Interlude Docs

Doc 117: Jenny Wu

Last fall, my partner J. and I were scrolling through roommate listings when we happened upon a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn available for sublet. The above screenshot is from Apple Maps showing the intersection in Park Slope where this unit was supposedly located, an intersection that J. and I, with work laptops in tow on a Tuesday afternoon, scoured from all angles to find the building that matched the vague description we were given by email.

What’s funny is that as soon as we saw the $1,300/month rent, one of us had said, “This is a scam.” Or I must have thought it. More red flags: The poster had left for San Diego after his “weekend showing” and would not be available for another one. After a few email exchanges, the poster’s entire profile, along with their photographs of the apartment revealing a balconied bedroom and oddly convincing wrought iron décor, disappeared from the listings site.

How does something, someone—an image of an apartment, a person’s online presence—simply disappear? Or, to quote the title of an essay by Jean Baudrillard, “Why hasn’t everything already disappeared?”

Filled with the blind hope of the desperate, we played along with our interlocutor. It was like playing house, indulging in the fantasy of an escape from the larger, more pervasive, and perhaps even more pernicious scam that is reality: What’s $1,300 for an apartment that doesn’t exist compared to $3,450—the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom in Park Slope—for an apartment that does? At the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Carroll Street, we found a building whose balconies I was convinced resembled the ones in the lost photographs. We tried, though not very hard, to find an unlocked entrance. We called the so-called tenant on FaceTime—no response—and walked away thinking there was a chance this could still work out.

Today I went past the intersection where the apartment was and wasn’t. I realized I’d taken no pictures of the building the first time around. It was not as I remembered. For one, I remembered that the walls of the lobby were made of a sparkling green granite. I remembered seeing men in suits reading newspapers in black leather chairs. I must have been thinking of somewhere else.

Baudrillard spends part of the aforementioned text, one of his last, breathlessly expounding on digital photographs, which wink in an out of existence, taking the real world with them. “Behind every image,” the French theorist writes, “something has disappeared. And that is the source of its fascination.” 1 This was already the case with analogue photography. However:

In the virtual image there’s no longer anything of that punctual exactitude, that punctum in time which is the ‘point’ when the analogue image was made. In the past, in the days of the ‘real world,’ so to speak, photography was, as Barthes argued, witness to an insuperable absence, to something that had been present once and for all time. For its part, the digital photo is in real time and bears witness to something that did not take place, but whose absence signifies nothing.2

The absence of a nonexistent thing signifies nothing, and yet, once the scammer’s curt demands for the first month’s rent and security deposit became increasingly hostile, and J. and I resigned ourselves to the con, long after we got over feeling smart and pleased with ourselves—we knew, after all, when something was too good to be true—I found, growing from my back, a phantom limb of longing for a home that never was.

Today the sky was overcast, and the trees were bare. Two teenagers were waiting for something, someone, on the sidewalk, making each other scream with laughter. Otherwise, the street was deserted. With no further evidence to glean, I walked up Fourth Avenue to Union Street Station and read on the train.

1 Jean Baudrillard, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? trans. Chris Turner, images by Alain Willaume (London: Seagull Books, 2016). 31-2.

2 Ibid. 57-8.

Jenny Wu is a writer and educator based in New York City. Her work can be found in Art in America, Artforum, e-flux, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.


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