Establishment

by Benjamin Ong

1. The act of passing a building by means other than that of a motor vehicle is sobering: for travel in a vehicle is a series of elisions, and the movement of a vehicle simplifies space into axes of movement, as the urban planner would have it; but movement on foot is a series of meetings and passings, for it is slow compared to the scale of buildings.

2. In particular, the act of running past a building is an especially sobering one, for only when doing so can one truly appreciate the extent to which a building is fundamentally a solemn object — it is solemn because it is stationary, and it is quiet, and, though people come and leave, the building is always there.  For walking is as quiet, but running is both active and silent — it is swift as the wind that sweeps back one’s hair, but it is as quiet as a heartbeat and a series of steps which, if one’s form is good, are crisp and only barely heard.  It is only when one has to exert physical effort to make a movement that one grasps fully the fact that the building does not move — a building seen from below moves you; but it itself does not move.

3. If the building stands alone, it commands attention by itself.  But a cluster of buildings also commands respect, by virtue of the fact that it is not navigable save step-by-step, without knowledge of a plan greater than the naked eye can see; it is a complexity instituted by one who has a map and sophisticated equipment, that he/she may shape human behaviour as easily as one lays down Lego blocks.  And so it is that every step poses a fresh dilemma — is one to continue movement along the fixed axis, or defy the system of blocks merely by doing what is not physically impossible?  Whereas happy is he/she who travels using a vehicle and has only to obey direction.

4. Whereas the runner, stripped down to engaging in that most primal method of locomotion, wearing and carrying no more than is absolutely necessary, comes to regard each passing feature in terms of the feeling from running past it, then running away from it while approaching the next one, and so on, regarding each as both a target to be conquered and a terrible milestone to be anticipated, and thus enters into communion with Establishment — that which has been founded by beings much smaller than itself, and now stands unchanging forevermore, and will outlive even he who has directed that it be established.

 

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