Where was the city, the first imagined central place? In what enclave of human aggregation did the meaning of the city first take shape? Around which bustling, still centre did the world come to turn? Not here, not in the western world was the confection created, the sights, smells, sounds of all the world jostling and rubbing shoulders. If first is important then first city was at a crossroads, and the roads it connected where in Asia, and the roads were already worn with time when the city walls were built. Within that protected space, at its centre, art, performance, imagination and identity were the time worn fabric that made the cosmopolis, the centre where many peoples met. Is the city now or then or has the city become a forgetting, a gradual strangling of all potential cities it has been or could become?
The cities of the non west are a conundrum where all the themes of art, performance, imagination and identity conflict and challenge simplistic definitions of modernity and future. The city beyond the west wrestles for repatriation, representation and relocation as it appears to give away all that it is and has been. The city beyond the west is bestrewn with the detritus of modernity, it is a congealed, corrupted mass of all the uglier and ungainly meanings of modernity. The city beyond the west is an outlier of other futures as unstable as its juxtapositions are unbecoming and in these cities the exploration of identity, the art of becoming makes its home and can remake all our imaginings. Art in the nonwest is as complex as the city space and all the conundrums that feed its expression and fuel its animus. Art speaks to and of the art of becoming, its subject is identity and all the ways of becoming that the city offers and withholds.
The urban imagination has become a monolith. City is taken as fact, the central place of modernity, emanating centrifugal forces that suck all life into conformity according to its pattern of complexity. Century City is the vortex, the powerhouse, the cosmopolitan melting pot whose commingled product is the new globalization of the post modern, post industrial cyber age. Monolith of monotone. In this reading modern metropolis is the permissible space, the enabling structure, eclectic and cosmopolitan, the genatrix of the cutting edge, the locale of art as style, taste, fashion and playful expression. This metropolis and its art is beyond identity, because all that identifies and defines it is subsumed in the idea of modern metropolis. Another reading awaits at every congested corner of the cities of the non west, it is the context, subject and subtext of all its art. Other reading reveals another periodization of history, other definition and meanings of city, different implications of globalization and cosmopolitanism. Reading cities as a process of cosmopolitan continuum from what we term ancient caravanserai cities, through the colonial city, culminates in megalopolis, the characteristic monster cities of the non west. These amorphous conurbations are seen as all that is untenable, unsustainable and unacceptable in the urban condition. Yet, by other reading Megalopolis, the home of post colonial art, reveals other meaning. Megalopolis is a site of remembering, a relocation that reconnects to another definition of city as genuine cosmopolis. Megalopolis in all it conundrums is indeed unsustainable, but the project of its art, as of all its living, is a search for resolution that will recapture other possibilities. Megalopolis is the happenstance of everything; the cosmopolitanism of all time and experience the inherent nature of its citizens and artists. The art of megalopolis seeks to author an identity that personifies this cosmopolitan citizen and expresses their belonging in an urbanscape of universal meaning.
The cities of the west, paradoxically, are the places of disjuncture. The Century City, the modern metropolis is the urban arena of anomie, hidebound by its own technological capabilities. Imagining itself to death, the western city dreams its dominance as everyones nightmare. Its postmodern eclecticism is the anonymous assumption of a pastiche of unimportant identities, mixed and matched to divert the personless personality. Urban space frightens its citizens, their dreams are dreams of decay the Robocop imagery, the millenarian visions of decay, disjuncture and the death of meaning. The western city proclaims the death of history, identity and becoming as all there is. The modern metropolis of the west, spawns suburbanisation, leaving its economic heart to fester in all its decayed magnificence or to posture in new architectural monuments dedicated to dreams of globalisation. The globalisation of the Century City is the new promise of subordination of all other futures in the dead grasp of the banal global popular culture of mass merchandising.
Cities of the nonwest have lived through slow strangulation and death they are practised, past masters at survival without fresh air. The cities of the nonwest are choked and breathless, yet they breathe. Their life support system is the freedom of resistance. The dreams of the nonwestern city are personalised acts of repatriation and relocation that define an alternate cosmopolitanism, re-presentations, new fusions, infused with diversity, at home with difference and a quantum leap beyond the global because inescapably they must also wrestle with the universal.
Caravanserai The Ancient Origin of Cosmopolitan Cities
We imagine the city as a function of industrialized modernity. It is a common misconstruction. Industrialization, the cutting edge of modernity, reforged cities or constructed them from nothing in its own image. The Century City of modern metropolis is such a hybrid, bastard creature and it is global, present everywhere. It is New York or Houston or Hong Kong, generic, non specific. It is quickly fabricated, an identikit form constructed as you watch, like Kuala Lumpur where the national bird, so the local joke goes, is the crane – the mechanical kind! The modern metropolis overwrites all that went before, having neither memory nor belonging. But such a metropolis is not city, not all city has been or can become. Modern metropolis forgets the origin of city and the qualities of life it nurtured.
Baghdad had 2000 years of memory before it was a seat of the Persian Empire with which the parvenu cities of what it pleases Europe to call Ancient Greece contested. What made city was connection, the long lines of connective tissue that honed identity in another world of belonging. City was the home place, the central space where the near and far fused into a worldview that through art performed, displayed and made beautiful the essence of human identity. City was a seat of human power and command, but that too was located in a worldview, contained and obligated to more than its own excess, accountable for its management and husbandry, or destined to doom. City did not stand alone, preeminent to dominate its hinterland and extract. City existed to connect, to fructify, city was a conduit through which connection flowed and cosmopolitanism and art were essential to its being, from its beginning.
The cities of Asia reach back to the dawn of human memory, history. First writing is the record keeping of the city made on cylinder seals, functional, crafted, ingenious works of art fashioned on precious stones that traveled the long lines of connection, linking far flung places, tracks across the wastes, roadways dotted with caravanserai cities. What city -as a work of art, the work of artists – records is a text of identity that proclaims connections between the land, its people, their ideals, their culture and the universal. Cities were the monumental centres that ordered and located identity in a universe of meaning, and art expressed the nature of these connections, making manifest the meaning of human existence.
We should not think of the pre-industrial city as an isolate, discrete entity dominating only a narrow hinterland. The pre-industrial city was a point on a continuum, the folk urban continuum, the cosmopolitan continuum of cultural diffusion. What was at home in the city, what made its essence was the universal extent of the ideas it proclaimed as a built and lived environment. Imposing is part of the nature of cities, but the awe and might they manifested was a testament to the ordered unity of creative power that harmonised all created things. The centre of the central place that was city was the artistic expression of religious ideals. From Ur of the Chaldes, through Babylon and Nineveh on down the centuries to Cairo, city of a thousand mosques, art depicted, told and performed in temple and shrine, palace and court. Art explained to city dweller, artisan, merchant and trader, peasant and foreigner where world began and how all things connected in meaningful order. The artist was essential to the city, and artists in the city gave meaning to human identity. The city was a place of coming and going where the choicest things were exchanged, and the most precious of all exchanges were ideas, the lifeblood of art.
When I think of the pre-industrial city I call to mind Timbuktu. It has been made a clich for the furthest end of a godforsaken earth, for by such means modernity unmakes all of history and reality, Other history. What and when was Timbuktu, before its unmaking and overwriting by modern metropolitan city? It was a connection point, a place of exchange where gold and salt gathered different peoples and cultures and ways of life to its central point of interaction. Other history records Timbuktu as a university city, before or at the time Europe built its great universities, a place of the art of the word, its greatest glory calligraphed manuscripts. The most precious trade goods that journeyed across the desert to this oasis of art and learning were books. And inspired by books Mansu Musa, Emperor of Mali, at whose heart stood Timbuktu, set forth on a great, magnificent pilgrimage to Mecca. His journey was the stuff of legend only for its grandeur, the journey itself was the annual heartbeat of a cosmopolitan world culture. City connected with city in global systems before Europe arrived to dislocate, disrupt and divert. Globalism and cosmopolitanism long had other meaning in ancient other cities.
There were other central seas, only for Europe is the Mediterranean the middle sea. The great ancient cities of Magrhib and Levant, the west and east of the southern Mediterranean shores, always looked to and connected with the other central sea: the Indian Ocean. Around that central sea, that global highway of connection, sailed ideas, art, influence and goods from China to Africa. Around the shores of this central sea cities glimmered like fireflies in mangrove swamps. Burning bright and fading as time and chance allowed. Art proclaims their coming and going. Angkor Wat, is merely the most enigmatic. Cosmopolitanism, the ballast of the flow of global trade is everywhere in the history of the central sea. The regular change of the monsoon winds brought different people from far away and held them in diverse community at trading cities for months before the winds changed to carry them home.
The indianised world of Southeast Asia, the seafaring world of archipelago and isthmus, was a world of cosmopolitan cities, caravanserai cities of the sea. What was this city? A generalized shared acumen for convivencia, the art of cosmopolitanism, where each community cherished its own identity, yet subtly influenced and was influenced by the interchange of diversity. And from the great convivencia came the myriad possibilities of artistic sensibility. The delicate and intricate tracery, the exuberant crowded liveliness of art expresses the spirit of these distinct, interlinked points of connection. The city performed the shared ideas, relived the order of the universe in its organisation, with demi-god kings and their courts where music and dance recreated the universal moral order and the stones danced to the tune. Think of Prambanam and Borobodur, Hindu and Buddhist temples, singular only because they were built in stone on Java.
All around this central sea there are common links, common connections, yet the art of being, the art of identity filtered through artistic imagination, generation after generation, moulded and shaped and transmuted the common kernel, the central drama of existence, into homegrown forms. Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia they share the Ramayana theme with its moral ideals yet each area has its own text, expression and performance. In each the tradition is distinct, inspired by locale and its special identity. Sculpture, carving, painting, music, dance, ceramics, textiles, drama and poetry shared themes, different styles, the cosmopolitanism of the human imagination, the art of identity, the gift of the city to cultures that have become nations by more brutal means.
The ancient cities of Asia, the caravanserais of land and sea, were built with the fabric of universal meaning, religious moral drama inspired its organisation, shaped its identity and fashioned its artistic expression. Primordial connection, the trading links, housed global connection within the experience of the city and its artists. The world was not strange and fearful. No strangers to power, might, conquest or corruption, cosmopolitanism allowed the city to survive, to relocate, to begin again. Cities came and went, floiurished and decayed, but the cosmopolitan meaning, the idea of city was the fulcrum merging and framing continuous identity through time and change. Until the sea was closed.
The Colonial City The Cosmopolitanism of the Colonised
Modernity began around the central sea with an intrusive act of penetration by arrogant power. Portuguese adventurers declared the Indian Ocean closed under their sole control, for their exclusive enrichment. So began a slow strangulation, an incremental withering process that decayed cities from within as they were suffocated by outside control. Colonialism had its own art, the nightmare art of Orientalism. Think of its as Kipling did, and noone expresses it better, if that is the word. The text of the colonial city is inscribed in Kim. And Kim begins in Lahore, but not my Lahore. Kiplings Lahore is the city where his father taught art and fashioned architectural dreams of Orient, where Rudyard became a confabulist, what we technically term a journalist. The Anglo Indian, the scions of the Raj, invented the Orient as they built new encircling cities: the Lines, the Colony as such places littered around the sub continent are called. Thus the city was marginalised, not eradicated but constructively neglected as redundant and irrelevant to the locale of modernity contained in the Lines, the Colony. Read Kim and you learn what knowledgeable ignorance Kipling had of the city, its peoples and the life they continued to lead. The vibrant life of a great city is mysterious, inchoate, and impenetrable to colonial reason, its strangeness a thing of wonder a reference back to the Book of Wonders, the original medieval novel of Orientalism. Kim, too begins at the Wonder House the great Lahore Museum where the artistic treasures of the city and the world to which it belonged have become the dead curios that feed the dilettantism of Orientalists, people who know more of these strange objects than the lama, who merely has the facility to create them.
Kim is the story of an irrational journey of unreason, the lamas quest of for spiritual fulfillment, interwoven with the modern reality that has overtaken his quaintly exotic world. The reality to which Kim discovers he truly belongs, as Kipling himself constantly strove to prove in his autobiography, is the Great Game, the stratagems of control and command of the colonizers. The journey sets off down the Great Trunk Road, an intimation without understanding of the cosmopolitanism of Asia, the world of the Other. What animates the story is the subterfuge, the spymaster games of war by proxy between distant powers for control of all the bustling life of those whose destiny is no longer within their own control. Kim is not the child of all the world, that is merely Kiplings conceit, but he leads us through a demonstration of what Kipling and colonialism sought for all the worlds children schooling to be serviceable to the needs of the metropolitan colonial center. The older globalisation, the autochthonous cosmopolitanism, the interconnections of caravanserai cities is mere window dressing for the plot of command and control that dissembles through appropriation. The essence of Kim is that the new masters of the globe can be natives better than the natives themselves, the complete Orientalist project. By these deft touches the fate of all worlds and all peoples are determined elsewhere, in the modern metropolis.
The colonialised Orient is a place out of joint. The imposed European mercantile globalisation made modernity by remaking all Indies and Orients. Old connections were broken, new lines of extraction for the exclusive enrichment of the distant metropolis enforced. The modern metropolis fabricated in Europe was insular, self-absorbed. The riches of the trading worlds, the old and new colonial, did not make the modern metropolis a center of connection but one of monolithic dominance. European global Empires and their metropolitan centers were not cosmopolitan. Orientalism is the art of colonialism, it is the art of dissembling and appropriation, an unknowing imaginative creation of what Indies and Orient should be to serve the self identity of its new masters. Colonialism made bizarre, exotic distortions of the older reality. The ancient laws of Hindu and Muslim, for example, were constructively reinvented, imposed and operated as if they were real by colonial officials and their institutions. The entire fabric of the older world its ideas, art and artistry was ransacked and appropriated. What is Paisley pattern? Its origin is the exuberant designs of Indian textiles, an industry purposefully destroyed so that Paisley and Manchester could engineer their own enrichment by selling their pastiche manufactures back to an impoverished, dependent, constructed colony. The learning of the cosmopolitan world of caravanserai cities was extracted, as deliberately as economic resources, without attribution or acknowledgement and formed to serve the instrumental needs of modernity. Appropriation without attribution, extraction without interchange is not cosmopolitanism. Orientalist art speaks not to fusion but only of the day dreams of the metropolitan center bent on deluding itself, defining the self by demonizing and diminishing the Other.
There is a paradox in this suffocating art of dissembling. Ancient cities remained, they were peripheral, marginal places, the antithesis of their former selves, redundant in the new global order. Like old Tunis they were off center, exotic labyrinths beyond the rationally laid out new encircling cities built by the new masters of the globe. Metropolitan control did not make its abode in old cities, the ancient caravanserai of land or sea, it enveloped them in grand new monuments: French colonial Tunis, New Delhi of Lutyens dream of eternal Empire. Old cities were irrelevant to the new order of extraction laid out as rationally as the colonial cities themselves. Cortes first action in the New World was to lay out a city on gridlines and distribute plots of land and so many head of population to his raggle taggle followers. Everywhere he went he continued the process, overwriting, re-inscribing, renaming, building over native cities or circumventing their reasons for existence so that they could wither to death, lacking reason to survive. But the natives who served had to live somewhere.
The natives too experienced colonialism, and they experienced it differently from the metropolitan masters. There is another story of colonialism and it is to be found in the irrelevant, neglected cities suffocating but surviving within the colonial embrace. Think of Tunis, millennia old, a seat of learning and connection. The old medina, with its dark passage ways, faceless houses that turn in on themselves all this continued to exist, to be a native habitation as it offered an allure to titillate the interest of those who controlled. The medina became peripheral and yet, by the blind eye of dominant oversight, was transmuted in the most intriguing way it became more cosmopolitan, more complex, more dense with memory and forgetting more typical of the Other, their past and future. The medina had to live with the impositions of the new enveloping order, accommodate to its perverse inventions of what was authentic in its own history and order. The people of the medina had to learn all the codes framed to control their barbaric, premodern persona as invented by their new masters, they had to learn how to survive on scraps, exclusion, second class status in the modernity being operated around them. And they continued to exist as themselves the ultimate resistance.
Colonialism was everywhere resisted, everywhere ingested. Colonialism distorted, diverted, destabilized, everything, everywhere. Colonialism increased the proximity of irreconcilable juxtapositions and by these contradictory means increased the cosmopolitanism that is the reality of the Other. The colonized established a multiple existence of multiple possibility and all the arts of which this new existence was capable. The old arts, and the culture of knowledge and belief from which they sprang, continued. They became the golden glow of the lost golden age of autonomy. The arts continued to be practiced, to retain meaning, yet, like the way of life they expressed, only in truncated form. The meaning was potential, not the retaining walls and foundation of a lived, responsible order. There was resistance and retention of all that was autochthonous yet mingled with the forgetting of disuse, the atrophy of non-performance, the distortions of idealized hopes of a different future of repossession. Living by ones own beliefs demands the arts of compromise. Cherishing potential beliefs ossifies compassion to stiffen resistance; fanaticism and fundamentalism have deep roots, implanted by the impositions of colonialism.
The artistic imagination of old cities and their artists was called in service to manufacture art and utensil for the new masters. The fusion styles were the work of the colonized. Tourist tat has a long history, the falsification of true artistic imagination to fit the ignorance of the uninitiated, the purchasing power of the colonizers or the tourist. Chinoiserie, a style adopted by Europe but mass produced in China to pastiche designs of the real thing. Moghul styles of painting as nativistic representations of the doings of the colonizers, quaint exotica for the walls of the bungalow and to take back to the metropolis to demonstrate the incapacity of the natives.
In the colonial city survival is resistance. Survival is learning, genuinely seeking to master the new ideas of dominance. Only the colonized had to accomplish such learning and that spawned whole new directions in thought and art. The new repertoire of learning, ideas and art forms are what generated Tagore and Iqbal, masters of two worlds, cosmopolitan synthesizers, an artistic trope impossible to imagine in Europe. There were brown sahibs aplenty, consciously created functions of the metropolis, Others selected, recruited, schooled and designed to do the bidding of the metropolitan centers of dominance. No one so punctiliously learns the manners and mores of the master as does the servant, the domesticated servant. But neither the synthesizer nor the servant is a simple identity, for the original, the indigenous source of identity and its meaning exists in tension with the new expressions as unreflexive, discrete and disassociated realms or supple and subtle fusions. The palimpsest is overwritten, but the indentations of previous writing are tangible, if not visible, they continue to exist as part of the inherent nature of the vellum. They operate to form and constrain all future writing.
Art, the art of the colonized, expresses the multiple conditions of their being as a constant wrestling with the question of identity, authenticity and the ways of becoming. All artistic expression of the colonized is cosmopolitan because it cannot ignore, evade or overcome the actual fact of colonial dominance. Whether it is art seeking to appropriate modernity and attract the patronage of the metropolitan center or art seeking to denounce and renounce the detested effects and consequences it is cosmopolitan art alive, volatile and dense, fueled by the animus of colonialism.
The colonized city looks to the metropolitan center and forgets the other cities with which it once connected. The colonized learn of each other only through the eclectic interest and imposed distortions of the colonial masters. The ancient city no longer fructifies the ancient cosmopolitan connections. Metropolitan centers of dominance determine who the colonized are, how the colonized interact, and even this rerouted contact breeds its own international art and ideas of resistance, opposition and denunciation of colonialism.
Megalopolis The Cosmopolitanism of the Postcolonial Future
Colonialism ends and continues, is ever present because ineradicable. Independence is and is not the challenge of post colonial times. The city returns to the center of its own, is the central place of new nations, yet remains peripheral. The city enfolds the legacy of colonialism; the city manifests a new form megalopolis – the congested congregation of contested meaning. The conclusion of colonialism is merely an alphabetical progress from the c word to the d word the development era. Colonial independence is developmental dependence a becoming that is unbecoming. Megalopolis is the contested central place that questions what is to be developed, how development is to occur and what constitutes development. It is not independent because development is determined and underwritten by designs fabricated elsewhere. Prefabricated development makes the city more ubiquitous, the quintessence of the non west. Its locale is megalopolis, the monster city to which all roads lead, to which all eyes turn, in which all ages, stages and conditions are gathered, where all decisions are made.
Urbanization, the unstoppable tidal wave of urban drift makes megalopolis the central place of connection, the demesne of the post colonial condition. It is a relocation of all history within the repertoire of the city. Megalopolis contains endless, because unresolved, questions; its questions are contested, conflicting agendas; it is a work in progress, if progress can be defined and domesticated it is unfinished, unsustainable, unintegrated because its very fabric expresses its unreconciled juxtapositions. Its drag and drift is a movement for repatriation, a trek for repossession, it marches via dispossession, desolation and decay. It is dearth and despondency that is vibrant and alive. Only in megalopolis does the entire repertoire of the human condition make its abode. Here tradition, as the truncated inheritance and as idealized fundamentalist imaginings of autochthonous purity along with the diversity of possibilities synthesized and fusions syncretized from tradition jostle with the innumerable subtle shades of syntheses and syncretisms built on the experience of colonialism, or the premises modernism. All wrestle with the imponderable impossibilities of the grand schemes for inclusion in the globalized dream, the mercandised culture of consumerism. In all that is unbecoming megalopolis is neither monolith nor monotone, it is a search for meaning that will author, represent and resolve the identity of the post colonial persona.
Developmental dependence is the densest cosmopolitanism the city in the non west has known. As built and lived environment it faithfully expresses the contested meanings and disputed identities of its burgeoning population, accurately represents the conundrum that is their existence. Megalopolis is corrupt, unplanned, deformed, polluted and dirty swamped by the inadequacies of development, both mis and mal. It is gleaming islands of new national monuments, pinnacles of affluence and dreaming spires of incorporation in the globalised economy and encrusted with the scabs of bidonvilles, favellas, or the city of the dead – in Cairo where the teeming living inhabit graveyards – and squatters surviving on the rubbish dumps, the classic photo op of Manila. This prolific, precarious survival is a tribute to indomitability, resistance and art for even in such places art flourishes among the refuse. The arts of megalopolis feed on the conundrums and juxtapositions.
The capital city, the megalopolis, is the premier text of independent states. How many are megalomaniac dreams of dictators dragooning artists, architects, foreign consultants and building firms to proclaim their glory, the built environment as a praise song to the leader?( KL? and?) How many are fashioned from nothing in a void and vacant space to proclaim the identity of a nation that never was? (Brazilia and Abuja) The animus of independence, its hope and despair, its heritage and memory, its willingness to parody, its forgetting and negligence – all strands of the continuum of conundrum that is the city in the non west can be catalogued. The generic city, besotted with techno dreams of futurity (Hong Kong), the theme park cities parodying its history for tourist earnings (Singapore in all the spaces between its generic fabric), the ramshackle city building its tension as landscape (Lahore?) or living with juxtaposition of era and ambience as half hearted concern for and thoughtless neglect of them all (Bangkok). Yet a common theme animates these categories and generates their project of domestication, the objective of making the city livable, a homemade space.
The nationalism of new nations must be an attempt to author identity, as politics, economics, built environment, lifestyle, temperament, ethos and art. Modernity is the brand name of this nationalism, but however much it flirts with derivatives of the type site of modernity, the Century City of modern metropolis, modernity alone is insufficient. The foundations of the nationalism of new nations are the promise of modernity rooted in an appeal to history and identity that were excluded and marginalised by the rise of modernity, that had no hand in fashioning what constitutes the meaning of modernity. As a built environment and lived experience the text of megalopolis is by definition another kind of conundrum. The tension built into the fabric of megalopolis is search for resolution, a resolution beyond modernity because it must resolve the multiple juxtapositions of all that is extant in megalopolis but not included in or defined out of existence by modernity.
Wherever you turn the cities of the non west are alive with art, performance and imagination deployed through disputed, complex, cosmopolitan identity. It is art at home entirely neither in tradition, the conventions of history and its legacy, nor in modernity and its fashions, styles. Yet it is not homeless, only without a discernable, defined habitation. Like the street people who proliferate in megalopolis art is fabricating a habitation from whatever resources are available, it is seeking survival, resisting extinction, struggling to come to terms with the incomprehensible and seemingly irreconcilable. Art like the life of megalopolis is seeking resolution, is a state of becoming prefiguring an identity that will resolve its conundrums into a sustainable meaningful persona that lives across all continua, an imaginative fusion that defines its own discrete modernity. This is the post colonial text we should read, it is the text of the art of becoming. It is the artistic expression of the lived experience of megalopolis.
History is more alive in the most vacuous, new made city of the non west than in any city of the west. Identity, the struggle to define exactly where, when and who they are engages all history, modern and pre, colonial and pre, even historic and pre that went into the making of megalopolis. The question of identity is an imaginative palette of all possibilities expressed and performed in all tropes of art and artistry. The art of identity, the art of becoming imagines the future as it embraces, invokes and reassesses the past. In megalopolis cosmopolitanism is normality, the kind of cosmopolitanism unimaginable in cities of the west that reluctantly, belatedly and half heartedly embrace the rhetoric of multiculturalism. For in megalopolis all stages of acculturation jostle, cheek by jowl: the newly arrived peasant, schooled only in what remains of the authentic indigenous tradition, lives in the shanties or on the roadside and interacts with the government official, the new breed of native international businessman, the local foreign trained intellectual and dyspeptic academic. Megalopolis draws to itself the syncretic messianic leader, it houses the repository of autochthonous authority, the adepts of traditional belief and learning. It hosts multiple ethnicities that cannot be comfortably clothed in an invented nationality. Megalopolis echoes with the denunciations of the inadequacies of modernity. It abounds with projected alternatives seeking legitimacy by diverse and contradictory strategies: removal from modernity to pure authenticity, revitalization of authenticity as conceptual synthesis starting from premises other than modernity, synthesized variants of modern ideologies fashioned after imagined re-inventions of history. The alternatives are ever alert to and aware of metropolitan modernity but wrestle with more than metropolitan modernity can mean. They reflect on globalization but are neither global nor international because they answer an interior, personal predicament that is intra-national, an expression of homegrown cosmopolitanism.
What is nationality to identities that were not nations in the sense determined by modernity? What is ethnicity in the lexicon of modern national orders? What is meaning to the person shaped and educated by knowledge systems that operate by different rationality, different logics and concepts? What is the place of indigenous rationality, logic and belief, the concepts that still resonate within the residents of megalopolis? What is the understanding of the educated whose academic excellence includes and requires the regurgitation of the inadequacy and incapacity of their own history, culture and tradition? What is the legitimacy of the newly independent nation that is defined only as a construct of colonialism? What is meaning to individuals educated to disown their domestic ethos as the passport to modernity, yet framed within by belief Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian – and the indigenous culture this belief shaped?
To be independent is to require autochthonous roots as a rationale even for the most oppressive and tyrannical systems of power. What is independence in a world of inequitable relations, where periphery and center still exist, still operate the economic ballpark so that even those who rise in the league table are not quite in the premier league? What is national identity, in polyglot, multiracial, multicultural, multiethnic, multireligious countries that never before were, where all history and possibility coexist on the same streets? In Lahore the bullock carts jostle with the limousines, the motorized ricksaw conveys all conditions of humanity through the fumes that are clouds of complex consciousness. Questions, the megalopolis resounds to questions and expresses them in art, performance and imagination, the art of becoming.
Megalopolis seeks to patent the copyright and assert its rights to the intellectual and spiritual property of its own future. It does so by defying the copyright of globalization by the art of the fake, the genuine imitation, the new made antique, the application of the creativity, dexterity and acumen of its own imagination. The artistic sensibility and continuing facility in traditional arts is to be found in all the flea markets of such cities as Bangkok and Jakarta. Are these artifacts ancient or new made? The question confounds the expertise of experts, the doyens of metropolitan art galleries. Timelessness is the dimension the west ascribed to the Other. Tradition, so ascribed, is a fixed, time bound and closed condition, incapable of innovation defined as the antithesis of tradition. Innovation, change, definition through being disjunctive is the exclusive property and essential character of the modern west. As irreconcilable opposites tradition and change make post colonial resolution impossible. The impossibility, however, is the cosmopolitan life of megalopolis, the lived conundrum, the collective unconscious conscience that is neither fake nor pastiche even in the act of forgery or parody.
For the Other tradition and timelessness has a positive meaning, it is a commitment to memory and recovery that transcends time. Timelessness is a function not of chronology but meaning, and the meaning it embodies is universal in ideas, extent and implication. In the art school, design college and new art galleries the modern artist of megalopolis re-imagines and re-presents traditional form, style and trope, synthesizes them with modern technique and subject matter. Calligraphy in Lahore, or Cairo or Tehran or Hong Kong or Taipei re-emerges as an art that speaks volumes about the art of becoming but to read the art one must have and hold on to the local language, recover the vernacular with its repertoire of concepts, its rationale of logic and belief. The art of the word refers to the simultaneous coexistence all the periodizations of cosmopolitanism that create the artist in their art. Is such an artist ancient or modern, and what do such terms imply, what meanings do they contain for the cosmopolitan artist who exists across multiple continua?
Megalopolis and its art of becoming is inscribed in the work of .., who depicts his training at the Lahore Art College enframed in the context of a Moghul miniature yet subtly opening out that traditional frame, making a point of entry for the observer into a new cosmopolitan expression of reconstructed identity. Fazullah Ahsan depicts the route from Lahore International Airport to the city complete with all the compound cosmopolitan juxtapositions along the way, as a reprise of the ancient maps of caravanserai cities, history reconnects and art is the connective tissue. There is no art in megalopolis that does not enframe itself in tradition. Without tradition there can be no independent post colonial identity, only the homelessness of the displaced person who inhabits the delusory existence of metropolitan imaginings, Orientalist, modernist or post modern. However much art enframes itself in tradition it is not conformist, comfortable or slavish replication of tradition even the artisan faker innovates, includes whimsy and comment in their artefact, makes a dense statement of new identity through traditional artistic acumen and its sensibility. The artisan and artist are a false dichotomy, a categorization formed by modernity that has no meaning for megalopolis. Artisan and artist reconnect in interactive tension because both question and extend tradition, in all its meanings, depicting and performing a continuous, living, breathing liberation of potential identity. Art in megalopolis is derivative, whether of indigenous tradition or modern metropolitan forms. Yet derivation has a different meaning in the art of becoming, the art of identity practiced by all artists. Derivation represents the reality of cosmopolitanism, which is inherent in artist, artisan and all who make their abode in megalopolis. What is derived as the context, subject and subtext of all art, the cosmopolitan art of megalopolis.
Megalopolis is another kind of conurbation. It is the new cosmopolis, the cosmopolis of coexistence, a meaning more extensive than multiculturalism can ever be. Multiculturalism is relations between difference that is discrete, between entities that exist somewhere, somehow as different wholes. Cosmopolitanism is inherent differences of a living persona, a persona lives through, belongs to, is influenced by, the product of all the dissonant interactions of its accumulated inheritances. The cosmopolitan citizen of the new cosmopolis transcends the bounded limitations and dissonance of their own interior difference in a search for an identity that is meaningful, that locates, explains, connects and makes manifest their nature of their human existence.
Megalopolis in all its unbecoming becoming reprises the pasts and reaches beyond the metropolitan metropolis. Megalopolis as place, cosmopolitan as the identity and life of its citizens is a new caravanserai, a way station on the trackless wastes stretching towards a true cosmopolis a central space post modernity, post metropolis that is not postmodern. Modernity is an identity, a grand narrative, a worldview that denies life, meaning and integrity to the premodern tradition extant in the cosmopolitan. Postmodernism is a denial of all grand narratives, it undermines, renders meaningless as irreverent irrelevances all sources of authority. No source of authority – tradition, modernity, colonialism or postcolonialism – in isolation or domination, can author the habitable domicile of the cosmopolitan. Globalism, the international reconstruction of modernity in postmodern guise, offers no sustenance to the cosmopolitan who already transcends all such homogenization can offer. The art of survival, resistance and the search for resolution that will fructify the life of the new cosmopolis must find connection across all time and space. The new cosmopolis draws in to itself all that was and is, the near and the far but is not yet a conduit for an interconnected meaningful order. Megalopolis prefigures the possibilities of the new cosmopolis in the work of its artists whose reflexions forwards and backwards stutter to express universal themes that articulate and make beautiful the essence of its cosmopolitan human condition. The art of the cosmopolitan fructifies and germinates the seeds of other futures.
This article appeared in Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Moteropolis edited by Iwona blazwick, Tate Publishing, London, 2001, pp266-275.