On Things To Come' /> n+1: Red Carpet Treatment
13 June 2006

Red Carpet Treatment

Marvin Gates’s On Things To Come

As the species of the same genus usually have, though by no means invariably, much similarity in habits and constitution, and always in structure, the struggle will generally be more severe between them, if they come into competition with each other, than between species of distinct genera.

—Charles Darwin

A Donald Duck head. A miniature windmill. Some patterned cloth. Three rats sniff around the cage. I can’t tell if the Environmentally Complex cage affects their mood. I laugh. There is no illustration for Isolated Cage. I don’t need one. EC rats have heavier brains than IC rats. EC rats have higher dendritic fields than IC rats. Living in Environmental Complexity seems to make a rat smarter.

I wonder if there exists a complexity threshold, a point after which the accumulation and compounding of visual stimuli overburden the visual cortex. The brain cries uncle.


All but a handful of stray citizens have given up on the City in On Things to Come. No buses, no dogs, no jackhammers, no hustle, no cramps, no squeezes. It is silent, Gates cranked the volume down. The voluminous space punishes every one in his separateness. A sewer king—a subterranean game piece—surveys the scene from his hole. A majorette, half-shaded, stands idly. She waits for a bus, for the light to change, for a sound. A street vendor sells nothing to nobody. Off on the horizon’s edge, isolated against the white infinite where the painting ends, an old man hobbles to his conclusion.

Volume, from volumen, meaning a scroll, hence a book written on a parchment. The past participle of volvere, to roll. Evolved: literally, rolled out, like a carpet. Evolution is a disclosure. In the iconic poster a parade of hominids, from homo habilis to homo erectus to homo sapiens, marches across a long stretch of time. The story ends with bipedal man walking off the page. Walk, traced back through its Middle and Old English roots walken and wealcan, finds its etymological ancestor to be volvere.

His work done, Death hangs up his running shoes, lays his briefcase to rest, slips on spandex shorts and a yellow jersey, and rides a cab home. His legs hurt. He plays tired. Twirling a baton, he looks down the asphalt stretch from whence he came, back that way, over there.

We forget to survive. We have forgotten to survive. We have survived by forgetting.

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