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Black Utopia

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Jill Fenton

Inscrit le: 18 Mai 2006
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MessagePosté le: Mercredi 18 Octobre 2006, 1:25    Sujet du message: Black Utopia Répondre en citant

Black Utopia

This morning a book arrived on my desk, Mike Davis’ Dead Cities (1) and Other Tales. With minutes to spare before a morning of tutorials I flicked through its pages, my eyes falling on a page containing the image of descending towers in José Clemente Orozco’s Los Muertos, alongside a preface entitled The Flames of New York. In this prelude I was stunned to read passages from H. G. Wells The War in the Air (2) that notate the “Massacre of New York” and are shockingly reminiscent of a war in the air over Manhattan roughly one hundred years after the work’s publication. I will print below Wells passages and Davis’ annotations that momentarily prompt me to contemplate if Wells descriptive account of a ‘black utopia,’ carries within it a ‘surplus dystopia’ (3) for a future space time, Manhattan September 11 2001 and its ubiquitous aftermath.

The Flames of New York:

‘Lower Manhattan was soon a furnace of crimson flames, from which there was no escape. Cars, railways, ferries, all had ceased, and never a light lit the way of the distracted fugitives in that dusky confusion but the light of burning. Dust and black smoke came pouring into the street, and were presently shot with red flame.’ (4)

This image, part of a long warning note about the “Massacre of New York,” slumbered for nearly a century on a back shelf of the New York Public Library. H. G. Wells, that socialist Nostradamus, penned it in 1907. The American edition of his War in the Air included and extraordinary illustration (is it not from the CNN?) of a firestorm devouring wall street, with Trinity Church smouldering in the background. Wells also offered some shrewd and unfriendly thoughts about New York’s messianic belief in its exemption from the bad side of history:

‘For many generations New York had taken no heed of war, save as a thing that happened far away, that affected prices and supplied the newspapers with exciting headlines and pictures. The New Yorkers felt that war in their own land was an impossible thing … They saw war as they saw history, through and iridescent mist, deodorised, scented indeed, with all its essential cruelties tactfully hidden away. They cheered the flag by habit and tradition, they despised other nations, and whenever there was an international difficulty they were intensely patriotic, that is to say, they were ardently against any native politician who did not say, threaten, and do harsh and uncompromising things to the antagonist people.’ (5)

When a foreign policy dominated by the Trusts and Monopolies entangles America in a general War of the Powers, New Yorkers, still oblivious to any real danger, rally to flags, confetti, and an imperial presidency.

‘And then suddenly, into world peacefully busied for the most part upon armaments and the perfection of explosives, war came … The immediate effect on New York … was merely to intensify her normal vehemence … Great crowds assembled … to listen and cheer patriotic speeches, and there was a veritable epidemic of little flags and buttons … strong men wept at the sight of the national banner … the trade in small arms was enormously stimulated … and it was dangerous not to wear a button.

One of the most striking facts historically about this war, and one that makes complete the separation between the methods of warfare and democracy, was the effectual secrecy of Washington … They did not bother to confide a single fact of their preparations to the public. They did not even condescend to talk to Congress. They burked and suppressed every inquiry. The war was fought by the President and the Secretary of State in an entirely autocratic manner.’

But the Americans, blinded by the solipsistic delusion that they live in a history solely of their own making, are easy targets for that scheming New Assyria: Wilhelmine Germany. Surprise-attacked by the Imperial zeppelin fleet, ragtime New York becomes the first modern city destroyed from the air. In a single day, haughty Manhattanites are demoted to slaughtered natives:

‘As the airships sailed along they smashed up the city as a child will shatter its cities of brick and card. Below they left ruins and blazing conflagrations and heaped scattered dead: men, women and children mixed together as though they had been no more than Moors, or Zulus or Chinese.’ (7) ” (8)

Jill Fenton
17 October 2006


(1) Davis, M., 2002, Dead Cities and Other Tales, New York: The New press
(2) Wells, H. G., 1908, The War in the Air
(3) A conceptual idea that emanates from my reading of Volume 1 of Ernst Bloch’s The Principle of Hope
(4) Wells, 1908
(5) Wells, 1908, pp181-82
(6) Ibid. pp182-83 and p186
(7) Ibid, p211
(8) Davis, 2002, pp2-3
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