Image credit: FFFFOUND!
Within the city, alternate realities, the fantastic places to which we escape the realities of cosmopolitan life, must exist. These are the realms of the amusement park, the theatre, the tea house…
In Delirious New York, Rem Koolhaas portrays Coney Island as the incubator for the intensity, artificiality, and suspended reality of New York: it is the “foetal Manhattan” (23). Its isolation and natural beauty lends itself to becoming a place for escape, a resort for taxed Manhattanites. ”As Manhattan changes from a city into a metropolis, the need for escape becomes more urgent…” (24)
As its popularity increases (and with the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge), however, it can no longer function as an isolated escape. The masses that invade Coney Island on weekends demand an alternate city, another world. ”To survive as a resort—a place offering contrast—Coney Island is forced into a mutation: it has to turn itself into the total opposite of Nature, it has no choice but to counteract the artificiality of the new metropolis with its own Super-Natural” (27).
Luna Park, Coney Island
“With the advent of night a fantastic city of fire suddenly rises from the ocean into the sky. Thousands of ruddy sparks glimmer in the darkness, limning in fine, sensitive outline on the black background of the sky shapely towers of miraculous castles, palaces and temples…” (22)
It is a place of intensified experiences, a city of heightened senses.
Tea House at Koishikawa, Hokusai
Ukiyo-e, Japanese woodblock prints and paintings, has similar origins; it is a result of the urbanisation of Japan in the Edo period (1600-1867) and the pleasure-seeking lifestyle that it cultivated. This is the ukiyo, or “floating world” culture: the evanescent and impermanent realm of entertainment and pleasure, removed from the mundane and the ordinary. Ukiyo-e, then, are the pictures of this floating world.
First Night at Nakamura-ze Theatre, Okumura Masanobu
The Wikipedia entry continues with contemporary insight into the “floating world” (emphasis mine):
… Living only for the moment, turning our full attention to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maple leaves; singing songs, drinking wine, diverting ourselves in just floating, floating; … refusing to be disheartened, like a gourd floating along with the river current: this is what we call the floating world…
Sumidagawa (Sumida River), Hiroshige
The city-dweller oscillates between the ordinary and floating (or, extraordinary) worlds. The Super Ordinary is the elusive quality that exists in the space between them, where the activities of everyday life are imbued with the spectacle and event of the floating world.
A Sketch of the Mitsui Shop in Suruga Street in Edo, Hokusai