convergence

[Gauguin, Paul “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” 1897]

I’ve been riding a bicycle as my sole means of transportation since mid-summer 2005. Last month I heard that my brother totalled the old family car, eliminating any chance I had of getting it back. No matter. This past year I’ve been riding more often and further than ever before. I’ve been reaping the benefits of a car-free lifestyle, benefits I never anticipated.

With my return to academia, I feel my philosophic leanings coming back to the fore, and I realize that my true interests lie not in a well-designed cog or floor plan, or efficiency of code, but in the subtle, supple, connections between disciplines, the abstract diagrams, flowcharts, mappings of influence. I’m interested in the rhizomatic, prickly Venn-diagrams, cell membranes, the dermis, blurred bifurcations, the grey, fuzzy zone between seemingly discrete elements. In short, the connections in the theory of everything. Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Is it too absurd to throw [Kafka, Delueze, Adbusters, Situationists, DeLanda, bike messengers, anarchists, cultural theory, progressive politics, the Green party, cellular automata, emergent properties, open-source software, socialism, neuropsychology, architecture, …] into the same tag-cloud? Intellectually, I feel I’m approaching a point of convergence. All my academic interests seem to be migrating to a certain point. I’m interested to see where it leads.

Time is malleable.
In a car, there is no effort to a journey. It costs money and takes time, but there is no physical exertion, and thus the sojourn is decommodified, it becomes a free resource. When the cost of travel is negligible, a shopping spree, or a Taco Bell run suddenly falls within the realm of immediate possibility, and that instant gratification shifts slowly but steadily from a privilege, to a right, to a necessity. On a bicycle, the act of travel is rehumanized. Distance is psychologically reconnected to time and effort. When any change in location requires physical effort, the time spent in any given place aquires new value. Priorities shift. The concept of wasted time is eliminated. Recovery is as important as effort, but that ratio can be massaged to achieve desired effects.

Money is fluid.
When every journey attains a purpose, the opportunity for rampant spending is eliminated, and purchases must meet certain criteria to be justifiable. On a tight grad-school budget, the importance of financial planning, no matter how small the scale, becomes paramount. Without a weekly paycheck, and no trips to the gas station, budgeting gets stretched to a longer time frame. I no longer think week to week, but plan my finances months in advance. Drawn out to this scale, individual credits and debits are no longer discrete objects, they are flows in and out. The act of budgeting become one of tweaking and aligning these flows.

You are the environment.
There is no distinction. Without a hermetic steel shell, the weather becomes much more important. You appreciate the slight variation of degrees, and your clothes reflect this. You prepare for subtle microvariation of climate. When it rains, you get wet. Comfort depends on how you mediate the environment, not how you react against it.

You are what you eat.
On a bike, you become acutely aware of the effect different foods and drinks have on your physical being. Choices have more weight.

Once you begin to value and manage your time, money, environment, and food more highly, you start seeing personal benefits (better health, more “free” time, more money). It is no big leap to imagine a migration of these benefits to the scale of a society. One can begin to see the rough outlines of a philosophy that draws on enlightenment ideals, Marxist materialism, contemporary emergence theory, anti-consumerism, sustainability… in short, a new Utopian vision. Naturally, this is unrealizable, but an ideal must be proposed before any substantial progress can be made.

I’m beginning to believe that cultural theory may be my ultimate field of study. I hope my exit review at KSA can pull together these various threads: a unified vision of how architecture can truly participate in the cultural discourse. How architects can save the world.

Can real progress occur without unrealistic goals?

Leave a Reply