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The Economy  
of the City is Complex

Pierre SENGES;

translated by Jacob SIEFRING;
with illustrations by KILLOFFER

An exclusive excerpt from the first-time English translation of Geometry in the Dust—an illustrated work on urban form by Pierre SENGES—pubished by Inside the Castle, Spring 2019 (see here).  

The economy of the city is complex: we will have to consider it the moment we raise up our city’s first walls from the earth (sand)—(to fail from lack of planning: that might amount to throwing together some landlocked hamlets, or worse: pitching seven or eight tents around our cows, after the Massaï custom: now, being the prince of sand that you are, you do not aspire to become a tribal chief, but a burgomaster). I must give you a thorough report of all the details and the maneuvers concerning this subject, describe how the numbers of the stock exchange go hurtling down to the sidewalks, how the moneychangers attempt to become normal men again by concealing the short sleeves of their uniform under their jackets (and they suc- ceed). One day I will explain to you with the help of sketches how prudent men strung cables overhead in order to make sums of money, I no longer recall why, shoot along at the speed of sound, or wind; after we will have constructed our city’s skeleton, so that it does not remain just a hollow shell, we will have to install fruit stands, pyramids of oranges and figs from Barbary because without these fruits and the prices they announce, there will be no official exchange rates, and thus no possibility for inflation, and without any fluctuation, no economy of ruin and fortune will be possible.

You will assemble in one place, let us say the City Hall, rooms of archives and pilot projects: plans of the antique city, a diorama of the future train station, and various sketches for a palace that remained in sketch form: because your fellow citizens and your official historians will increasingly want to reside not just in the city but in what it was formerly, what it might one day be, or what it almost became.

To construct a forum (spread out over many levels: with spaces set aside for sellers of mangoes, of gold jewelry, of goat cheese, of makeup kits, of sponges, of clock gears, of medlars, of morello cherries, of Chinese puzzles, of flour, of ink, of medications), that is a work which will be easy, very easy for us the day we master parallel lines and right angles (it will be important also to manipulate like a virtuoso the laws of supply and demand, by approaching algebra with the subtle psychology of a boarding school directress). To regulate commerce in our city, nothing so easy as that, so long as we keep the fishmongers’ stalls away from the birth houses and retirement homes for reasons of hygiene; moreover, sworn officials will come round regularly to verify the scales, to guard against cheating. 

Another of our tasks will be to inaugurate fraud and all the little tricks of the black market (to ensure that they flourish of course, since our city would not exist without certain sleights of hand, then to cultivate them with an embroiderer’s sense of detail): we will have to put down our books on economics, willfully ignore the official exchange rates, like the red flag of the lifesavers, and hold every coin in a profound but provisional contempt, especially the value engraved on one of its two sides. It will also be a question for you of advancing masked into the gambling dens of your city, or that you designate your minister of Economy in this capacity. Without going so far as that, it will probably be necessary to rely on unwritten laws (which is to say laws duly drafted, before being tossed onto the fire), to spread by word-of-mouth alone a series of rules, and then to cultivate rumors, steer them in the direction of the stock exchange and the racetracks if possible; and it will be necessary to settle on a precise vocabulary, resistant to the dictionaries, and to encourage the use of sign language.

We will undoubtedly have to build airtight warehouses for receivers of stolen goods, delegate shadow zones and dark terrains to the petty resellers, black out certain windows that face onto the street, make private courtyards accessible (in general, on both sides of the wide avenues, it will be necessary to hollow out small alleys that twist back on themselves, lowered passages, narrow byways, diagonal lanes; it will be imperative to make sloping roads turn round a butte, then distribute brightly colored scarves to the residents, so that they can decorate their façades with them: an academic style, but soothing). The trade in rhinoceros-horn powder or whale’s penises being a negotiation between hoodlums of insalubrious districts and people of the world, it is in the eyes of the sovereign an inestimable social cement—to borrow a few terms already in use (but you have long known, my prince, that social harmony is a daughter to the underground economy).

Pierre SENGES is the author of fourteen books and over seventy plays for radio. His books available in English translation include Fragments of Lichtenberg (Dalkey Archive, 2017), The Major Refutation (Contra Mundum, 2016), The Adventures of Percival: A Phylogenetic Tale (Dis Voir, 2009), and most recently, Geometry in the Dust (Inside the Castle, 2019). Other works not yet available in English translation include Cendres des hommes et des bulletins (Le Tripode, 2016) and Achab (séquelles) (Verticales, 2015).

Jacob SIEFRING is a translator and scholar. His book-length translations include The Major Refutation and Geometry in the Dust. His translations have appeared in BOMB Magazine, The White Review, and Music & Literature. Siefring’s translations have also appeared in Hotel #3 (a selection of microfictions from Senges’s Études de silhouettes, some of which are available on the archive here) and Hotel #5 (an essay by Hélène Fréderick; see here).

Patrice KILLOFFER—better known simply as Killoffer—is a writer and graphic artist. He was co-founder of the independent comics publisher L’Association in 1990, and has been a part of the Oubapo group since its creation in ‘92.

The above excerpt originally appeared in Senges’ publication Géometrie dans la poussière [Chapter 11, pp. 77 to 79].

© Editions Gallimard, Paris, 2004.

Jacob Siefring’s translation of Senges’ Geometry in the Dust is published by Inside the Castle and available direct from the publisher here.
The Killoffer illustrations illustrations featured above originally appear on pp. 1, 27, 101 and 109.


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