Notes from the Underground

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I tolerate this century, but I don't enjoy it.

All of the ephemera that is far too trivial to be bothered with elsewhere on this site or, depending on your point of view, a meta-commentary on it. This ephemera includes, but is not limited to art, music and literature. Most of the content here will be discussed in terms that are as abstract as possible, reality being a singularly overrated concept.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A list of real fantasy cities, with China Mieville's choice being London:

"Because it is the triumph of a lack of planning –both for good and bad. It's chaos –and whether you say that with a gasp of despair or glee or both is up to you. Whereas Paris (certainly in the centre) is the success of a single overarching monomaniacal topographic vision, London is a chaotic patchwork of history, architecture, style, as disorganised as any dream, and like any dream possessing an underlying logic, but one that we can't quite make sense of, though we know it's there. A shoved-together city cobbled from centuries of distinct aesthetics disrespectfully clotted in a magnificent triumph of architectural philistinism. A city of jingoist sculptures, concrete caryatids, ugly ugly ugly financial bombast, reconfiguration. A city full of parks and gardens, which have always been magic places, one of the greenest cities in the world, though it's a very dirty shade of green –and what sort of grimy dryads does London throw up? You tell me."

Mieville's choice is rather different to the other writers. Venice or Prague seem exotic because of their perceived exoticism, London because of its emphatic mundanity. After all, British science fiction tends to prefer to see forests in wardrobes or timeships in Police boxes. With that said, I've have chosen Oxford. From Hardy's Sepulchre College and Trollope's Lazarus College to Sayer's Shrewsbury College and Pullman's Jordan College, it's a city that already exists as a myriad of Calvino's invisible cities.

Update: although Moorcock picks Marrakesh as his city, this piece on London is in a rather similar vein:

"There aren’t many pictures of my childhood London. To get a glimpse of the world I grew up in, I have to give microscopic attention to the backgrounds of English movies made between 1945 and 1955 in the hope of seeing the ruined South Bank in Hue and Cry or the remains of Wapping in Night and the City... London was different up to 1940. In illustrated books, it often seems tranquil and quaint, full of lost churchyards and hidden courts. There were always places where the traffic noise dropped away and you could enjoy a bit of peace. That was before the firestorms blasted the East End into blazing fragments of people and buildings, when so much of that quaint tranquillity became heaps of rubble, tottering walls, fire-blasted windows, cut-aways of people’s private lives, their bathrooms and bedrooms, everything they’d valued, exposed to the hasty curiosity of the survivors.

Then there were the places where London was simply not – a few irregular mounds of grass and weeds with rusted wire sticking through concrete, like broken bones, exposed nerves. These parts of London could very easily be identified because almost nothing survived except the larger 17th- and 18th-century buildings such as Tower Hill, the Customs House, the Mint, the Monument. And, of course, St Paul’s, her dome visible from the river as you came up out of the delicious stink of fresh fish from Billingsgate Market, a snap of cold in the bright morning, and walked between high banks of overgrown debris along lanes trodden to the contour of the land. You had made those paths by choosing the simplest routes through the ruins. Grass and moss and blazing purple fireweed grew in every chink. Sun glinted on Portland stone, and to the west, foggy sunsets turned the river crimson. You never got lost. The surviving buildings themselves were the landmarks you used, like your 18th-century ancestors, to navigate from one place to the other.

Slowly the big brutal blocks of concrete and fake Le Corbusier flats began to dwarf St Paul’s and the Royal Mint, and the familiar trails disappeared, along with the alleys and yards, the little coffee shops and printers. Like an animal driven from its natural environment, I’d turn a corner and run into a newly made cliff. The docks disappeared with astonishing speed. One day the ships were shadows honking out of the smog and the next they were gone."

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posted by Richard 8:16 PM