Most of the time in New York, I realize, I am thinking about where I am, and where I am going. A climber of mountains or a wandering traveler focused obsessively on the map, and the dot that means YOU ARE HERE, and the relationship (or distance) between the two, or not. A sensitivity towards change, a plunging in towards further networks or systems that I start to read as an infinite interconnectedness, a play of knots and lines and actors.
One's "full" cognition of "the real network" then falls into this deathly careful choreography of not touching anything, or touching just the right thing; that mission impossible dance, suspended, dangling, balanced. Cut the red wire, blue wire, red wire, blue wire. Gentle touches, sensitive actions, every movement this paranoid reading of the world, in which everything makes too much sense; every moment has high stakes, every engagement a ripple, the butterfly wings of chaos theory. Chaos theory, at least, lets you float the world away to the capricious and unpredictable world of chance; ANT and its ilk would cluck its tongue at you, tell you that 'you know what you're doing when you step there, don't you?', with the simultaneous wonder and horror as if watching a Rube Goldberg machine, a celebration of complexity, an acceptance of determinism.
Oh travel, the ultimate metaphor. Adorno's essay on Free Time (or was it Leisure?) talks about the structuring of leisure time like work; the Kodak Moment, the acquisition of landmarks, the understanding of a journey into discrete units graspable, like commodities. "What did you see?" And instead, you could wander, have connections, surf some couches, talk to people. In relation to the commodity, that would be like play, like building sandcastles, all labor, no commodity, no socially necessary labor time and just labor. "I built this sandcastle and it took me two hours before the water came and washed it away, and I had fun." There is no commodity here, just doing, moving, something that operates orthogonal to the axis of "labor" or "not-labor".
Lately I've been thinking that Marx is a Hater, with a capital H, and Haters Gonna Hate, as we all know, so Marx is Gonna Hate. Labor always generating value, always evaluated in relation to other labor that created fungible objects (thus creating the category of a commodity), always evaluated on a social labor (socially necessary labor time), always doing more work for others, you poor sod (surplus-value). When you labor, you are locked into this deathly struggle, says Marx, the hater. Why are you doing things without being paid for them? Are you not always laboring? (Are you not always moving?) Are you not always producing work? (Are you not always being evaluated on a social level, in comparison to other similar work, in order to produce the category of 'socially necessary labor time'?) Are you not always working for others?
The saddest part about being a traveler, a solo traveler, and perhaps a traveler that does not slot in to the typical spiritual white person visitor to India who wears cotton and baggy clothes and sandals and a scarf, to fit in -- is this degree of underlying hesitancy, reticence, to chance encounters. (Which have been happening all the time.) Just now for the first time I told someone that I've been living in Mumbai for two years, and he melted away, almost, found another target, and I hear another "Where are you from?" in the distance, without looking back. Or that other person who told me that he wasn't asking for money, and invited me for tea over to this shop that sold traditional clothes that you had to wear, he swore, for the sake of safety, because everyone in this city would respect you more if you wore salwar kameez. He says that, and I look at this gorgeous city behind him full of a million shades and contradictions.
But you know, I understand, or maybe I don't understand but I accept, this spirit. I get it, to some extent, I accept it. These are just a few people, not the country, not the world, but small isolated incidents. This person is not India. I have not met India. India is not an encounter, or a person, or a place, or a metaphor, and least of all, it is not an anecdote.
While sitting on the ledge on Marine Drive and watching the spectacular orange sky (along the way, five people stopping in their tracks to take a cellphone photo of the sky), someone chats me up, and I talk, my interest and attention and unguarded friendliness slowly coasting in like the gimli glider, not fully propelled, circling, spiraling downwards.
He talks about walking, running, being a florist, having a Japanese girlfriend that visits every six months. She entered his shop two years ago and asked him for directions to an Internet cafe. He gives them, they start chatting, she invites him out for tea; he says he's free in the evening. In the evening she comes back and says, "It's the evening; let's go to tea."
"No time for tea; I have time for beer."
"With beer, I have problem. I put my heart on table."
"I want to see."
And so, he says, she comes back every six months. I want to believe it, so I do, and I believe it even more where he just looks out onto the water and I do too and we share a silence that is neither particularly meaningful, not not meaningful. It's not some sort of pregnant silence that is supposed to say volumes about the world, or about the grand interconnectivity of all beings, but it's like a small demure one, pleasant and proper and nice anyhow.
It is not India. There is no India in this moment, no credits, no statements, no life lessons, no grand moments, in the same way that New York is largely transparent to me right now, largely absent, mostly just a term I hear loaded with adoration in others' mouths, "New York", and I wonder for a moment where that is, whose place that is because it is surely not mine.
I just have a collection of places, interior spaces, outdoor places, rooftops, beds, discussions, talks, couches, coffee spaces, places where I can close my eyes, places where the layering of previous encounters are stronger than recent events. And the same goes for here, wherever this is.