The first time I heard the word “palimpsest” I thought it was like a pimple, or at least some kind of swollen mass. It’s not a word I run across a lot in spite of how omnivorous my reading habits are, although at the time I was reading a lot of Henry Miller and he liked to throw it in at least five or six times in every book. And from the context it always seemed like a big swollen mass of stuff. Fortunately my old friend the Oxford English Dictionary set me straight. The use I think Henry Miller had in mind, and one that’s pretty common, is a a writing surface that’s “reused or altered while still retaining traces of its earlier form; a multilayered record”.
Chalkboards, dry erase boards, and the crossword puzzles I do in pencil so I can go back and erase my mistakes are also palimpsests. Sometimes the old words are effaced and replaced, but it’s the “multilayered record” definition that always interests me, and this particular graffiti made me think about the word. There seems to be a certain amount of respect among graffiti artists. Mostly they don’t write over each others’ tags. There’s an exception to every rule, of course. I count at least four different tags here, one which I’m pretty sure was explicitly written over another one.
There’s also quite a bit of color too–black, yellow, and purple, all on a background of white and a black and white checkered wall. That got me thinking of how all graffiti already is a palimpsest. In academic parlance any object–and that includes buildings and train cars–can be “read”.
The building is a defunct fast food joint but by using it as a canvas the artists have overwritten that with their own meaning.
On the opposite wall there’s this circular window where, if you embiggen the picture and look carefully, you might be able to see the chain’s name. The neon no longer glows and has been overwritten by something new.
Art must survive.
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