On Cities And What Makes Them

On Cities and
What Makes Them

By Bernard Harbaš

Predrag Finci, „O kolodvoru i putniku“, Motrišta, Časopis za kulturu, znanost i društvena pitanja, Mostar, 2013., br. 74.

In his previous book, Personal as Text, through the analysis of confession, text, identity, and writing, Bosnian philosopher and writer in exile, Predrag Finci, has already posed a series of questions regarding the relation between self and the other. Through the Lacanian-Heideggerian perspective of understanding the language as the being/unconscious, the author introduced to us the problems of language and writing. For the author, language, text, speech, word, are notions which break the identity of the self and open it towards the other (constituted as language, text, story…). Personal as text means that the identity is always written, inscribed, spoken, and designated.

In his latest book, About Stations and Travelers, the author directs his philosophical-literary analysis towards the city and its spiritual structure. At the beginning, Finci introduces basic determinants of the genre he will use, i.e. the mixture of poetic, socio-logical, philosophical, and historical. By explaining the meaning of the notion chronology, Finci revisits (brings us back again to) his previous book in which the personal is understood as text and text as personal. In that sense, chronology of the city is a combination of the author’s view on the city and the city as content, city as subject, city which with its life, content and spiritual structure inscribes its own life. In his analyses, Finci expresses Simmelian characteristic of projecting the phenomena from everyday life through the duality of perspectives through which he presents phenomena he objectifies. City is at the same time a world of objective things, with its buildings, people, and the entire infrastructure, but also, it is a duality of subjective and objective, which is presented in the city as its story and in the subject who experiences the city. For the author, each phenomenon has two aspects: “objective” and the other, which is formed in the clash between the object which tells the story about itself, and the subject who interprets that story. The author indicates that on this other side of the object perception does not exist without transcendentality, that is, without a subjective condition for each objective object. All the structure of cognition is the observed object and what a subject brings (inscribes) into this object or into what s/he expects from it. “Film admirer inscribes his/her expectations into the film.” The author’s constant (un)conscious referring to Alain Resnais indicates that his perspective of the theory of cognition is actually a Husserlian record of the lived experience of the consciousness or the philosophy of the flow-of-consciousness.

By representing a series of dualities of meanings the author points out that the city itself is in its essence plural in its meaning. At the beginning of his analysis of the city, the author emphasizes its economic and political dimensions. Political determinant of the city is not demonstrated only through empirical power or some parliament consisting of concrete politicians. It is also demonstrated through the power it demonstrates on basic elements of the city: naming the streets and squares, placing of the monuments and museums are only some of the phenomena through which power demonstrates itself, that is, itself as power. Economy of the city consists of basic processes which determine its inhabitants’ lives, and they are: production, sales, consumption, property, without which city life does not exist.

Finci elaborates each phenomenon of the city through the plurality of its meanings. Thus, for example, the city is simultaneously the principle of social interaction and isolation. Street, too. The museum has its meaning in its political role but, at the same time, also as “storage” of antiquities. The museum addresses to the heritage and something through which cultural value has been confirmed. This is why a museum has a stronger political role than, for example, the gallery. Galleries too have a twofold function, as exhibition space but, at the same time, as our affirmation of what is potentially artistically valuable. In that sense, galleries do not have a political function since it does not relate to the origin, tradition, history, i. e. to all those elements needed to confirm the political power of a state.

In the city, the author recognizes a metaphysical structure, taking center for something bearing political, economic or any other power, while suburb represents a derivative of the center. “Each street is the image of the ruling ideology. Its showroom is in main streets, while in small, poor, mostly suburban streets, you find its infamy.” In other words, the indigene is cultivated, refined, civilized, while the “newcomer” is wild, undomesticated, and does not know the code of city life.

The economy of the city consists of a multitude of elements and processes. The market place, as a space of pre-capitalist economy, represents the center of city life. Even though it is placed in the center, this space is discursively different from the city. Bargain is applied there, which gives a special charm to trading. The market place is a center from which the city emerges. In contemporary times, it is still a space of pre-capitalist and thus has the ambivalent meaning: as something which makes a part of city economy, and on the other hand, as something which is sidelined and archaic. However, it is also a proof that the city does not consist only of progress and urban norms, but of something that has its separate economic and linguistic code.

Parks and gardens are also part of economic and political structure of the city. The park is public property and an indicator of general concern about the aesthetics of the city. On the other hand, the garden is a private property. These are two sides of the ownership over nature in the city. Beside its nature and greenery, park is characterized by monuments, as the indicators of political power. In that sense, the park has taken the place of the Forum. Monuments are part of the park and represent political aesthe-ticization, that is, politically conditioned artistic modeling of the world.

The city consists also of a river. It represents a flow, life, and constant change. It is a mark of separating two sides, but at the same time also a yearning for connection and crossing the border. The river is life itself, and thus has flow, change, and movement. The author shows his inclination towards the philosophy of life, that is, towards privileging of existence as each time different. Existence is like a river, flow, change, moving.

The thesis from the book: “Life is a life of consciousness” indicates that the author has preference for a phenomenological perspective of conceiving life. Aestheticization is a conscious existence and thus change, flow, and movement are occurrences in the consciousness. The author actually combines a phenomenological and an existential view of understanding life. Finci illustrates this other perspective in the chapter on graveyards, which he understands as a mark of eternity of the finite existence.

The author concludes his book with the analysis of travelling. Each man is a traveler, and each life is a voyage, whereby Finci refers to the metaphor of the archetypical character of Odysseus: “In the character of Odysseus we comprehend some of the primordial metaphors: in him, you find the home-coming (to the eternal Eden), wandering as destiny, love as a constant, and above all misfortune of the hero“. Odysseus was No-one while he traveled, while he was coming back home. His home was where he was what he truly is. Travel is a flow and change, but also a desire for returning. Home is where you can be what you truly are.

As in his previous book (Personal as Text) the author combines philosophical, sociological and literary approaches to the analysis of everyday phenomena. On one hand, he indicates that text is everything, while philosophy, sociology, essay are only its forms/discourses, and on the other, that there are no privileged objects of critical reflection which can be questioned. This time as well, the author represents himself through a work which shows us that we do not need to think only about the self which relates towards the world, but that the world, as what is alien, essentially constitutes what is proper (self).

Translation: Nada Harbaš
Proofreading: Shelly Vickers Pertz

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