Monday, January 24, 2011

Writing Ypsilanti

R ePresentations of Ypsilanti are fraught (does it matter whether these are "representations" or "presentations"? I don't think so). By "fraught," I mean they are piled high, brimming even, with hints of foreboding about crime and poverty endemic to the city and the nearby township, both of which bear the name Ypsilanti. That this is so turns out not to be an insight worth bothering to share with anyone who has lived on the east side of Washtenaw County for more than a few months.

Nevertheless, I am thinking about this locale because I am developing a course for now conceived as a rhetorico-geographic study of EMU's surrounds. Yes, of course, it will be writing focused, as it will attend to questions of routes, distances, and enframings with a particular investment in producing variations: re-composing the local. I aim to have the proposal submitted by the end of the semester. Right now I am gathering ideas, storing them in such a way that they will, in time, assume the shape of a provisional syllabus and schedule.

And this means I am taking stock of local coverage of local events, conditions, or problems, as the case may be. For example, a series of articles have appeared in Annarbor.com about Ypsilanti Mobile Village, an abandoned mobile home park on Michigan Ave. just east of the intersection with Prospect. In late December came news that the owner filed bankruptcy. By early January, there was a story about the owner expressing his intentions to clean up the site, and on Friday, word that a judge ordered the cleanup to proceed. I don't want to suggest that this series of stories is particularly representative of Annarbor.com's coverage of Ypsilanti, and certainly there is much water under the bridge, so to speak, about how Annarbor.com depicts Ypsilanti, how the "paper" writes Ypsilanti, that is. The series on Ypsilanti Mobile Village is simply an example--perhaps an example I am all the more interested in because I have driven by the park a couple of times, because it is as close to campus (to the west) as it is to where I live (to the north). To give you some sense of the mobile home park's condition, an employee provided this video footage to Annarbor.com with the first report:

That the initial complaint is reprinted in full in each of the follow-up stories strikes me as introducing a curious but distinctive echo: "Raw sewage continues to leak from several residences." "Raw sewage continues to leak from several residences." "Raw sewage continues to leak from several residences." Reading it over yet again, the image becomes more deeply seated. It cements an impression that these grim conditions are permanent, that they are woven into the landscape in such a way that no bureaucratic or legalistic action will change any time soon.