Valentine’s Day comes originally from the ancient Roman holiday of Lupercalia, where in honor of the Great God Pan and the She-wolf who suckled the founders of the empire, the priests would run through the streets dressed only in freshly-slaughtered goat skins and women would line up to be flogged with strips of still warm flesh to ensure fertility. So if your Valentine’s day celebration doesn’t look at least a little like that, I want no part of it. Or, as my ex used to say, “happy horny werewolf day!”
Suicide Machine. A machine designed to destroy itself. Draw your own metaphors, but I love the sound.
The holidays happened, and then the additional holidays, and then it’s been the dead zone season in the industry where my money comes from, so I’ve had little bandwidth to dedicate to writing. Almost all of it has gone into the novel. Just before the holidays, I wrote myself into a corner:
“You owe me an explanation, Strauss,” she says. “Just what in the hell is going on? I have just been in the rather fucking tenuous position of being halfway up a radio tower that then got blown to hell by a psychopath with an RPG, and I would like to know what the fuck I am carrying.”
Strauss sighs. “You’re right. And I’ll tell you.”
And then I realized… I didn’t know just what in the hell was going on. I mean, I knew the outline of it, but… the problem with writing a series of interlocking conspiracies is that it’s really hard to keep track of who knows what and when. There are a lot of large scale organizations in this world, not all of whom necessarily know of the motives or even existence of the others. I’m bad about this sort of thing. I wrote a bunch of stuff with an intuitive sense that what I was creating was right, or at least internally consistent, but I’ve been so cautious about Show Not Tell that when it came time for a character to actually talk about what was going on, I wasn’t sure what he would say. I’m at 53,000 words and running on instinct propped up with an infrastructure of questionable philosophies.
So I sat down with a notebook, and I started scribbling madly, writing out and striking out and re-writing out possible histories. This notebook has an interesting property, that the pages want to fall out as soon as you turn them, so this had the psychological effect of making sure I was aware that this was all trash, all sketch, to counter my bad habit of unconsciously treating everything I write as some kind of Product that is sanctified. I scribbled and scratched and tore and rewrote, until I had in my head the history of the Undifferentiated Zone and its Various Powers, starting about 20 years before the events of the book. And now I am writing that down somewhere else, that isn’t scrap.
So now, hopefully, I’ll be able to have Strauss say what in the hell is going on and not wind up in the embarrassing position of having him tell secrets which aren’t his to know. And then I get to go back over what I’ve written and make sure everyone is actually acting in concert with what they know, as opposed to what I know.
Funny thing, the major issue I keep running into is the question of “why now”. Event A happens because of B and B happens because of C and D but… why did the chain of events start in the first place, now?
Turns out, writing a novel is hard.
A couple of nodes, here, which I’m trying to work out the paths between in my own head.
I’ve been thinking about the sense of Genius Loci in the post-internet age (yes I said post-internet, You Heard It Here First). A lot of artists whom I admire seem to have become focused of late on notions of psychogeography. A notable example is Alan Moore’s Voice of the Fire, a lateral dive through the history of what we now know as Northampton, which he seems to believe is the origin point of all culture. Warren Ellis has been seeming to tend toward a certain kind of local knowledge with his thoughts on Cunning Murrell and related topics.
But I wonder how this applies to someone like me, who is radically displaced from any sense of belonging to a geographical area. I live in San Francisco, which is about as post-geographic as you can get while too poor to leave town on a regular basis. I aspire to being like (and, let’s be honest, I envy) my friends who contact me at strange hours because they know no matter what time zone they’re in this week I’ll probably be awake. The other day I got a 3 am pep talk from Oslo, and the last time I really talked to that person was in a wine bar on Folsom street. Eastern Standard Tribe is passé, now we send text messages with the assumption that there’s an equal chance the recipient is asleep or in a meeting. So how does that meet up with the idea of the Spirit of Place? Are we just smearing our psyches across multiple places and taking an average? Or are we finding a deeper connectivity that transcends specific geography? Is there a Genius Meta-Loci?
There’s some as yet poorly defined connection there with something I’ve vaguely been gesturing toward recently, which I talked about pre-solstice in terms of the meaning behind the symbols. I was speaking in spiritual terms there, but to fence off what I’m referencing into a neat realm of “spirituality” would be to miss the point. It applies to all manner of systems, in ways I’m just starting to try to comprehend. There’s an essential understanding that lies beneath and behind the tools we use to manipulate symbols.
This has all been informed by my recent reading of Hyperobjects by Timothy Morton. It came up in a discussion with my colleagues, with some debate about who was going to get around to reading it first, so in striving for some kind of academic legitimacy I’m trying to finish it in order to produce a book report for the rest of the class. As a result I’m not going to go into great detail on it yet, but it’s an interesting set of notions about how to approach the incredibly complex and terrifying ideas that currently confront us as the world gets weirder than our traditional models can really deal with, and a lot of them have to do with the way we comprehend terrifyingly huge things. My extremely subjective read on this is that it ties into the way we comprehend notions of “spirituality”, and other difficult-to-pin-down notions, but I’m only about a third of the way in, so don’t hold me to that.
There’s also the notion of metis, which I’m going to roughly and inaccurately characterize here as “local, pragmatic, bottom-up knowledge”, in opposition to techne, equally inaccurately defined as “systemic, theoretical, top-down knowledge.” In modern times I mostly see these used in reference to Seeing Like A State, wherein James Scott uses the dichotomy as a model for the way States (in the broadest sense) define citizens, in opposition to the organic ways in which a citizen body defines itself over time. But I’ve been thinking about these two forces as they map, roughly, to the Hacker Mentality vs the Brogrammer Mentality. Not to say that Hackers don’t possess a great deal of techne, of course, they certainly need to in order to know the playing field on which they operate. But I think the thing that defines a Hacker (as opposed to a Programmer or a Sysadmin or anything more specialized) is, essentially, that the vector of knowledge is orthogonal to actual technology. In other words, a Hacker is interested in exploring systems because they are interested in doing something with them, whether that’s accomplishing a goal or just exploration. The specific technology is just an underlying stratum on which they move, not the end goal.
Anyway. That’s just a few nodes on my map right now. There’s a shape forming here, which I can’t quite get my head around yet, which is one of the reasons I’ve been off-comm a lot. Between this and the novel, it’s not exactly been the kind of thing you can say anything coherent about. But I figured I owed you at least a vague gesture as some kind of intellectual proof-of-life.
Hope you are all well, and, if I don’t catch you again before then, Beware the Ides of March.
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