Illusional Connectivity

Globalization has proven to be one of the most prominent topics of the past decades. Eradication of borders, total acceptance and freedom of movement of every kind – these are the big slogans that are so often reinforced in our everyday lives, that we even stopped doubting or thinking about them. So if almost the whole world is now about to start merging together, many might think that New York, the city of dreams and endless possibilities, must be the small-scale version of this welcoming and accessible environment, a perfectly working network of infrastructure, minds and resources, an emergence of which we are convinced we will witness. However, it turns out to be false: structures that promise to connect everybody, and therefore create an illusion of equal opportunities, often exclude certain populations, leaving them behind. One of the examples of such failing architectures is the MTA that fails to serve populations with disabilities all around New York, and in this case particularly in Sunset Park.

I have never been to this neighborhood before, and the food for my imagination could come only from the Google research. I found out that “while the MTA currently counts 118 stations of 472 as accessible, many are part of transfer stations that are counted multiple times”, and Sunset Park is unlucky enough to have none of them (“Campaign”). Furthermore, it turned out that “median rents in neighborhoods with accessible stations are $100 higher than neighborhoods with inaccessible ones”, and all this information caused different images to pop up in my head (Warerkar). My emotional response to these findings was a plan of my future visit: I wanted to start my journey at the Church Avenue station. Even though it is not really situated within the vague boundaries of the Sunset Park and rather belongs to the intermediate space between Borough Park and Kensington, it is one of the 2 closest stations that have elevators, which in my mind meant that it would be an important transport hub with vibrant and active neighborhood around it. I pictured how streets and buildings, as I would be going further away from the starting point, would be getting more empty and quiet… And then the reality turned out to be completely different.

A huge part of the transformation that my perception of this ecology, and the precarity that it suffers from, has undergone during this trip happened as a result of a phenomenon, which Teresa Brennan describes in her book The Transmission of Affect. She uses the term “affect” to describe inexplicable impressions that “social in origin but biological and physical in effect” (Brennet 3). She highlights the fact that they can be transmitted not only by people, but also conveyed by environments, and, as a result, have the power to change our behavior by means of alteration of our biology (Brennet 1). Even though this concept may seem to be similar to feelings at first, Teresa puts an end to this confusion. She claims that emotions have a limit – they stay under our skin, while affect has the power to penetrate bodies and change them both physically and mentally.

I arrived at the Church Avenue early in the morning, carrying with me that emotional “model” of the place I was about to see, which was based partially on the factual information, but also on my past experiences and prejudices. As soon as I stepped out of the cart, I was submerged into a new environment and started receiving sensory inputs from it. Brennet claims that there are different forms of transmission of affect, most obvious of which is visual, but the options are not limited to it. For instance, another very important one is chemical – exercised by means of hormones, and I was subjected to all of them (Brennet 9). At first, I saw an empty platform and the elevator that means so much in the context of the issue I am looking at, but was so irrelevant for everyone present – no one used it, and some yet non-identifiable feeling started appearing inside my chest. I ran up the stairs and here it is – the neighborhood that I expected to be buzzing with noise and energy. It was completely normal: a bit empty, but what else can you expect from Brooklyn early in the morning? But as I walked down the streets, smelled weirdly neutral air, saw parking lots full of empty cars and men sitting on the streets I finally identified the feeling that was born inside of me. Affects, which were piercing me along my way, coming from different parts of the environment, conveyed an emotion that, at least for me, was on the borderline of peacefulness and indifference. This was very surprising for me, as I was expecting something rather dynamic and messy. I did not know what to expect anymore.

My conclusions about Sunset Park, just like it happened with my previous location, turned out to be totally different. Under the influence of the invisible affects I started to feel more energised and active, even though the change in the surroundings seemed to be minimal at first. As I was looking for the reason for this sudden shift, I came across something, which, for some reason, clarified a lot for me. It was a church that had an electronic info lightboard in front of it, and the crucifix next to the wall. As soon as I saw this composition, it reminded me of the thing-power concept, which Jane Bennet discusses in her book Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. According to her, it refers to the “moment of independence (from subjectivity) possessed by things”, and when they have the power to produce new meanings (Bennet 3). In this case, the right composition of these three objects that my eye caught for a moment resulted in them releasing their power on me, hence turning from objects into things. I saw that while Sunset Park is living through a rapid change, currently encompassing both traditional values and modern influences, while the Church Ave area looked like a time bubble to me.

Over the course of their books, both Bennet and Brennan touch on an idea that people tend to detach themselves from objects. They ignore the fact that they can consist of the same “building blocks” and make similar actions as people, that they might have authority over our emotions. Maybe this we do so subconsciously because if we are not unique and superior, we cannot control anything. However, such a way of thinking may lead to serious consequences, if haven’t already. It creates a gap between people and their surroundings, but maybe also distances us from each other? In the never-ending race for globalization did we reduce our mentality to single individuals? Why the rapidly developing Sunset Park, where the ideas of connectivity would seem to be more prominent and discussed, doesn’t have any accessible stations? Are there any community actions that are trying to push a similar initiative forward, or did it get lost in the desire for modernization? These are only a few questions I will try to find answers to.

-Sofia

Works cited:

Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: a Political Ecology of Things. Duke University Press, 2010.

Brennan, Teresa. The Transmission of Affect. Cornell University Press, 2004.

Warerkar, Tanay. “Many of NYC’s Neighborhoods Lack a Single Accessible Subway Station.” Curbed NY, Curbed NY, 18 July 2018, 12:38, ny.crbed.com/2018/7/18/17586524/nyc-subway-accessibility-neighborhoods.

“Campaign.” Rise and Resist, http://www.riseandresist.org/elevator-action-group.

~ by vorontsovas on September 28, 2019.

4 Responses to “Illusional Connectivity”

  1. Best Overall: I found this post did a great job of showing the topic as well as the research methods. I also found the specific example of the lit up sign at church was a good way to connect the reading to a specific moment at the ecology site.

  2. I find this post to be the Best Overall because it explains the main points of the readings while at the same time tying it the ecology and its precarity as well as describing how the author felt as they walked around their ecology.

  3. Most Informative: The blog post included a lot of information and background on the ecology and the issue in the introduction, which was helpful in framing the rest of the post.

  4. Best overall: I like how you opened up with comparing what people think New York City would be like and how there are actually problems like failing architectures of MTA. Moreover, you connected what you learned from the readings to your ecology site very well.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s