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Toward a radical middle

a time for fear
Friday, July 11, 2003  
Mr Watkins is getting crushed by crowds in China, and karmic, or Nietzschian, or I don't know what.

> Last Friday night I was in my local Lianhua Supermarket
>(Luckily a Time Supermarket, spawn of Murdoch has yet to arrive in
>my town). As you might expect the place was packed with families and
>singles getting in food for the weekend. I was at the till, my money
>proffered to the cashier as everything went black. As the panic
>began I noticed the entire street outside had suffered a similar
>fate. At once the cashiers began a frenzied chorus as employees
>raced to lock the doors, in competition with people trying to sneak
>out unpaid items. Power cuts are institutionally common in China,
>often a local grid will go down for several hours to save on the
>local authority's bills. However such things never happen at night.
>Perhaps it was the shock of the unauthorised nature of the event in
>addition to a natural fear of (momentary) imprisonment that saw the
>isolated individuals become a rampaging crowd. Voices were raised,
>the gentle pushing associated with shopping became ruck like, a look
>of bewildered anger registered in every face I saw. I just stood at
>the counter patiently watching the scene before my eyes until I was
>hurriedly ushered out by the woman on the till. Why I am raising
>this matter with you is that I don't think McKenzie or Cannetti
>mentioned that while crowds are entrancing and attractive entities
>they seem to have limited luck in co-opting aliens into their midst.
>I could feel the heart of the crowd as it streamed down the street
>to the crossroads, fueled by the exile of shoppers from the
>boutiques and garage floor caverns of the main street. Mothers
>called out for their lost children, car horns grew repetitive and
>seemingly sharper in tone as bodies enveloped vehicles and middle
>aged men battered past bikes and teenage girls. The sense of
>unfocused hostility was even felt by the only dog I saw, a young
>whippet in a sidecarred basket of an advancing motorcycle, its howls
>giving a high pitched accompaniment to the general cacophony. I
>sensed it but my mind was free to enjoy the newly formed spectacle
>as it marched to its unknown goal.
> As a walked I noticed a group of about eleven men had
>split off from the mass and were now angrily circling the nearest
>telephone pole. The tribe had decided to fix the problem itself,
>grabbing the nearest torch or tool that came to hand as a stout,
>brown, shirtless man hugged to the minifridge size box relay that
>lay nine foot above the pavement. I have to admit I reckoned/hoped
>that the power was going to come back on any minute, while all I
>wanted to know was when the bloke got fried would he fly off the box
>or rigorously cling to the thing as the amps ran through his body.
>Sadly no such moment came and the monster continued to drag me down
>the street. Luckily it met the night market five hundred metres
>later, a lined cross of cloth and wheeled stalls, many with light
>bulbs hung from wooden poles connected to mobile batteries where
>commerce still reigned. This remainder of light, combined with the
>levels of choice the crossroads offered, saw the crowd-thing wither
>and trickle away seven minutes after its sudden birth. I spent the
>rest of the night outside the gate of my school sipping warm beer
>and swapping cigarettes with the guard, his family and few young
>teachers as we sat under a nearly full moon. One teacher finally
>plucked up the courage to ask me about the war, it seemed fitting to
>talk about it while Liuhe did a silent, if passable impression of

> I should begin my travels later this week. At present I am
>enduring a blissful isolation within the confines of an empty
>school. While I will be alone for most my journey I am drinking up
>that unique flavor of solitude that can only come from a home.Three
>days ago I climbed to the school roof and graffitied the protruding
>outside of the stairwell with one word, asserting my ownership and
>transforming this past hive of mediocrity to become a drab, off
>white scholar's garden. Its design and decor, like motorways and
>airports, fit its purpose and the emerging spirit of the twenty
>first century. I love my garden, its concrete courts freed from the
>interruptive sounds of basket balls, its dormitory balconies
>unsullied by the foreign adornment of electric light and sheeting,
>its classrooms transcending their defilement from the hurried
>squeals and movements of hundreds of fleshy bodies to produce only
>empty order. The compound and I, its new headmaster, have allied
>together to defeat the regulated buzzing of the forty-five minute
>bell. I preside over a beautifully static space that educates non
>existent pupils for phantom factories and fictional corporations, an
>essential cog in the economy of bugger all. Of course I still have
>employees, the guard and his companions sit around the gate, they
>greet me with the polite yet faintly anxious look that befits one in
>authority. They do not venture too far into the school, respecting
>the integrity of my new educational regime as I sit in a lawn chair
>on the badminton court, reading about Chaos as I fight to keep the
>hum of nature at bay and absorb ordered peace through the very
>architecture that was once a slave to the regulated, messy patterns
>of communal living. I am the naked king of a blessedly exorcised
>land, see my works ye flighty and rejoice.

9:26 PM

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