NYC Day 5: But Why?
Ever wondered why there are cities? I have.
No, Jim. What’s to wonder about? It’s all about economics, $tupid. Don’t you remember Western Civ? The Neolithic Revolution? Agriculture? Yadda yadda?
Hmm. Maybe. Could it be something like this, though? Something primal urging us to flock together, a human murmuration apparent only to aliens, who watch us with wonder or amusement on their version of YouTube? So maybe not just a question of economy? Think about this the next time some waiter asks you which table you’d like, and you choose one next to the only other party seated in the room. Chirp chirp!
Or maybe it’s something else. What about cities as labyrinths? After all, spiral patterns have been associated with cities, tombs, and other sacred places for millennia. Why? Because such patterns were thought to provide a magical defense against threats, one theory goes. (In fact, the inspiration for the famous Cretan Labyrinth — you remember the mythical King Minos, the half-man, half-bull Minotaur, Theseus, Ariadne, Daedalus and Icarus — may have been an actual city, loosely speaking, i.e., the elaborate Palace of Knossos on Crete.)
So maybe cities are not just about commerce, and not just an expression of our innate tendency to socialize. They’re defensive, both naturally and supernaturally. Like wildebeests, we form a circle in common defense, and then as happens so often, given that we are not oxen but symbol-making creatures, we ascribe to the circle itself (and not just to our band of brothers and sisters) a magical potency.
Or maybe cities exist simply to amuse me. Water feature on the High Line early this morning.
Off to the Strand Bookstore in a bit, which I don’t expect to look much like Umberto Eco’s labyrinthine library in The Name of the Rose. But I’m open to it.