More than one take on the words and visions of Rebecca Solnit's award-winning Infinite City
LIT Begun in part as a series of maps accompanying public lectures, Rebecca Solnit's Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas (University of California Press, 167 pages, $24.95) is a remarkable act of gathering, one that presents myriad versions and visions of San Francisco and its surrounding areas that can inform a reader's experience.
Infinite City was recently selected by the Northern California Independent Booksellers as one of its 2011 winners. Duality is a fundamental aspect of the book's breadth and depth and sense of sharply critical appreciation — structurally, Solnit pairs distinct maps with corresponding chapter-length essays. In keeping with that characteristic, and also with the book's group spirit (though admittedly on a much smaller and less intensive scale), I asked different Guardian contributors to share appraisals of one, or in most cases two, of the 22 sections. The result provides just a hint of what can be found within Infinite City. (Johnny Ray Huston)
MAP 3. "Cinema City: Muybridge Inventing Movies, Hitchcock Making Vertigo"
The map for this chapter tracks the San Francisco life of Eadweard (sic) Muybridge, alongside landmarks from Alfred Hitchcock's Bay Area masterpiece Vertigo. In "The Eyes of the Gods," Solnit, who won the National Book Critics Circle award for her 2003 Muybridge bio River of Shadows, writes of the 19th century artist's breakthrough high-speed photography, "It was as though the ice of frozen photographic time had broken free into a river of images."
Many such rivers flowed all over this fair city when Vertigo premiered at the Stage Door Theatre at 420 Mason St. on May 9, 1958. Alas, only 10 of the more than 60 single-screen venues extant that year, all demarcated on Shizue Seigel's fine map, are still functioning. Solnit rightly describes the shift to watching films on various digital delivery mechanisms as leaving contemporary culture with a "curious imagistic poverty." As she concisely describes watching Milk and Once Upon a Time in the West on the Castro Theatre's giant screen, we're reminded that there is no comparison between enjoying cinema in such a grand setting and staring at a laptop. The great 20th century memoirist and observer Quentin Crisp wrote, "We ought to visit a cinema as we would go to a church. Those of us who wait for films to be made available for television are as deeply suspicious as lost souls who claim to be religious but who boast that they never go to church."
That applies to you too, Netflix subscribers! The Roxie, Castro, Red Vic, Clay, and a small number of other houses of worship are still in business, so what are you waiting for? (Ben Terrall)
MAP 4. "Right Wing of the Dove: The Bay Area as Conservative/Military Brain Trust"
In "The Sinews of War are Boundless Money and the Brains of War Are in the Bay Area," Solnit argues that antiwar, green, and left Bay Area hotspots are well known and don't need to be charted again — unlike military contractors and assorted other forces of reaction in the region.
Solnit notes that many military bases that used to operate in the Bay Area are closed, "but the research, development, and profiteering continue as a dense tangle of civilian and military work, technological innovation, economic muscle, and political maneuvering for both economic and ideological purposes."