Beyond the most clearly dialectical images and types in the book, there is a wealth of urban surrealism. The "B13 Complex Vandalism," defined by "the degree of complexity and effort required to resituate the cart" (42), are surely the strangest and most intriguing images in the book. The definition of this type is accompanied by a photograph of an empty swimming pool behind a seven-foot fence. In the pool stand two stray carts. The book offers no theories about how they came to rest there. One is left to imagine the motives of whoever took the trouble to hoist the carts over the fence and set them upright in the deep end. Beyond such surreal images, one is simply struck by the form of the cart, which is thoroughly defamiliarized by the book. Because so many carts are damaged in some way, or obscured by mud, snow, foliage, or decay, what leaps out is the ubiquitous lattice of their basket, and turning from one page to the next one is reminded of the grid, arguably the ur-form of twentieth-century art. The empty shopping cart becomes a transient and evolving meditation on what Rosalind Krauss describes as the key form of modernism. She writes that within the grid's "austere bars," we hear "no scream of birds across open skies, no rush of distant water—for the grid has collapsed the spatiality of nature onto the bounded surface of a purely cultural object" (158). As Krauss puts it, "the absolute stasis of the grid, its lack of hierarchy, of center, of inflection, emphasizes not only its anti-referential character, but more importantly its hostility to narrative" (158). One is tempted to see the grids of these carts as a parable of emptiness and commodity fetishism, for their form is meant to mutely transfer only the fullness and utopian promise of the commodities they contain, briefly supporting them in their transit through the store; the cart is understood as a purely negative space we long to fill, a negative emblem that supports the fundamental emptiness of the commodity form into which we consumers project our desires. Thus the most unnatural of forms, the cart's latticed basket, is revealed as a force of history in its decay, an allegory of the contradictions of consumer culture.
Friday, August 29, 2008
A Review from the Academy
I just became aware of a scholarly review of my book The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America, in Johns Hopkins University Press' journal Postmodern Culture. It's a damn good review, my thanks go to David Banash for giving my work such serious consideration. I wish I had known about it sooner, it would have looked good on that last grant application. Read the whole thing here, excerpt below: