Chongqing3 filmscript/voiceover. Peter Nesteruk, 2018
(Voiceover for a documentary on vanished space¡)
The Disappeared City: old Chongqing as we imagine it¡ (the porters, some of whom can still be seen near the harbor and cargo areas, pulling their loads between levels¡). Accompanied by a monologue.
Structure£»Arriving¡ rising, heat and dark, interspersed with episodes (water, the opposite bank, bridges, light), to stone¡ to verticals and horizontals (and so to bridges again); then wood¡ nature and culture to finish on culture as relation of labour and technology¡ forgetting and the future.
Images. Old and new photographs, and video-footage, re-edited into a passage from river to heights, following stairs up, as an imaginary and unnamed cargo is carried, manually, up to its destination, up to the new old city (stone) - now also largely gone. Also, modern shots (old and new modern) of bridges, and views, the old new brick city of the past, and then up-to-date images, video footage (pans) for contrasts and superimpositions¡ zones of contrast¡ cue superimposed images of old and new¡
Chongqing: The Disappeared City (As We Imagine It). Summoning Ghosts
Prologue (text only): Of the relationship to something which is not there, no longer there, or was never there; remembered, imagined, conjured. The summoning of the lost, the missing, the absent or the dead, the recalling of lost spirits, the evoking of souls never met nor encountered, the calling up of ghosts - alive in our imagination, but nowhere else to be found¡
¡®Arriving through black muddied waters, thick with rain-washed earth, washed-down earth, another¡¯s tragedy, elsewhere, up river, mud slide or slippage of earth, rain and earth swelling to flood proportions, washing away all in its frenzied obedience of gravity, its desire, its path to the river¡ the red earth, transported like the cargo, from far upstream¡ flowing with the water past the landing ports and jetties, the wooden outposts of land, the sites of landing, unsteady planks that must bear the weight of the off-loaded cargo, bring out feats of balance from the chosen beast of burden, chosen unit of transport, work engine of the ports and landings, of the portage through the heights and cliffs to come, passages of ascent through wooden slum to stone mansion, up to the heights above¡ only one means of conveyance¡ man.
Raising up through the levels, stairwell by stairwell, stones, blackened by use, spillage, oil and grime,
shiny and glimmering in the slanted slats of light poking down from the heights above, filtered by wall and root and tree until reduced to a dancing filigree, a moving pattern of light and shadow; the quiver of lace shifting on the surface of stone. Or slicing in from the side, from behind, from the river at ones back, coming horizonal, light beams like the beams of wood holding up the forest of dwellings, floor and roof supports jutting out, laths of wooden beam, beams of light, coming in at whatever angle the dark stone stairwells permit, the over-hanging wooden eaves permit, the sheltering leaves of trees permit, throwing lattices of light over the grime-baked stone steps, illuminating, like a spotlight, some corner of the stairwell, the rows of ancient stonework, with their covering of moss and lichen and the roots of huangjue trees, wrapping themselves around the cracks in the brickwork, the work of entropy undoing the work of culture, as nature stages a comeback¡ given light and heat everything grows, heat given by light and the air itself, by sunlight and the capacity of the air to store and pass on heat, to the sweat on the skin and the water running off the brow¡
And the giving of heat in the night, the giving up of heat to the air, a cooler time for the transport of heavy goods, you would think. First, an increase in heat until the sun sets, and then cooler times prevail¡ and all the while there is a draught, a breeze, a hint of wind, as usually found near rivers. This is true, but the sun once properly set, a still hot air takes over, an air still hot from the day, physical heat trapped in the air, and now augmented by that creeping out from the stone work, from the wood even of the vertical shantytown that rises on either side, the heat of cooking radiating as the smoke rises, and the heat from bodies, radiating too in proximity, and yes the heat from the wood itself, from the ground itself, returning into the waiting air ¨C denial of the wish of cooling, distant dream of refreshment, recycling of the day¡¯s stored heat, recharging of the warm polarity of the air, no let-up in the sauna, the hot house conditions that sucks sweat from every crevice of the flesh, and triggers with every touch of something solid, clothing or burden on the skin, a flood of water, a flow to match the vastness of the river, a kitchen that cooks the soul with the body. Air once fueled by light, the sun¡¯s gift as transit or convection, light descending, burning, burning the skin black¡ now fueled by matter, energy released from earth and stone, heat ascending, embracing, stoking-up the heat of the body, like being wrapped in folds of warmth, invisible ¨C visible only as darkness - hot to the touch, the touch that incites the pinprick repose of water, the sweat of bodily defense. Once the air stops moving, then the heat again prevails.
Episode. (Water/contrast/brightness). Looking back, looking over one¡¯s shoulder, looking out, a wide expanse of water at once fills our eyes, and a yet wider expanse of openness, the space above water, emptiness as light, falling¡ the waves below glimmering with the reflected light of a hazy sun, the long reach of the sun found even down there on the water - a long, long way down¡ And across the river, across the water, across the emptiness, the other bank¡ Always elsewhere, always ¡®over-there¡¯, always ¡®other¡¯, for the view as we see it is always on the other side¡ beyond the barrier of the river, another horizon. Beyond reach, despite, or because, of the possibility of arrival. The view behind, made from horizontals, the shores, the river, the skyline: as we turn our face back to the vertical up which we ascend.
Stone¡ steps remain, their guarding walls remain¡ and with them so will the stones they are made from, a net-work of historical, geo-cultural quotations, the layer-cake of archeology; steps survive as steps in history, the stones of transit lasting, as all around them transfigures¡ differentiated by quality and repair, by size and density, by cement and its absence, by cracks and the growth of green things in between¡ These stones are the oldest things on view, around them all has changed many times, shack to stilt house to brick house to tenement to concrete tower. Perhaps only with the last phase ¨C if the path is in a useful position ¨C is the stone replaced, are the walls themselves replaced, by new brickwork or concrete facing¡ In parks and in gardens, we find stairs, old stones, ascending¡ to nowhere, isolated, segregated, preserved out of respect for old age, high and dry like quotations from an old book, an ancient poem, pasted onto the phrases of today¡¯s topography, yesterday¡¯s words in today¡¯s conversation.
Angles: the geometry of stone¡ the path of the path, the way of stone, the right angle as unity of the vertical and horizontal, the vertical, knee-breaking, climb and the relief of the horizontal path, the terrace or balcony or slight incline of the traverse, a precious moment, anything but not the vertical, direct clash with gravity, sinew and muscle straining to lift, and make rise, make climb, that which will not move, which the love of gravity attaches to the lowest point ¨C again we combat Nature, transport as the foundation of culture¡ stone as the foundation of that foundation, the path on which the rest is carried¡ A zig zag up the cliff, the ever-raising stairs, alongside and between dwellings, shack and tenement, step by narrow worn step, then the fold left or right and the restful gift of the horizontal, or relatively so, as the path hugs the hillside, often at a shallow incline, a mounting terrace, but enough for a pause for breath, a gulp of water, passing shop fronts, eateries, laundry stations, entrances and windows, before again, the 90 degree turn, the movement up, fighting gravity and weight and the slope of the increasing incline, one step after another, the gradient which at each step breaks a back and in so doing adds value to the cargo ported, the price of the goods and services¡. The rising artery and the branching veins¡ but what is carried proceeds upwards, the cargo is not destined for these parts¡
The verticals and the horizontals¡ Historically, in terms of city design, look and feel, we have witnessed a thorough-going re-organisation, a thorough-going re-territorialisation of city space, a re-founding of urban space on the basis of new material and technologies... as well as new social technologies, classes and institutions. Once upon a time, in the city of wood and stone, buildings were arranged horizontally, to be sure the laws of gravity and engineering played a role in any upwards rising, or vertical supporting structures, but urban dwelling and transit, spread sideways around and over the rocks that jutted out of the water, the hills on which the city is built, foremost the peninsula, site of the ancient city and fortress (now long disappeared) and the other banks of the river too, offshoots followed by whole scale urbanization as the city expanded due to the proliferation of bridges, the influx of dwellers; until now we think of the centre as a confluence of rivers and urban river banks, the ¡®centre¡¯ spread over land and water, ¡®bridging¡¯ waters, crossing rivers, with the key landmarks as architectural centre points, urban punctuation, loci of centralization, focus of orientation and nexus of economic exchange and political power¡¡
So giving any city built on a river its typical openness, the grand vistas and open spaces usually only found in squares. In the old days¡ routes were vertical, the city horizontal, the paths leading up or down, passing many a wooden dwelling, precariously clinging onto the rock or (worse- supporting itself on the dwellings below, an engineer¡¯s nightmare, a work of magic in their persistence, their insistence on gravity defying ¡®constructions¡¯¡ but generally reached on the parallel via a route up or down, the most direct route¡ instant connection between levels, between layers, between layers of accreted civilization, culture of riverside dwelling, on an angle, on a precipice, like the paths of mountain dwellers but near water ¨C waters that at any time, and at set times, might rise, washing away the older wooden, built on stilt type, housing, the wooden legs necessary to building on an angle, the support system of the horizontal we humans prefer of our floors (never minding the slope of the roof). So transportations, the all-important movement of goods and cargo, up and down, is contrasted to the horizontal life of the inhabitants, with ladders bridging the gaps between levels as necessary - like the bridges built to connect quarters now (but again the old mode was vertical, the bridges, modern, are horizontal in form, felicitating movement along the horizontal).
Episode. £¨Water/bridges¡bright£© Bridging the open spaces of a river city, change realized in the proliferation of bridges¡ Progress measured in the style and audacity of bridge-building; a spectacle sculptural in its monumental solitude, built on a scale that engenders all else a miniature, rising above all else¡ High above the river below¡ The crossing, the crossing of water, once only by boat, bobbing on the horizontal plane of the waters ¨C entailing a very different urban geography; now by means of bridges; the out-flung span of arches and supports, the extension of cables and towers. And the old cable way still remains - now full of tourists who have queued long for the privilege. The privilege of seeing a bridge as if from a bridge but not from a bridge¡ the bridge with the city as background (the contrast of horizontal crossing to vertical ascent). And on the bridge itself; the space above and the spaces below, the space above and the river below, ahead the broad path of the bridge itself, its contrary flows of traffic, its frame of cable, the opposite tower, place of setting off, preview of one¡¯s end and journey¡¯s completion. Midway, the view as suspended in the air, suspended above the river, observing the flow of the waters, like an alternative flow of time ¨C a heading different to our own. And arrival, on the opposite shore which now looks nothing like the opposite shore it once was, turning around, to the new opposite, the shore from which we came, so different from the view when we were there ¨C for the opposite shore is always opposite, a view, and not the thing; the place, a situation, our situation is from elsewhere, as any view is constituted from elsewhere, as different as present to future (somewhere else at which we can never arrive¡). The three stages of crossing a bridge¡ (and the contrast of horizontal crossing to vertical ascent¡). A new genealogy of the urban. Being on the bridge, horizontal; seeing the rising city, vertical.
The new city came about by means of a complete reversal of these orientations¡ iron frames and concrete, the entry of the iron age into architecture (since the mid-19th century) which now means that ever higher dwelling and work spaces can be built. As witness the point of the peninsula where a new statuesque set of structures, emulating a group of statues, a grouping of towers, heroically ¡®leaning¡¯ into the river (perhaps, a little reminder of the Soviet era, heroic modernism?). Dwelling now is organised on the vertical, with lifts to solve the problem of climbing and descending - most urgent in a hot and wet climate¡ The seemingly never ceasing accretion of height and layers is now planned, and direct routes are electric and the rarely-used fire escapes (which we had to use once in a lift failure, a 25 floor descent, the last ten floors of stairwell, all walled-in rough concrete with no exits¡the promised exit at the base, we fervently prayed for (unthinkable to reclimb these floors at these temperatures) and, relived and thankful, found one¡).
As buildings reach up and up ever higher, the routes between them now reach around and around, concrete levelling means walkways, on the horizontal, in place of the vertical steep stairwell, now fill the space, the routes, between dwellings. And lifts now do this work, the work once done on the vertical, in the stairwell, the work of lifting ourselves and our possessions, lifting inside - and even outside; this latter a reminder of the old way of movement, gift of electricity, arriving before the logic of cars and roads fully took over¡ The roads however must snake around the city¡¯s gradients¡ a minor inconvenience in cars, unless in a jam, which with these hairpins and relative narrowness (think Beijing¡¯s multi-lane logjams) happens all to easily (whence a proliferating and excellent subway system ¨C the only real and rational answer for any mega city or any city over a million or just any city where cars have gummed up the roads and poisoned the air¡ the arrival of greening technologies and self-driving will not solve the quantitative problem (though it will finally mean the return of cities with clean air), public transit does¡
So from wood and stone we have transformed our present into concrete (and glass)¡ From vertical passageway and horizontal dwelling (albeit on the hypotenuse) to vertical dwelling (retaining the vertical rise in the lift for interiors and outside the switch to the horizontal form of passage, way or conduit, now navigated by cars and buses). And as any pedestrian quickly finds, apart from the level (or levelled out) routes, the river banks, or the equally levelled-out top level of the city (the only truly pedestrian-friendly zone), the transitioning of levels can be a frustrating business, the once frequent, if steep, climb up the stone stairs, now largely vanished, means that long walks are an inevitability if one wishes to trade levels ¨C now one must make long loops and detours in order to rise (or fall) a level. The steepness of the banks, once the fastest route up or down, vertical or zigzag, blocked; now a territory re-fashioned into levels which steepness divides¡ So literally a 180-degree transformation; no wonder so little of the old city survives, and even the ¡®old/new¡¯ city of recent past (the city of the 20s to the 60s) it too must go as the levels rise, and the once vertical routes between must become horizontal roads, winding between levels, and looping the gradients for the convenience of motorised conveyance¡ In a matter of years an urban transformation in which almost nothing of the old remains¡ and with it the disappearance of a type of urban culture and a way of life¡ But if the old habits of survival pass, with the passing of a habitat, to make way for new habits, a new culture, the habits of eating live on¡ a popular, pungent cuisine, whose aromas pervade the air, arousing appetite despite the seemingly omnipresent stifling wet heat¡
Terraces and stairwells¡ the materialization of the contrast of the vertical and horizontal. The routing of passage, the means of access, these the drive, the desire, that drives the construction, the making of dwellings and the portage of objects. The new soaring cliffs and the towers, all, if anything, taller now, more sheer, no longer made from wood and brick, tile and stone and outcrops of rock and shrub: instead we now have concrete and glass (another constant is the infilling of brick and plaster). Concrete precipices and stairwells. Concrete balconies and terraces. Concrete heights. The geography, the topography remains, but the ¡®means of expression¡¯, the materials, are new¡ Height and scale both remain and transform. Stone cliffs are replaced by concrete chasms. The scale of the dwellings increases, but the gradient on which they are built remains.
Palimpsest; the wiping clean of the slate, tabula raza, the typical modern impatience with the past. The transformation of old into new, so fast, so complete¡irrevocable, irreversible; leaving only the reverse of memory and role of remembering¡ remembering where we come from: most of humanity a scant two generations from the fields, from the peasantry ¨C from back-breaking labour: even most older Europeans have this close behind them¡ one generation from the shack, the tenement, the single storey room. With the wholescale forgetting of any further debt to the yet more distant past; yet our supersession is also its legacy, we the inheritors, and, like it or not, it is our ancestor, to which we owe a debt of memory. For do we not contain the past even as we have superseded it?
To the memory of a vertical city¡ Embodied vertical and not just visually vertical; vertical in terms of movement, and not only in ¡®hypsosis¡¯ (that wonderful Greek word for space which is eye-raising), (for which the nearest Chinese word perhaps is yang3shi4, ÑöÊÓ) nor only in the sense of falling space¡ Once to look up was to go up, the future route considered; now to go up one must go ¡ around¡ no longer visually up, but the conceptual up of a map, or of an (invisible) route. A route, no longer with any ¡®up¡¯, or ¡®down¡¯, in a city whose heights and falls have become ever more vertiginous¡ Only in the realm of the purely visual does this sense of space remain: for movement, the movement of people and things, different geometries, different geographies prevail (and enclosed, blind, in the electric lift) different technologies prevail. We may look up and down, but we move sideways and around¡ as mountaineers must traverse when the slope is too steep to climb¡ (and with different kinds of walking and carrying, the entailment of a different kind of body, different bodily shapes ¨C for we are the very embodiment of the physical space in which we live¡ sum of our movements). Nor sun nor stars, nor obliging moon, may be our guide, though we look for them still, instead we look along, straight ahead, follow the street lights, the road signs, the horizontal or slightly inclining pavement. The meaning of ¡®up¡¯ and ¡®down¡¯ changed forever¡
Wooden dwellings¡ the passing of a world; a world of change¡ With no place left for wood; inside still a place for wooden furniture or paneling, perhaps: outside - concrete preferred. Globalisation, means urbanization, means concretization¡ Some cities offer half and half, part of the division of the city into new and old (Lijiang, and many cities across South East Asia, many cities across the world). But in the big urban areas, only traces remain, hidden, sidelined, peripheral: but if we look we see that stone at least survives as foundation, as the lowest stones in the wall of brick, as a layer of apparent archeology, retained, incorporated: but if stone survives, wood must ever be renewed, repainted, repaired, so only as an act of mimesis does it still appear, in imitation wooden structures, in the copying of the ghostly echoes of past life (an echo of an echo, sketch on tracing paper, a simulacrum on the face of the present); now functioning as a background to the litter of the leisure industry¡ to the selfie, to the theme park atmosphere, the fast food flavor¡ even this kind of ¡®survival¡¯ comes at a price.
Material survival, the survival of materials. Even in the old it is rare to see a whole structure made out of wood; timber provides the frame, bamboo lath and mud fills the wall space, bamboo strips too line the roof space, whether inside as a ceiling or outside beneath the overhanging eaves above the window, a breathing material allowing the passing of damp and heat and air. Often, brick or stone fill the gap or provide the foundation of a first or ground storey, to be followed above by a wooden frame and wood-supported ceilings; the roof frame is anyway always wooden, slats of bamboo or bark provide tiles, rarely earthenware or ceramic ¨C these materials are for the dwellers of the higher levels, where we often see piles of black roof tiles alongside habitations now rotting; black burnt earthenware tiles, the roof covering for the once better-off dwellings, houses with pretention to gentility, now dilapidated and awaiting renewal or demolition¡ Unattended, un-tended, first the roof rots and then collapses, leaving the dwelling open to the elements and the gaze from without ¨C privacy penetrated. Interiors on show, their remaining objects, cast off-possessions no longer possessed; possessed by the spirits of the past only, in pieces and returning to dust, together with the constituents of the walls, also bared ¨C construction on show. All this on display now, visible as if in a technical drawing, a 3 D open sketch (the all-revealing isometric design) with the structure torn open to reveal the interior and its making, as indeed these dwellings have been, torn open, by wind and rain and human despoliation, or neglect, revealing the material, and form of construction. Occasionally too we see the remnants of the past life, abandoned for whatever reason, the reminders of daily life, cracked pots, and sinks, blackened cook ware and other fragments, the usual fruits of archeological search¡ shattered furniture, and soiled mattresses, and the pitiless coating of dust¡ and mold. Then grass and shrubs and even trees ¨C roots splitting the walls, leaves providing a new roof. As another form of life takes hold. As nature begins to re-colonise a world that was once its alone¡
In the gaps in between¡ In the old stairs left unused, in the walls slowly over-grown, passage restricted to the passing tourist, no longer the frequent wall colliding of the portage of heavy, bulky objects, the passing of freight: uncontested the walls become home to saplings and climbing plants; in the sight of a flight of old stone steps abandoned, the stone scarcely visible beneath, the embrace of tubular roots, the leaves of creepers, and resurgent grass¡ Nature returns¡
Since the onset of Culture (the dawn of human history¡) the old dialectic¡ the old contest, human creation and entropy, construction and destruction, the ceaseless making, and equally ceaseless, wearing out¡; a contest in which that which stops, recedes, fissures, is engulfed¡ Nature grows, held at bay by pruning, and trimming and uprooting and a barrier of brute concrete¡ Culture freezes, stops with the end of making, and immediately goes into reverse, whether as object or practice, if not renewed; subject to decay; thus the sturdiest structure undergoes entropy if not renewed, true of the basic structure of matter, which undoes without the input of energy, true of Culture as material, of cultural matter, of habitat as habit, without continued attention all ¡®falls apart¡¯; all degrades, requires repair¡ And this is also true of social matters, where we use ritual to renew worn social relations, personal connections, family and friendship ties and cultural habits, the cyclic periodic repetition of ritual practices is key to the continuance of these, key amongst which the communal meal, the role of food in a culture, of eating together ¨C as witness the many abandoned sites of food preparation, cooking, eating and cleaning, that remain in the ruins of the old quarters, old work surfaces, sinks and table tops¡ among the resurgent grass and other growing. returning life¡ returning Nature (even the sturdiest roof, the strongest bridge, must eventually collapse under the weight of new growth and accretion of layers of decayed leaves and soil and the erosion of frost and wind and water¡). The living must overtake the dead, if the latter is not itself reborn, revived, resurrected, renewed¡ in the ritual of repeated repair.
Its why we like parks and gardens and farmland and farmed woodland and pasture¡ managed mountains and manicured water margins. Not real Nature, as mountain and forest and swamp (in which few of us moderns, city dwellers, would last for long), nor the Nature red in tooth and claw which our distant ancestors faced and survived. But Nature Tamed, horticulture, cultured nature, the ¡®Art of the Garden¡¯, the good things of Nature without the bad¡ de-natured¡ Nature as Culture ¨C which then requires our care and tending if it is not to return to its old habits, of unlimited, climbing, entangling growth¡ the survival of the fittest, the fastest growing... but unconscious, dying back with the absence of resources¡ In the park or garden the war between Nature and Culture is as if healed, an aesthetic truce declared, a balance pleasing to the eye (Beauty) resulting - all but a trace of the Sublime (wild, untamed, unlimited, uncountable expansion to infinity) and the fear and awe it provokes, lost. Opposites reconciled, redeemed. A fairytale for children. Only in storytelling, in words, in Culture, is Nature so reformed¡ In life we carry on working¡ making, repairing¡ building... one eye on the storm.
Building upwards. And the tall buildings, past elites as inheritors, beneficiaries, as ourselves, the tall structures, the top level of the built environment, crowning achievement; like us too, top level of the evolutionary chain, we as the inheritors now, beneficiaries of the labour of the past¡ foundation upon foundation, arch upon arch, shoulder upon shoulder, flesh or stone or idea, stored matter, structure, or stored ideas, stored culture, accreting across thousands of years, stored memory, our advantage over other species, to learn, store and improve, to learn from history¡ Our life world, constructed, erected, floating upon so much dead labour, the new buoyed by the old, the tip of the present supported by the vast iceberg of the dead, invisible now in the sea of the past. Whether matter or ideas, foundations or formulas, flesh or machine, we are but the collective result of our past - even as our desires propel us blindly into the future.
If the labour of lifting has been assuaged by technology; technology as the lifting of culture is the fruit of human labour. Creator of all human culture. And its change; and with it the world¡¯s change; as we move into a world of machines and so into the future¡ For the culture of lifting gear, cranes and elevators, machines made to task, of labour-saving, has sidestepped the back-breaking history of human (and animal) labour, the suffering of beasts of burden, of humanity as beasts of burden, now replaced by technology. Technology specialized and infinitely more powerful, human redundancy inevitably accompanies human inefficiency (and in the labour of the mind too, in calculation and memory, as well in the realm of the physical, the realm of brute strength and speed). Culture as a self-repairing, ever-growing, self-aware machine (Hegel had already suggested this¡ the collective fruit of human activity as ¡®World Spirit¡¯). Culture marches on¡ but with what place for human life¡?
Light dances on the surface of the passing river like images of the imagination dancing on the waters of memory. Memories of the past we have already part forgotten, like the haunting of the halls of the mind by so many lost ghosts, and also like an act of foresight, of unquiet awareness, for just as we are apt to forget our predecessors, those who made the foundations on which we stand, so too might the inheritors forget their genesis in what, after all, was merely human. (text and voice?)
(about 4,500 words)
[About 35 minutes¡ actual film, 50 mins]
Copyright Peter Nesteruk, 2018