“In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”
Is Times Square the transcendental woods in our era? My eyes were seared by the haze of Times Square’s white light that emanated from the inner burning of screens. So intensely blinded by this glowing scrim, I dreamed later that night of being sunburned. Times Square, Robert Smithson would have said, is both a non-site and non-continuance: Non-site because its proliferation of screens take you in a moment to multiple moments where you are not. Non-continuance because in its preternatural light, you are experiencing neither a sunrise or sunset, a light condition of morning or afternoon. You are outside of time, place and atmospheric specificity.
Stars are now pixels in the sky of Times Square. They still awaken a certain reverence as Emerson describes them. Painter Ben La Rocco once wrote that if art is the corpse of time, then Times Square is its tomb, time as monument to light and color. This statement has remained with me for some time. Yet, if skyscrapers are tombs for the living as Marshall McLuhan imagined, then Times Square is the heavens for our technological soul. Time Square is the technological sublime.
As Mary Mattingly and I stood enveloped and mesmerized by this phantasmagoric television sky, we watched the window of the ABC news channel erratically cut from one natural disaster scene to another. They were scenes of disaster porn: flooding, earthquakes and automobile accidents. Interwoven in these vignettes was footage of a news helicopter zipping away, as if at once a savior and survivor of these incidents. “During September 11th, I watched the World Trade Centers fall in the same moment from my window and television screen,” Mary told me.
For we are always where we are not.
A confluence of a place and non-place, reality and non-reality, the screen reifies experience and takes us where we are not. Studying each individual window in Times Square, the screens appeared so real that I momentarily believed that a Dunkin’ Donuts billboard was digital and kinetic. Its analogue stillness called attention to the clarity and high resolution of the moving image billboards.