Digital Project

You Are My Ducati

Between the wars, Antonio Ducati and sons founded Societa Scientifica Radio Brevetti Ducati in Bologna to produce radio parts. Repeatedly bombed and later reformed as a manufacturer of motorized bicycles after the defeat of the Axis, Ducati is recalled by R&B artist Ciara sixty years later in a one piece wrapped in fur, “You are my Ducati,” a motorcycle more theory than vehicle, you whom I ride are my everything. Also, Ciara of Fantasy Ride, the never-too-real always glistening at the edge of the sparkly ethos of forward motion she calls “love sex magic,” what she says she’ll “drive her body around.” Middling production of second-rate bikes for a time, yet eventually love sex magic seized in the automatic transmission, the desmodromic valve. Ducati finally distinguished itself by means of speed with the Mach 1, a motorcycle that could travel at 100 mph (its lightweight frame the color of the bill of Ciara’s Atlanta Braves baseball cap), exceptional in its design, now a collector’s item. (It doesn’t ride.) List of objects that appear in the video for Ciara’s “Ride”: a car, a mechanical bull, a chair. The Ducati Multistrada 1200, a bike of such sophistication it rides like a breeze out of some future world, doesn’t appear in the Ride video, but its presence directs the trajectories of these objects in their collision with Ciara: “All up on your frame, baby say my name.” Everything around her rises to gossipy transcendence. Ducati’s founding mission was to manufacture the radio, a point now echoed in Ciara’s music of objective romance, constitutive in its mysteries, but perhaps only a kind of body glue, like that which secures the one-piece.

Since first listening to Ciara’s “Ride,” her 2010 chart-topper about the reversal of expectation, gender trouble loosened in the declaration that her man is her Ducati, the mobilizing object parked in the garage that begs you, slick with rain, to take him for a spin, I’ve become obsessed with the Italian motorcycle company, specifically their Multistrada 1200. Ciara repurposes the bike as an interpretative tool: You are my Ducati, she sings, converting the male body of her rapidly shifting attention into the mobilizing figure of European racing sports: summers in the Borgia, falls by the Rhône. Where does Ciara want to go? Most likely she wants to leave you behind, lonely in the sunset as she flees with luxury trailing behind her. Her perfectly manicured fingers grip the handlebars. You are my Ducati, utilizing the rhetoric of sex to mechanize her partner into the process of love as engine of speed, you make me want to ride, glassy body exteriorized into a system of gears hieroglyphic in their trippy gorgeousness, building into a complex of metaphors a second life more exhilarating in its imitation of how well, and fast, she dances, than the first—even at the risk that it might circle back to collide with you. The song has really become rather important to me.

Ludacris, in his interlude toward the end of “Ride,” tries his best to retrieve Ciara from her liberating theory by integrating her into a series of confusing sports metaphors that situate the male in the consummate exclusionary field where he might feel most at ease, soft wet grass under the stadium lights: the football game—hurrahed by cheerleaders, the only women on the field. Their presence in the game doesn’t interrupt the play of male athletes, it cheers on the spectacle of their bodies beneath heavy equipment. In football, Ludacris can finally assert himself by forcibly removing Ciara: “I put her out like a light…Call me the Terminator…I gotta put her to bed.” Sports, for Ludacris, re-establishes his active, rather than passive, mobility, patching his name onto Drew Brees’s in order to “score” with a woman. He tries to capture the energy that would exempt him from becoming a Ducati, supercharging the song with his own flittering agency in the third-person: “I throw it in / touch down / he scores.” But together, Ciara and Ludacris are totally out of sync—“you better cc me,” he sings, to which Ciara replies, ignoring his call for office etiquette in order to restore her own wish: “He love the way I ride it. He can’t stand to look away.” But where else might a Ducati look?

She mounts the bike—not quite the Multistrada 1200, not quite Ludacris, but rather a dreamy, pulsing confluence of object relations, a paralyzing network of competitive masculinities, each sinking under the weight of its indebtedness to a rule of social law—luxury epitomized in the exemplary technology of speed, derived from an upper class music of leisure transported from Italy to New York—suddenly foiled in its power by its own controlling interests. She rides it.

When I listen to Ciara, I think about what it would be like to rent a Ducati and joyride up the West Side Highway, onto 9G, toward upstate at the start of fall. I think about how fast I could go—and at what point up ahead I might permanently lock myself into the moment between ride and accident, the twin poles I imagine a motorcyclist, weaving between cars on the narrow roads of the Catskills, pivots between with a glee that accelerates toward a death indistinguishable from life. As for me, I’m transfixed by the moment speed hits a wall and the totalizing event that both binds and unbinds us to it (what I want to drive my body around), an accident breathtaking in its approach, arrives at last to slow me way the fuck down. Ciara’s dancing speeds up and slows down the known world in its claim on global time, New York’s autumn splashed against this life
measured out in miles
per hour, to say nothing
of its explication in gallons
of oil. To ride breezily against the backdrop
of huge cost, to endorse its rush as you
fall into it, to drop low like Ciara,
below the adoring skies
of the Hudson Valley
on a Multistrada 1200 the color
of Ludacris’s sunglasses in the “Ride” video,
tempering agency via a touchdown
at the 2009 Super Bowl
yet smashed into the wall
of Ciara’s poetics of speed
he is hurled toward,
incapable of seeing it
before him. Listening
to Ludacris, I feel flung at her, too,
like we’re riding a Ducati into fall,
and, suddenly, we slam
into the season’s shifting weather
and are released
into the beige, yellow, and red
of autumn, pastels that sunset over us,
foundering in a haze at the horizon veering from greenish blue to purple like money burning in your hands.

Later, Ciara and I meet in a semi-darkened vacant mall and wander through various shops until we find a somewhat new J.C. Penney, swept up in creamsicle light.

When we enter the department store, it turns out that Ciara and I are together the 10,000th customer and have won a Ducati motorcycle of our choice. It’s a spectacular moment, one christened by confetti as Ciara leans over in her fur to accept the hand of the J.C. Penney employee who congratulates us. Muzak elaborates the celebratory atmosphere of the empty department store, where no one is celebrating, at the moment of our win. I blush as I realize that here I am, with Ciara, pop star unfixed to a music that would determine her, like really it’s all pretty plastic in its one-size-fits-all quality, and though she’s in love with her beau Future, she’s in love with me, too. The J.C. Penney manager greets us and leads us to the back lot of the department store, into the cool breeze of a late October night, where there are ten bikes lined up, each glinting in the street light. Ciara selects the Multistrada 1200 and says, “This is the one.”

“I love it,” I tell her. The manager smiles and removes a contract from his suit pocket. He unfolds it and hands it to us. I don’t spend any time reviewing the endless pages of terms and conditions and sign immediately. He hands over the keys and the deed to the Multistrada 1200.

Ciara mounts the bike, which doesn’t at that moment not feel like me, and asks me to climb on. Where should we go? she asks. I can hardly speak. This moment becomes a second dream in which I imagine where I might go, out of here, so that even when I do shake myself out of it I can’t let go. I remember seeing a Ducati two falls ago on Canal before joining my friends below a moment sparkling in the presence of the Goldman Sachs employees
who toasted our protest
as the actualized politics
of community eroded
downtown’s teary sense
of its ensconced
kingdom, like
we got it, OK,
you don’t want this to end,
but we do, even though in a sense
the end brought about a separate
conflict anterior to its original:
how to continue
and still be friends. On Canal,
I spotted a man on a Ducati motorcycle,
perhaps a banker or some other agent
of wealth beyond reproach,
and thought of all gross injustices served
us this, the rich white guy on his bike,
was some reminder of the fault line
that might eventually open up
to swallow him down. If histories
go fast they go faster when compelled
toward an inevitable terminus
made finally realer
in the earnest wish for its sudden
arrival, this delicate
egg of relations I’d like to hurl
at a riot cop’s helmet. The Ducati
looped in steel a black, cold ring
I would place on my own finger
but can’t because I make
pretty much nothing
and can scarcely afford the rent
of my Crown Heights apartment
let alone a motorcycle
for 15k. Ciara is right: we are each our own Ducatis, molded into the steel frame into which we can lean, one night in Fall, to ride you, all the bodies upon whom one rides, impaled by such disasters as the sudden recognition that you can’t stand to look away, caught in the remaining sunlight, and yet must.

The cop, egg dripping from the visor lowered over the helmet, runs forward with his club.

“Catch me in the mall, I can do this, however you want, I can do it up and down, I can do it in circles,” Ciara sings, articulating a body I cannot call my own, but might locate somewhere close to it a secondary body in which he love the way I ride it, impounded by the desire to manipulate and be manipulated into the shape of others, to become with others yet another who might race back with a club of my own, the shape of the fastest motorcycle we can find. Sleek in the discourse that describes us as the inimitable technology designed to destroy one another, I love to ride it.

Outside the J.C. Penney, Ciara breaks my concentration and asks if I want to go. I hesitate to ask her where, knowing the location she might suggest would be essentially absent everywhere except where it televises itself semi-randomly, against the bark of a tree in the woods upstate or in the champagne glass at evening or the broken visor of the egg-soaked cop, now falling back. You make me want to ride it, Ciara sings to Ludacris standing under the street light as he debates whether or not to mount the Ducati. At this, he atomizes into the moment his appearance is rendered nostalgic, a translucent memory that hardly registered at all yet for a time was all- controlling, an event that is replaced by another in a cycle of replacement too rapid to isolate the particulars of.

Actuated methods in a cluster of instruments, loss of the self in the attenuated seams of biopolitical production, blue-faced for the fallen world dropping even faster: Tell him I’m a gymnast, tell him I’m a Ducati,tell him to get off the street,
tell him to ride, tell him to step back,
tell him to find me later, tell him to check
his phone, tell him to replace
its cracked screen, tell him to take
the A train on Canal, tell him to cross
the bridge, tell him to hand over
his fucking money, tell him
to meet me in the mall,
tell him the history of ideas
is a series of miscalculations
each demarcating various
assumptions of mapped space,
reveries that mangle
then re-cohere into lesser,
but nevertheless raging
trajectories of departure. Tell him I want
to go faster, into the air, beyond
the accident of our moment,
the point where an invisible rope
yanked taut between
impassable hours of leisure
pulls back, a little harder,
the second you resist, and you fly
from the vehicle hurling you
forward. Speed
is a market of energy
directed toward excess.
Once you stop, then what?
We can’t stop, yet the consuming fantasy
to do so upgrades my sense of the need
to go all the faster.
We move at some new rate
toward the indeterminate point
at which something happens
but simultaneously obscures
the character that would
enable us to define it—up
the mountain along
the mountain road into
a world caught in the midst
of its material ceremonies as they
break down. I see something
in them, probably the face of Ciara,
caught between the leaves,
annotating each glimpse
of the woods with another
opaque name heroizing
this yet unbranded age. I ride
into it, a future slashed
at the horizon, lying
just below the setting sun, into
the point at which
it rises over me to summer
in the shadows shifting
so rapidly
as to seem
to not exist
at all.

“You Are My Ducati” was published as part of Triple Canopy’s Immaterial Literature project area, which receives support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston, the Lambent Foundation Fund of Tides Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts.