A ride in the car; capsules and capitalism come up in conversation.

by helenjrr

Eric was loitering in the parking lot next to the architecture school, where he said he’d be when I called. No one really knew the status of Eric Packer’s enrolment at the school: it was unclear whether he’d dropped out, or whether in fact he’d ever enrolled – he certainly had never taken part in an orientation day exercise, or queued for a student card. There were rumours that he’d been kicked out of the AA, or possibly the Berlage; there were rumours that he only did architecture in order to appease the demands of his mother, the CEO of a global construction company. Whatever the truth, Eric spent his days plying the share market, playing Candy Crush, and driving around the city in a slick German sedan with his best friend, Vija De Cauter. He referred to Vija as his “Chief of Theory,” presumably because they always submitted papers and projects based on conversations had whilst idling in peak hour traffic and aimlessly cruising the edges of the city. I liked Eric; even if he channelled a serious Patrick Bateman vibe at times.

“Afternoon,” drawls De Cauter as I get in on the driver’s side. “Eric wants a haircut. You wanna join?”

I nod, immediately acquiescent. “Sure.

What’re you reading, Vija?”

“Deleuze. Agamben. Lazzarato. Foucault.”

I shouldn’t have asked. The car crawls lazily through the boom gates of the campus perimeter, outwards – that is, towards nowhere – not in any discernable direction, not taking the main highways, and not the arterials, just the feeders and local streets of the surrounding suburbs, which are (as always) leafy, idyllic, and still.

“You grew up in the suburbs, didn’t you?” Eric now, head turned, thumb hooked through the steering wheel. Not condescending, but not particularly committed to the notion. A foreign territory for the Erics and Vijas of the world. Hence their love of cars, I reflect. A novelty.

“Yep,” I reply, trying to sound non-committal. “Thinking of making the move?”

“In one way,” muses De Cauter, “we’re all suburbanites. Even us fervent city dwellers have to fight the suburbanization of daily life: cars, phones, tvs and computers are basically the tools – and, let’s face it, causes – of this process.”

“Capsules,” continues Eric, going straight through yet another roundabout, “all of it. Home to office. Office to home. Neoliberal individualisation plus suburbanisation.”

“The third law of capsularisation,” concludes Vija, happily.

I smother a laugh at their entitled irony. “Capsularisation? From the two of you? You couldn’t be more cocooned if you tried. Driving around all day, in this… car? Seriously? You live in a dream world. And you love it.”

“And don’t you love joining us in Disneyland?” Eric is laughing now. At me.

“The grimmer and uglier reality on the outside becomes, the more hyperreality will dominate the capsular civilisation,” I respond, quoting De Cauter’s latest, and most infamous, essay, which she’d posted all over the school instead of just emailing to the professor. The Capsular Civilisation On the City in the Age of Fear was urban legend.

The conversation reminds me of the last time I was in Eric’s car. Maybe Sarah was right, I reflect: maybe we had all already heard the same opinions, expressed in the same way, before. It was a few weeks back that I’d heard this last. Vija had asked Eric what it was that capitalism produces, according to Marx and Engels. (Clearly a trap.)

“Its own gravediggers,” he’d said.

“But these aren’t the grave-diggers,” Vija had responded, flipping through the pages of Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture, a book we were reading for our theory class, and pointing at various architects doing various things. “This is the free market itself. It breeds these men and women. They are necessary to the system they despise. They give it energy and definition. They are market-driven. They are traded on the markets of the world. This is why they exist, to invigorate and perpetuate the system.”

The car pulls to a stop. Time in the car is always different, more slippery, than time outside. We’re in front of a suburban barber, nowhere special.

“Haircut time. You wanna stick around and watch?” The offer is casual, excluding agreement in advance.

“Nah, I’m good. Might get the bus into town,” I answer, somewhat reluctant to leave the leather-clad surroundings of the car, but in need of some air. I grab my bag, suddenly gasping for metropolitan urbanness. De Cauter and Packer disappear into the barbers.