Two passengers in a railway compartment. They have commandeered the little tables, clothes-hooks and baggage-racks: made themselves at home. Newspapers, coats and handbags lie around on the empty seats. The door opens, and two new travellers enter. Their arrival is not welcomed. The original passengers, even if they do not know one another at all, behave with a remarkable degree of solidarity. There is a distinct reluctance to clear the free seats and let the newcomers share them. The compartment has become their territory to make available, and they regard each new person who comes in as an intruder. This behaviour cannot be rationally justified; it is more deeply rooted.

However, matters virtually never get to the point of open conflict. That is because the passengers are subject to a system of rules; their territorial instinct is curbed by the institutional code of the railroad as well as by other unwritten norms of behaviour: like that of courtesy. Looks are exchanged, and formulaic apologies are muttered through clenched teeth, but the new passengers are tolerated. One gets used to them. Yet they remain, even if to a decreasing degree, stigmatized.

This harmless model is not without its absurd features. The railway compartment is itself a transitory domicile, a location which serves only to change locations. The passenger is the negation of the sedentary person. He has traded a real territory for a virtual one. Despite this he defends his transient abode with sullen resentment.


German Efficiency
Liberation Day