Learning to treat next door as abroad is one of the great joys of my life.
Be careful as you pass their cages: the beasts of the Menagerie are stirring.
Boll and I went to see a Brian Clarke exhibition in Soho: the techniques involved in making decorative glass are entirely new to me:-
The region was created by major earthquakes, destroyed by the same propensity to seismic activity and its ancient civilisation – the same on which Plato may (or may not) have based the Atlantean descriptions in the dialogues of Timaeus and Critias – later exposed by the volcanism of the industrial age.
The seafront also reveals a familiar story: sixteen-hour working days. Guys piss in a bottle; girls run down to a public convenience at the risk of losing business. There’s no work in Athens.
Successful businesses – usually orchestrated by a matriarch around a grandfather and extended family – work flat-out for six months and then go away on holiday for the remaining six months of the year, during which almost the entire island is shut, including its supermarkets.
I’m not as down on capitalism as some – it creates surplus, and there are plenty of people in the world who could put the excess to good use – but I’m also of the more-or-less Marxist view that the values that underpin capitalism prevent the proper use of surplus. Every time something drastic happened to the community of the Cyclades, redevelopment occurred from the ground up: a common appetite for metallurgy informed its inception; buildings and cities were rebuilt by their inhabitants, or from donations from their military garrison by neighbours and relatives. Commerce was guided by mutual need.
We lack – we need – a term for those places where one experiences a ‘transition’ from a known landscape onto John’s ‘far side of the moon’, into Hudson’s ‘new country’, into Berry’s ‘another world’: somewhere we feel and think significantly differently. I have for some time been imagining such transitions as ‘border crossings’. These borders do not correspond to national boundaries, and papers and documents are unrequired at them. Their traverse is generally unbiddable, and no reliable map exists of their routes and outlines. They exist even in familiar landscapes: there when you cross a certain watershed, treeline or snowline, or enter rain, storm or mist, or pass from boulder clay onto sand, or chalk onto greenstone. Such moments are rites of passage that reconfigure local geographies, leaving known places outlandish or quickened, revealing continents within countries.
What might we call such incidents and instances – or, rather, how to describe the lands that are found beyond these frontiers? ‘Xenotopias’, perhaps, meaning ‘foreign places’ or ‘out-of-place places’, a term to compliment our ‘utopias’ and ‘dystopias’. Martin Martin, the traveller and writer who in the 1690s set sail to explore the Scottish coastline, knew that one does not need to displace oneself vastly in space in order to find difference. ‘It is a piece of weakness and folly merely to value things because of their distance from the place we are born,’ he wrote in 1697, ‘thus men have travelled far enough in the search of foreign plants and animals, and yet continue strangers to those produced in their own natural climate.’ So did Roger Deakin: ‘Why would anyone want to go to live abroad when they can live in several countries at once just by being in England?’ he wondered in his journal. Likewise, Henry David Thoreau: ‘An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon. Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see. A single farmhouse which I had not seen is sometimes as good as the dominions of the King of Dahomey.’
The American artist William Fox has spent his career exploring what he calls ‘cognitive dissonance in isotropic spaces’, which might be more plainly translated as ‘how we easily get lost in spaces that appear much the same in all directions’. Fox’s thesis is that we are unable to orient ourselves in such landscapes because we evolved in the close-hand environments of jungle and savannah. In repetitive, data-depleted landscapes with few sight-markers, ‘our natural navigational abilities begin to fail catastrophically’. Fox had travelled to Antarctica, to the American deserts and to the volcanic calderas in the Pacific to explore such monotone spaces – but David and I had stumbled into one a few hundred years off the Essex coast.
It was K’s birthday. She loves the sea.
“A typical setup might be a tank of lukewarm water in which the suitably garbed subject floats, supplied with air but cut off from such normal senses of Perception as sight, hearing and touch.”
A new entry from David Langford at the SFE on Sensory Deprivation:-
Social media has turned into a game of dodge the 200 Word RPG Challenge entry, so I haven’t been online quite as much. Judging begins on April 26th (Wednesday), so I’ll probably release Issue 2 of Machineries of Joy on Monday or Tuesday. It’s on roleplaying games from the Nørwegian Surreal and includes work from the following array of wonderful people:
Ole Peder Giæver
We had a great time with Trail of Cthulhu: the game will probably be the focus of a future issue of Machineries of Joy.
Our Dreamhounds of Paris campaign ended with two of the player-characters living as debased and cannibalistic ghouls in the catacombs of Paris and with the other being rejected by the Lakhota heritage that had been the centre of his existence. Still, they did manage to defeat Sex Hitler.
Last night was one of those sessions where the inclusion of the Itras By chance cards worked really well: it’s all about timing and punctuation, really, and the guys aced their moments of narrative.
I pitched Night Witches hard – I really want to play that game – but I don’t think it’s going to happen soon. Same with Lovecraftesque: two of us interested; two of us less so. A Red & Pleasant Land is likely to be next, but not for at least a month or so. Real life is being demanding right now.