Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Particles of deep topography - 16

Ominous places and books

Text: The Strange Dark One (W. H. Pugmire) - remixed
Illustrations: Artificial wilderness near Vlaardingen, The Netherlands

Uncanny places are the best places:
There is a place of phantasy and fear, and of sublimity, where things are found in darkness, and sometimes found in dream. April Dorgan found such things within a haunted valley that was surrounded by hills and mountains – a place that beguiled, and mocked, and poisoned. It was an uncanny place, and perhaps that was a portion of its allure.
 
Places are even better when we hesitate to revisit them:
I see that damn totem that was beside the lodge in the woods, with its reptilian faces and wings. I’m tempted to trek to Rick’s Lake again so as to copy the markings on that totem – yet I am reluctant to return. I don’t care to hear again those buzzing voices or the howling Thing. And yet it tugs me to it, that haunted place.
 
Try this sentence on your next walk. It works everywhere:
It was in those woods that we found him, with a strange book in his dead hand.
 
When we can ask perplexing questions about places, we've moved to an advanced level:
He asked me some perplexing questions concerning Rick’s Lake and Professor Gardner, which I didn’t answer. He questioned me about my dreams, damn him. How he could know about such things I cannot fathom.

About this series
Over the years I've collected many place descriptions. It's a waste to keep them on my harddisk. So I'll publish them from time to time. I will add some pictures when suitable.
Enhanced and amplified topographies can be found in a broad range of literature. The best ones link to metaphysics or mysticism and (pre-) load the landscape with unexpected layers, sheets, slabs and strata of meaning. We can appropriate all this work to enrich our everyday surroundings.

Previous posts are 1:The paranoid method, 2:Rooftops and sacrifices, 3:Oil and electricity,  4:Sewing machines, 5:Rooftops and apparitions, 6:Woods, 7:Mushrooms, 8:Formlessness (2d), 9:Formlessness (3d), 10:Autumn, 11:Monsters and mad scientists, 12:Empty spaces, 13:Stars and planets, 14:Addiction against emptiness, 15:Suggestive vagueness.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Milton Rakove on politics - 7

I'm reading this wonderful book from 1975: Don't make no waves ... don't back no losers by Milton Rakove. The book is a great mirror for our times. It does not give answers but it puts things in perspective. I like its musings on political philosophy and "Realpolitik". Something resonates with our times. See the quotes below. The earlier parts of this series are 1:Voters, 2:Power, 3:Immigration4:Religion5:Segregation and 6:The Irish.

Political philosophy

While he has never been a student of philosophy, there are basic philosophic values and maxims that have guided Daley the politician throughout his political career. Those values and maxims are:
  • conservatism,
  • parochialism,
  • loyalty,
  • tolerance,
  • uncompromising morality (by his standards),
  • acceptance of responsibility,
  • attention to details,
  • hard work, and
  • a cautious skepticism about the trustworthiness of his fellowmen.
His conservatism is ... a kind of instinctive, innate cautious approach to his fellowmen and to his society and its problems. "He's like a fellow who peeks in the bag to make sure the lady gave him a dozen of buns," wrote old-time Chicago newspaperman, Ed Lahey, in an article he did on the mayor in the Daily News (July 11, 1966).

Daley's conservatism is the old-line Irish Catholic acceptance of a world in which life is harsh, problems are normal, man is sinful, and struggle and hard work are necessary to obtain a foothold in this world and to improve one's status in society.

Daley's personal political philosophy is ... a kind of pragmatic approach to man and society which recognizes both the goodness and the evil of man, which is tolerant of the evil and cognizant of the good, and which accepts travail as a normal concomitant of man's existence on earth.
Self sufficiency

To survive in this world, men have an obligation to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps. But they also have a responsibility to help their fellow men who have not been successful in running the race through life but who have tried hard and done their best to make the most of themselves.

Daley has little sympathy for those who do not try to raise themselves up, who are content to live off the sweat of the brows of their fellowmen, and who thus become an unwarranted burden on those who are carrying their fair share of the load. "Look, Sister," he told a Catholic nun who complained to him about the plight of blacks in the ghetto, "you and I come from the same background. We know how tough it was. But we picked ourselves up by our bootstraps.'

The Marxist concept of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" is totally alien to Daley's outlook toward society and its problems. Rather, Daley might say, "To each according to his ability, and to those in need who have striven to help themselves."

Unavoidable hardships

... "Certain ills belong to the hardships of human life. They are natural. They are part of the struggle with Nature for existence. We cannot blame our fellow-men for our share of these. My neighbor and I are both struggling to free ourselves from these ills. The fact that my neighbor has succeeded in this struggle better than I constitutes no grievance for me. Certain other ills are due to the malice of men, and to the imperfections or errors of civil institutions. These ills are an object of agitation, and a subject of discussion. The former class of ills is to be met only by manly effort and energy; the latter may be corrected by associated effort."

The world as a set of neighborhoods

Daley's political style is also affected by his parochialism. He has never left Bridgeport. He conceives his city and world as a series of Bridgeports-communities in which God-fearing, decent, hard-working people strive to keep the community stable, hold onto the values of their fathers, and fulfill their obligations as citizens to the neighborhood, the polis, and the nation. Thus, men in politics should be active in the neighborhood, should concern themselves with those in need 'in the community, and should stay out of other neighborhoods, where the people of those neighborhoods should deal with their own problems in their own way.

The world is a Great Neighborhood made up of diverse peoples, each with their own cultures and customs to be respected, in which peace and prosperity can best be achieved by taking care of one's own problems at home, leaving others to do likewise in their respective neighborhoods. "We are a city of fine neighborhoods" he told a party rally in his first year in office in 1955. Eight years later, he still affirmed his belief in the character of his city. "I have lived in Chicago all my life," he told a press conference, "and I still say we have no ghettos in Chicago."

Loyalty to supporters

Daley's conservatism and parochialism are buttressed by a strong sense of loyalty to the people who are close to him by family ties or blood, to those who have worked for him, and to those who have supported him in times of stress.

Daley's political loyalty, however, transcends rewarding family, friends, and associates. He refuses to criticize or castigate associates and supporters who have become embroiled in' legal or political difficulties. He will always find another spot in government or politics for a loyal supporter who has encountered severe criticism or difficulty in the position he holds. He has an elephant's memory for those who stood up for him or supported him in time of need or stress. But he also has a long memory for those who broke ranks, offered unwarranted criticism, or put their own private interests before the interest of the party or the organization.

Particles of deep topography - 15

Suggestive vagueness

Text: Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy (Graham Harman) - remixed
Illustrations: Flanders landscape between Bruges and Antwerp

Use rhetoric devices to make landscapes more convincing:
Beneath the content of any communication lie certain modulations of rhetorical subtlety that have more weight in our determination of truth, falsity, and reality than does any explicit judgment about content.
Use vagueness  to make landscapes more meaningful:
While it is a genuine pleasure to visit Providence and tour these scenes from Lovecraft’s stories, there is the inevitable comical effect of seeing how utterly non-ominous most of these places look in person. But Lovecraft somehow makes it work, piling allusion on allusion like a creepy old neighbor constructing a second basement beneath his already mysterious existing one.

There are not simply one or two locations felt to be harmful, but the more vague and general “certain hilly regions.” No specific reason is given for avoiding these locations, other than the unspoken sense that they are “highly unhealthy, unprofitable, and generally unlucky to live in.” And best of all, “the farther one kept from them the better off one usually was.”
 Use explicit descriptions of the obvious to make landscapes more meaningful:
The second photograph simply depicts “a druid-like circle of standing stones on the summit of a wild hill.” No footprints are clearly visible here, and the real highlight of this passage is Wilmarth’s wonderfully vague inference that “the extreme remoteness of the place was apparent from the veritable sea of tenantless mountains which formed the background and stretched away toward a misty horizon.”
 
This explicit deduction of the photograph’s location, drawn from subsidiary hints of its design, further display Lovecraft’s obsessive tendency to speak openly of connections and junctions that are normally left in an unstated rhetorical or perceptual background.

About this series
Over the years I've collected many place descriptions. It's a waste to keep them on my harddisk. So I'll publish them from time to time. I will add some pictures when suitable.
Enhanced and amplified topographies can be found in a broad range of literature. The best ones link to metaphysics or mysticism and (pre-) load the landscape with unexpected layers, sheets, slabs and strata of meaning. We can appropriate all this work to enrich our everyday surroundings.

Previous posts are 1:The paranoid method, 2:Rooftops and sacrifices, 3:Oil and electricity,  4:Sewing machines, 5:Rooftops and apparitions, 6:Woods, 7:Mushrooms, 8:Formlessness (2d), 9:Formlessness (3d), 10:Autumn, 11:Monsters and mad scientists, 12:Empty spaces, 13:Stars and planets, 14:Addiction against emptiness.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Lines of sight - 2

The previous article in this series is here: lines of sight, some of them ephemeral.

From several points in Delfshaven you can see the skyscrapers of the city centre 2 km away. As always, Google maps is great for analyzing the sightlines. On the right you see the three high buildings in the city centre: The Delfsche Poort, The Mariott Hotel and the Bouwcentrum (or Robeco).
Below are the three high buildings as seen from the upper left map location, at the intersection of Aelbrechtskade and Hooidrift. I realize that the sightlines are better in winter, when the trees are bare. A pretty obvious fact, but it has to be experienced first, it will not arise from pure thought.
The Mariott hotel is also visible from the intersection of the Rochussenstraat and the Nieuwe Binnenweg (2 km). You can see the slightly different angle of the sightline. The squat pyramidal tower on the left is the tower of the Rotterdam cathedral.
Hunting for sightlines is interesting and surprising. I don't know if you can find sightlines on a map, in a controlled manner. I've only found sightlines by accident, not even by trial and error. They find me instead of me finding them.
Here I'm at the Mathenesserplein. It is really surprising to see the Maas building from here (2,8 km). This building is at the other side of Rotterdam, along the river. And it's not even a very high building, so I'm surprised to see it at all. And I'm proud that I can recognize it immediately, without looking at the map. 
And here I'm at the Mathenesserlaan. And in between the trees I can see the Euromast (1,8 km).
And again, as in all these examples, the direction of the landmark is unexpected. The map in my head is different from the real map. I want to do this more often.
Sources:

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Particles of deep topography - 14

Right after starting a this series I realized the title was wrong. There are two reasons for this:
  1. "Deep topography" is a much better title. The major theme in horror is "the appearance of the previously invisible". And horror landscapes have to provide for this. The author must pre-load the landscape with premonitions of unexpected layers, sheets, slabs and strata of meaning. And we can exploit and appropriate all the hard work of the author to enrich our everyday surroundings.
  2. "Horror" is the wrong category. Enhanced and amplified topographies can be found in a broad range of literature. The best ones link to metaphysics or mysticism. One day I will want to add quotes from the Bible or from Ignatius of Loyola. And you could hardly call that "horror literature".
Note: “Deep topography” is a phrase discovered by Nick Papadimitriou. It looks and sounds like this. I like it very much.
And not only is the title wrong, the numbering is wrong also. Previous posts with quotes from horror literature are here: 1:The paranoid method, 2:Rooftops and sacrifices, 3:Oil and electricity,  4:Sewing machines, 5:Rooftops and apparitions, 6:Woods, 7:Mushrooms, 8:Formlessness (2d), 9:Formlessness (3d), 10:Autumn, 11:Monsters and mad scientists, 12:Empty spaces, 13:Stars and planets. Most of these mix art, literature and Rotterdam.

Below is a quote from an article that I read this morning. It is not "horror literature". But it has the same "look and feel" with its mix of possession, metaphysics and religion. It would fit in modern horror and also in political landscape writing - the emptiness of late capitalism:
Addiction is different. Addicts resist known cures—even to the point of death. If you do not reckon with why addicts go to such lengths to continue suffering, you are unlikely to figure out how to treat them.
 
In 1993, Francis F. Seeburger, a professor of philosophy at the University of Denver, wrote a profound book on the thought processes of addicts called Addiction and Responsibility. 
“Something like an addiction to addiction plays a role in all addiction,” he writes. “Addiction itself ... is tempting; it has many attractive features.” 
In an empty world, people have a need to need. Addiction supplies it. “Addiction involves the addict. It does not present itself as some externally imposed condition. Instead, it comes toward the addict as the addict’s very self.” Addiction plays on our strengths, not just our failings. It simplifies things. It relieves us of certain responsibilities. It gives life a meaning. It is a “perversely clever copy of that transcendent peace of God.”
The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous thought there was something satanic about addiction. The mightiest sentence in the book of Alcoholics Anonymous is this: “Remember that we deal with alcohol—cunning, baffling, powerful!” The addict is, in his own, life-damaged way, rational. He’s too rational. He is a dedicated person—an oblate (*) of sorts, as Seeburger puts it. He has commitments in another, nether world.

The deeper problem, however, is at once metaphysical and practical, and we’re going to have a very hard time confronting it. Addicts, in their own short-circuited, reductive, and destructive way, are armed with a sense of purpose. We aren’t.
(*) From the Latin "oblatus" - someone who has been offered (to a monastic order). A lay-person who is committed to follow the monastic life as closely as possible.


Source:
American Carnage, by Christopher Caldwell, First Things
Rotterdam Gallery window - Rodenrijselaan
Gouda building site inside a chapel - Patersteeg - Jeruzalemstraat

Friday, March 10, 2017

Psychogeographic horror literature

Over the years I've collected many psychogeographic text fragments, clipped from horror stories. I like the ominous landscape en cityscape descriptions. It's a waste to keep them on my harddisk. So I'll publish them from time to time. I will add some pictures when suitable.


Over the parking lot, despite the upward glare of the casinos along the Strip, the desert night showed some bright stars: the triangle of Vega, Deneb, and Altair, and to the south red Mars in Sagittarius. Vega from Vegas? The asphalt under my feet was baking hot.
The shoulders of the road widened for a little settlement. I slowed down and then pulled up across from a small old café that was still open. Better get a little to eat, I told myself, it was a long empty stretch ahead. And some coffee, too, despite the heat. I got out. The stars crusted the desert night so luxuriously that one almost forgot they marched in unalterable order. Deneb, Altair, and Mars were merely brighter points in the great, eddying river of the Milky Way. Only Vega was still somewhat lonely.

Boulder Dam, when I got to it, was magnificent in a monstrous way. The highway went across the top of it, from Nevada into Arizona, but it was so wide and very brightly lit that one could see little of its surrounds and nothing of the Colorado River. There was also much heavy mesh wire fencing. The smell of security was very strong, so that one got the feeling it had been built not for Herbert but for Edgar Hoover. There were several great squat chunky towers, like banks or forts—in fact, to me with my peculiar imagination, it had the feeling of a fortress on Jupiter, built for a heavier gravity than ours. It had a Jovian look, or a Vulcanian.

Sources:
Day Dark, Night Bright (Fritz Leiber)
Photographs across the lake in a Rotterdam park

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Milton Rakove on politics - 6

I'm reading this wonderful book from 1975: Don't make no waves ... don't back no losers by Milton Rakove. The book is a great mirror for our times. It does not give answers but it puts things in perspective. I like its musings on political philosophy and "Realpolitik". Something resonates with our times. See the quotes below. The earlier parts of this series are 1:Voters, 2:Power, 3:Immigration4:Religion and 5:Segregation.
The Role of the Irish
There is an old cliché about the city of Chicago that the Jews own it, the Irish run it, and the blacks live in it. The cliché is only about half true. The Jews do not own Chicago. White Anglo-Saxon Protestant businessmen, who live in suburban communities like Lake Forest and Kenilworth, control the economic life of the city. And the blacks still number less than half the population of the city. But the Irish do run the city. ...

The first two major ethnic groups who came into the city from Europe were the Irish and the Germans. While the Germans were an important segment of the city's body politic, the Irish had several advantages which they parlayed into a dominant political role:
    • They spoke and understood English.
    • They were familiar with the English local political and governmental institutions on which the American system was based.
    • They were neutral outsiders in the traditional ethnic antipathies and hostilities which the Central and East European ethnic groups brought to America from their homelands.
A Lithuanian won't vote for a Pole, and a Pole won't vote for a Lithuanian," according to a Chicago politician. A German won't vote for either of them - but all three will vote for a 'Turkey,' an Irishman."

And, finally, the Irish became the saloonkeepers in cities like Chicago, and the Irish-owned and -run saloons became the centers of social and political activity not only for the Irish but also for the Polish, Lithuanian, Bohemian, and Italian immigrants who poured into the city after the Irish and Germans. For where would an ethnic laborer go for recreation at night after his twelve-hour stint in the steel mills or the stockyards but to the local saloon?
The Irish political style
... the social characteristics that most deeply affect the Irish political style are, "A deep and abiding interest in people as distinct individuals; a political morality with distinctive attitudes toward both political means and ends; a near clannish definition of and concern about political loyalty (especially vis-a-vis other Irish politicians); and a predominate interest in political power."
Irish politicians, says Levine,
    • remain "of the people";
    • are interested in power at least as much as in money;
    • decry ostentatious living or overly stylish clothes, maintaining "an inconspicuous residence, social style, style of dress, and a common manner of speech";
    • abjure gossip-column publicity;
    • "studiously avoid pretension, verboseness, and phraseology not characteristic of the common man";
    • are impatient with idealistic social reformers;
    • "view government as a source of power to be used for individual, rather than social, ends";
    • are "charitably disposed toward most of the moral and situational shortcomings of others" except for "apostates, heretics, and marital infidelity";
    • believe that "justice must be tempered with a good deal of mercy, or charity for fallible man";
    • " are tolerant of corruption, providing it doesn't get out of hand ("Making a buck is okay, but don't rob the poorhouse");
    • "place great emphasis on loyalty to the ethnic group, the party, and to each other ... in highly personal terms ... as related to people more than to something else ... in individualistic and pragmatic terms";
    • are fascinated "with the intricacies and subtleties of power struggle
An Irish politician, when asked if it was characteristic of Protestant Republicans to be charitable in politics, replies, "Oh, hell no! They want to take the guy out and slaughter him in the streets. The Irish want to give the guy a break every now and then ... Every guy is entitled to a fall, every dog to a bite."