Paul Auster and Charlie Kaufman’s Cities Within Cities Within Cities Within…

Last week, A Daily Dose of Architecture reported on a new movie written and directed by Charlie Kauffman, he of Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine fame. Synechdoche, New York, is about “a stage director who ambitiously attempts to put on a play by creating a life-size (!) replica of New York inside a warehouse.” A synecdoche, for those non-English majors out there, is a figure of speech in which a part of something is made to represent the whole; e.g. “all hands on deck.”

The plot summary of the play reminded me of Paul Auster’s The Music of Chance. It’s the story of two incredibly eccentric billionaires, Feather and Stone (who are so rich that at times they feel immortal), who have decided to use their money to pursue some very peculiar passions. Feather collects what can only be described as byproducts of history. Almost irrelevant artifacts that I suppose he sees as a synecdoche of that particular historical event (see what i did there?). Feather, however is not the more compelling of the bizarre duo. This honor falls to William Stone, who is not a collector, but a builder. He modestly refers to his passion-project as “The City of the World” – an enormous scale-model of Stone’s ideal city. As he says “It’s the way I’d like the world to look.” It’s also a quasi-autobiographical asynchronic temporal utopia. Within the City of the World, Stone has included representations of himself at various important moments of life – his childhood, his wedding, the day he won the lottery, and most notably, the portion of his life he has spent working on The City of the World.

When asked what will be built in a large blank area on the massive table, Stone replies “I’m thinking about doing a separate model of this room. I’d have to be in it, or course, which means that I would also have to build another City of World. A smaller one, a second city to fit inside the room within the room.”

A model of the model. Of course, following Stone’s logic, there would have to be another model and another and another ad infinitum. The idea of this perpetual model — surely any architecture student’s vision of hell — does not disturb Stone in the least. He has been working on The City of the World for five years and he fully intends, in fact he embraces the fact that he will indeed be working on it until his death.

This brings us back to Kauffman’s film. Will his director survive his ambition? Unlike The City of the World, there is (presumably) no reduction of scale in the New York synecdoche, so what happens if we discover that the full-size portion of New York he is building includes the very warehouse within which the model is being constructed? Must then, the play include an actor hired to play the director, who then hires an actor to play himself? Will this create some sort of infinite spacial vortex, like two face-to-face mirrors, the land-o-lakes butter label, or some sort of spatial Tristram Shandy?

I guess we won’t know for sure until the as-yet-unannouned release date. Let’s hope Kauffman doesn’t disappoint with his directorial debut.