The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for November 1st, 2013

prosaic materialism

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All believe themselves to be saints, not sinners.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dia de Los Muertos, Áraw ng mga Patáy, the second day of Samhain, or just plain old All Saints Day- here we are again on the track towards the dark and cold wastes of winter. Given a humble narrators abiding interest in the Newtown Creek and its surrounding communities, its only natural for me to think about those who passed through its coils over the centuries. Will you raise a glass to the saints of local industry- Charles Pratt, John D. Rockefeller, The Van Iderstine family, or Ambrose Kingsland- tonight?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Something that I’ve been attempting to reconcile for awhile now is the role of these historical figures in the development and despoiling of the Newtown Creek. Hurricane Sandy showed us what it would be like to live in New York City without a functioning energy sector, and it forced me to reconsider these characters beyond the popular narratives of modernity. From an environmentalist point of view, these are loathsome individuals whose crimes against the earth are countless, and their bones should be scattered in the same way that Marius did to Sulla’s. From an economic point of view, the relict grandeur of early 20th century Greenpoint and Long Island City existed solely because of the energy sector, which provided hundreds of thousands of jobs over the course of a century and “lifted the raft” for the entire community.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s so complicated. This tale of industrialists and robber barons, which is one of the central dichotomies of the American mythology with its narrative of progress. At least they did something with the place which was productive, that generated wealth- is how most of the MBAs would see it. Today, most of these MBA types look to Newtown Creek as a place to throw objectionable materials away, whether it be garbage or sewage. Does modernity have the right to judge the past? Can we understand the “on the ground” circumstances that they were working with back in the 19th century? What have we done, to “lift the raft”?

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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 1, 2013 at 10:55 am

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