A few weeks ago; leaving Colchester, by train. As we accelerated out of the station we passed a little grey church sitting in the middle of an industrial estate, a dove nesting in a litter of polystyrene. It made me think of how swans choke to death on discarded lead fishing weights, or strangle themselves in old plastic bags.
Heidegger talked about how buildings change landscapes, dragging them by force into denaturing, alienated narratives; but buildings can become victims of that process too, whole antique ideologies broken by modern bric-a-brac culture. ‘A tawdry cheapness shall outlast our days’, infecting and corroding the quality of more aesthetically committed ages. There’s a hierarchy of value in buildings, too; it’s not just man vs nature.
What’s important is the contrast between different orders of presence in the landscape – the narrative that that contrast creates. A swan in a free-flowing river is beauty; a swan in a polluted canal is tragedy. It’s the nature of the contrast that creates the narrative, indexing for us the quality of our engagement with the world.
Chatting to Mark of Strange Attractor the other day about the similarities between fairy encounter / abduction experiences in the past and UFO encounter / abduction experiences today (he’s just been in the States, interviewing UFO folk for his upcoming documentary).
Thinking about it, it’s also interesting to compare classic flying saucer shapes with tumuli and other related earthworks – low, rounded bowls and mounds, secret spaces entered into for strange and mysterious rituals. There’s a very consistent iconography there.
Anyway… it set me thinking about how we engage with the alien. Did the fairy ‘mazed run into the same thing that alien abductees did? Is the alien so alien that when we encounter it we can only process it through our own, pre-existing cultural paradigms? Are there limits to how much novelty we can process? When we look to the stars, are we really only reaching for a bigger mirror?
Though apparently the aliens really did drop in in ’47, hanging out with the US government. So maybe they are tangible after all…
Been pondering utopia, largely because I’ve just been reading ‘Utopia’. Like Heaven, Utopia is a post dramatic place; drama being conflict, the only drama that can happen in a utopia is a fall from perfection, because that’s the only way of inducing conflict. That fall’s either going to be the fall of the individual, or the fall of the Utopia. The dramatic choice – which am I going to show?
‘Paradise Lost’ a great example of the first. In religion, utopia exists and is uncorruptible. It’s only us that screw up – so drama in a religious context uses the utopia as a baseline to set individual redemption / corruption against. Thinking more broadly, is any set of absolute moral standards a utopia? ‘Absolute’ implies achieved perfection, changelessness, which isn’t really what us humans do.
The second offers more dramatic possibilities… the fall of a utopia; either the breakdown of a utopian system or the discovery that all is not as it seems. ‘Brave New World’ in this context? Bernard the atypical alpha (shorter than the norm) and John the Savage provide non-utopian viewpoints that critique and corrode the utopia. ‘1984’ – a fallen utopia, in fact a warning against utopias, betrayed as evil by its treatment of the individual.
More recently, there’s Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels, and Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos. Simmons’ Hegemony is an apparent utopia; as the novel cycle progresses, we’re educated along with the characters and understand how the impacts of the Hegemony are profoundly negative. What’s most interesting is that many of those impacts aren’t even registered by Hegemony people; apart from anything else, very effective satire on us, now.
Also, a critique of the Culture – always something of a smug utopia. Over and above this, one of the interesting things about IMB is the extent to which he has to drive plots by introducing external, non-Culture elements – whether from sub- or super-Culture sources. Again, you can only get drama out of a utopia by destabilising it, and if the utopia is pretty much perfect (as the Culture is – a heaven analogue, perhaps?) that destabilisation has to come from outside.
Of course the final outside is us the reader. We break utopias by reading about them, comparing their (inevitably) limited solutions to the problems of life with our own complex lives. A systemic mode of life can never respond adequately to the complexities of being human. As people, we are destroyers of systems, because if we don’t break them, they break us. And, broken, we end up inhabiting limited utopias of our own, pitied by externals – readers – deep in experiences that are completely denied to us.
Hit the Faust gig on Sunday night with Heather, Dave and Tara, and Rich – met various others there but more importantly grooved to excellent Faustmusik! Room too packed to move, until the smoke bomb cleared it. We had of course been softened up by Jean Herve Peron’s chainsaw and angle grinder, and Zappi’s power drill on sheet metal. Pictures here.
Here’s my favourite photo – Dave emerging from the smoke. Look at the top right of the picture… I’ve found that you see a little more of him every day. It’s like ‘The Mezzotint’ gone digital..
‘The Lathe of Heaven’ as a reflection on writing; the writer breaking down and remaking the world, maintaining the familiar but balancing it with the novel… fading memories of the real world as you dive into the book. George Orr is the point of contact between different worlds – is he author or reader? Author, because he takes an old world and makes the new from it. Haber as reader, demanding utopias which never quite meet his needs. The neccesity of conflict for drama; utopia implies a lack of conflict, impossible in a dramatic form. Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ is a description, not a narrative.
Description used to be a rarity; now it’s universal. Foucault – ‘Power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth. The individual and the knowledge that may be gained of him belong to this production’. Forms of control have always involved precise description, defining the terms of control, that controlled.
The information revolution means that everything can be described, categorised, held; tags on the side of the page. Your purchases tracked. But that description is democratised – I describe, with my camera, impose my own little world. Am I a collaborator with, a participant in or a prisoner of description? All three, at one time or another…
I’ve got myself a new phone, and the new phone has a new camera in it, so I’ve been riding round London taking lots of photos and putting them up on Flickr.
I’ve realised that I’m fascinated by light. I’m out and about first thing in the morning, early evening; the magic hour, when sunlight runs across the world not down onto it.
And what surprises me is how blue the light always is.