tremble clef

Friday, November 04, 2005

Richard Hawley, "Coles Corner" (2005)

Cold city lights glowing: stories about places are makeshift things. They are composed with the world's debris. Coles Corner -- now no more, replaced by a John Lewis -- was where Sheffield’s couples, lovers, friends, mums and dads or whatever, would meet. "I'll meet you at Coles Corner…" People still say it, even though it hasn’t existed for years. It only exists, really, in the ether.

The traffic of life is flowing: the walking of passers-by offers a series of turns (tours) and detours that can be compared to "turns of phrases" or "stylistic figures." There is a rhetoric of walking. A friend who lives in the city of Sèvres drifts, when he is in Paris, towards the rue des Saints-Pères and the rues de Sèvres, even though he is going to see his mother in another part of town: these names articulate a sentence that his steps compose without his knowing it. Numbered streets and street numbers (112th St., or 9 rue Saint-Charles) orient the magnetic field of trajectories just as they can haunt dreams. Another friend unconsciously represses the streets which have names and, by this fact, transmit her -- orders or identities in the same way as summonses and classifications; she goes instead along paths that have no name or signature. But her walking is thus still controlled negatively by proper names.

What is it then that they spell out? These names make themselves available to the diverse meanings given them by passers-by; they detach themselves from the places they were supposed to define and serve as imaginary meeting-points on itineraries which, as metaphors, they determine for reasons that are foreign to their original value but may be recognized or not by passers-by. A whole series of comparisons would be necessary to account for the magical powers proper names enjoy. They seem to be carried as emblems by the travellers they direct and simultaneously decorate.

Walking follows them: "I fill this great empty space with a beautiful name." I'm going downtown where there's music. I'm going where voices fill the air. Maybe there's someone waiting for me, with a smile and a flower in her hair. I'm going downtown where there's people. The loneliness hangs in the air, with no-one there real waiting for me. No smile, no flower, nowhere.

Every sentence in today's post is a quotation. The opening phrases of the first two paragraphs, as well as the last six sentences of the post, are part of the lyric to "Coles Corner," while the end of the first paragraph paraphrases Richard's comments in an interview. Everything else is from our guest blogger, Michel de Certeau: "Walking in the City," from his The Practice of Everyday Life.


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