The Anonymity of Cities: A Paragraph

Déjenlo todo, nuevamente.

Lácense a los caminos.

                        –Roberto Bolaño

 

If I were to disappear I wouldn’t choose an island or a mountain retreat, instead I would disappear into the congested streets of a colossal and cavernous city like Tokyo, Buenos Aires, or Mexico City. There is something about being in a city, and a foreign city in particular, especially for the first time that grants the visitor the privilege, or better still, the gift, of anonymity. One can leave one’s hotel (the anonymity of hotel rooms also provide a space where one can disappear) and step out into a sea of anonymous faces, randomly moving among the traffic and the stench of the city and other humans. But on a temporary basis, almost any large city will do, provided one does not live in that city. It’s important to note that if one were to disappear that person would have to have no particular destination in mind, just a desire to move in errant directions trusting to chance. There is a freedom that comes with such anonymity, especially in the age of social media, which has made it almost impossible to be completely anonymous, despite how constructed and false our social media personalities are. Social media and email have transformed us into a 24/7 society, from which there is no escape in order to breathe and to think. This, I submit, is not a form of progress furthering civilization, but instead constitutes a de-evolution (I use the hyphen deliberately) in the human species. We think less when we are always available, since we are asked to make decisions in the time span of a sound bite and off the cuff, therefore making our thinking less complex and more standard or conventional. Whenever I’m writing (writing and thinking have always been synonyms for me) and find myself stuck, confronted with writer’s block, or even under a deluge of papers that require grading, I head to Boston to walk the streets in order to clear my mind. I love to do this especially in the winter when I can bundle myself up in an overcoat, hat, gloves, and scarf, and wander among the people, all of whom seem to have a destination in mind, anonymous and free. Commonwealth Avenue in Boston is a perfect location to blend into the scenery and reel out one’s thoughts to see what will bite. So, to quote the great Bolaño: “Leave everything again. Launch yourself into the streets.”

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