Saturday, July 11, 2009

Mumford in Kajeitia part 2

An excellent point was made about the failure to provide context for the Mumford in Kejeitia post. My response to this is as follows:
Mumford's argument as to why Roman and Greek cities became great and survived in the first place is two fold:
(1) because they maintained something of an agricultural base and that some infrastructure existed, these cities were not able to be completely annihilated after being sacked by the Visigoths, etc – indeed at one point Mumford notes that as long as some semblance of infrastructure and urban core persist, cities can never be completely erased,
(2) because Greek and Roman cities got where they were through colonial exploitation of their neighbors and other cultures entirely, they were able to build incredibly vertical monuments and buildings. This vertical expansion is key to Mumford’s argument as he notes that pushing people’s aesthetic frame upwards, it distracted them from the squalor at their feet, hence why the over emphasis in Western culture on so-called classical society. Mumford is repeatedly condemnatory of Athens and Rome as engines of over-expansion, exploitation, vice-based culture, etc.
Many modern African, (and American cities too for that matter), have a similar problem in only that over reliance on affordable hydrocarbons has resulted in a similar over-expansion and over-extension of resources and food systems. African cities, indeed, still practice greater localized food production than many American cities giving them a certain advantage. However, like with the Agora in ancient Athens or Rome, the emphasis on commercialism seemingly at any cost, and the persistence of squalor seems to point to a strong “classical” Mediterranean continuity. Perhaps, with my well-documented discussions of Christianity and Islam in West Africa, it can best and most readily be compared to latter, Christianized, Rome - a period which Mumford argues began show marked societal improvements, while Edward Gibbon argues that it was the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire.

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