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From Russia with Love? Monuments of Global Kitsch

The transactional nature of Trump’s world view has been so much on view in recent weeks that it is hard to shock. But the cast of characters involved in promoting a grotesquely colossal statuary of the navigator Christopher Columbus, cast out of bronze in Moscow, that he planned to install staring outer the Hudson River in 1997 on a new property development he had secured. If the story of this odd addition to New York’s many monuments–it was to be taller than the Statue of Liberty, an icon of American immigration and ideals–the authoritarian imagining of the navigator long identified with patriotic ideals is an early if particularly telling illustration of how transactional Trump’s world-views,– and how removed they were from any sense of the recreation of political space.

The oddly stateless notion of the figure of Columbus–evoking rational arts, to be sure, and a lettered tradition of civility, learning, and mental apprehension of the globe, beneath which a history of colonization is barely concealed-moves between different worlds as an emissary. The poise and stature of the figure of Columbus suggests a future able to move outside a state, or navigate stateless waters in a strikingly frictionless manner. Represented in 1892 in New York as a preeminent Renaissance figure, as if without concern of his relation to his surroundings, but to be a testimony to a removed past, but self-contained in his dignity, but affirming his role in spatial conquest in multiple ways.

Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle/Peter van der Krogt

The Columbus cast in the 1996 Tsereteli monument in bronze was triumphant in his ability to move outside of sovereign boundaries, demanding recognition as a vanquisher and victor who with the support of a foreign imperial ideology and faith, in the act of claiming ownership by a single gesture over a newfound land. First presented to Trump four years before he declared himself a candidate for the Presidential primary as a candidate for the Reform party in 2000, the image of such imperial identity would have provided a model for the excavation of a public sphere by entertaining a new symbolics of global empire.

Zurab Tsereteli, “Birth of a New World” (1997)

Without any sense of triumphant reaction to transoceanic travel, the odd image of an impassive, idealized, “white” Columbus erases race, omits questions about his own relation to the new land of the so-called American continent or its inhabitants, and seems to have been carried by the winds that billow behind him as if to designate him as a royal Catholic emissary of a foreign land, or ensure smooth landing in port as he guides his ship across international waters by anachronistic means of a rotary wheel. The kitsch image of the monumental Columbus would be an aspiration to a global stage that Trump had aspired with Trump Intenational, but was sanctioned by his post-Soviet hosts.

Was the monumental Columbus, first commissioned from Tsereteli in 1992, a prescient image of a future President who would distinguish himself primarily by moving outside legal precedent and defining his exceptionalism to the law? The monumental statue had its origins in the post-Soviet restructuring of Moscow by he new image of Columbus, who seemed to view Columbus as an iconic symbol of a new world order after the Cold War when Luzkhov and Tsereteli had jointly arrived in America to present “The Birth of the New World” as a gift of friendship, recasting this emissary from foreign lands as a triumphant herald of a new world order. By 1997, Luzhkov’s attraction of billions of dollars into Moscow’s development, as housing complexes replaced historic buildings and the monumental Christ the Savior Cathedral was rebuilt in its gold electro-plated splendor of onion domes as seat of the Patriarch, after Stalin had destroyed the structure with dynamite in 1931, represented the intersection grandiose plans for monumentality.

As the monuments and buildings of Luzhkov’s Moscow, tied to embezzlement for his wife’s development business, redesigned the face of the city Trump visited, Columbus was an apt choice of subject to curry Trump’s taste for grandiosity–and Trump’s penchant to place himself outside the law. Was the monumentalization of Columbus emissary of foreign lands, this image of a bronze Columbus cast in Russia, an oddly prescient image of a future President who has distinguished himself as working outside of legal precedent? Is it only unintentional that it echoes Trump’s ability to place his own speech as existing outside of the law–and indeed to place himself, or his invitation of a foreign government to intervene in American elections, outside the law? The sense that this Columbus travelled in international waters in new ways seems but his ability to block public or congressional testimony as U.S. President,–and his own legendary obliviousness to constraint?

The increasingly nationalist figure Columbus evokes seems a way of pandering to an audience, in “Birth of a New World,” seems a figure of sovereign authority taking command over a new world, hailing or heralding an imaginary audience with grandiosity and sovereign majesty that is not only un-American, but seems to be captured in the act of remapping global relationships in 1996, when Trump confirmed the impending arrival of the statue, shortly after he returned from Moscow, where he met the sculptor, and the man known as redefining the art of the deal signed a deal to license his name for projects of non-exclusive ownership funded by the post-Soviet government, with the promise of participating in the rebuilding of Moscow’s public space in the apparent free market of the post-Soviet era as a landscape of the flowering of capitalist construction and unprecedented building development. What Luzhkov¥ branded as a Europeanization of Moscow was criticized as a Disneyfication of nineteenth century architecture to a theme park.

Closely tied to building companies, including that of his wife, billionaire developer Yelena Baturina, Yuri Luzhkov’s restructuring of historical Moscow with a pseudo-historical opulence created a landscape rooted in replicas of rapid fabrication and hyper-development. It was typified by the restoration of the gold-gilded Christ the Saviour Cathedral, on whose site Stalin had built the monumental the Palace of Soviets on Moskva River–after having spectacularly dynamited the cathedral seat of the Patriarch, built by Tzars to celebrate Napoleon’s defeat, which Stalin in 1931 Stalin had detonated in a public spectacle commanded as a vanishing of all solid to air, and the instantaneous vanquishing of a sacro-imperial past that Stalin had sought to symbolically banish by rebuilding a site for Soviet glory.

The curious coincidence between recycling a new icon of imperial authority whose grandiosity might appease or please Trump, his Moscow projects paused or placed on hold, was nothing less than a form of bait for the developer even before his political designs would become known. Did the promise of a statue of Columbus inflate the ambitious developer to imagine his role on a truly global political stage? The notion of placing Columbus, perched atop a global map that wraps around the statue’s pedestal, provided a cartoonish rending of the world as a global play space, removed from political power or individual claims, suggesting a sort of global chess board of confrontation and domibnation, as if rewriting public memory of an inhabited public sphere.

Yuri Luzhkov’s itineraries with Tsereteli to Miami, Washington, and other American cities, as a power-broker of a new age of development, shopped around a dunification of authoritarian monumentalism with Disneyfied kitsch epitomized by the 1997 erection of a statue to Peter the Great, at the costs of $120 million, across from the Cathedral’s gold domes–a work that epitomized his bend of populism and overbearing intervention in the re-engineering of Moscow’s public space to rewrite public memory in a seat where 80% of Russia’s wealth was concentrated–with two-thirds of foreign investment; he crafted his own style of privatization with the development firm of his second wife, Intenko, promoting a new vision of Russonationalism and Russian chauvinism while guiding Moscow through the real-estate boom in which Donald Trump had landed in 1996. When Trump toured the vast underground shopping complex, Manezh, beside Red Square, as a potential site to build a hotel.

At a time when increasing capital was arriving for construction projects in Moscow, Trump offered a known model for global capital, no doubt familiar to Luzkhkov’s wife, Yelena Baturina, who exploited her husband’s office as a developer, and whose connections to organized crime has been revealed by Wikileaks. Trump claimed losses of $916 million in his 1995 tax returns, as projects failed in Atlantic City and the Plaza; he hoped to refurbish his finances by ventures in Yuri Luzhkov’s Moscow, boasting to build Trump International and a new Trump Tower–expanding the developer’s 1986 hope, about which he crowed in Art of the Deal, for “a large luxury style hotel across the street from the Kremlin” bearing his name, despite resistance at erecting the world’s highest skyscraper in competition with the Kremlin–a qualification of which Trump’s unbounded ambitions were perhaps not aware.

In Moscow, Trump had proposed a $250 million investment for a Trump International complex at a November 1996 news conference, bragging upon returning to New York that his ties to Luzhkov boded success in building only “quality stuff”–when he first dropped a public hint about plans for the Columbus statue. The trip to Moscow was not so climactic, for Trump International, although the trip led to attracting Russian investors only to a Trump International Beach Resort in South Florida.

Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles. (Angel Valentin/The Washington Post)

One might pause, however, at this globe that Trump seems to have adopted as his new venture’s emblem, and the similarly gaudy image of a new globalism distinguishing Trump International–epitomized by the rebuilding of the enormous silvered globe encircled by orbital rings. This very globe long stood at the building Trump has rebranded as Trump International Hotel and Tower at New York’s Columbus Circle–as if the globe could provide a powerful basis of international brand that Trump could tap into having purchased the old Time-Life building at Columbus Circle, and the globe itself had come on its property.

The iconic statue outside Time-Life–or Gulf + Western building seems to have been prized by Donald Trump that it became a target of his desires. Yet in October, 1996, New York’s City Planning Department rejected the proposal to emblazon the orbital globe with “Trump International” on the orbital globe as a way to brand his new venture–but the developer took the shiny orbital globe, silhouetting the world’s continents on a thirty-foot wide globe, modeled after the Unisphere built for a 1964-65 World’s Fair, as fair game to brand his ambitions, as it lay on property he now owned, and even if the words “TRUMP INTERNATIONAL” were not emblazoned on it to reveal his new global ambitions, the shiny sphere was replicated, in Sunny Isles, as an icon of the global scope of Trump Properties.

Brandell Studios, Architectural Rendering

The provision of Trump with a new image of Columbus on his own Hudson Yards development would be, perhaps, an alternate glorification of hi self-fashioning and marketing as a truly international developer. Was the discussion of the arrival of Tsereteli’s monumental figure of the navigator meant to hold an image of the orbital globe that Trump saw as an emblem of his new expansive network of global real estate properties beyond New York City

The brokering of new sites of power and monumentality were both local, and occurred on an international stage. Was the statue of Columbus that Luzhkov brought to America nothing less than a bid to rewrite the memory of the navigator as a figure of the place of commerce in the globalized world. The monumentalization of the voyage of discovery installed eventually in Puerto Rico in 2016, on the eve of the Trump Presidency, hinted at a new image of authoritarianism to come, blurred and with soft edges: in casting a Christopher Columbus on steroids as an emissary of royal Catholic majesty, he seems almost an emissary of a new global order. If a relic of the rebuilding of Moscow under the Luzhkov’s corrupt mayoralty, when billions arrived in Moscow for rebuilding d to the awarding of building and development contracts often tied to Intenko, his wife billionaire wife Yelena Baturina’s real estate company, over the eighteen years he held power since 1992 in Moscow, rewriting the past by the free market, this unmoored Columbus, arms elevated in apparent victory, offered a disturbingly authoritarian image, inaugurating hidden financial exchanges in a new global era of illicit international transfers and underwater financial transactions.

This Columbus seems dressed in neoclassical robes to bolster his authority, and anachronistically cast as guiding his craft by a rotary wheel, but as an emissary of sovereign right, who claims a pride of place as existing outside any legal code or precedent. The evocation of such a figure of extra-legal majesty, and truly transnational authority, seems crafted from a symbolics of authoritarianism, dear to a devout sculptor who would specialize in Neo-imperial statuary, who had already reclad Tsar Peter the Great in Roman robes in a strikingly similar sculpture.

While no-one imagined at the time that Trump boasted to all who would listen that he had negotiated the arrival of such a statue that Trump would be United States President, the “gift” he announced was conveyed from the Russia people moved outside international laws. At the time, his own global ambitions as an hotelier drew attention post-Soviet society. And the approach, made by Moscow’s Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, cast an icon of patriotism in the guise of authoritarian nationalism, recasting the iconic figure of American nationalism in a sovereign fashion removed from legal precedent, democratic practice, or inclusive politics.

In deeply disturbing ways, the combination of self-interest and public interest, or the inability to distinguish self-interest and public interest, that is so characteristic of a Trump Presidency, seems encapsulated, before the fact, by the cloaking of the proposed arrival of this massive monument, whose height he specified as greater than the Statue of Liberty from the base of its pediment to torch, on a proposed riverside development on the Hudson, as a marker of personal and national grandiosity. The “gift” he claimed to convey from the “Russian people” would serve as an adornment to his projected properties, and elided international politics with international commerce of undisclosed nature, but touching on tax-free transfers of goods and cash, in ways that turned on a figure–the fifteenth-century navigator–who acted outside any body of laws, but as the emissary of a sovereign decree, in ways that were already disturbing to be seen as a basis for national identity.

The model was already presented as a gift to the United States when in 1992 Moscow’s new elected populist mayor Luzhkov proposed gifting the statue for the Columbus quincentennial, its size larger than the statue of Peter the Great would assume when it was erected in 1997 in Moscow, which assumed such status as an evacuation of public space. As billions of dollars entered Moscow–$4.6 billion of foreign investments in 1996–the monument that did not provoke engagement with the past but propose a traditional model of global authority suggest a distraction, a worthy precedent for Trump’s late massive monument of a border wall. As Columbus in “The Birth of the New World” seems to obscure all else to fill the fragmenting of the post-soviet state, the public statuary seeks not to create a new innocence and stability, in a time of uncertain post-Soviet social order, but a celebration of identity removed from social improvement, or from meaningful political action and inclusiveness.

Trump was eager to promote the promised arrival of the monumental statue to media outlets when he returned from surveying real estate prospects in post-Soviet Moscow, boasting about his contacts with the affable Georgian sculptor who had won the Lenin Prize and was awarded Hero of Socialist Labor. As much as only an artist, the sculptor Trump treated with customary familiarity by praising “this great work of Zurab” as a gift that it “would be my honor if we could work it out with the city of New York” manufactured his own authority as an international intermediary in ways that omitted that “Zurab” was not only an artist, but a bit of a figure of state, who identified his work as an artist as a Hero of Socialist Labour who designed war memorials, and statues in Soviet embassies throughout the world; since 1997 was President of the Russian Academy of Arts, offering multiple post-Soviet monuments including for 9/11 to other countries on behalf of the state.

And what better place to position the image of the fifteenth-century royal navigator than to detract attention from the Enlightenment inheritance of the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the People, over which it would tower from the perspective of Trump Properties, in the New York skyline? It is telling that if Tsereteli’s later contribution of a statuary honoring 9/11, “Tear of Grief,” located in Bayonne, NJ, is situated in a site where it is seem before the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor–as if to redefine public political space and to take the place of the Statue of Liberty as the image that defined the visual experience of all who arrived in New York Harbor, rewriting the experience of universal ideals with mourning and global fears. The monument that used steel from a former Soviet military factory located in a Soviet “secret city” called Dzerzhinsk, suggesting its tie to a project of national calculations as much as a generous gift.

While artworks are branded an autonomous aesthetic status, the placement of Teresteli statues in embassies and consulates in Brazil, Portugal, and Japan, suggest we examine their role as an art of state. The promoting of the Russian-Georgian sculptor’s work transformed a relatively obscure Georgian artist to a figure of state in the post-Soviet era, as millions of tax dollars were pilfered to instal his folk-like sculptures in Moscow’s public spaces, imbuing with a false populism that suggests reproductions of kitsch inscribed with globalist ideals. The image of creating a new space of public admiration was central to Tsereteli’s works of art. “Make way, rogues of political blackmail,” reads a 1997 inscription on his monumental statue to Peter the Great, for founding a navy that was used to invade Ukraine, “Welcome the ship which has sailed into the eye of a grand Moscow scandal./ At the head of the tiny vessel . . . /Stand Peter in bronze!” The glorified elevation of its vision of authoritarian identitarian politics, familiar to post-Soviet Moscow as a new glue of public space, suggested a symbolics of political unity that Trump may well have taken as a model for global politics.

The attention-getting image of Columbus as a glorified authoritarian figure, to stand beside Manhattan in the Hudson, may have been far to heavy to be supported by the landfill of Trump Properties. The statue, weighing in at approximately 6,500 tons of sheer bronze, would not be likely to be supported by the landfill Trump had rezoned for residences. Rather than most solid metal sculptures built in Moscow, where a similar image of Peter the Great was erected in 1997, the image of Columbus would be hard to support. But the monument whose imminent arrival of which Trump boasted as an adornment to his most recent developent reveals a complex entangling of symbolic icons, redefining public spaces, and personal gain,

The recycling of patriotic platitudes in the monument during the post-Soviet era seems an attempt to refurbish Russia’s relation to the world. The monument Trump promoted was hardly designed with Trump in mind, or his property development as its intended site–but Trump Properties offered the perfect presence for its erection in ways that might be under the radar. Tseretelli had presented the statue, “Birth of the New Man,” to the city of Miami in 1992 to mark the cinquecentennnial of Columbus’ arrival, through a businessman with multiple Moscow business interests, Sol LeBow, who helped broker an early deal for the 600-ton sculpture by ponying up $20 million to install it off the beach, which brought both Luzhkov and Tsereteli to Miami’s City Hall during the Columban cinquecentennary in 1992, before Trump entered the scene. Once rejected, it was offered to the city of Columbus, Ohio in 1993, but rested in storage in Puerto Rico, an island where Columbus had actually set foot, and made landfall in 1493, before Zurab or his handlers proposed Trump serve as an intermediary who might erect it on his own property development whose monumentality would illustrate the majesty of the complex boasted to hold the hemisphere’s tallest building.

The image Tseretelli designed may have been preferred by the sculptor, but certainly made the rounds on the international stage. For Tseretelli presented a smaller version of the monument to UNESCO’s center in Paris in 1994, and a larger version in Seville in 1995, continuing to seek a global stage for the gigantic bronze monument, “Birth of the New World,” a vertical sculpture of the navigator before royal flags only installed in Puerto Rico in 2016. If the presence of patriotic populism provided a cover for transporting the statue across the Atlantic–or moving it up the seaboard–the prominent Muscovite’s backers, probably including not only Mayor Luzhkov but Vladimir Putin, who had begun to work in Moscow in the Department of residential Property Management; Trump was identified to bring the monument of the fifteenth century navigator to the New World as a new triumphant image of globalism.

John Alex Maguire/REX/
‘Birth of a New World’ by Zurab Tsereteli

The planned arrival of the monument designed by the court sculptor of Moscow’s mayor, Zurab Tsereteli, led Trump to gloat about the Neo-imperial visions of the fifteenth-century navigator raising his right hand to hail the world in an imperious neoclassical salutation of open address, that the sculpture was designed for his properties–“Zurab would like it to be at my [new] development,” blurring state and personal interests as only Trump can. While no one wanted the massive statue, which would long remain in limbo, the curious tracking of this gigantic monument spoke to Trump’s sense of grandiosity that may well have inflated his sense of himself as a global figure, and indeed paralleled the launching of Trump Properties on a global stage that makes one wonder about the power of monumentalism and Trump’s attraction to monumental art as a nexus of personal interests and state power.

The developer crowed about Zurab’s preferences as if to promote his new friendship with Moscow’s post-Soviet oligarchs’ preferred monument man, as well as to subtract himself from a grand affair of state that was working out around his land. The gambit to offer an apparent icon of patriotism, refracted through Tsereteli’s imperial lenses, shows an image of Columbus whose imposing presence stepped off a boat he apparently guided to the shores, hailing his presence before Christian-Imperial flags that double as the sails of the original caravel, an eery emissary of a new world order, offering no recognition of the inhabitants of this new land.

Trump was an unlikely medium of the monumental sculpture showing Columbus, hand raised in a gesture of imperial salute, as if victorious over a new continent, a statue that had itself in face mirrored the transatlantic voyage in traveling from Moscow, where it was cast, to the New World. And unlike the elegantly poised figure of Columbus poised contraposto Columbus standing elegantly atop a pedestal in Columbus Circle, the geometric center of New York City, the Columbus that Trump boasted to be built on rezoned landfill on the banks of the Hudson was Neo-imperial and gigantic in size. The sculpture that itself echoed the statue to Peter the Great of such massive proportions that had replaced the Soviet realist monuments of the past with a folksiness bordering on cartoons, in stone sculptures and brightly colored surfaces that captured Russian folklore and state emblems for the Russian Parliament in the White House, blurring state functions and public art with sacred art, who Moscow’s mayor acclaimed as a “new Michelangelo for our time.” When Trump celebrated the sculptor as both “major and legit” in 1997, was he only echoing the praise Luzhkov bestowed so lavishly on the Georgian-Russian sculptor whose work he had preferred as a new public language for state-sponsored art at a moment of historical change?

The comparison between Tsereteli and the papal sculptor Michelangelo, who was commissioned to design St. Peter’s dome by Pope Paul III, as a symbol of papal opulence and the chief architect of what would be the tallest dome then existing in the world, and a symbol of ecclesiastic grandeur, was telling. Boris Yeltsin visited the sculpture and called it “truly horrible;” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn bemoaned the “massive and third-rate memorials” by which Moscow was increasingly “disfigured” as such state largesse was conferred on a romanticized past so huge and immersive that it all but erased the present, and seemed an unlikely hybrid of the cinematic and the folk that seemed to be most distinguished by abdicating any ethical code of governmentality. The very overwhelming nature of monumentality seems to drown the viewer in a mythic sense of transcendence of the state, and rehabilitates an imperial sense of conquest as natural.

But the comparison to Michelangelo would of course have appealed at base to Trump’s vanity. What was the inspiration for its future placement on Trump’s property? He had returned from Moscow, “impressed with the potential” of Russia’s capital and, after meeting Moscow’s mayor, investigating the possibility of Russian backing for the luxury complexes in the post-Soviet era, when intelligence sources were hoping to cultivate new foreign ties. The power of Tsereteli’s statues lay in their increasing universal reproduction of that, as Bruce Grant has identified in his compelling analysis of patronage of Tsereteli’s public statuary in Moscow, keeps an imaginary state in public eye even in corrupt regimes, that in its immensity all but erases civil society–an aesthetic, or lack of one, that seems oddly similar to the illusion of a symbolics of prosperity that Trump International increasingly sustained. Grant ties Tsereteli’s ability to sustain an “artful prosperity in elite Russian circles” in the post-Soviet era not only as a sign of corruption, but of how corruption offer a set of practices that reconstitute the state.

The Columbus figure that serves as a symbol of a “New World”–a figure rewriting the notion of the Soviet “New Man” or “man of the future” to be created by socialism, a superman emblematic of a world of post-scarcity, a man of selfless individualism, the sculptures of Tsereteli remove the state from political practice, and indeed rewrite the relation of the realtor to the past, by providing an authoritarian image of globalism or globalization from Russia with Love.

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Filed under Columbus, commemoration, Donald J. Trump, national monuments, Zurab Tsereteli

Global Giuliani

For Giuliani, more than anyone else is able, can evoke he national trauma of September 11, 2001. But if 9/11 has been a poster for increased federal powers, an excuse for violating civil rights, and a remaking of the New World Order, the weird continuity of the myths of 9/11 have contributed significant spin to the careers of members of the Trump administration, and provided wierdly global–and hardly local–capital for the global career of posing as a strongman for Rudy Giuliani.

The same trauma that led to increased state authority to stop, incarcerate, and indeed deport seems embodied by the personal authority Giuliani assumed, as if a counter-weight to the lack of clear national response to the tragically unfolding events of 9/11, that suddenly led us all to question the relation of the United States to the World. Indeed, if the same man who was previously credited mostly with the “cleaning up” of Times Square and elimination of unwanted windshield cleaning by men wielding squeegees and asking for change for their work was not particular a leader, he catapulted to the global stage in peculiar ways through the mediatization of the trauma visited upon the nation with the destruction of the Twin Towers, as if the repristinization of the former entertainment nexus of New York that had become the “sleaziest block in America”–junkies, johns, crack dealers, drug users, homeless encampments, and prostitution or pornography all seemed to have license in its public space remembered in “Taxi Driver”–

Andreas Feininger (1906-1999). 1595 Broadway, 1983. Museum of the City of New York. 90.40.25

into an area of clean commercialization that was friendly for tourists, more than residents–a transformed, it can be argued, that shifted the sense of public space out of New York City, or at least Manhattan. (Giluiani was also rumored to have assisted Donald Trump’s planned commission of another New York statue of Christopher Columbus of over $40 million of bronze in Hudson Yards, as if to rival that of Columbus Square, and link Trump’s developments to the nation; the monument made by Russian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, was rejected for unknown reasons when presented to the United States, as well as Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Columbus OH, and Baltimore, and even Puerto Rico, give local opposition, but rumored to have been given the head of Peter the Great–in Moscow–which as the eight tallest statue in the world was voted after its 2008 appearance as among the world’s ugliest buildings.). The cleaning up of New York’s former public space as the site of global entertainment seemed designed to attract global capital and tourism.

The possibility of a heroic response to the tragic events of 9/11 have provided patriotic capital for few others to a similar degree, if many have tried. The junior member of SCOTUS, Brett Kavagnaugh, who seemed eager to use 9/11 in quite canny ways in his own confirmation hearing to promote his image, as his nomination seemed endangered, and destined to fail. For Kavanaugh pulled a Giuliani, in many ways, by linking himself to the drama of 9/11, in a bid to suggest his own ability to restore justice and vanquish fears, and indeed identify himself with the nation and drape himself in its flag.

The national trauma of 9/11 reared its head to haunt the nation during the hideous dramatics of the confirmation hearings of Judge Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court, as he sought ballast from the accusations of impropriety and serial abuse that hardly merited nomination to the highest court in the land. To move the other direction, he characteried the events of 9/11 as an occasion of personal heroism, as well as having changed American jurisprudence and the orientation of America to the world. For a weird tragedy of the Kavanaugh hearing was the theater of involuntarily transporting his audience back to his presence in the Bush White House that fateful day of an attack on the United States–as a new precedent for protecting the United States from future attacks that necessitated increased Presidential power–whose testimony tried to transport us back to the very day, as if to prepare us for the commemoration of its soon-approaching anniversary.

And so when tragedy became recycled as farce during the recent 2019 Impeachment Hearings, when the spent figure of Giuliani emerged as a mysterious global power broker, the name of Rudy–Rudolph Giuliani, mayor of New York City who rose to national if not national prominence in global media during the 9/11 tragedy, gained an eery prominence for his suspicious trafficking of the Trump brand in Ukraine, the unimpeachibility of the figure of Giuliani, who GOP Counsel Steve Castor attempt to remind the nation was still indeed “America’s Mayor,” led many to wonder how America’s Mayor, if he ever was that, had reappeared as a sleazy power-broker in Ukraine, who rather than claiming to dismantle a crime empire or to clean up NeYork City, had lent his remaining credibility to the political career of the hotelier Donald Trump. (During the interrogation of New Yorker Lt. Cl. Vindman, he only smirked at the mock-patriotism of the association of the former New York mayor with America.)

Giuliani, who has travelled across the globe accumulating more frequent flyer miles that one could imagine on the capital of 9/11, before capitalizing “in the capacity as a private lawyer to President Trump”–and as Trump was forced to lawyer up–was already a veritable globe-trotter, readily to lever the global currency of 9/11 leadership onto a stage of world policing. But his personal pedaling of global influence suddenly became turbo-charged, as his global ambitions grew even beyond his previous expansive reach, and seemed slated to gain something like a second or third wind, from Ukraine to Yeravan to Jerusalem, to Paris, meeting Iranians, Russians, and all who would listen to his plans for shifting global alliances, orchestrating overthrows, or as a representative of his old law firm, imagining himself as a one-man CIA.

Christine Frapech/Talking Points Memo

Brett Kavanaugh, who then served as President George W. Bush’s staff secretary and legal counsel, described in great detail his own surprise at learning in the West Wing how hijackers flew a plane into the Twin Towers, as if to transport us back to this moment; Kavanaugh remembered how he had been urgently instructed to “get out, run out,” and claimed to stand “bewildered” among colleagues in nearby Lafayette Park, trying to make sense of the new constitution of the United States in the world, as if to make sure we understood his reactive stance to the terrorist attack.  Kavanaugh sought to appeal to most Americans’ fears and illustrate his own integrity, hiding his agency in affirming the President’s right to authorize torture in the name of protecting the nation.

In short, the day changed his life as it did ours.  The many sites of 9/11 commemoration nationwide may have indeed made reflection on the terrorist attacks a common shared experience for Americans–indeed a more recent common point of reference in our landscape not only in over seven hundred memorials across the nation, many naming names of former local residents, others including steel remnants from a tower or welded steel debris.  

Monuments extend across the nation to the tragedies of September 11, from Shanksville, PA to Phoenix AZ, Bayonne NJ, Beverly Hills–where a twisted column of the WTC facade rests atop a base shaped as the Pentagon, atop a foundation housing copies of the US Constitution  and Declaration of Independence, and Gettysburg Address, as if a time capsule preserving foundational documents of the nation, Indianapolis, Laguna Beach, Boston, Grapevine TX, Palm Beach FL, Naperville IL, Cashmere WA, Valhalla NY, and sites far closer to the former World Trade Center, like Staten Island, Jersey City, where so many memorials are clustered.

The growth in recent years of a considerable number of “transnational memorials” that lie outside of the United States’ sovereign bounds, moreover, suggests the global context and profile that commemoration of 9/11 has assumed.  The proliferation of transnational memorials that are recently counted at as exceeding a thousand, that try to place the event in perspective by often offering and incorporating fragments of the WTC original steel as relics of the lost building.  The clustering bears witness in a sense to the impact of the event on the United States, they suggest the regularity with which population centers–predominantly in the northeastern cities, to be sure stretching from Washington DC to New England, but reaching broadly to the midwest–responded to the traumatic impact of the attacks through sites where citizens engaged in commemoration of the terrible and still terrifying event.

The efflorescence of over seven hundred 9/11 monuments across the nation respond to the broad need for sites of mourning and remembrance, so often mobilized in national discourse and so often unable to be sufficiently monumentalized in ways that might be able to encompass the single tragedy:  one is even able to unite the memorialization of sites on a hike along the September 11 Memorial Trail, in a sort of religious itinerary of introspection, linking the memorial of Flight 93 in Shanksville, former site of the World Trade Center in New York, and the Pentagon, as if in a new road of sorrows or via Dolorosa of one hundred and eighty-four miles, and connect three sites where terrorist attacks struck the United States.

In such a national landscape, so deeply saturated with sites of commemoration, the evocation of the reactions to the events as they occurred within the White House could not but be especially compelling.  During extended confirmation hearings, his confirmation marked by multiple vocal protests, Kavanaugh explained carefully and apparently reassuringly how after the events of 9/11 he had “thought very deeply” about the need for expanding executive powers in order to help protect America from further ” 9/11-style” terrorist attacks.  If the terrorist attack truly “changed America, changed the world, changed the presidency, changed Congress, changed the courts,” as Kavanaugh assured viewers, leading President George W. Bush to act as if every day were September 12 in their wake, and forcing the nation to do its best prepare for the eventuality of a future deliberate attacks of terror–

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–as if to illustrate he met the needed deliberateness sought in a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Was the reference truly reassuring?

Kavanaugh’s quite conscious decision to transport the nation to the days of the Bush Presidency were more than a weird time-warp than a trip down memory lane, occasioning his evocation of Bush’s vigilance to prevent any future attack–which hasn’t yet occurred in over fifteen years, although the specter loomed large as it was resuscitated in the 2016 Presidential election to great effect.   The night before the attack, as it happened, Kavanaugh had gone on a date with the fellow staffer who he would later marry, Ashley Estes, and the nominee was persuasive in describing how 9/11 had defined his career and sense of self, as well as how the confirmation hearing was reported to the Alt Right, as if to normalize Kavanaugh’s advocacy of potential racial profiling as a reasonable response to terror.  The canned nature of the recollection during U.S. Senate confirmation hearings broadcast on national television suggested a clearly planned strategy of performing for public audience by evoking the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as if they formed part of a glorious national past in which he played a prominent part:  the myth of personal heroism picked up in Alt Right media seemed plan to illustrate his character to Trump’s constituency.

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The Patriot Brief (September 11, 2018)

Whether or not September 11 constituted a watershed in American jurisprudence, or seemed such in the eye of the hurricane, the attack on the World Trade Center propelled New York City’s mayor, Rudy Giuliani, to the global stage where he quickly became a global protagonist–and the act of global terror had the side-effect of bequeathing him to the world.   For the globalized event elevated Giuliani, then at the end of his mayoral tenure, into a global hero.  New York’s Mayor Giuliani was not only famously trapped in the towers for fifteen minutes, years after he made the third tower–against the advice of his own Director of Emergency Management–into a Command Center, preferring the prominent place of such a site to the suggestion of Brooklyn, but creating an improvised executive response center to the terrorist attack at the site, preferring the stagecraft of coordinating city departments with state and federal authorities from the World Trade Center to draft and announce citywide anti-terrorist measures, and defined the public face of the city on radio and television profiles over the course of the day, as the nation sought to get clear bearings and orientation on what had happened and what that meant.

Proud of the newfound prominence guaranteed by quick taking up a secure place at the World Trade Center ruins, Giuliani became America’s mayor as he proudly announced as if from a brotherhood, “I was at Ground Zero as often, if not more, than most workers…. I was there working with them. I was exposed to exactly the same things they were exposed to. So in that sense, I’m one of them,” and revealed in his appearance on the cover of Time as Person of the Year in 2001, explaining that as soon as he had word of the attack, he left the midtown hotel where he was lunching for the site where he remained for sixteen hours since the Twin Towers crumbled and fell, and Rudy stayed tall–even replacing the monument of the World Trade Center as aller than the Empire State and embodying a needed “tower of strength” whose black-suited figure seemed to similarly dominate the global skyline as a new form of superhero.

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The magnification of the status of Rudy Giuliani into something of a global superhero was a bit of a major casualty of 9/11.   Mayor Giuliani had indeed arrived quite quickly, before the second plane hit, moving as most were mesmerically transfixed to television screens replaying the first collision for hours over that morning, to watch men and women fall a tower, in time to see the south tower implode, and be nearly trapped inside the makeshift command for ten minutes in the nearby center he established as a temporary site of government that seemed a site of resistance to terror, in ways that were broadcast to the world.  As time froze for most of us, he was a man of action.  Inhabiting the site and granting repeated interviews, as the nation and world tried to process the terrible event, Giuliani worked to comfort families of the missing and visited the scene of attack to try to contain its apocalyptic proportions, turning to read Winston Churchill the night after the attack, after taking off his mud-stained shoes, taking comfort in the stoicism of the British leader whose sentence–“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat“–evoking London of the Blitz, as if to draw some comfort as well as to inflate his own heroism.

And although September 11 was also the day of the primary to chose his successor, Giuliani almost consciously used it to pole-vault to the global stage, becoming not only the comforter of the nation, mourner-in-chief (“the number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear“), and a global emblem of hope–if not a public politician–who no doubt gave the comparison to his biographer to Churchill during the Blitz– “What Giuliani succeeded in doing is what Churchill succeeded in doing in the dreadful summer of 1940: he managed to create an illusion that we were bound to win“–in the hopes to enshrine his improbable ascension to the role of “Greatest Mayor Ever” in posterity, and indeed to presidential material.  Meanwhile, Donald Trump boasted that the destruction of the Twin Towers made one of his buildings at 40 Wall Street the tallest in the city, securing funds intended for small businesses affected by the disastrous attack, and receive $150,000.  (Trump himself a bit less hastily followed Rudy in granting interviews at the site of the destroyed towers, hoping to burnish his own status against the terrible tragedy.)  But Giuliani cited Trump’s support for New York City–as given “often anonymously”–in his endorsement for the Republican nominee.

Global Giuliani emerged in the following years, leading up to his improbable and ill-fated Presidential run of 2008, as if in a planned roll out of Giuliani’s new career that profited from the global news of the attacks, which both mirrored a recent globalization of news media and a globalization that promoted news to global attention and continuous news coverage, in which Giuliani had so prominently starred.  Giuliani Partners used the charisma gained after the terror attacks to rebrand “America’s Mayor” on a global stage, promising to transform any cities willing to hire him on contract to promote them to global cities,  from Central America to the Middle East and pedaling promises of a release from fear.  The new millennium offered one of the oddest episodes of the aftermath of globalization and as a traveling salesman whose snake oil was the promise of global prominence.

The questionable role Giuliani adopted from Mexico City to Belgrade to Sao Paolo to Kiev, posing as crime crusader able to transform any city that approached him with a plan to transform to a “global city” to meet intangible demands of economic development desired in the new millennium.  And, indeed, the recent revelation of mystery trips that the “world’s mayor” took to Russia from 2004 and former Soviet states in the Caucasus, as guests of businessmen and powerful politicians, which have  speeded up and expanded in the Trump Era, sponsored by the Russian-American TriGlobal Strategic Adventures, have led him to be defined a courier to the United States President, suggests a parleying of his self-forged public identity into an ability to cross borders, national frontiers, and become an odd figure in globalism, as an advisor on issues from cybersecurity and technologic breakthroughs to law and order, at the same time as he departed from the Greenberg Traurig firm.  The ties that Giuliani built to Peru, Belgrade, Iran, Russia, Ukraine (Kiev), as a global diplomat, often through people with high ties to Russia’s government–and claims to have visited eighty countries in one hundred and fifty state trips..

For Giuliani convinced much of the world that he was particularly suited to confer useful “advice” through a new firm that traded in duplicity, Giuliani Partners and its subsidiary, Giuliani Security and Safety (“GSS”), who claimed to promise the ability to guarantee “a comprehensive range of security and crisis management services” in a globalized world.  Rudy paradoxically promised the ability to transform cities to “world-class cities,” using the lingo of globalism and transformation as if the baptism by fire lent him skills and requisite expert a promising transformative abilities to achieve the inherently utopic promises of becoming a global city; he became something of an agent of globalization, based on his centrality of the global event of 9/11 that had once affectingly and movingly crossed all national borders, as he promised he resolution to resolve fears of crime, revitalize markets, or offer immediate transformations of civic space for elites.

Working in cities from Puerto Rico to Colombia to the Middle East, Giuliani moved close to power, freely trading his own claims to end fear and lending his newfound prestige on global media.  He toured with Peruvian law-and-order presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori in 2011, helping her to project a crime-fighting image on the campaign trail, and accepted the task to convert Rio de Janeiro into a “global city” in time for the Olympics in 2016.  Giuliani sold himself on a global market as a crime-fighter able to reduce crime in its favelas, serving as a “security consultant” able to promote “zero tolerance” policies he allegedly pioneered, despite utter lack of familiarity with the scene on the ground in Peru or Brazil, let alone Belgrade.  The promises remind recall how globalization is tied to the denial of personal liberties or freedoms, from the false narrative of “zero tolerance” Giuliani championed as of his own creation in New York to the removal of individual liberties that he made a selling point of the crime-fighting plans, irrespective of any knowledge on the ground; his firm pedaled the same rebranding of the mayor from Mexico City to the prepare Rio de Janeiro to become a global city in time for the 2016 Olympics, as Giuliani the person moved among police forces surrounded by armed security and armored convoys while showing little local familiarity with a location’s specific social dynamics–the Giuliani brand sufficed and was indeed all that was needed for the policy recommendations, guarantees and policy assurances he would provide.  (Giuliani’s considerable global ties may well have led to fears about potential conflicts that his own Senate confirmation hearing would reveal–undoubtedly prompting numerous red flags for Reince Preibus or Don McGahn–even before questions have surfaced about his violation of existing federal foreign lobbying laws.)

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Giuliani arrives in Mexico City to meet with local police (20013) Victor Caivino/AP

For over fifteen years, Global Giuliani has branded himself as an itinerant savior, drawing liberally from an accumulated media bank of 9/11 in his continued television appearances for a huge range of constituencies.  Giuliani brokered ties across the globe, irrespective of local dynamics of power.  He preached to the government of Qatar’s emir and police force to corporation behind the Keystone XL, TransCanada, and  in Iran with opposition group (briefly cited by the Dept. of State as a terrorist organization) Mujahedeen Khalq (M.E.K.) or to TriGlobal Strategic Ventures, a group promoting development in former states of the Soviet Union, where he consulted with many Russian oligarchs to promise”business solutions . . . in global markets,” and a company tied to Russian’s state-owned petroleum pipeline firm Transneft.  (Giuliani met with none other than Russia’s foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov back in 2004, as well as the chairman of Magnitogorsk Steel Works).  He has worked widely in Latin America in the Dominican Republic in 2012, the same year he worked in both Ecuador and for Raul Molina in Panama in 2013, Tijuana,Mexico in 2014, Guatemala in 2014, and Puerto Rico, before his work in Brazil, promising global status by trafficking in consulting deals tied to his reputation of being “tough of crime” and “experience with terrorism”–in the new parlance of globalism.

The many lies of protecting individual freedoms seem seamless with globalization, which talk tough while failing to protect and even to render individuals more vulnerable, and criminalizing others.  This is the vulnerability of globalization, the decline of individual liberties, the absence of security, criminalizing outsiders to the global city, and the peddling of assurance against the range of unprecise fears in which he has so broadly trafficked and promoted, responding to worries of globalism by provoking them, and by assuring audiences of their reality with false reassurances of his abilities to lead us out of their mess.

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Since September 11, 2001, indeed, the spread of memorials to the events of 9/11 has grown to the hundreds both in the United States and the rest of the world, as the event has become a site of morning and marked a sort of entry into a new globalized world, where the relation of one place to the dynamics of the rest of the world has changed, and done so on a global scale in ways that have inaugurated a widespread transnational commemoration of the events of 9/11 in many other nations worldwide–especially in Europe and Japan, where they echoed the alliances forged after World War II–

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–but also among American allies in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Israel.

The appearance of the global impact of 9/11 could not be clearly mapped to sites of Giuliani’s physical presence, or America’s allies, but suggest an intersection among them, including most prominently military allies–Japan; Australia; Kuwait; Afghanistan; NATO countries and member-states; Canada; Mexico–in a very partial map of the world, but one that suggests a new and important spatiality of 9/11, shaped by the limits and perhaps also the declining extent of American hegemony.

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Memorial Mapping Project, interactive map of global 9/11 memorials

But the memory of 9/11 has continued to act as a fulcrum able to leverage Giuliani’s stature to superhuman size, as in the Time magazine cover, so that he appears to tower over the problems faced on the ground, and it was no doubt with this status in mind that Donald J. Trump, showing as parochial view as ever, assumed him in his legal defense team and as something of a spokesperson, so that he left his most recent perch at Greenberg Traurig with the assurances that he, Rudy, he would lead the Mueller investigation to wrap up but in a matter of weeks–a claim that few must have bought, save perhaps the Donald, and as events proceeded Giuliani transformed the leave of absence from the esteemed for what was announced as a “limited role” expanded to regular presence on daily talk shows to a “resignation” the firm accepted eagerly, even as Greenberg Traurig chairman Richard Rosenbaum allowed “a great deal of respect for the Mayor’s incredible career and what he has done for New York City and our country for many years.”  The acceptance of Giuliani’s resignation “in light of the pressing demands of the Mueller investigation” was ascribed by the former mayor to  the “all-consuming” nature of his role with the current President, but the large law firm was also perhaps ready to distance themselves from “America’s mayor” after his statements on cable news defending under-the-radar hush money payments was standard for a lawyer ran against firm policy, and the fame of in 9/11 had worn thin and become ever so tarnished in the light of his open courting of fairly questionable professional codes of ethics.

The powerful optic of 9/11 in public memory offers, after all, an optic by which to investigate the mechanics and lopsided dynamics of globalization, and the new spatiality of the new millennium.  So does the retrograde nature of the prominence of the events of 9/11 in Kavanaugh’s testimony to U.S. Senators and to the nation:  and it is oddly fitting, if also disturbing, that while Kavanaugh assured the nation of his competence in assessing the new nature of national threats as a result of 9/11, and seemed to promise continued readiness to measure the new sort of challenges that the United States would face in the future, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford–who would accuse Kavanaugh of aggressive sexual assault–in her professional work as a psychologist applied herself to investigating signs of post-traumatic stress disorder among children caused by the same attacks of 9/11–as well as depression among young adults, abilities of emotional recognition, and child abuse–while Kavanaugh worked hard to change the American legal system to face what he saw as the imperatives posed by future terrorist attacks.

Personal ethics, however, seem to have been swept under the table, in the light of the broad mandate for defending the nation against a global threat, as if needs for national safety sanctioned the absence of any ethics in a state of exception.  The terrorist strikes on 9/11 are evoked again as the basis for a state of exception, and sufficient grounds for extra-legal standards and behavior–even by a candidate for the United States Supreme Court.  It was striking that Giuliani was himself quick to promote the anti-globalist message, echoing fascist rhetoric, that identified none other than George Soros as the primary funder of anti-Kavanaugh protests that have beset the United States Capital in the days of the extended consideration of his elevation to the Supreme Court by the U.S. Senate, endorsing the anti-semitic message that none other than the Jewish-American hedge fund manager Soros was both the “anti-Christ” and funder of protests calling into question Kavanaugh’s suitability for the highest court to his 1753K followers–“Freeze his assets & I bet the protests stop,” tweeted one @genesis35711, in a response to the spokesperson of Judicial Watch who sought to assure the world that he would not be intimidated by unruly mobs of leftist protestors opposing the Kavanaugh nomination.

The claim of Soros’ involvement in the anti-American activities of leftists prompted assertions made by octogenarian Judiciary Committee Chair, Senator Charles Grassley, to “tend to believe” Soros was funding the protests, by funding the protestors who contested the nomination of Kavanaugh, later floated in Trump’s alliterative vision of “payed professional protestors who are handed expensive signs” who mask the real populism of his own candidacy, when Trump dismissed anti-Kavanaugh protests on October 5, 2018, as run by  carrying “identical signs” that were “paid for by Soros and others,” and which were in fact “not signs made in the basement from love!”  The essentially “anti-American” nature of such protests were the latest in a recurrence of the “paranoid style in American politics” traced by the late historian Richard Hofstadter as rooted in suspicions that are framed in a deeply religious politics, set at a remove from secular discourse, that spreads fear by claiming to map otherwise hidden subversive threats.

The recent, and particularly terrifying, pronouncement from the President’s lawyer taps into a global paranoia and that map “leftist efforts to destroy Kavanaugh” on a bogeyman of such Central European strongmen as Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban.  For the tweet gave currency to assertions protests about Kavanaugh were seditious movements meriting federal charges, as if criticizing Kavanaugh’s politics and obfuscations were in fact attacks on American values, if not on American government.  Giuliani’s angry retweeting of a viscously antisemitic attack on Soros as a nefarious agent seemed Giuliani’s attempt to assume his role to defend against a globalist conspiracy theory that has been recently nourished in right-wing politics that paints a disturbing image of Soros as a sort of puppet master of unthinking masses, with deep ties to the political propaganda of a staple of paranoia politics casting Jewish financiers as malevolent external influences.  This image, long nourished by the image of Soros as a pernicious outside funder and donor to the democratic party of Obama and Hillary Clinton, and a foreign manipulator of domestic politics and of free choice, was extended to “leftist attacks on Kavanaugh” as if to unmask the interests at stake in actual objections.  The demonization of philanthropy within this vision of the modern evils of international banking almost echoes the image of an external attack on the nation–nourishing a paranoid vision of dangers that lurk beneath the surface of American politics, or as offshore risks, and claiming to unmask the rigged nature of our national politics with disturbing echoes to the propaganda of nationalist fascist regimes.  Caricaturing Soros as a puppet master in Alt Right media, in relation to Hillary Clinton or Obama, echoes the image of deep anti-semitic nature in the photoshopped images in Hungarian politics.

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Indeed, the figure of Soros, his face juxtaposed beside a five-color map of the globe, focussed on central Europe and the Ukraine, unduly magnifies his power over a geopolitical map as if it can only be deciphered that the specter of Soros casts–

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–recalling the oft-tweeted image claiming to unmask Soros as the hidden master of the American presidential candidate of the Democratic party, Hillary Clinton.

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Giuliani was an apt figure to endorse this global remapping of such “seditious conspiracy against the United States”–terms evoked by how the right-wing radio presences who label Soros an external threat to the nation and charged “outside agitators” and “special interest groups” are engaged in trying to wrest democratic processes.   Senator Susan Collins adopted the sam terms in lamenting the  ability to “whip their followers into a frenzy by spreading misrepresentations and outright falsehoods” undermining American political practices.

The expansion of this pernicious paranoid strand in American politics returned in Susan Collins’ readiness to blame the arrival of “an unprecedented amount of dark money” to motivate anti-Kavanaugh protests, as if oppositional protests constitute nothing less than another foreign attack on American values, only waiting to be unmasked and mapped as a corruption and distortion of American values.  Such repeated insinuations of external influences suggest the widespread currency of the eerily revived a paranoid style of American politics that remains rooted in fear and distrust, during the Trump era, to underscore the need for perpetual vigilance to defend the nation that the presence of none other than Giuliani aptly embodies and incarnates, as he drapes himself in the backdrop of the American flag at even two decades of distance, and the image of a secure global politics that Giuliani has continued to assume.

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Regis Duvignau/Reuters

The deep resonance the specter of 9//11 during the initial confirmation hearings, and within the ways Trump has sought to revive national fears of imminent terrorist attacks as a candidate and as President, attacking the poorly conducted nature of post-9/11 wars, focussing on undetected threats of terror.  From calling NATO “obsolete” for real terrorist threats, and raising the specter of “Radical Islam,” and “radical Islamic terrorism,” as actual threats to the nation, words have served to proliferate a gamut of dangers, perhaps coordinated with memes Russia’s Internet Research Agency put out on social media to “Stop Islamicization,” using the memory and trauma of 9/11 to shift attention from the geopolitics of Russian aggression. Indeed, the most recent time that Giuliani graced the front cover of Time was not only less flattering, but looks a bit like a monster who had been given something like life, linking himself to roles of personal financial opportunism, reprioritizing foreign policy, or working outside established channels of state with a particular relish.

And when Trump summoned rhetorical greatness, to evoke memories of the men and women who “boarded that plane as strangers, and entered eternity forever as heroes” at Shanksville, PA, he assumed his greatest rhetorical heights as a national spokesman, able  to shift attention from increasingly ingrown divisions of our union; in enshrining 9/11 as a formative moment for the nation, however his words oddly frozen in time was that claim, as he accepted the thanks of his Interior Secretary for “protecting our borders” as if to transcend divisions in the nation, even as he evoked the continuity of ongoing threats in ways that had clear implications for the importance of political divisions.

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Filed under American Politics, commemoration, September 11, Supreme Court, terrorism, World Trade Center

Mapping Our Shrinking Shores

Coasts have provided the primary cartographical invention to understand the risks that erosion pose to property:  the coast-line is the boundary of the known land, and determines the outer bound of the real estate.  But the coastal fixation of the landlubber privileges the illusion of the fixity of the shore.  More than ever, assumptions about the fixity of shorelines must fall away.  Perhaps the most haunting take away from the Surging Seas web-based map of global shorelines forces us to take into account the inevitable mutability that must be accepted with the rising of ocean-level associated with climate change.

The web-map presents itself as a set of tools of analysis, as much as cartographical techniques, by which the rise of sea-level that has already risen globally some eight inches since 1880 stands to accelerate–emphasizing the alternate scenarios that the acceleration of sea-level rise stands to bring over the next hundred years, introducing a new concept of risk due to coastal flooding.  The availability of accurate GPS images of the elevations of homes have provided the possibility of sketching scenarios of sea-level rise to create readily zoomable maps of elevated ocean levels that confront us with at least the image of the options which we still theoretically have.  The contrasting futures created in this cartographical comparison shocks viewers with a salutary sort of operational paranoia only increased as one fiddles with a slider bar to grant greater specificity to the disastrous local consequences of rising sea-levels world-wide.

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In ways quite unlike the wonderfully detailed old NOAA Topographic Surveys which map shorelines at regular transects, or T-Sheets, recording the high waterline of tides across 95,000 coastal miles and 3.4 million square miles of open sea, the coastline is less the subject of these web maps than levels of potential inundation.  In a negative-mapping of possibilities of human habitation, blue hues invade the landscape in a monitory metric emphasizing the regions at risk of being underwater in a century.  Whereas scanned T-Sheets can now be viewed by a historical time-bar slider, the fixity of space or time are less relevant to the web maps than the gradients of possible sea-level rise caused by carbon emissions might force us to confront.

Surging Seas forces us to confront the possibilities of the future underwater world.  The infiltration of a deep shade of blue commands the eye by its intensity, deeper shades signifying greater depth, in ways that eerily underscore the deep connection that all land has to the sea that we are apt to turn our backs upon in most land maps, showing the extent to which a changing world will have to familiarize itself to water-level rise in the not-distant future.  It’s almost paradoxical that the national frontiers we have inscribed on maps has until recently effectually made impossible such a global view, but the attraction of imagining the somewhat apocalyptic possibility of sea-level rise seems almost to map a forbidden future we are not usually allowed to see, and has a weirdly pleasurable (if also terrifying) aspect of viewing the extensive consequences of what might be with a stunning level of specific and zoomable local detail we would not otherwise be able to imagine, in what almost seems a fantasia of the possibilities of mapping an otherwise unforeseen loss, not to speak of the apparent lack of coherence of a post-modern world.

For the variety of potential consequences of disastrous scenarios of sea-level rise posed can be readily compared with surprisingly effective and accurate degrees of precision, in maps that illustrate the depths at which specific regions stand to be submerged underwater should sea-level rise continue or accelerate:  zooming into neighborhoods one knows, or cities with which one is familiar, the rapid alteration of two to seven feet in sea-level can be imagined–as can the fates of the some 5 million people worldwide who live less than four feet above sea-level.  For if the shores have long been among the most crowded and popular sites of human habitation–from New York to London to Hong Kong to Mumbai to Jakarta to Venice–the increasing rapidity of polar melting due to climate change stands to produce up to a seven feet rise in sea-level if current rates of carbon emissions, and a mere four degree centigrade rise in global temperature stands to put the homes of over 450 million underwater, which even the most aggressive cutting in carbon emissions might lower to only 130 million, if rates of warming are limited to but 2°C.   (If things continues as they stand, the homes of some 145 million who currently dwell on land in China alone are threatened with inundation.)

The recent review of the disastrous consequences of a rise of two degrees Centigrade on the land-sea boundary of the United States led Climate Central to plot the effects of a-level rise of at least 20 feet on the country–and foreground those regions that were most at risk.   The webmap serves as something like a window into the possible futures of climate change, whose slider allows us to create elevations in sea-level that the ongoing melting of the polar ice-cap seems poised to create.  As much as offer compare and contrast catastrophes, the immediacy of recognizing the degree to which places of particular familiarity may soon stand to lie underwater performs a neat trick: for whereas a map might be said to bring closer the regions from which one is spatially removed or stands apart, making present the far-off by allowing one to navigate its spatial disposition in systematic fashion, the opacity of those light blue layers of rising seas obscures and subtracts potentially once-familiar site of settlement, effectively removing land from one’s ken as it is subtracted from the content of the map, and charting land losses as much as allowing its observation.

The result is dependably eery.  The encroachment of the oceans consequent to rising sea-level propose a future worthy of disaster films.  But the risks can be viewed in a more measured ways in the maps of sea-level on the shores of the United States calculated and mapped by Stamen design in the Surging Seas project that allows us to imagine different scenarios of sea-level rise on actual neighborhoods–the set of interactive maps, now aptly retitled Mapping Choices, will not only cause us to rethink different scenarios of shifting shorelines by revisiting our favorite low-lying regions, or allow us to create our own videos of Google Earth Flyovers of different areas of the world.  Mapping Choices provides a way to view the risks and vulnerabilities to climate change made particularly graphic in centers of population particularly low-lying, where they testify to the clarity with which web maps can create a vision of imagined experience as we imagine the actual losses that global warming is poised to create.  And although the recent expansion of the map to a global research report, allowing us to examine possible global futures that are otherwise difficult to comprehend or process the potential risks posed by the inundation of low-lying inhabited regions for a stretch of thirty meters, the potential risk of inundation is perhaps most metaphorically powerful for that region that one best knows, where the efficacy of a simple side-by-side juxtaposition of alternate potential realities has the unexpected effect of hitting one in one’s gut:  for debates about the possibilities of climate change suddenly gain a specificity that command a level of attention one can only wonder why one never before confronted as an actual reality.

Alternate Scenarios

Maps are rarely seen as surrogates for observation, and web maps often offer something like a set of directions, or way finding tools.  But the predicted scenarios of sea-levle rise allows one to grasp the local levels of inundation with a specificity that allow risk to be seen in terms of actual buildings–block by block–and wrestle with the risks that climate change portends.  The lack of defenses of populations in many regions are definitely also at great risk, but to envision the loss of property and known space seems oddly more affecting in such an iconic map of Manhattan–and somewhat more poetic as an illustration of the fungibility of its hypertrophied real estate and property values.

Of course, the data of Climate Change allows a terrifying view of the future of four degrees centigrade warming on low-lying Boston and the shores of the Charles, as the city is reduced to a rump of an archipelago–

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or the disastrous scenarios for the populations in the lower lying areas of Jakarta–

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or, indeed, in Mumbai–

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Viewers are encouraged to imagine the risks of the possible alternate futures of just two degrees with an immediacy that worms into one’s mind.  The possibilities that GPS offers of instantaneous calculations of shoreline position and elevations allow one to view a potential reality where one can focus on individual streets with inspirational urgency.

But such scenarios seem somehow particularly graphic illustrations of risk for those regions where there has been a huge investment of human capital, as New York City, where it might seem credible enough to be mapped that they are poised to melt not into air but vanish beneath ocean waves.  For if Marx predicted with spirited apocalypticism at the very start of the Communist Manifesto that capitalism would destroy value to money as it expanded into future markets, as market forces abstracted all things into money–and “all that is solid melts into air”–the twentieth-century expansion of possibilities of environmental and human destruction have lent unprecedented urgency.  While for Marx the metaphor of melting of inherent value was the product of the capitalist system, the capitalist system bodes a strikingly similar image of sinking into the seas.  For huge expanses of the old industrial city–the piers and the old manufacturing zones, most all of the Jersey shore and area around Newark, Long Island City and the Gowanus canal seem sink apart from the shoreline in the future New York that Surging Seas creates, in ways that seem the consequence of industrial production and carbon surging far beyond 400 parts per million (ppm), with the addition of some 2 ppm per year, in ways that make it a challenge to return to the levels deemed healthy–let alone the levels of 275 ppm which the planet long held through the mid-eighteenth century.

That drought, hurricanes, disappearance of arctic ice (up to 80% in summertime) and rising sea levels are tied to the growth of greenhouse gasses hint how global capital might be closely linked to the sinking into the seas, and suggest the surpassing of a tipping point of climate change that is the counterpart to melting into air might be viewed, in New York City’s economic geography, as if to offer a poetic reflection of the migration of capital into the financial centers of the city downtown from its piers or areas of industry–

NY:NJ

–although half-hearted joking references to Marxist maxims (or geographers) is hardly the topic of this post, and the island of high finance that would be created in downtown Manhattan would hardly have ever been planned as an island.

Lower Manhattan Island?

What one might someday see as the lopping off of much of lower Manhattan might be far better tied to the runaway markets of a free-trade economy, rather than rational planning, and has no clear correspondence to property values.

lopped off lower Manhattan

Indeed, the mapping of the prospective loss of those residential parts of the city “where poor people dwell” (as do minorities) is undeniable, if one looks at the 2010 American Community Survey, regarding either in the city’s distribution of ethnic groups or households earning below $30,000, who remain the most vulnerable to the danger of rising ocean levels.

ACS 2005?

Income under 30,000American Community Survey (2010)/New York Times

But the disappearance of the Eastern Parkway and the Jersey shore are a blunt reminder of the extreme vulnerability of the built environment that lies close to sea-level–

Eastern Parkway and Atlantic Avenue above the seas

–and an actually not-too-apocalyptic reminder, but the mapping of consequences of man-made change that goes under the rubric of anthropocene, and is most apparent in the increasing quotient of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the warming that this may bring.  For if it has been approximated that there has already been a rise of sea-levels by some eight inches since 1880, the unprecedented acceleration of that rate, which will increase the dangers of floods from storms and place many of the some three thousand coastal towns at risk, are likely to increase as the sea level may rise from two to over seven feet during the new century.

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The distribution is by no means uniform, and more industrialized countries, like the United States, are producing far more particulate matter, although they have been recently overtaken by China from 2007, and have atmospheres above 380 ppm in the Spring, making them more responsible for rendering higher temperatures–although the lower-lying lands below the equator may be most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change.

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Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 8.21.44 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-13 at 8.22.35 PMVox– A visual tour of the world’s CO2 emissions

The increasing levels of particulate matter are attempted to be more locally mapped in Surging Seas.

The changes extend, in a nice dramatic detail, into the Central Park Meer rejoining the East River with the predicted inundation of much of the posh residential area of Manhattan’s East Side, all the way to Fifth Avenue.

Truncated NJ and absent upper East side

It is difficult not to compare the scenarios sketched in Surging Seas maps to some of the maps of those future islands of New York that Map Box and others allowed Sarah Levine to create maps of the heights of buildings from open data after the pioneering maps of Bill Rankin’s 2006 “Building Heights.”   When Rankin remapped Manhattan by taking building height as an indirect index of land value, he saw the island as clustered in distinct islands of elevation above 600 feet:

manhattan-heights

Radical Cartography (2006)

Levine used similar data to chart the fruits of Mammon in buildings above sixty stories.  Maps of skyscrapers beside the gloom of Surging Seas suggest those towers able to withstand the rising seas brought by global temperatures jumping by just two degrees Centigrade.  If one moves from the map of the bulk of lowest sections of lower Manhattan–

Two Inches in Lower Manhattan

with reference to Levine’s brilliantly colored carmine mapping of the highest buildings in the Big Apple, above forty-seven or fifty-nine stories, which one imagines might provide the best vantage points that rise above the rising waves, especially when located on the island’s shores.

Mapping NYC by Sarah

Sarah Levine Maps Manhattan

There’s a mashup begging to be made, in which the tallest buildings of over fifty stories at the tip of the island peak up above the cresting waves, and the rump of buildings in lower Manhattan offer contrasting vistas of the city’s contracting shores.  The buildings that create the canyons of urban life, the buildings of elevation surpassing sixty stories might suggest the true islands of Manhattan’s future, as much as the points that punctuate its skyline.

Sarah's Lower Manhattan

The realization of this possible apocalypse of property made present in these maps offer the ability to visit impending disasters that await our shorelines and coasts, and imagine the consuming of property long considered the most valuable on the shore–as rising seas threaten to render a whispy shoreline of the past, lying under some six meters of rising seas.  The prospect of this curtailing of the ecumene, if it would bring an expansion of our nation’s estuaries, presents an image of the shrinking of the shores that suggests, with the authority of a map, just how far underwater we soon stand to be.

Eastern USASurging Seas: sea level rise after 2 degrees centigrade warming

All actual maps, including Levine’s, provide authoritative reporting of accurate measures with a promise of minimal distortions.  But visualizations such Surging Seas offer frightening windows into a future not yet arrived, using spatial modeling to predict the effects of a rise in sea-level of just five feet, and the potentially disastrous scale such a limited sea-level change would bring:  the coasts are accurate, but their inundation is a conservative guess, on the lower spectrum of possibilities.  For in a country in which 2.6 million homes are less than four feet above current sea-levels, the spectral outlines of chilly blue former coastlines peak at a future world are still terrifying and seem all too possible, as much as potential cautionary tale.  The concretization of likely scenarios of climate change remind us that however much we really don’t want to get there, how potentially destructive the possibility of a several degree rise in ocean temperatures would be.

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Filed under Climate Change, coastal flooding, data visualization, Global Warming

Urban Modernity, RIP: Mapping Marshall Berman Mapping Modernism

The meaning of place seems especially difficult to retain in an age of increased mobility, when information flows are increasingly removed from any site, and offer multiplying perspectives.  The work of cultural critic Marshall Berman (1940-2013) provides a clear eyed way to recuperate modernism through the inhabitation of place.  Berman, a long-time New York City resident and echt urbanite, created rich qualitative maps of literary modernism that rhapsodized cities as places–as privileged and vital sites of generating meanings that were rooted in place.  Even after his recent death, it’s hard not to be struck by the vitality that he mapped as rooted in cities, and whose existence he never stopped reminding us about and celebrating.  A native New Yorker, Berman wrote from committed engagement in New York’s space and shifting fluidity, and in his works mapped the sense of fluidity or perpetual permutability of urban life.  He showed us, in so doing, that maps are not only imposition from above, or Olympian views, but can map daily encounters best registered on city streets.  Even when I best knew Marshall in the 1970s and 1980s, he was one of the inveterate street-walker of the Upper West Side and Broadway who exulted in most everything he noticed on the street.  Marshall maybe increasingly became an inveterate street-walker who took pleasure in public space, and enjoyed claiming for himself a spot on the street, finding a sort of release and liberation on the night-time sidewalks, in Times Square, or at the diners where he so loved to sit.

In retrospect, I imagine his championing of the street’s energy came from the magnum opus he was then completing, All That is Solid Melts into Air (1982)–but that his love of street-life also shaped his voracious exploration of the space of literary modernism through the act of being in public.  For Berman quickly recognized that the depersonalization of urban life was not only the trauma and drama of modernity, but, transfigured by literary expression, also a privileged site for individuality.  In ways that are still resonant, his generous mapping of the modernity among cities extended from the city that he loved to the modern urbanism.  R.I.P., Marshall.

Berman’s sudden and unexpected death in a booth at the Metro Diner, at the heart of the Manhattan Upper West Side, can’t but provoke a reflection on his relation to the concept of urban space, from the sense of public space he lived and explored relentlessly as an observer and city-dweller to that which he read so very widely to excavate and explore with a canny sense of the personalized human geography.  For Marshall loved the lived urban environments and continued a life-long fascination he had with the living nature of a streetscape illuminated by electric lights, as if an ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef, whose deeply modern possibilities he always felt beckoned and invited and which he was eager to explore.  Marshall’s recent death has prompted several emotional reflections that note the inescapably autobiographical aspects of his work, some of which he would himself, surely, be the first not to hesitate to note.  Marshall’s work was, first and foremost, that of a public intellectual who bridged personal criticism with urbanism.  For Berman often described his engaged writing on modernism and modernist projects of urban space as part of the creative projects of his life.

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November 22, 2013 · 4:02 pm

Mapping Each and Every Tree

The green-space of Central Park is glorified as modeling the abundance of urban nature.  We map the space of the park, whose green provides a pause and respite from the grey concrete facades of buildings, as well as a site for strolling, by a flat lime-green interruption of the urban grid in the public maps of the city park.

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 It is an oasis of sorts, ringed by a tan frame of muted buildings–as if a place to experience wilderness, rendered almost life-like in the rain–even if the muted green seems to suggest a “greenspace” to be valued, as a distinct interruption of the built environment.  Created in the parks movement that redesigned urban space removed from unsavory elements and moral lassitude, and restored as a reprieve from the pace of urban life, the rebirth of the parks as open green-space has recently occasioned the first complete census of individual trees, those often uncounted inhabitants of Manhattan island, whose enumeration in a sort of ‘green census’ offers cartographers Ken Chaya and Edwar Sibley Barnard a deeply ethical way of directing our attention to urban space, in a comprehensive map of the tree space often rendered as a stretch of undifferentiated lime green.  Indeed, the counting of large-trunked oaks, maples, individual pines, and sturdy sycamores in all their varieties offers a detailed abundance that is rarely evident in the parks maps that adopt a single cool shade of idyllic green, and offer a sort of palimpsest that will reward map-readers to pause over, examine, and explore–and indeed pore over, with the botanical level of detail and connoisseurship that the earliest planners of the park might well have appreciated and enjoyed–if not expected of city-dwellers.

Who wouldn’t have expected as much from urban sophisticates?

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Map of Central Park: printed for the Department of Public Parks, 1873 (detail)

Yet today, the often-internalized map of the park of light green, far more familiar to all city-dwellers, may risk perpetuating an alienation from its dynamic urban forest, and obscuring the careful level of its botanical detail, or the accumulated palimpsest of urban habitats of its biodiversity.

Green aPark

In part, the duality of Central Park as rural and urban captures the hybrid identity as an urban park.  Even though the park seems to lie somewhat incongruously at the very center of Manhattan, as if the apparent preserve of trees and urban wildlife is defined by its porous relation to the urbanized setting of the park.  If Central Park was designed in the movement of urban greening and public space, as a site of health and interruption of urban life, the park is increasingly more of a heterotypic combination of urban activity, designed built spaces, and manicured wooded areas, a refuge where Manhattan is in a sense perpetually present, not only bur urban sounds, traffic, and lifestyles, in a dyadic relationship that seems captured by the fact that it offers not only the sole open space to inscribe the toponym of the island in subway maps.

In such maps of urban transit, it may be that Central Park acts less as a park, than it serves as a totem of urban space; the park holds the bold-faced word “MANHATTAN” that identifies the city, its flat green spaces and clear light blue lakes crossed by ribbons of white roads, indicating its nicely settled position as secure in an urban grid, as if fastened by crosstown routes, yet readily available to urbanites at multiple entrances as a site of repose.  The image of the interruption of urban space we encounter on subway cars with regularity reminds us of the existence of open greenspace which we can access, even while we ride in eardrum shattering rumbles of subway cars coursing on old tracks while winding one’s way downtown to one’s destination.  Is it an important reassuring reminder of the existence of open spaces that are in fact accessible, even while we may not feel it, nearby?

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The combination of nature and skyscrapers was a unitary construction, several ecopoets have observed, a conundrum or urban nature explored by ecopoets who take up the gauntlet that the urban spaces throw down.   When the poet Gary Snyder described his arrival in New York City, he evoked an ecosystem blending nature and culture that began form its trees and moved settle throughout the island’s sidewalks, streets and skyscrapers, even as it clung to the edges of its shores.  

If the “park” is a shared greenspace in the city–and a space where city-dwellers retreat, at times, to smoke some green stuff in a meadow or on a hill, the definition of the park as a set of individual trees has rarely been mapped in detail, examining the arboreal space that inheres within this interruption of the built environment–if only to excavate and explore its complex past.  Even if the landscape was built on granite and was defined by concrete and brick, the trees defined its space, however paradoxically, in ways that capture the serendipitous presence of the arboreal variety in the city  “Maple, oak, poplar, gingko,” the poet Gary Snyder began rhapsodically and rhythmically incanting the varieties of urban trees he encountered in “Walking the New York Bedrock in the Sea of Information” (1987).  

The discrete trees of Central Park are rarely counted, but the attention that is suggested in the list of trees offer a sense of Snyder’s skill as a naturalist, and  the surprising application of an arboreal register of variety in an urban environment.  For Snyder explores the city by seamlessly blending of nature and culture in New York City in ways that never stops to entertain the reader.  “New leaves, “new green” on a rock ledge/ of steep uplift,” lead to”Glass, aluminum, aggregate gravel,/ Iron.  Stainless steel,” in a metaphorical map blurring canyons of skyscrapers, plate glass, and electric lights buzzing in an ecosystem driven by big finance that might be submarine.  Amidst streams of subways, cars, taxis, rolling carts, people and birds, trees peak out–as “white birch leaves shiver in the breeze” and gingko trees.  While each and every tree is inscribed with a detail that might be dwarfed by the old, hulking trunks that serve as hide-outs with dark passages in the Tisch Children’s Zoo–a reminder of the forest before the park–the Park is a hotspot and mirror of the built park.

If the current maps posted in the park invite exploration of its paths, noted in a paler green beside white roadways, snaking around its uniform field, Barnard and Chaya open those Kelly green spaces to the delectation of wanderers who will be able to explore the park in all its arboreal variety.

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As ever the eloquent naturalist, Snyder poetically turns to how trees resiliently populate the city’s built environment.  He traces an environment partly forest, but hybrid, neither natural or artificial.  In a cartographical compliment to his poem, or a modern Georgics of the park, Edward Sibley Barnard and his accomplice in crime Ken Chaya open up a richly bucolic vision of vegetal copia across what is the densest site of urban trees in Central Park Entire (2011).  The map provides a complete account and comprehensive tabulation of tree varieties within the city’s Central Park, the serves to celebrate the variety of trees that this special spot in the city preserves, counting the over 19, 630 trees within Central Park that will stand as a modern monument for years–until someone again tries to undertake the counting all over again–presenting it for the visual delectation of viewers in a durable fold-out paper map.

 

The detailed catalogue of trees and plants in New York’s Central Park displays virtuosity in evoking the variety, range, and density of trees in the city’s largest greenspace, rendering in detail an ecosystem often vaguely mapped, often suggested as a green space amidst built environment.  In the heart of the city lies the park.  Its odd combination of nature and culture is central to most city maps.  When you look at most public maps of New York City that grace public transit, tourist kiosks, or other venues of spatial orientation, the area of Central Park is a monolithic green, less rooted in a survey or in a source of public data, but a light green box, set apart form the city’s streets–a block of greenspace located framed by the overbuilt grey of residences that crowd Manhattan island since the mid-nineteenth century, and landscaped from 1858.

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Filed under Google Earth, greenspace, New York City, open space, urban parks