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1 The Fool (Le Mat or Il Matto, the Italian word that appears on some earlier versions of the Tarocchi, can be translated not only as ‘the fool,’ but also as ‘the beggar,’ ‘the madman,’ or ‘the lunatic.’) is the only unnumbered card in the Tarot de Marseille (In other decks it is numbered zero.) The Fool is placeless and numberless. It is the card of beginnings and endings – a card more concerned with movement and temporality than with location and spatiality – alternately counted as the highest or the lowest of the trumps. The Fool ascends and descends the order of the Tarot.

The card itself depicts a vagabond whose torn pantaloons are playfully pawed at by an indeterminate species of animal; perhaps a companion, perhaps a vigilant guard chasing a stranger out of town. Regardless, the figure seems undisturbed. They* carry a rather thin knapsack filled with few possessions. They look ahead with a youthful freshness and naïveté. The Fool approaches the threshold of the card itself, bearing their ass to the opposite side as if to say, “I don’t need your acceptance! Onward!”

The Fool is taking the initial steps on a relational drama that unfolds across the Major Arcana, or the first twenty-one cards of the Tarot. If we understand the Tarot as a complete system of interpretation, The Fool is the figure who sets that system into motion. The Fool is the animator of archetypes. On the one hand, they are a figure of great openness to the multiplicity of encounters which will ensue on the journey and, on the other, they are a figure great stupidity, even madness. In both guises, The Fool is something like a Simmelian stranger, embodying the tense relationship between absolute fixity to a point of origin (zero-point of lowest trump, preceding The Magician I/The High Priestess II; absolute reterritorialization) and utter detachment from any spatial specificity (zero-point of highest trump, succeeding The World XXI; absolute deterritorialization).

The Fool’s journey through the Major Arcana culminates in Le Monde, The World, sometimes called The Universe. This is a card of accomplishment and completion. On it, we find an androgynous  human figure, dancing at the center of a yonic wreath. In the Tarot de Marseille, the wreath is surrounded by four classic elemental figures, or the tetramorph: the cherub/human figure (Aquarius/air), the eagle (Scorpio/water), the lion (Leo/fire), and the bull (Taurus/earth). Assembled together, the figures are joined in celebration of the historical accomplishment of the Fool’s journey. This is a card of human triumph in the formation of a world. The world is both an abstract and an earthly card. It is practical; a card which crowns cyclicality, renewal, and unity. It is at once emancipatory and inaugural, suggesting in the notion of completion, the inevitability of return. The World is a card of rhythms and wholeness. It suggests a freedom guided by the teacherly values of responsibility, discipline, and contemplation. The world, in a word, is totality.

The Tarot, of course, is a game of chance as much as it is a tool or system of interpretation. The act of reading Tarot generally requires the querent to focus on a particular problem – or at least the outline of a problem. The acts of shuffling, drawing, placing, and reading the cards affirm a commitment to engage a problem through both the order and the arrangement of the cards in the reading itself and in terms of the overall architecture of the Tarot. Cards from the Major Arcana suggest overarching principles of consciousness and action, so-called ‘court cards’ indicate personae and individuals, and cards from the Minor Arcana speak to transformational struggles and victories that unfold in everyday life.

A reading is spatial in that the relationship of the cards to each other must be considered in terms of the geography of generally agreed upon positions in the map of the reading itself. (The first position being that of the querent, the second of their immediate obstacle or opportunity, etc.) A reading is temporal in the sense that it takes place with respect to a situation that is ‘present’ to the querent and insofar as the order in which the cards are drawn is the singular factor in determining their position. The manner in which a reader draws connections between cards is therefore expressed in an art of spatio-temporal analysis.

I invite you to draw a card.

* While some traditions gender The Fool as a male, others portray The Fool as androgynous. Therefore, I use ‘they’ rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’ to preserve this indeterminacy.

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Whatever the outcome of the elitist quest for community, however, no matter how the relationship between elites and the labouring masses may turn out, the production of a new space commensurate with the capacities of the productive forces (technology and knowledge) can never be brought about by any particular social group; it must of necessity result from the relationship between groups – between classes or fractions of classes – on a world scale.

There should therefore be no cause for surprise when a space-related issue spurs collaboration (often denounced on that basis by party politicians) between very different kinds of people, between those who ‘react’ – reactionaries, in a traditional political parlance – and ‘liberals’ or ‘radicals,’ progressives, ‘advanced’ democrats, and even revolutionaries. Such coalitions around some particular counter-project or counter-plan, promoting a counter-space in opposition to the one embodied in the strategies of power, occur all over the world, as easily in Boston, New York or Toronto as in English or Japanese cities. Typically the first group – the ‘reactors’ – oppose a particular project in order to protect their own privileged space, their gardens and parks, their nature, their greenery, sometimes their comfortable old homes – or sometimes, just as likely, their familiar shacks. The second group – the ‘liberals’ or ‘radicals’ – will meanwhile oppose the same project on the grounds that it represents a seizure of the space concerned by capitalism in a general sense, or by specific financial interests, or by a particular developer. The ambiguity of such concepts as that of ecology, for example, which is a mixture of science and ideology, facilitates the formation of the most unlikely alliances.

–– Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (1974), p. 381 of D. Nicholson-Smith’s (1991) translation

queer ambiguous alliance tree fucking

Of what is private property the name?  When so-called chains of ownership on abandoned, foreclosed tracts of houses in cities all over America are so complex as to amount to de facto collective ownership, how do we differentiate ‘civil individual’ claims to property from the violence of mass speculative markets?  In the case of commodified housing, the specific form of violence is deployed by ‘collective’ market owners through an opaque exchange of fictional values; derivatives, credit default swaps, other forms of futures and various ‘market making’ activities.  This ethically barren form of market exchange could easily be overtaken by a radically open relation of self-determined values (and/or non-values).  The embodied collective of housing is any group of people sharing living space, broadly defined.  Why should the designation stop at the household (oh holy unit of economic statistics) or at the amorphous neighborhood (thanks to endless real estate speculation and rampant gentrification)?  We can also speak of the space of the laptop, the convenience store, the patch of sidewalk in front of an abandoned dry cleaner, the city, or, as Henri Lefebvre might have it, the urbanizing planet.

Rather than delving into urbanism, I’d like to take the specific example of student debt and the commodification of education in the context of global austerity and state repression of social movements.  I am writing from Toronto, the austere British cousin of Montreal, just six hours to the northeast.  In the latter city, a social movement departing from struggles for free, universal education has diffused into a generaliz(ed/able) strike and wave of spontaneous public collectivity.  While several organizations and the state all claim ownership to the right to define the price of education, the students are uniquely positioned as creators of the commodified value which the state is attempting to define.  Nevertheless, their movement doesn’t appear to be primarily concerned with the correct state-market value for education.  They appear to be equally concerned with the university as a malleable organism for social movement, for physical movement, and for intellectual divulgence.  I am not an expert – merely competent and interested – so I would certainly not attempt to ‘dissect’ the Montreal movement.

What I can speak to more directly is the experience of being an American in massive educational debt living in a Canada fighting the specter of massive educational debt.  I grew up just three hours from Niagara Falls, a wonder of the world shared by the U.S. and Canada.  The American’s have a park surrounded by economically depressed neighborhoods.  The Canadian’s have built an entire industry: wax museums, casinos, towers, shops selling ‘native wares.’  Meanwhile, the waterfall still pretends to be natural, posing very well for numberless photos.

Having been born in Cleveland, Ohio, abandoned warehouses were my teenage playground.  After several years of nomadism – Austin, Washington, DC, New York City, Budapest, and now Toronto – I arrived finally into a long period of delay on my debts.  As a PhD student, I’m entitled to allow interest to accrue while I continue to develop my capacity to participate profitably in an ever-commodifiying academic and intellectual market.  Risk deferred.  My debts live in the U.S.A.; they don’t have a passport, so my credit in Canada is connected only to the great optimism of this land.  So many resources to exploit, so many towers to build, so many educations to sell.  Here the abandoned factories, mines, timber fields all hide in endless exurbia and the great North.  The center is a gleaming excess, where abandonment itself is bought and sold with the promise of a gentry filled urban utopia.  Back home, my native city is shrinking.  These houses, stripped uncarefully of copper pipes, sinks, nice enough floorboards.  Do my debts live here now?

So I sit at my desk in my old, cheap, beautiful house – which will soon be sold (gentrification marches on, one of the holdouts is selling) – my debt cloud raining red dollars down somewhere between Cleveland and New York City.  The owners of my education, the speculators of my future earning potential, rush from dinner to a cab, trying not to get soaked.  Me, I’m waiting for the law to change.  Currently, it is impossible to discharge student debt in the U.S.A., even declaring bankruptcy doesn’t work.  Death can help, but they might try to make your family pay.  There are some ambitious bills before Congress, hoping to grant us the merciful right of consolidation or the glorious exculpation of bankruptcy.  Should these noble representatives succeed, I will be free to declare myself worth nothing in America, a total broke.  As it stands, I’m a sort of financial zombie.  Somewhere between viable metric and indeterminate form of potentially toxic asset.  The cure is always profitable, guess for whom?

Returning to the question of property and its ostensible cancellation in the collective.  I think we might be missing the point when it comes to markets.  It is not interesting or innovative that markets commodify; we know this from Marx but also the neo-Classicists.  Phenomenally, markets are often engaged in collective activities of speculative risk assessment.  This activity establishes panic as the appropriate response to lack of information, thereby contributing to the ever increasing demand for ‘accurate information.’  Such demands don’t take long to reach even the more radical of the humanities and social sciences in the academy, in the public university, in the private university, especially.  Of course it is very easy to call for an abandonment of panic and the obsession with information compiled to avert panic.  Perhaps we need to panic a bit.  We’ve been locked so firmly into patterns of risk aversion that it is too easy to forget to unvarnished terrifying pleasure of the so-called risk.  What they call risk is easily named experience, sensation, intensity; together: embodiment.  Naturally, the market protests that it values entrepreneurship and risk-taking, but always embodied in the stale form of a normatively gendered and sexualized subject, aspiring to self-improvement through narcissistic investment activities, personally and professionally.

In what universe do these figures own my education?  Of course the state has a strong claim to make as well.  And, acting together, as they attack housing, services and all the rest, they necessarily need to co-opt the university.  Having instilled the ‘liberal value’ of education for a generation in North America (since WWII), the state gradually diffused the war machine that guaranteed it for young men (mostly).  Then, they were deferred from draft.  Now, we are deferred from debt.  Our everyday life is more militarized than ever and, since we don’t ‘go to war’ but war ‘comes to us’ we are not entitled to the right of education upon return.  Instead, we must contribute to the speculative spending spree that is, at least in part, justified by an ever expandable Global Contingency Operation.  We are entitled to feel the sting of this operation if we attempt to dissent, if we dare enter the street, if we collectivize ourselves.

I’ve gone afield.  But militarism, debt, housing, education, social life are all interconnected, as we increasingly know and feel.  As long as we are supposed to ‘avoid risk,’ it is difficult to find the courage to explore the immanent possibilities of even the most intractable positions.  I do not mean to preach a struggle which is not my own, which is why I wanted to follow the through-line of student debt to this point: We must start where we are; to move we must excavate ourselves from the fear of risk, from the pricing of risk, from the definition of risk as a key factor in our existence.  Aversion is not the same thing as risk; collectively decided-upon avoidance is not the same thing as risk; confronting the conditions of our existence in a radically open manner is not the same thing as risk.  What must change is our feeling that this world is undertaken alone.  We are impacting and impacted on every level, at every perceptual moment.  This possibility for infinite becoming smacks strongly of utopia, a concept of which I am not totally afraid.  Though, we may need to discuss holding utopia in abeyance for the moment.  Before then, we need to reach for the same space, we need to call into being the energy which is immanent in nearly any bounded territory – Montreal, Toronto, Canada, beyond, beyond.

Tonight I banged on a pot for one hour in the middle of Toronto’s busiest intersection.  It was affirmative, easy, open, noisy, visible, an excuse to talk to strangers.  I will do it again in a park on Wednesday.  I walk across the ‘pedestrian scramble’ at Young and Dundas, over and over.  Two weeks ago I crossed a canyon in Northern Ontario over and over.  The wind was raging through the canyon at points.  Precarity here is deeply physical.  It’s not so different walking through the canyon at Young and Dundas.  The rush of encounter in the latter is brought on in the sheer unpredictability of a response.
See what happens when you smile.
See what happens when you don’t.
See what happens when you can’t see what is happening.
Hear who hears you.
Follow that person.
Stop.
Close your eyes.
Change the rhythm.
Are you still standing?

From here, it’s easy to start a movement.

Yesterday’s post has spread like wildfire; thanks for the comments, reposts, tweets, and all the goodness.  #OccupyStudentDebt is close to my heart, even, and perhaps especially, if disagreement about the ‘appropriate’ action continues.  More to come on this topic as the movement and the pledge unfold.

I’m taking tonight off to do some much needed resting and reflection.  Back tomorrow with fresh processing of Stefan Kipfer on Henri Lefebvre and Antonio Gramsci and Erik Swyngedouw on the ‘postpolitical city’ via Jacques Rancière.  Both were subjects of heavy discussion in my “Matters of Nature” course today; I’ve got to let that settle before I try to convey why I think they are a powerful pair to support a full-throated attempt to analyze and speculate on some aspects of the #occupy movement related to spatiality, hegemony, and the ‘properly political’.  Here’s a taste from each.

From Kipfer’s (2008) “How Lefebvre urbanized Gramsci”:

The differential claims of 1968 and its aftermath…now live on in the culturalized neo-racisms and commodified centralities of metropolitan life.  More explicitly than during Fordism, the minimal differences of the current postmodern ‘era of difference’ are central for hegemonic projects in a neo-imperial world that is otherwise characterized by a shift from consent to coercion (unilateralism, militarism, repression, exclusion). Tackling both consensual and coercive aspects of neo-imperial capitalism requires a protracted, dialectical urban strategy to link spectacular protests or promising subterranean practices with each other.  Otherwise, radical spaces of experimentation risk being confined to the acutely segmented experiences that mediate the rapidly urbanizing world order today (207).

From Swyngedouw’s (2009) “The Antinomies of the Postpolitical City: In Search of a Democratic Politics of Environmental Production”:

The political arises when the given order of things is questioned; when those whose voice is only recognized as noise by the police order claim the right to speak, acquire speech.  As such, it disrupts the order of being, exposes he constituent antagonisms and voids that constitute the police order and tests the principle of equality. The proper democratic political sequence, therefore, is not one that seeks justice and equality through governmental procedures on the basis of sociologically defined injustice, but rather starts from the paradigmatic condition of equality or égaliberté, one that is ‘wronged’ by the police order.  Such procedure brings into being a new symbolic ordering, one that transgresses the limitations of police symbolization…Democratic politics is, therefore, always disruptive and transformative (607).

Exciting…right?

Tonight, I think it’s worth checking out Jan Clausen’s blog, which documents her fantastic project of reading poetry – daily, yes, every day – at Liberty Plaza.  She is a poet, author, activist, community organizer, and extraordinary person; we used to organize together in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn.  I had the privilege to read and to #occupy with her when I was in New York in November.  I hope to meet her again when I return in February for the Association of American Geographer’s (AAG) conference.

’till tomorrow.

Citations

Kipfer, Stefan. 2008. “How Lefebvre urbanized Gramsci” in Space, Difference, Everyday Life: Reading Henri Lefebvre. Edited by Kanishka Goonwarenda, Stefan Kipfer, Richard Milgrom, and Christian Schmid. Pp. 193-211. New York City: Routledge.

Swyngedouw, Erik. 2009. “The Antinomies of the Postpolitical City: In Search of a Democratic Politics of Environmental Production”. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 33(3):601-620.

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