Monday, October 24, 2016

A sentimental, decadent cult

Stop Global Warming and Save the Polar Bears!
The polar bear speaks up, and it makes me want a bicycle:
"The bicycle is beyond all doubt the most excellent invention in the history of civilization. The bicycle is the flower of the circus stage, the hero of every environmental policy. In the near future, bicycles will conquer all major cities in the world. And not just that: Every household will have its own generator attached to a bicycle. You'll be able to get fit and produce electricity at the same time. You can also get on your bicycle to pay your friends a spontaneous visit instead of first calling them on your cell phone or sending an email. When we utilize the multifunctional capacity of the bicycle, many electronic devices will eventually become superfluous."

I saw dark clouds gathering about several of the faces. Putting even more power into my voice, I continued: "We will ride to the river on our bikes to do our laundry. We'll ride our bikes to the forest to collect firewood. We don't need washing machines anymore, and we don't have to rely on electricity or gas to heat our apartments or cook our meals." Several faces were amused by these fanciful proposals, displaying unobtrusive laugh creases, while others turned gray as stone. Not a problem, I cheered myself on, don't let them intimidate you. Pay no attention to these bores. Relax! Ignore this wrong audience, imagine yourself standing before hundreds of ecstatic faces and keep talking. This is a circus. Every conference is a circus.

The chair coughed dismissively, as if to show he had no intention whatever of dancing to my tune. Then he exchanged intimate glances with a bearded official seated beside him. I remembered that the two men had entered the room side by side. The official, thin as a nail, wore a matte black suit even though he wasn't at a funeral. He began to speak without first asking permission: "Rejecting automobiles and worshipping bicycles: This is a sentimental, decadent cult already familiar to us from Western countries. The Netherlands are a good example. But supporting machine culture is a matter of the utmost urgency. We must provide logical connections between places of employment and residential areas. Bicycles create the illusion that one might ride anywhere one likes at any time. A bicycle culture could exert a problematic influence on our society." I raised my hand to contradict this line of argumentation. But the session leader ignored my hand and announced the lunch break. I left the room without a word to anyone and ran out of the building like a schoolchild running onto the playground.
—from Memoirs of a Polar Bear, by Yoko Tawada.

Imagine a bicycle-driven future! Perhaps the most problematic influence on our society is the Establishment. See through the illusions.

Memoirs of a Polar Bear will be released November 8. I was eager to read a review copy on the basis of Rivka Galchen (whom I revere on the basis of a single "essay") having referred to the author's whatness as Yoko Tawada's Magnificent Strangeness.

It's early pages still, but if the polar bear is expressing her concern about having missed the forecast for the weather change of the Prague Spring, I'm guessing climate may be a running thread, whether ecological, social, or political.


1 comment:

Stefanie said...

I am all in on the bicycle future! I think I am going to have to read this book. I'll wait for your final assessment though, just to be sure. :)