The Psychical City
A word in a building, a sentence in a street, a paragraph in a neighborhood: the city is the manipulation of the earth into a collective autobiography of mankind, a physical index of human legacy to be read by the unborn, and thus it is also a common tombstone for each generation that passes through it. Like the human statues of stone that now lay hidden below the stratum of Easter Island, layers of the city tell the story of a time and a civilization that has since passed and cannot be revisited, only remembered through oral tradition and its earthen residues. This is the nature of Freud’s psychical city, which holds that the city in its present state occurs as the coexistence of multiple stages of its history that are found in both the material layers of the earth and in the immaterial layers of the mind. We walk the strade of present day Rome but we see and imagine the ghosts of what was, at some point in history, the corporeality of the place. While only half of the Basilica of Maxentius still stands in the Roman Forum, the lack of physical presence for the missing half does not constitute its lack of existence. By blending present stimuli with memory, the psychical city retains both physical spatial relationships and perceived spatial relationships between its current state and its morphology. The psychical city is an analogy that links the development of the city to the development of the mind to say that in both, ancient structures have remained.
And so, while we, and our cities, may resonate eternally in memory, like us, from dust our cities come and to dust our cities shall return as well. Yes, but also like us, this is not to be taken as a statement about the material substance of a city so much as it is about an enchanted process related to the making of the thing. We begin and end as dust, but in the time and space between these two poles of conception and death, the unraveling of our cities tells us that not all dust exists equally. This is to say that, in terms of human settlement, some lands are superior to other lands, some dust is superior to other dust, and humans must rely on their faculties and facilities to weigh the differences. When we choose the points of origin for our cities, We are also choosing the dust from which our settlements and successive generations will be made, perish into, and be remade again. Both the city and the mind are simultaneously undergoing a relentless process of construction, destruction, and reconstruction. Thus, if we thread the mind of the maker and the city back through the process of its making, we inevitably arrive at the same place, physically and metaphysically speaking. This is the relationship of the evolution of the mind of the professor to the evolution of the built environment, the psychical city, that the city first dwelled in the minds of men before it became a place for men to dwell.