Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Found Dope 2

In the 1980s, artist Candy Jernigan collected detritus from the streets of the East Village. For her piece Found Dope 2, currently hanging in the new Whitney Museum, she collected 308 crack vials and their colorful caps, along with a map of the streets where she found them. She recorded the location and the time of collection.

"The first day I went out," she told New York Magazine in 1989, "I picked up 70 caps. If I was going anywhere, even to the store to buy milk, I'd pick them up."

Wrote New York, "Neighborhood kids whom dealers employed to recycle discarded vials were not happy with Jernigan." They sometimes chased her down the street.

Found Dope 2 is a meticulous archive of a despairing moment in East Village history.

I remember those colorful caps, on those same streets, sprinkled like confetti under the trees. I never fail to think of them when I walk on East 2nd Street.

I remember when they began to disappear, too. It was a sign of something new coming--and it wasn't sobriety and redemption.

When I think of that grim confetti and my attendant feelings, I think of this Adam Gopnik quote: "People who refuse to be sentimental about the normal things don't end up being sentimental about nothing; they end up being sentimental about anything, shedding tears over old muggings, and the perfect, glittering shards of the little crack vials, sparkling like diamonds in the gutter."

I'm not sure I agree--or disagree. Something here is not understood. (And what are the "normal things" about which one is supposed to be sentimental?) There is something still to get at. I can't quite put it into words.

Earlier in the essay ("Through the Children's Gate"), Gopnik paraphrases the querulous nostalgic: “What happened to all that ugliness, all that interesting despair, all that violence and seediness, the cabdrivers in their undershirts and the charming hookers in their heels? This is standard-issue human perversity. After they gentrify hell, the damned will complain that life was much more fun when everyone was running in circles: Say what you will about the devil, at least he wasn’t antiseptic. We didn’t come to hell for the croissants.”

Nostalgie de la boue gets a bad rap. But what if we look at it not as a longing for the lost thing itself--a crack vial, on its own, is not a loveable object--but as a response to the current moment? Maybe it's a psychic resistance to what is. A refusal to accept the anticepticism of the day. Perversity? Sure. Freud said the pervert both "rejects reality and refuses to accept any prohibition." The pervert attacks reality and fights for a different one, less boundaried and ruled. Not so normal.

New York needs more perverts.


Ed Pitaro said...

The hyper-gentrifiers claim that change is inevitable – so deal with it. That may be so, but the problem is not with the revised landscape per se, but rather what it is being replaced with. I don’t think anyone is arguing for a street littered with crack vials – but replacing the “seediness” with $3,000 studio apartments and $15 hamburgers is not necessarily much of an improvement, unless you can afford that.
Why not enjoy a croissant in hell – the coffee will stay hot and your fellow diners will be interesting…

John M said...

Gopnik has a very limited imagination and understanding of the human heart and condition. I'll take your sentimentality any day. Long live perverts.

Anonymous said...

I miss those days for many reasons, but I don't miss the violence, lawlessness, rampant arson and industrial scale drug activities, particularly after crack took the place of heroin. The everyday violence was a horror, particularly for the very young and very old.

Rebecca Lee said...

Jeremiah, I want to ask you about a different point - maybe this is an idea for a post another day. I share your overall perspective and am also working to pass SBJSA. As I mourn and try to function every day, I cast about for ways to look at our situation that give me comfort.

One such way is the idea that -- though we have the problems of hyper-G., etc -- this era of NYC has more green space, in better shape, than perhaps ever before. And this adds to the value/lovableness of the city. I've been here since '99, past the "don't go into Tompkins Square/Bryant/Madison Square Park" days. And it means a lot to be able to use all our parks.

Isn't this a major silver lining?

Of course, it would be better to have that (with less commercial intrusion, to boot) AND few chain stores.

But if we back up and look at overall pluses and minuses, we have to acknowledge this is a big plus. No?