a few things to think about.
On the ride back home from the airport, I look out the window of another cab (a different but similar cab, different but similar vehicle), and realize that the city is so still, so silent, so quiet. So small. I no longer have to extend my mind to the outer extremes, no longer have to consider everything at once, feel my brain receding, retracting back into my head, the absence of honking somehow making me feel that something is missing.
Everything seems very placed, very set; doors are doors, roads are roads, cars are cars, everything in its right place, defined vs. undefined sharply. Crosswalks are crosswalks, and not-crosswalks are not-crosswalks.
You could call this a certain kind of modernism, or a kind of taxonomy, or a certain kind of simplicity, an order borne out of a kind of logic that does not like to swallow contradictions but keeps it away at arm's length.
I find myself having a hard time articulating where it is I am right now, currently. I am absent, a little, hovering, locked into another perspective, as J calls it. Yes, indeed. I am here, looking at all these things with the gaze as if I am there. Things that I used to think were important seem petty; things that I hadn't actively looked at before feel more important, and it feels like the world has been brought into focus more, a reminder of scope, of presence, of existence.
For a brief moments, careers and resumes seem heartbreakingly petty and meaningless; exhibitions and press releases seem to be inconsequential; positions and labels seem like half-hearted charms incanted as futile efforts to ward off more pressing issues that sweep down onto us. Hearsay and discussion just the inside jokes of a discipline.
It's like, as if, having counted numerous mothers sleeping on the ground with their kids, painfully ignoring 8-year-old beggars and their entreaties for just a few rupees, the thing that was the most visible was a "system", and how strong it can be. Systems, as in operations, ecologies, dynamics, not some kind of strict algorithm that launches into play, but more like the collective murmuration of a flock of birds that organizes into a system, the swirling mass of twenty-something kids in Williamsburg that form swirls and whirlpools of movement between bars, bodega ATM, and subway stops -- these kind of systems.
Viruses generate systems. Are not viruses strong, the kind of thing that decimates a population and leaves it reeling with social shock, enough so that we give it a name and remember it for centuries since? Money and its externalities is memetic; every transaction generates two money users, two enthusiasts, and so the spread of usage spreads rapidly. Concepts, TV shows, rumors. Roads, water pipelines, high-voltage electricity wires. Governments, medias, discussions. Are not these systems strong? Are these not pervasive and influential enough that when you go to another place, all these things are different? Similar, but different?
In response to the enormity of a system, what is architecture? What is the value of understanding the rustication of the facade of a building? Media can swing opinions, make people cry. Spaces can affect people, and shush a rambling crowd into respectful solemnity. Places can conjure up senses of isolation and otherness. Novels can make you think about things you hadn't thought about before, generate and modify your opinions. Management and logistics can make things previously inefficient into something that is powerful. Technology can make things that were impossible into something that is possible.
Having just come back, having felt what money means, how power affects, how ways move in these different ways, it's like: now I kind of know what I want, a little bit more.
I want to be powerful. Mostly in terms of abilities, than politics. I want to know, in-depth, how things work. I want to know what to do to make them work. I don't want to make beautiful things; I want to come up with elegant and beautiful solutions to important, widespread problems. I'd like to fix things, whether spatial or organizational or technological.
Sometimes I think: What is the future of architecture, and what is my relationship to that future? Do I want to be part of it? Is it important to me?
Space is important to me; so is people, so are systems, so are ecologies, so are experiences. I want to practice an applied anthropology, solve problems.
I realize now that having parents who were (are) both professors while growing up affords me the luxury of being simultaneously irreverent to and respectful of academia; rebellious progeny, so to speak.
Only certain things matter to me right now; those things come forward in full focus; other things are simply absent, irrelevant, unnoticed. I've been thinking of the past year and the next year as an experiment in isolation, self-orientation. Internally imposed structures, patterns, rhythms. Gorgeous summer days that have high skies and beautiful sunsets. Things moving slow; the rhythm of kids playing on the streets. Meetings in shaded rooms. Work, work. What is the texture of work? What makes you happy? In 10 years, what will you have been the most proud thing to work on? How does one's life change when you have kids? When you lay projects, like eggs, and incubate them into existence? Journals and parties and papers so transient, so momentary in their movement, just another blip; there are enough things like that already. In the world there are schools to be started, buildings to be built, unbuilt, processes to be understood, celebrations to be had. New mental models to be acquired.
Walking through Dharavi is both surprisingly mundane and strikingly interesting; there are no systems, no informal-formal dichotomy, no slum or building, no nothing like this. It's like how, when building something, everything is made out of actions, either nothing is really a mistake or everything is a mistake, every actions unable to be evaluated in the light of proper vs. not proper. Every existing object is there, already present, until we come along and muck it up by wanting to know, insistently, whether or not it is a proper one; whether or not this settlement is formal or informal, whether a community arose organically or not, whether or not people cross the street at structured crosswalks or unstructured moments. Whether we should delight in the joy of a multitudinous swarming confusing mass that we term "rhizomatic" and dust our hands off and say, 'that is that', as if something was answered in any way.
Where do you cross the street? Here, there, everywhere. Or rather: where is a street crossing? Crossings happen at streets; when people cross, a crossing has occurred. A street crossing is a way of making suggestions; over time, in a given society, a street crossing may be influential enough to successfully suggest to those who cross: hey, cross over here. The street crossing has only some bearing on whether or not people do cross at that location, and is never synonymous with the act of crossing itself. The moment that "informal street crossing" is somehow adopted as a term, with the idea that "formal" or "structured" street crossings are approved forms, is the moment that the phenomenon of having-crossed-the-street is thought to be defined by where the street crossing is.
TL;DR: people cross where they want to, not because there are lines on the ground, so looking at people crossing where there are no lines on the ground and declaring it as a qualitatively different kind of action is idiotic.
Does what I am saying come across? Everything is swirling, moving, acting. When infrastructure is gone and trains run and people squeeze out the edges and hang out in a joyous commute back home to feel the wind in their faces and sun in their eyes, and everything magically seems to work out without no harm, and when people cross the street in a calm flowing manner and the traffic, too, flows around them, and when guardrails don't exist and you simply stay away from a slippery watery edge, and when you want it you go for it, and you push in line because you go for what is important to you, and in a place where these are the systems that always exist (nobody has ever been modern, or Other) just laid bare a little bit more, then you realize that some concepts really just wither away, seem irrelevant and meaningless, relatively unimportant. When you step over people on your way to this cafe so that you can drink a coffee for 120 rs or a sugarcane juice for 10 rs and that 12x difference really means squat to you, when you exist in this swirling world (not India, the World) governed by power, money, influences, abilities, spaces, forms, resources, bellies, appetites, then the connoisseurship of coffee seems to be irrelevant, merely a boring luxury, a critic's taste in film being utterly meek and impotent, architectural theory being desperate to hold relevance.
Here, this world seems to say, here, the powers that speak are mathematics, finance, law, influence, engineering, power. Do you know how to program an FPGA? Do a feasability study? Wrangle some data together? How to structure the financial bylaws of a startup? Do you know how to generate these ecological systems that change the land scape of what we have been governed? Do you have excavators, bulldozers, and trucks to change the terrain of what we have? How can you change the way people live their lives? Does that matter to you? Shouldn't you just retire and go to a beach and live like a slothly greedy king with the money you have? Could you retreat into a rural community and live happily, doing something that is important to you? Does it make sense that India has many monasteries; the density of people also generating the dream of isolation, independence, availability?
All of these questions hover around that common central question, 'the meaning of life', etc etc, which of course is shorthand for what is the foundational meaning of your life; what are the irrationally chosen axioms on which you decide what is valuable to you. Like all irrationally chosen axioms, then, maybe it's inevitable that such a decision is met with constant doubt (why this irrational decision over another? why not this other?) or with blissful non-consideration (I've already decided, so why worry; 1+1 = 2 is not an axiom to worry about, either). From where do your axioms come? Nowhere, really, no logical basis, no convenient explanation, no superhero origin story of a fundamental lightning bolt, radioactive shock, alien power, blood transfusion, innate origin, no essence that flows into you, but the complete opposite: a choice that was made, that makes itself important because it is, because I said so, because I said so.
So it's like: India was like seeing all the other mountaintops, in fact, seeing that mountain range, and knowing that New York is just a tiny little place, and these scenes are so small, and that what drives you is just a collection of impluses harnessed together into an engine that allots monetary and social resources (salary! prestige! career!) based on the organizing structure of those impulses, really. Simply put, it's an existential self-questioning brought on by a reminder, a broadening of scope, a re-evaluation.
The other day I went to a thrift store with A, M, and T, and shopped in this new way: I wandered around the store, and found three things that I liked in half an hour. I tried two on, and decided that I liked them, bought them, and that was that. My relationship with the object, my relationship with myself, over. That's surprising to me. Is it? It is.
It's so interesting, so interesting to feel myself change.