some questions I have for myself:
Have I changed? Am I different than the person who was in that train five years ago, wandering around ten years ago? Do you ever stop being a sponge to soak up the world? Is it possible to stop being altered by a place? Is it not okay, actually, to accept a certain kind of failure? How persistent are the lessons learned so long ago about performance and achievement, and is it not ever possible to undo things? Can we not dream of the possibility of total change? Is it true, and can I actually believe that marx's commodity fetish is actually at the origin of the interchangability of all things? If I read into it too much and think about types, typologies, fungible objects, this apple costing the same as another apple, is that too much? Can I blame commodity exchange (which is not unique to capitalism, mind you) for this totalizing worldview? To what extent do I swallow and absorb these mental models? (a lot). Why is my stance in relation to theory different than my stance in relation to research? Is it, like H says, really because I desire clarity? Is it because research understands the importance of a shared language, and so the underlying mechanisms of communication automatically run to solve problems of understanding that may occur (the glossary in the back of a book) while theory can often, legitimately or not, hide behind the assertion that ideas about understanding itself are not always easy to understand, since they deal with the alteration/modification/elucidation of existing worldviews? Would this not be akin to someone saying, "well, it's really hard to talk about my experience in a mountain monastery for a month and how it changed me forever?" Are there similar textures of confusion that exist that one must wade/swim/push through, necessarily, in order to arrive at some sort of understanding, if we agree in good faith that it exists? Does david foster wallace's goldfish have to jump out of the water once, gasp and sputter in dry air, and plunge back in to understand what water is? When you read a sci-fi novel for the first time, and the novel delights in curating your bewilderment and wonder and the way in which you slowly ease into the logic of this world, is this not another kind of texture of confusion, bewilderment, initial alienation, the slow learning of language, itself used as a medium, that sci-fi novels so cherish? Is it just a coincidence that where theory flourishes, a politics of specialization aided by obfuscation also grows?
More than that, though; it's that I can understand what you're saying and think that you're not saying much, and this is especially prevalent when people talk about technology, or numbers, or coding, in which formulas are understood to be formulaic, calculations understood to be calculating, and so on.
Ah, was it the logic of achievement and collection that has stressed me out so far? That I am here, that I have to see things, go places. Even the logic of trains, instrumentalized as short overnight journeys, become efficient transport+sleep mechanisms. The next goal perhaps is to take trains that are the inverse of efficient - that take thirty hours, forty hours, that wait, that are delayed, that generate possibilities in terms of time like that 7-hour wait you had, crossing borders.
Maybe it is that a plan is fixed into being in order to free you; self-generated. Maybe you wander. Maybe your logic involves the location of shade, one's relationship to sea breezes. The camera enables meandering.
How did I forget this? Is it the quality of temperature and the searing unforgiving nature of this heat? Is it that the sun compels you to speed up, dart from shade to shade, so that most of one's time is spent jumping from island to island, a climate-oriented survival mode, of sorts? Is it that weather itself makes it hard for one to think, like the positive aspects of a sauna (head-clearing calm) turned on its head and elongated throughout the day? A day felt like the right upper sleeve swiping against my forehead, a squint, beaded sweat, "muggy air like a cloth sack being wrapped around your head"?
Is it tendencies and strategies that I have carried with me from New York to here? Are they the concerns of navigating fields of people?
(After all, everything is built by people, which is the most anti-medium of all, impossible to coerce yet constantly formed, strong and fragile, fluid and stubborn, tender and abrasive, resilient and brittle, produced and utterly independent.)
(When one understands people to be the a body without organs, the field, the message and the medium, the discourse in which there is no figure/ground distinction, 'networking' becomes more understandable as a thing. Is a ripple in a pond an object, a medium, a message, a content? What is a knot in a piece of rope - a phenomenon, a relationship, an object, or none of these? Networks and relations and diplomatic communiques enter the realm of the ripple, maybe, neither "object" nor "figure" but part and parcel of its operations. (To extend this metaphor; the fluidity of a water surface or the flexibility of the rope would be the malleability of social relations -- more so in a democracy, less so in a dictatorship, etc.) )
(Let's look: it seems that diplomats rotate into drastically different countries, management executives change industries. Just looking at the denotative data, the evidence would seem to indicate that for those diplomats and managers, the instruments being played are not the industries or the countries; they are social relations, which then directly enable other forms of actions. )
a) Infrastructure seems to be offloaded into the cognitive abilities of people; street lights and crosswalks and railings and other safety mechanisms generated (in a seemingly efficient way) by the cognitive mentality of people who do not get struck.
b) The presence of first and second class tickets on the suburb trains is a pretty telling example of the way class works - to a large extent, money generating divisions.
c) And how will you even begine to describe hierarchies here?
d) And how will you ever be able to describe these things to someone who has never been here?
d.1) Well, the hope is to describe these things to someone who will not judge, based on their limited experience; who will not say, "oh, that sounds like this other thing that I know."
That is the horrible sound of ignorance echoing in the valleys - "oh, that's like this other thing I know", "ah yes, we have something similar back home". It's a desperate attempt to generate familiarity, mostly for one's self. 'Aren't we all alike? We're really very similar, you know?' Willing it into the world, because underlying these statements is the sneaking suspicion that no, actually, we're not very similar.
Perhaps the right term is not 'non-judgment'. Maybe it's something more like non-categorization, non-evaluation. Tagging, rather than categorizing, letting things slip and slide horizontally across different modes of characterization, with the possibility of total slippage, breaching boundaries across tranches of concepts, hermetically sealed cavities, icebergs of newness shearing and breaching things open. Making sure that what you thought was able to actively change itself, before you filed activities away into the realm of "weird".
Oh, the weird. Nothing like a sense of weirdness to reinforce a center, as well as a concept of the center. The proliferation and popularity of an Alternative store (e.g. Hot Topic) and its distance from city center probably have an direct correlative relationship. In India, nothing is weird. Nothing is normal, either. Everything is just what it is, and you trade a little bit of political will away, but just at the initial intro, just when you've started to get a sense of a place.
What is it like when you get accustomed to certain levels of service? What was it like when you first moved to NYC, or even first went out to restaurants in Boston, and felt yourself grow accustomed to certain habits, the placement of a tip, one's relationship to the waiter, the societal ritual of patronage, service, class?
What is it like to be casually comfortable with stepping around kids sleeping on the street, porters carrying your bag for you, waiters wanting to wait on you hand and feet and serve dishes for you, accepting these levels of deference that go down so far, not quite fully seeing kids that will come and beg to you?
Unlike 10 years ago, my questions are different; they are not about what to do in that scenario, or how one faces an interaction with a kid who asks for money. Now it is about the giant mechanism of an oiled machine, and feeling its effects onto you, and how it affects everyone. How dress and manner operate as evaluative techniques, inevitably (and I am speaking of Korea as much as I am India, to a certain extent). How I feel like I am dipping my smallest toe back into that rushing river of relentless competition, percentiles and numerical standards and all, and the guilty rush that comes with a high number, as well as the sense of familiar, nearly comforting dissatisfaction that is really the fuel of all drives towards the 99th percentile, the upwards climb.
I fully understand the kinds of freedom I have by being an ignorant tourist, but also in some strange way as someone who does not read as the typical white tourist. Perhaps I forget boundaries. Naivete, to a certain extent, excuses my desire to feed myself, for god's sake. But it's at moments where it touches industry, processes, business, maybe even academia, that I can catch a whiff of that smell.
In Korea, this manifests as some deep dark ugly growth. I think that's really what it is, for me. It is the fact that at some hotel tower somewhere where some kid (who probably knows someone I went to high school with) and another kid (who probably knows someone I went to college with) are hanging out in clothes that are not really clothes but pure signifiers pointing towards wealth; cars that are pure signifiers pointed towards differentiation; a collection of semiotic signs worn on one's body like necklaces. There's music. There's a relishing of exclusivity. And while I can imagine all of this in NYC, I can laugh about it there because it seems somehow infinitely trivial, a house of cards or one of those fake castle facades.
In Korea, this charade seems dark, infinitely deep, as if anyone who saw the fake castle facade from the rear had their head chopped off and buried under the front gate, so that the fake castle was tinged by this act, and even though the tradition of head-chopping had been stopped decades or even centuries ago, the resonance of what had happened and what this fake castle does is still so strong. At this point, the fake castle ceases to be about its representation of a castle. That is the smallest aspect of the castle. Maybe the fake castle facade has long since decayed. No matter. The site becomes about a ritual involving the image of the castle.
Wealth goes far. Wealth goes deep. Wealth sinks into the ground like the blood of a decapitated wanderer who poked their head to see the wooden frame being propped up.
Wealth always manifests as a casual flaunting, thrown around lightly, casually. I probably do that. I tipped the autorickshaw driver 2 rupees last night, because the meter came out to 18rs and I had a 20rs note on me. Why the hell not? To the driver, that "why the hell not" is the sinister aspect, that chilling calm on my end.
One thing that I learn is the forces on two sides of an exchange do not necessarily have anything to do with each other.
What I mean by that is: If I give the driver an extra two rupess, what does it matter to me? It's an extra 3 cents. For me, it becomes a matter of convenience, of not caring about 3 cents, about my relationship with New York, how I work and research and design and teach, how I was born in NYC, the language(s) and more importantly, the dialects that I speak that enable access into certain arenas, or operate as shibboleths (I still remember A., in Japan, telling me that he could tell what my background was because of the way I spoke.). Those 2 rupees, to me, are about the strength of the US economy, and the currency exchange rate that develops as the relationship between US exports and Indian imports.
For the driver, those two rupees has to do with the cost of an autorickshaw and its license and medallion, of applicable; the influx of people wanting to get a driving job; the way in which the banning of autorickshaws inside Mumbai proper perhaps drives autorickshaw prices low; the way in which everyone uses a meter, somehow; the minimum wage of other industries in India, the supply and demand of labor and the subsequent prices of wages; the climate and the low necessary value required for a worker to reproduce themselves (just sleep outside!). Two rupees is not insubstantial.
So when I give two more rupees to the driver, power does not flow towards me to the driver. Not at all. It operates through circuitous complex networks that I am already a part of.
A more material example: one person fires a gun at another person and hits the other's hand. Here is a relationship between gunpowder and the explosive production of gases and the propelled spiralling movement of a small chunk of metal; there is a relationship between the body as an ordered, structured mechanism that is hurt by chaotic restructuring. (If the entity being shot had been a tree, or an ant hill, or a slime mold, it may not have been hurt at all.)
To some extent I am less porous; I am sitting here at this cafe, thinking. I am myself.
Maybe at 27 instead of 17 you think you see the gaping maws between where you are and where you have been, and thus the chasms between where you are and where other people are, and that comes with optimism - that dweller from what Aravind Araga calls 'the Darkness' of India becomes an entrepeneur, hoepfully.
People are varied, a vast terrain, like a cup of water being spilled on a large marble table, rushing out to all edges like a pancake-batter-continent. And within that variedness, distances are larger. There's more to travel.
In plain language, I think. 'This person that I am walking away from who wishes to clean my shoes; they look my age. How long would it to take us to have a conversation about architecture? About code, space, actors? It would take us thirty seconds to talk about the weather. A surprisingly short time to talk about family, and friendships, and life, as well. But these other conversations that I have, that I wish to carry out - how long would that take?'
'Perhaps coding would actually be a more exciting lingua franca, the joy at finding some amazing library that does something magical. There's a class there but not as much. What other discipline is better suited for autodidacts? Perhaps that is the real secret of the sciences, is that it involves a joyous communication with others in the world, while the humanities (loosely divided, again) is this terrible act of speaking-to-one's-own-choir, of being exclusive and insular by design - forming secret languages, generating codes that cannot just be learned on one's self, but acquired and mobilized and breathed in from a young age.'
That last part I suspect is strange to me.
But here I am. India is not some holy land; it is not some magical destination; it is not some wild country, or a specimen, or a travel destination, or a collection of temples. It is a friend of a friend that you meet at a party, or a talk, or at a bar, or playing frisbee, or on the street. They might be friendly, extroverted, quiet, bitter, angry, pompous, sincere, calm, friendly, hot-headed, cheerful, disciplined, unruly. All of these things, or none. 'Could I collaborate with them?' 'What would they be like to date?', you might wonder idly. But in the end they exist as a person, as stubborn and self-oriented as any other person. You say hi. India is a little cranky due to lack of sleep, and they apologize, saying that they were a little "under the weather". That's understandable. You talk a little, and then a little more. Like every living person in the entire world, the more you talk about what they're interested in, the more they get interesting. All people are interesting, as long as they're interested, and this friend-of-a-friend seems especially so; they seem like they contain multitudes.
After the party you talk with your friend. They ask - "How did you like India? Did you like talking to them?" And you say, yes, yes, you did, because they were interested, and thus they were interesting. But you are also looking for someone that you could trust, who would be able to disagree with you and change you a little bit, and when work on projects together, would be able to let yourself be altered a little bit. Is India like that? Who knows. You hope to see them around soon.