Episode 32 - DE NATURIS CALIFORNIA
SORNE - Overtones Sorne does ritual invocations for a fully formed spiritual tradition that probably uniquely exists for him, using mostly his incredible vocal range, looping pedals, and percussion. I saw him perform this song kneeling in the dust clutching a sampler and a hand drum, and it was just as impressive as it is on the album.
This one's a little weird. I was talking with my friend about California, in the mythic sense. Specifically, he was complaining about how certain authors seem to become so fascinated with the Myth of California that their work becomes fixated on it. As he said, “[X] and [Y] are probably the only creators who I don’t serve massive eye rolls for their excessive California obsession.”
I have, as you might expect, Opinions on this Matter. Herein, a chopped, remixed, and slightly less sweary version of what I spewed at him over Slack while eating my overpriced lunch in Fragrant SoMa. Caution: this is barely edited raw feed. If it makes sense, either I’m lucky or you’re high, or possibly both.
De Naturis California
“I said Automatic Shoes! Give me 3-D vision and the California Blues” – Bauhaus, Telegram Sam
"I mean. California. It’s totally a thing. That no one understands.
First of all: LA is blatantly improbable. Chandler1 and Chinatown in the same place as Hollywood? The engine that powers the vast majority of memetic production for the western world? A massive sprawl with no public transit system to speak of? Oh and let’s not forget that the Museum of Jurassic Technology2 is there for some reason as well, which, as psychogeography goes, makes no sense at all. What the fuck even is LA?
Second: San Francisco. A city built entirely on avarice that turned into a hotbed for cultural rebellion without losing its avarice? And, in fact, is now a place wherein avarice is the medium for cultural rebellion?
These are the poles of California. Two places, neither of them makes any sense, but there are two of them here, and they don’t even have the decency to be an oppositional binary, they’re just two weird things, the relationship between which is insanely complex to map. And in between them and on either side, conservative farmland and Fresno wasteoids. Austin, at least, that makes sense; An island of weird in a sea of Texas. That’s coherent, if not stable. but California has these two chaotic attractors that make the entire thing spin off into Lorenzian strangeness.
Also, it’s the western edge of America, both geographically and culturally. Robert Anton Wilson makes a compelling argument that cultural change (in the white people sense of culture) has historically progressed westward. Like any Wilson model, it’s simultaneously true and complete bullshit. But if you accept that hypothesis, then this is the place where it all washes up against the ocean and can’t go any further, so it pools and eddys and backwashes. California is the place where manifest destiny ran into the ocean and ate itself. This is where everything washes up. Everything from America moving west hits everything from the Sea moving east, and it turns into a fractal psychic swampland. It’s a cesspool of weird.
A counter-example: I considered moving to New Orleans. I spent two weeks there, and decided that I did not want to live there, because, as a writer, I would have a lot of trouble writing anything there that was not about New Orleans. Conveniently, the project I was working on there did involve a lot of swamp magic and gatormen, so that worked out alright, but I felt that if I had been working on, say, a space opera, the setting would have turned into New Orleans [Ed Note: Now I want to read a story that takes place in space but the whole thing has a proper Nola vibe, through some combination of nonwhite spacefaring civ and failing CO2 re-uptake hydroponics]. California has a similar thing. The difference being that in Nola you want to write about swamp magic and the proximity of death and that sort of thing, the feeling of the place is so immediate and coherent. New Orleans has a vibe, it’s dark, it’s mysterious, but it is relatively self-consistent. In California, the vibe is so diffuse and incoherent, you don’t have to write about California if you don’t have to. Me, I just skim the surface of the current cultural clusterfuck and pull out the occasional gem that will get me Greatdismal’d on twiter.
But if you write about California, and you write about The Weird, eventually you’ll be writing about California Weird. And there is a lot of it– the closest I’ve come in my own work so far is a lengthy rabbithole of speculation about the occult scene in the 1970s, from Jack Parsons to Charlie Manson and L. Ron Hubbard, and that’s just one tiny fragment. You want to try to figure out this weirdness in the space that is narcissistically self-reflexive. So you reflect the space in your writing, and start to take on those qualities, and those qualities include a weird obsession with California. It’s a feedback loop, and it’s also a constant sense of almost understanding what’s happening here. It becomes an addiction. You think you can turn that dark corner into that alleyway, and find the Answer To California, like the Maltese Falcon sitting behind some dumpster. But the Maltese Falcon doesn’t exist. It’s a plaster replica. And you think, “well it’s got to be a replica of something” and you start looking for the real Maltese Falcon, and you turn down the next alley. And the next, and the next.
California is a hyperreal projection of itself. And by engaging with it, you become part of that hyperreality. and, as a result, become a hyperreal projection of yourself.
It’s easy to read this as narcissism, but it’s not just that. It’s narcissism tinged with a sense of a higher reality. It’s not a “real” higher reality, though. It’s not about you, it’s about the possible you you might become, which will recede infinitely down the funhouse mirror corridor. The feedback loop of California gives your reflection this extra shimmer, this extra dimension, so it looks more Real than usual. So you chase that dragon. Or, to move my West Coast Drug Metaphors from the Opium Boom to the 60s, It’s a bit like being on LSD. When people are on acid they often report everything looking intensely more “real” or “meaningful”. Now, either that’s because you’re perceiving a cosmic energy that pervades reality below the threshold of normal consciousness, or because you can no longer distinguish signal from noise and your visual cortex is lighting up in stochastic Turing patterns. The distinction between the two is meaningless for this analogy, because in either case, you’re perceiving something that’s there all the time anyway. But, your mind has evolved across countless generations to ignore most things that aren’t either food or which want you to be food. So when you perceive something that is outside the norms of perception, because you are writing about California, it’s likely you were raised in a capitalist culture based on the spirit/matter dichotomy, so you’re going to instinctively view it as Holy, in some sense. Meaningful. More real. If only you could fully grasp what it means…
So California, as psychogeography, gives you a perception that wasn’t there before, and it’s a true thing, but it’s not Holy any more than the web of energy interconnecting all life in the universe, or your nervous system, or your breathing. It’s not better, but it’s different. So you try to determine if it’s your perceptual noise floor or some Spiritual contact. And just like trying to determine if an acid experience is a Spiritual Experience or just brain noise can lead to unfortunate tie dye and overly lengthy guitar solos, trying to determine whether the Weird California Shimmer that you are experiencing, in your life, in your work, is a Spiritual Experience can lead to long rambling paragraphs about the LA River, excessive use of fog as a metaphor, and prose that meanders like Mulholland Drive or Lombard Street.
Thank you for coming to my TED talk."
1 and the Other Chandler, of course, if you’re interested in psychogeography.
2 If you are unfamiliar with the MJT, the following sentence from their Wikipedia page summarizes their position nicely, I think: “The museum calls itself “an educational institution dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and the public appreciation of the Lower Jurassic”; the relevance of the term “Lower Jurassic” to the museum’s collections is left uncertain and unexplained.”
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