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Friday, August 19, 2016

Time to Capture Rhythms of the City


from Lefebvre's Window:    “When rhythms are lived and blend into [one] another, they are difficult to make out. Noise, when chaotic, has no rhythm. Yet, the alert ear begins to separate, to identify sources, bringing them together, perceiving interactions. If we don’t listen to sounds and noises…usually we do not understand (hear) the rhythms and associations which none the less comprise us… To understand and analyse rhythms, one has to let go…but not completely. There is a certain externality which allows the analytical intellect to function. Yet, to capture a rhythm one needs to have been captured by it…in order to hold this fleeting object, which is not exactly an object, one must be at the same time both inside and out. A balcony is perfect for the street…to this placing in perspective (of the street)… For want of these you can always be content with a window… From a window open onto [the] street…one does not have to lean over much to see into the distance. To the right… To the left… Perpendicular to this…and on the other side…. All of Paris ancient and modern, traditional and creative, active and idle.”

“Over there, the one walking in the street is immersed into the multiplicity of noises, rumours, rhythms (including those of the body, but is the person aware of these…). But from the window noises are distinguishable, fluxes separate themselves, rhythms answer each other. Below…a traffic light: on red, the cars stop, pedestrians cross, soft murmurings, a babble of voices…and sometimes a cry, a call…At the green light, steps and voices stop. A second of silence and it’s the surge, the burst of speed of tens of cars accelerating as fast as possible… It’s incredible what one sees and hears (from the window). Strict harmony… After the red light, it’s instantly the bellowing rush of the large and small beasts: monstrous trucks turn towards the Bastille, most of the smaller vehicles dash towards Hôtel de Ville. The noise rises, rises in intensity and power, peaks, becomes unbearable, although rather well borne by the stink of fumes. Then stop… Sometimes cars stagnate in the middle of the road and pedestrians go round them, as waves around a rock, giving withering looks to the drivers… Hard rhythms: silence and uproar alternate, time broken and accented, striking the one who from his window takes to listening. This [urban rhythm] astonishes him more than the incongruous look of the crowds.”

“Incongruous crowds, yes… in groups or alone. They walk without cease, chewing gum or a sandwich… The noise that pierces the ears doesn’t come from the passers-by, but from the engines revving up. No ear, no apparatus could apprehend this ensemble of flows of metallic or carnal bodies. There must be a little time to capture the rhythms, a sort of mediation over time, the city, people.”

“Flows and conglomerates succeed each other; they increase or decrease but always accumulate at the corners then make their way, entangled and disentangled… These last rhythms…cyclical, with big and simple intervals, within more intense, alternating rhythms with short intervals… The interactions of various repetitive and different rhythms, as one says, animate the street and the neighbourhood. The linear…consists in comings and goings and combines with the cyclical and spells of longer duration. The cyclical is social organization manifesting itself. The linear is routine, thus the perpetual, made up of chance and encounters.”

“From my window overlooking courtyard and gardens, the view and the offer of space is very different. Over the gardens, the differences of habitual rhythms … fade; they seem to disappear into a sculptural immobility… But look more closely and longer. Up to a point, this simultaneity is only apparent; surface and spectacle. Go deeper, dig below the surface, listen closely instead of simply looking, reflecting the effects of a mirror. You then discern that each plant, each tree, has its rhythms, made of several… Continue and you will see… polyrhythmicallysymphonically… each being, each body, as having above all, its time. Each therefore having its place, its rhythms, with its immediate past, a near future and hereafter.”

“What this window which opens onto one of the most lively streets of Paris shows, what appears spectacular, would it be this feeling of spectacle? To attribute this… character to this vision (as dominant feature) would be unjust and would bypass the real, that is, of meaning. The characteristic features are really temporal and rhythmical, not visual. To extricate and to listen to the rhythms requires attentiveness and a certain amount of time.”

“Could it be that the lessons of the streets and the teachings of the window are exhausted and dated? Certainly not. They perpetuate themselves by renewing themselves. The window on the street is not a mental place from which the interior gaze would be following abstract perspectives. A practical site, private and concrete, the window offers views that are more than spectacles… Familiarity preserves it as it disappears and is reborn, with the everyday life of inside and out. Opacity and horizons, obstacles and perspectives are implicated, for they become complicated, imbricate themselves to the point of allowing the Unknown, the giant city, to be perceived or guessed at. With its diverse spaces affected by diverse temporalities – rhythms.”

“In this confusion, this scaffolding, is there a hierarchy?... The window suggests a number of hypotheses which restless wandering and the street confirm or invalidate. The bodies (alive and human, besides a few dogs) who move down below, the whole swarming whole wrecked by the cars, would they not be imposing a law? Which one?... The windows, the doors, the streets, the facades, are measured according to a human scale. Those waving hands, those appendages, although they throw off many messages, cannot be taken for signs. But is there a relationship between these physical flows of gestures and the culture which shows itself (and howls) in the enormous noise of the junction? After all, little bistros and shops… are, like the passers-by, on a human scale. The constructions across the street wanted to transcend this scale, go beyond familiar dimensions and also all other past and possible models. Hence, this exhibition of metal and solidified piping with the harshest reflections. And this is a meteorite fallen from a planet where rules an absolute technocracy… What are these strange contrasts saying? What does the proximity whisper…? Does it have a secret - or secrets? … This great building which was conceived not to be seen, but to offer itself to the gaze. Yet, one comes to see it, and one casts upon it an absent-minded look upon what it exposes. One goes around this void, which fills itself with things and people to empty itself again and so forth…”

“Rhythms. Rhythms. They reveal and hide, being much more varied than in music… Rhythms: music of the City, a picture which listens to itself… Rhythms perceived from the invisible window, pierced in the wall of the façade… but beside the other windows, it too is also within a rhythm which escapes it…”

“No camera, no image or sequence of images can show these rhythms. One needs equally attentive eyes and ears, a head, a memory, a heart…. The observer at the window knows that he takes as first reference his time, but that the first impression displaces itself and includes the most diverse rhythms, as long as they remain to scale… Here as elsewhere, opposites find and recognize each other, in a unity both more real and more ideal, more complex than its elements already accounted for.”

— Henri Lefebvre, “Seen from the Window” [ca 1986] in Writings on Cities,  edited and translated by Eleonore Kofman and Elizabeth Lebas (Blackwell, 1996).