Rhys Edwards / Mathematic Chrysanthemum

From Issue 4.1: Anti-Monuments (Fall 2023)

My Matryoshka

The new software would do away with central planning. Instead, each block would come into existence as one note upon a municipal chord. Highways would align like scales, landmarks as staccato interjection. The city itself was a new score set against clavichord stationery.

Its infrastructure could not be rehearsed in advance. This was precisely the point: to do away with planning altogether. There could be only interminable improvisation. It would sprawl into the distance forever and it would be divine.

The engineers offered their work up to the surveyor after the fact, demurely informing him — as it happened — that the only way to even begin to scrutinize the ongoing developments was to take an aerial view. It would not provide any real understanding, but it would, at the very least, offer a fleeting glimpse of the composition as it began to take shape. The harmony could never be seen in its entirety, they assured him. There would be leisurely motifs from time to time, of course, themselves spooling out into concatenated gestures alive with migrants who would grow out from the Earth itself. They would become amorphous cells, it was said, because there was no terrestrial culture for them to seed within. Self-individuating organelles, they said. The new forms were a sacred breakage from all that had hitherto been known.

There would be no overtures to a past that was no longer accessible. There would be no progress, at least, none that could be gleaned by the inhabitants, and they would not be inured to it by any future archivists.

The surveyor alit in a plane. He would not consent to such indigencies. His work would yet be redeemed.

It was a fixed wing vehicle, meant more for expeditions into bush than urban reconnaissance. But the surveyor was by now quite experienced with that phenomenon whereby a city becomes miniature, toy-like, when seen from an aerial view; he had relished in this coincidence, a convenient luxury of his own discipline — that everything can be seen. He readied himself for that sense of blithe accomplishment he always felt, when he could glimpse the edges of a principality that so many of those who walked below made their stake upon. From his superior perspective, he could tend to the lines. The exigencies of the coastline paradox were a matter for idle speculation — his duty was simply to observe and demarcate.

As the currents caught the wings, pulling him into a violet-orange sky, however, his own indigencies began to dissipate in the air. Beneath, spanning to the horizon, the undulating form of the new settlement, now centrally randomized. Each block a seeded variable. Streets bisected curved lanes that snaked through business parks, then suburbs, then brut establishments. There was no underlying pattern — the rationale only emerged in the developments themselves, ad-hoc. One would have to walk directly into them to perceive them.

There was then no longer surveyor, or plane. There was only another organelle, its skin translucent, the setting sun refracted through interleaving petals. It could no longer incise the currents. Instead, the gathering zephyrs staked their own claim upon its flourishing chrysanthemum wings. Their own histories, longer than any record could have possibly accounted for, promenaded and billowed aloft. Smaller and smaller the organelle became, until it was little more than the echo of resurgent sakura. It was not so much able to see the sprawling masses below as it became sensorially omniscient — globule craft harrowed under by recidivist air pressure.

Above the implacable outcries of senescent software the gyre-craft twisted and turned, lost to the wind in its diminutive form. Soon, it joined another one of its kind. They greeted each other, they recognized each other — they had always known each other, it was certain, the pale pink filaments extending outward before flailing helplessly amidst the roaring gales. The two had forgotten their origin stories, telling to each other instead their own sky — kept parables. They danced together, ignorant of the world below. But they had not as of yet learnt how to dance properly with the winds, the correct comportment. There were yet lessons to be gleaned from this.

The eddies died down, and soon enough, the two wraiths plummeted to the ground, their collision softened by external membrane. They had landed in the courtyard of a school, beneath a stairwell. There was a moment’s respite, as each form took stock of its surroundings, earth-shocked. But before one could turn to witness and greet the other, the currents returned once more, and one of them was lifted back into the sky, transported far beyond the periphery of what the other could hope to attain. There was a kind of helplessness that lingered in the cavity between them. A threshold had been passed.

One organelle, grounded, watched another, dancing once more with yet further denizens of the aether-realm. It could not but help but continue ever onwards, climbing higher, drawn on by an inexorable logic, while the first lingered amidst its own pale memories of futurity. It hoped yet to be drawn upwards once more, to witness the auto-enveloping substrate of the urban cascade. It wanted to return to immanence.

And yet, none who looked on could deny that the series of events had its own kind of essential gravity, and that the tragedy of the entire affair provided a kind of texture to the work that remained yet to be done in perpetuity. There wouldn’t be pasts now, only relations. They had done away with all of that, and, it was agreed, this was to the benefit of all.

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