8 (2005), Nr.4/December




Passengers. 4090 Zeichen.


I watched two couples walking on a pedestrian mall. They saw each other, no other force intruded, and yet they kept walking with directions and speeds unchanged. Steering their courses would have made them bump into each other. They certainly recognized the situation. Yet even though already close to each other none of the four changed the parameters of their movements. Short off an accident, one of the four shouted: „Attention!“. The other couple lowered the walking speed. What a strange and ridiculous situation! For me it testifies to a communicational crisis. In danger of getting lost seems to be the respect toward people on sidewalks passing by at each other. That respect is not as natural as it used to be. People seem to increasingly be unable to take notice of, to have a regard for each other. The crisis sets out as a perceptual one. Today you walk on the wild side instead of the „right“ side of the sidewalk and, after some provocation, you may well get off with it. To be sure most people who abstain from this „natural“ law don’t subvert the rule purposively, consciously. They may pass in a distance too small. Yet this and other forms of dangerous-passing leave no doubt that the action-with-perception in question has become a matter of individual power and violence, of more or less successfully “fighting” for respect, for a street credibility of an own kind. It has been the arts again who welcomed crashes of some sorts, who thematized a drama that has become more or less private and public: Marina Abramovich and Ulay Bonsiepen performed running naked onto and into each other over and over again until a final exhaustion set in. Other people experience sexual pleasure with their cars crashing into each other, as David Cronenberg’s reported in Crash. Still others feel rewarded for violently crashing into punk and hard rock audiences, with “stage diving” down from the concert stage and hopefully being caught and saved. It is such a kind of instantaneous arbitrariness, of momentary indifference or just moods like anxiousness that yield different kinds of „side“-walks. The behavious may may be caused by pavements becoming roads without traffic rules it may have started with a laisser-faire to bikers on sidewalks causing some people keeping them close to the walls of houses. It may correspond to „one-way“ highway driving manners, the increasing regulation of passenger streams in airports, subways and the like. Be it an unconscious expression of protest against the imposition of a special kind of bodily movement by means of the phenomenon called wrong way driver – the deceptively „unbodily“ Geisterfahrer – , people on sidewalks, unlike in earlier times, are ready and willing to show much more personal, even private details. In consequence, people passing by are confronted with individuals they’d rather ignore which used to be an advantage to all of us. At that the crisis of aisthesis entails a transgression of the usual aesthetics of designed symbolization with using clothes and other things worn. So, gender, age, class, season, group identity and other more or less conscious representations do not seem to suffice anymore. They have given way to a bodily presence set in motion by individual beings. Once we needed to pass (with) vehicles. Now we need to pass (with?) people. That change will bring forward a new perception proper. The passenger behaviour in question will not any longer entail just a kind of urban minimal perception, a petite perception. Perception from now on will have to be much more conscious and for the first time in history not only sufficient for the requirements of regulated, but also of unregulated space. Keep in mind that passing through bodies of people in ego-shooter games is surprisingly not tolerated by the gaming community, although a vast cultural tendency of distanceless telecommunication that runs into mutual permeability, penetration, porosity has taken possession of us. Be that as it may: we are still speaking of public space, of areas that may at least partially become again the haven and refuge of our materialities – scilicet bodies – to be protected. Navigation devices will not solve the problem. What is needed anew is a respectful perception-causing-perception. Our traditional docta ignorantia of non-perception leaving people on streets guided with but a few rules of politeness will not do. What about those old walking ceremonies of roundabouts in pedestrian precinct streets, those turning chains of people in meditarranean towns and villages like Burgos or Licata: cases of theatralic mutual perception, of a meeting of virtually all inhabitants of a community that takes place after work? And are there other models to be considered?


Peter Mahr © 2005

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