Roundtable: Vertical Intersectioning

This pair of comments is the last entry in our series on intersectionality (Part 1, Part 2, and Part Lovecraft).

John Clute

Another slight problem with “intersectionality” over and above problem of reinventing the wheel. (Parenthetically, one is constantly brought back to wonder if any of us has ever said anything not already said in Vienna and Prague before the WW1 snuff flick.) The other slight problem is the fact that the term — unfortunately in line with industrial humanities practice — is a noun not a verb.

URBAN LIFE IS REAL LIFE. This morning, in the new New Yorker, found a quote by Sigmund Freud from his great book Civilization and its Discontents. My copy is in London (I’m in Maine) and I don’t know if this is in the original translation (which I find more readable) or in the later Strachey. Whatever:

Now let us make the fantastic supposition that Rome were not a human dwelling-place, but a mental entity with just as long and varied a past history: that is, in which nothing once constructed had perished, and all the earlier stages of development had survived, alongside the latest. . . . The observer would need merely to shift the focus of his eyes, perhaps, or change his position, in order to call up a view of either the one or the other.”

This is vertical intersectioning, not horizontal, but all the same evokes China Mieville’s The City and the City (2009). It nicely adumbrates something I’ve felt for a long time about how one lives in a city: that there is of course a small element of what one might call utopian thinking in our learning how to transact the urban: that there is an element of “forward planning” in the gaze we select to embrace in order to cross a street: that every shifting of the gaze or glance generates a nonce utopia (or dystopia, perhaps Avernal) that gives us a clear path, that foregrounds an Ariadne’s Thread (or magic carpet) we can follow (or ride) through the surge and thrust of “intersectioning”. Like tourists, or owners, or writers.

The term I’ve been using myself, a term I hate and am praying I can find something better, is “equipoise” used as a verb. Yes, it sucks. Because what I want to convey is something that addresses both our love for the the onion of the given (the banyan of the prior), but also our need to thrust through it if we hope to make anything, or survive. Am going to be giving a talk next September on the reshaping/dissolution of genres in the 21st century, by which point (hey) maybe a better term than equipoise will grip the mind. Tentative title for the talk is “Do Not Go Gentle.”

Kathleen Ann Goonan

Our cities are enlarging rapidly and “intersctioning,” as it were, in, as Clute points out, infinite dimensions, one of which is our own point of view as regards time and space–a useful and illuminating reality as well as metaphor.

Our own powers of intersectioning are enhanced by the tool of literacy.  Our main developmental task is building the neuronal system, in conjunction with sensory input, that empowers us to build stories about every finely split multilayered instant of our lives.  All of us, whether or not we read, whether or not we read in more than one language, possess the inherent literacy of our minds, which “read” people and surroundings, infer pasts and futures, and bestow upon us so much information that the ability to winnow is paramount in enabling us to navigate and be an effective agent in the city we build and the many cities with which we intersect, constantly.

The ways in which we sort ourselves, the cities to which we often cling (and this is always for want of knowledge) are those of culture.  We are built by invisible strictures of culture.  These strictures often fall along visible markers, such as male/female, skin color, etc., but despite myriad attempts to prove otherwise, we are all human.  I do not hang only with women of my age who have brown eyes and brown hair.  When time and space allow or force, my city is enlarged.

When I was young, literature allowed me to leave the city of brown-eyed, brown-haired white girls of Irish/German/Welch descent living in Ohio. It was a narrow aperture compared to what we have now, a newborn and rapidly expanding library of fluid cities.  I live in cities of music, of images, of culture/thought (for instance, I look forward to Eric Kandel’s forthcoming book The Age of Insight, which promises to explore a verge which glows with tremendous power in my own landscape of thought) which constantly intersect.  The frisson of these intersections gives me life.

Those of us who read and contribute to these roundtables and to other cities of thought have the power to add to it, to influence it.  One of my own particular quests is that of helping others–mainly small children–gain the tools I have been so fortunate, by birth and culture, to own and to use.

SF is one of these cities.  Each novel/story intersects with many other cities.  And so on.

There is never just one way to slice it.

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