Wednesday, September 17, 2008

4.b. Hustle

Yes, cities are full of the material. There is the materiality of fetching water, riding on overcrowded taxis, negotiating hard for a good price for tomatoes, avoiding the downpour seeping through a weathered tin roof, fighting off malarial fever, ignoring the stench of overflowing sewage drains, or taking apart an engine block in the hot sun. But across these activities, there is a large swatch of the ephemeral attempting to enroll the sweat and passion of hardworking urban bodies into networks of concrete becoming that go beyond the artifice of citizenship. (Simone, in Enwezor, 24)

Given that the legal structure of colonialism circumscribes a particularized field array of citizenship, the post-colony expands possibility automatically. Returning to Koolhaas' Lagos, he writes, “Some of the places that, at first sight, seemed to be tragic manifestations of degraded urban life were actually intensely emancipatory zones, where the recent arrivals from outside were 'processed' as citizens of Lagos.”1 Tema too is an industrial alternator, a machine for job-production that outputs “processed” citizens and new potentials. Here location matters: whereas the majority of New York's citizenry will remain unaware of the existence of Tema until or unless something happens to locate it, all citizens of Tema are always already aware of New York. Citizens of the postcolony understand without illusions that the world is a set of destinations, and that nation-states make some sources of opportunity more difficult to reach.

Focused absolutely on maximizing possibility, there are some who float either above or below the “artifice of citizenship.” Like Lagos' “area boys” and “419 boys,” Tema boy is in this class that does not give a damn and will do whatever it takes. For the Tema boy a factory job or a carpentry apprenticeship is barely a beginning and in no way an end—everything is a means and the sky is the limit. If he once was, Tema boy is no longer a worker; his genius is transformation from small boy to (adolescent) Big Man through sheer willpower and street smarts, although violence and deception hide in his shadow... The danger of living in the city according to his rules is what makes him larger than life but still anonymous. His goal is always to make a buck. Tema boy is aware of but not limited by geography, less concerned about the matrix of forces that oppose him than how to beat the game. What matters most is what opportunities are possible and which has the biggest payoff. Choosing not to be worried by the metaphysics of postmodern postcolony, Tema boy—capitalizing on the hustle as tactic for (outsmarting and) escaping the system—hustles not in Tema but in Empire.


Yaz said...

If you haven't yet, you should read Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities...

Very poetic/powerful paragraph! I can sense Alinsky's influence... or?

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