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'Sample Coordinates' is an extract from McKenzie Wark's forthcoming book Dispositions, from Salt Publishing

Sample Coordinates

By McKenzie Wark

3.55 PM EST 29th January 2001
North 40.71974 West 073.95769
Elevation 75' 23' Accuracy

Consider the logistics of how things come to us; of how we come to things. Rocks and plants; flesh and steel. A world in which if there is some guiding light it is inhuman. It's all mesh of data, telemetry of moving bodies, resources allocated and deployed. The live feed is no longer my breakfast. I am its breakfast.

But there are still those who can draw a golden beam from their ass to the skies. Sun kings and sky gods: there is nothing they don't see that matters, there is nothing they can't do that matters. (Or so one might suppose). They camouflage their bodies, not their radiating souls.

Their ways become our ways, soon enough -- their tools of command, control, communication. Soon enough these come to power pop up toasters. Speed and precision are the marks of rank. The digital divides all knowing from all known.

Leave it to these khaki lords of coordinates to turn the planet's surface into an orbing football field. No need to keep track of place or time when there exists in the world the Pentagon's global positioning satellites and the global positioning device.

It arrived, much expected, in the mail today, the Garmin Etrex. Rubber buttons in black hole black on sky gray plastic, the lcd screen behind reassuring glass. The courier delivered it to the home address. Sign your name here, on another lcd screen. Tick off one more mission in the endless blipstream of delivery.

Take the gray machine for a walk from home to a favourite cafe. Track the vector between the two positions. The great outdoors becomes an addressable space, like any home or hard drive.

Noblesse Oblige: The camo kings provide the signal free to everyone, everywhere, with one of these devices. It listens for the satellite's signals, their almanac of the seconds, and triangulates accordingly.

Aboard each satellite beats an atom heart, beating time into precise submission. That perfect time is broadcast to the world. A global rockfest for the age of punk machines.

The English ruled the seas with their chronometers; now Americans rule the skies. Hold this gray ruler and hold with it the logic of empire. Garmin Etrex, digital sextant. On its cinereous face a picture of the world.

9.40 PM EST 30th March 2001
North 40.75986 West 073.95319
Elevation -4' 75' Accuracy

Being out of time. Watching the scheduled rituals of the day. The commuter crush. The lunch break. The after work drinks and shopping. But this watching is just another of the city's rituals.

The city produces the work of not working as well as the work of working. It produces its unproductive products so that they may qualify the quantities. The city, where every strangeness comes to feel at home.

There's a cable car across the river. Up it swings on its slack diagonal, rising up across the water. There's no light inside the dangling egg. It's black and cool. A straphanger with his briefcase. (He's neither a bridge nor a tunnel guy...). Incandescent lights burr against his riverbank skin.

The licorice waters of this river, their indescribable lapping, patterned yet not patent. Why even try to represent that sound? Just sit by the water and beach an ebb and flow of words alongside.

The idlings of the city across the water. Its coral reefs, filtering junk from trash, the takings from the leavings. This pure sky of toxic particles. This pure distribution of blue. This maximum entropy.

The waste of the shoreline, wanting to be released. The hope that is garbage, the potential latent -- and waiting -- for new forms. The waste of form, form never pure enough or perfect enough. Form always hinting at trash, stinking of trash. The trash insisting in form.

The joy of the city, cruel and thoughtless funhouse. The imperfect grid of it, the numbered containers. Here things happen, pressed into space 'til it crinkles. And from within these folds comes the form. The silver tapered tower, with its arc of triangular windows at the apex, blooming from the nondescript pleats. A shiny hood ornament for the pulsating vehicle. Pleasing proof of the possible.

The joy not just of the city, but of movement in the city, finding new ways of moving and being moved. The city as a stasis built for movement, built from movement.

On the island, looking across the waters to the island city. Where air meets water, a surface, where water meets light. Strips and patches of water, light and air jingle in pockets of space. Air swarms with traffic sounds. There's static patterns of red and white across the water. The cubist zirconia of Manhattan.

Evaporating into the mix of light and air and hum, the body leaning against the rail to keep from falling. Everything else already fallen, already dissolving and dilating into the foliage of light and air. The hive sings to itself and knows of nothing but what lies between its drones.

Gently the bridge keeps its cars from getting their feet wet. The bridge as modern art. The will to connect. Connect -- and thereby conquer. Transforming the folded space of nature into a flat and steady plane. Codework's heart of darkness.

It looked for a long time as though connection were a matter of steel and concrete, of engineering. Put the big rig down and watch the gusher burn. Then along comes connections of a more micro scale, etched in solid state. A world where what's mattering's too small to see or touch or taste.

The postmodern is the modern miniaturised. Even small talk becomes tiny talk. It's all periods, thesedays, not paragraphs. Microcode, not macrostructures. Honey I shrunk the kids.

How ill at ease one still feels with the networks. Invisible bridges threading through the streets and buildings, crossing all rivers. Flows of data web the air, bouncing cell to cell.

The rocking of the cablecar, which rocks from for to aft; the rocking of the subway car, which rocks from side to side. The play of the carriage in its vector, the margin of slippage on which it runs. No momentum without friction. A little waste along the way.

8.37 PM EST 17th May 2001
North 40.78336 West 073.95899
Elevation 279' 58' Accuracy

Rain damping down dust. Empire State Building revealing yet another of its endless facets in the heavy air, the textured light. The green of a traffic signal seems yellowish and wan. Red of tail lights a luscious intensity. Leaves oscillate in a light wind. The red of the cherrypicker against the cream of the museum walls. The curving turret, a carpark for art.

People who exude the faint but detectable particles of money. The cut of a bob or a leg. Money buys precision. The artists who make it to the money zone. The balancing act. Safe but not too safe. Fresh but not too fresh. The gallery system as breeding bays for art that might make its way upstream to money. Art as photographs of its own progress upriver, to the source, from ass to mouth.

Mayor Rudy Guiliani pauses for a photo op. His ricotta face a rictus of professional grade grinning. Joker mouth worn in place by a lifetime of this other mugging. Flash! The mayor and the architect. Flash! Rudy Guiliani and Frank Gehry. The huddle of security, their shades and earpieces.

Judith Nathan, the mayor's special friend steps aside. Her makeup a Scream mask, perfect for pictures, grotesque in this humble light. Black wrap, red skirt, Manolo Blahnik heels teetering on the sloping ramp of the gallery. It's not her night tonight.

It's Gehry's! All his major works are here. Wooden blocks for mass and size. Crumpled paper for shapes and planes. A doodle on a cocktail napkin framed and signed. A 100 to 1 scale model of the new Guggenheim themepark he may get to build on the Manhattan shoreline.

Computer milled limestone. Titanium panels in four shapes and sizes. Glazing Secondary Anaxometric. Superceded by detail 4822. The yoga stretch from play to manufacture. The expansion of the horizon of what form making can take and what it takes to form making.

Computer files from Germany, styrofoam molds milled from the data. Shipped to the Czech Republic where the molds shape cast iron tools. The tools shipped to Sweden where flat stainless steel plates are heated top 1,015 Celsius and free form hot pressed with 1,500 tons of compression. Complex shapes brought to you not just by the high tech, but by low cost post cold war labour.

CATIA, the 3D modeling program developed for French aerospace. Gehry's steel and titanium folds as bombers brought to earth. The fragmented forms convey the dynamics of a society in which freedom and equality come into constant collision. But also one where technology can form matters into concert halls or cruise missiles with the same efficient efficacy.

There's still squares here, and pyramids. The squares are microscopic. Power gets greater by becoming granular. The pyramids inverted. The satellites align to form a cosmic base for any point of interested. Circular error probably marks a point of impact.

12.10 PM EST 17th September 2001
North 40.73534 West 073.99074
Elevation 224' 79' Accuracy

George Washington holds a peace flag in his metal hand. Love one another. We love you all. World peace, in Chinese and English. The wire fences down, people spilling onto the grass of the park. The squirrels retreating to the trees.

Flowers and flags. Wall of hope with pictures of the missing. (One dare not presume out loud that they are dead.) Candles and offerings. May peace prevail on earth. We are not broken. All these emotions I cannot explain. Disaster relief pet rescue. The park plastered with the overt signs of hidden hurt. Please help us find our dad.

Onlinevigil.org. Pray for those who do not know Jesus. Prayer station. Bottled water. Chalk messages on the pavement, posters stuck to every surface. Film crews and satellite dishes. Give peace a chance. A family of West Indian buskers play John Lennon songs and pass the hat.

Feeling vaguely guilty. The Etrex an index of all that is implicated. Did the hijackers use the chatter of the satellites to position themselves in the sky? The news cycle never pauses to ask about the ways and means. The vector turned against it's makers.

Roll the tape again. An image that fits no prefab story. Static mars the steady picture of the world. We are reminded that the signs with which we live all mimic nothing. They index just the absence of the world.

People alone or in pairs, wandering. Everywhere the pictures of the missing, the missing. That which does not kill us makes us stronger. Religious figurines and toy action figures, both with votive offerings. Every sign of comfort mobilized against the ruin of the real.

Now, more than ever, may we have the courage to love. USA love it or leave it. Osama must die. Shalom = salaam. Virescit vulvere virtus. Thankyou firemen. We are all fragile precious little things. Not enough words. Yet out they come, the words. Signs blanket every surface in their bunkering blind.

The burned out shell of a building on the edge of the zone. Dust and smoke. The thrumb of a dozen diesel generators. Police and soldiers at every checkpoint. Downtown under state control. Glimpse of a possible future. The price of vigilance is eternal liberty.

Firemen coming off shift. Square built men, subdued in mood. Everyone watches as they pass in silence. The heroes of the hour. Either ethics makes no sense at all, or this is what it means and has nothing else to say: not to be unworthy of what happens to us, says Deleuze, who knew a thing or two about the fall.

The firemen who died in the rescue. Blue collar working men, members of unions, who work for the government. (Stick that in your free market ideology and cremate it.) The unacknowledged vanity of so much of the recent past. The vanity of Mayors, missile defense shields, rise and fall of the new economy, these sampled coordinates.

Sightseers with cameras. Trying to snap and capture in an image what defeats the image and its capture. The event that escapes behind the film. You can't fix what refuses to develop. Disaster always lies beyond the frame, behind the story.

Disaster always seems to come knocking from without. But it erases the boundary as it comes. In the moment of its coming, and the traces left as aftermath, one senses what's outside the word outside. In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni.

How do you challenge the world's last superpower? With micropowers, tiny networks. Look for the leverage in the other's vast machinery of money and media. Trouble its sense of enclosure. Disrupt control of flows. As an old song warns: Mojique plants devices in the free trade zones.

Osama Bin Laden is behind it, chants the Maldoror media chorus. What if the Vietnamese who felt the napalm burning into their skin had looked up to the skies and blamed it all on Elvis? Osama, celebrity of terror, hoisted onto the global stage by the media dialectic. He becomes what they proclaim, great other of us all. He exploits the illusion of a power that the power of illusion grants.

The empire keeps its war machine leashed, as much as it may feed its corrupted wish lists for bigger brighter toys. But what of this other war machine, without a state? It seems to be irreducible to the state apparatus, to be outside its sovereignty and prior to its law: it comes from elsewhere, says Deleuze, who knew a thing or two about the nomad.

Osama, this Elvis of the elements. What might those others, out there, who love him, in secret or out loud, what might they see in him? He is like a pure and immeasurable multiplicity, the pack, an irruption of the ephemeral and the power of metamorphis. A critique of the old homes by rootless men who tune in to some other worldly radio.

A critique also of the promise unfulfilled of a new home that might go by some other name yet unknown. A home that's present but unseen. A home that's felt in the pores but on which nobody plants its feet. A home that's no one's fatherland. This earth of bastards, bastards all.

This is what seems so new here. So new it may be ancient. This challenge to the state from far outside. He brings a furor to bear against sovereignty, a celerity against gravity, secrecy against publicity, a power against sovereignty, a machine against the apparatus. A silent threat. Invisible, even to satellites.

How the mind wanders while touring the wreckage. Someday soon this will all seem normal. Someday soon they will call this history. Erasing in the process all that mutters, all that matters. War without end. How will we know when the war is over?

She holds my hand as we get close to the wreckage. Ground zero the media call it now. Circular error probable. Dust chokes the throat, coats every surface. A restless silence. This dust, she says. This dust is people.

© 2002 21C Magazine