Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Skyscraper and the Naïve View

As a child I had a naïve, uncomplicated, untroubled view of skyscrapers. When we went to New York every Easter to visit my grandmother it could be summed up in one word: wow!

I think we may have gone up the Empire State Building only once; every year, though, we would go up to the Rockefeller Center Observation Deck, which my mother convinced me was a better vantage point, not least of all because you could see the Empire State. I suspect she really preferred it because if she had to take the child up some tall building or other, it was better to choose one close to Bloomingdales than one close to Macy’s. It’s hard to be sure. At any rate, I did agree with her that the Rockefeller had a better view.

Something of that naïve enthusiasm for the tall building has always stayed with me—though I have never lived in any building with more than three stories. (Perhaps if I had, I would find skyscrapers more mundane, less interesting.) And it was in a state informed by something of that spirit that I wrote much of the first draft of Rising Stories. At some level I must have been aware of the many ways in which the skyscraper can act as a metaphor and a symbol: as buildings grow up so too do people grow up; the taller the building the closer we are to God, or the closer we may think we are to God; the heights of skyscrapers mirror the heights of human ambition—and of human hopes and aspirations. But those sorts of symbolism entered into my conscious mind rarely if at all as I was actually writing the first draft.

I was much more aware as I was writing of great skyscrapers as emblems of capitalism--and of their strong association with inequality. But throughout the process, something of that naïve early enthusiasm stayed with me. I'm glad it did; without it, I can hardly imagine how one would begin to capture in imaginative form any sense of the tensions and outright contradictions that skyscrapers embody.

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