The Long Argument

“Capitalism is nothing more than a bandit’s practice.”

—Alain Badiou

In Tired City, Tim Hortons urges you to wear a red poppy on the Day of Remembrance.

The interface between Tired City and its deepraged others shifts daily, hourly.  There are consolidations, losses, reprises up and down the line.  The line itself is serpentine, labile, legion.  Hot spots shimmer in and out of existence.

Two legs jut from beneath a Toronto cement truck like those of a witch under a displaced Kansas home.  These legs suggest what is at stake besides witches.  The drum of the stopped truck spins idly.  From the cement-truck scene there are laments for content but not quite yet for form.  The foreground screams will yield to that high thin keening punctuated with the delight that is another way entirely.  But not now.  A white ghost bike will be locked near the scene as a memorial and linger for a while.

Tired City is the urban avatar of the empire and to the extent that it is the empire it must grow or die.  It exudes a destiny manifest in stone, of a necessary, incontestable evil, a fixed law of democracy and of leaders by which we all must supposedly abide.  Its consolatory speech is of lesser evil and donuts.

Tired City is the law of increase.

But the very fact of its growth signals to the peds that if Tired City grows, it is not today what it was yesterday.  It is essentially unstable, though its facades and halls of justice imply otherwise, though these structures tender sermons in stone that the media and priests parrot to the masses.  “It has always been thus,” say the ministers, congratulating themselves on their pragmatism.  “A globe speaks only to itself, comes round only upon itself, completes the logic of itself.  The system is closed.”

It is the way of the world, imply the ministers, many of whom are professors and who therefore profess.  It is the way of world.  A globe is a law to itself, curving back on itself forever.  Globalization…happens.  What can you do?

At the sign of the tree’d pothole no tree yet grows in the city.  It appears that failure will be with us always, though we have no banner but this tree.  It is not the leaders merely but the people themselves, each with their leaders established in their minds as a fixed idea, who will knock down any tree planted in a pothole, even at this late hour in the history of the world.  “It has always been thus.”  The claims of Tired City appear to come from without, from the sensorium.  But Tired City is also within—a full replica of that dull city is reproduced wherever it is needed, and its destiny is manifest in the mind.  “Take me to our leader,” demands the citizen, who is herself a little franchise, who is himself the round world in little.  “Take me away from…here.”

Even the bicycles are conscripted into the anxious groupie temporality of Tired City.  They roll along in the spillways while the dashes and hyphens of fantasized protection sputter in and out of existence: “bike lanes.”  The riders of the bikes accept their place as annotation in the margins of the main text of Tired City.  Fight and flight merge, become a single sustained response from the tired wannabees.  The city attenuates as its spacetime is stretched by all these exertions.  Unless, like Manhattan, it is on an island that will keep it compressed, the city will become boring as the tires insist on their dull stretch into suburbs.  Attenuation.

Suburban drivers fatten into their vehicles, become skinned by the plasteel.  Minivans are the exoskeletons of a new creature.  On city streets ravaged by suburban drivers the peds peer through smoked glass to see flesh extrusions, lappings, puddlings.  The flesh like liquid takes the shape of its container, jostles into crannies and nooks of the pods.

On go the cyclists, next to their thick-tired superiors.  Tires too thin for obstacles at these speeds betray riders from time to time, and they tumble into hastily arranged tableaux of embarrassment or death, arms akimbo.  In shame and death, the pedalers are peds once more, their feet touching the earth without the mediation of tires.

The spin doctors of Tired City go round and round.  Rubber hits roads hauled halfworlds in liquiform on tankers, to coagulate here onto ravines and urban wetlands like warblood.

Still the sun shines.

And where the sun shines, the system exceeds itself.  The stretch marks in the dried black desert blood of the streets tell the same story, of excess, tumult, instability.  Not cracks merely, but a trillion microfissures, a whole skein of undoing cut through the xyz of the scab cluster.  A proportional prophecy, precisely as immense as the system.

Henry Ford sent an emissary to the jungle for rubber for his tires, and there was madness, and the jungle thrust back.

You think we’re being poetic?  Then consider the theme of rage lashed into the cadences and syntax of this poem: the last driver hung in the entrails of the first minister.  We have our dead, and we have grown bold, if not sinister.

Failure for us is nearly certain, except for this:

Growth, for Tired City, is a need, and is a need not, after all, just another lack, a puncture, a bleed?  Tired City has been with us for generations now, and we have forgotten that Tired City is a radical upstart, born in crisis, lurching from mishap to mishap, feeding on desert blood to thrive, a congeries of overcorrections.

Taking one to know one, Tired City calls one who fights it a “radical.”  But Tired City is neither the earth nor the Earth, and it does not have the temporality of stone, of slow, solid permanent things long situated in their ecosystems.  It is a tire on a wheel—no more stable than that.  True, it has an internal logic, as do all things circular.  But like any wheel, it is rampant.  Its trajectory is the career, the careen, the car embedded in its primary syllables, its prime mandate.

The long argument is not so long, seen in the light of such instability.  Not so long.

So long.

Up and down the line the peds, who are dangerous in a way not anticipated in the dualistic creeds of the ministers, who see only “with us or against us,” are un-inventing the wheel.  Utopianists, practical as paydirt, are un-inventing the wheel.  What will happen next is foretold in the cracks, but also in the prophecy of past deeds.

In seed form, the tree that will tree the first pothole is gathering itself, preparing to grow toward its own symbol, to become in fact what it has been as latency, as beautiful idea.  In the meantime all that is not Tired City comes to its own sort of fruition in the undesignated spaces, not just in the margins but in all manner of strange inward parts, envaginated bits, pockets, vacuums in space with as-yet undisclosed and difficult-to-characterize histories.  Some leaderless, unquantifiable city other than the exhausted one is already in our midst.

And it is good.

David Ker Thomson is a once-and-future professor at the University of Toronto.  Dave.thomson@utoronto.ca


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