This was 9 years, 26 days ago

If I say something along the lines of "it's all politics, really", it's because that sentiment hides a million different meanings, or politics itself is a meager category in that it just welcomes all inside and thus becomes voided of any real sharpness. "Politics", the 42-in-1 multitool, equally bad at describing everything.

But still. Questions persist, like heuristics. To do what, when? How to move? How do you absorb 'experience', or to fall into some latourian jargon, how do you talk about how to move without lapsing into [net x pre] crossings? How do you describe knowledge that is neither "factual" nor "experience-based", not because those two things are wrong, but because you ascertain facts through experience?

Or: how do you describe your understanding of a city that is about "hole-in-the-wall restaurants" and "wandering" without resorting to a) maps b) overly abstracted strategies, such as a) reading a guide to the 'Top 20 Secret Restaurants To Visit in NYC', or b) an abstract strategy that says "set a course, then change it regularly" that is universally applicable and thus never valuable?

When you open a novel and read a protagonist's spatial navigation through a city, what kind of knowledge are you absorbing? When a friend visits this other city that you know, how do you offer them advice to travel? When a friend unused to traveling goes to another city, how do you offer them advice to wander?

To be more concrete and to jettison this analogy temporarily: everything is malleable, and everything is about processes intricately tied together. The renovation of a roof is tied to the climate of NYC which is tied to the schedule which is tied to the email responsiveness of a structural engineer which is tied to good will and one's ability to follow up diplomatically and doggedly over email. In moments of breakdown (or to be less dramatic, slowdown), the network reveals itself, they say, like a neuron firing and all the synapses firing and all the signals traveling, branching out, momentarily highlighting a specific structure within an endlessly complex, complicated assemblage.

Where are the words that transfer this sentiment? Recently I read an essay by Quinn Norton and I can feel the trembling-calm words of someone who has seen a lot, to a certain extent, as if they had "peeled back" a surface, a little, to see the endless proliferation of machinery operating underneath.

Yet 'Everything is Broken' is itself not the right kind of mantra, I don't think, but more like "Everything breaks and is healed in such-and-such a way", or maybe these breakings are Latour's hiatuses, leaps, the seeming discontinuity of a glass pipette, ruler, spreadsheet, calculation, that is able to translate from phenomenon to 'fact', the assemblage of silicon and glass and antennas we call a "phone", radio waves, cell towers, undersea fiber optics, DNS servers, ISPs, and back again that let you "chat" with someone else halfway across the world. 1) Discontinuities everywhere, and 2) everything is always breaking, being fixed. There are no straight lines, only walls that are sanded down; there are no perfect circles, no such thing as geometry. In retrospect, the ratio-obsessed architecture of the classics is maybe more interesting if you imagine that ratio/geometry is something that was never actually achievable, not a default but an imaginary destination, godly not because of an alignment between mathematics and universal truths, but simply because it was hard.

How do you understand that a beam involves the bending inertia of steel plates, whether or not welding is easier from below or above (answer: above, because sparks too are affected by gravity), factories in New Jersey, shipping turnaround times, old brick walls that are misaligned, email delays, contractual chains of liability, etc? These operations touch 'physics', 'communication', 'language', 'law', 'history', and are sometimes called 'logistics', but it's not just that, either.

Everything is everywhere. There is no respite, no reason you can say, "well, that doesn't matter", because in this horribly paranoid process, all domains of knowledge, all of Latour's modes of existence, all actors, entities, materials, concepts, may be crucial nodes on a powerful chain. The chain configuration of a tank-flush toilet that induces constant clogs that floods a bathroom that drives party guests downstairs to another location; the distance between a mouth and a microphone and the kind of microphone and its specific quality of gain and the orientation and performance of the speakers and the audibility of a poem and the atmosphere of an event remembered fondly for decades to come.

In this scheme of flat ontologies, all actors may be crucial. This is maybe the optimism of a underdog story, where the scrappy protagonist figures out a specific way to defeat some enemy, just barely, by the skin of one's teeth, a carefully thrown implement, phrase, word, just enough to "tip the scales". Anything can happen, but this also means that Happenings are anywhere.

I mean this so concretely:
If you are throwing a party, you had better make sure your toilet flushes well.