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The second of the videos we’ve been producing with Ross Domoney, Daniel Murphy and Eric Amalraj as part of our Par(is) Unknown series.

Dead-end Republic from Ross Domoney on Vimeo.

In the hours before the first round of the French elections, as the voices of European reason and liberalism anguished and then sighed with relief, we took to the streets of Paris: from its edge to its core, the French capital exudes fear and resentment. For so many, the election is distant, irrelevant, unable to change a life for which there is little to celebrate.

Limbs-in-limbo

April 5, 2017 — Leave a comment

If there is one thing that is striking about everyday life in Trump’s times, is that at the surface of it, nothing has changed. Why of course, you would cry in protest―what do you expect to see, craters in the pavements opening up, lava firing away, the now unsalvageable populace now screaming away in panic?

No, of course not. The same kind of rhetoric has come up, after all, time and time again, in Greece at the peak of its own crisis―the usual “why are your cafeterias still full” moronic line of argument. I did not expect to see this kind of spectacle. But what is striking in the brief time between Trump’s swearing in and the present moment―only sixty-odd days, mind, but at this moment in history this is something of an eternity―is how most people seem to have switched from being shell-shocked, to denial. I think that is what it is, denial: not complacency (which would require a full admission of what is going on) nor, exactly, resignation―well hopefully not, plus it must surely be way too early for that. Denial: a creeping sense that what is happening isn’t real and that, if one were to try and ignore it it might, it might just go away. In my talks with friends, comrades, strangers, the same recurring thing comes up: surely Trump will be impeached, it is only a matter of time, look at all those Russia links, plus―this one is new―they don’t seem to be letting his administration pass anything through, anyway. So, goes the inadvertent conclusion, all one has to do is wait for the fruit to ripen and fall off the tree: a question of when, not if.

This is what the people say when they speak. But the bodies, as they move through the city, tell much of a different story. They are masses-in-limbo, no longer expecting, not waiting for the next phase, but knowingly trapped in an in-between that will certainly not end any time soon. For no matter what happens in the highest echelons of power, the credits to legitimate, liberal democracy have rolled already―whether the audience decides to leave the cinema or not doesn’t make much of a difference to this fact. Whatever happens “next” is of no significance importance. The bodies know, and they in turn radiate through their shiftlessness, that life as we had known it so far is gone.

They know that what is to follow is a long limbo, an in-between that becomes our here-and-now, certain in its uncertainty, unexpectedly reassuring in its bleakness. Why rush? The place is here, and the time is now―and we’ll be here and now for some while.

He orders

April 4, 2017 — Leave a comment

He orders a taxi. Before, the mundane act would require him to pick up some kind of a handset, to physically dial a number, to talk to an operator, perhaps even to get a call back before waiting for his pickup to arrive. Now, at an instant, the vehicle is requested, ordered, confirmed and traced as it makes its way, inch-by-inch, toward his position on the map. He orders a luggage service that will seamlessly take the burden off his shifting suitcases around the city before hopping onto his next flight. He orders food delivery, he orders clothes, he orders, he orders, he orders. Every click, a minuscule dot added to the matrix reweaving the city into a grid whose apparent chaos crystallizes into a new kind of order that forms up in dazzling speed. It’s not just his order: this new universe is also soon-to-be complete. Continue Reading…

I am back in the States, for the second time in as many months, for the beginning of what will be a long journey of documenting and trying to get a grip of urban life in Trump’s America – the affirmatively captivating contradictions, the tensions, the despair and the hope that oozes through the great cities of a not-so-great country. As the narrative of crisis is repeated, time and time again, in the places that I happen to traverse the world over―Athens to London, to New York―and as the present as we have known it evaporates, the only question that feels to matter is, what next? A permanent displacement of the present into the future leaves an ever-pending present.

What happens in the city in these times? A quiet revolt, a denial the grandiose spectacle, a retreat―but is it defeatist?―to the intimacy of our minuscule, everyday space where the catastrophe can be skived off, perhaps even averted, it feels.

To be continued.

By the way

March 28, 2016 — Leave a comment

(For S.)

A good friend I have not crossed paths with in eight years. The realisation strikes us hard yet at that moment we sweep it under the sheer excitement for our reunion. Nearly, or perhaps exactly, one-tenth of an entire lifetime. This is how much we’ve been apart and somehow, in this mind-numbingly distorted world of ours, this seems natural, even expected. And how are you? Or maybe who are you, who is it you’ve become between these thousands of days, what kind of life-changing experiences have you encountered time and time again, what is it that remains of that old self of yours, what remains of my own? And what of the time in-between, who have you been in all those interim moments? I meet you one-and-a-half – no, surely it is two continents apart from where we saw each other last. Some thousands of kilometres, this is what this nifty little online tool tells me. I am supposed to know how to read it well, they call me a geographer now, see. We glance at each other in the silence imposed by the formality of the moment, of what the event in which we partake calls for.

We only allow our life to grow in the fringes. Squashed between the formalities, obscured by obligations, hindered by the ever-present, ever-pressing, ever-growing pressure to produce, to move on, to move ahead. Our moments of genuine coexistence have become a bracket,  a fleeting by the way.

By the way. And it is by this way that representation wins over the tangible, that spectacle takes on the lived, that unending emergency triumphs against the course of a lifetime. Not, of course, with any colossal bang. This would be too obvious, too easily identifiable and then surmountable for those of us who should, after all, know better. No, it’s not with a bang. Representation seeps through and into our spaces of intimacy, it requires realism, it asks for restriction, boundaries and feasibility, tight deadlines and uninterrupted focus, personal growth and development goals, it thrives off the times you now need to take care of yourself and look to do what is good for you. It lives for the moment when that, after all, is what everyone else is doing too. Slowly it creeps into your own sense of yourself. Before you know it the tables are turned and you begin to recognise yourself only within those margins, in the silent, fleeting moments, the by the way diversions from and against the mundaneness of the otherwise unhindered spectacle-subject.

And how are you, by the way?

It’s midnight somewhere over Northern India, yet we have no way of verifying this small piece of information. We can tell neither our location nor the time in which we stand, other than in relying upon the data transmitted by the small screen lying directly ahead.

Warped in our metal capsule we reach a height of irrelevance for what lies below, when. It’s midnight, sure. But not for us, not quite anyhow. Suddenly, abruptly, the thick layer of clouds beneath us gives way to the infinite, pitch black horizon of the night and begins to unveil the initially unintelligible ground surface underneath. Gradually, the all-too-familiar constellation-like light formation of a city makes its appearance. Single light threads depart from the city to reach out to its North and into to a vastly dim light cloud glowing over the edge of our line of sight.

The view is mesmerising: a city ― Jaipur, tells us our ever-knowing screen ― with all its universally encountered light formation, this ever-present illuminated nexus put together by two innermost needs that make cities in the first place. Our need to come together weaves the urban grid; and our need to then drive ourselves apart gives form to the road network (…)

The outside and the beyond

A key determinant, then, a crucial classifying factor in understanding where a specific site, a locale, a neighbourhood, a borough lies in relation to sovereign power, is agency.

Is its non-classification as a space belonging to sovereign neoliberal order involuntary, so to speak? In this first case, the space in question is outside this order; it is marginal, in term’s sense with which we are the most acquainted. Continue Reading…

Think of the lines drawn upon the urban entity: cognitive lines that nonetheless compartmentalise, divide, ordere-in-place. To map out is to draw a line: both in the literal sense of drawing as much as in the sense of deciding when a limit has been reached. And it is sovereignty that decides, at the first instance, when this limit has been reached, when the time has come and where the coordinate is apt for this line to be drawn.

But there are also those cognitive lines drawn in the minds of the urban dwellers, lines that build themselves through and thanks to the everyday. Lines fermented in memory, solidified in the lived form: lines that direct us in sinking in the untold. Continue Reading…