Does anyone else feel as if the whole global zeitgeist is slipping into some terrible Dickensian gothic nightmare, temporarily relieved (more so for Americans) by the two-day respite of Obama’s inauguration celebrations?
This apocalyptic landscape was encapsulated by the front page of The Times newspaper London, who really cheered up its readership by published a black and white (or should I say funereal tinted) photograph of London post blitz: literally the only building (on closer introspection) that appeared to be left standing was St Paul’s Cathedral – whether the German bombers baulked at the thought of flattening such a revered building remains to be seen (certainly the Allies did not pay the same compliment back in relation to Berlin, Dresden, or Cologne). The image was yet again another cynical marketing ploy to sell papers. It took me about five minutes to figure out the image dated from the 1940’s and wasn’t some reference to a potential terrorist attack. No – it was just another piece of ‘recession porn’, the new trend of daily bombarding the audience with the bleakest news possible – with almost a kind of schaden freude smugness. Newsworthy coverage of rather more hopeful events i.e. Obama reaching out to Iran, a boom in retail sales, actual jobs created (okay in the lower end of the professional market i.e. fast food chains, supermarkets et – but hey they’re jobs!) seemed to be buried under an avalanche of either companies that have gone bankrupt, or things that could go wrong, civil unrest or the latest parable of corporate greed.
This negative impact on both the national psyche and the marketplace was raised here and certainly I believe it does have an effect – personally it is hard for the thinking individual not to feel somewhat paralysed by the notion that if the global recession doesn’t get you, climate change will and failing that some ghastly 3rd world war triggered by events in the Middle East. Makes staring at the alarm clock just that little more challenging in the morning.
Interesting enough I’ve also noticed an increase in reportage of UFO coverage on the net recently. Definitely recession related and probably wishful thinking – like beam me up now Scotty, ET or whoever is at the wheel of those curious generic cigar case flying objects (yeah, like alien technology has not evolved since the 1950’s?) some of us homo sapiens have had enough. But I also think that at times of economic strife, and huge transition – when the world is mutating so fast it feels as if the ground and the very tenants of society are shifting beneath you – sci-fi and fantasy both as an projection and escape come to the fore. I’m thinking about how science fiction, a sudden swell of interest in spiritualism and the occult all peaked around the time of the industrial revolution.
I suspect that we are now at the onset of several revolutions – a change in constructs of capitalism, an information revolution and a re-evaluation of values: both spiritual and material. As the song says – you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Speaking of Sci-fi, I have recently started reading Michael Moorcock’s The Nomad of Time (published in the 70’s). Moorcock – an enviable and ridiculously prolific fantasy writer of the 1970’s – is worth reading, especially if you’re a Philip Pullman fan (I am). The Nomad of Time has extremely similar ideas about the notion of a multiverse – parallel worlds in which the same people play out a variety of destinies, time travel – or window into these multiverses as well as the same steam-punk aesthetic as Dark Matters. There is also a similar English literary tone to both authors’ voices. Pullman is the better writer, but Moorcock’s energy and imagination is certainly worth a read. It made me think that literary conceits have a kind of family tree. For example Moorcock has steam driven airships very similar to the wonderful airships Pullman describes. One could probably draw up a genealogy of such a concept back to the 17th century and Da Vinci’s inventions passing through HG Wells and a plethora of other writers along the way.
We are all influenced by other books, other writers; at the very best great writers remind people like myself as to why I bother writing at all. Roberto Bolano’s 2666 – and I know this book really doesn’t need any more promotion – is one such book. An extraordinary mixture of magic realism, acute political, psychological and visual observation – gloriously unruly (I mean this guy has sentences that run for a whole paragraph!) it was the one thing this week that stopped me climbing up on the roof and hitching a ride on the next silver-cigar case shaped steam-driven alien flight out.