He worked out of a small office the only feature of which was the clarity and interest of the screen saver images. They were beachscapes exotic & hard to place, with a sharp, travelogue quality. He had the screen positioned so it was impossible to ignore these glimpses as they dissolved softly into one another; while to the client he presented the city as a surf of buildings & people & consumer goods. The motives that powered it were tidal. Unpredictable winds played against masses of water, currents too complex to understand. Crimes were whipped off the crest of events like spray. “A great wave,” he would explain, “composed of the billion actions of the very citizens it curls so threateningly above!” It was the perfected experience of art, he said, in the perfect space–art as an aspect of architectonic and thence, with perfect logic, of lifestyle. His clientele were not so sure. These carefully groomed & dressed art tourists would look across the desk at him with a kind of puzzled distaste, & wonder if they were in the process of making a mistake. They understood their own inauthenticity: they weren’t, at the outset anyway, so certain about his. The women had come for the sensorium porn. The men, though they would pretend to enjoy “seeing the world from a different point of view”, were only interested in donkey crime.
I said: “Look at the speed of it.”
At midnight on our last day we stood in the exact centre of the Erzsebet bridge, gazing north. Szentendre and Danube Bend were out there somewhere, locked in a Middle European night stretching all the way to Czechoslovakia. Ice floes like huge lily pads raced towards us in the dark. You could hear them turning and dipping under one another, piling up briefly round the huge piers, jostling across the whole vast breadth of the river as they rushed south. No river is ugly after dark. But the Danube doesn’t care for anyone: without warning the Medieval cold came up off the water and reached on to the bridge for us. It was as if we had seen something move. We stepped back, straight into the traffic which grinds all night across the bridge from Buda into Pest.
You have to imagine this–
Two naive and happy middle class people embracing on a bridge. Caught between the river and the road, they grin and shiver at one another, unable to distinguish between identity and geography, love and the need to keep warm.
“Look at the speed of it.”
“Oh, China, the Danube!”
The commentariat limits the new to the new it already knows: the only new it will acknowledge is the new predicted & confirmed by its own discourse.
The new it doesn’t know has been staring any given commentariat in the face for a decade, but the commentariat pays no attention. The new the commentariat doesn’t know pays the commentariat no attention in return, but gets on with being what it is.
That’s where science fiction, with its knack for predicting the present, can sometimes help. The best science fiction seems to drag the present into some sort of consciousness of itself. It seems to be ahead of the times because the times are always behind themselves.
But science fiction must never accept the temptation to become a commentariat in itself, or by definition it will start to fail to recognise any new but the new that its internal discourse predicts & confirms.
Finished copies of Empty Space arrived today. Here’s a picture of the hardback &, below, a free quote from Andre Malraux. Make of that what you like but don’t say I never give you anything.
Post title by Deleuze. Photo by Simon Spanton. Publication: 19th July 2012. Excerpt here.
Balker came down from the north and lived on the street.
He was young for his age. He started in the station where the train emptied him out, then moved into a doorway near a bus stop. It was all right for a while. Then he met Verdigris and they went up to the High City together. Verdigris wasn’t that much older than Balker. They were about the same height, but Verdigris knew more. He came from somewhere in the city, he had always lived in Viriconium. He had bright red hair, an alcohol tan and a personalised way of walking. He could get a laugh out of anything. For a while Balker and Veridigris did well out of the tourists in the High City. But Verdigris’ lifestyle-choices moved him along quickly and he started to limp up and down the Terrace of the Fallen Leaves saying, “’I’m in bits, me!’” and showing people the big sore on his neck.
“Hey, look mate, I’m in bits!”
After Verdigris died, Balker stayed away from the other street people. They had a language all their own he never learned to speak, but he knew the same thing was happening to them as to him.
He knew the same thing was happening to everyone.
There were new rules in. New rules had come in, and everyone in Viriconium was in the same position. If you couldn’t look after yourself there was a new way to pay.
Sleeping on the street is hard, all the reasons for that are obvious. It’s never quiet. The police move you about, the mutual associations won’t leave you alone: everyone thinks the boroughs belong to them. You’re hungry, you’ve got a cough, there’s other stuff, it’s an endless list. No one sleeps well in a doorway. You get fragments of sleep, you get the little enticing flakes of it that fall off the big warm central mass. Wake up, and everything seems to have fallen sideways. You guess it’s four in the morning in November, somewhere at the foot of the Ghabelline Stair; but you could be wrong. Are you awake ? Are you asleep ? Rain swirls in the doorway. You’ve got a bit of fever and you can’t quite remember who you are. It’s your own fault of course. You wake up and he’s there in front of you, with his nice overcoat, or sometimes a nice leather jacket, to protect him from the weather. You never really hear his name, though he tells you more than once. He seems to know yours from the beginning.
“Your health’s going,” he says. “You want to start now, before it goes too far.”
So he leaned into Balker’s doorway–maybe it was the night, maybe it wasn’t–and took Balker’s chin in his hand. He turned Balker’s face one way then the other. He was gentle, he even looked a bit puzzled, as if he was wondering why anyone would choose to live that way, what bad choices they must have made made to find themselves in a doorway at the foot of the Ghabelline Stair.
“You want to start now,” he repeated.
So Balker started. They took him to the place in the maze of streets below Mynned Saba. You’d get a meal afterwards, they said. You could expect your head to swim a bit, but come on: somebody in Balker’s condition was going to notice that ? In the end it was easy and it was a bit of money in your hand. It was a way of being responsible for yourself. It could be a beginning, they told him; or you could just leave it at that. But what Balker liked most was the warmth and the calm of the place. It was worth it just to lie down and not think about what to do next. Balker looked around and fell asleep. That was how it started for him, really. That was how his whole life started.
You suspect the whole cheap farrago of this grand house being bought “for the public” by some industrialist in the early 1900s. Even then it was a white elephant no one really wanted, except to turn a profit from. There’s a smell of furniture polish & old food. The floorboards are nice; also the way the light falls in: but every object here thanks you for not interacting with it. THANK YOU FOR NOT SITTING, labels on the chairs announce, & the tables & display cases thank you for not touching. If they could, the paintings, china & very short beds would say, THANK YOU FOR NOT LOOKING; & the guards with their hand-held radios would thank you for not coming. “I’ve got people on this floor,” one of the radios says. You know instantly what that means. “Can you hear me, over ?” It is 2012 & they are actually saying “over”. Outside a hot breeze moves the baskets of trailing flowers on the lamp posts in front of Fail Solicitors. It’s one of those mornings when the overcast distributes the light across the sky. The sun will never break through but you’ll feel it there all day, wrapped around you, until your eyes tire. A faded looking man in a red T shirt crosses the road near the bowel cancer charity. His smile is sarcastic & apologetic at the same time. “We both know what’s happened to me,” it says. “It’s happening to you, too. Over.”
“The land itself, filled with letters, words, texts, songs, signs and stories. And always, everywhere, the paths, spreading across counties and countries, recalled as pattern rather than plot, bringing alignments and discrepancies, elective affinities, shifts from familiar dispositions.” [Robert Macfarlane,The Old Ways, p364.]