Thoughts from Undergound + Startling implications

Not so much a synthesis, as a scribbling inspired by viewing London by night via foot and the city Thameslink route in addition to the conformist chambers and concourses of ‘pseudomodernist’ St Pancreas (It probably doesn’t deserve such an ideological tag, but it’ll do for now). In parts, the station is quite possibly the most greyly homogeneous  dank and dystopian of the whole London Underground, not including the subterranean chrome vastness of Westminster.

If only I could bear the time and mental stamina to extend and synthesise the themes of this reportage (found in Unknowing and so on) into something much larger, but not maximalising in the pursuit for ‘the real’. In the meantime, these posts with have to satisfy the need to create. After posting, I always feel sad and empty.

‘A fuzzy empire of blur, it fuses public and private, straight and bent, bloated and starved, high and low, to offer a seamless patchwork of the permanently disjointed. Seemingly an apotheosis, spatially grandiose, the effect of its richness is a terminal hollowness, a vicious parody that systematically erodes the credibility of architecture, possibly for ever.’

Rem Koolhaas, Junkspace

‘The sight of large masses of people hurrying down into underground chambers was perpetually strange to me, and I felt that all of the human race were rushing, pushed by a counter instinctive death drive, into moveable catacombs. Above ground I was with thousands of others in their solitude, but in the subway standing close to strangers, jostling them and being jostled by them for space and breathing room, all of us re-enacting unacknowledged traumas, the solitude intensified.’ Teju Cole, Open City

The spatial intersections that are more than a little bit serendipitously connected, the porous frontiers of the stamp of the zeitgeist(s), disembodied and disorientating pastiches of urban spaces. The restless, over-stimulation, the numbing alienation. Whatever. The overcrowding, the overpriced anything. He wouldn’t want to be anywhere but the mass, the ecclesiastical hiss of the roaring tube produced as it rushes through the conduit of partially-open, end-carriage window matted with sooty textures. Pressing against other marooned, enclosed souls.

Architecture is the one art we must inhabit, unlike literature or music which for those who deem it frivolous, can be just about ignored barring advertising, neoliberalism’s epitome artform. To seek acolytes and eye contact in the mass and the multitude. He was too competitive, too solitary, too recursive, felt his journey too painful to wish on others. Particularly, if that journey were one on the Northern Line in late weekday evening. We all seek the like-minded as we would seek.

Tricking someone into needing you by pretending to care and the most wretched transaction – using someone to ameliorate anxiousness and enliven self-worth.  If it is plausible to believe that the minutiae of each life, every, solitary worker trapped within their thoughts and the abundant centimetres (!) of personal space between themselves and another is the stuff, the essence of poetry? If so, then the loner conquests all. Consequently, the inanity of ‘total noise’ and information overload, terabytes squared to the trillion soon, every extraneous tweet, status update and reblogged would be framed without puritanical hesitancy in the opulent halls of timeless art. Reblogs would have the amusing but vertiginous, infinite regression of man-reading-magazine-reading-magazine and so on. Back to the tube carriage.

But that’s not fundamentally true – A point anticipated in the loftiest of terms by Keats in ‘The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream’

‘Who alive can say,

 ‘Thou art no Poet – may’st not tell thy dreams’? 

Since every man whose soul is not clod

Hath visions, and would speak, if he had loved

And been well nutured in his mother tongue.

All of us generate creative output simply by living but I’ve seen enough advertising to last ten lifetimes. Does that mean anything? Living without creating is exquisite torment. It’s total noise, everything vying for me to watch, read or aspire to. The city as some kind of exegete, knowledge is like a mistress you court. The pursuit for their totalising wholeness is the totalising impulse for a total coherent sphere of knowledge. Problems that have remained for a millennia and can’t be ameliorated by just whining about them. Euston is here.

That night, I finally penetrated the veils of false memory that have shrink-wrapped and shrouded my mind in a silky greased cling-film of my own invention and realised I know nothing. It was chilling and exhilarating moment, the amphetaminic culmination, the rush of approaching ‘the real’. But this is not it. These are not my words, I am just borrowing them. Everyone in that carriage knew something I didn’t.

Self-knowledge is self-creation. Every penetrating detail of self I know only of others. Not only the faux-naifs among us but everyone.

The world is softened against the November condensation. The intense variations of red and most cadmium of yellows shine on…



Unknowing: a thought for 28/10/12


A synthesis, a rambling for the ‘real’, a manifesto, a memo, a message to another, a fanboy-ish tribute to David Foster Wallace and maybe, an elitist sneer.

Always conscious of unknowing, the prescience of the Rumsfeldian matrix, like a black smudge at the peripheral vision.

Yet simultaneously aware of the hubris that accompanies the totalising impulse to consume knowledge. The hungry jaws of individual transcendence and an appetite for the grandiose: ‘Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied’. Is all literature the predatory, pathological obsession to retain two contradictory ideas? The consolation of all novels as journals, freed from cognitive dissonance and onto the page, the desire to create something ex nihlo, from yourself.

Or, to demonstrate, the insight of the solitary and heroic figure of a esoteric writer when the times are ‘strange enough’ for art.

Those that can an squat almost messianic over the twinkling sprawl safe in the knowledge, removed from the great multitude, that those below will never even attempted to have same neural inter-connectivity, (imagined in the iconography of Henry Beck’s Tube Map) between the fields as diverse as 17th century political theory and 20th Century mixed fibres (poor example?). Behind ordinary fears lurked stowaway-ing of the fear of just being ordinary.

And, their own ignorance for wanting to open the gates to the great beyond, the feeling of remorse for not engaging with the cynics, with the mass when some can barely exert enough effort to read the cue-card length headlines of rolling news. When the vaguest nod to the cerebral is presented in the wrapping of the cerebral: ‘True ignorance is not the absence of knowledge, but the refusal to acquire it.’ At least for Popper anyway.

Those wishing to spill their cards from their sleeves at once, to write what it would require a book to fill in a matter of a page and change. To make the reader feel like they’re the smartest individuals in the world, when their isn’t one:

‘Fiction for me is a conversation for me between me and something that May not be named – God, the Cosmos, the Unified field, my psychoanalytic cathexes, Roqoq’oqu, whomever. I do not feel even the hint of obligation to an entity called READER – do not regard it as his favour, rather his choice, that, duly warned, he is extended capital/time/retinal energy on what I’ve done.’ (David Foster Wallace)

The great quest to ‘know thyself’ when the unexamined life isn’t worth living, to wear the smile of falsity while lonely, alienated and stressed-out, to breathlessly scribble the minutiae of experience with Olympian speed so that you invariably begin writing about writing, with varying degrees of lucid but self-indulgent success. While others fill Facebook albums, while Empires shudder and fall.

Knowing that ever-growing reading list will outlive you. Timeless literature seldom means little when 50 hours a book x 500 plus books equals an insufficient, finite to experience life, to share with her, them and ours.

Too busy approaching the ‘real’ in prose that has been attempted ad nauseum – the pen as pole vault attaining the geographic, historical grounding so too with the groundings of the flying stimuli of ‘a day in the life’ – the peculiarities, bisecting irregularities in thoughts, the way an image of a loved one’s favourite meal springs to mind when gazing at a partially torn billboard for cathedral city cheese across the concrete flyovers of the North Circular and the verdant haze of the Epping Forest hills beyond. A great sea of possible mode of thoughts, tones and textures unknown: “What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant.” (DFW) 

Do we really think we know more than we did yesterday? Or once the mind expanded to the pressures of a task, to swallow the edifice of knowledge, the hard-to-vary assertions of truth, the testable conjectures, the critiques it [the mind] can never contract?

Memories merge, coagulate. Not so much racing thoughts as thoughts that ‘twine in a boily and clotted and altogether nauseous way’ (DFW).

Damn, I need a nap.