City at a Time of Crisis



Tracing and researching crisis-ridden urban public spaces

in Athens, Greece.

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Metronome – part 3 of 3

“I never thought it would come to this”. Myself and the rest of the passengers in the carriage ––those, at least, close enough to the young couple–– have now become accidental eavesdroppers. Why are we bearing witness to this conversation? Why are we allowed to listen to what ought to have been tucked deep inside the realm of the private –– and why does the couple seem indifferent to safeguard the privacy of their precious words?

Tick. Tick. And tick again. At this time of crisis, unable to fully comprehend what is happening to us, we jump to any exit from the scene around us, to be sure: gazes extend far, far beyond the metro carriage. Yet still, defying mind and gaze, our bodies are still here, their inescapable materiality binding us inside its steel panels, fixing us to its trembling ground. Tick, tick, tick... As historical time around us muddles and speeds up, the rhythmical repetition of the everyday gives way to an ever-, ever-more-frantic tempo. Asynchronous and rapid, incomprehensible and mesmerising. In what may be an instinctive attempt to drag my mind away from its unintentional eavesdropping, I trace the arm of the young man of the couple all the way down to his hands and to fingers. While he talks to his lover calmly, the hands gesture fiercely. Soon, both hands become so tense that the veins appear to acquire some volume of their very own; from where I stand they seem as if they had been disjointed from his hands and somehow joined back onto them. His fingers’ muscles are completely locked into position. He continues to spell his words out calmly –– staggering words, words that one would only expect to hear with some devastating ferociousness: a ferociousness shoved into his body’s intense inertia instead.

The realisation begins to sink in: the young man may be performing what he cannot fully bear to articulate through his words. He is, quite literally, embodying what he would have wanted to keep altogether unseen –– and unsaid. Neither of the two had suspected they would live through the puzzle they now live through. The disparity is unbearable: it feels impossible, for most of us, even to play witness to a condition that we are unable to articulate. What is, in the end, this mystifying crisis? How did it come about? When might it end? The questions, for most, have taken on some theological quality –– theological, both in the sense of the incapacity of our reason and in the stoicism these people deploy in dealing with an unbearable present. It seems as if the “this, too, shall pass” mantra has been replaced by an exodus to the past and at the same time, a jump into the future: the young couple “never thought” (these were their happier times past) and they know, they sense what will happen to them “soon” (in their near future). And so, here lies the ultimate contradiction: even if our bodies are inside the metro carriage, joined to its moving space, our minds are contemporary to their present time precisely through their distancing from it –– as per Agamben, who defines the contemporary as “that relationship with time that adheres to it through a disjunction and anachronism”(2009: 41). A disjunction, a distance as a pre-requisite for us to gain any sense of perspective, to be able, then to become contemporaries to our present in Agamben’s second sense: “the contemporary is he who firmly holds his gaze on his own time so as to perceive not its light, but rather its darkness” (2009: 44).

As the mesmerising rhythm of history raises its tempo, more and more of us find ourselves in this in-between time, detached from the darkness of a present we can read through; more and more of us linger between a tick, and a tock._


Agamben, Giorgio (2009) What is an Apparatus? And other essays, Stanford: Stanford UP


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City at the Time of Crisis is a research project tracing and researching the effects of the ongoing financial crisis on urban public spaces in Athens, Greece. Read more...