By Jason Abdelhadi

The sudden shifting backgrounds of George Herriman’s comic strip Krazy Kat are the ultimate lesson in setting. The background is the subconscious world, and its violent lurches show us how even by standing perfectly still, a conversation can take us for a different kind of walk. The world is also on its feet and it too has crazy compulsions. Sometimes it can’t sit still but, having nothing better to do, finds itself haunting a particular person or community with its need to alternate. The wonders and terrors of the city are the degree to which the ephemeral is concretized and made gigantic, careening, or disorienting. The shadows that fill in the gaps aren’t ever having a repetitive day.

Just a casual walk to get some air and the ground is collapsing at my feet. With grocery bags in each arm I navigate the destruction of the old world.

Walking by a construction zone is equivalent, in certain phases, to experiencing a localized apocalypse. In the initial moment, the location, especially if it is occupied by an older edifice, will be roped off and made immediately stranger. The condemned building will adopt a kind of death-mask expression; its windows boarded up, it looks on with resignation or defiance as the fences surround it. As they begin to pry it apart, its decomposition provides us with a slaughterhouse vision. Twisted metal does much to invoke the spirit of sadistic complication. Each time we come by some new horror is exposed, some awful organ is melted into a panicked anatomy and we are fascinated, aghast. We see the final pile of rubble and dream of life in the mess, as if we had been bombed out too, or a great earthquake has struck. We watch the dust confuse the light. At night it groans or laughs beneath the stars. A frozen chaos, whose tortures resume at the crack of dawn.

Then eventually the disjecta membra are cleared away. The next time we return, strange black boards are now erected. As if the upcoming ritual of foundation setting is too sacred or heinous to be viewed by the uninitiated. Perhaps a silly little advertisement is set up, depicting the future building in its new sterility. But it contrasts frightfully with the mess and the pit. We plummet together, she and I, holding hands, we scramble across hastily assembled bridges and tiny substitute pathways. If it’s roadwork, our feet meet the dirt. The ground is undulating beneath the crazy full moon. I look inside a vietnamese restaurant and see the entire inside has been pulverized. There is still a good luck statue near the cash, confused beneath the fluorescent lighting somehow still on.

The dream world can be strangely anti-architectural. The waking world too. Why aren’t they more careful? They leave these pits of chaos half-demented, half-completed all around us and with no eye to the degree to which they are upsetting everyday reality. For ordinary people, their myth of a functioning city and a walkable way home is taxed severely, reduced almost to a utopian legend. One day when the sidewalks return and it isn’t dangerous to walk down Montreal Road, my eyes will light upon the aspect of the New City and I will see the beginnings of New Harmony.

In old cities some districts have the privilege of aging into a kind of fossil, the “heritage zone.” The horror writer and architectural obsessive H.P. Lovecraft was drawn to the shadow of the heritage cityscape in which an alternate reality broke through and beckoned us to strange new cities in other realms. In this part of the world, however, the developers have learned the secret—to rebuild too quickly so that nothing can age beyond a century.

Have you been haunted by the groans and creakings of a ghost? Or is it “just construction”? A poltergeist in rewind. The sounds are one aspect that can persist below the surface, especially if you live nearby. You suffer the perpetual external invasion of a sense-organ that mirrors insanity. But you eventually become insensitive to the strange haunting, until some cataclysmic shift or silence forces you to pay attention again.

“Real estate” is the awkward conglomerate term for the rationale behind these orgies. Most likely it is condominiums these days, but occasionally you get strange puff pieces—memorials, for example. “This is the future site of the memorial to victims of communism”. Upon which has been spraypainted in bright yellow, “communism will win!”

In the animated children’s cartoon series, Recess, two twin characters are dressed up in construction outfits everyday. Their mission is an all consuming project, the digging of a great pit in the back of the school, for no other purpose, presumably, than to find out… It can be a passion, this weird messy collective mania. In italian, there is the phenomenon of the “Umarell”, the useless old man who watches the construction all day as a hobby, providing comments and making insinuations from the peanut gallery.

Constant Nieuwenhuys, in his anti-capitalist conception of New Babylon understood fundamentally that the power of alteration and change is what makes the fixed location of the city a potentially poetic locus. Construction projects are today the blind outgrowths of nationalist or capitalist processes. On the poetic plane they nonetheless create through their brute operation an unintentional vision, often convulsive and disruptive to the smooth functioning of the city. It could be that one day, under a different auspice, the festival of concrete and detritus known today as construction could be practiced for its own sake. The cranes and the dump trucks will act on the whims of their possessed drivers, and the pitting of the city can begin, like some magnificent exorcism of ancient trauma.


  1. Popeye. A Dream Walking, Dave Fleischer, 1934
  2. High and Dizzy, Hal Roach, 1920.
  3. Bugs Bunny. Homeless Hare, Charles M. Jones, 1950