Burbclaves: Editor's Note

It’s been cloudy over Hanover lately,
Days grow short and the air thin,
Leaves fall on the Green as pages turn in Baker,

In the midst of this autumnal drudgery, we bring you Mouth #18: Burbclaves.

‘Burbclaves’—a fusion of ‘suburb’ and ‘enclave’—exposes the linguistic challenge of the portmanteau: a single word formed from the contraction of other words. What does this new word mean? How does it present a problem? Neil Stephenson coined the term “burbclave” in his 1992 cyber-punk novel Snow Crash to denote sovereign suburban city-states, but we believe it applies well beyond the realm of dystopian fantasy. 

Through a series of reflections, essays, stories, music, poetry, and art we lend focus to Stephenson’s idea, to better understand the order that flows outward from consolidated cityscapes, beyond their horizon, and into the systems and patterns that inform the deep structure of suburban communities.

In 1653, the Dutch artist G.W. Berckhout finished his work Egmond Castle in North Holland (depicted above). Berckhout places us in a cloudy pastoral landscape. Diagonal streaks of light fall across the towers at a distance. The misty reflection off the water in the center traces a square moat above which rests the walls of European civilization. Egmond Castle, rendered in oil on a one-by-two-meter canvas, is a foreboding progenitor of the contemporary suburb. 

The castle rises out of the rural countryside as a safe-haven, a refuge. An enclave that simultaneously projects the order of human activity to its surroundings, while protects the sovereign power that extends from the capital-city and into its fortified walls.

In this medieval world, political power was less secure than in our federally organized government. There was no social contract—no consensual system of ethical norms. Power had to be secured through fortification. Ornate palaces and cathedrals faced each other, but were protected within city walls. The countryside was dotted with walled keeps, castles, manors, hamlets, and chateaus designed to stifle threats and contagions from the outside world.

The vestiges of these walls, gates, and keeps can be found in suburbs today. Walls functionally constrict entry, enforcing a right-of-passage that many deem necessary for the preservation of safety, order, and privilege. In the enclosed community where I grew up, north of Buenos Aires, there was a castle-like structure in the middle of an eighteen-hole golf course—a clubhouse that was once an English manor that overlooked a wealthy agricultural estate. 

Following the rise of industry, the countryside’s texture changed from dotted to checkered. Order has been imposed onto rural landscapes with increasing efficiency. Lone clubhouses give way to intersecting rows of houses. Modern suburbia emerges as an urban exodus from the overcrowded and chaotic city to the ordered leisure of the country. Little did these former city-dwellers realize the burdens they carried with them. This issue will force you to grapple with the latent problems and pent-up frustrations that undergird our contemporary suburban condition.