From the Publisher Soul and the City

Why Dallas doesn’t have it, and why we shouldn’t care

WHEN I RETURNED TO TAKE OVER THE helm of a fledgling D Magazine three years ago, after a 14-year absence from Dallas, even my closest friends warned me that I was in for an uphill fight. “Dallas has changed so much in the past decade,” they said. “It’s just not the same as it was.”

My reply was that while on the surface everything about a city changes, the culture of a city never changes. San Francisco will always be San Francisco, Richmond will always be Richmond. Pittsburgh will always be Pittsburgh. And Dallas-beneath all the change-is still Dallas.

But even though what I said was true (and the success of the magazine in those three years may be one proof of it), I didn’t know why it was true. It just rang true. Now, thanks to psychologist Gail Thomas, I think I know why.

For a few days in the early fall, Gail led a small seminar at the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, that little jewel of a place on Routh Street where questions about cities-and this city in particular-are probed and talked over and lovingly dissected, if not always answered. The topic one evening was the relation of soul and the city. In the discussion, Gail made a distinction that had never occurred to me.

Two words often used interchangeably- soul and spirit-are actually quite different in meaning. One is contemplative, the other is active. In Latin, even their genders are different: soul is anima {féminine), spirit is spiritus (masculine). Branching out from this elemental root, the distinction becomes clearer. Soul is feminine, enveloping, centered. Spirit is masculine, thrusting, on the move. Which one-soul or spirit-defines the character of Dallas?

This is a city of doers and builders and creative thinkers. We embrace new ideas, nurture them, and then send them out into the world. Now think of another city, any city, not an obvious example like Santa Fe, a city of soul if there ever was one, but a harder case such as Chicago or Louisville- city of spirit or city of soul? The metaphor stretches to the breaking point, but it holds enough to allow us to see something about ourselves.

As a corollary to her central distinction between soul and spirit, Gail noted that soul always longs for spirit, for without spirit it can accomplish nothing, but that spirit is often unconcerned with soul, even eager to escape from its embrace. As she was talking, I remembered a dinner party some years ago at a home in Rome, where I was one of two Americans at a table of Romans. Rome may be even more soulful than Santa Fe, and the memory that came back to me was of all these Romans complaining about Rome: complaining about how nothing ever got done, how their symphony was second-rate, how their opera company couldn’t even get organized. “Milan,” they exclaimed, “Milan! Now that’s a city, that’s the place to be, that’s where things happen.” Was this an example of the city of soul longing for the city of spirit?

The next time someone tells me that Dallas has no soul, I’ll ask them why it matters. Our history-trading, erecting, creating-is pure spirit, injected into our cultural DNA, making our city what it is. Rome will be Rome, Milan will be Milan, and Dallas will be Dallas. Find soul within yourself, I think I’ll say, and enjoy the spirit that is all around you.

Newsletter

Keep me up to date on the latest happenings and all that D Magazine has to offer.

Comments