Street Level Culture: A Stroll Thought Urban Paradoxes

What I want for us is that we become able to see beyond what we assume we are to see and what we think we see – both are culturally derived conditions – and to see the gaps between the seemingly obvious and the un-obvious.

It is tempting to compare seeing between obvious and un-obvious to reading between the lines. However, such a comparison will only lead us astray, for reading between the lines implies that the author has an unspoken, or hidden, meaning for us to decipher. This logic suggests that there are hidden clues to culture (in our case urban culture) that are available for our uncovering, and that once uncovered and debated, we can agree to their significance and meaning. While there are certainly cultural clues to be uncovered, the problem with our analogy is that the author’s lines (words) set the boundaries of our interpretations. Allowing boundaries to exist in cultural interpretation has the effect of creating predetermined results, for the results must
always be kept within the stated perimeters. [Likewise with thinking outside the box, the box is always the reference point of our “outsider-the-box” thinking.]

Carrying the analogy into art makes the point even clearer. In art, the lines are the perspective boundaries of the piece, thus controlling how we see the piece. Or to put it a different way, the lines serve as a frame to keep us within the lines. What we see in between the lines is that which the artist placed there, or wishes us to place there. Think about how we encourage children to draw within (or in the space between) the lines. To go outside of the lines ruins the predetermined picture, and let us not forget, that factually, the lines determine the definition of “outside,” and thus, reality.

I suggest that learning to fully see requires that we see between, or within, the line (singular). To the point of this course, to learn to see the place (line) where cultural symbols intersect as gaps.

In the illustration, each block represents a symbol; the red lines are where the symbols intersect.Upon examination of the illustration what becomes evident is that the shared lines of the intersection are simultaneously part of each symbol, while at the same time, limited to just one symbol. Hence, in the interpretation of the symbol, all intersecting symbols play a role. Likewise, as the line (gap) is simultaneously part of both symbols (or as in the center point, four symbols), the line must also have its own independent meaning, apart from the symbol or intersecting symbols. Yet, the independent meaning by its very nature of placement must be related in some way to each symbol that makes up the whole of the intersection. Therefore, the independent meaning of the line (gap) draws the participating symbols together, thus creating a fullness of unity beyond themselves.

Our goal as we walk about is to learn to see the gaps in their fullness and explore their meaning.

© Frank A. Mills, 2010 -13

NOTE: The above piece is the introduction to “Street Level Culture: A Stroll Thought Urban Paradoxes,” a course I teach. In the course we seek answer the following questions:

1. What does the use of urban space say about power and knowledge?
2. What does the use of urban space tell us about current and past cultures (industrial,
postmodern, hyper-age, etc.) and suggest about future cultures? What
philosophical/sociological questions are raised by contemporary use of urban space?
3. What does the use of urban space say about complex reorganizations of temporal
and spatial relations, i.e. community?

For more information on the course, please email me.