I will begin with a few ideas about the city from theory and social science literature.
It is not my attempt here to delineate quantifiably a list of trends and traits of city dwellers in Autumn, but rather to persuade that there is a disillusionment at stake.
The Traffic in Women is a piece by Gayle Rubin from the 80s which explores the political economy of sex. The traffic in London then is the bodily experience of London, its political economy and the resistance and creativity that abounds it.
There is something about the rhythm of the city, this beating (Mowit, J) or shock (Simmels, G) that affects an attrition with the city and its current after some time. It is something that I argue can now be seen in foxes too in London. Their amber coats against grey tarmac and buildings inflect a vividness that their apparent loss of reflex and eyes seem to have parted with.
But this rhythm in autumn takes on a strange underside. There is felt, or so I contend, in all of us around this time of year that there is something off about the pace at which we move, work, sleep, and exist in public which takes us into the realm of the uncanny.
[As a sidenote,] though co-opted a long time ago by major religions, Hallowe’en and Christmas, two of the major ‘festival’ days celebrated or considered in London, occur in the closest proximity of any such days and are continuations in some ways or have an archaic trajectory from folk seasonal festivals. Arguably, most people associate some of the same feeling with these days, that of the haunted, wintery and the rot.
This time of year is very often accompanied with an estranged nostalgia, this period of the change from summer to autumn to winter, which somehow comes on so unforgivingly and evokes with it this rapidly undoing thread of time.
Somehow then the metropolis has a shortcoming in its grand spectacle, one that jolts its inhabitants in and out of its façade, and it is most easily felt and this time of year where the veil is most thin.
But we tend to worry about it being dark too early and about the perpetual lethargy in too rational, too symptomatic a way, inoculating us again to the numb greyness the city offers.
My call then is to unsettle visions of the city in winter, to unshackle this numb comfort. (PF)
What is it to desire something out of the city in the cold dark winter? To continue to keep time where (or when) time is short?
Somehow, in London the deepness of the dark and the terrible cold in fact bring a vibrancy. For a few weeks the dark grey bark of a few trees is emblazoned by the fiery leaves they are yet to shed. Even in the depths of winter the sunshine and crisp air feel, not warm, but perhaps passionate. Those leaves when they are shed and go soggy on the grey pavements are warm in their rotten amber hue.
But instead in our contemplations and tired evenings the baroque ideas of chiaroscuro are used to craft the reality of London as the city is mechanically illuminated and this source of light is reinstated to extract the most out of the short days.
Perhaps it is this shortening and simultaneous stretching of light that is so heavily constructed in us to feel delaying and tiring – given that our work days don’t accommodate ourselves or the light, where can comfort be found?
On the streets in loitering in following desires, for change, for the cityscape for the ink jet night.
But the greyness. The impending abyss of grey months, of grey clouds, grey buildings that coincidingly cover the grey sky. A sky that is so often grey that there is an oppressive weight to the ‘heavens’ most days. Despite all this alienation, resounding is an alarm for unsettledness.
To be alienated can imply the ability to haunt that from which one is suspended. If we are a city of souls alienated by the constant shortening and darkening, then let us sense this uneasiness of the changing seasons, this planetary aligning that our fickle systems and symbols do little to account for or accommodate. Let us turn to feeling.
For we all may feel this but it is exactly in the feeling, the sensing that it is unidentifiable. And it is that untetherable affiliation with each our own paths through the city in winter which destructs the sense of the city as a monolith, an impenetrable but penetrating force of political economy, productivity, anonymity, valuation, alienation and extraction.
Changing, moving, living with the wind, submitting to the whims of the seasons and to exist through them is to be nothing, and everything all at once.