Issue #021 Published: 28-11-2018 // Written by: Xuda Käru

Going under #4

Everyday gunshots echo down the streets that mark the edge of the City. The people in Highrises ignore them and even us River Rats have accepted them as the background noise of the City along with the sounds of maintenance equipment, air conditioning, construction work, electronic frequencies, traffic and birds. For convenience we pretend they are fireworks, car tyres exploding or the sounds of industry.

We might feel relatively liberated with our liminal existence, but there are other settlements on the Peripheries, peopled by those whose disenfranchisement pre-empted the marginalisation of the Middle Classes. The People of the Kampungs, Favelas, Slums or whatever you want to call these ‘informal’ urban communities have lived at the limits of the City long before the Big Water and in time may prove to exceed it. These Third Spaces run in parallel and occasionally intervene in the proper relations of the City. Citizens’ sense of belonging and entitlement is shaped in relation to these Others. Often ignored, overlooked or treated with  indifference by Citizen’s cultivated ignorance, these Invisibles nevertheless shore up the City with their labour and confound Authorities when they hack into its infrastructures and repurpose its designs, innovating from below.

The culture of the Communidades is virile and contagious, finding its way through the airlocked seals and sanitary systems installed to secure and optimise the functioning of the City. These pathogens seep in as style and slang, as attitude and as violence as City Forces attempt to contain them. This Violence, that is the appearance and aestheticisation of violence, is politicised by both sides as a Game in which all Players can profit. Expressions of presence, defiance, frustration and pride by those marginalised are in turn used to stimulate the fears (and desires) and security concerns of the aspirational classes. Violence as a utility to organise society has proved to be very effective and has thus become an Industry overseen by Managers. Even those of us who choose to live among the Ruins, repeating our mantras of ‘Communal Luxury’ and ‘Mutual Aid’, are not innocent bystanders. As Inbetweens, neither aligned with City Elites or these Others, we are nevertheless entangled in this ruthless ecology.

This Season it has rained consistently. The New Developments carefully regulate their microclimates, but for us exposed to the elements, the wet and humidity wears down our good humour, inflaming weaknesses and sore points. When the Sun eventually re-appears, our moods quickly improve but we remain afflicted with Lethargy. All I could do to recover was to lie by the side of the River and recharge by absorbing the Sun’s rays. Nevertheless, I had a nagging sense of time escaping, a leftover anxiety from a different epoch from which our small intentional community — our Familia — has only relatively recently escaped. Here among the Ruins, we set our own agendas and attempt to disengage from the rhythms of the City. We detach from notions of Progress long inscribed into our bodies and re-make ourselves according to a different beat. Samba, Batuque, Lundu, Jongo, Coco, Forro, Frevo and many more are points of reference and in these Dances we are made subject to Sound. It teaches us how to hold our bodies differently, how to move in and against the City’s structures and to disguise our knowledge, intentions and bodies from City Authorities who would suppress us. 

    Now fully alert, I realized that I was not
     moving with the current, but rather 
    against it, propelled by a steady and 
    invisible force.

Yet despite our efforts to self-determine and set a course towards a Common World, we are cleaved to the Metropol, torn apart and held together by Invisible Forces. As Parasites, we thrive on the City’s excess, skimming off what it discards and syphoning off what it cannot secure to power our technologies. Our Intentions may differ from City Planners but our destinies are not necessarily distinct. Think of a Remora, a suckerfish clinging to its Host, feeding off the bigger fish and picking it clean. Their relationship is neither hostile or entirely co-operative. So somehow from this minor position, we attempt to exert some influence on the machinations of the City and steer a course against its tide of Progress.

This morning is quiet and although I’m listening attentively I don’t hear gunshots, but instead I notice the Birds. They gather under the awnings of City Blocks, build their nests steel bricolage of Transport Terminals and swoop between the pylons that hold up the Underpass. Do they follow a migratory path, from Season to Season moving from one urban centre to another? This morning they talk in chirrups, whistles and rattles that they emit from the back of their throats. In Birdsong do they communicate their particular knowledges of plants, insects and the Wind? Is this the ‘Intenet before the Internet’? I wonder, do they too think they are in control?

Photo: Xuda Käru