Will Self – Isolation, Solitude, Loneliness and the Composition of Long-Form Fiction

In Will Self’s lecture at Brunel University earlier this year, here ,  speaking  with his usual wit and erudition on isolation, the novel and the culture of the codex. A very thought-provoking lecture, on many issues, some we don’t really consider deeply and some taken for granted. For instance, reading in solitude/isolation is a skill we have learned to do over time. I never thought about it like that. There are other points mentioned in the lecture which  I thought useful for my current practice such as his views on the importance of reading and its origins. Below are a few notes taken from the lecture, some relevant, some non-relevant and some just for humor value :

“I believe the era of the codex is coming to an end”

“A shift from dead tree culture to a binary on/off culture”

“The writer needs isolation” (then Self answers is own question when explaining why he gets up so early in the morning) “Solitude, silence and having your own mind present to you”

ON READING

  Q: “If writing is the act of a solitary man or woman then what else is? – Reading”

   A: “It requires solitude”

“Reading isn’t like speech we’re not high-wired for it, it was a technology that was acquired over millennia”

“……how the alphabet came into being you can see how complex, remarkably involved and socio-culturally relative a skill it is”

(mentioning one of his favourite anecdotes) “Augustine of Hippo and Bishop Ambrose, Augustine went to see Ambrose (4th  century) and the bishop was in his garden in Milan and Augustine came upon him and Bishop Ambrose was reading silently, Augustine was profoundly shocked, he’d never seen a man read a book, not aloud”

“The model of reading was a monk reading to his brothers or a mother…”

“You’ll put vast amounts of cognitive activity into your visualization or you’re imagining what the writer is trying to convey to you”

Self’s rhetorical questions to consider:

“What’s going to happen to it (reading) in the wired world?”

“What will happen to this quality of solitude that is required by both writers and readers in a world that we’re all permanently connected and permanently in conversation with each other?

OTHER NOTES

“The global village and the medium is the expression” phrases coined by McLuhan

“There are a lot of digital immigrants trying to teach a lot of digital natives and a lot of digital immigrants are what McLuhan would call Gutenberg minds, minds that are formed by the idea of the codex”

“Those Gutenberg minds have learned how to commit a lot of data to memory”

“Almost all human knowledge is digitalized and easily and readily accessible”

Re the text: “It ceases to be this isolation module, it ceases to be the form which represents your unitary consciousness in that way”

Re the novel: “It’s entered a kind of care home where it’s being looked after”

 

FURTHER READING

Enemies of Promise (Cyril Connolly, 1938)

Understanding Media (Marshall McLuhan, 1959)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cyclogeography 1: A Linear Drift Through West Tokyo

These past three weeks I’ve been facilitating in the classroom so my practice has been pretty much shelved. Though I try to keep a dialogue going between myself and blog, if and when I get a free moment. This week was that free moment as my teaching program closed for a week.

Last week I watched a very inspiring video on Youtube, ‘Will Self talks at Google’. Basically, Will Self’s talk is on the subject of Psychogeography. A term that was defined by French theorist, Marxist, filmmaker, Guy Debord in the mid-1950s. Debord was also a member of Situationist International. From research, I’ve found that everyone has a different viewpoint on this topic. Though the overall view being that districts and quarters have their own distinctive character.  Peter Ackroyd’s Psychobiography of London is a good pointer. One prime example in his book being Gin Lane. Infamous for the consumption of excessive gin drinking and famously depicted by the artist William Hogarth in 1751. Debord’s theory was that modern cities were constructed by commercial imperatives and the way individuals move around the city. For example, we go to the cinema, a football match, go home, go to work etc etc. In that sense the individual becomes lost and therefore it could be argued that we don’t really exist in that city. He stated that the way we could  counters this notion in what he called a ‘drift’ (i.e. moving aimlessly through the city). Debord’s early methodology or should I say putting his theory into practice is typical of radical ideology of the 50s/60s. (I’m not being critical of this practice)  The original idea being, going out with his Situationist friends, buying wine along the way and roaming from one end of Paris to another. (Sounds like a pub crawl without the pub!) Seriously, I get his objective here; not using the city as a capitalist environment. Sounds fun whatever the objectives maybe. Interestingly, Debord wasn’t much heard of as a leftie radical at that time but fast forward 12/13 years and he was a very influential figure during the student riots in Paris in 1968.

It seems that everyone has their own method of Psychogeography, me included. I suppose the most typical example we see or have experienced is when you’re in an unfamiliar city on holiday and you’re trying to navigate yourself around a city with a Lonely Planet book or a map from the Tourist Information. I give a dated examples, sorry. Now it is Google maps on our i-phones.

Yesterday I embarked on an aimless linear journey through the Tokyo suburbs and into the city. My rusty,fold-up bicycle being my tool of transportation so the practice being cyclogeography. It was a bright and sunny day like most days this time of year. The sky was icy blue. Tokyo is still fairly warm in early November with temperatures ranging between 18-20 degrees. I didn’t have any idea where I would end up. It wasn’t important. I would follow the Keio line as it gave me some perspective as to where I was in West Tokyo. First, I felt this plan was a cop-out but Debord did state in his study of Psychogeography, ‘ the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals’ . Consciously organized or not, I’m safe! but does this definition apply to cyclogeographers too?? I thought. But my favourite definition has to be from Joseph Hart in his article’s article, A New Way of Walking in Utne Reader in 2004.  “a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities… just about anything that takes pedestrians off predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape”

Shiraitodai-Chitose Karasuyama

Drift Starting Point:  Shiraitodai  (Fuchu City)

Date: TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3rd (Culture Day)

1/ A desolate suburban area. 10:15 a.m. approx     2/The train crossing gates designed to prevent pedestrians, motorists and cyclogeographers (me) from potential hazards. I’ll be doing many more of these ‘waiting’ situations  during the drift.

1 Musashinodai 2   2 Musashinodai Rail Crossing

 

 

3/ A Stone Garden (Trystan would love this! I should have got a stone for him)  4/ A scooter that delivers potted flowers straight to your door! I’m sure those pots at the front aren’t legal! But we’re in the suburbs and laws are relaxed.

33 Stone Garden on Shinagawa Kaido4 5 Flower Pot Scooter (Kyu Koshu Kaido Avenue)

 

 

5/ Tobitakyu. A sporting environment offering J-League football as entertainment. Walk down that road and it will take you to Ajinomoto Stadium. Home of the mighty F.C. Tokyo. My drift is moving me out of Fuchu shi and into Chofu shi (shi=city)  6/ Me waiting at a crossing in Chofu. It’s not a selfie! It’s proof I’m aimlessly drifting

55 Tobitakyu (Chofu) 66 Selfie (Chofu)

 

 

7/ Near Chofu Station, the environment now becomes busy, noisy, regimented and ordered. Public transportation becomes much more prevalent. 8/ An off license just outside Chofu. I like the owner’s Gothic-style typography.

7 7 Chofu Station 8 8 Yamaguchi Off License (Chofu)

 

 

9/ A flower shop in Fuda. The warped wood, worn wood catches my eye. 10/I get off the busy road and randomly choose a quiet road. My mood becomes instantly relaxed. I notice a ‘Gomi’ collection outside someone’s house . Basically, give-a-ways and usually household objects that are nearing the end of their functional life. Notice how neatly they are arranged.

99 Flower Shop (Fuda) 1010 Free Rubbish

 

 

11/ Look carefully and you’ll notice a tree stump actually ‘in’ the Shibasaki train station just by the ticket gates! I’m all for saving the trees but I can’t get my head round this one. I mean, there will come to a point where a hole will have to be made in the roof of the station. Maybe not in our life time. 12/The centre of Danger: I momentarily drift in a dangerous environment. I hear the warning signal and drift away from danger. Between Shibasaki and Tsutsujigaoka train stations.

1111 Tree in Shibasaki Station 1212 On the Track (between Shibasaki & Tsutsjigaoka

 

 

13/ I’m somewhere near the unpronounceable Tsutsujigaoka station (Chofu-shi). I get off the rusty fold-up as my legs are aching and just look around. I instantly notice the small tobacconist signage ‘Nice Day Nice Smoking’ I chuckle to myself and think…… I wonder if the shop owners have erased the Smoking Kills information on all the fag packets?

13 13 Nice Day Nice Smoking (near Tsutsujigaoka Stn)

 

 

I’m not exactly sure but I surmise that I’m almost out of Chofu-shi. I drift down another inviting road away from the rail line. 14/ I notice this glorious piece of architecture. Probably built in the 30s. The old decaying wood glistens in the sun. Definitely my cup of tea. 15/ I look to my left and see the opposite of beauty. A characterless box, violently upsetting the surrounding beauty (the shack). Apologies if the owner of fig 15 is reading my blog.

1414 Old Shack 15 15 New House

 

 

16/ A small, cosy tunnel. The height is only 1. 7 metres. I needed to duck while cycling through it!

16 The Small Tunnel

Youtube video currently unavailable, sorry!

 

 

17/ An elegant wooden house with a nice view. Houses with panoramic views are something of a rarity in Tokyo. 18/ Emphasizes my point about views. In Tokyo people generally buy the land, the old structure gets bull-dozed, quick as. The houses are closely-knit. Look how close this plot of land is next to the surrounding houses.

17 17 A House with a View 1818 Plot of Land

 

 

19/ ‘Kind Concrete’ I take the rusty fold-up the steps. The step planners ensure getting from A to B is not too strenuous for cyclogeographers by including a ramp in the centre of the steps. How thoughtful!  20/ I have a little stroll and come across this allotment and what appears to be an improvised shed made from various urban materials. A Post-modern masterpiece!

1919 The Kind Steps 20 20 An Allotment with a View

 

 

21/ I’m quite lost at this point and sensibly I didn’t bring any maps or devices with me. Sensibly? Yes, I don’t want my drifting experience spoilt. The view is a peaceful one. I feel calm and solitude in this non-threatening environment.

21 A View

Youtube video currently unavailable, sorry!

 

 

21 /Material contents of the interiors are usually on display during agreeable climates. Here, the futons (bed blankets) are getting a good airing. 22/ A decorative bridge. I’m somewhere in Setagaya ku. It’s a wealthy area of Tokyo favoured by politicians and TV celebs, apparently.

2123 Airing the Futons2224 The Bridge (Setagaya Ku)

 

 

23/ I notice a distinct feature about the Setagaya neighbourhood. The streets seem to be narrower. Surrounding space is much more compact. Manhole covers are a very distinctive feature. 24/ We’re back to airing again. This time cushions in bicycle baskets and bath mats hung over the garden gate. With the surrounding shrubbery it all looks very quaint.

23 25 Narrow Road (Setagaya ku)    24 26 Airing the Cushions

 

 

25/ Through another tunnel. No ducking and dodging this time. At this point I change my camera. Out: Point and shoot, Nikon cool pics. In: Pentax Q7 (SLR)

25 27 A Tunnel

 

 

26/ I’ve drifted towards  a busy station, Chitose Karasuyama (Setagaya-ku). The concrete outside the station is rather decorative and welcoming. 27/ The cracked pavement, the most prevalent feature in a city. In Tokyo you could make ‘Cracked Pavements’ an interesting project as the width and length of the crack is largely determined by the earthquake tremors.

2628 Decorative Concrete (Chitose Karasuyama)2729 Cracking Structures

 

 

28/”A dreaded sunny day and I’ll meet you at the cemetery gates..” Echoing Morrissey lyrics as I drift into a quiet environment. Not a soul to be seen.  The high rise blocks menacingly dwarf the scene. 29/ A building a little further down the road. The circle shape is so dominant. It is functional? No one seems to be around (again) so I go and have a nose around the building.

28  30 Cemmetary Gates   29 31 Architecture

 

 

Drift Ending Point: Somewhere near Chitose Karasuyama Station (Setagaya-ku)

I’m near Chitose Karasuyama station. The excitement I have experienced begins to wane as fatigue sets in. It’s about 1:00 p.m and I’ve been cycling for just under three hours. The light will begin to fade round 4:30 and as I don’t have any lights on the fold-up, I begin to make a u-turn. But I could jump on a train, I think. No, that would be boring and it would make my cyclogeography drifting experience pointless.  Roughly but not completely knowing my route back still excited me. I might get lost again! and what new obstacles lie in wait in the return journey?

 

 

30/ Herbal medicine (Aloe vera) heavily guarded by PET bottles. The reflections from the bottles ward off cats, apparently. 31/ Another decorative manhole cover. These would make great charcoal rubbings! Another day, maybe.

30 32 Protecting the Aloe Vera    31    33 Decorative Man Hole Cover

 

 

32/ ‘Hidden Heaven’ A house sandwiched between houses. 33/ Dead end street so I need to re-route.

32   34 Hidden Heaven  33  35 Dead End Street

 

 

34/ Cracked pots: Picturesque detritus mingling with shrubbery.  35/ Netting, especially green and blue netting is another prominent city feature operating in residential areas of Tokyo. It’s function serves to keep the crows away from the rubbish. It works too.

3436 Crack Pots    3537 Keeping out the Crows

 

 

36/ Another ramshackle front yard. A pocket of curiosity. More airing in evidence. Rugs this time. 37/ Another dead end!

3639 Airing the Mat   37 40 Dead End Street 2

 

 

I try to follow the train track but end up cycling down continuous winding roads, weaving through countless labyrinths but still managing to head in a Westerly direction.  38/I stop for a quick drink and look up. The underside of a roof catches my eye. 39/Such crude D.I.Y. going on here, excessive use of gaffa tape.

38   42 Roof in need of Repair 39    41 Gaffa Tape

 

 

40/ An umbrella collection: Historical Discussion: In the Tokyo Gas Attack in 1995, umbrellas were the objects of disobedience. The perpetrators used the umbrella tips to puncture the bags to release the deadly sarin. After reading Murakami’s ‘Underground’, many years ago, umbrellas still carry an eerie presence for me. 41/ Yet another dead end! The environment is creating obstacle after obstacle for me.  However, this dead end has aesthetic qualities.

40   43 Brolly Collection    41   44 Backyard (1)

 

 

42&43/ It may be just another dead end but it’s visually stimulating. 10 or 20 years ago I wouldn’t have noticed this scene as it would have been clean and characterless. Now, punished by the elements and peacefully decaying in the sunlight, it deserves to be recorded by camera.

42 46 Backyard (3)       43  45 Backyard (2)

 

 

44/ After analysing countless manhole covers on my drift, Setagaya, it seems, has the most decorative ones. These heavy, circular iron pressings enveloped  in concrete enable the road to become a gallery. I’m fond of the chysanthemum designs. Now I’ve started to cycle round them and not over them.   45/ Dead end number…..I’ve lost count.

44  48 Man Hole Cover (2)  45   47 Dead End Street (3)

 

 

It’s about 3:15 in the afternoon. I manage to navigate through more roads, lanes, avenues , through Setagaya-ku and Chofu-shi. I find a familiar ugly main road, Koshu-kaido Avenue. I reluctantly cycle along it accompanied with familiar urban killer characteristics such as traffic, smog, carbon monoxide etc. 46/ As I’m passing through Chofu, I wait at the traffic lights under the monstrous and engulfing  Chuo expressway. It is here I spot a small playground. A space that functions for young children to play happily for hours on colourful and animated objects of amusement such as slides, swings, merry-go-rounds and climbing frames. However, this scene is frightening by contrast. Dark, cold and uninviting. Look closely and you are able to see express way escape stairwells on a pillar. Another Murakami book springs to mind (1Q84)  Actually, the stairwell should be lowered so the children are able to escape!  No, there is something disturbing and dystopian about this environment. Though amidst the noise, the voices of the children and parents echo; no doubt enjoying the open space and nonchalant about the out-of-place irregularity.

4649 Dystopian Playground

 

A Brief Conclusion

During the cyclogeography experience I did start to question which is more engaging (i.e. cyclogeography vs psychogeography).  I reflected largely on my own perambulatory landscape and cityscape experiences. For instance, the Somerset Moors, Dartmoor, the Algarve, Brittany, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, Ottolo, Siberia, The Forbidden City, and the Tokyo Metropolis which I’m forever exploring. I then realized that my cyclogeography experiences were practically limited. Reflection over. So, what did I learn and discover? Psychogeography being a continuous narrative which our physical dictates our motion. Depending on the region, in my case this week an urban landscape, the drifter(s) observes and encounters more aspects of human geography as opposed to physical geography. I was amazed by the number of obstacles I had to strategically maneuvre around. Tunnels, dead ends (cul-de-sac), railway crossings, one way streets being just a few examples. Again, thinking of Debord as he decried, the city dictates our movements and we are consumed by it.  Debord’s a bit too heavy for me. However, getting away from geographical jargon and Situationist rhetoric, from my observations, the urban landscape does offer a fascinating continuous visual gallery influenced by the human. Forms such as manhole covers, cracked ceramic pots, dusty cushions, decaying artefacts, refuse netting, and ubiquitous surrounding detritus. In short, a 24 hour, alfresco, free, art gallery.

Drift Distance: 5.7 miles/9.3 kilometres 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fuchu no Mori Park-Tokyo

Was watching an old South Bank Show (1998) last night featuring the novelist/journalist Will Self. The man interests me a lot, I’ve only just started to read his work with more regularity since living back in England (2011). During the program, it was interesting to note what measures he takes when needing that ‘creative fix’ Apparently, Self heads off to the Orkney Islands, it is there he feels isolation and bacause of the presence of large quantities of water, it has a deep impact on his imagination. It got me thinking about my own strategies when searching for utopia for project inspiration . Well, it’s usually a place where I can be both inside and outside and with visual stimulus. I’m yet to find that idyllic spot in the UK. However, in Tokyo, I often go to Fuchu no Mori Park, ‘tooled up’ with sketch book, note book or just a book. You can often spot like-minded people with their sketch books or easels though they are usually pensioners! Apart from the park’s attractions (sports areas, children’s adventure playground, a woodland area, a fountain, a flower promenade and sculptures) , there are many secluded areas and hidden pockets of tranquillity if you search hard. But it gets better, there is also an Art Museum.

Fuchu Art Museum Collage

The Fuchu Art Museum inside Fuchunomori Park was opened in October 2000. Natural materials such as limestone and glass were used for this impressive building in order to create a feeling of unity with the park, which overflows with light and greenery. In addition to planned and permanent exhibition areas, the Noriyuki Ushijima Memorial Hall displays around 60 works from this Western-style artist that were donated by his family. The first floor features a public studio, work room, children’s modeling room, citizens’ gallery, and art library. Anyone can use these facilities for free, allowing them to experience art in an intimate way while appreciating famous masterpieces. There is also a museum shop and tea room where visitors can relax, and the museum has been designed with consideration given to the elderly and physically handicapped persons. These art museum surrounded by greenery is a wonderful place to enrich your spirit while viewing the changing seasons of the natural world.
Information from: gotokyo.org

Fortunately for me, when staying in Tokyo, Fuchu no Mori Park is just a 10-minute bicycle ride from my apartment. Today was a scorcher so I biked it to the park this morning and made this shaky little film just to give you an idea of my ‘heavenly hangout’. Also, I popped into the museum too and found out there is a typography workshop in June; I got my name down and luckily it’s on a Sunday. Apparently, we’re designing our own bag.

A blast from the past! These were taken by me and Torie with Anne & Michelle back in 2001.

Torie 2.jpg Torie 1.jpg

Fuchu no Mori Koen 2001.jpg