The “grosstopical” notion of China Mieville.

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I  first read Mieville last year. I had picked up Perdido Street Stationone book in a trilogy of novels set in a world of the author’s own creation. New Crobuzon, the cerebrum-shaped city in Perdido, is depicted as an expansive cluster of disparate architecture and neighborhoods, inhabited by a menagerie of imaginative characters.  There are arcane garudas that dwell on the rooves of buildings, giant trance-inducing moths that menace the city and subsist on dreams, a massive multi-dimensional spider with human hands hanging from its abdomen, bio-engineered people with grotesque mechanical adaptations, and a powerful neural network comprising discarded electronics in a city dump.

There’s really a lot of ideas in this book. Perdido, at times, reads as an excursion into the fantastic, only partially regulated by a concern for plot. As a writer, Mieville takes on the role of a world-builder, creating a place where all his insane creations can exist and interact. With the story confined to a city, New Crobuzon develops its facets and reveals its layers around the events throughout the book. The story is in place to satisfy the author’s passion for the characters, rather than the other way around, and the  imagined world and its inhabitants take precedence over the traditional virtues of the novel.   He even admits to this tendency, stating in his Believer interview, “I’m in this fucking business for the monsters. The monsters are the main thing I love about the fantastic. And unfortunately  you can’t really sell books of monsters to publishers. They insist on stories linking them.”

Mieville’s work has been described as “baroque urban fantasy“, those three words being some of the most heavily used designations in conversations surrounding his work. Reading The City and The City, it’s noticeable early on that the author eased up on his baroque leanings to write what is essentially  a crime noir novel,  a combination of  “weird fiction” and the “police procedural“. Though more contained in its chimerical qualities, it’s still a science-fiction story. The elements of fantasy are seen in the inner-workings of two made-up cities–Beszel and Ul Quoma: separate cities in the same space.

thecityandthecityThe City and The City is mythologies, murder, and politics set in a unique reality, a nuanced cadre of peripheries. An anomalous circumstance sets the stage for the particular rules of engagement in the city/cities. Movement through space is marked as much by seeing as “unseeing”; “unseeing” being a propensity of the residents of Beszel and Ul Quoma: two different cities, sharing the same physical territory in isolation from one another. A “breach” between the separate cities can happen on either a physical level or, more abstruse, on a perceptual one.

An example of the intricacies of Beszel and Ul Quoma in a passage where the narrator is moving from one city to the other:

…[I] had the driver take us, to his raised eyebrows, a long way round to Beszel entrance on a route that took us on KarnStrasz. In Bezel it is an unremarkable shopping street in the Old Town, but it is crosshatched, somewhat in Ul Quoma’s weight, the majority of buildings in our neighbour, and in Ul Quoma its topolganger is the historic, famous Ul Maidin Avenue, into which Copula Hall vents. We drove as if coincidentally by the Copula Hall exit into Ul Quoma.

I had unseen it as we took KarnStrasz, at least ostensibly, but of course grosstopically present near us were the liens of Ul Quomans entering, the trickle of vistor-badge wearing Besz emering into the same physical space they may have walked an hour previously, but now looking around in astonishment at the architecture of Ul Quoma it would have been breach to see before.

I’m interested in the spatial precepts conceived here.  In describing an area that is at once one place and yet another, the narrator defines proximity “crudely physically, grosstopically, to use the term unique to Beszel and Ul Guoma, unnecessary anywhere else.”

Neither pre-1987 Berlin or modern day Jerusalem, Mieville addresses “real-life border conditions” as source material and basis of comparison in his interview on BLDGBLOG:

My intent with The City and The City was…to derive something hyperbolic and fictional through an exaggeration of the logic of borders, rather than to invent my own magical logic of how borders could be. It was an extrapolation of really quite everyday, quite quotidian, juridical and social aspects of nation-state borders: I combined that with a politicized social filtering, and extrapolated out and exaggerated further on a sociologically plausible basis, eventually taking it to a ridiculous extreme.

A grosstopical understanding of spatial dimensions is a basic comprehension of an area,  controlled by separate governing bodies, removed from the definitive dueling politics. Geography becomes awkward when it loses its ability to be depoliticized. Simple terms of physicality aren’t sufficient in addressing how we deal with space. A map, while composed of different masses of land and bodies of water, is more-often-than-not defined by the borders and territories imposed upon it. It’s an interesting challenge to imagine reading geography in alternate ways, overlaying new meanings onto  standard interpretations. Complicate the matter with the idea of a space, simultaneously singular and seperate, and you’ve arrived somewhere around where the “grosstopical” notion could have derived from.

Aspire Bariatrics

foodgoesout

I’m at a loss.

The collapsing buildings of Alexandria

egyptDestruction in Alexandria, Egypt. Photo: AFP PHOTO/STR
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A news story coming out of Alexandria, Egypt caught my attention this morning. Looking into the tragic collapse of an eight-story apartment building, which comes rights on the heels of a devastating train derailment outside of Cairo, it’s apparent that this city’s problem of modern buildings abrubtly crumbling is epidemic.

Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest metropolis, has seen several buildings spontaneously collapse in recent history. 2007 saw the fall of a twelve-story apartment building. The following year, yet another apartment building crumbled. In June 2012, two buildings were reported to have collapsed in the same week. The following month, an eleven-story building fell. A few months later, a three-story building.

The country’s housing minister reports that 14,500 buildings have been built without license in the city. While shoddy construction and lack of building standards isn’t unique to just Alexandria (Egypt’s total number of unlicensed  buildings is reported at 318,000), it’s remarkable to think of multistory residential buildings collapsing unannounced in such densely populated urban space–a seriously scary housing crisis.

The below video exemplifies the problem of the collapsing buildings of Alexandria. “We don’t want compensation,” one of the residents of the city states, “We want stability.”

Reading Material: Cities / Playscapes / Drugs / Jerusalem / Time / Bunkers / Apocalypse

It’s been awhile.

The internet got shut off. Life got complicated. Enderender maintenance became less of a priority.

Sine last posting, I traveled by thumb from Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles  California. I came back to New Orleans afterwards and things were bad. Then I left America at the start of last year, went travelling in the Middle East. I returned to New Orleans, this time in late spring. Now I work in a public library.

Perfect. That’s the explanation for the my nearly 18-month absence.   Now, to readjust focus…

A list of recent reading material, in no particular order:

common ground
Common Ground In A Liquid City by Matt Hern

Ideas for sustainable urban futures specifically focused on arguments for density, localization, and city planning as a collective, participatory activity. The premise for this collection of essays centers around the comparison of various locales (New York, Las Vegas, Istanbul, Diyarbakir–to name a few) to the author’s own, Vancouver. The result is a civic-minded sampling of the successes and failures of different cities, with special attention paid to the possibilities of the places being analyzed.

Common Ground has a lot to with basic considerations of public space. A lot of the themes throughout the book  suggest that in order to transform our cities–whether it be through redesign, repurposing, or rehabilitation–we need to first change the way we think about them.

Makes sense. Hern’s approach to the shaping of cities is informal, organic, and spirited. He’s into bikes, potlucks, and as much shared space as possible. Corporate interest and privatization don’t make for the kind of city he’s trying to envision in this book. Essentially, he’s calling for cities to be built from the ground up, to develop character on their own, rather than be assigned one by aggressive development firms and government officials.

The writing is consistently approachable, although he could probably stand to put a little more effort into the visuals accompanying his next book. It wouldn’t be unfair at times to  categorize Hern  as “idealistic”. Of course, imagining the type of place we want to live and be a part of is a lot easier than actually implementing the changes necessary to make that place a reality. His best argument is for densification, building fecund urban centers with lots of resources and preserving the rural areas in the process.

I’d probably be pulling quotes from it if I didn’t already lend it out, recommending it to a friend as definitely worth reading.

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Reimagining Recreation by James Trainor

I developed a weird fascination with playscapes awhile back. This article is about the trials of New York City playground development, the radical urban playground designers of the 60′s, and Robert Moses.

In my reading, I was dragged back to the age of six-years old, running around on what would now be most certainly condemned as a totally unsafe playground at The Hansen Elementary School in the suburbs of Massachusetts. It’s gone now, replaced by a generic, prepackaged play environment. It was made mostly out of thick lumber and old tires. There was a pyramid you could crawl on top of and around and inside, made completely out of conjoined automobile tires! And it was on the huge monster-truck tires, half-buried in the sand, with an 8-foot gap in between them traversable through a rope swing, where I split open my forehead. Lots of crying, some stress for my father, and a few stitches.

I look back upon that place as magical, maybe even more so because of my painful experience.

Lady Allen of Hurtwood, “a British landscape designer and fierce child welfare activist” and one of the major influences of Richard Dattner, a radical playscape designer, was known for her  “…unsettling dictum, ‘Better a broken bone than a broken spirit’.”

Reimageining Recreation does a good job of positioning these designers amongst fine artists and, especially, land artists. It’s seems totally reasonable to talk about playgrounds and the Spiral Jetty or Roden’s Crater in relation to one another, conceptually juxtaposing these spatial interventions.

Regarding the radical playscapes of NYC circa 1960:

The playscapes were the first in New York to be designed by architects—idealistic, savvy, and ambitious young designers with their own tots in tow, steeped in New Left politics, versed in current social theories and child psychology, and at home in downtown art circles. (Friedberg was a lifelong friend of artist Jackie Ferrara, whose feminist take on post-minimalism featured wooden staircases, ramps, and stacked pyramids that almost invited the viewer to start climbing on them.) Unbeknownst to most, Dattner and Friedberg embodied a small but important vanguard working in parallel and often anticipating the environmentally engaged work of Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, Robert Morris, Sol LeWitt, and others.

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Operation Delirium by Raffi Khatchadourian 

Totally scary, fascinating article about an army doctor conducting drug experiments on young soldiers during the cold war. This expose calls into question the ethics of the US Government feeding young men illicit substances in the interest of developing psychological weapons. Centered around James Ketchum, one of the leading doctors at Edgewood, the article is a collection of horrors and cold military rationale:

In 1949, L. Wilson Greene, Edge wood’s scientific director, typed up a classified report, “Psychochemical Warfare: A New Concept of War,” that called for a search for compounds that would create the same debilitating mental side effects as nerve gas, but without the lethality. “Throughout recorded history, wars have been characterized by death, human misery, and the destruction of property; each major conflict being more catastrophic than the one preceding it,” Greene argued. “I am convinced that it is possible, by means of the techniques of psychochemical warfare, to conquer an enemy without the wholesale killing of his people or the mass destruction of his property.

Guy-Delisles-Jerusalem-Not-Just-Another-Brick-In-The-Wall_0
 Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle

Guy Delisle documented, in comicbook form, his year spent in Jerusalem.  His partner worked for Doctors Without Borders, spending much of her time in Gaza, while Delisle looked after his two young children and explored his surroundings. What came out of this is a very honest account of Delisle’s personal experiences in a place of conflict.

I think the initial naiveté of the author is actually one of the strengths of the work. From the beginning, he seems routinely surprised at the conditions produced from the tensions between Israel and Palestine. He’s not visiting Israel for religious or historical reasons, nor is he visiting Palestine in the interest of solidarity or politics. Instead, it seems more like he just ended up there, the caretaker for the kids while his wife  was at work. For this reason, Delisle’s perspective is valuable. Simple and straight-forward.

It’s a good counterweight to reading Joe Sacco….but if you’re going to only read one, definitely choose Sacco.

time-machine
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

I’ll spare you from my own unabashed adoration of the father of modern science fiction and just leave you with a crude synopsis: A scientist travels way far into the future. The leisure class has turned into supple, dim-witted imps, the working class into subterranean savages. The future looks bleak.

‘For the first time I began to realize an odd consequence of the social effort in which we are at present engaged. And yet, come to think, it is a logical consequence enough. Strength is the outcome of need; security sets a premium on feebleness. The work of ameliorating the conditions of life–the true civilizing process that make life more and more secure–had gone steadily on to a climax. One triumph of a united humanity over Nature had followed another. Things that are now mere dreams had become projects deliberately put in hand and carried forward. And the harvest was what I saw!’

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Home at the End of Time: Robert Vicino Built an Underground City Where You Can Ride out the Apocalypse by Austin Considine and You’re (Probabaly) Not Invited: End Times Living with the Doomsday 1 Percent by Jake Hanrahan

Both these articles came from the same place (Motherboard), around the same time (the Mayan Apocalypse), and deal with the same content (doomsday bunkers) so I grouped them together.

Remember 2012? Like last year, when that thing didn’t happen? Well, at the very least, it propelled “the end of the world” into the mainstream for awhile, which was exciting and then, quickly, tired and annoying.

When reading about these survival bunkers, I can’t help but think of that old Don Johnson movie A Boy and His Dog. I’m specifically thinking about the post-apocalyptic, subterranean community that kidnaps the young Don Johnson for his sperm. In this underground society created in the aftermath of nuclear disaster, it’s all hyper-Americana and inbreeding, weird violence and verbal instructions for apple pie blasting out of speakers. Not necessarily a future worth sticking around for.

What Robert Vicino’s bunker company Vivos offers is the economic version of the doomsday domicile. The going rate for a spot in one of his bunkers is $50,000 per adult, $35,000 for children. Vicino said reassuringly, “What Vivos is, is a modern-day fortress or citadel, where our members are safe and secure, with all the supplies they need to ride it out. And we can defend the facilities. So if the rest of the world’s gone crazy, our people will at least be in a safe haven,”

Sounds fun. And according to the Vivos website, this mass hysteria, necessitating a flee from collapse into the underground,  could be a result of any number of forces including, but not limited to, bio war, anarchy, a killer comet, a global tsunami, or a super volcano, respectively.

Larry Hall’s Luxury Survival Condo is unique in that his bunkers are built inside repurposed missile silos built by the Army Corps of Engineers. In terms of design, they’re stunning. And two million dollars for a spot…before they sold out. Which leads to this interesting predicament noted by the article’s author:

So with all the comforts that any wealthy survivalist could throw money at, Larry Hall has designed the survival condo for likeminded millionaires savvy enough to realize that if or when the economy or society goes to pot, their cash-at-hand will be worthless, and their survival investment will be money well spent. But surely Hall realizes this, too? It’s my hope that, come time to batten down the hatches, those people sharing his oxygen don’t get on his nerves when all the profit he’s made becomes worthless in a barter-based economy.

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Chinese Dig in for ‘approaching doomsday’ by Rita Alvarez Tudela

More architecture for the apocalypse. Imagine the end of the world actually happening, the only survivors being the guys brazen enough to lock themselves inside a giant ping-pong ball. Or better yet, imagine the end of the world being brought on by a global tsunami, earth turned into one giant ocean dotted with tsunami survival pods carrying the last surviving members of mankind, trapped inside giant ping-pong balls.

ideas for mountains.

nature’s eminence hollowed  out for storage; internal infrastructure for human tenancy; color coordinated mountainsides through controlled plantings; glass walls installed over the ends of the  Gotthard Base Tunnel to create a giant diorama;  boring machines utilized to create a network of slides traversing interior space;  retrofitted snow machines dispersing aerodynamic origami for special occasions; Garuda-esque hanggliders guarding over hidden bird sanctuaries; stations for the screening of celestial events positioned at various points of extreme geography; summit communities cultivating greater lung capacity though improved cartilaginous passageways; virtual-reality treeforts; vast cast systems modified into camera obscuras projecting speleothems; forests of bipyramidal crystalline prisms; perpetual motion rope swings activating bioluminescent clusters of insects and fungi through travel; aerial canoes traversing the treeline through a network of ropes and pulleys made of vines and discarded carapaces; manmade mounds as time capsules for objects of ritual invention; acoustic arboretums; improvised symphonies specifically trained to produce sonoluminescence; 1:8 scale models of the 20th century’s great megalopolises placed at the bottom of  large bodies of water.

Too Hot To Blog

Who shut off the internet?

Oh wait, we weren’t paying for the internet.

Send money to my neighbor so I can have the internet again.

The future forty-seven years ago.

This clip of science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke discussing future potentialities for civilization is outstanding. Granted, his forecast of developments in the urban environment isn’t totally correct. The architectural examples don’t exactly match up. The version of the urban center presented represents a visual aesthetic of the future-past more familiar with The Jetsons than most metropolises of today. However, Clarke’s foresight in discussing  interconnectivity through what we now refer to as telecommunication is  on point. He’s talking about telepresence, a term coined some sixteen years later, more than a decade prior to the the home computer being introduced to the commerical market.

Watch the rest of the BBC Special [part 1 and part 2] to hear about the bioengineering of animals to create super-chimpanzees, the end of biological evolution making way for inorganic/mechanical evolution, the application of suspended-animation for travelling into the future, and “the invention to end all inventions” called “the replicator”. According to this chronological list of predictions beginning in 2001, the universal replicator can be expected to be completed sometime in 2040, the same year as the popular utilization in the medical field of “the braincap”, a device which allows doctors to experience their patients symptoms.

Read Childhood’s End if you haven’t already.

Thanks Hill.

sonoluminescene

Sonoluminescence is the emission of short bursts of light from imploding bubbles in a liquid when excited by sound.

Me and my bike!

Pro-bike rap from kids in Nairobi, Kenya. Awesome!!!

Way to go, Yuri.

50 years ago today…