Friday, 26 December 2008

Oneiric Horror I

A little while ago, my sleep was ruptured by the memory of an abandoned space ship. During this time, my dreams would come to a sudden halt, as the waking module of my consciousness implanted the memory into my nocturnal life. To be clear, my sleep was broken by a memory forcing its way into apparent respite. And so there I was, floating amid the rust and corrosion in an alien environment far from this home planet, Earth. There too were the sinewy corridors and damaged floors, with the moisture of pipes set loose by the erosion. As if to fortify the nature of this experience, this free-floating, zero-gravity movement into terror gained an oneiric dimension in its lack of a discernable centre. But far from the overlapping of harmonious chunks of architectural memory, now seized in a unified orbit, what materialised instead was a zero-gravity memory, unable to deorbit into atmospheric re-entry, and thus using the space station as a channelling device. In a word, oneiric horror.

Somewhere deep in the South Pacific exist the scattered remains of the Mir orbital station, torn apart during its own atmospheric re-entry in 2001. Until then, “Russia's Mir space station,” according to USA Today writing during that fateful year, “accumulated space dust, micrometeoroid impact spots and blasts of solar radiation that faded its paint.” As though to avoid damaging its mythological status, the decision was taken to return Mir to its home planet rather than suspend it in a state of morbid cosmic decay. After all, the question of to what extent the impact would prevent a hazard to human life on Earth is a more manageable one than whether a space station can be haunted?

However, far from developing an independent life of its own—a cosmic virus—Mir returned on path, failing to deviate from its course of self-destruction, and ending in a glorious burial at sea. But atmospheric re-entry can be returned, at least in terms of the trace it leaves behind, and the three stages of Earth’s assimilation—atmospheric drag, orbit transfer, and finally engine fire—do nothing to alter the ontological status of the abandoned Mir, apparently adrift in the solar system. The more pressing question concerns the nature of memory in stasis.

For a long time, we have thought of “ghosts” as inhabiting a material realm, appearing as a residue of the Cartesian cogito, and thereafter gravitating toward the location the ghost inhabited as a living thing. The ghost lingers, forms a disembodied energy, which nevertheless manifests itself symptomatically in space as it speaks through the rattling of things. All of which attests to the gravitational order of the genius loci. But this human version of the ghost is as facile and sentimental in its need for moral resolution as its living counterpart: through it, a chance communion is established, in which whatever remains from the life-world is finally redeemed of its excess. No sooner is that act committed, however, than a new version is created—equally pleading to be returned to its native home-world. To think beyond the human ghost, therefore, beyond the realm of the corporeal haunting, and toward the amorphous zone of the zero-gravity spectre, preserved in a state of intergalactic ex-situ conservation.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Venice in Peril

“Paris may change, but in my melancholy mood

Nothing has budged! New palaces, blocks, scaffoldings,

Old neighbourhoods, are allegorical for me,

And my dear memories are heavier than stone”

(Baudelaire, “The Swan”)

Here in Venice, the water is closing in and everything is either dying or already living dead. Abandoned before the flooding, in the abandoned hotel, white cloth has been draped over the furniture. The mood is funeral despite the good nature of the inefficient Italian staff.

Time and again, I return to the fish market, which I have adopted as the centre of my Venice. This year, large red swathes of material have been hung on columns, giving the impression of an open-air surgical theatre.

Behind the scenes, large chunks of disgusting fish flesh are being dissected and displayed. The smell is conforming, due to its overwhelming rancour. Down below, however, smaller cuttings have made their way into the gaps of the surgical tables. As a result, a cluster of fresh claws and entrails have been caught up amid the cigarette ends in the drains.

Despite its morbid peril, the city casts a long shadow from the past. Here, for instance, is the place where I saw a large bird come to the end of its life five years ago.

I remember: its eyes pulsating, while its throat tightened. The more it suffered with a shortage of air, so the greater its eyes protruded from its small cranium. At the same time, the water that was trapped in its lungs prevented the bird from resuming flight. Instead, on a small corner of the Rialto Bridge, its wings flapped erratically on the concrete, sometimes managing to move an inch either way. Eventually, the step that it lay on formed a seamless current with the canal. At that point, the still juddering frame of the bird was suddenly collected by the lapping waves. The last thing: the agonised bird, its heavy wings, now drenched, beating on the surface of the shit stained canal, with one last throe of energy, flip over onto its front before dying.

At the San Michele cemetery meanwhile, the air is thick with eroticism and ritual. As new ground is being tugged out by diggers, in the background I can hear a simple melody coming from an electric greeting card. The card must have been blown by the wind, since the melody is caught in a loop.

Although a well fortified island, San Michele cemetery is also suffering from the flooding. The graves are moist here, and when walking around the perimeter of the island, one needs to tread with caution, in order to avoid slipping onto the sacred patch of soil where the dead rests.