Traffic Politics

In oriental languages given names are often on the right, and family names on the left. This reverses European convention and causes mix-ups in databases and on official forms. I was held-up at an airport once because the agent typed my name in the Chinese order. There are tensions over the direction of movement in the space of writing. The direction of Chinese script has been gradually Latinized in recent centuries, though it still switches to older directions when it becomes classical – descending vertically on traditional wall-scrolls, and going left-ways over the entrances to tea houses and temples. The direction of writing is linked to the commercial circulation of bodies and the politics of general traffic the politics of logistical intentions. The streets of Phnom Penh are rife with vehicles assembling into phalanxes to compete over logistical interests. Motorists cutting across a major road ignore the lights if enough vehicles are banded together in their campaign. A lone driver might break across oncoming traffic given reliable back-up. From the everyman’s scooter-view, superior support comes from noble archons such as the Lexus or Mercedes. The logistics of urban traffic provides a paradigm for writing as a struggle over the valuation of work. Banding together to establish writing directions are think-tanks, PR firms, governments, and literary vanguards. This brutal democracy of movement is the fate of political economy.

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