Walking Manhattan: mapping the heart

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Publication details

Conway-Herron, J 2003, 'Walking Manhattan: mapping the heart', Australian Humanities Review, vol. 29.

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Writing in 1984 (a year ominously intertwined with Orwellian prophecy) French cultural theorist Michel de Certeau writes about the view of Manhattan from the110th floor of the World Trade Centre. For Certeau, it is ‘the most monumental figure of Western development’ (1984: 93) facilitating the eye of a removed spectator who looks down on the city. In May 2002, I flew over New York City and as the plane passed those majestic architectural monuments of which the twin towers of the World Trade Centre had once been part, I imagined the narrator of Certeau’s text being annihilated by those apocalyptic planes disappearing into the towers. The subsequent crumbling of the buildings into a mass of rubble and human remains is a vision whose frightful reverberations were broadcast live around the world. But, to those watching outside and above the panoptic vision of the tower itself, the images of those fateful planes seemed so like the films made by the seers of post-millennium chaos that it was hard to believe they were real. Certeau was arguing against totalising visions that depend on disentangling the voyeur like viewer from the daily happenings of the city and promoting the smaller stories of the ordinary person on the street. Ironically, it’s the telling of these stories that have played an enormous part in the restoration of Manhattan in the aftermath of the events of September Eleven.

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