Island Infrastructures III (Speakers in the Park)

Dreaming of Islands – whether in joy or in fear… – is dreaming of pulling away,
of being separate, far from any continent, of being lost and alone – or it is dreaming of starting from scratch,
recreating, beginning anew. _Gilles Deleuze

We tend to think of infrastructure as the capacitating structures or technologies that make worthwhile destinations or connections possible. Meanwhile infrastructure – say, the roads, hotels and restaurants on some once-peaceful sandy cove – also destroys the very thing that makes a place worth visiting. This conundrum structures a lot of what we have to say about the what’s wrong with the world: convenience is the tragic inconvenience of our times, whether it’s cell phones, highways, or fast food. But, as I suggest in my previous posts on island infrastructures, the relationship between infrastructures and desert islands isn’t straightforward. In many ways, it is the shabbiness and stinginess of those perfect, untouched get-aways, that carries us quite literally along and towards an encompassing material landscape of mobility, convenience and connectivity, which nonetheless remains just out of reach. What else could account for the intensity with which infrastructures (material, technological, digital) are imagined, debated and aestheticized in the public (i.e. capitalist) realm? What could be more distant or worthwhile than a material or digital infrastructure of pure use? Like infrastructure, fantasy builds a pathway just as it destroys the thing worth getting to. And this thing, at times, is the fantasy that infrastructure is closer to our lived reality than the horizons they promise.

In Hamilton, Ontario recorded music fills the air of the city’s downtown square, a “European-style” park with a large black beaux-arts fountain and statues of Queen Victoria and John A. McDonald. The park started off as an informal void in a once booming industrial city. On several occasions it was almost built over, just as other parks in the city were. Forceful contestations from the public, who considered it their town square even when it was a disused lot of shrubs and potholes, prevented this. I first noticed the music one day during the regular rush of the business day, only half-consciously wondering where it was coming from. Some shop? A guy with a stereo? But now it was late and no one was around. I soon found the loud speakers that had been not so discreetly installed on a streetlamp. I could imagine some city politician speaking in pseudo-historical terms about the continuation of the bandstand tradition, when a musical troop would play almost every night in the park. “The music,” I could hear him say, “is like the street lamps or footpaths, another way of building a place where people want to be.” Maybe the music is designed to help improve “safety”, one of those insidiously hospitable innovations like an extra armrest on a park bench, which silently excludes the sleeping body of homelessness. The music was of the show tune meets orchestra variety, presumably from some satellite radio station with a special rate for municipalities. The music held me for a moment there wishing for nothing in particular. It mingled with the sounds of the traffic and the hud-hud of the dance music emanating from a nearby bar called The Embassy. It was a very cold night and so the music cut effortless through the air.

Christien Garcia

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