Friday, November 16, 2007

Panopticon Metropolis


photo: NY Times

The Times recently published an enlightening article that attempts to answer the question of why we have this proliferation of giant glass condos. It's all about primitive narcissistic woundings -- and the subsequent desperation to be seen. Says psychologist Sherry Turkle, "people are no longer certain where the self resides."

Narcissism is not mentioned in the article, but Professor Turkle is a Lacanian scholar, so she surely knows a thing or two about The Gaze.


my flickr

The windows in these condos--sold as "oversized" and "monolithic"--enable the people inside to be seen. At night, they also operate as gigantic two-way mirrors: the occupant sees himself and is simultaneously seen by others. This is what good-enough mothers do for their babies--they mirror the baby so the baby sees herself and is also seen. This helps the baby to develop a strong sense of self. Narcissistic mothers fail to mirror their children.



Such children will forever seek out mother's eyes. And the bigger, the better. What big eyes you have! The better to see you with, my dear. Note the popularity of oversized sunglasses. They not only mimic the large eyes of mothers, they also reflect the object's image to the self. Viewer and viewed, both in giant sunglasses, mirror each other when face to face. I see you, you see me. And yet their actual eyes are hidden, protected from the possibility of true connection, which feels frightening, perhaps because this deep need will be denied.

We all long to be seen, recognized.

The longing to be seen and mirrored is also leading us deeper into a surveillance society. Not only are we surrounded by cameras and RFID tracking devices, every glass-covered condo is, in a sense, a panopticon. But it's a prison chosen and beloved by its residents.



The real-estate machine seems to know this and condos are sold as "eye candy" with "high visibility." The newly rising Oculus condo gets right to the point. The word Oculus is Latin for "eye." It also refers to a motif in prehistoric art that Wikipedia says "may represent the watchful gaze of a god or goddess." This is like the watchful, protective gaze of the mother or father--the gaze that was missing from the early childhoods of people with narcissistic personality disorder.

Why do these young narcissists flood into New York? Naturally, anyone seeking the Gaze would be attracted to a place where there are 8 million pairs of eyes by which to be seen.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Best blog ever. I am a native born in '65 and I can't believe the influx of the scary young peoples and what NYC is turning into. In fact I'm leaving, I'm too old for this crap. NY will always be my home, but I can't take it anymore.

Alex in NYC said...

I'm gong to start a band called Panopticon Metropolis.

Jeremiah Moss said...

i hear you, re: leaving. but to go where? that's the question i keep asking myself.

alex, i like that band idea. punk? techno? certainly not folk with a name like that.

kingofnycabbies said...

As always, JM, a pleasure to read your disquisition on the topic at hand, but haven't we forgotten one thing? I am, lord knows, no expert on such matters, but I gotta believe the primary reason to go with glass is that it's cheaper. Which means, let me guess, more profit for the developer!?! Just a theory, and if someone knows differently I'm all ears, but I feel comfortable putting this out there. The result, in my LIC, is that the waterfront now looks like the opening credits on "L.A. Law."

Anonymous said...

I'm re-reading this post after playing closer attention to the glass boxes and it's really terrific. What I like is recapturing the power of laughing of the people in the glass boxes, their decor. But the people in the self-reflective sunglasses are terrifying - as they talk to you, they are only looking at their own eyeballs! Yeeks.

Anonymous said...

To the first anonymous poster: I am also a native born New Yorker (born in '67), and I wish you would stay. By leaving, you're creating a vacancy for yet another Yunnie to occupy. Despite all these changes in NYC, there are still neighborhoods in the outer boroughs with plenty of things to do and eat, and with fewer Yunnies running around. Jeremiah's right: where would you go?

As for those oversized sunglasses, you gotta laugh. These girls look like Sleestaks!

Anonymous said...

I'm the third anonymous poster, also a NYC native in his early forties, and I can't believe how miserable the city has gotten under Bloomberg. I second the 'I'm leaving, I'm too old for this crap' statement. These big box towers just reflect the whole 'fuck you - I got mine' mentality that has overwhelmed this town. Who in their right mind wants to live in something that looks like the Lever Building?

Petite Maoiste said...

This is BRILLIANT!!!!! and so true, this entire blog is amazing, I have lived in NYC since 1989 and have been visiting the city since 1982, so it's quite sad to see how rapidly so many of the distinctive sites of the city are being shut down in order to turn NYC into a Disneyfied, suburban, generic, elitist playground for the (no longer so) wealthy. I think this kind of self-surrender to surveillance/exhibitionism/voyeurism is part and parcel of the culture of Big Brother style "reality TV' and post-Patriot Act social control over public sites, not to mention Google's crawling of everyone's email, etc. etc. etc.

freebird said...

it is terribly sad to me that so much of what you say seems true. Bleak bleak bleak...frighteningly true but hard to take...could you post the anti-dote for all this next time? Would be a load off my mind.

Jeremiah Moss said...

the only antidote i can think of is more economic struggle that would inspire a cultural shift towards empathy and thrift. but, uh, that doesn't seem to be happening in any real way...