Welcome to Bookmarker!

This is a personal project by @dellsystem. I built this to help me retain information from the books I'm reading.

Source code on GitHub (MIT license).

15

Today, Grigny is a grimy assemblage of 1970s housing blocks. New facades on the schools fly the flags of France and the European Union, and are painted with edifying quotations from great white men, but they are masks for falling-down classrooms. Doctors do not want to work there, and the lone public medical centre is always on the brink of closure, even though Grigny plays host to some of France’s most florid health problems – a veritable epidemic of HIV-induced chronic diseases among women, for instance. Half the young are poor and have nothing to do, and the vacuum is often filled with drugs and petty crime. The cost of preventing theft recently drove away Grigny’s only supermarket, the great shell of which now lies empty; in other stores the shelves are roped off from customers, who must ask staff to fetch down toothpaste or shampoo. The only new venture in the town is the mosque, an angular thing of concrete and glass – which, since it is built with funds raised by local Muslims, has taken more than a decade to rise to its present near-completion. There is nothing the town evokes, overall, so much as an open-plan prison, since no space is wasted on pleasure or whim, and no amenities exist save those required to keep inmates docile and alive: the clinic, the sports centre, the fortified police station. If it is unclear what crime Grigny’s inhabitants are guilty of, the cynical truth is written up everywhere: in the condescending street paintings of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, and the buildings named after black actors, jazz musicians and sports stars. This is one of France’s designated Zones Urbaines Sensibles (Sensitive Urban Zones); and everyone knows what kind of bureaucratic euphemism ‘sensitive’ is.

—p.15 Notes on a Suicide (13) missing author 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Today, Grigny is a grimy assemblage of 1970s housing blocks. New facades on the schools fly the flags of France and the European Union, and are painted with edifying quotations from great white men, but they are masks for falling-down classrooms. Doctors do not want to work there, and the lone public medical centre is always on the brink of closure, even though Grigny plays host to some of France’s most florid health problems – a veritable epidemic of HIV-induced chronic diseases among women, for instance. Half the young are poor and have nothing to do, and the vacuum is often filled with drugs and petty crime. The cost of preventing theft recently drove away Grigny’s only supermarket, the great shell of which now lies empty; in other stores the shelves are roped off from customers, who must ask staff to fetch down toothpaste or shampoo. The only new venture in the town is the mosque, an angular thing of concrete and glass – which, since it is built with funds raised by local Muslims, has taken more than a decade to rise to its present near-completion. There is nothing the town evokes, overall, so much as an open-plan prison, since no space is wasted on pleasure or whim, and no amenities exist save those required to keep inmates docile and alive: the clinic, the sports centre, the fortified police station. If it is unclear what crime Grigny’s inhabitants are guilty of, the cynical truth is written up everywhere: in the condescending street paintings of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, and the buildings named after black actors, jazz musicians and sports stars. This is one of France’s designated Zones Urbaines Sensibles (Sensitive Urban Zones); and everyone knows what kind of bureaucratic euphemism ‘sensitive’ is.

—p.15 Notes on a Suicide (13) missing author 11 months, 3 weeks ago
18

The screen in the cafe is playing a music video by Zayn Malik, the half-Pakistani singer from Bradford, England, propelled to stardom by a TV talent show. The video begins with Malik gazing wearily at the baying paparazzi gathered to catch a shot of him as he emerges from his limousine on a rainy night and disappears into a luxury hotel. Celebrity produces no joy in him. Existence is ‘cruel’, he sings, as he trudges towards his hotel room. A photographer leaps out behind him, trying to catch another photo, and is summarily dealt with by a bodyguard – but Zayn is too preoccupied to notice, and walks on, hitting his chorus. Life is ‘in vain’. He doesn’t want to live forever.

a thought i had while reading this (by no means original): given the importance of capitalism (and effects thereof) to contemporary human existence, and given that popular artists are shielded from the worst impacts of capitalism because art is itself made into a commodity, what does that say about the possible trajectory of their music? does this mean every artist that gets big eventually sells out and loses the thing that made them relevant (if it existed in the first place)?

something to think about for eminem essay

—p.18 Notes on a Suicide (13) missing author 11 months, 3 weeks ago

The screen in the cafe is playing a music video by Zayn Malik, the half-Pakistani singer from Bradford, England, propelled to stardom by a TV talent show. The video begins with Malik gazing wearily at the baying paparazzi gathered to catch a shot of him as he emerges from his limousine on a rainy night and disappears into a luxury hotel. Celebrity produces no joy in him. Existence is ‘cruel’, he sings, as he trudges towards his hotel room. A photographer leaps out behind him, trying to catch another photo, and is summarily dealt with by a bodyguard – but Zayn is too preoccupied to notice, and walks on, hitting his chorus. Life is ‘in vain’. He doesn’t want to live forever.

a thought i had while reading this (by no means original): given the importance of capitalism (and effects thereof) to contemporary human existence, and given that popular artists are shielded from the worst impacts of capitalism because art is itself made into a commodity, what does that say about the possible trajectory of their music? does this mean every artist that gets big eventually sells out and loses the thing that made them relevant (if it existed in the first place)?

something to think about for eminem essay

—p.18 Notes on a Suicide (13) missing author 11 months, 3 weeks ago
19

I find myself wondering if there is a relationship between the graffiti and the tattoos. Teenagers here are extravagantly inked and they talk about it in a particular way. As a gesture of reclamation, as if their bodies were not theirs before. These are people, after all, on whom it has been impressed that their bodies are only lent to them by the state, which will rush to claim them back if they do not treat them as they should. Here as everywhere else, of course, their generation has had to shoulder the burden of escalating paranoia about children’s physical safety, and schools are fortified with high steel gates and wide-eyed cameras. But there are added dimensions in the Parisian suburbs: children are frequently taken away, for instance, from parents who threaten their physical security; parents also die young or move away – here, single-parent households represent a quarter of the total – so there are all kinds of occasions to observe how parents are only provisional custodians to a child. Also, in this place where drugs are everywhere, kids are endlessly instructed in the many uses to which they may not put their bodies, on pain of the authorities assuming remote control. The true proprietor of their physical frame is the humourless, preachy state; are tattoos, like the graffiti on the RER tracks, an attempt to deface – and so stake a claim to – public premises? An attempt to spite their own absentee landlords, who have proven so profoundly indifferent to their minds and souls?

In which case, suicide would be a form of destruction of public property.

damn

—p.19 Notes on a Suicide (13) missing author 11 months, 3 weeks ago

I find myself wondering if there is a relationship between the graffiti and the tattoos. Teenagers here are extravagantly inked and they talk about it in a particular way. As a gesture of reclamation, as if their bodies were not theirs before. These are people, after all, on whom it has been impressed that their bodies are only lent to them by the state, which will rush to claim them back if they do not treat them as they should. Here as everywhere else, of course, their generation has had to shoulder the burden of escalating paranoia about children’s physical safety, and schools are fortified with high steel gates and wide-eyed cameras. But there are added dimensions in the Parisian suburbs: children are frequently taken away, for instance, from parents who threaten their physical security; parents also die young or move away – here, single-parent households represent a quarter of the total – so there are all kinds of occasions to observe how parents are only provisional custodians to a child. Also, in this place where drugs are everywhere, kids are endlessly instructed in the many uses to which they may not put their bodies, on pain of the authorities assuming remote control. The true proprietor of their physical frame is the humourless, preachy state; are tattoos, like the graffiti on the RER tracks, an attempt to deface – and so stake a claim to – public premises? An attempt to spite their own absentee landlords, who have proven so profoundly indifferent to their minds and souls?

In which case, suicide would be a form of destruction of public property.

damn

—p.19 Notes on a Suicide (13) missing author 11 months, 3 weeks ago
36

Though we are familiar with the statistics of our monopolistic era, we are far less conversant with its spiritual effects. If mid-twentieth-century Western societies achieved a startling level of consensus, it was due to their extraordinary expansion of the share in the social surplus – to which the destruction (by war) of previous wealth concentrations, and the transformation of ‘labour’ into ‘jobs’, were essential. Today, as Western societies reverse those advances and drift back towards nineteenth-century arrangements, it should not be surprising that the malaise, too, is returning from that era. This malaise is felt most keenly by the young, who have seen nothing during their lifetimes save the progressive re-exclusion of the majority from society’s wealth, and who embark on adulthood with very little hope that they will be able to ‘make it’ as their parents and grandparents did. They have a strong sense, in fact, that now-ageing generations have taken everything for themselves, leaving behind only a sterile world – the dwindling species of the earth, the exhausted air and soil – and bequeathing to the young only the burden of their own sins. It is a gruelling inheritance, and one that causes young people, who have the longest futures, to wonder about their endurance.

Malaise takes on particularly acute forms in places like the Parisian suburbs, where work has been informalised and automated almost into nothing: in the most depressed areas, a quarter of young women and nearly half of young men are without jobs. But there too, unemployment is only a symptom of the wider casting out from French society, whose would-be universalism disguises one of the most consolidated systems of power in the Western world. It is no surprise that the pious messages pasted up around these neighbourhoods, which promote the good life of hard work, clean living and happy family – along with the old revolutionary slogan liberté–égalité–fraternité – are routinely defaced. All that is demonstrated by such platitudes, yet again, is the obliviousness of those in charge, and the inability of the contemporary nation to inspire any kind of allegiance. For many, France has become disgusting, and the impediment to any honourable form of life. As one rap group from Océane’s neighbourhood put it, ‘Dur de rester halal quand des porcs gouvernent’ (‘Hard to stay halal when the country’s run by pigs’).

—p.36 Notes on a Suicide (13) missing author 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Though we are familiar with the statistics of our monopolistic era, we are far less conversant with its spiritual effects. If mid-twentieth-century Western societies achieved a startling level of consensus, it was due to their extraordinary expansion of the share in the social surplus – to which the destruction (by war) of previous wealth concentrations, and the transformation of ‘labour’ into ‘jobs’, were essential. Today, as Western societies reverse those advances and drift back towards nineteenth-century arrangements, it should not be surprising that the malaise, too, is returning from that era. This malaise is felt most keenly by the young, who have seen nothing during their lifetimes save the progressive re-exclusion of the majority from society’s wealth, and who embark on adulthood with very little hope that they will be able to ‘make it’ as their parents and grandparents did. They have a strong sense, in fact, that now-ageing generations have taken everything for themselves, leaving behind only a sterile world – the dwindling species of the earth, the exhausted air and soil – and bequeathing to the young only the burden of their own sins. It is a gruelling inheritance, and one that causes young people, who have the longest futures, to wonder about their endurance.

Malaise takes on particularly acute forms in places like the Parisian suburbs, where work has been informalised and automated almost into nothing: in the most depressed areas, a quarter of young women and nearly half of young men are without jobs. But there too, unemployment is only a symptom of the wider casting out from French society, whose would-be universalism disguises one of the most consolidated systems of power in the Western world. It is no surprise that the pious messages pasted up around these neighbourhoods, which promote the good life of hard work, clean living and happy family – along with the old revolutionary slogan liberté–égalité–fraternité – are routinely defaced. All that is demonstrated by such platitudes, yet again, is the obliviousness of those in charge, and the inability of the contemporary nation to inspire any kind of allegiance. For many, France has become disgusting, and the impediment to any honourable form of life. As one rap group from Océane’s neighbourhood put it, ‘Dur de rester halal quand des porcs gouvernent’ (‘Hard to stay halal when the country’s run by pigs’).

—p.36 Notes on a Suicide (13) missing author 11 months, 3 weeks ago
38

There are many moments in history when young people have dreamed of glamorous self-destruction rather than embarking, drearily, on adulthood. But in all these epochs, those who actually die are the exceptions. Far greater numbers are touched by the same current of despair, but are nevertheless held back from the ultimate act by life’s natural defences. These survivors are not left unscathed, however. They live astride the line between life and death, harbouring a kind of sentimental envy for those who have gone. Theirs is a suicide culture, and they lose some of the ability to identify with those who are simply, and unquestioningly, alive.

—p.38 Notes on a Suicide (13) missing author 11 months, 3 weeks ago

There are many moments in history when young people have dreamed of glamorous self-destruction rather than embarking, drearily, on adulthood. But in all these epochs, those who actually die are the exceptions. Far greater numbers are touched by the same current of despair, but are nevertheless held back from the ultimate act by life’s natural defences. These survivors are not left unscathed, however. They live astride the line between life and death, harbouring a kind of sentimental envy for those who have gone. Theirs is a suicide culture, and they lose some of the ability to identify with those who are simply, and unquestioningly, alive.

—p.38 Notes on a Suicide (13) missing author 11 months, 3 weeks ago
55

When I was very young, I believed my mother could read my state of mind. When she doubted my honesty, she would say, ‘May I look into your eyes?’ If I was innocent, I would gaze soberly into those maternal eyes. If I was guilty, I would squirm and resist the test. My mother obviously did not need to be a clairvoyant to gauge my truthfulness. All she had to do was look at me. But long after I had given up thinking of my mother as a supernatural being, I found it unbearable to look her directly in the eyes and tell an untruth. She was, I think, my conscience incarnate. My guilt was bound up with her gaze. Infants are not guilty. Like shame and pride, guilt is a social emotion born of our attachments to others, and that form of self-punishment only becomes active once a person is able to see himself as others see him. It is born of reflective self-consciousness. My child self could not bear to be seen as a bad person by my mother because as she looked at me I saw my sorry self through her eyes.

—p.55 State of Mind (55) missing author 11 months, 3 weeks ago

When I was very young, I believed my mother could read my state of mind. When she doubted my honesty, she would say, ‘May I look into your eyes?’ If I was innocent, I would gaze soberly into those maternal eyes. If I was guilty, I would squirm and resist the test. My mother obviously did not need to be a clairvoyant to gauge my truthfulness. All she had to do was look at me. But long after I had given up thinking of my mother as a supernatural being, I found it unbearable to look her directly in the eyes and tell an untruth. She was, I think, my conscience incarnate. My guilt was bound up with her gaze. Infants are not guilty. Like shame and pride, guilt is a social emotion born of our attachments to others, and that form of self-punishment only becomes active once a person is able to see himself as others see him. It is born of reflective self-consciousness. My child self could not bear to be seen as a bad person by my mother because as she looked at me I saw my sorry self through her eyes.

—p.55 State of Mind (55) missing author 11 months, 3 weeks ago
57

I have been living with the same person for thirty-six years. I cannot read this man’s mind. He has anterooms in his personality I strongly suspect I have never seen. Mysteries abound. And yet time has produced an uncanny mental mirroring between us. A friend tells a story, and it triggers an immediate, identical association in each of us. Before my husband opens his mouth, I know what he will say or before I speak, he knows what I will say. The link between the heard story and our spontaneous double response is rarely obvious and why our two heads have summoned the same material at the same instant strikes us as inexplicable. It happens again and again and more and more. It may be that two minds with years of talk and grumbling and fighting and laughing and all-around bumping into each other behind them have states of mind in common. The winds rise, and the clouds begin to move, and the sun comes out at just the same time in two heads rather than one.

aww

—p.57 State of Mind (55) missing author 11 months, 3 weeks ago

I have been living with the same person for thirty-six years. I cannot read this man’s mind. He has anterooms in his personality I strongly suspect I have never seen. Mysteries abound. And yet time has produced an uncanny mental mirroring between us. A friend tells a story, and it triggers an immediate, identical association in each of us. Before my husband opens his mouth, I know what he will say or before I speak, he knows what I will say. The link between the heard story and our spontaneous double response is rarely obvious and why our two heads have summoned the same material at the same instant strikes us as inexplicable. It happens again and again and more and more. It may be that two minds with years of talk and grumbling and fighting and laughing and all-around bumping into each other behind them have states of mind in common. The winds rise, and the clouds begin to move, and the sun comes out at just the same time in two heads rather than one.

aww

—p.57 State of Mind (55) missing author 11 months, 3 weeks ago
95

The referee blew his whistle. ‘We can do this, England,’ I found myself yelling, despite my Welshness, despite my half-German mother. I was not the only player transformed by regressive instincts. Our captain, Andrew Keatley – a soft-voiced writer of brilliant, searing plays about injustice and humanity, about guilt and inheritance, an outspoken voice for the voiceless – spent the ninety minutes shouting at the Germans, shouting at the referees and linesmen, and generally sending the message that their voices were irrelevant. I had never really given much thought to the fact that Andrew had no hair until I saw him screaming in an England shirt. He was suddenly Plato’s eternal skinhead: the ideal form of the worst in our culture. Even our critically acclaimed poet, Nathan Hamilton, headed the ball with such commitment you could almost smell the poems evaporating. It became clear we all badly wanted to destroy Germany. We wanted to do it for England. I recalled the incident when the writing hand of Marcus du Sautoy, The Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, had been ruthlessly crushed, bones and all, in collision with a German writer of plays for children. I vowed to avenge his months of lost productivity. The idea that football might provide an opportunity to overcome our dumber instincts seemed ridiculous now: football was a chance to set our idiocy free.

We won three-nil. We beat Germany three-nil. In the World Cup. We tonked them. We mullered them. We shellacked them. All the made-up words. We did not care that the only audience for our victory was a handful of Cypriot weightlifters, dead-lifting dumb-bells at the side of the pitch. We refused to acknowledge that the Germany B team was any worse than Germany A.

‘Germany’s Germany,’ we said.

Back at the hotel, we drank, swam, watched traditional local dancing, and told stories of our heroism, our darting runs and crisply pinged through-balls. We mythologised our best goal, how the ball had seemed to hang a moment in the sky – spinning on its axis like the earth itself – before novelist Matt Greene – never forget his name – had slammed it home, bringing to a righteous end one of the great feuds in world history.

I have since rewatched a video of this game. It is amazing how slowly we move. It looks like we’re on the moon. In order to make the game on the screen accurately reflect my self-image, I played it at three times real speed.

crying

—p.95 Cyprus United (93) missing author 11 months, 3 weeks ago

The referee blew his whistle. ‘We can do this, England,’ I found myself yelling, despite my Welshness, despite my half-German mother. I was not the only player transformed by regressive instincts. Our captain, Andrew Keatley – a soft-voiced writer of brilliant, searing plays about injustice and humanity, about guilt and inheritance, an outspoken voice for the voiceless – spent the ninety minutes shouting at the Germans, shouting at the referees and linesmen, and generally sending the message that their voices were irrelevant. I had never really given much thought to the fact that Andrew had no hair until I saw him screaming in an England shirt. He was suddenly Plato’s eternal skinhead: the ideal form of the worst in our culture. Even our critically acclaimed poet, Nathan Hamilton, headed the ball with such commitment you could almost smell the poems evaporating. It became clear we all badly wanted to destroy Germany. We wanted to do it for England. I recalled the incident when the writing hand of Marcus du Sautoy, The Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, had been ruthlessly crushed, bones and all, in collision with a German writer of plays for children. I vowed to avenge his months of lost productivity. The idea that football might provide an opportunity to overcome our dumber instincts seemed ridiculous now: football was a chance to set our idiocy free.

We won three-nil. We beat Germany three-nil. In the World Cup. We tonked them. We mullered them. We shellacked them. All the made-up words. We did not care that the only audience for our victory was a handful of Cypriot weightlifters, dead-lifting dumb-bells at the side of the pitch. We refused to acknowledge that the Germany B team was any worse than Germany A.

‘Germany’s Germany,’ we said.

Back at the hotel, we drank, swam, watched traditional local dancing, and told stories of our heroism, our darting runs and crisply pinged through-balls. We mythologised our best goal, how the ball had seemed to hang a moment in the sky – spinning on its axis like the earth itself – before novelist Matt Greene – never forget his name – had slammed it home, bringing to a righteous end one of the great feuds in world history.

I have since rewatched a video of this game. It is amazing how slowly we move. It looks like we’re on the moon. In order to make the game on the screen accurately reflect my self-image, I played it at three times real speed.

crying

—p.95 Cyprus United (93) missing author 11 months, 3 weeks ago
116

Military service in Egypt is mandatory for those insufficiently moneyed or connected, and Kamal has been ‘extending’ a long-finished undergraduate degree for years in an effort to avoid being called up. But he can’t do this indefinitely and the deadline is fast approaching; he could get out of the country and try to claim asylum in Europe, but then he wouldn’t be able to return and see his mother who has hepatitis, the same disease that killed his father, and she relies on his support. So he stays and smokes weed and goes to cafes to play backgammon, because that way he can avoid talking. ‘I’ve become a master in backgammon,’ he shrugs. ‘I concentrate on playing because I don’t want anyone to ask, “How are you?”, and because I don’t want anyone to ask the next question, which is, “What happened?”, or the question after that, which is, “What will you do now?” ’

Every few weeks the isolation gets too much. In the aftermath of Rabaa, unable to find a common language with the large numbers of people who cheered on the state’s violence, but also desperate for human contact, Kamal pretended to be interested in renting a flat and accompanied a property broker around several Cairo apartments purely so he could indulge in conversation. He chatted with landlords about utility bills and deposit arrangements and walking distances to the metro, because that was so much simpler than talking about the things he’d seen in the morgue. He describes this city, the one he came to because it promised to open every door, as an open prison. ‘I’m just waiting,’ he declares abruptly, as I finally managed to extricate us from the jam around Tahrir and nose our car up onto the bridge. ‘I’m just waiting, and I don’t know what for.’

:'(

—p.116 Coming Home to the Counter-Revolution (107) missing author 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Military service in Egypt is mandatory for those insufficiently moneyed or connected, and Kamal has been ‘extending’ a long-finished undergraduate degree for years in an effort to avoid being called up. But he can’t do this indefinitely and the deadline is fast approaching; he could get out of the country and try to claim asylum in Europe, but then he wouldn’t be able to return and see his mother who has hepatitis, the same disease that killed his father, and she relies on his support. So he stays and smokes weed and goes to cafes to play backgammon, because that way he can avoid talking. ‘I’ve become a master in backgammon,’ he shrugs. ‘I concentrate on playing because I don’t want anyone to ask, “How are you?”, and because I don’t want anyone to ask the next question, which is, “What happened?”, or the question after that, which is, “What will you do now?” ’

Every few weeks the isolation gets too much. In the aftermath of Rabaa, unable to find a common language with the large numbers of people who cheered on the state’s violence, but also desperate for human contact, Kamal pretended to be interested in renting a flat and accompanied a property broker around several Cairo apartments purely so he could indulge in conversation. He chatted with landlords about utility bills and deposit arrangements and walking distances to the metro, because that was so much simpler than talking about the things he’d seen in the morgue. He describes this city, the one he came to because it promised to open every door, as an open prison. ‘I’m just waiting,’ he declares abruptly, as I finally managed to extricate us from the jam around Tahrir and nose our car up onto the bridge. ‘I’m just waiting, and I don’t know what for.’

:'(

—p.116 Coming Home to the Counter-Revolution (107) missing author 11 months, 3 weeks ago
120

This love of disinfection must make Cairo unbearable for people like El-Hawary, who yearn for a more sanitised universe. The revolution left jackets on the backs of chairs and then threw chairs through the windows. But this is their moment now, El-Hawary’s and his ilk, and maybe that is why they are building a new capital out in the eastern desert, plunging billions into wide, tidy boulevards and neatly segregated business zones while bread riots play out in the old cities left behind. I’ve been to the construction site, a sprawling area just south of Madinat Badr, and paced across the helipads and the hotel complexes and the ceremonial mound from which Sisi will one day inaugurate the future Cairo, which is bleak and sandy and wrapped in a frayed tarpaulin. The regime believes in a binary choice, between total chaos and total control, and if current Cairo was the former then this new capital will be the anti-Cairo: purged of its itinerant shrimp sellers and its outdoor mattress stitchers and its pairs of lovers holding clandestine hands while crouched in the scummy, piss-stained underbelly of the 15 May Bridge. There will be no place in the new capital for white bed sheets strung up between lamp posts by rebellious teenagers and pressed into use as makeshift cinema screens, projectors powered by hacked electricity boxes to broadcast illicit footage of army atrocities to the streets. There will be no audience for the bed sheets, because the new capital will be the antithesis of density and anyway the lamp posts will be too far apart. I spoke to an engineer out there who told me that the state’s synthetic new home will boast the second biggest dancing fountain in the world, and I didn’t know what to say. Afterwards, I met a group of dust-streaked labourers who were helping to build a wall which will eventually encircle the whole city, insulating it and its inhabitants – the first of whom will be Egypt’s government ministries – from all those jackets on chairs and spilt coffee grounds; from the smoking and the beards and the rest of recent history’s unpalatable debris. An urban planning expert described the new capital to me as a bad version of The Truman Show, but up close it looked more confused and menacing than that, more like an attempt to draw a line under an unfinished story, but one that just falls short. The section of the wall that the labourers were working on reminded me of a medieval fortress, massive and unyielding. One of them unzipped his trousers and urinated on it. ‘This town is for the happy people, the ones who fly above us,’ he said.

—p.120 Coming Home to the Counter-Revolution (107) missing author 11 months, 3 weeks ago

This love of disinfection must make Cairo unbearable for people like El-Hawary, who yearn for a more sanitised universe. The revolution left jackets on the backs of chairs and then threw chairs through the windows. But this is their moment now, El-Hawary’s and his ilk, and maybe that is why they are building a new capital out in the eastern desert, plunging billions into wide, tidy boulevards and neatly segregated business zones while bread riots play out in the old cities left behind. I’ve been to the construction site, a sprawling area just south of Madinat Badr, and paced across the helipads and the hotel complexes and the ceremonial mound from which Sisi will one day inaugurate the future Cairo, which is bleak and sandy and wrapped in a frayed tarpaulin. The regime believes in a binary choice, between total chaos and total control, and if current Cairo was the former then this new capital will be the anti-Cairo: purged of its itinerant shrimp sellers and its outdoor mattress stitchers and its pairs of lovers holding clandestine hands while crouched in the scummy, piss-stained underbelly of the 15 May Bridge. There will be no place in the new capital for white bed sheets strung up between lamp posts by rebellious teenagers and pressed into use as makeshift cinema screens, projectors powered by hacked electricity boxes to broadcast illicit footage of army atrocities to the streets. There will be no audience for the bed sheets, because the new capital will be the antithesis of density and anyway the lamp posts will be too far apart. I spoke to an engineer out there who told me that the state’s synthetic new home will boast the second biggest dancing fountain in the world, and I didn’t know what to say. Afterwards, I met a group of dust-streaked labourers who were helping to build a wall which will eventually encircle the whole city, insulating it and its inhabitants – the first of whom will be Egypt’s government ministries – from all those jackets on chairs and spilt coffee grounds; from the smoking and the beards and the rest of recent history’s unpalatable debris. An urban planning expert described the new capital to me as a bad version of The Truman Show, but up close it looked more confused and menacing than that, more like an attempt to draw a line under an unfinished story, but one that just falls short. The section of the wall that the labourers were working on reminded me of a medieval fortress, massive and unyielding. One of them unzipped his trousers and urinated on it. ‘This town is for the happy people, the ones who fly above us,’ he said.

—p.120 Coming Home to the Counter-Revolution (107) missing author 11 months, 3 weeks ago