CSI has long been my favorite series. This is puritanical porn: there is sperm everywhere but the bad guys are inevitably punished. I generally preferred CSI Miami or CSI Las Vegas to CSI Manhattan. But the two scenes that struck me the most were in Manhattan.
In the first, a skeleton was discovered, on the occasion of the titanic breakthrough of a new metro line, undoubtedly the extension of line Q. The bones lay on the metamorphic base of the city, at least at bottom of a tunnel that directly into the moraine of an ancient glacier. He could have been a proto-American, the very first inhabitant of Manhattan.
In my other favorite scene, the head of the Manhattan Police Science Unit opened a closet and pulled out a balloon. We learned that he had been swollen a little before September 11, and that he was holding the last breath of his missing wife.
It was particularly moving. It was also because we know, from Friends or Sex and the City, and despite their absence of a fourth wall, that New York apartments are very small, and that our hero needed unlimited love to sacrifice a unnecessary volume of space. The thing would slowly decompose, symbolically, molecule after molecule, and the impression it gave was that the city was full of identical mysteries, withered lives and relics.
The walls of New York apartments, in the series, often have something yellowish, a little greenish. The series themselves have something slightly past. Trapped in the Calatravian aviary at a pristine airport, Tom Hanks wistfully watches the Friends DVD cover in The Terminal, and it’s the film’s most heartbreaking moment – one of Spielberg’s worst, However. It’s 2004, the show just ended, but Phoebe, Chandler, Joey, Ross, Monica and Rachel are already pale ghosts, New York ghosts in our memory.
Seinfeld’s huge cordless handsets are almost painful to see again, like Jerry’s XXL sweaters. It is often said that New York is not an American city, but a European city. This is undoubtedly due to this relation to time. Things here are weathered by the salty sea air and VCRs.
In Manhattan’s first aerial photo, taken from a balloon in 1906, the city is still low, but bristling with prickly and cosmopolitan docks. New York did not climb the sky, in the twentieth century, it closed like a carnivorous plant. For a long time, Americans were new men, prototypes, cowboys without fuss, Californians without winters. New Yorkers are prisoners of their island, their history and their heightened urban culture – not quite a utopia, not quite a decline.
I came across an archive of Derrida on American television. The journalist asks him what he thinks of Seinfeld, the already classic sitcom, which has erected irony and frivolity, she explains, into a total work of art, into a permanent existential drama – the question of The existence of God is no more important there than knowing what message to leave on an answering machine.
Derrida replies, a little annoyed, that deconstruction as he understands it does not produce a sitcom. He then suggests that Americans stop watching TV and start reading. He’s not very comfortable, actually. He looks like a barbarian who wants to destroy that miracle in civilization that New York frivolity will have been – and I think he knows it.
The most New Yorker series of the moment, Master of None, although the minorities are no longer the same, the Jews and Italians of Seinfeld have been replaced by Indians and lesbians, and the sweaters and phones have regained a reasonable size, is still a monument of frivolity. Dev, the hero, does nothing but eat and talk, and yet it is, on all the great contemporary themes, of a formidable depth, a contagious progressivism.
I have never been to New York but I believe that the body of the Manhattan Experts tunnel particularly touched me because I recognized our common ancestor there, the Lucy of the moderns, the universal New Yorker.