Monday, September 23, 2013

Reading Benjamin's article on The Flaneur one cannot help but to juxtapose imagery and the feelings of wandering around Toronto with those described in the article from the 19th century in Paris. Almost 2 centuries separate the imagery alive in the Parisian descriptions but yet they are still able to resonate with a metropolis existing within the 21st century that is, technologically and, at least in theory (or on the face of things), economically and politically separated. Yet two selections stood out for me when visualizing our fair city of Toronto;

"Streets are the dwelling place of the collective. The collective is an eternally unquiet, eternally agitated being that - in the space between the building fronts - experiences, learns, understands and invents as much as individuals do with the privacy of their own four walls."

“The brutal indifference, the unfeeling isolation of each in his private interest become the more repellent and offensive, the more these individuals are crowded together within a limited space.” Friedrich Engels Die Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England 1848

Now along with these two quotes I would like you to examine these two images from the corner or Bathurst Street and Bloor Street (as seen on the afternoon of Friday September 20th, 2013)




These images represent the impact that an individual has had upon the city and in turn a reflection of how the city has acted upon the individual. This man is at once part of the collective, indeed with the street being his dwelling place, and isolated from this collective due to him being labelled as one of the "homeless"(at least to outward appearances, the appearances garnered from a simple viewing, at once visual, auditory and olfactory). 

This individual (and I painfully have to lump myself into the 'brutal indifference' category because I cannot attribute a name to this man) routinely stands upon the corner of Bathurst and Bloor and silently, with a empty, worn, disposable coffee cup in his hands, not outstretched but neither held close, petitions for alms. His outward appearance does not vary from day to day or indeed from season to season but remains stoic in his unchanging appearance of stained kaki pants and an equally unclean black hooded sweatshirt. 

As I have mentioned he does not actively ask anyone for aid, but his intentions are not suspect nor illusive. In fact he does seem to break his silence, nor does his face change with any twisting of emotion. The actuation of the wall muriel is both accurate in its voice and characterization of his facial expression. The man could be the living embodiment of the art as much as the art is an embodiment of the man. 

Granted this individuals background and story are hidden to me, hidden behind my indifference but I cannot help but think that the city has been as active an agent in placing him in his circumstances as much as the city has been an active agent in memorializing this man's ever constant presence about this intersection. Perhaps it is a stretch but the city seems to have imprinted itself as much upon him as he has upon the city. 

3 Comments:

Blogger Dan said...

I'm curious. What is the origin of your "pain" at not being able to name the homeless figure painted onto the wall?

Perhaps this pain is related to that emic empathy we anthropologists feel for our research participants? Or maybe this is a more personal pain which reflects a disdain for stratification and the distance this creates between people?

Maybe you have a new and different explanation I haven't listed?

9/24/2013 2:19 PM  
Blogger Marty Tenk said...

I believe when I refer to the 'pain' I feel at not being able to name the homeless figure on the wall is rooted in the fact that he does not only exist for me as a representation on a wall but I have seen, heard, smelled and in all honesty ignored this individual while I waited on the corner of Bathurst and Bloor.

I do not write about this man from interactions, or conversations I have had with this man but as if the clock was turned back, like an armchair anthropologist thinking about his subjects thousands of miles away, writing from my position of privilege, within my 'ivory tower'. As a modern Anthropologist admitting to this attitude is difficult because I know why I should not inhabit this position or at least try not too.

10/01/2013 3:38 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Thanks for sharing.

I can certainly relate to this pain because I have likewise ignored (and been ignored), or put differently, I am sometimes a participant in the "brutal indifference" of city-life. I think its good that you were able to articulate your pain. Perhaps speaking about these things can get us part of the way to building a friendlier city.

10/03/2013 9:53 PM  

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