No dissimulation possible in Glodok, the Chinese ghetto of Jakarta; I am a foot taller than the crowd, washed to and fro along the pavements like a cumbersome piece of flotsam; or pressed in so tight by these smaller bodies that my immobility makes me more conspicuous still. (Glodok second visit: After the anti-Chinese riots and killings of the late 90s there is now new space: huge candy-coloured shopping centres; basically a commercial "fuck you too…..we still run business" to the non-Chinese population.
The crowd is a drug; sitting here I feel the lure of the streets. But it is an ambiguous thing. I am sometimes frightened to go out too, frightened to expose myself to the power of crowds. It means too much for me. Often when I am actually free to go out, when I have London's twenty four thousand thoroughfares at my disposal I am frightened at the sheer opportunity they afford, timid at the idea of drifting through them inconsequentially, wondering what I am doing, feeling too obviously the flaneur.
It may, it is true, be a self-indulgence, this voyeuristic approach to the city, the city and its crowds as a circus. But the opposing view, the socially responsible, rational view often expresses sheer dislike of the city, the city and its mess, the city as a creation of that incorrigible species, the human race. Desire to rationalise the city, noble in itself, is actually born of impatience with human behaviour, in all its muddle and irrationality. Mumford cannot, wouldn't ever feel free to love cities as Dickens does; or I do. He is too rationalistic, too puritanical; and like all good puritans) has a lurid imagination. Never could he accept a New York which had become (in the words of O. Henry): Baghdad-on-the- Subway
"Wherever crowds gather in suffocation numbers… there the precedents of Roman building almost automatically revive, as they have come back today: the arena, the tall tenement, the mass contests and exhibitions, the football matches, the international beauty contests, the strip tease made ubiquitous by advertisement, the constant titillation of the senses by sex, liquor and violence-all in true Roman style. So, too, the multiplication of bathrooms and the over-expenditure on broadly paved motor-roads, and above all, the massive collective concentration and glib ephemeralities, performed with supreme technical audacity. These are symptoms of the end:…when these signs multiply, Necropolis is near, though not a stone has yet crumbled. For the barbarian has already captured the city from within"