Samuel Te Kani

Avenging Karangahape's Endgame

Gentrification is nothing new. As an aspiring faggot teen I thirsted for Karangahape from a distance without knowing anything about urban spaces, their histories and their patterns, their tendentious episodes of expansion and development which swallow whole ecospheres born of necessity, replacing them with something neater and safer. And when I arrived there was something of an awakening, joining ranks with queer brethren and participating in the stories of the strip with as much enthusiasm for its bitterness as is exaltations. It took time to realise just how the street was reconfiguring, being pressed upon by external forces with an eye for replicating urban lifestyles extant the world over.

For some despairing of city living, losing steam with battling the monied forces of homogenisation, the answer lies out west, in lifestyle blocks and proximity to the beach because this is New Zealand and much of our utopian thinking hovers in beach form, Dali-like on the horizon. A sublime blip. Somewhere between this thinking and the mind-fug of our admittedly long summers, the reason for our notorious drinking habits lie. Like beach-summers are some kind of cult complete with ritual obliteration of "conditioned thinking", one brown bottle at a time.

Too many vested interests fly around the street, banging into and obliterating histories not from spite (most of the time) but from necessity, seeking survival in a pressurised environment. I get it. On top of the wild heterogeneity of individual frequencies and urgencies Karangahape presents business opportunities, its history an inconvenient remainder to urban development, like dirt visibly seen and weirdly impossible to remove. It's eerily symbolic of a last effort to kickstart successes for various players, not least of which are the numerous eatery owners on the strip which, coupled with the appearance of galleries and "collectives" (shudder), signal the beginning of the end. Marginal existences are meeting commercial forces which feels like fresh hell to most residents.

Which is nothing considered with the area's colonial history, the evacuation of its Māori and Pacifica worker-class in the seventies to cultivate a gleaming central suburbia. If this is an end, it can only be nostalgic for those whose ancestral memories already enclose annihilation. But it's (apparently) brash to talk starkly of colonial horrors. They're just wallpaper, common knowledge. And yet I can't help wondering if and why the slippage between history and the present is really so vast. What's the true proximity of the political to the experiential, and what ratio must one implement to be taken seriously, in light of what feels like an apocalyptic orchestrated attack on the poor and vulnerable, the queer and coloured?

Though the world feels like it's on fire, burning in the crucible of intersectionality is not a new experience (contrary to waves of woke-ness which have been hitting at an increasingly age-specific target, like a bioweapon that can purge an area without having to reduce it to ashes). If anything, an enhanced criticality when it comes to reading our world is no longer the purview of those with tenured (or other officiated) stakes in an institution. Rather, a general obfuscation has happened; a veil on the world. The alarmist consensus is that the conversations anyone has access to pivot on a nebulous vacuum-point (like an impossible place-holder) of "post-truth", precluding an era of vertiginous confusions and subsequent powerlessness.

Desire and courage stand as crucial currency in navigating this new world in which "woke-ness" (a push towards clarity?) moves haphazardly between being a serious vehicle and a marketing ploy, and so it’s perhaps not surprising that youth culture has harnessed woke as a laboratory of future- alternatives while the jaded surrender to too many soft powers and call it a career.

How is this different from any other era? Certainly every "generation" feels the need to characterise itself, and if it doesn't then its adjacent generations who've endured similar treatment will task themselves with describing the children of the now, frequently forcing them into doom-laden prophecies via premature overviews which, by necessity, shear them of much detail. But then, sometimes the intuition that a certain generation is facing threats for which there's little precedent
is correct. Like today, when for as long as I can remember we've been living under an American cultural hegemony, ignoring or watering down a frankly draconian foreign policy if only because its "free-market" sprawl had the uncanny effect of pioneering poorer autocratic nations with democratic rule. Of course the inconsistencies of American foreign policy are common knowledge now, forced to the surface in a post-9/11 world like so much laudable pus.

Then there's the environmental issue in which a cumulative effect of the Industrial Age is finally coming to bear with an immediacy akin to the monster from the horror movie crawling through the screen into the middle-class family's living room. The impossibility of collapse is manifesting with a slow steadiness, its incongruence with capitalist notions of progress and innovation releasing an ambience of sublime terror that we're expected to persevere through with our daily existences, even while these remain tethered to dying systems. The 2008 credit crunch, if anything, bolstered the unquiet implication that no problem was big enough that it couldn't be managed by the carrions of finance and industry. The underlying belief is that we can be bailed out of anything. So when the band aid comes off, it's probably gonna hurt.

Meanwhile, identity politics rages as the last vestige of control in an uncontrollable world, much like how body dysmorphia is frequently symptomatic of trauma and chaos in personal lives. The body becomes a locus of exemption, simultaneously the bearer of trauma and through the distorted lens of the dysmorphic a kind of totem through which their world can find peace, if only I eat this and not that etcetera. Whether or not ascetic practices have a spooky-but-measurable effect on the physical world remains to be seen, but I for one resent this atmosphere of sociocultural anorexia we call Identity and ironically pine for a timely purge of its regimented partisan hold.

And yet in a world such as this, which may or may not have any more urgency than the worlds of previous or future generations, I operate as both queer and Māori, continuously trying to fit and refit notions of self in a squidgy miasma that, more often than not, reeks of hate. Like a jigsaw puzzle made from fresh shit. This is how I choose to move through the world, knowing full well that identity politics has a momentary sound and fury approximating pathology, and that its apotheosis has probably already occurred. Even if it imagines itself as the harbinger of perfect social justice. Such an inclusionary plateau will only be attained when we're rigorous enough to negotiate the specificity of difference without prefacing ourselves with protocol, or apology. Such formalities drain the motive from when difference actually meets, substituting vitality with something colder, clinical, and enforced.

A policed language is often necessary (such as now, when truth is categorically destabilised) but should also understand language's plasticity, forgive its lapses, and abandon the dream of universal representation. Language develops from murky experiential ecologies (among other things), and subsequently the universality woke-ness sometimes reaches for resembles capitalist fantasies of an imposed reality, imperialising the lived with something more static (and marketable). The universal flatness of existence and all places accessible to all people. Who benefits from such a world? Besides, hyperconnectivity already exists (just ask my legion ig followers). So this faltering project of universality and its embittered warriors can stop trying to articulate everything and everyone. Their insistent push for a rigorous identity politic and its strictly conducted interface is exhausting, so often a cool kids club that weeds out those whose vocabularies don't fly as high as Butler or Spivak.

Such tribalism posturing as inclusion exemplifies knee-jerk reactions to the prospect of collapse. It's the preparatory Mad Max mode. And yet while we wade through the various ephemera of dying systems certain gases and clusters are emitted, trapped energies finally released only as their holding cells, the bones of society (as its presumed itself on the world since whichever war it cooled into being from) snap like so many swallow's twigs at which point her young are vulnerable and exposed. In this ambience of death possibilities arise and we're given choices as to how we want to go. Collapse is inevitable, but personal rebirths, the claiming of dignity and agency during these times of cultural and political contraction, stand as consolation prizes worth having. As our institutions fail, a mad-grab of their precious resources begins, a sort of liquidation of the twentieth century as it meets the harsher realities of the twenty-first.

Art is no exception, and as its own resources dwindle due in large part to decades of cannibalising itself, those much fecalised tidbits are given back to the ether, reabsorbed by a starved biosphere. The earth makes its claims, death beckons and supreme leveller gifts second, third and fourth chances to those scrambling in gutters for scraps (insert biblical allusion to the weak becoming strong, last becoming first etcetera). There's an omnipotence to be gained in these times of dizzying sign-saturation, for those with the acumen to straddle and wield its implications. And as one of few progenitors of the image's secular cult, art's excision should entice those seeking an opulent Armageddon. Shortsightedness will accelerate our demise. Long-game qualities like vision and stamina, and that all important patience, will delay collapse and ease us into oblivion in the prettiest, sleekest, most retro-futurist way possible. There's no foreseeable recovery. These metabolic rifts in our grand systems, in the earth itself, are beyond the hopes of "innovation".

But in all of this there's still time to enact your fondest agenda, your institutional vendettas, your most fecund will, all given additional impetus on the fumes of industrial collapse. At the time of writing this the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones is airing, to mixed reviews. The show's penultimate episode has just done the streaming-rounds, in which our beloved Khalesi (Storm Born and Mother of Dragons) has incinerated much of the Red Keep despite pressures from all sides which would dissuade her from carnage. There have been glimpses of strong character in Khalesi, of righteousness, of a staunch morality and commitment to ethical standards of rule. And yet, with the White Walkers approaching and the sands of time running quickly to the bottom, no moral conundrum can stop her from enacting an object of embittered fantasy: namely, the taking of the throne. Her ancestral memories demand it.


Published August 2019