Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Vanishing America: A Once and Future Community

What Is Progress?

And yes, my concerns go beyond the metaphysical...

"Progress is our most important product"
-General Electric

The last episode of Parts Unknown is posted at the end of this essay for those who may share the same premonition this author shares with the no holds barred opinion in Anthony Bourdain's forensic dissection of Detroit, that encompasses community and the ruins of Empire......or the ruminations on the stark black and white images of David Plowden recording what was once our collective community, as imperfect as it was, being on a more human scale.
What Plowden and Bourdain document is the metamorphosis occurring under the nose of a society that is narrowly focused on increasing productivity at the cost of it's humanity, just as science has sapped the compass of consciousness in regard to remorse.
Who are we collectively?
The answer to that seems wrested from us covered over with the sort of commercialism that smacks of colonialism, exploitation and a lack of value toward any hope of a sustainable Empire that will do anything under any circumstance to promote progress as long as it is in our interest first, all others are politically secondary..under the purview of the NSA.
Progress..what is it and toward what?
Is it the spate of self congratulatory television commercials by Walmart and British Petroleum extolling their own virtues as they dropped the ball?
Bourdain's program focuses on food not for the sake of food but how it serves as a shared experience that may also serve a more important function, the bringing together of family and community life and this program I have posted is a study as contrasted as the saturation levels of Plowden's use of a monochromatic palette.
To use a weak pun, it is all food for thought.

David Plowden is a name few are familiar with and like many an artist, he remains a keen observer as a visual diarist of what was a disappearing America. This certainly sounds like an odd statement as if the landscape that surrounds us had become enveloped in a sort of low lying fog, admidst the bustle and frantically hectic hive of expressways, franchised conformity and ceaseless signal noise that seems to crowd out any reflection or meaningful rumination that would stand still long enough to measure what has been gained and what is now irretrievably past, in the landscape of society and culture. Information as a commodity to be processed, manipulated and sold in the marketplace versus one to one relationships in a more easily understood scale perhaps translates into a nostalgia for a more human sized scale, a world of more diversities, languages, cultures, regionalisms that seemed to have been rolled like a pie batter into a monolithic miasma of informational schizophrenia. Kids staring at laptops, brought up on synthetic environments, the cloned and synthetic substitutions for intimacy such as Facebook, or Twitter...add to this a diet of chemically synthetic foodstuffs and more..all this seems an escape route leading to a dead heat..as it whimpers along.

One could say the question that is buried in this post is as obvious as the noses on our faces..what are we progressing toward? What is progress?

Working with one's hands, being a part of a community or profession that was more to a human scale, more art than science, more conversationally direct, a world of front porches, family businesses, remote farmsteads passed through the hands of generation after generation, full of back roads without names in an era prior to GPS, all of which measured a pace by less productivity and more time to actually ruminate..
I know the ghosts of this America that has largely vanished as I lived in it's waning decades, before the romance of a dream became a robotic predictability, with overly complex end runs around more direct relationships, such as the clerk who knew you by name, knew every nook and cranny of every shelf, who aged alongside your own family. 
I came across a interview with Mr Plowden this morning and as it was said of Loren Eisley's writing, in David's work there is a vast discernment in black and white. All of which is communicated with the eye, with images that require no narration..which, in of itself, is a remarkable achievement one that has nothing to do with productivity or statistics...or consensus for that matter in terms of being praiseworthy or blameworthy, these profound images of a America that has disappeared from sight. 

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