Monday, 27 October 2014

A Wilderness of Tigers

The opposition between town and country is a perennial obsession of modern Western narrative art.  The idea of the division becoming diffuse and permeable, of the one bleeding through into the other, appears to be deeply threatening.  For Titus Andronicus, in a play in which precisely this bleeding effect occurs, Rome's degradation leads it to become a "wilderness of tigers".

This obsession is one that began at around the same time as modern map making.  

What people don't realise is that maps lie to us.  They present a geographical landscape which is profoundly at odds with human psychic landscapes.

We think of the town having borders, beyond which there lies the country.  No matter how we nuance this, it is untrue.  We think of the country as a great field of emptiness between cities and towns.  No matter how we nuance this, it is untrue.

What actually happens is that the further you venture into the country, the more country you find.  The country isn't a two-dimensional field, it is a three-dimension well which stretches ever downwards into more of itself.  Like the fractals generated by the Mandelbrot Set, the further you go into the country, the more it expands out ahead of you.  The more you sink down into it.  The towns get smaller, the desolation gets more and more desolate, the isolation gets more and more isolated.  The sinister vibe gets more and more sinister. 

The city, meanwhile, has no borders.  It is carried across all borders inside the mind of the city-dweller.  And all cities are connected.  If you walk far enough into London you will eventually find yourself in Paris or New York or Rome.  The more you walk into any city, the more you walk into its history, and the history of every city is the history of its relationship with other cities.  Walk far enough into modern London and you eventually find yourself in ancient Rome.

The Abandoned Line

All disused London Underground stations are connected via ghost trains that traverse conceptual topography. It's called the Abandoned Line.

London’s Abandoned Line is in a state of perpetual Cold War with Metro 2, the secret parallel underground system in Moscow which was used to transport Party officials around the place. One of the many ideological differences between Metro 2 and the Abandoned Line is the very question of Metro 2’s existence. The Abandoned Line insists that Metro 2 exists. Metro 2 itself stubbornly denies this.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Build High

Some tumblr jottings, curated with pictures.

Modernism.  The International Style.  Mies Van Der Rohe, Le Corbusier, etc. 

A clean, white world of clean white buildings and glass boxes.  Machines for living in.  Born of the utopian hopes of early Modernism.  Destined to become the opulent apartment blocks and corporate skyscrapers of Chicago capitalism. 

Based on a dream of optimised people in an optimised world.  You had to be perfect to live in a glass box.  And the glass boxes were going to make people better, cleaner, fitter, healthier, more productive, and now this sentence is (tellingly) becoming the lyrics from that Radiohead song.  Because that’s where that kind of top-down utopianism ended up; the dream of Modernism became the malaise of late-C20th/C21st modernity. 

Prora, the elephantine Strength Through Joy holiday camp.  Nazi Butlins.

Whatever the admirable radicalism - and there is much admirable radicalism in Modernism - it culminated in a convergence with the Nazi fantasies of order and hygiene (even as the Modernists were hated and driven out by the Nazis) and, in the end, with the corporate capitalist fantasies of perfect and rational utility.  The skyscraper as a machine for doing business in.

In both iterations of the same anti-human and elitist reactionary fantasy, the individual becomes a cog, to be permitted as long as they play their role within the machine, as long as they do not disgrace the gleaming interior of the glass box.

It found its way into another iteration: C20th century elitist reformism, the provision of rational living units for the drones, the erection of housing estates and tower blocks.  Look at those 60s constructions - built along the same elitist/top-down/utopian lines as all Modernist architecture - and today they seem like ugly sinkholes (the vile word used to describe them), but at the time they were supposed to be clean, ordered, rational, humane and utopian.

So, in 'Paradise Towers', the tower block becomes the once-hopeful/now-decaying symbol of entropic utopianism.  Social democracy, with its aesthetic roots in Modernism, falling apart in the neglect and ruin of the dawning neoliberal age.  Inside, of course, are trapped the archetypes (in parodic form) of Thatcher’s Britain.  Feral kids, Daily Mail readers, the Police.

And the roving, murdering cleaners are clearing up the “human garbage” to make way for the return of Kroagnon’s anti-human and authoritarian vision of cleanliness and order.  The dark side of the Modernist dream returns from the gothic basement of repression to take revenge on the last remnants of Modernism’s own light side.  The authoritarian variant tries to reconquer the self-defeated social-democratic variant.
And Kroagnon’s shocktroops the cleaners are clean, white constructions in straight lines.  They are miniature, mobile buildings in the International Style of high, early Modernism. 

They are like Corbusier houses crossbred with Mies skyscrapers, come alive and on the attack. 

Corbusier was friendly with a fascist sympathiser, Pierre Winter.  They both joined the right-wing Faisceau Party.

Fascism lurks within the utopianism of Modernism, which lurks within the utopianism of social democracy.  As Benjamin might say, fascism lurks within the entire C20th.

Also, 'Paradise Towers' - written, like so many of the stories of this era, according to a folk memory of the show from the 70s - sees the echo of the semiotic connection which developed in the show during the 70s between capitalism and tentacles.  'Paradise Towers' is recognisably a capitalist world in decline.  Thatcher’s Britain.  Post-industrial (a myth but a powerful one).  Social-democratic capitalism falling to wrack and ruin.  Rusting machines that still vend fizzy pop.  And there are the faintest echoes of tentacles.  Octopus creatures are mentioned at the start.  The original idea was apparently to have a tentacled monster in the basement which could extend its tentacles anywhere in the building via ducts and vents and (of course) waste disposal shutes.  The cleaners grab you by the neck and pull you along… obviously something originally envisaged as death by grasping tentacle.  Phil Sandifer reminded me about the conversation Andrew Cartmel recounts: "we went to see John and said, 'What about tentacles? They could come out through the ventilation grilles'. And he said 'Tentacles are difficult', spoken with the knowing manner of a man who's tried tentacles before."  (Which has to be, as Phil says, one of the great quotes of all time.)

In 'Paradise Towers', as in the 80s DWM comic strip ‘Profits of Doom’, the old capitalism/tentacles connection still lurks, largely abandoned and almost forgotten.