Locating Imaginary Events In Real Places – Beyond Sensory Experience :: Ghost stories crashing like waves against the inside of your skull.
I’m writing rules for a role-playing game while researching how to repair the rapidly declining battery on my macbook, and my brain is feeding me things like “crafting this weapon requires the blood of a Dire Wolf and a 0.5mm torx driver.” Which is not exactly where I thought the “Haunted Machines” current would take me, but there we are.
Psychogeography: Like pornography, I know it when I see it. It’s difficult to define, because it is by turns both a subtle, subjective set of ideas and a completely overloaded term. It is probably not the guy next to me in this cafe typing paragraph-long screeds into google maps and mumbling and cackling about the results. It may however be the fact that google maps now just automatically shows me cafés near whatever point I happen to be looking at. The machine knows my algorithms. Apparently there’s a Pirate Coffee near Vladivostok, if you happen to be nearby let me know how it is.
It probably is this strange displacement I feel when I open my laptop in a place that is supposedly my home and close all the tabs related to navigation in the city I was just in. Don’t need the hours for that restaurant when it’s three time zones away.
In New Orleans, in the summer, it is hellishly hot and humid, so everyone has the AC going full blast. This sometimes results in a strange effect where you have been sitting in a restaurant for long enough wearing the Minimum Legally Viable amount of clothing that you’ve started to shiver, and as you step outside into the sweltering night your body is telling you that you’re so much more comfortable, while simultaneously your brain is telling you that in ten minutes you’ll be covered in sweat again and begging to be going back inside to the blessedly civilized air conditioning. I am in San Francisco, supposedly my home, and that is how I am feeling, psychically. Climatologically speaking, I’ve gone from satan’s armpit to Eternal Late Fall. Spiritually I’ve gone from a place where there are deep connections to important things, but seemingly very little forward motion, to a place where there’s constant motion but no sense of depth.
New Orleans, on this pass, feels to me as if it is a place with an intense and deep root system down in the loamy soil of a past that is essential to understanding… well, anything. The depth there, the sheer potency of meaning, is something you don’t have to be working on an intentionally spiritual level to understand. It has a reputation as a town for ghosts, and that’s true, but ghosts are like any locals, they only stick around because there’s a culture there the tourists will never understand. But I get no sense of motion there, beyond a sort of swirling brownian fractal internal awareness. The past, and I mean as much the histories of the dead written in DNA and psychic traces as I do the architecture which they stain, is something we need, and it should not be forgotten. But the past is a place to visit and learn from, not a place to live.
Then, I come to San Francisco, and it feels like all motion with no roots. Flash and Trash, as we call it in the VJ world, when you just toss a bunch of strobey bullshit at a screen and call it content. Everyone’s moving at high speed but I don’t have any sense that any of them know why, much less where. The roots are atrophied. As it was pointed out to me on this trip, there are no dead in San Francisco. They’ve all been moved to San Mateo. And where there are no dead things, nothing grows. If I may use a metaphor from Seeing Like A State, we’re clearing out the forest floor of debris to grow our cultural Normalbaumen. And production is up, at least for a few seasons, until that lack of debris has ensured that nothing will rot into the soil to feed the living plants.
Of course the dead here are a metaphor, for the past and all of its accumulated wisdom. But there’s something about walking around those cities of the dead, smelling the ozone and petrichor of the afternoon storm that you know will bring a few minutes respite from the heat, to make you really viscerally aware of how much we can’t see when the only past we have is the pre-packaged plastic wrapped model that comes with the Official Narrative. We don’t get the loam and grime, we get the wax museum and the How They Would Have Wanted To Be Remembered. There’s little respect for The Dead as a vital force, they are frozen in time as some static symbol to be used as propaganda. The Official Narrative cares only about a past that can be sold to the present at a loss to the future. The Official Narrative can’t make a profit off the rot that feeds the soil. It is wrapped in plastic, and does not decompose. In Nola we drink with the dead, we don’t ignore them. Literally, I mean, I was in a bar filled with obliterated tourists groping each other and there was a thing that was flashing us visions of dripping blood and this was completely normal. There’s not really the same distinction made between the living and the dead, there. They know, there, that just because a thing is dead does not mean it no longer interacts with the present.
But I need a place which is moving toward a future, too, one that isn’t self aggrandizing to the point of a solipsistic technological nightmare. New Orleans is a vast library of the past, and San Francisco is moving toward a dying future. They are both lovely places, and important, and neither of them feels remotely like home to me.
My current working model is that I don’t actually want to be somewhere. Apparently I just like arriving and departing, not actually being anywhere.
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