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.

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.

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.

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."

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Urban mushroom diary - autumn 2016

Each autumn I look forward to the appearance of the mushrooms. They don't appear in nature exclusively, they also appear in culture. Suddenly you see them in shops, in restaurants and in the media. It's interesting to see how fungi take over the world - for one season.

I'll start with the mushroom pictures that I saw in the free Metro magazine and I'll finish with an XKCD comic. The free Metro pictures have passed an impressive array of selection filters: you notice mushroom - you photograph it - you mail it to Metro - editors select and publish the picture. So it's a small, but representative cultural sample.
A little pearl - Natasja Bergen - Metro - 7 september 2016 - Amanita muscaria
What can we conclude from this small sample:
  • this year we had a very long (cultural) mushroom season: september - december
  • big, conspicuous, beautiful and culturally relevant mushrooms get noticed and photographed
  • people like mushrooms and associate them with other symbols of autumn (thank you captain obvious!)
  • it is (almost) impossible to determine mushrooms from photographs
Then I saw these glass mushrooms in a fashion shop in Thun, Switzerland - 14 September 2016
As usual in "cultural" (not "cultured") mushrooms, these are: Amanita muscaria
I'm totally not ready for autumn - Pascal Doeleman - Metro - 19 September 2016
This could be: Leccinum aurantiacum, probably not Boletus erythropus
The mushrooms are coming again - Ingrid Altena - Metro  - 26 September 2016
Possibly: Lepiota procera probably not Agaricus sylvaticus
Then I saw these autumn symbols in a household shop in Rotterdam - 1 October 2016
Amanita muscaria again, combined with autumn leaves, pine cones, gnomes, pumpkins and several small forest animals.
Autumn in our garden - Geny B-v.T - Metro  - 28 October 2016
Possibly: Lepiota procera
Close up of a mushroom - Hetty van Veen - Metro  - 20 November 2016
Impossible to determine ...
Then I saw these mushroom-lamps in a household shop in Rotterdam - 20 November 2016
Again: Amanita muscaria and some phantasy mushrooms (or pine trees?)
The beauty of nature in autumn - Joy de Bruin - Metro  - 30 November 2016
Wooden mushrooms as a Christmas decoration - 10 December 2016
Most likely: Boletus and Coprinus :-)
A mushroom placemat in the pancake house in the woods - 26 December 2016
Mold shapes made from a woolen carpet - 31 December 2016
Lizan Freijsen - The living surface - in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

And from Google Trends it's obvious that interest in mushrooms is a seasonal phenomenon.
The peak seems to lie in September and October.
This is the search frequency for (in Dutch): mushroom, fly agaric and boletus edulis.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Milton Rakove on politics - 5

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:Immigration and 4:Religion.
Milton Rakove (right) interviewing Vito Marzullo (left)
Racial tensions and segregation
In the early 1970's race had replaced nationality as the major cultural and political factor in the life of the city, and the ethnic neighborhoods are changing into racial areas of blacks, browns, and whites. 
The Irish succeeded, at least to date, in pacifying the poor blacks in the city with welfare and jobs, in buying off the most politically able among the blacks with public office and patronage, and in fending off the militant civil rights activists by adding enough police and political power to the other techniques to keep a modicum of order, if not peace, in the black ghettos. 
They pacified the predominantly Catholic, strongly conservative, white ethnics by refusing to use governmental and political power to push integration in the city, especially in the area of housing. Public housing units, in particular, are highly segregated and were always placed in black neighborhoods.
As long as the policy worked, the white ethnics were willing to tolerate, if not support, massive welfare programs which help to keep the black community quiescent, if not happy, although the blacks are becoming increasingly restive and militant over their role in the life of the city.
Discrimination and fear of assimilation
In 1963, when a black family moved into Bridgeport, they found their furniture and belongings piled up on the sidewalk by their newly found unfriendly neighbors. They left and have not come back. 
In 1965 black comedian Dick Gregory led a group of black picketers past Daley's house for several nights, nearly precipitating a race riot. They, too, left, and have not come back. 
But the specter of penetration and inundation by the surrounding black community still hangs over beleaguered and encircled Bridgeport, as well as over the nearby communities of New City and McKinley Park.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Art around the Cascadeplein in Groningen

Henk Visch - [untitled] -  22 bronze human figures - 1997 - Cascadeplein Groningen
I was totally and pleasantly surprised by these ominous figures by Henk Visch. One doesn't expect to meet supernatural horror when visiting the provincial archive. Watching, waiting, reminiscent of the Easter Island statues. At home I googled and found that it was the work of my favorite sculptor. We need more art like this!

Per Kirkeby  - [untitled] - brick sculpture - 1990 - Emmasingel, KPN-office
From the street I saw the little building and immediately thought: "This could be Per Kirkeby". After my meeting I searched for an entrance and my feeling was confirmed. A nice coincidence that after posting a piece on the overpaintings of Per Kirkeby I met one of his sculptures in real life.
From a Groningen website:
After a period of secrecy a brick sculpture by the Danish artist Per Kirkeby was unveiled at the headquarters of PTT Netherlands, next to the train station.

The sculpture consists of a double row of square brick pillars of more than 4 meters high. These are connected by brick arches at the top. In the wall surfaces are arches made of bricks, forming a passageway. The space above the arch is open. The space between the two walls gives the building a sheltered atmosphere, although wind and rain are not shut out.
It would be even better if the sculptures of Henk Visch had been placed inside the arches of the Per Kirkeby sculpture. And maybe I liked the artworks so much because I hadn't expected to find them. So maybe I shouldn't be telling you about them ...