Into the Lombard agora

The Distributive Passions:

Glimpses & Fragments:


With the sun just coming up, Lombard Station was already a circus. Gabe hopped off the bus at the last stop before the street was swallowed by the tents—as did nearly everyone else on board. He thought that the stop was a block or two back from the last time he had been through, though it was a little hard to tell. A sort of street bazaar was sprouting up amid the strip malls, and the landmarks were constantly changing. The bus lanes narrowed and veered off the painted stripes to weave in under the canvas. He darted across them and cut through a bike corral, bypassing the first rank of carts, where the fly-by-nights served coffee—or maybe one more “one more for the road”—to the remaining ‘crawlers. He made his way in as straight a line as he could manage across the lots, toward the trolley stops across Interstate, through the sprawl of tents and carts,—and cars, and blankets spread on the ground,—and more gingerly across the choked-in car lanes that still challenged the agorist rezoning action here and there. The wind from the gorge was blowing—stirring bits of trash around his feet, and turning an odd assortment of turbines, ventilators and such-like above. Under the “big tops” the air was heavy with all sorts of odors and aromas—grease and biogas fumes, roasting coffee, brewing yeast, the spices of two or three dozen nations and cuisines—but all-in-all breathable, with no particular element overpowering the others, or the passersby. The noise was of a different order—at least for now—as the workers roused themselves and each other to the night’s final efforts. Within the hour, the regular commuters would begin to arrive, taking possession of the nascent agora from the drunks and night-owls, travelers and swing-shift crews. And the jungle would present a very different face—and voice—and smell.

Gabe enjoyed the atmosphere “backstage,” the sense of chaos destined to order. The marketplace seemed well on its way. From his limited vantage, it struck him that it must have doubled, perhaps tripled in size since he last passed through—only a couple of weeks before. He crossed a partially depaved parking lot—still without signs of either neighborhood or Metro authorization, but without protest markers either. Where there was one, particularly this close to the street, there was likely—or likely would be—more. Coming down off a curb and up on a wall of carts, he realized he had reached Interstate. Once he found a path out to what was left of the street, he could just follow the MPTC tracks north and then west to the platforms.

Looking around, he found himself relatively alone. He checked his watch—found he was still running ahead of schedule. Walking back to the shelter of one of the big central uprights, he surveyed his surroundings: No cops. Land trust donation buckets out—and far from empty. His impression was that—here in the midst of the rezone, at least—things were rather comfortable.

Convinced he was free of unwanted attention, Gabe cozied up to the support column and quickly unbuttoned his coat—an old L. L. Bean “Working Traveller,” with a few alterations—and then the flannel beneath it, to access the trader’s belt he wore bandelero-style underneath. He took a deep breath, took one crisp bill from an inner pocket, and then thumbed restlessly through most of the outer ones. He pulled his wallet—a worn, modest two-fold, jammed with an odd assortment of small bills—from his back pocket, and made a few transfers between wallet and belt—thought for a minute—reversed a couple of his choices—sighed—and reshuffled one last time—for now, at least. He took the coins from his pockets, eying and jingling them softly before returning them to his jeans. He was, he decided, still a few steps shy of a currency strategy for this trip, but he was generally satisfied with his resources. A little rusty, he thought, and probably over-thinking things. There’s still time for adjustment. Another cup of coffee would probably be a good start…

Over the years, I’ve found that one way of opening up a study, to take some stock of possible readings and implications, is to shift things explicitly into the realm of fiction and see what happens when you try to fill in the blank spots you would otherwise work so hard not to fill prematurely. It’s a strategy that I’ve returned to frequently, with the result that my notebooks are cluttered with brief sketches and fragments that are unlikely to ever see any real development, having served their purpose of easing me past some difficulty in my historical or theoretical work—or having served no purpose but to while away a hour in a setting where I am more free from the stakes and anxieties of that other work.

I’ve outlined novels, constructed worlds—at least in broad outline—and established a fairly large cast of characters, ultimately drawing several decades of uncirculated literary output and barely circulated musical output together into a kind of protean personal multiverse, which has come—not accidentally, I expect—to resemble certain equally protean landscapes that have long featured in my dreams. Numerous elements drawn from my historical research become incorporated into the fabric of the thing, while, unexpectedly, the digital collages that I produced to fix in my mind the appearance of characters and locations became the basis for the graphics now in use all over the Libertarian Labyrinth archive.

Were there ever to be time to set other tasks aside and really concentrate on this particular work, the result would likely be a different sort of meditation on the broad history of libertarian radicalism, dressed up in the sorts of delightful, but not directly useful details that you accumulate in decades of historical research.

What actually exists in the notebooks is mostly a matter of details, a series of glimpses into the daily workings of a world in which anarchistic—though not always anarchist—ideas have taken hold at key moments, where decentralization has often been taken to bizarre extremes and where the kinds of conflict so poorly stifled by our own nation states have, in general, been allowed freer expression. And it has struck me that those glimpses and fragments might be useful, if only as one more tool in the kit, as a way to explore the application of the broadly mutualist principles being worked out elsewhere in my work.

So, from time to time, I expect I will be raiding the notebooks or settling down to do a bit of new writing, in order to present some glimpse into the world of The Distributive Passions. For now, perhaps all readers need to know is that the setting is roughly present-day, though in a parallel universe where the primary radical political and social scientific influence in the 19th century was not Marx, Proudhon or Bakunin, but instead Charles Fourier. Gabriel Solly, who will feature in a number of these fragments, is about to embark on globe-trotting adventures through a world where two of the more daunting faces of anarchyprofusion and uncertainty—are on constant display.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.