orientationalism: the trajectory of inertia

In a short essay called “Profound Today” (1917), Cendrars continues his thread of trying to define the condition of modernity. It begins: “I’m no longer certain whether I’m looking at a starry sky with the naked eye or at a drop of water under a microscope.” This uncertainty mirrors the crisis of perception occurring across disciplines. Moreover, this crises occurs within the developing modern city:

“Extravagent signboards over the multicolored city, with the ribbon of streetcars climbing the avenue, howling monkeys holding one another by the tail, and the incendiary orchid cluster of architectures that fall on top of them and kill them.”

Within the indeterminacy of the carnivalesque, Cendrars asks, “Where is man?” Finding a locatable centrality is difficult when “everything changes proportion, angle , appearance. Everything moves away, comes closer, mounts up, fails, laughs, states its position, and is enraged […] Everything is artificial and very real. Eyes. The hand. The sexual passion of factories. The turning wheel. The gliding wing. The voice retreating along a wire. Your ear in an ear trumpet. Your sense of orientation.”

The “aperspectival madness” of the triangle of industrialism/capitalism/colonialism disorients the Real, decentralizing the Eurocentric Self. To the modernists, this becomes “like a religion, a mysterious pill speeds up your digestion. You lose yourself in the labyrinth of stores where you give up all claims on yourself to become everybody.” Again, Cendrars foregrounds the failure of the dream of modern man. “Speed is useless.” It fuels the desire, but does not enable the fulfillment of the desire. Homesickness. Nausea.

“With Mr.Book you smoke the five-cent Havana cigar pictured in the ads. You become part of that great anonymous body: the cafe. I can no longer recognize myself in the mirror, liquor has erased my features. […] Your hooves beat tattoos in the train station corrals to tame the beast of your impatience. They leave. They scatter. Skyrocket. In all directions. European capitals are in the trajectory of their inertia. A terrible whistle blast wracks the continent. The colonies lie in the net.”

From the newspaper, to the cafe – sites of rumor and orientationalism. The tension between possible speed and impossible distances (between enabling desire and impossible fulfillment) is captured poignantly in the idea of the imperial “trajectory of inertia.” This is the “Isthmus” of man’s desiring (and the consequences of the “Isthmus” as contested site, inhumane labor, colonial injustices, etc).

Within a time when “products from the five parts of the world show up in the same dish, on the same dress,” – within the trajectory of inertia,

“Skin turns to jelly, transparent, sends out spokes like anemone flesh. Nerve centers polarize. Independence of all functions. The eye reaches out to touch; the back eats; the finger sees […] The being reassembles with difficulty. Hunger draws up limbs and groups them aroud the void the belly has become. The body dons again the uniform of weight. The spirit, scattered all over, concentrates into the rosette of understanding. I am a man. You are a woman. […] Believe me, everything is clear, orderly, simple, and natural. Mineral breathes, vegetable eats, animal feels, man crystallizes. Progidious today. Sounding line. Antenna. Door – face – whirlwind. You live. Off center. In complete isolation. In anonymous communion. With all that is root and crown and which throbs, enjoys, and is moved to ecstasy. Phenomena of that congenital hallucination that is life in all its manifestations and the continuous activity of awareness. The motor turns in a spiral. Rhythm speaks. Body chemistry. You are.”

This re-orientation of being through the body, through human hunger, and then the spirit. A faith in what is naturally observable allows one to live “off center” in “anonymous communion.” A profound sense of proprioception centered in the body, decentered by modernity, then reassembled with all that is root and crown and ecstasy.


3 thoughts on “orientationalism: the trajectory of inertia

  1. You know, I think Cendrars would actually really appreciate the above comments – like his lists of things and he wasn’t above the odd dirty word.

    what kind of person writes blog posts about Blaise?

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