includes hospitality and providing a visiting stranger with food and accommodation to feel first of all not merely safe, but welcome in the city. And it continues on the basis of stories told about the cities to visitors. Such an interface based on story telling is needed if both the intention and contents of the organizations linked to tourism reflect the authentic aspect of the city.

However, in the absence of a convincing ‘dialectical image’ shared by all local residents and visitors alike, governance has become a huge problem for cities. As the ‘quality of life’ deteriorates in real terms, cities find to have less and less resources at hand to fulfill standards set already in the past. It makes itself felt in a lack of co-ordination so that desperate structures lead to fragmentation and contradiction. While Centre Pompidou may be a prestige object linking new technology with the arts, the surrounding area has deteriorated in terms of quality of life after les Halles disappeared. Developments gave way to random investments and the observer is no longer sure what is due to lack of public supervision or private intervention going ahead without further consideration of what it is doing in relation to the surrounding area, never mind to the whole of the city. Much happens beyond political control or rather to question that term beyond political accountability to the general public.

These tendencies are reinforced by the illusion given to tourists that they are in semi free zones where they can get drunk as much as discard all moral restraints they would have if back home. Tourist zones are by definition without those informal social controls. The crowds move according to another kind of consensus. Many will not be around the next day as they have moved on already to other destinations of attractions worthy to be seen. Such places are stamped by fast food joints which produce more rubbish than good stories.

Over-commercialization especially of cities and their cultures contributes towards a further loss of cultural identities. [1] As this has become a part of the major problems faced by cities, more needs to be said if that problem is to be overcome and avoided. For one, it appears as if the threatening loss of cultural identity is simply overlooked till too late. A city will have become a mere service centre for just consumption and loose thereby in substance. Once entire city areas have specialized in only one function, namely to service the tourists with all kinds of eating places, they are no longer balanced nor able to convey a sense of reality. Such specialization of entire districts leads in turn to a loss of “language conveyed by all kinds of voices”. [2] In turn, it explains the failure of the city to respond in a measured way to both desires and fears of people either living there or else just visiting the city for a relative short time.

Most apt to that dilemma is the response of poets when they seek something in-between fear and death, and what is called life perceived out of unusual angles. Here an example from a poem written by Katerina Anghelaki Rooke:


Out of her Life

I’m nowhere, but I’m not complaining…

Out of her life

Another life emerges

Even more uncertain than the one before

With voiceless animals standing around

Looking at her body

As if it were a well with a little bit of water

Let at the bottom

No fear stops her

Not even death;

She puts it in a place

Where she shall never be.

But what’s more important

Is if at the end she manages

To keep something from nature

The way you struggle

To grasp the rhythm of your lover

And then in a single gesture

You end up nowhere

Back at the sea of ‘I am’.

Thanks to the versatility

That such extreme exercise offers

The ashen woman hidden in time

Receives a spring message

From a few silent flowers. [3]


The lack of measured responses by the city has to be understood as not merely the result of a production of extremes where apparently no mediation seems possible, but also indicates the subject of analysis has not been identified. Some things need to be done before it is too late. Not always poetic analysis will do. Here one needs to recall a caution by Michel Foucault, who said in his introduction to his book about the history of insanity, that ‘we need to find places of silence before lyrical protest covers them up’.

At the ending of the poem by Katerina Anghelaki Rooke suggests, this includes the need to capture moments of even ‘silent flowers’ sending messages to a woman attempting to deduce out of it what she feels would come close to a kind of statement about her life. That is never easy. Again silence may here be explained not due to direct repression or something like abuse having incurred to make the person become ‘wordless’, but the very absence of these collective images which could pull the ‘self’ out of the morass of feelings. Their absence proves to be crucial. Thus poetry has validity, insofar poems can balance off a lack of response by invoking images. This can be done by poetic observations revealing unexpectedly a philosophical understanding for the nature of man. Lost in midst this urban maze, poems are most revealing when they suddenly remind about the existence of nature: ‘silent flowers’.

Any poetic dialogue with life in cities can also be encountered in efforts to bridge the two worlds, the sane and the insane one. Hieronymus Bosch painted the latter one in a kind of delirium of colors and made sure that these exaggerated figures with big eyes and heads like a big pumpkin on short legs. It could be seen like broken eggs walking around in the world mirrored in one naked image of trees uprooted and having become stumps to lie upside down on the ground and no longer seeing the sky.

When earlier on reference was made to poetic life in cities, then the very world of consumption lacks this. This is because in such a world of passages the subjective nuances of truth are left out. However, no poem can do without that interplay between little and tiny truths tucked away in a little meaning carried by a few words.

It is impossible for the human subject to live without truth. Thus the poem mirrors the distorted image of the whole city even if no collective imagination projects itself onto the walls of the houses lining the streets. For however broken and fragmented, every tiny poem notices a detail which conveys a nuance of such truthful meaning not left merely to the mercy of just another pattern of daily consumption, of just going to work to end up doing just the same day in, day out. For poetry revolts against a normality which belies the desire for life.

If it were not for poetry, then only violence would rule in cities. For violence follows people forming a group with convictions hardened by every challenge they come across and smash if theirs is resisted. It may be a group favoring violence against foreigners. Here Brendan Kennelly has prompted through his essay about ‘Poetry and Violence’ a very specific discussion, and which was taken up by the ‘Myth of the City’ discussion on Thursday with those who had understood not merely how important is this topic, but also what needs to be undertaken to safeguard life in cities i.e. what it takes to live in cities free from violence. [4]

Consequently considerations by poets should be included, before a city dominated only by things and forces which rest on the false assumption that only violence shall be needed to get something or else to get things done. Indeed, the city is maybe not exactly an anti-state force, but a citizens’ forum would rely much more on mediation and seeking consensus before enacting anything. This would mean people know each other personally and everyone having a voice would have as well a personal identity recognized by all others.

Coming back to consumption patterns which negate cultural identity formations in small as well as big cities, there can be made the experience at personal level that a person feeling down, even depressed, may that be due to a break up of a relationship or loss of a job, or things not going well, generally speaking, that this person goes out and buys something extravagant. If not that compensation mechanism is set into motion, then at least a woman not feeling well may go for a new hair cut while a man may search for a bar to get rid of his blues. All in all a city offers through its variety of possibilities many forms of compensations. Balancing out losses in one area can become an art but many times the city succeeds in providing something in time, and may it be the start of a new relationship, another kind of job and a sudden recognition where before doubts were nagging away if one was good at all to do anything. A city can be recognized through its off-setting principles working effectively over time.

Apparently much depends on what is deemed absolutely necessary and what is much more a matter of balancing things out at secondary and tertiary level. Sometimes it suffices to just go to see a movie. But a closer look at what is happening in every of these cases is what a city needs to spell out clearly, namely what is deemed for a good life, what not. Included has to be a forward strategy by which it becomes clear that the city takes existing problems more seriously and more importantly how now things are going to be tackled. A crucial test as to what is possible is how to overcome impasse e.g. when no one is any longer willing to make compromises or even to cut a deal especially not if it would mean sacrificing too much of one’s own sake for the sake that of others. The more everyone invokes the principle of ‘me first, then the others’ the less room a city has to work out some compromise. A lack thereof begins to be noticeable when reasoning with the others is increasingly cumbersome, if not impossible and things drag on endless when it comes to making decisions. If the social dimension is lost altogether, then a city can become victim of extreme egoistical drives. The latter shall negate any sense of freedom while uncompromising attitudes harden. How this to resolve through a new form of enlightenment, when everyone with such negative attitudes feels justified by life being quite hard and seeing that everyone is only on the look-out for him- or herself.

But then what is deemed to be necessary in a city is clouded by confusion about different needs, never mind ‘real’ needs. Moreover perception of needs is reigned in according to very specific consumption patterns. All of them are the results of special sales and marketing strategies as the aim is to create over time dependencies while not being held accountable if the results are dissatisfactory or even harmful. Not in all countries is consumer protection well developed. Consumption patterns can be identified according to their outlooks (if this attained, then that will be ensured or attained), concrete orientation points (where best to buy the item as if already guarantee for good quality at the set price to be attained something) and indications (how often something is to be consumed within what time period, if one wishes to be taken as serious by others e.g. what marketing strategies count as turn-over, consumers will claim as being best to have a new car every five years etc. and which has led, for example, to the system of leasing with every year a new car is acquired in this way). These three aspects are embedded in turn in some illusionary folder e.g. as if with certain music and fashion a return to the ‘Golden Age’ or ‘roaring twenties’ takes place while claiming to be highly innovative of these former styles in the present. That strategy works as a way forward.

Another strategy to entice consumption of certain products has been to appeal to man’s desire for wild nature. That is apparently best answered or responded to by linking people’s need for a vehicle to drive around town to a specific type which can make it anywhere through nature e.g. four wheel driven jeep as if not crossing over town to reach the other side, but to make a way through wild terrain. The same lure of illusion is used by advertisements of cigarettes. Very often can be seen cowboys either galloping on their horses over wide open plains or else they gather around the camp fire to have a smoke as the case with Marlborough. This evocation of the Wild West as a place in which only a real man has a chance, that says a lot about romantic notions having become flat out. They do hide all the nose dives into harsh reality.

In all of these cases consumption should be read as a direct claim upon reality, when in fact it is but a mere illusionary attribute to be added to life. Thus it can lead to the salesman wearing cowboy-boots to appeal to housewives when going door to door to sell his brushes. Or else drinks and other luxury items are linked to the notion of no one knowing the real pleasures of life until these things have been tasted. This excitement is exaggerated upon over and again. As one marketing expert would confess, very often the customer does not know his or her own needs until introduced to that specific product. It all starts with getting a new taste for things e.g. wine, cars, extensive trips etc. There is involved some degree of addiction or false dependency once a customer cannot be anymore without that specific item. Unconsciously the search for identity has been traded in to a cheap mechanism by which it is thought through the product or service rendered be able to acquire identity instead of having to work for it.

Of course, it would be interesting to know to what extent the suggestive logic of advertisement is really identical to what consumers experience once they purchase that product. Many a times consumers will not reveal the full truth of that experience out of fear to be looked upon as stupid for having spend so much money on that item when nothing is behind it. The tension between imagined and real experiences is heightened by a kind of consumption frenzy which takes the consumer far beyond any reality check. As a matter of fact poverty of experiences become apparent in a city when the city has little else to offer outside the spheres designated solely to consumption.

Since experiences of success in the consumer society depend very much on a monetary character or availability of ready money for consumption free of any need to justify why here and now so much money is spend, the life of the privileges plays itself out every day anew on the streets of any city. No consequences are drawn out of what has a momentary character of success or achievement when something is purchased and some satisfaction expressed or gained in this act of exchange of money for something concrete. Marx noted already that in this moment all interest in where the product came from and how it was produced, that this interest vanishes. It explains why no longer knowledge can be based on memories for which the tracks are erased once the product is in the hands of the consumer. Since this success is but of momentary character, all the more reasons to repeat the same pattern just to make sure this success can be attained whenever there is a need for such assurance. Interestingly enough, repetitive patterns are intensified by certain stores treating their regular costumers in a more privileged way as also familiarity and even intimacy gives the consumer the illusion of a personal treatment even though that treatment is but a part of the same pattern everyone else experiences.

Adorno spoke about the replica of the original image being realized in the act of purchasing something. Yet this act costs not only a great deal. It leaves in its wake a lot of wastage, including the many packages thrown away the moment the object of consumption has become a possession. As the experience and what goes with this act of consumption fades away, people realize the depressions did not go away. By not interpreting the reasons for these depressions properly as outcome of a lack of touch and communication with human reality, consumption needs intensify rather than alleviate this personal crisis. Deep down disappointments are often not so much reflected upon, but rather felt in a semi conscious way. The feeling is not attributed to anything specific but takes on the tone of a general notion of life. Consumption is then perceived as a deviation but a necessary one and the only one really being offered at the moment. Hence people go out to buy just something for the sake of just doing something. They start to search almost automatically to find a suitable scapegoat to consumption itself if this act proves too shallow to get rid of these negative moods running like dark currents underneath the surface. Society at large remains silent and merely watches as the act of consumption appears to be a completely innocent act and therefore is not really perceived as being already a highly desperate one.

In reality, the action to consume something was aimed at restoring confidence in one’s ability to be able to do something despite this hard reality. The disappointment making itself felt thereafter merely affirms that restoring one’s self confidence shall not be that easy as thought originally. Instead of drawing consequences out of that, the mind can easily be manipulated into a fine tuning of future consumption patterns. They shall be repeated the next time with a greater awareness of finer nuances which shall make in the end all the difference of how one feels. Or at least this is how some thoughts may take the person to repeat again the same pattern despite all fears and losses incurred in the meantime while priding oneself to have become a much more sophisticated consumer who knows subtle differences in price, quality, taste and quantity.

Much of the consumer patterns adapted and followed can be explained in this way. Therefore it is of special interest what other meaning Paula Meehan gives to ‘pattern’ when she reflects upon her own life starting off with the second best dress her mother forced upon her whenever she was about to go out:


The Pattern


Paula Meehan


Life has come down to me of hers,

A sewing machine, a wedding ban,

A clutch of photos, the sting of her hand

Across my face in one of our wars.


When we had grown bitter and apart.

Some say that’s the fate of the eldest daughter

I wish now she’d lasted till after

I’d grown up. We might have made a new start


As women without tags like mother, wife

Sister, daughter taken our chances from there.

At forty-two she headed for god knows where.

I’ve never gone back to visit her grave.


First she’d scrub the floor with Sunlight soap,

An arm reach at a time. When her knees grew sore

She’d break for a cup of tea, then start again

At the door with lavender polish. The smell

Would percolate back through the flat to us,

Her brood banished to the bedroom.


And she buffed the wax to a high shine

Did she catch her own face coming clear?

Did she net a glimmer of her true self?

Did her mirror tell what mine tells me?


I have her shrug and go on

Knowing history has brought her to her knees.


She’d call us in and let us skate around

In our socks, We’d grow solemn as planets

In an intricate orbit about her.




She’s bending over crimson cloth,

The younger kids are long in bed.

Late summer, cold enough for a fire,

She works by fading light

To remake an old dress for me.

It’s first day back at school tomorrow.




“Pure lambs wool. Plenty of wear in it yet.

You know I wore this when I went out with your Dad.

I was supposed to be down in a friend’s house,

Your Granddad caught us at the corner.

He dragged me by the hair – it was long as yours then –

In front of the whole street.

He called your Dad every name under the sun,

Corner boy, out; I needn’t tell you

What he called me. He shoved my whole head

Under the kitchen tap, took the scrubbing brush

And carbolic soap and in ice-cold water he scrubbed

Every spick of lipstick and mascara off my face.

Christ but he was a right tyrant, your Granddad.

It’ll be over my dead body anyone harms a hair of your head.”




She must have stayed up half the night

To finish the dress. I found it airing at the fire,

Three new copybooks on the table and a bright

Bronze nib, St. Christopher strung on a silver ware,


As if I were embarking on a perilous journey

To uncharted realms. I wore that dress

With little grace. Tome it spelt poverty,

The stigma of the second hand. I grew enough to pass


It on by Christmas to the next in line, I was sizing

Up the world beyond our flat patch by patch

Daily after school, and fitting each surprising

City street to city square to diamond. I’d watch


The Liffey for hours pulsing to the sea

And the coming and going of ships,

Certain that one day it would carry me

To Zanzibar, Bombay, the Land of the Ethiops.




There’s a photo of her taken in the Phoenix Park

Alone on a bench surrounded by roses

As if she had been born to formal gardens.

She stares out as if unaware

That any human hand held the camera, wrapped

Entirely in her own shadow, the world beyond her

Already a dream, already lost. She’s

Eight months pregnant. Her last child.





Her stele needles sparked and clacked,

The only other sound a settling coal

On her sporadic mutter

At a hard part in the pattern.

She favored sensible shades:

Moss Green, Mustard, Beige.


I dreamt a robe of a color

So pure it became a word.


Sometimes I’d have to kneel

An hour before her by the fire,

A skein around my outstretched hands,

While she rolled wool into balls.

If I swam like a kite too high

Amongst the shadows on the ceiling

Or flew like a fish in the pools

Of pulsing light, she’d reel me firmly

Home, she’d land me at her knees.


Tongues of flame in her dark eyes

She’d say, “One of these days I must

Teach you to follow a pattern.”


However, all patterns become ugly and even destructive, once reinforced negatively by conscious decisions of the city. That is the case when it increases the dependency upon false needs. Subject to a management which is willing to exploit, for example, car rallies or other cultural events just to fill hotel beds, it does not heed the need of artists to do nothing just to replenish their energies (Guenter Grass). A consumption pattern the year around is not the same as what substantial cultural development implies and requires if artists are to remain creative and spontaneous at their best. It is a negative sign if entire cities succumb to specific consumption strategies and consequently, if proven successful by attracting so many visitors, create patterns of repetition e.g. the yearly or biannual festivals. This is especially the case when solely designed to enhance business and thereby show little or no regard for culture and needs to sustain it through active and creative artists.

Although there is apparently no need to justify anything, if proven to be successful in economic terms that cannot be the sole criterion for evaluation as to what is going on in a city. Still, cultural criticism, especially if done in the wish to focus on things outside the economic realm, turns out to be just in vain, if the management concept decides only to use culture for this specific purpose.

A world dominated by solely business interests is usually deeply cynical and not at all interested in a substantial transfiguration of living and working possibilities, in order to make things become more truthful. This imbalance is reinforced and reproduced by people out of work and cut off from any meaningful activity which could facilitate their integration into society. They are faced by the dilemma that if they wish to participate in urban reality, they have to spend money irrespective whether or not they have any chance of earning sooner or later some money to pay for these bills. The helplessness written in many faces explains why there are these sudden outbursts with youth getting drunk or else some people suddenly running down those passages, in order to smash the shopping windows. They do so as if a symbol of the world they cannot enter. There is a lot of hatred and frustration in these outbursts as they seem to resent more the exclusion than seek themselves alternatives to this world of consumption.

The transformation of the city into passages designed for consumption reflects to endless productivity of industry. As this includes the ‘cultural industry’, it underlines that idle leisure has become an end in itself. Time and space are consumed without making any novel experience. As ‘paradise on earth’, the passage leads merely on to beauty saloons where the ladies gather to enhance their ‘beauty’. Bunel used these underpinnings as motives in his films. He made them into figures of speech. In not knowing the outcome, that speechlessness is translated in his film “The obscure object of desire” into terrorist bombs which explode in the passages out of sheer protest against this wastage of time by bourgeoisie society. Thus the real question remains whether Benjamin’s ‘flaneur’ can considered to be a poetic theme at the end of the twentieth or whether at the beginning of the twenty-first century this type of figure has merged with a mass appearance of idleness when walking these kinds of streets?

In the light of so much violence, bombs exploding, people feel threatened when entering these passages or while traveling underground. Due this fear being answered by security and safety measures built in with everything else, cities are beginning to look more and more the same. To this have to be added the Fast Food joints and temples of consumption. Thus it might be true to say that the theme of Walter Benjamin has not changed, but a note of caution is appropriate. The literary production is no longer defined by elongated and breath-taking narratives about experiences of beauty when going out of bounds e.g. Josef Conrad’s ‘Tension’. Rather the voiceless, the stifling of experiences, the obvious gaps between ideological claims and fashionable adaptations to these claims, make up more and more the narrative. They depict that only a few, very real elements are at work to find solutions while the selection mechanism as to remains without success or even gets poorer remains invisible. It can be assumed that these are the ones less articulated and a-historical but they may as well be categorized as not finding their way in this world of consumption. That means cities no longer are bridges between the old and the new. They no longer suffice to link the past with the present as an ongoing search for future. The latter has become that much more uncertain as more and more days, weeks, months and years appear to be filled with disasters of different kinds, but all relinquishing the dream about humanity. It means the dream of the perfect city has been given up long and as a result the stream of humanity has dried up long before the people get to it. That explains why active communication, the living in a language made up of sounds and a grammar of life, has been replaced by a muted silence.

Cities appear nowadays to be really about this search for not a perfect solution or some kind of utopian future, but result out of wishes to direct its traffic flows within reasonable times to whatever destination is desired. Some day dreaming is possible. It begins with children planting trees and youngsters altering their studies as they re-orientate themselves away from the classical jobs like lawyer, doctor or priest, and much more towards if not engineers or business people, then towards ecologists and biologists. These are indications of changes and new responses to needs as they have become apparent. The changes reflect alterations in the dominant values while the urban agenda picks up new issues. As to the tension between desired image and what is happening on the ground, there may be a long time waiting till the motivation picks up again and a new mapping of future strategies begins. The need of people to belong to a reality can be felt. Equally they do express at times in very concrete terms how much they would prefer to live in a world which can uplift their spirits and give them a chance to nurture human relationships. Of interest is how poetry expresses these ongoing changes in search of not an all too distant future. If poems can alter things and bring about a mind shift, this could set in turn the stage for a more poetic life. It goes without saying that this is impossible as long as there are no real feelings to be expressed and if not even a smell of a different future exists. But poetry is a localized sense of wishing to make a real difference.


[1] Interestingly enough this was recognized by the European Commission when initiating the Article 10 – ERDF program designed to finance innovative projects which could demonstrate how culture could be used to create jobs, while at the same time safeguard cultural heritage and culture from over commercialization leading to loss of cultural identities.

[2] See here especially Brendan Kennelly, Poetry, my Arse, Bloodaxe 1995.

[3] Katerina Anghelaki Rooke, “Out of her Life” (translated by Karen Van Dyck) in: The Scattered Papers of Penelop. London, 2008, p. 77

[4] Brendan Kennelly, ‘Poetry and Violence’, see http://poieinkaiprattein.org/beyond-images/poetry/poetry-and-violence/

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