If you are reading this blog, you are probably a totally stand up individual who is curious about a lot of stuff. You might even have lots of crazy ideas and plans and you might be slowly and gradually feeling like they are all impossible because of crushing laziness and having to work all the time. You also might get this vague sensation that everything is seriously not ok in the global economy and that if a bunch of Ivy League banker bigshots are all gobsmacked by the housing crisis (“This gigantic tract of identical $400,000 houses 75 miles away from a loosely knit collection strip malls in a region of the country with a climate similar to the side of Mercury that always faces the sun aren’t selling? Holy shit!”) then it is entirely possible that no one knows what the hell they’re doing and the foundations of our entire society are suspect. I’m from Michigan originally, a state whose motto is “Si quaeris recessionum amoenam circumspice”, which means “If you seek a pleasant recession, look around you”. This doesn’t actually give me or Michigan or any of the other states who decades ago turned into rusty cataclysms with rivers that keep catching on fire any sort of advantage in understanding what’s going on or preventing it. It does, however, make me especially sensitive to my poor, fucked up but wonderful state continually getting kicked in the proverbial kidneys again and again, while already on the ground, spitting out blood, in a pile of broken glass. I miss Michigan a lot and I love it. The only problem is there is nowhere there to really live. Kalamazoo is alright but only the most industrious, weirdo Goner Records obsessed aging hipsters can ever really get shows to come there. Grand Rapids is a terrifying hive of rapidly reproducing Christians. Ann Arbor is cool but sort of a rip off and anything north of the I-94 corridor is pretty sparse. And then there’s Detroit. I’m still sort of new here on Ghost Island (which is a pretty nice place too), and I don’t really know anything about philosophy and find the breadth and depth of the contemporary literary scene sort of intimidating, so I’ve been thinking about what I can bring to our community and contribute. I’m going to start by trying to share some things about Michigan, the Rust Belt, the inevitable decline of the capitalist experiment (or experience? I kind of like experience) and Detroit too, a place that is sordid but amazing and, in my opinion, one of the most complex and relevant things to think about if anyone wants to really look at what this country and global capitalism in general are all about and why they are both deeply deeply ill. So, if you please, this will be the first part of some multi-part post extravaganza about a place that happens to be where I’m from, but I think is a good topic for conversation anyway. If so inclined, please share your side too. Let’s start with Detroit, shall we?
There has been a noticeable spike in melancholic little photo essays about empty buildings in Detroit recently. Time and Vice and who knows who else did slideshows of empty schools and ghetto palms growing through old industrial equipment and the giant art deco buildings that are rotting to pieces. Hell, it’s been in the news a lot recently. Probably more so than any time since the mid-80s when that city started coming up on the urban studies nightmare trip that many of us know it for. I should say right here, just to be more clear, that I’m not from Detroit or the dizzying array of sprawl that has been cartwheeling out from it for decades and decades. I’ve never lived there. I’m from across the state. Some friends have lived there and been really into it, but only a handful of them still do. I’m not totally in love with it, but it is truly an interesting place. Not in this fake sympathy half-interest glossy way that you may come across, but for what it really is.
Maybe you’ve heard someone who has a friend who bought like a decrepit bungalow in Flint for 45 dollars. Maybe I’ve drunkenly tried to explain to you why we should all buy a shambolic Victorian compound in Hamtramck and either live out our dreams or be completely ruined by it. Things might start to sound pretty interesting. You can live there for basically nothing. There is all sorts of weird shit everywhere and these cool ghosts of the time when every major rock and roll artist had some song that mentioned Detroit. Weird shit happens when a city of 2 million people turns into a city of 890,000 in 40 years. You will probably see pictures of the old train station, the old movie theater, and the Heidelberg Project. People want to call it something. A cautionary tale (it is), a failed city in some sort of Roman empire sense (still a metro area of 5 million people so that’s kind of wrong) or some sort of catamite slum huddled around the auto industry (it’s not, but when every lead line of every article about auto bankruptcy leads with DETROIT- it can start to seem like it). It’s not ghetto in the way Baltimore or DC or the Bronx or South Side are ghetto, it is ghetto in the way that if you go the wrong way down some street the road will just stop existing and you’ll have to do some U-turn in the parking lot of some brownstone (the only one still standing in like 3 blocks) with an oak tree growing through it while steam pours out of manhole covers that are surrounded by potholes that look like a diorama of the Somme in 1917, while career crackheads are darting around in your peripheral vision. You can then try to ask for directions but every single store has bullet proof glass too thick to understand what the person on the other side of it is saying. You’ll think you’re going to right way again only to encounter some parade of bums dashing into the street to rob some person laying prone on a curb before the cops get there. Then you’ll realize that even if you call the cops they won’t get there. It’s scary.
The next morning, though, you might see the five coolest things you’ve ever seen, and feel some sort of weird feeling that is vaguely familiar (complete, unfettered freedom) and then visit some noise music temple sandwiched between a gigantic art space where the people actually do art rather than surf the internet all day in some gallery so that they can barely afford to cram doing art into the 2 hours at night in the closet of their LES shoebox before they have to go to their other job. Behind that will probably be a giant factory full of technically proficient graffiti and a large expanse of floor used as a squatter pick-up hockey arena in the winter and some sort of weird bookstore that is 4 stories tall and owned by some old guy who is probably cool but way too crazy to really be able to tell at all. It’s truly something that must be experienced first hand to develop a better understanding of it (like skinny dipping).
The thing I always think of when I think about Detroit is the sheer possibility of it all. I don’t mean it to be too cute and all to end on a sentence constructed similarly to the title (and nonsensically referencing Murakami, I don’t even know what that’s about) but I’m tired and that seems like a good place to stop, and start.