The old word bauen, which says that man is insofar as he dwells, this word bauen, however, also means at the same time to cherish and protect, to preserve and care for ... To dwell, to be set at peace, means to remain at peace within the free, the preserve, the free sphere that safeguards each thing in its essence. The fundamental character of dwelling is this sparing. (Martin Heidegger, "Building Dwelling Thinking")
[L]anguage that carries weight in our culture is very often fuelled by a search for home." (Carol Shields, "About Writing")When at last you are reduced to this, when there is nothing left to relinquish, what else is there to do but to build anew? To dig a new burrow path low to the ground and gather materials for a new shelter, a place where you might live and call home and dwell. A place where you might, once again, remember what it is like to be possessed of your own wounded self.
Especially here in this city whose inhabitants seem perpetually compelled to discard solid dwelling so that they might be reinvented as something bigger, newer, more transitory. If they haven't lost everything, they act as though they want to. The innards of entire dwellings -- whole kitchens, baseboards, toilets, windows with curtains still attached to their frames -- all slung into dumpsters thrust upon front lawns like glacial erratics, leaving incongruous moraine-scars in their wake. The dwellings of this city vanish and reappear in a strobe of constant revision, jagged slow-motion. The brutal, fresh, brittle facade of the new. The map has again replaced the territory, and the entire city is left homeless. At night it curls itself in architectural renderings: by morning the ink has leaked into the soil and only framed-in skeletons remain, stark shadows against the dawn.
The homeless are believed to slide gradually into irretrievable dereliction. There is something we are presumed to lack, some instinct for stability or talent at grabbing what is available to be claimed. But perhaps what we lack is the destructive urge, this desperate flight from entropy. It is true that we do not resist the downward pull of things over the edge.
But there are so many different ways to be homeless in this city. Sterile condominiums furnished for binocular gaze. Silent, empty homes built to garage unused sectional sofas. No one looks out their picture windows; the doors are locked but there is nothing of value behind them. All the life has gone out of these places, or has never been permitted to enter. And in this way, I am no more homeless than you are. I have merely admitted it. I have enumerated my losses. And it is only out here, amid the discarded ruins of this lost city, that I might recover them.
(excerpted from Acts of Salvage, a work in progress)
This post was originally published at Reading Toronto.