I’ve been thinking about Immanuel Kant, author of The Critique of Pure Reason, and Charlton Heston, star of The Omega Man.
Immanuel Kant, 1724 – 1804, lived his whole life in Konigsberg, in Prussia, what is now Kaliningrad, in Russia. He was man of rigorous habits and walked every day as he thought and philosophized. So regular were these walks that people said you could set your clock by the time Kant strolled past, even though there seems to be no absolute agreement about exactly where he walked.
In the early 2000s an artist named Joachim Koester created The Kant Walks, doing his best to plot and then walk Kant’s route or routes. The proposition was made trickier given that large parts of the city were destroyed by Allied bombing at the end of World War Two, and the center was never rebuilt. Koester took some gorgeously bleak photographs along the way.
Koester writes, “… Kant’s walk is often invoked but rarely specified. A walk is like a manual, a way to engage in space, a recipe to follow but also to improvise with, allowing for drifting, losing oneself.”
And so, at the end of last week I found myself in downtown Los Angeles drifting and improvising, trying to follow in some of the footsteps of Charlton Heston, as taken in the The Omega Man, based on Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend. Charlton, playing Robert Neville, is nearly but not quite the last man on earth, but most of the ones that remain are zombie-ish vampire types. I admit I get slightly lost on the detail.
Tracking Charlton Heston is certainly easier than tracking Kant, not least because one or two online movie obsessives have already done some of the spade work. Everyone says how much downtown LA has been revitalized but there are still some amazing pockets of neglect and desolation. I happened to walk along Skid Row, and amid the many homeless people there was an old black man with dreadlocks who was carrying a hammer, and thought that the tarmac of the road needed a lot of hammering, which he duly delivered.
Above is Charlton Heston walking along Santee Street, and below is the street as it is is today. Some buildings are gone, some spruced up, but the basic structure is perfectly recognizable from the movie. This is the building at the end of the street that Heston's walking towards.
Then there’s the Olympic movie theater where Heston goes repeatedly to watch Woodstock (your guess is as good as mine).
Not sure if the resolution's good enough, but there's a fallout shelter sign to the right of the theateris frontage. The place is now a store selling elaborate decorative furnishings - complete with a sign that says everything must go – but the place where movie titles could de displayed is still intact.
And here, not very far away, is a remnant from a now closed down jewelry store, once so successful they could even replace the sidewalk. I'd definitely have had that in the movie.
And then, completely untouched as far as I could tell, exactly as in the movie, although with new buildings in the distance, is the Water and Power building at First Street and Hope.
It’s hard to see the building from many of the surrounding streets because it’s right behind Gehry’s Disney Hall, and of course in the normal run of events, you’re not likely to go there unless you have some business concerning water and power. However, and this is truly a wonder, the building is surrounded by water – it’s MOATED – with a bridge, though not a drawbridge as far as I could tell.
At the end of the afternoon I went into the Last Book Store, a huge and I hope not doomed enterprise, and found a used copy of The Image Of The City by Kevin Lynch, a 1960s city planner, and a pioneer of one psychogeography according to some sources, a book which contains this terrific passages: “It must be granted that there is some value in mystification, labyrinth or surprise in the environment ... This is so, however, only under two conditions. First, there must be no danger of losing basic form or orientation, of never coming out … Furthermore, the labyrinth or mystery must in itself have some form that can be explored and in time be apprehended. Complete chaos without a hint of connection is never pleasurable.” Something I suspect that we could all agree on, Imannuel Kant and Charlton Heston, included.