The Horizon of Our Concerns

Rendering of the swimming pool at the Trump Tower in Manila

This problem of the human site or living space is not simply that of knowing whether there will be enough space for men in the world -a problem that is certainly quite important – but also that of knowing what relations of propinquity, what type of storage, circulation, marking, and classification of human elements should be adopted in a given situation in order to achieve a given end. Our epoch is one in which space takes for us the form of relations among sites.

Foucault, “Of Other Spaces: Heterotopias”. 1967.

Before leaving New York, I was talking about visas with Dan and Julie. Dan said he didn’t get the whole visa thing, in his words, “How do you not realize that if you keep moving in one direction, you will eventually end up somewhere else?” Leaving out the social, economic, and political ramifications of the porousness of borders, Dan’s explanation is, essentially, what travel is. Then again, Dan’s American; of Puerto Rican descent, but no less American. He don’t need no visa.

Travel, while it comes loaded with expectations and arrivals at a new concept of self, is basically moving in one direction to arrive somewhere else (unless you’re a drug mule). And you can make of that very basic, very simple fact whatever you wish. And then there are restrictions: there are restrictions, and there are “restrictions”.

I started writing this entry on the day my U.S. visa expired, but then things got busy. I went to Jakarta for a week, and now things have indefinitely slowed down. I say indefinitely, because it depends on whether you think sitting in bed, in your pajamas, “chasing” a Wednesday evening deadline with another one on its heels as “slowing down”.

It seems all I have from those trips are the skeletons of conversations with people I spent time and shared meals and rooms with. It would be easier to just post pictures of me standing next to things or stuff I ate, but I don’t have those. I’ve been maintaining this blog for nearly a decade (moving from platform to platform. Shucks, you guys, I wasn’t always cool enough for wordpress), and there are parts of me that still haven’t caught up with 21st Century life. I don’t yelp. I don’t instagram. If I could, I would, but no. It’s like Wendell Berry and his typewriter issues, then again he produced work on a typewriter, it just happened to be his wife doing the typing.

The space in which we live, which draws us out of ourselves, in which the erosion of our lives. our time and our history occurs, the space that claws and gnaws at us, is also, in itself, a heterogeneous space (Foucault 1967).

The thing is, I’m finding it more and more impossible to talk about anything that’s been happening in my life without travel somehow factoring in. The other thing is, I kind of hate travel blogs.

The other night, at a party, my friend Ken asked me, “So where you off to, next?” Which struck me as odd, because in this circle of friends, I always felt like at least one of us was returning from somewhere. Of course I didn’t realize that it was usually me. “You’re the jetsetter,” said Ken.

That sounds like such a nasty word, doesn’t it? “Jetsetter” – now that it comes loaded with images of Paris Hilton and that “Amphetamine Logic” chick, we want nothing to do with it. “We” being those who fancy ourselves as living “authentically” without quite being able to grasp just what that term means. It almost sounds as dirty as “tourist”: we prefer “traveler”, but go to any immigration desk, and you won’t find the category “traveler” anywhere. In Jakarta, I often found myself with fellow tourists who wanted to see “the real Indonesia” – an Indonesia of rolling green spaces and idyllic coastlines and friendly natives, untouched by the false needs imposed by the capitalist west.

I’m not saying that these places were every bit as artificial as the billboard dotted skylines of metropolitan centers like Jakarta or Bandung, but places evolve according to the needs of the people inhabiting them. And needs in all their forms–superficial or imagined–are valid at some level. Heck, I will never understand why someone needs to own a bag that costs more than my car (which isn’t even my car); but an attempt to do so plumbs depths far richer than “LOL, sUm ppL r st00p1d”. We can never fully grasp why some things matter to some people, and at the rate that the world is evolving, the discourse will just keep growing with it.

(Don’t you hate that word – discourse? I can’t think of a term that in its attempts to include, only alienates people even further.)

This is not an apology for conspicuous consumption, nor am I defending anyone’s goals to live irrationally. The thing here is, if we’re not aware of the bounds of rational choices, then how the hell are we supposed to live within them? You can balk at the jetsetter lifestyle and how terrible it is that people have to dump so much fuel into the air (is this how airplanes work? I’m not completely sure…) just to assuage their wanderlust, but this is the kind of reality some people created for themselves. My reality involves stepping off a plane every few weeks, but it also involves a full-time job with deadlines and students and the occasional sink that’s missing a tap. Not every component of what we would denounce an artificial life actually renders the whole picture as artificial.

I met my friend Rob in Greenpoint and we were walking from the riverbank to the park by the sewage treatment plant. Again, all I have are skeletons of conversations, but I remember something came up to which I answered “I don’t know, I’m from the third world,” which was met with a funny look, and a “No, you’re not.” I threw in some nonsensical babble about development indexes and infant mortality rates and the availability of potable drinking water (I didn’t actually do all that), but he just repeated himself. “You’re not from the third world.” Maybe he meant, “You’re not from the third world,” and if I could see the italicized parts more clearly, I would have just shut up, then and there.

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