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Monday 26 December 2011

Phantasmagoric City


Charlie Chaplin stands on Douglas Fairbanks' shoulders during a Wall Street rally, 1918: photographer unknown, for The New York Times; image by Mr Gustafson, 21 October 2007

The dozens and scores of pinnacles that have pierced the skies over Manhattan in the last dozen years, towers for doing business in and towers for living in, are the permanent notation of a great surge of prosperity. The tide itself once so often recedes. The towers are there to testify to the vast energy that threw them upwards and that is certain to reassert itself after the necessary retirement... For a while the receding tide leaves these ambitious monuments high and dry. Then the waves begin to lap forward again...

-- The New York Times, 25 March 1931

Wall Street, from roof of Irving Trust Co. Building, Manhattan: photo by Berenice Abbott for Works Progress Administration, 4 May 1938 (New York Public Library Digital Gallery)

Trading floor of New York Stock Exchange just after the crash of 1929: photographer unknown, October 1929 (Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum)


ACravan said...

What a combination of words and images. There is a lot I'd like to say about this (you also, I expect), but it's the holidays and so I don't think I will. The Chaplin/Fairbanks photo really takes my breath away. They say comparisons are invidious, but then there's Lady Gaga, who's _____.

manik sharma said...

and the world plodded towards another they made to drown themselves in....

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said... almost endless sea........of hats above which I'm sure even the dwarf standing next to the pedestal felt high and mighty!



"The towers are there to testify. . . . Then the waves behind to lap forward again. . ."


light coming into fog against invisible
top of ridge, shadowed leaves on branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

thought in the modern sense
physical, is grounded

I think, perhaps not, a lot
here depends on scale

blinding orange edge of sun above ridge,
whiteness of cloud to the left of point

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Only a few have their hats off. The view from the heights plunges. Small Ferris wheels on their sides, off-kilter. What is really needed for this life?

TC said...

The experience of bobbing on the waves created by this army of dwarves, gaming the game (the real national pastime), must be very nice, or very confusing, or very soul-numbing, or perhaps even very terrible. I would have no way of knowing.

But for the millions like me who are not in the game, yet have our pathetic little lives constantly affected by it, the acrobatics that occur both above and below those dizzying heights, the lofty übermensch uplifts and the Batman plunges down into the deep dark canyons, seem deeply, permanently Unreal.

ACravan said...

Regarding your last comment (Tom), the daily tv series melodrama of "The Permanently Unreal" (it's called the CNBC network) is truly odd and offputting. The channel conforms in its way to the normal tv thematic arcs -- it rises, crests, falls, rises in the early evening and quiets. I've made it a practice to ask people I meet who work in the financial world whether CNBC is a news network (as it purports to be) or an entertainment network and they (Democrats, Republicans, independents) always answer "entertainment." It seems real because it's on television, but as I'm sure you've found if you've visited a tv studio, you can tell up close how shaky the scenery is. What, if you know, was the occasion of the Chaplin and Fairbanks personal appearance? Curtis

Lally said...

Another extraordinary post Tom. And as always, thank you for it.

TC said...


Many thanks, always great to hear from you.


The occasion of the Chaplin/Fairbanks shot is a rally that accompanied trading sparked by a Liberty Loan Drive. The old equation, war makes money. The location is Wall & Broad Streets, NYC.

I visited a Hollywood studio tv show in the summer of 1951. It was one of those stunt/game shows in which contestants have delirious fun while being put through various humiliating ordeals. And there it was, happening right before one's eyes. What I remember best is the audience being "prepped" or "goosed" before the show -- made ready to exhibit hysterical pleasure.

Later in life's trajectory I "appeared" as a guest on a few studio tv shows, believe it or not. The most memorable was on the occasion of the publication of a book in 1976. On that occasion the "prepping" occurred in an antechamber, where the various guests were assembled. My fellow guests were John Ehrlichman and a woman named (if memory serves) Karen Lustgarten, who had "authored" a book called Thin Thighs in Thirty Days. The scene in the prep chamber was silent, a bit tense in fact. Twisting in the wind, as 'twere.