As I've mentioned before, last weekend we moved from relatively urbanized Oak Park to Wilmette, which is definitely suburban. On one level, the environmental differences are definite but not overly striking: more trees, far fewer pedestrians, bigger lawns. Last Saturday morning we walked to a Corner Bakery for breakfast, eating outside. It was nice to get a refill without elbowing out someone trying to get the last drips from the decaf pot. I was used to much fiercer competition for coffee. We strolled back at a noticeably slower pace than we used to in Oak Park, which has some of that amphetamines-in-the-air feel of Chicago and, especially, New York City. In Wilmette the whole experience of going out to breakfast was weirdly relaxed.
That night a full moon shone directly into my daughter's bedroom, just as the sun did in the morning. The roar of cicadas at night is deafening; my son has already perfected his imitation of it. (Walter Benjamin proposed that children imitating nature was the foundation of our mimetic facility.) The vast parking lots heat up quickly in the morning, but the shady residential streets are much more comfortable. We're close enough to Lake Michigan to feel the cooling effects of the lake.
Moving to Wilmette has been a startlingly new sensory experience. There's a completely different set of sights, sounds, impressions, and language practices. Middle school kids take Latin classes. Things that were once far away--open spaces, the mailman, the expressway, the moon--are now closer. This re-distribution of the sensible recalls Jacques Rancière's aesthetic theory. In The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible he talks about how societies are divided into discrete groups, with modern art traversing these divisions and creating new possibilities for perception--as well as excluding other possibilities. Art re-scrambles the established divisions between the visible and the invisible, the audible and the inaudible, the sayable and the unsayable. By re-distributing the sensible art becomes political because the political, for Rancière, also intervenes in the stable order of perceptions and language practices, which Rancière refers to, unsatisfactorily, as the police order.
In light of Rancière's theory of aesthetics and politics, it's interesting to note that the North Shore suburbs get progressively more conservative as one moves northward up the lake shore, away from the city. One could attribute the political differences to income levels, but surely there's something in the environment of the leafy North Shore that determines how people relate to the body politic. And the distribution doesn't fall neatly into the polarities of liberal/conservative, Democratic/Republican. Urbanized Oak Park was not only a generally liberal place, but it was also intensely political. I'll bet few municipalities, even liberal ones, had anti-war protestors in their Fourth of July parade, as Oak Park did earlier this month. "Broad lawns and narrow minds," was how Hemingway described his home town. Now that the lawns are much narrower in Oak Park, the minds have become more inclusive in certain ways, although they're still narrow in other ways, including architecturally. It will be interesting to see how more architecturally liberal, moon-bathed Wilmette formulates the political.