This article was written on 09 May 2013, and is filled under Urbanities.

Writing in The Air

450px-Stuffed_barn_owl,_Hereford_Museum_and_Art_Gallery_-_DSCF1950The title of this thread does not reference César Vallejo.  Or rather, to the extent the Vallejo should inform everything that we think generally, I had something else in mind, in particular.  Several days ago my comrade Craig Epplin reminded me to listen to Fear of Music by Talking Heads.

Air / Air / Can hurt you too

What kind of air is this?  The song signals David Byrne’s own sense of paranoia, fear, vulnerability, exposure.  Subjective terror.  His skin offers little or no protection, the very air through which he walks lashes through his nervous system.  Yet the song is far more clever than this.  Byrne doesn’t merely wail out his own existential angst, as if he were the only actor in this predicament.  He understands perfectly that the situation is far worse, because it is the air that wishes to lash out at him.  He is exposed, and the air understands this an opportunity of which to take advantage.

Some people never worry about the air / Some people never had experience with air

The air is something to worry about, because it carries volition, a will.  A will to respond to what we have pumped into it, with our smokestacks, tailpipes, water mains, bovine rectums, ballpoint pens, printing presses, artillery, deconstruction.  We sent the air a letter without realizing what we were doing, and now the air wishes to write back.  A will that is not at all subjective, but not quite objective either.  An object that wishes things, curses us.  Is this paranoia?  No.  It’s a schizo-analysis of the situation.  It’s accurate.

We have grown accustomed to addressing the air as if it were a medium.  “Medium” as an open field in which things occur, to be more precise.  (One can imagine how much more felicitous it would have been to ask the wind for its clairvoyance.)  We have also recently realized that the medium is the message, or so we think.  McLuhan’s slogan is beautifully constructed, but not quite sufficient.  The medium for McLuhan is only a passive relay for messages, even as it relays the message that it is a certain kind of medium.  His slogan does not, perhaps cannot, take into consideration machines that actively construct their own messages, their own conversations.  Not machines for communication, but communicative machines.  Such communicative machines are not necessarily artificial, man-made; they may be cybernetic and/or organic.

Nothing is natural anymore, the air is not natural air, no matter where you go on the globe.  And when nothing is natural, nothing can be artificial, for the very reason that there is no way to delimit one from the other.  The air can be a machine, too.  Communicative machine.

This air is city air.  When you breathe in the fresh country air, remember that it is still city air.  The city limits have been set to infinity, mainly for the benefit of capitalists.  You can’t get there from here, because there is here.  We used to think of the city as a place to build walls around the air.  You could connect these walls together in a square, leave the roof off, create some nice colonnaded passages through the walls, and call it a stoa.  (You could even place some philosophers there, have them walk around muttering things to themselves.)  People could walk into the open space in the middle of the square and yell at one another, air out our grievances of one another, and call it an agora.  We built this polis, and this fact was central to our identity, our etchings in marble and glass, the desire to outlive ourselves through object-making.  We thought ourselves citizens, as if it were us that built this place, we built this polis, razed through the landscape and raised up walls against the air.  The air merely transmitted our politics.  And we wrote millions of words about the politics we ourselves transmitted through the air, in order to describe it, criticize it, theorize it.

“Urbanities” does not accept, tolerate or submit to such an unbearably narrow vision of the world.  Walls do not cut off, cut through or contain.  They network with the air.  The city is ecology, and the world is urban ecology – not metaphorically, but tautologically.  The ecology is not a medium for thought or action (as if these could be mutually exclusive).  Ecology is thought and action, ecological thinking, ecological acting, ecological praxis.  Rather than an empty box, we begin from the fact that the air is a machine, a machine composed of complex systems.  Ecology – and hence city – emerges at the intersection of complex systems as they collide into one another, translate into one another.  Poetic ecology.

Our discourse does not describe the air, therefore.  We do not air our views here.  Discourse is yet another complex system that translates itself into the ecological matrix that is city.  When we write, we write in(to) the air, into the air you breathe.  When we publish, the air takes our words through your body as radiation, damaging and mutating strands of DNA along its way into your wireless router.  Air irradiates the city.  Theories about the air fly about the air, commingling with code, life, climate.  Theories about the city are not about the city.  We will not save the city with theory, save the world from itself, because theories are not part of the solution.  Theories do not theorize a problem.  They are the problem, as sure as coal.

The air feels this.  Bristles with it.  Sprays some graffiti on the wall.

Fuck.  You.  Air.

— Justin Read

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