Wednesday, March 31, 2010

purpose for writing

Something that a professor said to me yesterday was very enlightening. We were talking about an idea of mine for writing a paper and after I told her about it, she kind of avoided the specifics and told me about some other books generally about my topic that I should look into. I noted these and then quizzed her once again about my particular approach to the topic and she responded with another question. The important thing to think about is why approach a topic from a particular point of view? What makes it useful/ important or worthwhile? 

To make things clearer (although I'm not sure that it will) I will talk a bit about the particularities of my project. In thinking about cities, Prof. Roy has used Freud's notion of The Uncanny to describe the modern city in general. Specifically the most famous passage from the essay in which Freud is walking through an unnamed Italian city and keeps happening upon the street filled with "painted woman", the final time experiencing a feeling of uncanny-ness. Interestingly, it is not very clear how this anecdote reflects the later definition of uncanny that he gives us, which is anyways very unclear. The uncanny is brought about by something which is both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. This can be caused by something which has become unfamiliar through the process of repression, or by something that "reeks" of infantile impulsive urges. Either way, there is the sense that through repetition, unpleasant feelings are aroused in the viewer which he further connects to his "compulsion to repeat" that he elaborates in Beyond the Pleasure Principle

I want to connect this idea to the post-modern phenomenon of gentrification. Gentrification is the process by which capital investment in "undeveloped" areas raise property values in these areas thus displacing the "original", or at least current residents. It is not, however, a process that happens overnight, but one which takes place over time. It has been important in City Planning theory because it was an unexplainable phenomenon under the tenants of the Chicago School or Urban design which was unable to explain re-investment in blighted city centers except as anomalies. It has become clear that gentrification is not an anomaly, however, since it has taken place throughout Europe, America and Australia even in medium and smallish cities. 

The process of gentrification is indeed one of alienation. A repetition that makes a place strange to current residents. Getting back to my original point, I think that what makes the uncanny a worthwhile subject to think about in terms of gentrification is the repression of the knowledge of past residents of an area. Current residents, however attached they are to a certain area, are never the "original" ones, if this term can even be used here. Perhaps the uncanny nature of gentrification, or the repressed content of gentrification that rises up through the alien landscape are exactly the memories of these past inhabitants. I'll keep you updates on my progress with this issue. Off to the library now!

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