Friday, 6 December 2013

The City As An Idea - a reflection on what I'm doing

As the end of the year approaches and I plan and contemplate the body of work ahead I've been, understandably, thinking about what I've done and how it should proceed. I now think I can explain my map and my films in a way I could not have done before, even when I was producing them.

For the first time in a while I listened to the song 'Going to your Funeral' by The Eels, the reprise of which I used in my first film 'To Belfast.'

There is a line in the original song which goes 'Look at all the people with the flowers in their hands. They put the flowers on the box that's holding all the sand that was once you.' It struck me that this has a significance to the last film I made, 'Tomb.' 

The film concludes by suggesting that the attitude that Belfast is in some way dead, or even profoundly damaged, is a total misnomer. Belfast is not a living organism and cannot be dead or even injured. We can use the metaphor to describe our opinions in a poetic and engaging way, but when it comes to honestly trying to get the city working we need to remember they are only metaphorical and ultimately not true. So when E quite unromantically remarks that whatever resides in the box at the funeral is indeed not his loved one but rather a pile of 'sand,' this applies even more readily to a city.

A city is what John Searle would call a social construct (in particular an institutional social construct); if it were not for us grouping the set of phenomena relating to this specific space on earth into a subset which we label Belfast, then Belfast would simply not be. Belfast is a set of ideas, be it the approach to the sandbank ford, the strategic gateway to the Ards, the residence of the Chichester family, the incorporated market town, 'boomtown' of Imperial Victoriana, modernist hub of industry and commerce, religious warzone or 21st century tourism and shopping destination. 

As Alan Moore suggested in 'V for Vendetta,' ideas don't die. Ideas ebb and flow, they contradict and adjust. They defy three dimensional space and fly in the face of logic and rationality. Cities, like ideas, are not things or objects, but are dynamic lived processes which refute absolutism and universality. Any perception we have of an idea dying or not being there is just that; a perception. A perception of the passing of a way-of-being we held dear, or at worst reified. As long as we bear in mind that they are simply ideas which suggest a way of living then their departure should not worry us so much.

Cry onwards to the next 'Belfast!'

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