The Hermeneutics of City-text

“A city is a palipsestic text” may have become a tautology by now, repeated so many times and emphasised and proven in so many ways that it seems impossible to invent a new way to emphasise it any further. So, the city-text is available for interpretation, post-analysis, like the other types of texts, although it is much more dynamic and complex than them. To understand the whole, says hermeneutics, the parts must be identified and understood first. That understanding, even when it is meticulous and positivistic (read scientific in method) can never claim to have reached the final, complete and “real” meaning of the city. One reason behind it, is the absence of any single “author” of the text in this case, resulting into the impossibility of reaching any knowledge of the intended meaning of the creator of the text. What makes the equation-to-be-solved more complicated is the addition of one more variable to it – the interpreting consciousness that depends on various sociocultural forces acting on the psyche of an individual through the years they have lived in the human society.

Vishwanath Gali crowded

The presence of an author as the central authority – creating the city-text actively (the action may have been willed or un-willed) would have made the solution of the equation easier. The absence of any single identifiable author renders the city-equation difficult to solve fully – if not impossible to solve. The equation-to-be-solved has to be solved in an incomplete manner because the text under question is a palimpsest. It has been written upon, incompletely erased and re-written upon so many times that every grid of the text has traces behind the foregrounded script that’s the most recent one and at the top.

Varanasi’s dual nature makes the interpretation of the city-text even more difficult. There may be other cities like Kashi, but any comparisons with it will have to first take into account the material and ideal cities that exist separately too, in addition to being present in a dynamic ratio amalgamation. It’s difficult to ascertain  whether the spoken and scripted (not printed, as the city’s mahatmyas pre-date the invention of printing process) text on Kashi precedes the real city or whether it is based on the real city instead of inspiring it in a long, stage-wise process. One theoretical question arises here: can the same be the mechanism in case of all big cities: London, Paris, Beijing, Rome, Jerusalem? Cities, old cities with a history of millennia behind them, pose this problem to those who wish to study them and interpret them.

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