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Settlements, born from scorched earth

April 23, 2009

The city of Brasilia was inaugurated on 21 April, 1960. It is more accurate to call it an invention than a city since it was born with mechanical wings. Plath’s poem looks for ‘red earth,’ some sign of organic life; Leminski finds it only in the jungle, stained with the blood of the ‘red people.’ A city cleared of its memories and native Indians stares vacantly back at its new inhabitants. In Persons and Things (2008) Barbara Johnson catches that vacant stare in the U.S. settler land of Wallace Stevens’s ‘Anecdote of the Jar': ‘It took dominion everywhere // The jar was gray and bare.’ Johnson/Stevens could very well be describing Brasilia. That the jar itself ‘dominates both the “wildness” of the new wilderness and the fanciness of the old world’ is connected to the fact that it itself is ‘bare’ inside. This is what Johnson thinks solely characterizes an ‘American aesthetic': ‘the erasure of human agency, the dominion of controlled form, and the autonomy of plain things.’ On the next page she reconsiders this constitution of settlerdom, adding: ‘might look more like genocide.’

So happy birthday Brasilia. You gotta burn it to urn it.

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