The impossible city

Vincenzo Ruggiero's latest books are Crime in Literature (Verso, 2003) and Understanding Political Violence (OUP, 2006).

Move! Don't move! Move!

The post-war economy required people to move, from the South to the North, from the periphery to the centre. It demanded a new mobility, particularly of the inhabitants of the former colonies, of the survivors who had "endured". The connection they had established with the land posed a particular challenge. It had rendered them immobile and the question was how to separate them from their lands and lure them to the cities. The injunction was simple: move!

Once people had settled in the cities, their movements had to be restricted again. Loyalty to employers, admiration for the host culture and veneration for a queen or a head of state imposed sentimental and intellectual immobility.

Yet the memory of what an excessive capacity to move could generate in a city was still vivid. And so much - somewhat obsessive - attention was being devoted to dangerous eruptions of conflict, to primitive social movements emerging from the vortex of urban life. I am referring to the fear and caution vis-à-vis the mob, its cultural mutability and its spatial mobility, prone to direct action of an insurgent nature.

Movements of crowds echoed fluctuations of markets. The prime fear was that, through perpetual agitation, populations and communities would reach a state of intoxication unsuitable for productivity and social order. Mob violence, strikes, physical and political movements were deemed the result of the same general conditions of instability through permanent crisis that provoked economic booms and financial panics. The injunction became: don't move!

Today we are witnessing the reverse again, at least for those who live in the North and the West of the planet. Precarious forms of paid work, income insecurity, flexible employment and self-exploitation describe the new conditions of forced mobility for many. Such mobility is, by the way, fully enjoyed by goods and finances: Coca-Cola and weapons have to move! Of course, for those who do not live in the North and the West, that is those who enjoy fewer rights than Coca-Cola and weapons, the injunction remains don't move!

Are there any practicable responses to such injunctions? Well, one option is to do exactly the opposite of what one is told. For those who are asked to stay put, this means insisting on moving, even if illegally. And for those who are pushed into perpetual mobility, it may involve developing their own original way of performing "illegal migration". They may turn the liberating practice of moving into a mindset, a cognitive process or a metaphorical gesture. We can all be illegal migrants of sorts.

If movement is superimposed, one may translate it into a new opportunity for the development of a cosmopolitan imagination, for a rethinking of the meaning of reciprocity, difference and diversity. As such, mobility may become a form of vita activa, opening up possibilities for cosmopolitan collective action. By such cosmopolitanism I do not mean the ability to feel as comfortable in Lisbon as Nairobi or Buenos Aires; but rather the capacity, whether we are in Secondig-liano, Hackney or Sankt Pauli, to be aware of the interdependencies linking us with individuals and groups across the world.

Let us all straddle several borders, let us apply for multiple passports. Moving, then, may be identified with a wish to expand one's desires once they are satisfied, with an erratic research exercise that leaves no space for deferral, as liberation becomes simultaneous with action.

Mobility means that for every answer given, new questions are posed. This constant questioning is a form of ignorance which is not impoverished by knowledge. According to what Nietzsche calls the doctrine of Hamlet, it entails an awareness that knowledge kills action, and that action requires mobility amid veils of ignorant delusions. So, ignorant, knowledgeable and delusional as we are, let's move!



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