By D. Albè Bogetti Pérez
It’s easier to imagine the past with opened eyes. It’s true. We are convinced, obviously, that this is impossible, so every time that we want to relive a memory that has stumbled upon our unsuspecting minds, we close our eyes and surrender and wait. Then, our brains, deprived of light to be turned and reflected, and, frankly, bored, compare the darkness behind our eyelids to the undersides of our childhood beds, the emptiness of space, the sleeping screens of our iPhones… The memory is lost in the uncontrolled, instinctive vanity of us trapped inside ourselves. We realize: we can’t remember ourselves without the present, and we can’t see ourselves without the past: we forget.
But who are we anyway? and why? and where? We are anywhere and nowhere, we inhabit the interstice, like the inhabitants of the fictional city of Leonia, imagined by Italo Calvino in Invisible Cities.
On the sidewalks, encased in spotless plastic bags, the remains of yesterday’s Leonia await the garbage truck. Not only squeezed tubes of toothpaste, blown-out light bulbs, newspapers, containers, wrappings, but also boilers, encyclopedias, pianos, porcelain dinner services… Nobody wonders where, each day, they carry their load of refuse. Outside the city, surely; but each year the city expands… The bulk of the outflow increases and the piles rise higher… A fortress of indestructible leftovers surrounds Leonia, dominating it on every side, like a chain of mountains.
We are caught in a stream of refuse, in the inescapable infrastructure of production that has ground against us since our necessarily extra-corporeal births: from the moment we emerge from the hospital, shackled with a bracelet and our first scars and a bill for “services rendered”, we are treated as a means of production, as a resource to be redefined and refined. We are wheeled from the hospital into the ecosystem that razes ecosystems, into the grid of goodbyes whispered to our guts: we are forced to forget that we are bodies.
Skin feels the fabric of forgotten shame. Mouths taste jars of baby food spiked with myths of significance. Eyes see statues of gods who can’t save us (or themselves (or ourselves)). And ears hear the garbage truck coming to collect the smells now intolerable to nannied noses, or else to collect the pieces of our bodies that don’t fit onto the conveyor belt. Difference is dismissed as inefficiency. Don’t talk to me about flaws.
No, yes, let’s talk about flaws. Despite the efforts of parents and politicians and pediatricians, here we are with them. Maybe we’ve made it because we share Leonia’s instinct to constantly expel, to reject: maybe the instinct to close our eyes when we are touched by the past is the rejection of the present around us, the trap, the pain of time in ruins. Here we are with our flaws, fragile fledglings being [redacted] by fiction. Here we are with the difference that the Anthropocene has tried so desperately to erase. Here we are together.
I want you to imagine something. Go through the whole process as instructed: close your eyes, be distracted, then confused, then lost, open your eyes again, then join me. Ready?
We’re sat at a table. It’s made of marble. The moon is shining through layers of glass and automatic shades; the sun is absorbed by black clothing. Voices rise up and echo in symphonic cacophony. We drink overpriced oat milk cappuccinos from paper cups: we are drunk.
In this rare moment, we the drunk crowd surprisingly, subconsciously accept our imperfection, our inability to function without help; our conscious thoughts, as usual, are completely different and completely wrong. We think we are helping our brains. Our brains think nothing. We are driven to drink not by thought or by care but by the pressure to overcome our imperfection through consumption. We are driven to consume so that we can produce, so that we can fulfill a collective need for meaning and money. It’s part of our contract with this place: we are given four years to turn as many of our flaws as possible into products, or else to discard them.
We as students in the commercial world trade these flaws for cappuccinos, classes, and a degree. We pass through the university like cardboard boxes sent with two-day free shipping: we are folded, filled, and discarded. Soon we will be part of the mountains growing on all sides, growing ever closer to collapsing on this campus, on this commercial campus. But it doesn’t have to be this way!
When will we begin the revolution?
The truth is that we are complacent. We feel in every moment the pleasure of shaping the city as it shapes us. It gets its form only from our graduated influence: physically, in the buildings that bear our names and the weights of our (imagined) fortunes, but also in the defunct currency of ideas, pages, words, cries for help and of joy that we leave behind. But let’s not think that this temporary, half-involuntary divinity spares us from change.
As the city is renewed each day, it preserves itself in its only definitive form: yesterday’s sweepings.
The truth is that we are scared. We know that we, too, are cities on the verge of destruction. We, too, are defined by the matter that passes through us, by the ideas, pages, words, cries for help and of joy of others that pass through us.
Perhaps the whole world, beyond Leonia’s boundaries, is covered by craters of rubbish, each surrounding a metropolis in constant eruption. The boundaries between the alien, hostile cities are infected ramparts where the detritus of both support each other, overlap, mingle.
The ramparts that we construct around us isolate us: we are constantly pushing against each other through the fabricated filth of our flaws. We are no longer a we; we never were. I am pushing against you, and you against me. Why?
When will I begin the revolution? Why do I allow the principles of profit to turn my perfections and imperfections into waste? Why do I say prayers to products?
When will you begin the revolution? Why do you allow the principles of profit to turn your perfections and imperfections into waste? Why do you say prayers to products?
The only way to escape the constant erasure of our world, its interminable desire to define itself at the expense of me, of you, of us, is to use our flaws to love each other. The only way to escape the communal solitude, the solitary multitude of this world is to bring down our mountains and destroy the cities that use our bodies and our minds as products. We must not let our flaws be wasted; we must make of them a new world in which they and we are beautiful. It is the only way to close our eyes and see.
The mountains between us are growing, and we are confusing comfort with depth, digging deeper holes for ourselves in the pleasurable depression of individualism. We have been made into an artificial people that cannot — or wants not — escape from a reality that is timeless in its temporality, a crowd permanently dissolved in the city. But not me. Not anymore. I’m not a part of that multitude; I’m a part of this one, of mine, of myself. I left the city.
Here I am outside the city, ready to enter it again with stones in my backpack, looking for beauty and opportunity and connection, for these things and more can be found in the exchange between the city and its mountains, in our interstice.
Here I am with my flaws: I’m beginning the revolution. Will you join me?