There are a few days in early November when England is as beautiful as England in early May – and that’s saying something.
K and I went to see Grayson Perry at the Serpentine: it was witty and urbane and concerned with the politics of identity.
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.
Includes text from A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (trans Brian Massumi), Athlone Press (1988), originally published as Mille plateaux, volume 2 of Capitalisme et Schizophrénie, Les Éditions de Minuit (1980).
Music is The 15th by Fischerspooner from the album #1 on Capitol Records (2001)
- I have often thought, travelling by railway, when between the dark underground stations the lads and errand boys bend over the scraps of badly printed paper, reading fearful tales – I have often thought how much better it would be if they were doing what I may call, ‘communing with space.’ ‘Twould be of infinite delight, romance and interest; far more than those tawdry papers, with no form in themselves or their contents.
- And yet, looking at the same printed papers, being curious, and looking deeper and deeper into them with a microscope, I have seen that in splodgy ink stroke and dull fibrous texture, each part was definite, exact, absolutely so far and no farther, punctiliously correct; and deeper and deeper lying a wealth of form, a rich variety and amplitude of shapes, that in a moment leapt higher than my wildest dreams could conceive.
Charles Hinton, Many Dimensions (1885).
Choose Your Own Misadventure
It was a tough year. On the one hand I made the acquaintance of several outstanding people, took part in our best ever campaign of Mighty Empires and began submitting entries on film to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. On the other there was the hospital, the worsening political climate and the continuing trouble I had integrating into any of the various cliques and factions of the roleplaying community. That may well be for the good.
I expect several projects to come to fruition in 2016:
- Black Dog Dérive will be a collaborative scenario produced as fan material for STALKER: The Sci-Fi Roleplaying Game – if I can get it into good enough shape to ask Ville Vuorela’s permission to distribute it.
- Leaving Frisland will be a setting-cum-scenario for Lamentations of the Flame Princess based on the (fraudulent) depositions of Venetian explorers Antonio and Nicolò Zeno. I’ll need to persuade our current group to play a version of Vornheim in order to get a game of Lamentations beforehand.
- Indiemeet in London is a suitable venue to try out several great story games I’ve encountered over the last year – Itras By, Left Coast and The Society of Dreamers.
- Nordic Progressive Larp puts on freeform and live-action events in London. I’ve been dying to try some of these out.
- Concrete Cow gaming convention occurs in March and September 2016 – I plan to turn up to both events and offer games.
(n) Polder pōl′dėr in the Netherlands, land below the level of the sea or nearest river, which, originally a morass or lake, has been drained and brought under cultivation: a morass.