Architecture and Revolution: Contemporary Perspectives on Central and Eastern Europe

By Neil Leach | Go to book overview

5

History lessons

Fredric Jameson

Our assignment here seemed to be twofold: to think possible reconstructions of the city, and to reflect on the situation that obtains 'beyond the wall'. 1 This last is deliberately ambiguous, since it can signify the temporality of the post-communist period, or on the other hand the specificities of the 'East', in particular of Romania and of Bucharest, our host space. The second term, then, is more than merely specific; it is radically self-specifying, and leads us on more and more into historical and social difference and uniqueness. 'The city', on the other hand, is uniquely general: no one doubts its correspondence to a concept, or boldly demands the suppression of this meaningless and totalizing generality, even after the historical death of so many classical cities and the careful notations of their wholesale dissolution into megalopolis or something post-national. Yet 'the city' always seems to be a term more meaningful for those coming from the countryside (or the suburb): from one 'city' to another, the movement is rather different, and the comparisons that ought to generate a usable abstraction (of 'good city form', for example) become more aimless and agitated, their common reference spilling out into sheer geographical difference, or a search for trivializing abstractions of problems only too concrete (the transportation system, specialization into sectors, daily life and 'the street'). Nominalism becomes a tempting if desperate resolution to these conceptual frustrations, when we decide to put an end to them with the affirmation that there is no city: there is only Stockholm, Bremen, Seoul, Zürich, Ljubljana, Budapest, and Bucharest, to limit myself to the cities I have briefly visited in the past month. Nominalism is, however, a harsh taskmaster, a corrosive and demystificatory process not so easily arrested as it is initiated: in this case, it comes to mean not even these names, but the ephemeral experiences associated with them. It is true that these experiences can be planned, extended and deepened, by information and history, by testimony of the people included in them: the period in which an essentially lyric impressionism was felt to be radically incompatible with conceptual interpretation or analysis has ended, one would hope, but perhaps by a pyrrhic victory in which interpretation has itself become a 'mere' impression.

I can at least begin with the useful notion of 'reconstruction', which will at once make plain how distinct and incomparable all these names turn out to be.

-69-

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