Xenotopias

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.

The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot


Robert Macfarlane

Creative Agenda

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:

Colin Beaver
Elizabeth Lovegrove
Jeanette McCulloch
John Rose
Matthijs Holter
Ole Peder Giæver
Ralph Lovegrove
Steve Dempsey
Tore Nielsen

City of Eyes
“City of Eyes” by John Rose

Character Sheet Version 6 Image

We’ll Always Have Paris


Matrilineal ancestors of the mother you’ve just shot in the head silently mouthing words you can no longer understand because you’ve given up all memory of your mother-tongue of Lakȟóta to the ritual to dismiss Quachil Uttaus…

Another Pillar of Sanity shattered when you realise you’ve travelled ten years into the future to witness the London blitz of 1941 and your only option is to turn back into the dread path of the Treader in the Dust…

Chanting the Hyperborean phrases gleaned from the handwritten copy of the Testament of Carnamagos bound in shagreen you retrieved from the broken-but-still-living husk of Lt Col Percival Fawcett, mapping the gestures of the dubious insignia he’d written into the endpapers of The Mummies of Mt. Ampato and East Peru (1912), gesticulating in accordance to the most secret moves of The First Temple of Umbanda Branca (1921), as you tear each never-to-be-regained memory from your colleagues to give to the approaching Outer God: It reaches out one huge hand to deliver the most despairing and meaningless gift of Immortality ever an Ape might receive…

The denouement of The Last Catalogue of Ramon Dégas did not disappoint: everyone ended in the Sanatorium. There was some discussion afterward about whether or not any of the player-characters would be in a fit state to return for our forthcoming Dreamhounds of Paris campaign.



Edward Cody will return, having lost all memory of his ancestry and the attendant meaning it gave to his existence, now engaged in a desperate bid to retrieve fragments of his preconscious memory by automatic writing; he’s been given a letter of introduction to the dream medium Robert Desnos.

“Crooked Bob” Nottingham, now bound to a wheelchair and long evenings spent alone in dusty libraries, will accompany Cody to Paris. He intends to decipher a document written in an invented language he discovered at Miskatonic University called The Society of Dreamers.

It all proved too much for dear old James William Barnes. The former rationalist and believer in scientific inquiry has founded the West Country Church of Christ Almighty and travels the by-ways and backwaters of America in a sandwich-board of corrugated iron.

Space Monkey took away the bound folder of Dreamhounds at the end of the session and was eyeing up Kiki de Montparnasse as his next player-character, remarking only that he had “lots of photos to use for inspiration.” Best not to ask.

img_0642