Wednesday, 9 March 2011


In the spring of 1790, Xavier de Maistre, confined to his room whilst under house arrest, embarked upon a voyage around his bedroom. The book was unsurprisingly entitled: A Journey Around My Room.

In 1894 Joris-Karl Huysman wrote Against Nature (the novel that inspired Oscar Wilde to write A Picture of Dorian Grey) at one point, the Parisian hero of Huysman's tale, fascinated by the novels of Charles Dickens, orders a taxi and visits an English pub in Paris, before embarking on his trip to London.

Except...he finds himself unable to complete the journey and returns home.

Whereupon he realises that the imaginary experience is more than a preferable substitute for the real thing.

Both these characters, real and fantasy are Robinsonner, a verb that may have been created by Arthur Rimbaud, after Defoe's imaginary voyage in the persona of Robinson Crusoe...

There is a lot to be said for the practice: it saves money, it is low risk, it means I can leave my sons in bed and not get them fed, into the car and off, nor in any imaginary journey do I feel obliged to go into the Avebury NT restaurant to eat is still Stones: vegetarian bake and salads, Barley cup and carob cake.

But sometimes one has to go out.

I have long been fascinated by Paradise Place in Birmingham, a part of the doomed library complex. Paradise Place is a Brutalist edgeland. It exists between places; concrete blocks and a pool of dismal green water.

A bardo

More at home in Quake 2...

Speaking of computer games...

The Underworld is a favorite place for Robinsonner, every lift I took in Doom 3 could have taken me there -but didn't.

Paradise is a less popular destination.

And Purgatory the newest.

Christianity likes to see itself as the authentic version of older religions. The stories that came directly from Mesopotamian myth such as Noah (Atrahasis) are told with bits missing, and often the original meanings are turned upside down. Today is Ash Wednesday:
"Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return".
Dusting oneself with ashes was the Christian penitents way of expressing sorrow for sins and faults, which again is similar to the description of the way people used to show grief at hearing of someone's death -scratching their faces too...

And it strikes me that the division between people is not so much one of religion, but one of puritanism Vs equanimity. Spirituality has nothing to do with calling this world imperfect or ash. Material things do not destroy spirit, nor is it a choice between spiritual or material.

Ah well...

The statement about dust comes (I'm guessing) from the story of Enkidu visiting the Netherworld. When his spirit is called back (like Patroclus) Enkidu describes a woebegone place, where all is dust and souls are clothed in dismal feathers.

For years this poem was taken to mean that the Sumerians thought of the Netherworld as a miserable place, but the poem continues. It turns out that only those folk who have not had children and do not have people to morn them, live in the grey dust, without food or drink offerings from those above.

The man with seven children is fine and dandy, having quite a good time actually.

Purgatory is in many ways the most interesting of the three *Christian* virtual otherworlds. It is a comparatively recent invention. Hell as a place of dismemberment complete with lakes of fire was described in some versions of the Egyptian Netherworld (more to it than just weighing the heart!) and there was a period when the Taoist and Buddhists were trying to out do each other in describing the most horrific hell-realms.

Purgatory became necessary, it is a kind of waiting room between now and the day of judgement, it answers the problem of the apparently judgmental and unforgiving nature of god. If enough people pray for you: if you have paid for lots of work to have been done to your local church, if you have sponsored a monk or two and especially if you pray to the Virgin Mary your final destination may not be hell...

So the link with the Mesopotamian understanding is maintained.

Ah well, back to considering 'Black-ley lines' and moon rise times.