Thursday, August 9, 2018

Toward a counter narrative for New York 2140 [#NY2140]

In chapter “e) Charlotte” in Part Five, there was a vote on whether or not to accept an offer to buy out the Met Life Tower. The vote was close, 1207 against, 1093 for. Charlotte was pissed at those who voted to accept the offer (331-332):
What were they thinking? Did they really imagine that money in any amount could replace what they had made here? It was as if nothing had been learned in the long years of struggle to make lower Manhattan a livable space, a city state with a different plan. Every ideal and value seemed to melt under a drenching of money, the universal solvent. Money money money. The fake fungibility of money, the pretense that you could buy meaning, buy life?

She stood up and Mariolino nodded at her. As chair it was okay for her to speak, to sum things up.

“Fuck money,” she said, surprising herself. “It isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Because everything is not fungible to everything else. Many things can’t be bought. Money isn’t time, it isn’t security, it isn’t health. You can’t buy any of those things. You can’t buy community or a sense of home. So what can I say. I’m glad the vote went against this bid on our lives. I wish it had been much more lopsided than it was. We’ll go on from here, and I’ll by trying to convince everyone that what we’ve made here is more valuable than this monetary valuation which amounts to a hostile takeover bid of a situation that is already as good as it can get. It’s like offering to buy reality. That’s a rip at any price. So think about that, and talk to the people around you, and the board will meet for its usual scheduled meeting next Thursday. I trust this little incident won’t be on the agenda. See you then.”
I’m wondering if that doesn’t leave room for a counter narrative, one the KSR doesn’t tell, though he hints at it at the very end.

Just how is it that they made their community, their sense of home? Not simply by living together in the Met Life Tower. That’s something, but not enough. It’s only an opportunity. They grow their own food in the tower, at least some of it. That’s getting warmer. And the fact that they eat together in a large hall, that’s getting warmer as well. But is it enough?

In the very last chapter we’re deep below the surface in a nightclub (611):
Everyone in the room is now grooving to the tightest West African pop any of them have ever heard. The guitar players’ licks are like metal shavings coming off a lathe. The vocalists are wailing, the horns are a freight train.
And we learn what one of our crew can’t dance worth spit, is a regular klutz on the dance floor, though another is somewhat better. And then another musician joins the band, — “Tall skinny guy, very pale white skin, black beard” — and when he starts to play (612):
The other horn players instantly get better, the guitar players even more precise and intricate. The vocalists are grinning and shouting duets in harmony. It’s like they’ve all just plugged into an electrical jack through their shoes...Crowd goes crazy, dancing swells the room.
And a deep epiphanic glow pervades the room.

Now THAT’s how you make community. But where’d it come from? That whole scene struck me as being uncharacteristic of the novel. When I read that, at the very end no less, I realized I’d been seeking such scenes all along. Why’d KSR wait until the very end?

And it’s not just “Where in KSR did that come from”? But also, “Where in that world did in come from?” It’s as though KSR didn’t intend for it to happen, wasn’t part of his world building, but somehow at the very end a different world collided with KSR’s in that underground club and insisted on ending the story.

There’s a counter narrative there, one about how such clubs came to be/continued to be. About the music, the musicians, the dance. This counter narrative goes back at least to the First Pulse. It involves Jes Grew. It involves the Mystic Jewels for the Preservation of all that’s Righteous and Funky. And how the Met Lifers grooved together.

BTW, the name of KSR’s underground club is Mezzrow’s. Mezz Mezzrow was born Milton Mesirow. He played jazz clarinet and was a part of the mid-century traditional jazz scene in America. He also supplied the musicians with reefer. Mezz became slang for marijuana.

Like I said, a counter narrative.

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