it's a summer evening, strangely cool. palimpsestic overlays of past summer evenings, spent in another city, another town, unfamiliar neighborhoods, warm nights, walking home alone next to streetlamps and shrill horn sounds. mongolia, moscow, bangalore, ramallah, beijing, tokyo, chandigarh, mumbai, delhi, istanbul, amman, london, et cetera. (seoul? where does seoul fit into this?)
the point is to find some thread amongst all of these cities. cities, solo nights, the quiet walking home, to feel an unstabilized self, to feel the world soak in, to feel like a sponge. everything and nothing at stake. a lack of preciousness, a sense of the present. the ground beneath your feet.
somehow last summer in beijing floods in. a quiet cafe, here and there. the world churning by, in its speed and worldliness, another beautiful cafe going on. hungry excited people, moving and moving. a changing landscape. new towers, sprouting up. the future arriving, continuously, an a present at complete standstill. a cafe or garden so beautiful your heart would ache, momentarily. a group of friends, shooting the shit in interstitial spaces.
it's not so simple, any of these determinations.
to be joyful and playful for the self is often to be unstable and unpredictable for others. you do what you want, you play. yet with power, that means that you generate an atmosphere of instability, uncertainty, chaos for those who wrap their schedules around you.
conversely, to create an arena of safety and exploration for others means that you pledge to be infrastructure, to be supportive, to maintain a sense of continuity. infrastructure doesn't play around, but it lets others play around on it. to be infrastructure, you fix yourself to certain rules. social and shared improvisation happens through explicit and shared clarity, not through selfishness.
are you the one dancing, or the person who doesn't dance so that others can? are you the harried organizer that ultimately makes the experiment happen, the one who is having the least fun?
is it possible to play and also to create an environment where others can play, meaningfully? if I run a playful experimental hotel and then cancel my friends' reservations and get them to all sleep in a giant room for fun, this may sound impish to me, coercive and consentless to others.
perhaps my anger is, deep down, I believe: if I'm only having fun, if I'm purely pursuing what's interesting only, then I am not providing for others. to truly provide is to not fetishize the act of giving but to be dependable, friendly, compassionate. to be critical and concerned not for the sake of concept, but for the sake of making it work.
* * *
or: what is infrastructure? what is important? how does it clash with what is interesting? information would like to move at the speed of interestingness, flitting from new point to new point. importance; well, importance is a whole nother story.
deep down I think I have these glasses now, a prototype fashioned out of opinions and conviction, and when I put them on it's as if part of the world dips to transparency, becomes ethereal. questions becomes sharper and impossible to ignore. such as: what does this ultimately say? this fascinating news article, essay, as intricately interesting as it is: whom does it mobilize? how do we build upon it? who builds upon your work? does it just move information around? snippets of popular information anchor into my brain and then -- and then what? does it change how I live, how you live, how you eat, how we share physical bodily needs? does it get at rent, food, clothing, stability? Is it ever radical in these ways?
just information pushed around. just argument, opinion, as if they mean things. just critique, as if it's valuable. just theory, as if forms of pure thought themselves are operative, do anything what soever.
this is so seductive. at some point I mentioned this to H a year ago, and he valiantly attempted to make a distinction between good theory and bad theory, but lately I think this is not it. I think:
theories alter habits; habits are the engines of actions; actions give you new information; information becomes understood and alters theories.
without habits to alter, theories are like tomes of lonely planet travel guides stacked on your shelves, fascinating and ultimately stale without a process in mind.
that is: there's nothing wrong with theory. nothing wrong with bad or good theories. given enough time and habits and actions and information, the bad restaurant recommendations become forgotten. bad choices loop around the loop and generate bad actions, new information, changed theories, better habits, better actions.
theories are all fine and nice. left on their own, they will proliferate. without a habit to course correct, they will multiply wildly, like conspiracy theories that grow best precisely when there is little evidence or information, or your pattern recognition system of your eyes that will go wild in the dark trying to understand if that's a silhouette of a person or just a lump of sand next to this beach.
the bottlenecks are habits and actions.
-- but no really, seriously, it is very very big; it is more vast and more varied than you could ever imagine it to be; and you will grow to 'understand' it soon but will travel again one day and will realize, once more again, that it pushes beyond the edges of your understanding. If there's anything to be learned it's that it is easy to fall back into myopic positions of complacency, worrying, competition, self-comparison, where the real challenge is in the long run, with one's own being. That this is all but momentary, but what is as concrete as concrete can be are the small nonverbal material things: the gesture of an old woman wiping a table, a glass of tea being poured, the involuntary outward sigh after the first bite of food, the contorted wince when pain strikes a body, the elongation of time when one is sick or hurt, the slippage and transience of memory, and all the other things that find their origin in the body and grow outwards from it. And if you ever forget these things, or stop viscerally understanding that the world is big, then you need to travel (alone) again, and rediscover and remember and remember.