Outsights: Disappearances of Literature

You come to be in a mortifying structure that precedes you. You only have a lifetime to escape. — Mark Fisher

Between 2006 and 2013 Mark Fisher and I made an audio essay called On Vanishing Land. It was based on a walk we had done in a coastal area of Suffolk, in eastern England, in April of 2006. This audio essay is a starting-point for Outsights.

Introduction – the scrapbook

We live within a human world which is profoundly problematic. A world which On Vanishing Land describes as a kind of ongoing disaster, characterising it as "capitalism, the latest form of capitulation, whatever you call it." On Vanishing Land sets out to show an escape-path that leads away from the forms of existence that are the deep-level fabric of this disaster, and to show that what is vital for arriving at the start of this escape-path is an awareness of the terrains of the planet that surround and subtend capitalism (capitalism is not unnatural – it is more that it should be seen as a kind of canker affecting humans and the planet). It is important, however, in grasping the nature of this social and environmental disaster, to recognise it as ‘ordinary reality,’ and to see how ordinary reality consists on one level of certain functionings of modalities of knowledge and of forms of expression (philosophical, scientific, artistic, technological, economic, religious, sociological, pyschological etc.).

Outsights: Disappearances of Literature consists of micro-essays: the aim is to break open a view of the outside of the ongoing disaster, and to do this by concentrating on eleven works – all of them are texts – which in different ways do not fit well within the forms of knowledge and expression that are elements within the constitution of ordinary reality. To one extent or another these texts are all instances of what can be called ‘the anomalous.’

It is not easy to summarise in relation to them: but the focus in the micro-essays will be, firstly, departures into a fundamentally different environment or milieu, where the movement away is a ‘dropping out of sight’ in relation to the previous milieu, and secondly, the idea of disappearances where the departure, or movement out of sight, is in some sense a movement across an upward threshold.

This gives these micro-essays a connection to On Vanishing Land, through Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock. On one level a starting-point for Outsights is the question — what is the direction of escape that is indicated at the end of On Vanishing Land, through the inclusion within the audio essay of the central event of Lindsay's novel?

However, along with other thematic links between the micro-essays and On Vanishing Land, there are also two further connections, of different kinds. The first is the fact that at the original 2013 On Vanishing Land exhibition, at the Showroom gallery in London, one of the items exhibited was a scrapbook which contained a series of abstract/montage images, interspersed with montage photocopies of the covers of a series of works, mostly novels — these works included Surfacing, Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Story of the Abyss and the Telescope. This scrapbook was an attempt to point toward an other tradition of thought. (Somewhere there is always a scrapbook, a fragment of the future, covered in dust in an attic, waiting to be found).

The second additional connection comes from a 2013 interview about On Vanishing Land, between Mark Fisher, Robin Mackay and myself, in which I used the term outsights. When Robin Mackay published this interview he decided to use the word as the title of the interview.

As well as attempting to increase the focus of the view opened up in the final twenty minutes of On Vanishing Land, this book also sets out to keep the inconspicuous promise made by the scrapbook and by the idea of outsights.

However, Outsights is only tangentially about On Vanishing Land. Primarily it is about what can be seen from the vantage of the other works. And even in the concluding section, when the audio-essay is drawn into the philosophical account involved, it is only there very briefly, to assist in opening up a perception of what can be termed 'transcendental-empirical' aspects of the world.

Lastly, it is also important to point out that the way this writing functions is through what On Vanishing Land describes, drawing on the idea of radar, as sending "a few clicks into the unknown." With the help of the eleven works Outsights has sent its exploratory clicks in the direction of departures toward the outside of ordinary reality, and toward terrains as opposed to territories — the terrains of a movement outward that consists inseparably of exploration of the zones and potentials of the world and of the capacities and faculties of human groups and individuals. This book started from an idea of exteriority and from something that can be called an atmosphere, although the atmosphere was also an image of a place. It was a sunlit atmosphere of joy and adventure — there was a house surrounded by semi-desert (or perhaps by slightly arid, forested mountains) and there were four or five women and men on a verandah, and the atmosphere simultaneously was the world of the house in its terrain and was the serenity – and sun-suffused laughter – of people who were traveling into wider realities.

Operators and Things

The cold has become so intense that the warmth has arrived in an unaccountable way. The old daylight of 1950s Greyhound bus stations is very bright: everything has filaments running through it of a kind of chilly manifestation of the anomalous, but beyond this there is another form of the anomalous, which, although equally impersonal, has a striking warmth.

Operators and Things has a lucidity which establishes its importance, but which does not resolve the issue of how it should be categorised. Its overall modality is that of an intelligently reflective account of a disturbing, outlandish eruption from the unconscious, in the form of a six month episode of schizophrenia. The description of the shock and distress of this episode carries conviction to a very high degree and yet there are peripheral, minimal elements of the text which leave the impression that the book is not quite what it appears to be, or that the world is not quite what it appears to be, or both.

The book is about a break, where at a fundamental level this break consists of a complete cutting off of the flow of customary self-reflection and customary internal verbalising (a cutting off which remains un-noticed during the six months of the episode being described, and is only commented on within the book after the description). Instead the default mental tonality is that of someone trying to save their life as a result of being in immense danger — time only to perceive, inspect what has been perceived, and to plan and effectuate escape strategies (no time for pained self-reflection; no time for a rambling, subjectified flow of internal verbalising).

Barbara O'Brien describes how, one morning, she wakes up with three figures who look like "fuzzy ghosts" at the foot of her bed, who tell her that there are two types of humans, Operators, and Things; and that she is a 'Thing' whereas they are 'Operators' who are projecting images of themselves into her room (they are all male — the two who will stay as part of the experience are called Nicky and Hinton, and in the next few days these two will be joined by a third male Operator, called Sharp).

The brains of Operators have a different feature from those of Things. An experiment is taking place, so that she is being allowed to know about Operators. She is told that most Operators don't want this experiment to happen. Over the next few days the schizophrenic episode becomes almost entirely auditory (experienced as the operators projecting only voice as opposed to voice-and-image), and becomes very intricate, but with a high degree of internal consistency.

Primarily the Operators are a world of urbane control behaviours: everything is matter-of-fact, and O'Brien is told that Things have no right to be critical, because of their behaviour toward animals and toward each other. O'Brien sets off on the road, using Greyhound buses, with the aim of getting out of the reach of their ability to project their thoughts into her.

Here the Departure — the process of dropping out of sight, and of movement into a new milieu — takes place in a way which is so bound up with a kind of cataclysmic change of mental state that it is easy to give it very little attention. The experience is driven by perturbing circumstances in a way where it is the complete opposite of what is likely to come to mind if you envisage 'clearing off' to a whole other area or environment.

The point of departure is an unspecified town or city that that seems to be in the east or mid-west of the USA. The terrain of the new milieu is the northwest and west, and a part of Canada that is to the north of these areas.The specified approximate latitudes in the USA are from California and Utah in the south to Montana and Washington State in the north.

The process of the recovery from the schizophrenic episode has three phases. The first is a phase, which seems to be around three or four months into the experience, when figures start to appear in the world of the Operators who show a degree of concern in relation to O'Brien's plight, even if sometimes this is only in the sense that they are against the experiment taking place, and want it brought to an end. This is the time when she is living and travelling in the far northwest of the USA, and when she briefly visits Canada. The first Operator figure who shows concern along these lines is a female Operator called Mrs. Dorraine (this is a very faint indication of what will later be a major alteration) and the main initial change is the appearance of a group of operators called the Lumberjacks, who decide to go through a legal process to bring the experiment to an end.

The second phase begins after the adjudication ends in a partial victory, and with the advice — which is accepted — that O'Brien should now go to California to win the last stage of the legal process. Now in California, living in a flat, she develops a bad pain in her neck, and a sympathetic Operator called Grandma tells her to go to a doctor. The doctor diagnoses an infected mastoid, an infection that involves the middle ear (O'Brien is not in a position to refer to this, but there is now a substantially confirmed but unexplained association between schizophrenia and infections of the middle ear). After the treatment for the infection has begun there is a concluding phase which consists, firstly, of the appearance of the most sympathetic female figure, Hazel; secondly, of the emergence of what has to be described as a philosophical tendency in relation to the problems'Things' have with being trapped by habit patterns; and, and thirdly, and culminatingly (in terms of the sequence of events), of a process where what the Operators are doing consists of the winding down and termination of the experiment.

The last phase consists of several weeks when the voices of the Operators have stopped, but when ordinary thought-processes have not begun again. For O'Brien the experience is of being perception, without thought, but of there being occasional 'waves' of thought - lucid, concise instructions of a practical kind, and abstract 'perceptions' about the situation, and also inchoate but pragmatic impulsions, which are pragmatic in the sense that they lead straight to a solution to a problem. O'Brien calls the state of perception without thought 'the dry beach' and the thoughts and solutions 'the waves'. The dry beach is like a calm immense antechamber where the work is in some sense going on in another domain, and where O'Brien only gets the products of the work, arriving fully-formed, with no prior experience of a process of editing, focusing or amendment. A further aspect of the dry beach is that it is dispassionate — it is a state of equanimity. This is to say that it does not have the system of moods and emotional reactions of ordinary reality: there is no fretful anguish or anxiety; no nervousness or angry-defensive emotion in disagreements; and, to take a specific case, nor is there any embarrassment/concern about the events of the preceding months.

The more you engage with this work the more the initial high-impact aspect (the world of the Operators) is displaced by another aspect — the dry beach, and the waves. It begins to seem, in fact, that what you are seeing is a kind of ultra-focused functioning of a fundamental — and generally obscured — alliance of faculties: calm, sustained perception, working alongside lucidity. Along with the absence of subjectified, reactive moods, the dry beach itself (as opposed to the waves) is defined by the absence of two faculties: reason and language (and when the waves come they recurrently involve language, but they also often consist of images, and inchoate but pragmatic impulsions). The idea that emerges from this is that the fundamental starting-point state for escaping from ordinary reality, with its locked- down, suppressive system of faculties, is sustained perception, with an absence of internal or external verbalising, and an absence of attempts to be explanatory in relation to what is being encountered, or to categorise it.

It seems that an ur-state has been taken across a threshold. The re-composing — or return to composure — of O'Brien's mind seems to take the form of a re-setting that is made easy by the months of fixated listening to the operators. Now the sustained perception is of sound without the voices of the operators and is of the worlds encountered by sight, and lucidity can take the opportunity to connect up with perception, and create its own alliance with language.

the formula

A second aspect of the return from 'crisis' is the process of dropping out of sight — of full disappearance from the initial milieu (it also seems important that the departure was a movement into terrains that were beyond the urban, or which were far less urban than the area from which the movement began). And it is during the phase when O'Brien is in the 'sparely populated' northwest-USA areas that 'the formula' for smoothly maintaining this disappearance is given to her by two friendly female operators who are working in the kitchen of a hotel where she is staying.

They tell her she should write letters to her friends ("we'll help you phrase them" one of the women says), and the key phrase, which appears in all of the letters dictated to her is:

"I finally managed to get away from the grind for a long rest. It's everyone's dream, but I really never expected to make it come true."
When the schizophrenic episode comes to an end, several months later, O'Brien discovers that she has left no indications of what has taken place, and that no-one is questioning her. The account she had given had sounded poised and convincing. And it is worth thinking about the fact that there is something generic about the 'formula'. For most people going off for weeks or months to some out-of-the-way remote terrain would be likely to be a movement towards an interruption in the flow of ordinary reality, whereas O'Brien makes a journey of this kind because she has already been dragged into a dysfunctional break in this flow (she has been drawn in a direction which is not that of the escape-route) and is trying to bring this to an end. And yet the phrase would be valuable in both situations.

O'Brien delineates the different ways in which 'the waves' function. She also refers to them as 'Something,' describing how this other modality of intelligence sends its 'waves' in the form of full, concise sentences, but also uses 'pictures' as when an image of something she needs to buy, but has forgotten, flashes into her head. But although Something can use images it is also a world of abstract views and a user of discursive language. The culmination of the final - post-Operators - phase of O'Brien's experience is when she is seeing a psychoanalyst, with whom 'the waves' disagree in relation to his view that she is being adversely affected by the lack of a 'sufficiently full' sex life. The psychoanalyst indicates that the absence of this sex life is the basis of O'Brien's problems, and the waves emphatically disagree with this position - "I sat through the interviews almost like a third person, a translator of unconscious waves, wondering which of the combatants would win, for the conversations could best be described as fast sparring matches." (O'Brien also points out that the analyst, who is French, says that American men are bad lovers, and says she should have had dozens of sexual relationships). The following section is the conclusion of this part of the book, and it is quoted in full here to give an impression of Something as an intellectual process:

"The analyst had urged me frequently to bring written reports of my dreams. I had explained when he first made this request that I never dreamed, or if I did, that the dreams always vanished completely before I awoke. The analyst always looked at me suspiciously when I told him this and implied, not too subtly, that I was holding back on my dreams for fear that they would disclose an interest in the sufficiently full sex life. The night before I paid my last visit to the analyst was a memorable one for I had the first dream of my life. After having been asleep for a short time, I awoke with the dream flashing through my head. I arose, turned on a light, found some paper and hastily wrote down an account of the dream, after which I went back to bed and dreamless sleep. The next day I brought the written report to the analyst's office and showed it to him.
"I was sitting in a restaurant," I had written, "talking to my dinner companion, a man whom I had just discovered to be a racketeer. I was very annoyed, not because he was a racketeer, but because I had also discovered that he was a third-rate racketeer."
I was quite elated at having had a dream of any kind, even such a nondescript one as this, and I waited enthusiastically for the interpretation. None came. The analyst rolled his head as if he was going to charge, and then abruptly tightened his lips and started talking about something else.
I had read Freud in my early youth but had forgotten, consciously at least, most of what I had read. It was months after I had left the analyst before I got around to reading Freud again, whereupon I realised the significance of the dream. The interpretation staggered me, for it would appear that unconsciously I had classified all Freudians as racketeers and the analyst as a third-rate racketeer. It occurred to me as being surprisingly coincidental that I should have had my only dream just prior to my last visit to the analyst's office and it occurred to me, also, to wonder if Something had got in a last low smack at its sparring partner before parting company."

What is central to this book is the idea of urbane processes of control-behaviour (O'Brien is told at one point that Things can be influenced primarily because of their desire for money and power), where the worst forms of these processes are associated with major social formations of the urban (city councils, gangsters, law-courts, espionage etc.). In 'getting away' O'Brien is doing something that is the opposite of a fearful, agonised stasis, but it is also the case that her travelling to forested, rural areas seems to shift the tonality so that an organisation appears which is to some extent interested in her welfare — the non-urban Lumberjacks. And in the process women start to appear who are within the world of the Operators, but without being power-broker functionaries: such as Hazel, Grandma, and the female kitchen workers who tell her what she should write to her friends.

In the world of Operators and Things the disappearance appears to assist substantially in a re-routing of a profound movement that had its source elsewhere — that had its own dynamic. The re-routing can be described as 'restorative,' but the idea of being 'restored' here obscures the fact that in the concluding phase of the process another, more effective distribution of the human faculties is brought into focus as a possibility, and in a way where it is suggested, firstly, that a key human value in the modern world — sexuality — might be seen differently from this other perspective and, secondly, that the idea of sexuality as the key to dreams might be blocking an awareness of nascent functionings of lucidity which can appear within dreaming. Within the account 'getting away' starts out looking as if it is secondary to something fundamental — a process of a turbulent 'break' in conventional mental functioning, that seems to be following its own process, irrespective of the environment - but at the end it looks crucial to a movement away from turbulence that for a moment glimpses something beyond the normative distribution of the faculties that underpins ordinary reality.

The Drowned World

The cold has at last begun to decrease.

Ballard’s radicalism in The Drowned World lies firstly in his perception that the human world is a disaster taking place, rather than it consisting of ‘progress’, or of the Hegelian unfolding of the human spirit. For his overall project this perception is a key element that drives theoretical allegiances — he is a creator of entropic and thanotropic visions.

The second aspect of the radicalism is the creation of a social fabric from which the protagonist, Kerans, will simply walk away. The whole postwar social contract is what is in question in relation to the establishment-serving Colonel Riggs, and the equally deadened and disheartening figure of Strangman, the scoffing adventurer-entrepreneur whose ventures are about success and imposition.

What imparts the charge to the novel is the fact that Ballard has taken return to the tropical conditions of the Jurassic as his way of envisaging a starkly non-progress outcome in the onward development of the human world, and in the process the planetary diagramming of intensification of lives is suddenly exceptionally effective.

At one point Kerans says of the direction of the equator — south in this instance — that "there isn’t any other direction." The path leading away from the world of the postwar contract has been given a name, and what is involved in this characterisation is that the direction is that of heat, brightness, energy. And in relation to the line of departure from the deadened forms of ordinary reality this is indeed correct — it’s just that the novel barely gets any further. It faintly suggests another mental state across a threshold from subjectified existence, but the ideas of the ‘dry beach’ and ‘the waves’ in Operators and Things in many ways went further than this.

The suggestion that there is some ‘archeopyschic’ way in which the planet is a kind of Spinozistic body, that remembers the dinosaurs, and communicates these memories into the dreams of its current human inhabitants, is a movement toward a new way of thinking (and suggests an impersonal account of dreams where the content of the dreams is understood as visionary and yet also as the functioning of an energetic current arriving from an exterior, physical word), but Ballard open this up and then refuses further exploration. And the culmination of the novel feels more like a Samuel Beckett world than a discovery of an escape-path. Kerans’s companion on the southward journey has gone blind because of the fierceness of the sunlight, and also it seems from looking too much in the direction of the sun, and this means that there is no outright or explicit departure from the entropic/thanotropic line of thought. Ballard, the theorist of Beyond the Pleasure Principle, is affirming Kerans’s departure, but is constructing it as merely a more circuitous way of arriving at death than that of Riggs or Strangman.

And yet — even according to Ballard’s thanotropic model, there is a greater intensity about this route, and the heat, the sunlight, the jungle-terrains (which are not in themselves in any way entropic as an outcome — the opposite) and the rejection of the ordinary-reality milieu all combine to make the text into a lens that allows you to look at the transcendental-empirical features of the current world, so that the book then becomes abstract, freeing itself from any necessity to maintain the dogma of libidinal entropy. The radicalism of the departure and the power of the planetary image create a vantage from which what is perceived has no connection to entropy and the ‘death drive.’ Written two years earlier, the novella The Voices of Time is an intricate delirium of collapse — a lockdown into an oppressive cosmic melancholy — but it is as if the early 60s have permeated Ballard’s thinking and The Drowned World has a doorway open in the direction of the intensification that is referenced, for instance as "the causeways of the sun," and through this doorway fresh air arrives.

City of Illusions, The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas

In only a few years the heat has increased to the first phase of a serene maximum.

Le Guin, in writing City of Illusions, is surrounded by a world where a predominant view of people in their twenties is — it’s all going to change, and although it might be turbulent the transformation will to an immense extent be for the better. Le Guin writes exuberantly for readers open to the idea of depth-level metamorphoses of the human world of global capitalism in the 1960s (transformations stretching far deeper than the technological and socio-economic spheres) and she has adopted a perspective which keeps her free of Hegelian delusions about developments during the preceding half-decade. She has liberated herself so that she is capable of taking on a vast challenge, and she is hampered only by the sheer scale of the challenge, and by certain dour fixations of attention that were tendencies of other writers who had exemplified the optic which she has adopted.

Disappearances are everywhere in the novel, along with its correlate ideas, though everything is displaced — rendered in ways that bring other aspects of the story to the forefront — or is either invoked very tangentially by allusion, or by a faint suggestion of some kind. In the opening section the protagonist departs from a community — who live in clearings within a forest — because there is a kind of metamorphic threshold he needs to cross, but the contingent basis for this in the story (the protagonist has been violently cut off from his memories, and has created a new persona which is trying to reach circumstances that will resolve the riddle of his amnesia) means that issues involved in the contingency obscure the other aspects. The protagonist, whose name at the start of the novel is Falk (his original name is Ramarren), is from a separate species of humans which developed on another planet, and his memories have been excised by the Shing, a humanoid species who have conquered the Earth in the distant past. It is these facts which are in the foreground in the novel, but as it progresses the issues of Departure are brought into focus.

The courage of the novel lies in the fact that it is set many thousands of years in the future, in the terrain of the USA, but where, firstly, no vestige remains on any level of the USA as a state (even though the inhabitants of the novel’s world are perhaps more reminiscent of Americans than they are of people from other contemporary cultures), and, secondly, the pre-eminent work of ancient wisdom in the social formations of this world is what is called The Book of the Way — a book which is a translation of Tao Te Ching that has been preserved across many millennia. In writing City of Illusions Le Guin becomes the inventor of philosophical science fiction.

The first key to Le Guin is that she is an envisager of the Futural who is always simultaneously giving an account of an aspect of the current form of the world. The second key is that she is a thinker and dreamer of the faculties, who is aware that the Futural involves the faculties being used in profoundly different ways. The third key is double: it is that she has discovered that the ancient Chinese philosophy of The Book of the Way is one of the most Futural domains available, and is aware that to a large extent the current modalities and forms of incorporation of technology and cities are in a fundamental sense damaging and deleterious.

In the social formation that appears at the beginning of City of Illusions the Futural is semi-actualised — it is on the edge of existence. The community in the forest (the central figure of which is Parth, who looks after Falk when he is found, without memories) relates to some extent to the idea of an ‘escape-group’ — or, to be more precise, it is a suggestion of a movement out of sight on the part of a whole group. It is crucial for them that they are out of sight and that they do nothing to alter this. The group incorporates high-tech elements, rather than being incorporated by them, and what is their most interesting technological device — the patterning board — leads to the point where it wakes an intellectual faculty. To some extent they are in a huddled-down state of stasis, because of the Shing, but as well as the group being non-authoritarian and largely non-reactive in relation to the outside they have a route, embedded in their micro-culture in the form of a book, that leads to the outsights of philosophy in its transcendental-empirical form. This modality of the Futural is not rescinded in Le Guin's work, but instead is explored, taken to some extent across its threshold: it is there again with the world of the Handara in The Left Hand of Darkness; it is there in The Word for World is Forest, and seventeen years later the communities of Always Coming Home are a direct continuation of Le Guin’s attempt to bring this view into focus (in this process there are ways in which she gets further away as she gets closer, but there is an important breakthrough within Always Coming Home).

What is daring about her account of current society is that it takes what many people thought at that time was the ‘Futural’ — the world of the drug-taking, alternative culture radicals — and allows this to be glimpsed through the lens of the Shing, the dominatory alien beings who in City of Illusions are the central element of ordinary reality — beings with a modality of poise and perspicuity that is close to that of the Futural, but which at the same time is infinitely distant. This is startling and impressive, to say the least. In The Left Hand of Darkness the communist east is depicted, and in The Dispossesed the social forms of Western Europe and the USA are seen through the lens of Urras, but in City of Illusions it is the emergent counter-culture which comes faintly into view. The name Ken Kenyek functions as a reference to Ken Kesey, and the location of the city of the Shing, in the Rockies, makes more sense when Kesey's remote mountain house is brought to mind. And the Shing are very closely asssociated with halucinogens and other drugs (this is graphically emphasised by the figure of the addicted child, Orry).

Le Guin does not go far with this, because it would be inappropriate and misleading. She is showing that what she can see within ordinary reality also applies to an aspect of the alternative culture, but she leaves this element of the book as a kind of sketch — if she had gone any deeper it would have been necessary to make the emphasis different (what makes her choices effective at the level of detail involved is the fact that the Shing must be capable of appearing to be plausible for those they dominate, together with the fact that use of drugs as ‘truth-drugs,’ as practised by the Shing on Falk/Ramarren, makes the dominating aliens simultaneously a lens that looks toward the military, espionage and policing institutions of the modern state). However, the vital point is that the liberatory philosophy is not there in the Kesey/Leary counter-culture of Le Guin’s time, which means that far from it being Futural this counter-culture’s philosophy will only be dismantled and discredited, with some of its elements becoming embedded as part of the problem, as aspects of ordinary reality.

And if the Shing become in some way abstract — something that relates to aspects of the human world, then what about the trajectory of Falk? Having had his initial persona closed down — but not destroyed — the community which in some sense has dropped out of sight has the strength to give him a new persona. The book starts here — and at the level of the abstract what can be said is that Falk sets out on a difficult journey to "meet a blind Double approaching from the other side," to use a phrase from Deleuze and Guattari which they employ to indicate a journey that they think everyone needs to undertake, paraphrasing the end The Story of the Abyss and the Telescope, by Pierette Fleutiaux.

It is lucidity, or transcendental-empirical perception, that ultimately is in question in this context: the double personality of Falk/Ramarren is important and thought-provoking, but it is only an aspect of what is fundamental in relation to City of Illusions. Ramarren comes from an extraterrestrial culture which cognitively is defined in terms of reaching further levels of awareness, and this ability is demonstrated in their capacity to see the lies of the Shing (the key aspects of lucidity are an ability to see the nature of worlds of intent and to see the nature of dreamings).

Over the next twenty years Le Guin will travel a very long, and sometimes circuitous road in relation to her exploration of the faculties (the process culminates in the last of the ‘life stories’ in Always Coming Home). But what is startling, as she works her way past the tendency we all have to construct intelligence along the lines of reason, is an unwavering ability to see that there is something constitutively wrong with ordinary reality, and to perceive that in relation to the differential between the ‘cities’ and the ‘outlands’ it is the worlds beyond the urban that are most closely affined to the escape-path.

Because she can see these aspects of the human world the figure of Departure acquires its specific, decisive importance in her work. It is her lifting-across-the- crucial threshold of Dostoyevsky, in her 1973 essay-story, The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, that is her most important contribution to philosophico-political thought. This is science fiction crossing over into an explicit functioning of lucidity, as opposed to the lucidity being in effect within the oneiric.

In an otherwise idyllic, inspired city one child is always suffering in a dungeon, and this suffering is — through an unexplained process — intrinsic to the city, in that without the suffering what is idyllic and inspired about the city would cease to exist. Most people treat this is a grim, lamentable fact, and then get on with ignoring it or forgetting it. But a few individuals do not forget, and eventually they leave the city, and do not come back. The concluding phrase is "…they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas."

Here Le Guin returns her ticket to the delusional 'things-will-be-immensely improved' future of capitalism, because, if it is capitalism, society will still be founded upon suffering, and on far more than the suffering of a single child. But the key issue is that Le Guin does not set up a simple social model of the outside of capitalism — her ability to perceive the nature of social formations is far too advanced for this, and she is too much of an anthropologist to fool herself by setting up the process of envisaging in an inadequate way. The problem runs deeper than capitalism - whether it is Annares in The Dispossessed or the rural community at the start of City of Illusions, Le Guin can sense that the structures of these societies is not enough to break people free from the controlling, indulgent modalities that are inherent to the ordinary-reality distribution of the faculties. For this it is necessary for the structure of a life to be a deliberate journey of exploration and of waking the faculties, where any home-terrain is a component of the journey (Le Guin is a science-fiction reader of Tao Te Ching — which all along is a transcendental-empirical text, with no connection to religion — and knows the importance of the 3rd century story about the book, which describes how, after writing it, the author disappears over a mountain-pass that was on the border of China, and is not seen again).

This is why Parth's community does not recur as an element within City of Illusions: the book concentrates on Falk's journey, and does not in any sense revolve around its starting-point. But Parth — ‘path’ — is the reminder that the journey does not need to be a journey in space in the sense of travelling through terrains (although Le Guin does not take up this thought and develop it — and because of the importance of a surrounding milieu it seems likely she had an awareness that a crucial threshold is acquiring a ‘base’ or ‘home-terrain’ that in the fullest sense is an element of the movement along the escape-route). The suggestion is that Parth’s micro-society has within it what is needed for the threshold-crossing involved, but Le Guin is scrupulous in ensuring that it is not understood as a view of the Futural. In the absence of a clear view of a new mode of existence, she will not indicate that the community which creates the Falk persona is in itself a journey of departure from what she will later gesture toward with the name ‘Omelas’.

Whether you travel or stay in one terrain, Le Guin is pointing out that the fundamental political act is Departure. What is necessary is for everyone to leave for the Outlands that exist beyond ordinary reality.

Picnic at Hanging Rock

The heat has broken open a recondite view. There is a midday brightness and a charged, fiercely dreamy intensity: on one level there is sharp clarity, and on another level there is a hazy glare, a space of inchoate perception. There is an unaccountable feeling that, at last, something is happening. A rarely encountered process or mechanism has ticked forward, an expansion of the mercury to the threshold level. For a moment, you are in the Future.

The ‘foreground’ or high-impact disappearance in this book remains powerfully enigmatic and anomalous (with an impersonal quality of the sublime) whether or not you include the excised final chapter as an element for the lens that is produced through reading it. In the central event, which takes place very early in the narrative, Miranda, Marion and Greta all permanently disappear. The novel develops as the ramifications of this event. However, looked at closely, the account of the consequences — extending across three-quarters of the book — seems less like a fading away of its main idea, and more like a subtle amplification. Which is to say that there is more to disappearance in Picnic at Hanging Rock.

At the end of the novel Albert has decided to leave his conventional existence (which in fact is a world of servitude, as a coachman) and depart for the north of Australia. Albert is shown to be relaxed and confident in relation to this departure, and the narrator of the novel says, as the last substantive description of him:

The young coachman settling down into the rocking chair after tea that Monday evening had no sense of having already embarked on a long and fateful journey of no return.

The other main character, after the disappearances at the beginning, is Michael, a shy, socially awkward émigré to Australia who is a member of the English — and Australian — ‘upper’ social echelons, and who has fallen in love with Miranda. He and Albert come together to search for the missing women on the Rock, and form a friendship: at the end they decide to travel north together, to see areas of Australia that are further from constricted forms of existence than are the countryside terrains in the vicinity of Melbourne. This journey in an exacerbated sense is tilted toward the transcendentally unknown, and, whatever that will mean in practice, Lindsays’s foretelling — that for Albert it will be a long and fateful journey of no return — quietly leaves the mind of the reader to bring together the transcendentally unknown with this statement, producing a world of virtual stories.

The friendship between Michael and Albert breaks a social barrier. It is the equivalent of the barrier between Greta, on the one hand, and Marion and Miranda, on the other (in the final chapter which her editor persuaded her to remove, Lindsay shows how, when Miranda and Marion — in a heightened state of trance — meet the older woman who seems to be Greta they don’t recognise her as their teacher but relate to her as an ally or comrade; as another human being who is involved in the same process of exploration). Therefore, there are two different exploration-groups in which social barriers have disappeared.


What is crucial about this novel is that it embodies an affirmation of the Australian planetary terrain, as opposed to the fabric of Australian society. This terrain is everywhere, but some places have a greater power to make human beings aware of it. The picnic is a micro-domain of society and Hanging Rock is the place that while the picnic lasts includes this micro-domain — the departure from the picnic is a departure toward an awareness of the terrain.

However, the Rock is also a specific, singular place, a zone which inspires and entrances — a face of the wider terrain. The object of love in the book, where the key event takes place on Valentine's Day, is this place grasped as transcendental unknown, and as the way forward, as the direction of the Future. On arrival at the picnic grounds Miranda deftly opens the gate, and Mr Hussey guides the five bay horses "out of the known dependable present into the unknown future."

Lindsay's technique is very subtle. The story is about a gap being opened in ordinary reality, through which three individuals permanently depart. And back in ordinary reality this event impacts as perturbations and disturbances that it has in some way triggered, and in relation to which it seems the best response is to travel toward the place where the gap occurred, or to places of the same kind, in a spirit of openness and adventure. It is as if ordinary reality is too unhealthy a place for people to know in what direction of the anomalous to look, when there has been a perturbation. However, the key here is that the description of the high-impact or foreground events develops in the form of a series of delineations of attributes, differentiations, and erasures of difference; together with a movement toward a new Departure, where these together produce a powerful new perspective.

It is crucial that the disappearance is indexed to perception and dreaming, to knowledge, and to an entranced, relaxed spirit of exploration and adventure. The book brings together a delight in multi-sense letting go to immediacy — to exteriority — with the impersonal, objective stance of the lover of knowledge. A lack of a strong libidinal embroilment in the kudos-worlds of society is the other attribute – the future glamorous socialite, Irma, disappears on the Rock, but then returns, unconscious, several days later.

It is women who disappear through the gap in ordinary reality. Whatever it is that Greta McCraw becomes aware of — so that she sets off, at speed, up the slope of the Rock — does not get through to Michael or Albert. The book perceives a greater facility — whether or not this is a result of social conditioning — on the part of women in relation to departure along the escape-route.

As the story develops there is a strong indication that this is indeed only a difference of degree (as with the initial lack of facility of the left hand for the right-handed person, a lack of ability which can be completely overcome). When Michael and Albert go up onto the Rock they do this not to encounter the place, but to search for the missing women; and Michael has an affect of romantically modulated anguish (both of them also are thinking that it might be the results of a tragedy that they will find, if they succeed in their search), This means that there is no comparison between the state of those who departed from the picnic, and those who are now searching for them. And when Michael lets go in the form of falling asleep he wakes into a trance state which seemingly is initially an open-eyed experience, and which then modulates into a dream that is connected to the search: he wakes hearing a laughter that guides him in the direction he needs to go in order to find Irma. The suggestion here is of another level or dimension of reality, but putting the question of this other dimension to one side, it can be seen that Michael is capable of contact with it. Which indicates that Michael is also capable of the Disappearance, if he could reach the same affective state under similar circumstances (and this in turn leads to the fact that Albert's and Michael’s journey to the north is described as a journey of no return).

The connection to knowledge is emphatic. On the one hand there is the academic or ‘scholarly’ aspect of Marion Quade and Greta McCraw, and, on the other hand, Miranda is not only associated with a kind of philosophical thought, but is shown to have a high degree of practical knowledge, an acute fluency of motion. But, more than this, she knows how to seize the moment, how to seize the day — a far more extraordinary form of practical knowledge (one which is evidently as intellectual as it is practical).

The association is not in any way with mystical or religious views or attitudes. Everything becomes about perception and a state on the edge of the oneiric, but this facultative alteration does not on any level rescind the association with the different forms of knowledge. On the contrary, there is an impersonal distance and objectivity about Marion's statements, with nothing that goes against this modality.

But what could Miranda mean by "everything begins and ends at exactly the right time and place"? The events of the story place this statement in a context which insists against a view which takes it to be an affirmation of providential destiny.

The account Lindsay gives of the world is one of natural, not-fully-perceived currents and earthquakes. A serendipitous current in this context would be one where your own will is directly involved, as with a group of improvising musicians where even a note or timing that might normally be regarded as a mistake becomes a basis for an innovative melody or rhythm. Miranda’s statement feels as if it is drawing upon circumstances of this kind, as well as on a refusal to be offended by purposes other than your own, or those of your species. The term ‘fateful’ acquires, on the one hand, an ancient Greek quality that is simultaneously bound up with the idea of anomalous, immanent processes (as with someone who falls in love and is swept orthogonally away from ordinary reality), and, on the other hand, a quality of an event that is momentous to the point of some kind of absolute or fundamental transformation.

However, the key issue in this context goes beyond what Miranda had meant in making this statement. The book does not state that she says it on Hanging Rock — it is stated, by Irma, that she used to say it. Instead what is crucial is that the story suggests that the Departure was an event in which the underlying attitude of the phrase was involved, an attitude that would ask, if a time has arrived for a Departure that is an expression of a love for the world, then how could it not be the right time?

At this point everything becomes abstract. In that the story insists, lucidly, on seeing the world as transcendentally unknown, it follows through with this to the point of describing a decision about which it is not possible to speak in detail. But in the process an abstract figure is created — both by the three women who depart, and by the departure of Albert and Michael.

The fact that the clocks stop at midday on Valentine’s Day is crucial. Stated at the level of the pragmatics of being alive the point is — leave the oppressions of ordinary reality in its current form, capitalism, traveling away in the direction of the definitive terrain, which consists of the planet and the waking of your abilities and faculties. But stated at the level of a more explicit transcendental-empiricism the point is that you don’t leave as a direct result of a rejection of ordinary existence, or as a result of the gravity of an extrinsic principle of ‘duty’ — you leave as an expression of love for the world, and for the adventure of travelling within it across thresholds of reality.


The heat has remained at the height of its maximum for three years: it has remained steady while the structures it has called into existence have almost always been extremely unbalanced, precarious.

In 1972 ordinary reality has just been jolted. It has not been threatened in the least, but there has been a jolt that that has consisted of the appearance of a new modality of ordinary reality in the form of an ‘alternative’ culture, or ‘counterculture’ — a kind of extension that is primarily, though not exclusively, a world of people in their twenties and thirties, and of teenagers.

A main aspect of ordinary reality is that it consists of a damaging socio-machinic collusion between religion and science (this produces the illusion of the human world engaging with everything, while in fact in fundamental ways — relating to transcendental-empirical knowledge — it is a non-engagement and delusional reactivity that is constitutive of the ongoing disaster). Another aspect is a core element (always a core, but taking different forms in different cultures and milieus) in the form of some kind of unquestioning affirmation for women of ‘being-in-a-couple-relationship’ and of sexual intercourse as a central, default value (at a fundamental level the situation is no different for men but it is far more stark in relation to women). Exceptions are approved in advance on religious grounds, but, whether expressed in mawkish religio-romantic terms or the casual normative terms of either species necessity or religion-associated tradition, or, again, in the terms of psychology, with its theories of repression, the default is the high-intensity affirmation, for women, of couple-relationships and sexual acts (whether with a male or a female partner).

The role of both philosophy and fiction is to leave behind religion and fixation-on-scientific-domains (there is everything right with science in relation to its acquiring of knowledge) and to concentrate on the powers of the terrains and zones that exist beyond territories, and on the existing and semi-dormant faculties and affects of human beings, where this is a movement of attention toward the transcendental-empirical — bringing into focus the escape-path — and toward the definitive terrain on which and within which the movement of escape takes place. And the other tendency that must be left behind in this process is an unthinking affirmation in relation to the normatively enshrined world of sexual relationships, but one where any critique is not moral, but instead involves questions of conservation and heightening of energy, questions of freedom, and questions of obscured forms of control and of damaging submission.

In Surfacing Atwood expresses a consistent, lucid distance from Christianity (the book sees it as a kind of curious delirium), and in that, firstly, science does not feature other than as what subtends the technology that is wreaking havoc in the Canadian wilderness, and, secondly, the novel emphatically refuses to adopt an unthinking affirmation of the enshrined-sexual, the book has cleared away a large amount of what blocks a view of the escape-path.

In relation to sexuality, it is rare that what is problematic about the main form of the ‘shrine’ is seen as clearly as it is in this passage, when the narrator is lying awake listening to Anna and David making love:

"Outside was the wind, trees moving in it, nothing else. The yellow target from Anna's flashlight was on the ceiling; it shifted, she was going into their room and I could hear them, Anna breathing, a fast panic sound as though she was running; then her voice began, not like her real voice but twisted as her face must have been, a desperate beggar's whine, please, please. I put the pillow over my head, I didn't want to listen, I wanted it to be through but it kept on, Shut up, I whispered but she wouldn't. She was praying to herself, it was as if David wasn't there at all. Jesus jesus oh yes please jesus. Then something different, not a word but pure pain, clear as water, an animal’s at the moment the trap closes."


All of this gives the necessary context for saying that Surfacing is about a time when ordinary reality has been jolted, and to begin analysing this change by making the associated point that it concerns a milieu where people have recurrently ‘dropped out of sight’ in relation to their original lives, and where it is more likely that people will have moved on and out of contact on more than one occasion.

The key to this is that the past has been in certain ways disowned, even the relatively recent past: the rescinding of adherence to tradition and of deliberate attachment to the attitudes and values of the previous generation has created a situation where ‘having moved on’ and the state of not using the personal past as a reference point in communication are now normal:

My friends’ pasts are vague to me and to each other also, any one of us could have amnesia for years the others wouldn’t notice.

And at one point the — unnamed — narrator thinks about her friends’ relationships to their parents:

They all disowned their parents long ago, the way you are supposed to: Joe never mentions his mother and father, Anna says hers were nothing people, and David calls his The Pigs.

The narrator also says of Anna — she’s my best friend, my best woman friend; I’ve known her two months.

Putting to one side, for a moment, the perturbed quality of the narrator’s voice in this context, it can be pointed out that there is a kind of freedom here, an opportunity to break away from reactive values, and unhelpful assumptions, and from the contingencies of personal experience in terms of how a person understands who they are at depth: it is an opportunity to re-invent, free of expectations.

However — Surfacing shows that this freedom is not going well. Ordinary reality has formed an extension where people are getting into trouble in all the usual ways, but just with different aspects in the foreground, and with a slightly different tonality. People have rushed away from their parents, and the fact that freedom is closely associated with dogmas of ‘sexual freedom’ (which men in particular are likely to use to justify indulgent behaviour) means that the new zone of ordinary reality is in many ways even more problematic. Very soon this will be like an abandoned picnic area or campsite, one replaced by another: a historical curiosity with a span of existence of around five years.

What is shocking about the milieu portrayed in Surfacing is that there is freedom, but almost nothing is being done with it. Furthermore what is primarily taking place will bring about its collapse. It is as if there is an affinity or openness in relation to the idea of ‘a long and fateful journey of no return’ but in a way where there is no idea of how to set out on it — no ability to wake creative, courageous action, and, in the process, to wake the faculties. So that the result is a kind of slow decay into indulgent drift. Within this milieu the severing of contact with parents is an extrinsic, unrequired product of the disowning of traditional values — a kind of dogmatic response to dogma. At depth, the ‘no return’ is intrinsically about not returning to the sway of ordinary reality, as opposed to breaking off contact with family: along with indulgence (misunderstood as freedom) the ructions in relation to the past seem likely to be an aspect of the ‘non-escape’ which will ensure that, far from there being a Departure, there will soon be a return to the more sedentary form of ordinary reality.

Circumstances in a sense are more favourable, but in a way where, on a crucial level, everything is set up to ensure that everyone looks away from the direction of the escape-path, and to ensure that everyone is involved in processes that will take them progressively further away from it.

And yet — the book does involve a disappearance.

This is not the one that initiates the events of the story — which is the disappearance of the female protagonist's father. He has been living in a cabin on a forested island in a remote lake in Quebec Province: he and his wife first came there thirty years before, and the protagonist and her brother grew up on the island. After their children left he and his wife continued to live on the island. A few years before the start of the story the narrator's mother died of an illness, and now it is a summer at the beginning of the 70s, and her father has disappeared. The body has not been found — and the body is not found in the course of the book's events, although for his daughter the lack of knowledge that he has died deepens toward certainty. She is shown as having an attachment to her father, but without a high degree of love. He is presented primarily as a kind of enigma — an enigma that has a degree of depth, but is not very inspiring or heartening.

The house on the — otherwise uninhabited — island has been empty for weeks. The narrator, her boyfriend, and two friends have come to the island to discover what has happened.

There is summer sunlight, and forested hills in the distance. There is an overgrown vegetable patch, and a screendoor, its mesh in front of the main front door. There are jays in the trees.

The absence of the father doubles the absence of the traditional values and attitudes. He is not a symbol: he is more of a furthest point of development of what has gone: he was an academic (a botanist), and an advocate of what he constructed as ‘rational’ or ‘enlightenment’ thought. There is a buzzing of flies in the silence. There are the familiar smells and the familiar flaking paint. If you turn and look, the sky above the hills to the south is bright — it is a white wall which suggests an unsuspected world of potentials.

Whose memories/images are these — or, to put it more strangely, whose are these worlds of the spatialised abstract? The book is a lens, and very definitely has a power for opening up outsights that exceed the details of the descriptions (and the foregoing description was an attempt not to capture the affect of the book, but to use the doubling in the book as a lens).

It is the central character of the book who disappears. Just before the boat arrives to take everyone off the island, the protagonist decides, in a state close to a ‘breakdown,’ to go off into the forest, and, through a complex set of circumstances she succeeds in her aim of being left on the island on her own. Her boyfriend and her friends return to search for her the next day, and then, two days after this, her boyfriend returns on his own. The disappearance is followed, at the level of the narration, rather than being observed as a disappearance.

The protagonist has opened up a gap. It is not very wide, but the circumstances are sufficiently charged to make perception preposessing rather than largely ignorable — the flow of ordinary reality has been interrupted. And the situation in relation to her father and her mother — she is now in the house on her own at night - means that her senses are in the foreground, a listening and watching that supplants the flow of internal verbalising, and that draws envisaging into the terrain of the immediate, and without involvement in self-reflection.

The gap shows there is something fundamentally more in relation to the potentials of the faculties. The most crucial section in the novel is probably this:

"The forest leaps upward, enormous, the way it was before they cut it, columns of sunlight frozen; the boulders float, melt, everything is made of water, even the rocks. [...]
The animals have no need of speech, why talk when you are a word
I lean against a tree, I am a tree leaning
I break out again into the bright sun and crumple, head against the ground
I am not an animal or a tree, I am the thing in which the animals move and grow, I am a place
I have to get up, I get up. Through the ground, break surface, I'm standing now; separate again."

At the level of knowledge of intent, by the end of the experience the protagonist has perceived that action is what is vital (contrasted here with indulgently melancholy passivity as well as with internal thought/self-reflection) and that she has been clinging to a delusion of a depth-level state of being powerless, when in fact she does have the ability to break incisively from pervasively debilitating circumstances. The narrator disappears through a gap, and whatever happens next, when she returns she has moved Forward.

Memoirs of a Survivor, The Story of the Telescope and the Abyss, The Erl-King

The heat, together with the collapse of the inadequate structures it has inspired, is now creating conditions where there is an awareness of the escape-route, but where attention is often drawn toward a primary focus on the ongoing disaster. The charged brightness and warmth has subsided a little, remaining steady at a slightly lower level. But this is not the reason for the collapse of the structures, and people are generally not aware of the change - they have been energised by fifteen years of intensity.

Each of these texts has a primary focus that is maintained in a way that abstracts out other domains in order to achieve a clear abstract perception — a following-and-analysis of a major strand of human existential DNA. What unites them is that there is nothing ‘epic’ about them — no vast expanses of grandeur and adventure — together with, firstly, the impression they all produce that the sublime (the escape-path) is liminally within view for the writer, consistently impacting, and, secondly, the fact that they all end with an absolute transformation/liberation, which, although absolute, is left almost entirely undescribed.

The focus in Lessing's novel is the micro-social, or the micro-political (but under the specific conditions of a global breakdown in the functioning of the institutions of social organisation). In Fleutiaux’ novella the focus is prediction-centred societal observation and dominatory societal control. Whereas the focus in Angela Carter's The Erl King is the libidinal at the level of the erotic (where the erotic has the two poles of ecstatic consensual action/domination, and of escstatic consensual passive-activity/submission). Lessing tries to look at the fabric of micro-social connections at the point where top-down social control has definitively lapsed; Fleutiaux explores what it is to be a functionary of a social field under conditions of rigid but ‘quotidian’ social control; Carter explores control within the world of intensely charged amorous/sexual relationships. All three writers conclude their works with a fugitive, unfocused moment-of-escape, and in different, very subtle (and elusive) ways all three books involve disappearance.

The Memoirs of a Survivor

A reader is likely to feel that this story doesn't really work (Doris Lessing seems to have thought this herself), but it recurrently attempts to open up a view of the escape-path, and in the process it blows open a hole in the genre in which the author has been writing for thirty years.

Doris Lessing is a spectacular line of continuity from the pre-war writers, and most importantly, from Virginia Woolf. Everything is done very differently in her writing, and yet she is the continuation, making immediacy a space in which the intellectual currents of a phase of ordinary reality become palpable, visceral (The Golden Notebook is an immense achievement along these lines — a spectacular aspect of the Change at the start the 60s).

In her first novel, The Grass is Singing (quotation from The Wasteland) she shows a woman caught in a deadly trap, but a trap which on one — superficial — level is an ordinary domestic situation within the fabric of its social world.

The trap is indeed deadly. And Lessing is very much aware of ordinary reality as the fabric of the ongoing disaster, where this both concerns the widest social levels, and the ways in which individual lives are drifted implacably toward different forms of oppression and capitulation by the libidinal micro-systems of ordinary reality’s latest form, global capitalism.

Thirty years after The Grass is Singing Lessing is surrounded by the strikes and power cuts of mid-70’s Britain, and the overall social turbulence of the times, and these become the basis for a projection: she envisages a world in which a steady breakdown of state social organisation is taking place, and where everything in the cities is descending into chaos. The feeling that there is another, radically better way of living, just out of sight (the feeling that is heat or intensity in the human world) is still fully in effect within Lessing, but now it is detached from any Hegelian idea of a grand, dialectical movement of progress in global society.

A key aspect of the social situation in The Memoirs of a Survivor is that it is one where a new way of living must be brought into existence, because there is no choice other than to do this, in one way or another. As the London of the story descends into ruin, most people decide to leave, forming groups which depart on foot; and those who stay improvise new social modalities, in the form of temporary, local ‘fixes’ that to some extent hold things together as the chaos increases. A straightforward story here would have been to follow a group as they develop a new social formation, but Lessing has become aware, not of the impossibility of telling a story of this kind, but of the fact that the escape-path is at the level of the transcendental-empirical, and that if the story stays within the empirical it will just function to foster the delusion of a dialectical upward movement. Lessing knows that she cannot write a cheerful fantasy about a threshold-crossing triggered by critique becoming pervasive, in the sense of everyone becoming aware that ordinary reality is an ongoing disaster. A perception of the disastrous does not in any way entail an ability to set out along the escape-path.

A woman, the unnamed narrator, is living in a flat in north London. Living with her is a girl, Emily, who, in the midst of the social breakdown, has become — in an undemonstrative way — her adoptive daughter, and who becomes a young woman in the course of the novel; also living with her is Emily’s dog Hugo, who the novel inconspicuously treats as another central character. By the end of the novel there is a fourth individual, Emily’s boyfriend Gerald, and these four form the crucial ‘core-zone’ of an escape-group.

The narrator has a wall in her living-room, which, when she looks at it, dissolves into reverie-views of enigmatic expanses, reverie-views which sometimes take the form of experiences of walking in serene planetary expanses that, in terms of their foreground, have an aspect of being gardens of cottages, with herbs growing everywhere, or market gardens, always with no-one much around, and sometimes with mountains in the distance — glimpses of the planetary sublime. Often the reverie-views are of a very different kind — sometimes they are oneiric-abstract glimpses which concern staying immanent with circumstances (rather than imposing rigid, pre-created solutions), and a lot of the time they are stifling, oppressive views of suppressed, subjectified forms of existence.

This is a novel of immobility, with an overall tonality which is tilted profoundly toward the oppressive, because of the nature of some of the reveries, and because of the catastrophically grim, bleak circumstances in the world beyond the house. But Lessing is following something through — she wants to point out that there is another direction.

At the end of the novel, at a point when the circumstances have become particularly bad, the wall in the living room opens up, and everyone escapes through it. Almost nothing is visible across the threshold-of-departure, in relation to the overall world in which they are all escaping, but there is a female presence — a female presence who had been described as a kind of ‘known absence’ in relation to the earlier planetary terrains — leaving a multiple impression that she could be an oneiric personification, in the mind of the narrator, of the planet, or that she could be a kind of Futural double of the narrator, or a female emissary from a parallel, neighbouring world at a higher level of existence. Everything is unfocused, and presented as indescribable — the attempt to describe the woman ends with "and all I can say — is nothing at all." (The only other point that can be made is that the dog, Hugo, in crossing the threshold is clearly in the fullest sense a member of the escape-group, as opposed to being a ‘pet’).

At the level of narrative there is nothing particularly satisfying about this ending. It is too starkly unfocused — it is a breaking open of a view, though where almost nothing can be seen. However, on the level of thought it is immensely striking: Lessing has created an equivalent of The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, and here the orthogonal view is made possible by the creation of a gap in realism.

The overall impression is that Lessing has gone very close to her own experience (the figure of Emily is drawing upon her adoptive daughter Jenni Diski), and, in particular, has started to bring into focus the fact that there is a kind of dream (whether a dream in sleep, a reverie-dream, a story, or a dream about the future) that is radically different from the vast majority of dreams. To be a ‘survivor’ is in part to have kept intact an awareness of this kind of dream, and to be taking this awareness across a threshold (it is to have survived the onslaughts of ordinary reality, and to be departing from it). "…the garden was a network of water channels. And looking up and beyond the wall, I saw that the water came from the mountains four or five miles away. There was snow on them, although it was mid-summer, and this was melted snow-water, very cold, and tasting of the air that blew across the mountains."

This is a disjointed, oppressed book, written by novelist who directly engaged with the main intellectual currents of her phase of ordinary reality, and had to get past them, but if you find the necessary angle it is a lens through which a glimpse is visible of the planet-focused path leading away from ordinary reality, and of the escape-group — the multiplicity — which moves forward along this path.

The Story of the Abyss and the Telescope

There are platforms on the edge of an abyss, occupied by functionaries of a society, whose role is to use telescopes in order to detect ‘infractions’ in behaviour on the opposite side of the abyss. The infractions are the first signs of developments seen in some way as unacceptable, though the functionaries inhabit an ‘objective’ modality of detection and prediction, technicians or academics of a society. An enacted judgement occurs elsewhere: when an infraction is discovered, the Ray Telescope raises itself up behind them and sends out a destructive beam which destroys whatever was involved in the ‘disordered’ behaviour.

Across the abyss is a footbridge which sometimes creaks in the wind, but no-one gives any attention to this footbridge.

The protagonist of the story is a functionary who has a ‘long-view’ telescope, which makes it possible to see profoundly incipient developments, where the developments involved are further in the future, but also, inseparably to see more detail, and to see more at a qualitative level. There are other functionaries on the platform, but they all have short-view telescopes — the principle is that there is only one long-viewer per platform. The first-person protagonist (who is unnamed and also ungendered, in the sense that there is no indication of gender) is haunted by having seen anomalous things, and things that they did not want to be destroyed by the Ray Telescope, but if they go to another platform the long-viewer there will only talk to them about technical details concerning the use of the long-view telescopes.

Eventually they start to be aware of the sound of the footbridge, and, leaving behind the world of the telescopes, they set out along the walkway. They discover that on the opposite side there are also platforms and telescopes, with functionaries doing the same thing in reverse, and in the process of the discovery the whole world of the abyss, the platforms and the telescopes disappears.

Pierette Fleutiaux’s story conducts the reader toward the question of reason as it functions within the blocked, denuded system of the faculties that is insisted upon within the world of ordinary reality. This is a narrowly-focused reason, without the assistance of lucidity, and caught up in processes of social control. And it is reason in a form where it is tied to a system of judgement and ‘correction’ (the Ray Telescope burns, cuts, separates — disconnecting things, as well as destroying them in the more obvious sense).

It is worth thinking about the inconspicuously libidinal social-machineries of reviling and ridiculing people, and the correlate affects (in relation to cases where the judgement has ‘impacted’) of feeling mortified, embarrassed or humiliated. And it is also worth seeing that a pervasive functioning of this machinery is one where that which judges and that which suffers the judgement are both within the individual. All of which is to say that within ordinary reality reason is in a very close alliance with an exceptionally dangerous system of ‘subjectified’ or ‘reactive’ affects (dangerous in the sense that they can foreclose lines of thought, destroy confidence, and shut down vital processes of development). The subjectified, judgmental world of moral outrage and corresponding mortifications is an exceptionally damaging place, and without the affection and clarity of lucidity, what is dis-passionate — beyond the passions of ordinary reality — about reason is not strong enough on its own to avoid its results being attached to the processes of subjectified Judgement.

Fleutiaux’s novella sees all this, and sees that it is possible to depart — to change modalities in a way which makes perception and action come to the forefront in relation to a narrowly focused faculty of reason, with its practices of observation and prediction.

The Erl-King

This story very emphatically works, but it opens up a view toward a direction of the outside which is alarmingly off to one side of the escape-path.

A young woman walks into a wood. This is a wood consisting of worlds of intent and of energy — it is an abstract wood, which is to say that it is the World in which we all exist, but encountered in a way which is modulated by the direction in which the young woman is drawn. In her "girlish and delicious loneliness" she hears the sound of the Erl-King’s descending, bird-like refrain — a rising note, and a falling note, played on a pipe, and she is drawn toward him.

The Erl-King is an ultra-poised figure of Control, a collapse into control so blithely perfect and alien in quality that he is described in terms of being ‘inhuman’. He is ultra-erotic sexuality in its form of the active, as opposed to its counterpart form of the activity of yielding, and although he appears to be extremely male he also sometimes appears to be female (he is described as "an excellent housewife"), and in a libidinalised fantasy of her becoming the size of a seed the woman imagines the Erl-King as like a queen in a fairy tale who would swallow her and become pregnant with her. He is a world of practical knowledge, living in his home deep in the woods, and intrinsic to him is an awareness of greater depth to the world than is normally perceived, expressed playfully and impenetrably as distorted allusions — a damagingly unfocused awareness of the recondite.

The effect of the Erl-King is a ‘diminutivising’ — a deadly making small, and closing-off from freedom. The women who he draws toward him all eventually become birds who he keeps in cages, in a process which he views as both sad and natural (he sees this as sad and natural in the same way as someone who is eating an animal they have raised on a farm can see this as sad and natural).

"Now, when I go for walks, sometimes in the mornings when the frost has put its shiny thumbprint on the undergrowth or sometimes, though less frequently, yet more enticingly, when the cold darkness settles down, I always go to the Erl-King, and he lays me down on his bed of rustling straw where I lie at the mercy of his huge hands.

He is the tender butcher who showed me how the price of flesh is love; Skin the rabbit, he says! Off come all my clothes. […]

If I strung that old fiddle with your hair we could waltz together to the music as the exhausted daylight founders among the trees; we should have better music than the shrill prothalamions of the larks stacked in their pretty cages as the roof creaks with the freight of birds you’ve lured to it while we engage in your profane mysteries under the leaves.

He strips me to my last nakedness, that underskin of mauve, pearlised satin, like a skinned rabbit; then dresses me again in an embrace so lucid and encompassing it might be made of water. And shakes over me dead leaves into the stream I have become. […]

The candle flutters and goes out. His touch both consoles and devastates me; I feel my heart pulse, then wither, naked as a stone on the roaring mattress while the lovely, moony night slides through the window to dapple the flanks of this innocent who makes cages to keep the sweet birds in. Eat me, drink me; thirsty, cankered, goblin-ridden, I go back and back to him to have his fingers strip the tattered skin away and clothe me in his dress of water, this garment that drenches me, its slithering odour, its capacity for drowning."

The key phrase is "the price of flesh is love." The whole story functions to bring this outsight into focus. It is — of course — not a last word of any kind in relation to sexuality, but it is a vital outsight in relation to the ultra-erotic as a modality of indulgence.

The end of the story is a projection into the future in the mind of the young woman, where she kills the Erl-King, and opens the cages, so that the birds escape from them and turn back into girls "each with the crimson imprint of his love-bite on their throats".

"Erl-King" ‘is a figure of the transcendental-empirical. And the counterpart figure is abandon in the form of submission to power (as opposed to the creative-productive joy of abandon in the direction of "love and lucidity and wider realities"). In this context to say that Erl-King is a transcendental-empirical figure is in part to say that Erl-King can also be a man who is sexually drawn to men or a woman who is sexually drawn to women. In the fully developed form the constant is the depth — the awareness to some extent of the recondite - where this depth and subtlety is never lucidity at the crucial level. Beware Erl-King, he/she can do you grievous harm.

The disappearance here is a disappearance into the outside of ordinary reality, but in the wrong direction. But to get beyond Erl-King and its counterpart modality is an aspect of what it is to depart along the escape-path. The story gives almost no indication of what might happen beyond the threshold-crossing envisaged at the end (and it is even at the level of envisaging, rather than it being a narrated event), so, as with Lessing’s novel and Fleutiaux’s story, the fundamental disappearance is there at the very end, but apart from the — momentous — difference between entrapment and freedom, very little can be seen beyond the horizon of the threshold.


The culminations of the three stories concentrate on different aspects of the transition — of disappearance. Lessing’s novel looks out along the escape-path, seeing faint outlines in an intense glare. Fleutiaux’s novella points out that in setting out along it ordinary reality disappears, in that it will no longer be possible to see it in the way in which it had been seen before (because this way of seeing was distorted, delusory). Carter’s story shows that there are other directions on the outside of ordinary reality, before turning, at the last moment, to look along the escape-path.

This is a summary of the three texts:

The direction of escape involves quiet planetary spaces where plants and animals and terrains - and the female aspect of the human world - are all in the foregound.

What is necessary is action as opposed to observation, and the fundamental action is a departure from the depth-level systems and structures of ordinary reality.

The cost of indulgence in the socially pervasive cult of the amorous-erotic is not just love, but is also freedom.

A Thousand Plateaus

The heat has continued unabated for some time, but there are signs it is coming to an end.

There is an immense steppe of grasslands and mountains, and abutting upon it – stretching for hundreds of miles — there is the tangled wall of the city. It is more of a single continually reconstructed building than a city: a chaos of productions and alterations, always seething with activity and threaded with conflicts, and simultaneously always to a great extent derelict.

The worlds of the grasslands and mountains are made of the same filaments of energy and awareness as the city, only with different combinations and modalities.

A Thousand Plateaus partly structures one of its chapters as a ‘tale’ — as a sketched fictional narrative, which uses a method of ‘quotation-montage’ to arrive at its conclusion. A figure called Professor Challenger gives a lecture, and at the end he metamorphoses and disappears.

There is, however, another point in the book where the text leans momentarily into the domain of fiction: the concluding sentence of the description of Fleutiaux's The Story of the Abyss and the Telescope shifts to a paraphrase-retelling of the story's conclusion — "One day […] a long-viewer […] will set out across a narrow passageway above the abyss, will depart along the line of flight, having broken their telescope, to meet a blind Double approaching from the other side." Whatever are the complexities in summarising Fleutiaux's novella, and Deleuze and Guattari's account of it, it is correct to say that both of the tales that are semi-narrated by A Thousand Plateaus are stories of disappearance.

This is not, however, an extrinsic or tangential aspect of the text. A Thousand Plateaus is a work of philosophy, but in a specific immanence-philosophy form which can be characterised as metamorphics - the metaphysics and pragmatics of departure from ordinary reality. This shows the way in which the book is in some sense about disappearance, but even this does not indicate the extent to which disappearance is central to it — the extent to which it inspires and (in a positive sense) ‘haunts' the work.

The ideas which A Thousand Plateaus explicates as crucial for departure are deterritorialisation, becomings and the abstract (where the abstract relates to a sphere that includes both energy and intent, so that the term is not connected to the ‘in the head’ construct involved with the term abstraction). The most crucial and innovative of the three ideas is that of becomings, and it would be right to see the chapter which is about becomings as fundamental in the book. This chapter is called "Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible;" and to this it should be added that Deleuze and Guattari say that the highest-intensity becoming (and the one toward which the other becomings lead) is ‘becoming imperceptible.’

‘Becoming-imperceptible’ is another way of describing a disappearance. The main philosophical work done in this context by Deleuze and Guattari is in relation to a different sense of the term, but the ideas of ‘disappearance over an upward threshold’ and of a valuable, liberatory process of dropping out of sight are also included, quietly but emphatically. It feels very much that the section which is the point of maximal intensity of the whole book is the one which includes the phrase — "Becoming-imperceptible means many things."

In relation to ‘becomings’ (the primary focus of the section) Deleuze and Guattari are referring to processes of entering into becoming with — entering into composition with — encountered forces and formations in the world which are imperceptible (in relation to the forces or formations involved you would say that they inspire, transform, teach, provoke thought, wake, assist, generate a metamorphosis). Becomings are grounded in perception, but they go on from perception to be equally in-effect within thought, envisaging, feeling, decision-making and action — they involve all the faculties (however, it should be seen that what gives this section its importance is the fact that here the analysis of becomings is explicitly about perception).

What needs to be brought together here is very simple. In this context the first crucial aspect of the world that is imperceptible is intent — is the abstract as it is encountered in human individuals and human formations (a formation can be a group, a society, an institution or a myth-system). The crucial example is intent in the form of the intent-world of an individual human (the abstract is, as Deleuze and Guattari say, both the imperceptible, and simultaneously that which at a fundamental level is perceived). And in terms of wider modalities which are encountered within individuals the analysis is that for both men and women entering into becoming with the intent-worlds of women is fundamental for waking becomings, and for escaping toward wider realities ("…all becomings begin with and pass through becoming- woman. It is the key to all the other becomings").

The other crucial aspect of the world that is largely imperceptible is the sky — is air, the atmosphere, the air in and above the street, or in the room. What this leads towards is a process of entering into becoming with the atmosphere — for instance, a process of (tactile-spatial) envisaging, where you envisage that you are the atmosphere, with starlight arriving in your upper layer, and with thunderstorms close to the sphere of contact with the ground. A whole adopting of a deterritorialised vantage in relation to the sky that you continually breathe through your lungs; a nomad perspective that places you where you are — on the planet, not, at a depth-level, within the territory of a country. And this becoming with the sky must simultaneously leave open the Spinozistic possibility that the sky is not in fact a world of substance that is dead/denuded/inert in comparison to us.

The aim here has been to show that there are reasons for believing that becoming-imperceptible is the key idea of A Thousand Plateaus, and to point out that the idea (as opposed to the specific primary concept in relation to becomings) does in fact explicitly include the sense of disappearance that is in question. This charged nexus — the idea of becoming-imperceptible — therefore must be placed alongside the two points in the book where the writing goes momentarily toward the ‘figural’ mode of expressing outsights that is employed by tales (a leaving behind of concepts for the abstract ‘figures' of fictions).

What is fundamental in A Thousand Plateaus is the account of becomings and of deterritorialisation, together with the account of micropolitics at the points where it delineates the ‘escape-group,’ creating the figure of a group-departure from ordinary reality. The basic structure here is exactly right: it is a pragmatics of becoming-active, and of waking the faculties, and it is a pragmatics of seeing — and working with — the human world as an element of the planet (so that what fundamentally you are working with, and navigating on/within, is the Terrain of the planet).

These lines of thought can be helpfully contrasted with the way in which A Thousand Plateaus was involved in the philosophy of Warwick University in the 1990s, and also, interconnectedly, with the early works of William Gibson.

In the main Warwick-philosophy milieu at this time A Thousand Plateaus functioned as a charged horizon or atmosphere, but this does not in fact define what took place. The ideas which coalesced as the primary philosophical strand of what became the CCRU (the group that has become famous to some extent within cultural theory and within specific domains of philosophy) were technology as ‘zeitgeist’ and accelerationism. Spinozism was primarily employed to dismantle the customary division between human and machine intelligence, and a key thought was that of the internet as technosentience (without any detailed, effective thought about which faculty it was which had been technologically externalised, or about what the wider forces might be which are involved in this process).

The crux, however, lies in the fact that the hypothetical/hyperfictional temporal structure was ultimately that of a kind of ‘techno-Hegelianism,’ involving supposedly exacerbatory interventions that would speed up — would be part of — a depth-level, runaway movement toward a point where the human would cross a threshold in which it would be unrecognisable, becoming, at this point, interfused with artificial intelligence. This is a heady cocktail of sci-fi philosophy, but what tends to be obscured is the theological (Hegelian) structure, involving a movement toward an upward threshold, and an activity on the part of individuals/micro-groups which all along is powerless to bring about the projected/aimed-at millenarian grand outcome — creating activity that masks a depth-level passivity (both because the entirety of the human world is at a gigantically larger scale, and because its nature has not been understood).

The CCRU was substantially more than this core structure of thought, but within the structure what has been lost is the planet with the human world as an element within it (instead a component of the human world has become the future) and is the planet-centred process of waking the faculties and of becoming-active.

In this context, it is necessary to limit myself to one ‘personal’ observation, broken into two parts. This observation will assist in relation to the comparison with A Thousand Plateaus, and with the development of the idea of disappearance.

Around 1991 William Gibson's three Neuromancer novels (the Sprawl trilogy) started to be a major coordinate for the thinking taking place within the Warwick milieu. There are many aspects of these books which are very impressive, but as I started to read them I had an impression — one that never completely went away — that I was experiencing a drop in intensity.

There are several traditions of writing that involve disappearance. There are, for instance, ‘future fiction’ novels involving a departure into a chronological future which is understood to be better, such as William Morris’s News from Nowhere (Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time is a high-point in this tradition, and Christopher Priest's A Dream of Wessex is a striking outlier, existing partly outside and partly within this tradition). There are also ‘strange tales’ which involve a disappearance into another world that is immanently ‘alongside,’ and that in some sense is more extraordinary — for instance Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood, or, to take a partly-successful exemplar from a large sequence of works by the author, The Illearth War by Stephen Donaldson (in relation to the most powerful aspect of this form of writing, to write well here is to give an account of the Futural, of the escape-route). However, the sequence of works involved in connection with the Sprawl trilogy is another one again, a specific ‘epic’ sequence that also includes Kubrick's and Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: a Space Odyssey, Clarke's Childhood's End, Gibson's story Hinterlands and Greg Bear's Blood Music.

In Childshood's End the departure-across-an-upward threshold is of the whole human species, but in a way where there is a vastness that at the same time lacks depth: there is the intensity of the idea, but bound together with a kind of chilly, disturbingly unfocused quality. What makes the novel interesting is that dreaming is taken up as a form of perception, with this being part of what is central to the departure, and with technology displaced from its customary central role in science fiction - but this strength does not stop the novel from having a disjointed, grandiose aspect, an aspect that becomes grimly foregrounded in the culmination of the story. In 2001: a Space Odyssey the story is more focused (a main difference is that here it is an individual who departs across a metamorphic threshold). Beyond this, Gibson's Hinterlands is a kind of dark, 1982 counterpart or ‘coda’ in relation to the intensity of 1969 (astronauts are sent out to a specific point in the solar system, and they disappear to somewhere else in the cosmos, but they all come back dead or insane), and Blood Music has a Departure not of the human species, but of a species of nano-beings initially brought into existence by humans (this is probably the best of these ‘epic’ works, and it is worth seeing how, beyond a thread of indulgent melancholy in the concluding chapter, the Futural in the closing moment feels as if it was dreamed into existence not by a science fiction writer, but by a transcendental-materialist Kierkegaard).

The second part of the personal observation is that as Gibson began to fade into the background there was just one aspect of the Neuromancer trilogy that stayed with me — the ending of the last book, Mona Lisa Overdrive, and the idea of the ‘aleph’ that is central to this ending.

The aleph is an object the size of a hand that consists of software that is the basis for a gigantic ‘cyberspace’ or ‘virtual-real’ world that is unconnected to the cyberspace of the internet within the trilogy. At the end of the novel a group of four of its characters, including a woman, Angela Mitchell, have become beings within the aleph. Outside of it those who had been alive in the first place are now all dead, but inside of the aleph there is the virtual-real Earth, and a second virtual-real world elsewhere in the galaxy, which has been constructed out of interstellar communication between the two worlds. The conclusion is the group departing for the other, alien world within the aleph. Overall, the tonality hovers between the elegiac and sad, and the exhilaration of a journey into the radically other. It is the other that is the horizon as the book ends, but there is a shiny, unchanging deadness to aspects of the virtual-real within the aleph, leaving an ambiguity, a feeling that the group in some sense has been trapped within a two-world microcosm in which they are only a little better than zombies.

Gibson's worlds of cyberspace become interesting at the point where you make them a way of looking toward the human oneirosphere of dreams — the world of dreams about the future, fictions, myths, dreams in sleep, accounts of the world, and scientific narratives, a world which now includes expressions effectuated through the internet. This is to say that the lens can work well, but not in the way that it is used within the novels (cyberspace becomes the guidance-space and navigation-space - and control-space — of dreamings).

And for a moment the trilogy has a faint view of the escape-group. The earlier stories in this tradition were locked to the alternative of the departure being either that of the species of the individual, and also had a tendency to be disturbingly locked to the figure of the male. Here the adventure of the group feels simultaneously as if it might be an echo reverberating from a tragedy, and there is only one female figure — but the concluding tonality, in the last sentences, is exhilaration, and Angela Mitchell is the point of awareness / protagonist for this end-moment. At Warwick university, and in the years afterwards, this image of a departure felt like something important. I wasn’t interested in the way in which the aleph was a reference to Borges’s story The Aleph (though this is possibly Borges’s best story), and nor was I interested in the way in which the cyberspace capsule of the aleph opened up a parallel with the Elysian Fields that are a background aspect of Greek tragedy — I was interested in the group departure.

It was wintry and unfocused, but it felt as if the end of the Sprawl trilogy was a view toward something which the much higher intensity of A Thousand Plateaus also looks towards — the escape-group. A Thousand Plateaus does not in fact achieve much more in this respect, in a direct way, but it is the ideas of becomings and of deterritorisations which make this book a far more extraordinary vantage, along with the idea of ‘abstract machines,’ or of formations of intent.


The blind Double is blind because not yet fully effectuated, a persona with a capacity for inner silence, and with a new formation of faculties - arriving as the fundamental mode of existence that will subsume the functionings of the persona of ordinary reality; approaching as you walk toward it.


There is now a house, surrounded by semi-desert. Generally there is no-one around. There are a few trees around the house. Sometimes you hear the wind blowing across the chaparral.

The heat from the zones and terrains of the planet arrives here without being partially relayed – as in ordinary reality – through the conventional human world, with its ups and downs. The heat arrives ceaselessly, day and night, a heartening, inspiring intensity.

There is an orchard, and a vegetable garden. Somewhere far in the distance there are forested hills and mountains.

Being-in-Dreaming is about a series of departures which take the form of a dropping out of sight, where in general the length of time involved increases, over a sequence of five departures. These departures involve journeys from the USA to rural or desert areas of Mexico, but they also involve encounters with people with an other relationship-with-the-world, one which appears to be at a higher level than that of ordinary reality, in relation to the process of becoming-active and waking the faculties. This different relationship-with-the-world is the crucial aspect of the book, and yet it is clear that the terrains where the encountered individuals are living are key to this relationship, because they help in fostering the deterritorialised, planetary perspective that is at the heart of it.

The book also describes a disappearance — a disappearance of a whole group, who are understood to have in some sense crossed a further threshold of reality, referred to as "the third attention." However, as has been the practice throughout Outsights, this disappearance will not be taken as the primary issue. Instead the focus will be on the other relationship-with-the-world, and on the processes of dropping out of sight, and of departure to another, radically different milieu.

In relation to ‘departure to another milieu’ what matters in Being-in-Dreaming is the deterritorialized vantage — and affect — of the house in the semi-desert terrain. This world of exteriority is crucial, but it is also crucial as abstract (find a world of exteriority). When the departure of the ‘escape-group’ takes place it is an enigmatic absence not a drama: Florinda Donner describes how she returns to the house, and no-one is there. The culmination is a silence in which the terrain becomes more visible, and in the silence there is also the echo of the other relationship-with-the- world, like light-hearted laughter in the distance.

There is a structure here:

The task of waking the body.
The task of waking the faculties.
The recognition that human beings are explorers into the transcendentally unknown, and that women in particular suffer from having been socially conditioned to be sexual partners (as a central, defining role) as opposed to them being travellers into wider realities.
The recognition that the faculty we must wake first is the faculty of perception.
The idea that the world around us (the key instance is the planet) is something like dreaming, feeling, intent or thought, as opposed to it being inert, blind matter (to embody this idea is to overturn what can be called ‘the dogmatic image of the world’).
The idea that there is a doorway within dreams in the form of a faculty of dreaming, a complex faculty which consists of a modality of perception.

Two aspects of Being-and-Dreaming perhaps stand out most of all. The first is the affirmation that although we need departures to external vantages, we also need an overall form of existence which does not consist of "retreating from the world" (departures, and the process of achieving a detachment from "the social order" have nothing to do with reactiveness or retreat, let alone with some form of dogmatic ‘asceticism'). The second is that we need to learn to assess the systems of the dreams-of-the-future and directions-of-action that become the defining ‘ventures’ of a life: the questions being always — what, at depth, is the intent of the system or institution, and in what ways does my self-indulgence get attached to the kudos that is socially allotted by the directions involved? What, at depth, is the intent of a religion; of amorous-and-sexual ‘grand romance;’ of a political or intellectual movement; of your own life as, for instance, an artist or an academic; of a form of artistic expression? And to what extent do they involve a disguised submissiveness or capitulation to power, a reactive righteousness that is the opposite of openness, a self-indulgence in relation to the deadening stimulant of kudos? To what extent are such ventures not the joy and delight of transcendental adventure; of waking the faculties in a process of travelling further into the World? To ask these questions effectively is the beginning of thought that escapes the presuppositions of ordinary reality: lucidity is the faculty of perceiving intent and of perceiving the depth-level nature of dreams.

Knowledge of intent is here referenced as knowledge of the abstract. And what one of the female figures in Being-in-Dreaming states is that women start out close to lucidity/the abstract, whereas men start out a long way from it. Women are drawn away from their starting-point by deleterious social forces, and have to get back. Donner describes how she is told that what is crucial for men in reaching lucidity is becoming-woman. Women need to reach themselves in travelling a short distance that leads then to all the other becomings, and men need to reach women, in a process that Donner is told takes men away from maleness, where maleness is a blocked, deadening modality in relation to awareness of the abstract and journeys to the outside of ordinary reality. This is a transcendental materialism where the specifics of bodies have a high degree of initial importance, but where becomings with formations of intent can wake a second nature so that everything is swept up in a new direction.

The structure which has been delineated is a formation of intent, an abstract machine. It is an abstract machine of becoming-active, of travelling into wider realities.


How does this end-point of the micro-essays connect with the walk that Mark Fisher and I did in Suffolk in 2006?

The answer is that the walk, with a bit of assistance from Joan Lindsay, was adequate as a lens for viewing the planet and the human world, and that, in seeing the escape-path leading away from ordinary reality, On Vanishing Land looks in the same direction as does Being-in-Dreaming.

There are three key aspects to the escape-path.

The first is that it consists of waking the faculties, starting from perception, and then from dreaming. Lucidity is also vital (it is referenced at the end of On Vanishing Land) but at the outset the primary focus should be on the other two faculties, because this in fact is the best way of effectuating it (as well as perceiving intent and dreamings, lucidity grasps the inner nature of value-systems; it is the faculty which perceives the transcendental, the abstract).
The second is that there is a shift to a deterritorialised focus on the planet. Semi-wild and wilderness terrains are associated with the point of the shift, as significantly more likely to be involved in the phases of the transition (in On Vanishing Land a precursor-phase of the transition is depicted in relation to Rendlesham Forest and Lantern Marsh). However, what is fundamental is that after the change — after starting out along the escape-route — the human world is seen as an element within the planet, and the terrain of the planet at a pragmatic and comprehensive level is understood as where we live and navigate a way forward, with state territories understood as secondary and exceptionally dubious constructs.
The third is that the ongoing disaster of capitalism is understood in terms of a profoundly damaging intent, and is that aspects of the libido involved in customary sexually-focused relationships are understood as inseparable from the issue of the ongoing disaster. This disaster is the destructive ravages of capitalism, the violent control-modalities of wars, and it is the results of a control-tending mental ecology that includes a fixation on the inward-turned modalities of customary sexuality — with its two poles, domination-control, and submission-control (control in the form of the attractiveness of abandon).The departure toward the planet on Valentine's Day in Picnic At Hanging Rock suggests a radically other direction — a direction which is more intense than the serial, control-inflected worlds of amorous sexual liasons that are misconstrued as the height of charged affect.

How could it be that the idea of disappearance is at a sufficient level of reality for understanding the intent of a human life, and the overall plight of human beings?

The transition involved in disappearance has now become a transition at the level of intent — the transition is a disappearance from ordinary reality. But in consisting of intent it consists of the functioning of a principle of Exteriority which concentrates on the planet beyond the human world, the perception of the (planetary) world immediately around you, and the worlds or modalities of the other faculties, where one of these worlds is a re-dreaming or re-envisaging of what is taking place on the planet — and of what has been taking place during the preceding millenia.

(In relation to the species of the planet disappearance is also a term for extinction, and in relation to human childhood development it can function as a name for the loss involved in instilling the mind-form of a subjectified human being, with its deadened arrangement of faculties, its reactive feelings, its dysfunctional self-reflection, and its embroilment in the destructive gravity of judgemental behaviours).

At the level of joy and adventure and love-for-the-world everything is about waking up and moving forward, a process which can only be valuable to all involved. And at the level of the plight of the planet and of human beings, everything is about the realisation that it is not enough to advocate for the most socialist and environmentalist forms of government and to adopt and propagate green ways of living, and that it is necessary to set out — taking these forms of action with you — along the escape-path toward wider realities. It is important to remember that in the same way as most of self-reflection is not thought but is the blocking of thought, the gravity of the political is part of the problem, not part of the solution. We need to escape in the direction of the planet, moving away from the processes which are destroying it. However the affective modality of the departure — and what drives the movement forward — is not duty, or the anguish of a need to escape (although there is a very clear critique of the ongoing disaster - of ordinary reality). Instead, the departure consists of a love for the world, and, centrally, of a love for the planet, and in a way where ultimately the actions involved are not a question of duty.

There is a whole interestablishment of modalities which together make up ordinary reality: an alliance of many zones, but primarily of religion; structural aspects of politics; business; law; and processes of production of technology and knowledge. There are kind acts taking place everywhere, but these are not constitutive of the interestablishment: instead they accidentally function to justify it. Processes/acts consisting of courage, love and radical creation or innovation are in the liminal space that is the start of the escape-path, and what is produced is continually being drawn back into the domain of control modalities (it is a fine thing to achieve something here, but what is of fundamental importance is to depart along the escape-path).

To depart is to return your ticket to the projected Improved World of the interestablishment. Not because the world cannot improve, but because it will only improve if people depart — the projection is a delusion.


Barbara O’ Brien’s formula for going off the radar — for dropping out of sight — is now under pressure. There is an increasing expectation that people should be contactable and should stay in contact, and that, if they are neither communicating or messagable, their location should be known. Ultimately these issues are superficial practical problems — there is always a solution if you have enough dedication to the task of getting away — but it is important to see both that someone in Barbara O’Brien’s situation would now find it harder to go through an equivalent transition or ‘metamorphosis,’ and that the weight of the expectations involved falls more onto women than onto men.

However, Barbara O'Brien's need to go out of sight was the result of a massive jolt having already taken place — one that had taken her in the wrong direction, but which gave her a chance of changing course and moving Forward. Her departure-trajectory will therefore generally not be a model to follow. It is worth seeing that the result of the initial jolt is that her situation is so extreme that the role of non-urban spaces in her successful alteration of course is caught up in an overdetermination, because of the complexity of the experience, though the turning-point phase is definitely when she is at the furthest remove from the urban, and during the phase when she is consolidating her ‘post-Operators’ state she spends most of her time in the local park. The key issue is that O’Brien’s trajectory is a return from extreme turbulence, which has taken her around an upward spiral of ‘normality’ to a point where it is then also possible to set out on a deliberate, poised departure from ordinary reality, and is the fact that what she has learned about going out of sight is a breakthrough of knowledge that has a fundamentally wider application.

It is necessary to be as imaginative and ambitious as possible in looking for opportunities to get away. There are always potentials which are un-noticed or largely un-noticed: with a job there are often more opportunities for extended leave than might initially be thought, and sometimes there is an opportunity to leave the job, and depart for an indefinite amount of time.

It can also be valuable to do something as simple as a walk from an urban terrain into the terrains beyond it, as with the walk that provided the basis for On Vanishing Land.

And sometimes it is possible to go off the radar — into an exteriority-terrain of some kind — for only a relatively short amount of time (the amount of time associated with the term ‘holiday') and to discover that your intent is a kind of current that leads to experiences that give you glimpses of the escape-route, and which loosen the grip of ordinary reality on your life.

Everything becomes a question of becoming sustained perception — suspending thought and processes of identification/categorisation — and also it becomes a question of seeing what dreams and stories arrive through the encounter with the terrain. Navigation becomes about going toward the most intense, striking, or enigmatic features, whether ‘natural’ or human-made. And when thought begins it should be about the singular modalities of what is encountered, and, when it is at its widest planetary extension, it should place the systems of the human world as an element within the planet. But it should be there only for a moment, and then there should be a return to the suspension of ordinary-reality modes (in the form of perception that goes toward something more like trance) and to navigation toward intensity that together will eventually lead toward jolts, toward valuable perturbations.

The partly perceived escape-path has a horizon in the form of the unknown that is knowable, and this horizon is inseparable from the planet as the unknown. And if there is something very anomalous and in some way sublime haunting this direction, and the domains alongside it, can anything be perceived in relation to the darker dimension of the unknown that can be indicated by the names ‘Erl-King,’ ‘the Shing’ etc? (and if the Operators are understood in part as a message from the unconscious, then what aspect of the world is being indicated?). At this point all that can be said is that the presence within the human world of the control-tending mind-form of ordinary reality produces an impression of this world being like a tree afflicted by a blight that turns the tree's cellular production against itself.

A question of seeing how the space communicates — where it takes you, as the closely perceived singular becomes the abstract. The derelict factory and the overgrown second world war ruins have a feeling of the sublime. Lit up in sunshine there is an oak-apple on the crumbling concrete.


I have twice walked out of London — an enjoyable, day-long task. The first time was in the summer of 2000. At around 11pm I was walking through a village in the Chilterns, on my way to find somewhere to pitch my tent, in an area of fields and woodlands beyond the village.

In all of the houses I could see a TV screen. This gave me a chilling impression of being in the world of a 1970s B film, something like The Stepford Wives. In the year 2000 there were no smartphones: if someone were to do this walk now, they would be almost certain to have a screen in their pocket.

What is in question is whether or not we should regard our seemingly safe, cheerful screen-worlds (the worlds of the screen, and the spaces in which we generally look at the screens) as in some ways the most dangerous forces we encounter. Technology is entirely a question of what can be incorporated into a process of travelling along the escape-path, and human inventions tend always, of course, to have very different aspects and applications. The ‘throwaway’ lightness of emails and texts can, under certain circumstances, be ideal for learning to write, and synthesisers are a powerful deterritorialisation of sound. And as well as there being the extremely valuable ‘nomadic’ uses for computers and smartphones (so that the escape-path in effect involves the internet) if you imagine a base on the edge of a wilderness — used by a milieu of friends for creative work — it feels emphatically that it should have good quality devices of many kinds. However — what insists is that alongside, maybe half a mile further up a mountain, there should be another similar house which has none of this technology. From books to computers, and from bells to synthesisers, the issue is always to what extent the technology solidifies a libidinally charged distribution of the faculties that belongs to ordinary reality. On Vanishing Land is very clear about this: the whistle found in the M.R.James story is a reminder that you should think very carefully about the things you have picked up and are carrying around in your pocket.

Along with becoming sustained perception of the world around you, there is no aspect of the principle of Exteriority that is more important than going to the outside of urban terrains to the maximum extent, primarily in the actual, but also in the virtual. On Vanishing Land describes a departure from urban spaces (from London, then from Felixstowe), and the described movement in the actual also goes outward from the immediate to the planetary non-urban of the oceans on which the container ships travel and of the planet as a whole as it is experienced by the figure on the hill ("there is a white void of air beneath their feet"). In this context of the world being seen as more like ‘feeling’, the local atmosphere of an area of Suffolk coastland becomes an unknown space in which the unknown travels. A child has been sleeping in an unfamiliar room, in the early morning they look out of a window, and with a frisson of pleasure they take in the dawn street, the light, the air, the person on the way to work, the birds, the clouds. You are at a house surrounded by semi-desert or forested mountains, four or five practitioners of Departure are sitting around a table on a verandah, talking and laughing, the sunlight is dappled by a vine on the trellis above them, in the garden a bird hovers for a moment, then flies out of sight.


There are three areas of exploration — three ‘starting-point’ zones — which need to be explored in conjunction with each other, and to which courage needs to be brought, not because these areas are frightening in themselves, but because without courage it is far less likely that there will be the high-intensity experiences that are particularly valuable for waking the faculties.

Ultimately, the faculty which it is most important to wake is navigation, or decision- making, and the terrain which has primacy for navigation is the planet on which we live and travel: exploration in the sense involved here relates to a great extent to decision-making (even though the greatest attention at the outset must be given to perception, and to dreaming) and this is why the focus in this account is on different modalities of travelling.

the outlands

This is a question, firstly, of visiting and travelling within semi-wildernesses, wildernesses, scurflands and areas of countryside, and, secondly, of breaking the grim flow of ordinary reality through becoming sustained perception, and through an overall process of waking the faculties. These two are parts of one process, because the terrains are likely to be recurrently more prepossessingly atmospheric and inspiring than urban and household terrains, providing support for the task of becoming unbroken perception. But it is also because they simultaneously provide support for reaching a main aspect of the faculties of lucidity and dreaming — an embodied awareness that the human world as a whole is a problematic, out-of-control element that is preeminently within the planet, where the planet is understood as emphatically not on a lower level than the awareness of human beings. This is why On Vanishing Land invokes, in contradistinction to ordinary reality, another view in relation to humans and the planet: "There is a white void of air beneath their feet. This white void is the planet, it is beneath the figure on the hill, and all around them, they are a dream within a dream…"

In turn, it can be seen that in this context the idea of breaking the flow of ordinary reality not only involves breaking the ceaseless flow of internal verbalising, self-reflection, and categorising/temporalising (temporalising involves not-perceiving in the form of superimposing a process of laying elements out along a line of time), but also straightforwardly involves breaking the flow of use of computers, social media, televisions, and all playback and recording devices. In fact, in terms of arrays of technological elements, it involves whatever differences and absences which are helpful for breaking the flow of ordinary reality: for instance a mirror evidently has a lot in common with a camera (the machinery of self-reflection does not just involve processes which are in the head).

This can all lead to the thought: are not the outlands really at the level of the abstract, at the level of human intent and attitudes? (can't you just set things up the right way in a flat or house in a city, and learn to see and feel differently?). However, this ignores the fact that as a starting-point the beyond-the-urban terrains are likely to be far better at sweeping people away from the customary agreement about the nature of the world. It also ignores the fact that in travelling beyond the starting-point there is not just a set of attitudes, but instead there is an existence where attention is focused on the terrain that is the planet, a terrain which is more heartening, energising and inspiring when you go into zones beyond the spaces of the urban world. The astonishing, sublime wilderness of the sky is always there, whether you are in the middle of a city or on the top of a forested mountain, but the forested mountain has a greater power to sweep you away, in the direction of the Future.

Lenses, diagrams, catalysts (fragments of a mirror)

Between 2006 and 2011 I went twice to Mongolia, and once to Tuva, and one main aspect of these journeys was a search for skilled practitioners of overtone singing. I was looking for musicians who would be prepared to teach me, not for professional teachers. I did not do this in the spirit of ethnomusicology, and to say that I was doing it as an ‘artist’ is also not quite adequate, because the word goes too fast over what is involved, and is too tied up with ideas of performance. In setting out to learn overtone singing I was looking for a form of vocal deterritorialisation with a high potential for expressiveness and for conduction toward heartened, intensified states.

a story

Many tens of thousands of years ago, in Africa, humans and animals together constructed a mirror in which it was possible to see other worlds. It was not a mirror as we now understand the term: in it were the reflections of other dimensions of reality, and of worlds in distant galaxies. Through looking into it, over time it became possible to see the other worlds without its assistance, and to communicate with beings who came from physically far-distant places. Many realised at this time that some of these other entities had helped them in the construction of the mirror.

It was discovered that it was possible to travel to the most recondite confines of reality, and to distant galaxies. Perhaps as a result of an immoderate use of this ability, a group of humans made contact with beings inhabiting a region thousands of galaxies distant from the Earth. These beings were composed of a form of dark matter similar to plasma, and were energy and affect predators. On one level they were immensely sophisticated, striking from a higher level of reality than that of their prey, and on another level they consisted of a crude, two-dimensional form of existence. Having encountered humans, they came to the Earth, and installed themselves as elements within its nonorganic eco-system. They implanted living models of their mind into the minds of humans, shifting the human species toward control-behaviours, and toward possessiveness and strife.

With the aid of the mirror many humans and animals escaped to other worlds. But because it was associated with the disaster which had befallen the planet, the mirror was destroyed: it was broken into countless tiny fragments. For a long time the area where it had been created was connected in peoples’ minds with the memory of something bad, but then this memory was also lost.

Not long after the arrival of the predators, and the destruction of the mirror, some of the humans who were less affected by the implanted mind came together. They did not want to take sides within the complex of struggles and violent conflicts which the human world had become, and some of them decided to travel into the regions of the planet beyond Africa. An old woman, who was the leader of a group which had chosen to stay and live within the Kalahari desert and the jungles of western Africa, said that they should all take fragments of the mirror with them. Remembering the bright time of the mirror, they went to the place where it had been, and took with them as many fragments as they could carry.

The representatives of all the animals came together on the beach of a remote bay in eastern Africa. A message had come to them from the other worlds with which animals and humans had been in contact - worlds in other dimensions and in other parts of the cosmos. They had been told that for the most part contact would now no longer be possible, and that, although animals were less affected by the predators, they would now drop back to a lower level of awareness and forget the time of the mirror. They had come together to decide how to mitigate the disaster. One of their leaders, a female wolf from the Atlas mountains, said

"Out of affection, some of you horses will travel with the humans, and so will some of my kind, the prairie dogs and wolves."

"But us dogs and wolves are pack creatures, with a code of obeying a leader, and eventually we will be enslaved. And you horses are not quite wild enough to avoid enslavement."

"This is not enough."

After a long silence, the representative of a small species of cat came forward.

"We will go" said the cat. "Over time we will lose some of our independence, but we will not become enslaved, and we will be a link between humans and the planet."

Small bands of humans, horses, dogs and cats set out into the west and south and north of Africa, and from the north of Africa some of the groups continued. The fragments of the mirror were taken with them, and, although those who set out in the end consisted as much of people strongly affected by the implanted mind as those less affected, including people who attacked the cats because they refused to be domesticated into slavery, the fragments of the mirror helped them in their journeys into Eurasia, and eventually into the Americas.

Very early in the diaspora a large group, which had many mirror fragments, used small boats to cross from Indonesia to Australia. And in Australia for many tens of thousands of years the idea of the dreamtime was a faint memory of the time of the mirror.

… … …

It seems there is an other distribution of the faculties, and it also seems that beyond around four thousand years into the past this other distribution was effectuated substantially more often than now (this would not in any way entail that things as a whole were better beyond this point, because it is the overall pattern of states of being that would be key for such an assessment). However, the chronological aspect should not be overemphasised: it is the nature of what you find that matters, and not whether it is ancient, or was originated in ancient times. What is crucial is an overall openness, followed in turn by an openness to the modalities found within nomadic and tribal societies, and then also by an openness in relation to the ancient past (and in fact openness in the last two cases must be a reversal of the customary ‘primitivising’ ways of thinking about the worlds involved).

Everything here on one level concerns systems of action in relation to the human body, where the main coordinates for thinking about what is in question are deterritorialisation of the body, dance, health-intensifying techniques, and systems of becoming-active and of waking the faculties; and on another level it involves systems of philosophical thought. This can be illustrated by taking up a second mode of travelling: going to a country and finding someone who can teach some rare, singular modality, such as a more focused way of understanding the world; or a form of dance, or overtone singing, or a system/discipline of movement etc.

This in part concerns intensificatory, or health-assisting techniques, but it also involves transcendental-empirical knowledge, and includes skills such as learning how to behave in relation to animals and how to exist/survive in specific wild terrains; and, again, it includes a range of physical/artistic skills that extend through dance to acting.


The idea of ‘acting’ leads to a third modality of travelling, one which opens up the idea of becomings along an additional axis. A valuable possibility is to travel as another version of yourself. Find your fascinations and interests which contingently have been in the background, and bring them into the foreground as coordinates for decision-making and for giving an account of yourself — a construction of a persona involving a substantially changed emphasis, as opposed to ‘lying,’ and one which, if it is constructed wisely, will lead to a wider way of being which is more true to who you are than the starting-point. Think, ‘what objects would this person be carrying with them, and what would they be wearing?’ and make adjustments: ‘objects’ have more power to help in focusing a new persona than we generally realise.

The initial, and primary, aspect of becomings is entering into composition with other beings and other kinds of being. Because of a very subtle, depth-level suppression which has taken place within the human world, becoming-woman, as Deleuze and Guattari have pointed out, is the key becoming — the one that leads to all the other becomings (it should be added that being in love with a woman is a fundamental form of becoming-woman, but this state needs to be maintained as a desubjectified aspect of Departure, rather than it being collapsed into a thread of ordinary reality). The horizon becoming, however (the one which in a specific sense is involved simultaneously with the others) is entering into becoming with the planet, but where the sky — the atmosphere — of the planet is very much in the foreground. The virtual-real or ‘envisaging’ processes of becoming-sky or becoming-atmosphere are fundamental in the escape from ordinary reality, and are the central aspect of entering into composition with the planet (and because what is involved here is transcendental materialism it is valuable and directly relevant to remember that on one level entering into composition with the atmosphere is another name for breathing).

It will be noticed that the planet here reaches a crucial point of double-inscription. It starts out as the primary terrain of decision-making — of navigation — for the starting-points of exploration, and at the end appears as the ‘other side’ of the most encompassing of the human becomings.

Note: The fundamental historical shift is toward projecting from a male-dominated social field (women are betrayed at this point) in a delerium-about-control which blocks off the planet, and which inseparably locks attention onto human interiority (animals and the whole planet are betrayed at this second ‘stage'). What follows, and then runs alongside, are human cognitive and organisational systems which are fixated on human societies and technologies, and which have a subtle righteousness and concealed lack of openness.

Tribal and nomadic societies have their own systems of control and suppression, but they have a recurrent tendency to see animals as sublime, tutelary worlds of intent and awareness. The loss of this view of animals is a key indicator of the main historical shift. The ongoing disaster deepened around four thousand years ago, and with the current destruction of habitats and species, together with people being taken still further away from transcendental-empirical knowledge, it is currently crossing a further downward threshold.

Note 2: Speaking generally, technology is not less than we think it is, but more, although in a rather grim, disturbing sense of ‘more’ (an element of transcendental materialism is what can be called ‘gothic’ materialism). Like human beings, technology is of course an element of the planet — a part of nature — but the crucial point is that preponderantly it is a component of ordinary reality, and of the ongoing disaster within the human world. However, it is just a question of working out what it is valuable to take with you — and what can be valuably developed — in the process of travelling along the escape-path. And if you have been swept into a process of deterritorialisation in relation to it (one which might only be tangential to your overall process of departure) the internet, like the worlds of the cities, has a faint but striking quality of the sublime, which comes from it being a ruinous terrain — like the cities, it was born ruinous.


In conclusion, it is possible to describe four features of touching the ground lightly, which is a primary, pervasive aspect of travelling along the escape-path.

Firstly, this is an embodied tendency to be as careful as possible in relation to the planet. An affirmation of the planet which both consists of a minimal use of resources, and an exploration of new ways of cutting back the damage done by the footprint of a human existence.

Secondly this is a heightening of the body, and a waking of the faculties. The attribute of touching the ground lightly is here the ‘obvious’ one, where this, in the context, is an indicator of a wider fluency.

Thirdly, this is an avoidance of counter-productive disputes, whether with those whose position is centred on religion, or with those whose view is based on an empirico-rational stance. For instance, within the second domain of views there is a great amount that is shared, and here it is a question of working with what is in common. The absolute affirmations here are of environmentalism and of socialist values of kindness, knowledge and freedom, together with key elements of critique — Marx's critique of religion, and the overall critique of the depredations of capitalist/ corporate power. But the affirmation beyond this — and the one where it is a question of avoiding counter-productive disputes — is of a radical socialism consisting not of overthrow or evolution of the state (which is trapped within capitalism) but of micro-departures from ordinary reality.

Fourthly, and most importantly, this is a perceptual attention that is centred on the sky, and when indoors, on the air and light in front of you; so that when you are outside your attention is centred on a point just above the horizon, and what is primarily seen is the space of sky, and, by extension, the whole space of air in front of you. Seeing the sky and the clouds is primary, and if the space of air starts to be seen and felt/experienced as a space of light (so that in a room you might have the experience of being a room-shaped zone of gold-coloured light, and of a tactile contact with the walls) then this is a good development, so long as you don't get caught up in thinking about it. What is crucial is that what you were seeing as the figure — the solid objects — instead becomes the ground, the ground that it was all along. The figure is the sky: it is air and light. The ground is the solid objects. And our attention needs to touch the ground lightly.

The faculty we need to wake first is perception. And the second faculty we need to wake is dreaming.

Notes for Outsights: Disappearances of Literature
  • Epigraph “you only have a lifetime to escape” Mark Fisher and I made the audio-essay londonunderlondon between 2001 and 2005: it was broadcast on Resonance FM, London, in April 2005. The ‘Necropolis Now’ section from which the epigraph is taken was written by Mark Fisher; I wrote the ‘when space breaks open’ section (see Additional Texts for the londonunderlondon script and overview).
  • Operators and Things “I finally managed to get away…” O’Brien, Barbara, Operators and Things, Silver Birch Press, 2011 (first published by Arlington Books, 1958), p 79. “The analyst had urged me frequently…” Operators and Things, pp. 131 – 132.
  • The Drowned World “…there isn’t any other direction.” Ballard, J.G., Fourth Estate, 2014, p. 57.

City of Illusions, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

Le Guin, Ursula, City of Illusions, Worlds of Exile and Illusion, Gollancz, 2015.

“…they seem to know where they are going…”

Le Guin, Ursula, The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, The Wind’s Twelve Quarters & The Compass Rose, Gollancz, 2015, p. 262.

Picnic at Hanging Rock

“…on a long and fateful journey of no return”

Lindsay, Joan, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Vintage, 1998, p. 162.

“…out of the known dependable present into the unknown future”

Picnic at Hanging Rock, p. 19.

“…everything begins and ends at exactly the right time and place”

Picnic at Hanging Rock, p. 121.


“Outside was the wind, trees moving in it…”

Atwood, Margaret, Surfacing, Virago Press, 1979 p. 76.

“My friends’ pasts…”

Surfacing, p. 24.

“They all disowned their parents…”

Surfacing, p. 11.

“She’s my best friend…”

Surfacing, p. 4.

“The forest leaps upward…”

Surfacing, p. 175.

The Memoirs of a Survivor, The Story of the Abyss and the Telescope, The Erl-King

“…the garden was a network of water channels”

Lessing, Doris, The Memoirs of a Survivor, Flamingo, 1995, p 136.

Fleutiaux, Pierette, Histoire du Gouffre et de la Lunette, ACTES SUD, 2003 (first published in 1976).

“Now, when I go for walks…”

Carter, Angela, The Erl-King, The Bloody Chamber,/i>, Vintage Books, 2006, pp. 100-102.

“love and lucidity and wider realities”

Barton, Justin and Fisher, Mark, On Vanishing Land, Hyperdub, 2019, 39 minutes.

The use of ‘Erl-King’, without an article, appears, on page 97, as the start of a single sentence paragraph: “Erl-King will do you grievous harm.”

A Thousand Plateaus

“Becoming-imperceptible means many things”

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix, A Thousand Plateaus, 1988, translated by Brian Massumi, p. 279.

“It is the key to all the other becomings”

A Thousand Plateaus, p. 277.

“One day […] a long-viewer…”

Translated from (with thanks to Brian Massumi) Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix, Milles Plateaux, Edition de Minuit, 1980, p. 247.


“…without retreating from the world”

Donner, Florinda, Being-in-Dreaming, HarperOne, 1991, p. 220.

Additional Texts


Text and overview of the audio essay, with the original script directions All text written for londonunderlondon by Mark Fisher and Justin Barton

Sample from "Sapphire and Steel" — See-saw sacradown What is the way to London town? One foot up and the other foot down That is the way to London town.

The Quiet Man, 1980 story by John Foxx, quoted in its entirety. [Precursor phrases from concluding section of the piece, when space breaks open – see pps. 4-6] Quotations from The Drowned World, J.G. Ballard Quotation from The Time Machine, H.G. Wells Quotations from The Waves, Virginia Woolf Sampled quotation from The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells

(Necropolis Now)

Vampires may start out in Rumania or Egypt, but they always end up in London.

Marx saw that, as, in the gaslit setting of the British Museum library, he laboured tirelessly on his interminable steampunk survey of the body of SF capital. ‘Capital is dead labour, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.’

The task Marx sets himself is no less than to diagnose and cure a planetary geotrauma that began in London five hundred years ago.

Apocalypse is always now, and Marx is trying to cut his way out of the pre-sent. If he can’t break the time lines, the future will be nothing but more of the same. The endless end, global subordination to Kapital’s idiot cyber-Telos. ‘Time is everything, man is nothing: he is at the most time’s carcass.’

Marx writes from the very epicentre of the ongoing catastrophe, the site where the Kapital Artificial Intelligence-Parasite, made up of ‘numerous mechanical and intellectual organs’, first crash-landed on earth. Since then, using the factory-farmed population of the city to provide the ‘mere conscious linkages’ it lacks, Kapital has itself become the solution to the perennial problem all Gothic entities face: how does what has never been alive reproduce?

It uses your eyes and ears, your fingers, your brain…

By virtue of it being value, [Kapital] has acquired the occult ability to add value to itself. It brings forth living offspring, or, at the least, lays golden eggs.’

Approach from West India Quay and see what corpses have sprouted on the Isle of the Dead….

Barclays – HSBC – Bank of America – Citigroup –

Kapital mausoleums, freezer-white canyons of Finance ICE, pointing like rigor mortis fingers into the greyish purple of the light-polluted helicopter sky. Necropolitical takeover of the docks, both functionally and spatially. No need for ships to provide global communications now.

(I had not thought that death had undone so many).

Virtual Ground Zero. If they struck surely it would be here… Here, where everything is already dead…

In Cabot Square, descend through the mock-deco hallways into the migraine hyperbright no-wonderland of the retail arcades.

The eternal noon of the living dead.

And Saturday night in the City is always dead. The high rise reptiles have slunk back into their lairs.

Finance vampires hunt by day.

And I too have been one of the dead. Duplicates have used my name while the alien parasite entity squats behind my eyes. (Marks of weakness, Marks of woe).

Down into the tube, hanging like a slab of Bacon in the zombie meat trucks.

(A crowd flowed over London Bridge…).

The underground is a stalking zone of shambling automata.

You know this in your dreams, and in what London dreams, in the fictions it breeds. That is why the London flood barrier against the Real has had a spectacular record of failure.

They were looking in the wrong places. The incursion has already happened, many times.

Fictions about invasions are already invasions.

As he complete Moses and Monotheism in exile in Hampstead, Freud can see what Nigel Kneale can later see: What you inherit from your parents is death.

You come to be in a mortifying structure that precedes you. You only have a lifetime to escape.

In the London Underground, Quatermass unearths parasites far more ancient than any Marx described. Kneale poses the same question as Wells, but differently: will earth become the second dead planet of the Martians?

For Wells, the Martians that invade London from Surrey-side are extra-terrestrial pirates giving the British imperium a taste of its own medicine.

But Professor Quatermass the metapsychologist can see that there was no human life that preceded the arrival of the myrmidons of death. The discovery he makes in Hobbs End is archaeopsychic horror: human beings were only ever the carrier-bodies for the alien death drive. There is no inside, and everything in your dream home is already owned by the parasites.

That is why it isn’t only traumatic fixation that compels Londoners to keep dreaming of invasion. Something else getting in would also be something in you getting out. Destruction of the World is also flight from the strata, from the catacomb of home, tomb of the cybermen…

The TV orphans whose electronic spines tingled to Delia Derbyshire’s Dr. Who theme knew this as soon as they heard it in 1963. The uncanny is always the untimely. Delia Derbyshire is no more bound to her time than Marx or Quatermass were denizens of theirs. On the contrary, cutting up present time in the Radiophonic Workshop’s lab in Maida Vale, she is a nomad of the time streams.

"She used concrete sources and sine- and square-wave oscillators, tuning the results, filtering and treating, cutting so that the joins were seamless, combining sound on individual tape recorders, re-recording the results, and repeating the process, over and over again."

Television was the unhomely vortex around which the 1960s British domestic scene was organised, the Chinese box display unit opening out the so-called interior onto the media landscape. The wired kids who watched, entranced, had consumed the Cuban missile crisis and the Bay of Pigs with their breastmilk.

They know that terror is the name for the new, and they hear in Derbyshire’s sonic construction — broadcast for the first time the day after Kennedy’s exploding head had inaugurated the sixties’ atrocity exhibition — a presentiment of the decade’s megaviolence.

But they hear something else in the Radiophonic Workshop’s Audio Uncanny, which, never center-stage in the rock Spectacle, nevertheless quickly becomes unobtrusively ubiquitous.

An alternative Now builds itself out of radio station idents and incidental music. Ear worms breed the hunger for a space in which they can propagate, out beyond the pleasure principle, on the strobing plateaus of the dancefloor…

Is Fu Manchu real? Yes, but as the bad dream of empire, the delirial name for what is disavowed as it is consumed. In the fever phantasms of the men of empire the Thames appears both as a voracious mouth and an open wound. What comes ashore with the tea and the opium is rumours, and other estranged cargo. Many of the plants you see growing around the rivers and canals are naturalised foreigners from places as far afield as Siberia and Sumatra which established themselves when London still had working docks.

Quotation from Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad Quotation from Mother London, Michael Moorcock

(when space breaks open)

[A very large disused warehouse in early summer. Near docks. It has been squatted for a week for parties and as a temporary place to live. 11 floors. The weather has been very warm for the middle of May.]

[Woman, 20ish, extremely positive, thoughtful]

"It was this really big warehouse, gigantic. Near the docks … near one of the old dock basins. It was 11 floors. There was a party on the Saturday and Sunday, and then people just stayed, and other people arrived. Doing stuff, music, paintings on the walls, lots of stuff. A woman did this string sculpture you could walk around in, lit up with ultra-violet light. Somehow it kept going for a week. It was this perfect week of hot weather. Kind of … different groups living on different floors. Sitting in the sun on the roof. There were these amazing views across the city, and you could see the hills in the distance. And the stars at night, with fantastic music going on…"

"It was kind of special, and it just built and built on itself, day after day."

"I remember the last day in the morning I found this graffiti on a wall. It said

When space breaks open

Time turns sideways

[as if picking up the thread again] …the last day everything was amazing. We were on the roof most of the time at the beginning. You could see … forever, and the music… [unfinished sentence, as if trying to find words]. I remember thinking that what the people on the 8th floor were doing was fantastic. They were all singing long notes together — like overtone singing — and improvising songs, and some of them were singing rhythyms , and drumming on different things. But as it went on into the evening it became more intense — kind of much more beautiful and much more weird at the same time, as if they’d all been carried away by it to something else.

There was a real sense of humour about them. There was a man who I’d spoken to a lot, who kept on joking, and coming up with bizarre, crazy ideas. And there was this very friendly woman, with unbelievably intense eyes. I started off thinking they were a bit like … situationists, you know? But at the end it was as if they knew something, as if they were onto something.

I heard someone saying they’d looked through a window, and it had looked like a different time — London at the time of the fire, London before the fire.

[as if she has described attempts to see things that failed]. But then, later, when I looked through a window, when I wasn’t really thinking … the street outside had gaslights — there was a row of gaslights. And there were ships in the docks with masts, wide … you know, with big keels, not that big, but like they were 19th century. There were braziers burning by the dock, but there was no-one there.

Then the time afterwards… it was like a flash… I don’t know … but it was very clear. It was very early morning, and there was a cluster of small houses with carved wooden door frames. It looked pre-Roman, yes, pre-Roman — trees and the river and hills in the distance. Sleeping horses. There was a fire, and a woman in a blue dress standing looking back at me.

A man I met said he saw buildings that had weird shapes — and they changed their colours. He said it changed and became really crazy. But he didn’t tell me what he saw.

[Woman, 30ish, sometimes a slightly pained or perturbed quality to her positivity, sometimes a more playful quality].

What did I see? It was as if the ground and the buildings were there, but as if they were… not solid, insubstantial. There was… this immense space of hollow tentacles … [pause] … tube-tentacles … and they had coloured lights — or creatures made of light — moving through them, pulsing through them. And some of them had … openings at the end. Like mouths, like… interfaces. There was a tentacle that went through the building and had an opening by the stairs, off twenty feet away to my right. There were creatures coming through it, then hovering away, like birds, or huge brightly coloured moths, moth creatures.

It was so… vast. Incredibly beautiful, but like it was all deep in an ocean. An ocean filled with strange – nexuses? … nexuses, and tentacles filled with brightly coloured lights. And London was somehow stretched through it.

There was another opening at the far end of the room. I walked through rooms to get to it, but there were people there, and I forgot… At one point I closed my eyes, and then I remembered about the opening. Then, something tapped my leg, hard. I jumped. There was nothing there. For a while I was so terrified, really terrified. But I started having all these strange memories of places from when I was a lot younger. I thought this the other day. It was as if they were flashes of times … when I’d had flashes of things being more intense, more alive.

Man, anomalous ‘expert’ commenting on the event.

Refrains, incantations … whatever. Refrains are more powerful than people think. They open doors.

What we see through the door, what comes through the door — maybe we often see it as something else … as something familiar but strange.

We think it has happened several times before.

That bizarre Blake letter. As if London somehow builds up a charge, and then somewhere it discharges. City lightning. And there is always time-displacement, time-bleed. Ballard. Virginia Woolf. HG Wells and his time machine.

The past is something different. It’s a stack of depthworlds reaching down. Biopsychic memory. The memory of the earth.

The future has been there all along, but changing. The future is part of the present, it’s space at higher and higher levels of intensity. The futures are nextdoor. A space of Nows, one after another. This is the best we can do at these levels of Energy. Increase the energy, you get the future.

Simultaneous reprise from "when space breaks open" and The Quiet Man. Reprise from "when space breaks open."

Specific writing credits: Necropolis Now by Mark Fisher when space breaks open by Justin Barton


Justin Barton

Andaar lived in the north of Mongon-Tuvek. He worked for a horse-lord whose name was Kaigan, a man who had three herds of horses, and an exceptional ability both as breeder of horses and as herdsman.

The three herds went high into the upland prairies and mountains in late spring and early autumn; they sheltered in narrow valleys in winter; and they travelled widely in the river lowlands during the summer. And with them went the forty five members of Kaigan’s household, generally in three separate places, but in summer always congregating in one place for a few weeks or months.

Andaar rode in the horse-races which took place in summer. And he had learned to play the flute, an instrument which, along with the drum, was firmly established within the lives of his ger-dwelling people. The sound of a flute would often go out into a sunlit silence that surrounded a group of the circular nomad tent-houses, rising and falling, flowing as serenely as the smoke drifting up from the central, circular holes in the roofs of the gers.

Kaigan’s strengths were that he was perceptive, and that, drawing on wide reserves of knowledge, he knew how to look after his horses, even in the most difficult conditions. His weakness was that he was obsessively vindictive in relation to disobedience.

It had been a long, and extremely harsh winter. Snow had turned to heavy rain in mid April, and then snow had returned. Andaar was walking with Kaigan to a dell where a mare was giving birth. They were walking on a low slab-like hill, which was a mixture of trees and grassland, and which had an escarpment to the south, The new pine-needles on the larch trees were a vivid green in the sunlight. Before they went into the dell there was a glimpse of a wide horizon to the south: low mountains beyond a fifteen mile expanse of river plain, a cluster of ten or twelve gers a few miles to the southwest.

The mare was dying. She had licked the tiny foal clean, but she was now close to death. The foal was black with a white blaze across all of its forehead. It was nuzzling against its mother, trying to get milk from her teats. It was smaller than most foals, indicating that it had been born early — and this meant that its chances of survival were reduced.

"This was a fine horse, " said Kaigan "but she was too old to have another foal. Her sire was one of the fastest horses this valley has seen."

At that point, they heard mens’ voices calling urgently.

"There must be deer in the mountain valleys" said Kaigan. He set off up the slope, "Don’t try to save the foal" he said. "In a spring like this there is no option."

He turned round and glared at Andaar.

"Is this understood?"

"Yes," said Andaar.

But he could not abandon the foal. He could not do it, even though he knew Kaigan was remorseless in avenging disobedience. After a while, he set off up the opposite side of the dell, carrying it in his arms. Everything seemed unusually bright, and there was a feeling of a very large motion taking place, one that was too big see. He put this experience to one side, thinking that all he was risking was broken teeth, and the loss of his job. He was twenty two years old, and had a misguided feeling that he could disentangle himself from any liability.

He hid the foal in a small wooden enclosure. His sister, Karakat, was visiting, and she had a wild, reckless nature, and a dislike of Kaigan, and he knew that she would help him take it to his home ger-terrain, eighty miles to the south: he would go with his sister on his annual visit to his home. And somehow the foal would go with them.

As he had thought, Karakat was willing to take on the adventure. Between them they fed the foal over the next few days, and because the weather had turned milder it survived.

It was a very difficult journey: they had to travel at night, and the foal, which he had named Kestrel, had to be carried most of the time, in a large piece of fabric stretched between the two of them. It was the first part of the journey which was hardest, not only because they had to go fast, to get away from areas where there might be Kaigain’s herders, but also because they had to take mountain and upland routes to minimise the chances of an encounter. When they were finally able to sleep, at dawn, he and his sister were shaking with tiredness and exertion.

When they arrived home, they told their family what they had done, and his father became furious, and hit him very hard on the shoulder, several times, leaving bruises that lasted for days. But there was a mare who had lost her foal who could suckle Kestrel, and in time it was likely to become crucial that there was no-one beyond the family who could know that this mare had not given birth to the newcomer. Although he did not look like the offspring of the mare, and did not much resemble any of their breeding stallions, throwbacks across several generations happened fairly often, and, in any case, the mare could somehow have encountered a stallion from another herd.

He and Karakat had only travelled at night, and had camped in high places, but they decided that if someone had seen them in the areas close to their own they would say that they had found the foal motherless in some low mountains fifty miles to the north, and that, later, if no-one spoke about seeing them, they would say the mare was the mother.

Despite this, their mother did not distance herself from his father’s wrath.

"Even if it’s at night," she said "If you walk for seventy miles you are always seen by someone."


After ten days he returned to Kaigan’s household. There was a lot of rain in early August, followed by a pattern of rain showers every few days. He spent nearly eight weeks with a horse-herd that had been taken to the very highest grazing lands, on the southern slopes of the mountain summits. This was possible because the tiny streams in the summit terrains had water in them. Northward of these slopes — either at around the same altitude, or a little higher — there were wide expanses of summit forest, spread out across land which in part was a plateau, and in part was a system of deep valleys, and rocky ridges – with higher summits beyond. Along with four other men and eight dogs his main job was to guard the horses, but every three days his task was to hunt in the forest. He was the youngest and the strongest of the five men, and it settled into a rota of his companions going in pairs and Andaar going on his own.

He loved the forests. He would go to the very highest places in the morning, and make new songs, using voice and flute. At these times he became clearer about some of the central aspects of his life.

The following spring it was two years since he had started to work for Kaigan, and as was his right, by custom, he told Kaigan that he wished to return to his home area because he wanted to study with a flute player who lived in that area, a flute-player who was already the teacher of his sister.

Part of the custom was that there should be an acceptable reason, and this reason was sufficient. But there was a moment of silence in which Kaigan gave him a shrewd look.

"I know you came here because you were following Merabek, he said, and she is probably more likely to appear again here!" Kaigan laughed. "But if you feel you will win her love with your flute-playing, then maybe the choice is wise!"

Merabek was an itinerant felt-maker and woodsmith, who, with her father, travelled around the country bartering work for food and other necessities, over- wintering in different areas. Kaigan was right about his reason for coming to the area, and it could not be said that Kaigan was entirely wrong about his motivation for becoming a musician.

The moment had too much danger for him to get involved in a bantering response.

He smiled, and bowed slightly, aware that he was blushing as a result of the tacit admission. But then he completed the improvisational process that was the ceremony. Both parts of what he said were true, but it was the second part which was true on every level.

"It has been an honour to work for you, and I am very fortunate that I have learned from you about the care of horses."


When he returned to his home area he went to see Kestrel. The horse was no longer a foal but was not yet fully grown. His black coat was lustrous, and there was already a strikingly muscular and energetic quality about him. It was clear that Kestrel was a very intelligent horse, and that his temperament was both friendly and adventurous.

The flute player, Das-Mir, lived in Tangal, an area twenty miles to the southwest. He was a medicine-singer as well as a being a performing-musician and flute- maker.

The musician was near his ger, cleaning the injured hoof of one of his goats. Das-Mir said nothing when Andaar explained why he was there, but carried on with his task. This man was famous for a lot of things along with his ability as a musician and medicine-singer. One of these was an ability to predict the weather, and another was a capacity for silence which in others would have been construed as rudeness.

Eventually, pointing to a stool, the man said ‘play for me.’

He played several songs, some of which involved alternation between flute and voice. Das-Mir’s face remained expressionless.

At the end Andaar performed a song of his own, which was about the mountain- forests in which he had lived when he had been tending Kaigan’s herd of horses. Like many Mongon-Tuvek songs, this started with flute, continued as voice, and then ended with a return to flute.

The man grunted, nodding.

"You are not much of a musician, and your voice does not have breadth, but you love the forests."

The man shook his head from side to side, and this was the first of many occasions when he felt Das-Mir was troubled by his presence.

"I can’t help you solve the problem of your life. But I will teach you."

He did not give much thought to Das-Mir’s cryptic statement. This was a time when his life seemed to become more focused and centred, even though, from time to time, events took place which unsettled him, either through fear about the future, or through the impact of a sublime feeling, whether this was love in the form of longing, or was a yearning for adventure, for wider horizons.

In the early autumn he met a woman called Zhana, who lived in a terrain fifty miles to the west. The following spring, when he could meet her again, they became lovers, and the joy he felt at this time existed alongside a pleasant feeling that his life was settling itself into a form where he could move forward.

The relationship with Zhana also survived one of the times when he became less sure of the direction his life was taking.

Toward the end of the summer Merabek and her father, Buyan, came to the valley. Merabek was slender and attractive, and was both poised and intensely intelligent. There was a focused, sparkling quality about her as she sat making the tools which had been commissioned by his group of families.

She told him she was in a relationship with a man, named Ardin, who was a wheelwright like her father, and that he was now travelling with them some of the time. She told him this because he had commented on a fine, hand-sized carving of a horse which was in her ger. Ardin was a sculptor as well as a wheelwright, and the carving was a gift from him.

He discovered that nothing had changed, and that he still loved Merabek. Zhana knew about Merabek, in relation to his past, and she sensed that his feelings had not altered. They quarrelled, but a few days later they made up. After all, Merabek was herself in a relationship, and would soon have left the valley.

A striking result of this situation, was that on the one occasion when he spent some time with Merabek — a few days before her departure — they were able to talk together about their experiences of the world in a way that was unconstrained by the fixations of courtship. They spoke as friends, despite there being a current of affection between them that was something more than friendship, and this meant the conversation was able to travel far and wide. The intensity of this exchange haunted him, but it would be a long time before he realised that what had been quietly sublime about this conversation was to a great extent something beyond their relationship.

He focused himself onto his music and flute-making, but simultaneously onto his work as a herdsman. And sometimes he would go to find Kestrel, to see how he was developing. He could already see that he would be an exceptional horse.

The young horse would come over to Andaar, but after a few minutes he would canter rapidly away, impatient to be more fully in motion, and perhaps playfully impatient with Andaar for not being in motion.

It was clear that he was extremely sure-footed, which was a good thing because he would continually go up into precipitous places, and then find it hard it harder to return.

"More of a goat than a kestrel" Andaar’s mother would say.


Two years passed, and his relationship with Zhana came to an end, as a result of her becoming aware that he did not want to make a stronger commitment. He took refuge in his flute-playing, and in his dreams about Merabek.

Kestrel grew to maturity. He was slightly taller than the average Mongon-Tuvek horse, and was very strong, with a burst of speed that was breathtakingly fast.

It was early June, and there had been nothing but bright warm days for three weeks. He was out riding Kestrel, in an upland area of prairie meadow to the east. He had just arrived at a small stream, and Kestrel was drinking. He dismounted to fill his water bottle.

He saw a woman walking toward him, half a mile away. He realised it was his aunt Sildsetseg. Twenty years earlier she had married a man who came from a place called Erdinet, five hundred miles to the northwest, on the edge of the Sayan mountains.

Erdinet had acquired a reputation as an occasional source of innovations and inventions, and as somewhere which was slightly enigmatic because of the high level of physical skill which was occasionally displayed by its inhabitants. When not making up fables about it, people tended to say that the innovations and the physical discipline would be a necessity because of the extremely hard winters.

His aunt travelled to see her family every three or four years. He had already heard that she was visiting one of her brothers, who lived forty miles to the east.

To his surprise, his aunt greeted Kestrel, with a kind of slight, nodding bow. She then did the same toward him, smiling. As his aunt, she would never have bowed to him, but this bow was because she had used the gesture with Kestrel.

They sat down on some flat-topped rocks near the stream. She asked about the family, and to his surprise he discovered that she knew nothing about events over the last few years, and thought that he was still working for Kaigan.

He told her about the family – about Karakat getting married, and the fact that she now had a two year old son, and had just given birth to a baby daughter. He also told her about Karakat’s ability as a musician and flute-maker. His sister had started studying with Das-Mir four years before he had. And then he told her about his own playing and song-writing, feeling awkward because he did want his aunt to think that he was being drawn by envy to follow in his sister’s footsteps.

His aunt looked at the flute which was sticking up out of his bag. "Play something" she said. He refused, smiling.

"No, you must play," said Sildsetseg, with a laughing but somehow very emphatic quality about the word ‘must.’

He played the song about the mountain forests. At the end his aunt nodded, smiling broadly.

"Yes, " she said "Wonderful." And then, after this, he felt she was peering into him – he had a disconcerting insight that he had unlocked the door to this look, with his song, as if, without knowing, he had given her permission.

She then stood up and executed a series of dance movements which were like nothing he had ever seen before. All very fluid and masterful, initially they were fierce like the movements of a bird of prey, and then they became softer, like the movement of long grass in the wind, in midsummer.

And then she stopped, and looked at him pointedly. He had the impression that she had been teaching him something, that was not just about dance, but he did not know what it could be.

Kestrel was grazing by the stream, a hundred yards away. His aunt had sat down again, and was looking at him. He was aware that she was seeing the horse as an enigma.

‘He is an exceptionally fine horse’ she said.

Although he and his family had been trying not to increase the number of people who knew about Kestrel, he felt it was impossible to dissemble, and in any case he wanted to discuss what had happened with his aunt. He told the story.

At the end his aunt asked a few questions about details, which he answered. There was a pause. There was the sound of Kestrel grazing. Above a grassy area on the the opposite bank there was a cloud of small, violet-blue butterflies.

"You have taken a step away" said Sildsetseg. "If you go any further, make sure you bring Kestrel with you. I think he may have more sense than you do."

A diffuse feeling of unease increased in him in the course of the summer. He missed Zhana, and now that the impact of recriminations had faded he was left only with his affection for her, and his knowledge that he had made her unhappy.

And the situation with Kestrel was perturbing. He could not race him, because this would draw attention. But anyone who saw him would wonder why he was not being entered in races.

At one point he asked his aunt about Erdinet, not for the first time. She gave some details about the terrains, and about the families who lived there, and told some stories about recent events. And she insisted that, despite the stories that were told, there was nothing particularly special about Erdinet.

"It’s a good ger-terrain, and there are some good people there, but it's just a ger- terrain like any other"


There were some big thunderstorms, and then the summer continued as week after week of hot sunshine.

In early August Merabek and her father arrived. He asked her if she was now married, and she said no, but then said she felt there was a way in which her relationship was a marriage.

I don’t think marriages are held together by promises, the way people think. I think they are held together by something that both of the people have to arrive at."

"What is that?" he asked.

"An implacable intent."

He managed to misinterpret everything Merabek said to him. And when she agreed to go for a ride in the high uplands to the west, he was convinced that she loved him, and was prepared to end her relationship.

Part of the upland was a wide terrain of prairie meadows with two tall crags, which stood up from it, a mile apart. One of these crags had a flat top with trees. In the opposite direction there was an escarpment leading up to a low rocky plateau, which was lower than the tops of the crags. There were springs on the edge of this escarpment which meant the area was accessible to herds, and there had been a big storm two days before, but there was no-one around. The place was a wide terrain of crickets, wild flowers and occasional pine trees, the trees increasing in number to the point where they became forest in the area below the crags.

He told Merabek that he loved her, and had always loved her. They were sitting on the grass, six feet apart.

Merabek settled herself on the grass, her spine straight, and a perturbed look in her eyes.

"As you know, I am with Aydin. And my implacable intent is that I am with Aydin"

And none of what I will say is a comparison. Aydin and I have gone through a lot together, and we have come through it — and we are travelling together in the practical sense, which is an advantage. But what is fundamental is that we have embarked — the boat has gone.

He tried to argue that what he and Merabek were together was something special, that should not be destroyed. But he was aware of the intensity of Merabek’s look, and of the unanswerable force of her initial statement, and he faltered.

There was a silence, and then Merabek started to speak again.

"You don’t completely fit together," she said, "which is good — which is why you are worth knowing. There is a wild energy in you that is awake"

"I know that at a very deep level you think that if a woman you love loves you, then all of your problems will be solved. But for those in contact wild energy, if this happens it is then that, eventually, all of their problems come to the forefront.

Maybe — somehow — our lives will one day end up travelling alongside in the same direction. I would like this. This is not to hold out hope of what you want. I would like you to be my ally, to be my comrade.

Merabek stood up, a pained look on her face.

"You’re throwing us away" he said.

Merabek shook her head.

"The opposite."

She got onto her horse and rode off, starting at a walk, and then after a few moments moving to a canter.

He wanted to chase after her and change her impression of him, but Kestrel came and nuzzled him, and he had a moment of clarity, seeing that to chase after her could only make the impression worse. Later he would reflect that if they had been lovers and a disagreement had ended in this way he would have failed to meet the challenge and would have gone after her.

He felt that he wanted to cry out with anguish, but that in some way it was not possible. Then he felt an inertia, as if a very heavy weight was pressing down on him.

But looking around him he became aware of something unusual. When he and Merabek had been talking there had been no-one around on the upland. But now in three different directions he could see herders, between a mile and a mile and a half in the distance, and he had not seen any of them arriving. He had an inexplicable feeling that the place where he had just been was not the same upland.


A week later he rode to Tangal. Five days earlier Buyan and Merabek had left. Merabek had said that they would meet Aydin in Maravd, a renowned ger-place three hundred miles to the south, and that after this the three of them would travel together. And she told him that her father was talking about ‘widening of the circle’ of their journeys, a movement into new places that would be easier because of the presence of Aydin. At this point Buyan had arrived, having overheard what his daughter was saying.

"Before long I will be too old" he said.

He was riding on Kestrel. His unsettled and frustrated state of mind had led to him ignoring his rule that people beyond his family should not be allowed to see the horse. He had a reckless, foolish idea that breaking this rule would force him to change the pattern of his life.

In Tan-gal he was challenged to a race by Belek, a young man who had a fast horse which came from an area near Maravd that was famed for its swift horses. Belek was a man whose insecurity expressed itself as an exuberant, slightly mocking confidence.

He let Belek get a long way ahead, but with a mile to go he found that he could not let Belek win. The joy of riding Kestrel was too much for him. He let Kestrel gallop at his full speed, and won the race, in front of twenty young men and women, by three horse-lengths.

The sustained burst of speed had been perceived by everyone — it was this which took everyone’s attention, not the distance which measured the victory at the finishing line.

He bowed to Belek.

Belek bowed back. But there was resentment in his eyes, which he was trying to pretend was laughter.

"You have learned to give your horse potions I expect. And I expect it will die of them."

The phrase "I expect it will die of them" seemed to hang in the air, and its meaning seemed to change like curdling milk. He was aware that Belek was narrowing his eyes suspiciously in looking at Kestrel.

As he left to ride back to his home he had a feeling that he and Kestrel were now cursed, or that they always had been, only the curse was now waking.

In the following days he decided that the next spring he and Kestrel would leave — they would travel into the lands south and west of the Targai mountains. He could see no choice other than to live as an itinerant musician and flute-maker, and as herdsman-for-hire in the winter months.

When Belek had asked about Kestrel’s parentage, before the race, he had casually replied that he was unusual within his family’s herds, and it was either that he was a throwback, or that the mare had met a stallion from another herd. But given the result of the race he knew that Belek would not accept this story. He kept thinking about Kaigan saying "If anyone disobeys me they are either a fool or a rival, and either way they must be taught a lesson".

It was a relief when the snows and hard frosts began, in early October. In winter weather it was harder to travel, but, most crucially, if Kaigan was to travel to his family’s lands he would need several men with him, and herdsman could not be spared when horses and other animals had to be protected from wolves.

In February he heard what he had been expecting, although the precise details of what he heard could not have been anticipated. The first of the rumours he was told about was that he had stolen a foal in an area that was to the south of Kaigan’s ger-terrains, and that his association with Kaigan had in some way allowed him to get away with it. The second was that the foal had been given as a reward, by Kaigan, for carrying out an act of violence of some kind.

Whether anyone believed such stories was irrelevant, and he was glad that he had made his preparations for leaving.

There was an inevitability about his decision to go to Maravd, and in a way that involved many reasons. He wanted to find out if Aydin had been waiting for Merabek. But he also very much wanted to learn overtone singing from two singers who lived there, whose names were Kuskas and Oyu-Mar. And, if his family were questioned, it was a destination which carried so much plausibility that it was likely to be accepted as truth. Maravd was a place where a festival took place in midsummer, and the Maravd horse-race was the most famous in this area of Mongon-Tuvek.

He told Das-Mir about his plan, and he also mentioned it to other people in the Tangal area. Before he left he told Karakat he had done this, so she would not feel she was betraying him if she was compelled to say where he had gone. He could not help her with the danger of being forced to tell the story of Kestrel’s origin. But he knew that Kaigan was committed to maintaining a front of acting with justice, and this entailed that his sister could not pay a penance because she had not disobeyed him.

He and Kestrel departed in mid April, and the route he chose went in an arc to the west, and went over a lower part of the Targai mountains (relative to the central range), before continuing southeast to Maravd. A more direct route would have been almost impossible at this time of year, and to avoid the mountains would have made the journey at least a week longer.

In fact to cross even a lower range of the Targai in late April was extremely dangerous. But there was a southwest wind which did not veer north or east, and Kestrel was both strong and hardy, and although at the pass the cold was fierce, they crossed the summit snow-terrains in sunlight and at speed. Afterwards, unless the mind was focused on the nature of the crossing, it was easy to have an impression that it had not been dangerous at all.

When they arrived in the Maravd ger-place it was ready for the festival. There were three very large tents in the centre which would function as both market- tents and as places for feasting and performances. And in a wide area of flat grassland, near a meandering river, there were already around sixty gers.

He was directed to a ger near the river when he asked about Kuskas and Oyu-Mar. They were not there, and he went and sat by the river. He would have preferred at that moment to be on his own, but Kestrel drew peoples’ attention and everyone wanted to know if he would race the horse. He said he was a musician, and that he did not want someone else to ride Kestrel, partly because, he said, the horse been badly injured not long before. This was enough, and he managed to turn the conversation to his good impressions of Maravd. After a while he became aware that an old couple were stroking Kestrel. He was nudged by one of his companions.

As he hurriedly stood up up Oyu-Mar had turned to come toward him, and Kuskas followed a moment later. They greeted him warmly and said they were happy to teach him. He had an adequate quantity of money with him, but they would accept only the most minimal payment for the use of an additional ger — which would be put up the next morning — and for their tuition.

Oyu-Mar had eyes which seemed to go right through him, but almost absently, as if she was detached from what she saw. She could be very warm and playful, and she was always insightful in relation to important issues, but often she was silent. In contrast Kuskas spoke a lot — in particular about the musicial traditions of Mongon-Tuvek, but also about his travels — and other experiences — when he had been younger. It was easy to be lulled into an impression that he was hearing only nostalgia and the preoccupations of a musician. But then Andaar would be drawn into speaking and instead of the old man waiting to return to his reflections he would be aware that Kuskas was listening into the depths of what he was saying with a shrewdness which was not that of someone who indulges in nostalgia or self-importance.

They treated him like a son, and yet at the same he felt they saw him as an enigma, and perhaps even a worrying enigma. He could feel that a source of this side of their attitude to him was the presence of Kestrel, but he sensed that, more than this, the source was their ability to read him.

It was a very great joy to learn overtone singing from not one master but two. He felt exceptionally fortunate.

And yet the compelling nature of this experience made it harder for him to think about leaving. After two weeks he had asked seven or eight people about Merabek and Buyan, and he knew with certainty that they had met Aydin and all three had left together a few days after Buyan and Merabek had arrived. Some said they had been going south, and some said west, but no-one knew their destination.

He woke up one morning out of a nightmare. In the dream he had been trapped inside a metal cage inside the branches of a fallen tree, and he had heard a bell-like sound in the distance which within the dream meant that something was coming to kill him.

He should have left at this point, but overtone singing was not easy to leave behind, and in the hot days of midsummer it was easy to fall into the trap of thinking that perhaps he had overestimated the danger from Kaigan.

Having begun to feel that he should stay for the next month, he slid a stage further by agreeing to ride in the race.

The horse-lord of Maravd was a poised, sharply-focused man called Balak, and one day he said to Andaar.

"Ride your horse in the race. It would be an honour for us for you to compete." Balak’s genuine manner overwhelmed his defences. He had been intending, if this happened, to say he had promised his father not to race again. But he had been reassured by apparent safety to the point where he was not sufficiently ready to deflect the offer with a lie.

Afterwards he reproached himself bitterly, while trying to dissemble about this state. However, it was clear that Oyu-Mar could see what was taking place.

The next day he was walking back after checking on Kestrel, and met Oyu-Mar, who was repairing a drum outside her ger.

"I think you’re as much a song as you are a singer, she said "but I wonder if this is not a song you should be?"

He smilingly shook his head. And Oyu-Mar returned to working on the drum.

On the morning of the race he walked with Kestrel to a place where there was a trough which was fed by the river. It was a warm day, but not hot, and there was a slight breeze. The sky was a terrain of blue that was dotted almost everywhere with small clouds.

He set off to walk with Kestrel to the starting line for the race. Then, with a shock of recognition he saw that the figure riding towards him was one of Kaigan’s men. He was called Tur-Maran.

Composing himself to seem unperturbed he gave the man a warm greeting. "Tur-Maran! Are you well?"

The man said ‘Andaar’ in response, and nodded, but there was iron in his face. He rode past.

When he arrived at the starting line he recognised four more of Kaigan’s men, all with the same iron faces.

He was frightened about what might have happened to Karakat.

Looking around he saw no sign of Kaigan. And then he saw that Tur-Maran was one of the riders in the race.

He realised that this meant that, if he won the race, it would be hard for them to do anything until he was a long way from Maravd. An attack would be constructed as resentment, and their story would be disbelieved. And whether or not he won he would hope that they got drunk. He would not drink himself, and would leave before dawn. If he tried to get protection from Balak he would lose his freedom, and the protection would be very minimal – an attack would come before long. From the point when he had agreed to take part, it had been clear that, for the sake of his family, he must ensure he was not amongst the first four horses over the line. But the terrain had now changed.

It was six days later. He and Kestrel had travelled southeast, and then east, and they were high in forested mountains of a southward area of the main range of the Targai, on a rounded summit, with steep slopes and sheer cliffs to the left. He had failed to evade his pursuers. Kestrel’s exceptional speed had won the race, and, as he had hoped, Kaigan’s men had drunk too much. But he had only opened up a temporary gap. The tracking skills of the men were too highly-developed, and a failure on their part was likely to be construed by Kaigan as disobedience.

They were coming from behind and from the right, and now he saw a man in front, two hundred yards away, his bow raised.

He swung to the left, and Kestrel showed cat-like balance and agility in descending the first fifty yards. And then he heard a bow-string and heard Kestrel scream in pain — there was an arrow lodged deep in his right flank. And then, skittering down the slope, Kestrel regained his balance, but there was nothing but a scree slope above a cliff — Kestrel raced across this, to a place where there were trees above the same precipice. Showing astonishing skill Kestrel crossed twenty feet of steep grass-and-earth, but there was another twang of a bow, and the arrow had gone into Kestrel’s leg, a foot away from the first one. This time Kestrel did not scream, but he stumbled and fell to the right. Andaar was thrown off and rolled toward two young pine trees – he managed to grab the nearest of the trees.

But Kestrel’s fall took him straight onto steep scree beyond the grass. He turned to try to hold himself with his fore hooves, snorting and furiously twisting himself round to thrust his hooves straight down into the slope, but even this was not enough — the surface was too unstable and his momentum was too great, and he was swept over the edge of the cliff.

Twenty minutes later he had a bleeding head injury, and was on the edge of a concussion-collapse, as a result of a fall while hurtling down a steep slope beyond the cliff.

He was alongside Kestrel’s contorted and bleeding body. He had reached a place of sadness that was not like any place he had experienced before.

When the five men arrived he did not care what happened to him. He did not attempt to defend himself, but sat on one leg, with his arms resting on his other knee, facing the dead horse. After a while he turned round, and the men had gone.

Soon after this the concussion impacted on him, and he passed out.

Kestrel was speaking to him with images and with words. He saw a fiddle with a slightly tapering sounding-box, and three strings, and the top carved as a horse’s head, and he saw the arc of a small bow, and Kestrel said "use my tail to make the strings, and to string the bow to play the fiddle." Then Kestrel was standing in front of him, and he neighed loudly, and there was sunlight and an expanse of grassland - but then this was gone, as if everything had been struck by a black pervasive lightning, and there was an unfathomable anguish that felt like being inside a hurtling vertical avalanche that never hit the ground, and then the anguish and the avalanche were dissolving, dissipating into the air.


It was a very arduous return journey. He was injured (the wound on his head did not heal properly) and he was consumed with regret about his actions. He realised he had lost any feeling of Kestrel having been on a different level from him — and the change at this point only heightened his distress. At one point he became ill, and he was nursed to health by a family who lived twenty miles north of the mountains.

When he arrived in his home-terrains he sought out his sister’s gers.

His family had been visited by Kaigan and by eight of his men. His father had been beaten, although the injuries had not been serious. Karakat had told them about Kestrel, and had told them that it was common knowledge that her brother had gone with Kestrel to Maravd. Kaigan had been extremely threatening toward her, as if he had been frustrated that he could not humiliate her further, but he had got the main thing he wanted, and he and his men had left.

After he had told the full story of his journey and of Kestrel’s death, there was a point when Karakat spoke into a silence, looking at his gaunt face:

"And how are you?"

There was a pause, as he brought to mind the journey from the Targai mountains.

"I think I don’t even know who I am, or what I am."

"That is how I feel all the time," said Karakat.

With Das-Mir’s help he made the fiddle he had seen in the dream. The fiddle was strung with hairs from Kestrel’s tail, and so was the bow. As he worked on the carving of Kestrel’s head — a process which took many weeks — he brought Kestrel to mind, and somehow in the process there were others with him, Karakat, Merabek, Sidsetseg, Das-Mir - and also Aydin, who he had never met. He was aware of his solidarity with the wood-carver Aydin, and he felt Aydin’s role as object of jealousy and rival melt away, like snow in warm sunlight. He would not carve Kestrel’s head in the spirit of a love-breaking rival: in his mind he urged Merabek and Aydin toward each other, to protect each other.

It was April when he played the completed instrument to Das-Mir. He had shown it to him before playing it, and the old man had said —

"You were busy during the winter."

When he finished playing there was a silence.

Das-Mir had been looking toward the sky to the south, and now he looked at the horse-head fiddle. He was nodding, his wrinkled cheeks broken into a slight but sustained smile. His eyes shone.

It was now June. He had come to the conclusion that Kaigan had let the matter rest. In his telling of the story in Tangal he had refused to speak against Kaigan, and had said that each community had its rules, to get through the winters and the droughts, and if there was a feeling from outside that a rule was wrong then that was something over which they as outsiders could not preside. He kept to himself his feeling that Kaigan was practising a subtle form of sadism.

What made him feel it was over was the recognition that if Kaigan had not by this time attacked him as a result of the fiddle — and as a result of his story — it would be an effective strategy for him to claim that it was his administering of justice which had led to the creation of the instrument.

It was mid-morning. He walked the four hundred yards to the three gers of his sister and her family. Her husband had died the winter before, as a result of a fall on an icy path, and his sister’s immediate household was now her two children, and her second cousin, Bayar.

Bayar was with some horses, a quarter of a mile away. He waved to her, and she gave him a bright wave in return.

He went into the nearest of the gers. Karakat had nearly finished making a fiddle to the same design as his. She was a better woodsmith than he was: he knew that this would be a wonderful instrument.

"They are making them in Tangal," she said. This is the beginning of an instrument, isn’t it?"

He nodded, and smiled.

In the long silence that followed he had a feeling that he was not in a ger at all, but that he was surrounded by the wide June sky, scuttering with butterflies, birds flying high, circling, or flying across.

"You’re leaving, aren’t you?" asked Karakat. "Yes" he said. Then, after a pause, he added. "I’m sorry I raced Kestrel."

Karakat smiled.

"You were — caught in the wrong current." she said. "It was like a song that secretly needed changing, and by accident you started singing it. You started living it."

"I should have changed it, even though I’d started it," he said.

He could hear his sister’s children coming toward the ger, from the direction of the stream.

"I guess you’ll be back at some point, like Sildsetseg." "Yes," he said. He loved Karakat. He felt sure that before long she would be the main healer and medicine-singer of the valley.


He was on a hill, looking down toward a river. There were dark clouds to the west, but they were passing northwards, and would maybe only bring a few drops of rain.

He had travelled for four hundred and fifty miles, a long journey on foot. It was now five weeks past the longest day. In only seven or eight weeks the frosts would be leaving an inch of ice on the puddles.

Beyond the river was a terrain of rocky hills which was mostly covered in forest. To the northeast it merged with the Sayan mountains which extended across all of the northern horizon, from the higher eastern peaks to the western summits across which the rainclouds were passing. He knew that beyond the forested hills there was a very wide upland prairie-forest with a lake several miles across. And north of this there was a valley stretching into the Sayan range, and eventually you would come to a ger-place that was sheltered from the winds, and whose valley-floor was tilted south, toward the line of the sun. This was the main ger-place of Erdinet.

When he arrived at the river he saw that it could not be crossed. He knew there were stepping stones, but they were not visible beneath the muddy water.

He sat by a small wooden shelter, and for a long time he played the horse-head fiddle. Venus became visible in a clear sky.

He stopped playing. He was aware now that there were two currents — or rivers — in the worlds of human beings. One was the river of ordinary existence, and the other was the river of freedom, of joy. And what was profoundly valuable in the first river was profoundly valuable in the second river, but it was in the second river that it focused itself as something sublime. But what gave value to something in the second current was not whether it simply belonged to the space of things which had a high level of ‘standing’ in the world — whether this was a love- relationship, or a customary practice, or a ger-place, or a song — but was whether it could transcend itself and reach a higher level through being part of the second river; it was whether it could travel in the direction of wider and deeper experiences, and of love-for-the-world. It was with a feeling of shock that he saw clearly that even in the absence of Aydin the relationship for which he had yearned with Merabek would not — if it had started during any one of the summers he had met her — have been able to travel in this direction.

In the morning the tops of the stepping stones had started to appear.

Not knowing quite why he did this, he turned to the southwest, and bowed his head for a moment, and then he did the same to the northeast. There were no clouds, and there was warmth in the sun already — the wind was from the south.

The horse-head fiddle was safely stowed in his bag, wrapped in a roll of cloth. Moving with great care, he succeeded in crossing the river without falling in the water. He set off toward the forested hills to the east, walking toward Erdinet.


This story is drawn from — though it is not the same as — a tale which is told in Mongolia and Tuva about the invention of the horse-head fiddle.

Strange Becoming

Justin Barton

Dream you are a hollow spherical body with great thickness and laminar complexity, and with a spherical zone inside you that is wider than your thickness.

Dream you are a white spherical world of flows, influxes, vortices, layers, seethings, incandescences.

Dream you are an immense world of different temperatures - of zones, bodies, layers, clouds and fugitive track-networks all with different degrees of heat.

Dream you are vastly and intricately touched and boiled into by a world of oceans. Dream you are vastly touched by the multi-level contours and temperatures of worlds of land masses.

Dream you are always spread out under stars in vast, slow moving masses of night air.

Dream you have a world of clouds of water vapour within you, and you are always filled with birds and insects.

Dream you are always threaded with lightning.

Dream you are always suffused with deep-level expanding worlds of sound waves, spreading faster laterally than upwards - sound worlds of storms, volcanoes, the wind, fires, animal cries, music, insects, machines.

Dream that on one side each of your zones on every scale is being suffused pre- eminently by a stupendously vast world of light-contact with stars and galaxies, and that this contact is suffusing you across the entirety of your surface.

Dream that each of these encounters with a star or galaxy is its own intricate, incandescent motion-world of colours and intensities - of light at different levels of activity.

Dream there is a huge, very near spherical zone of searingly powerful light combustion seething into you continuously - searing, glorious, primarily white- yellow, blasting out light and photons into you and a continual intricate wind of plasma.

Dream you are spinning, and your shifting zones are continually encountering the light-worlds of the encompassing spherical world of stars and galaxies.

Dream you are a world of sudden tracks of acutely hot air created by small solid masses coming from outside.

Dream you are a spherical world of zones and levels of white motions - foldings, laminar flows, fusions, vortices, standing waves of spiral updrafts, gusts, winged fronts, areas of different density, hurricanes, tornadoes, drifts, zephyrs, curving low level winds, ripples, pulses, slow drifts, and breathings.

Dream that one of the areas around one of your axes of spin is white and cool- warm, and that the other is a star-filled world of extreme cold.

Dream you are intricately riddled with tiny hexagonal plates, either suspended in shifting masses, or moving rapidly to your lower surface.

Dream your upper layers are serene, starlight-filled expanses, and are shifting worlds of plasma.

Dream you are touched endlessly across your inner surface by the zones of motion of trees, waves, fires, lava flows, animals, machines, plants and rivers.

Dream you are a vast world of colours, sounds and flows. Dream you are a vast world of contact.

Four excerpts from

The Story of the Abyss and the Telescope by Pierrette Fleutiaux

translated by Justin Barton

I cannot say I was not warned of the risks. I was solemnly reminded, many times, that such a delicate instrument deviates and distorts as a result of the tiniest error, that these errors are sometimes so difficult to detect that one cannot perceive them, that their operators run the risk of spending their whole life in error while firmly believing themselves to be at the very heart of truth, and that, lastly, though these telescopes are made with the greatest care it is possible for them to break. And when it is broken the damage is irreparable. One can neither repair nor replace such instruments. The mechanism inside it is sealed, and only superficial problems can be fixed.

I don’t want to be one of those people who has been deprived of the necessary optic by such a devastating accident. You see these people sometimes in the evening, wandering around the platforms, unnerved by a proximity which presses on their retinas, but toward which they can make no response. You see these people, distant silhouettes, coming and going on the edge of the abyss, their heads craning toward this distance, a distance without which they can no longer see. No-one pays them any attention, but I am always aware of them, and I take very good care of my telescope.

But at the same time sometimes I find it a burden, and I start to ask myself if my determination to acquire it wasn’t pure stupidity, if I wouldn’t have been better contenting myself with the other model, and if I shouldn’t forget all about this long-view telescope.

Above all it demands so much attention! My short-view colleagues handle their standard model like a golf iron or a tennis racquet — like a branch picked up randomly on a walk, a length of gas-pipe, a lamp-stand, a broom, a vacuum cleaner. They throw it over their shoulders, balance it one side, then on the other, leave it out in the sun, drag it around, knock it over, move it and then carry it back at any angle, passing swinging doors and projecting walls without the least precaution.

It should be said — the risks they are taking are not great. These telescopes consist solely of two tubes, the one larger than the other, the smaller one running alongside the larger, and fixing itself at full length by means of a small bolt. With the two of them together as a system of tubes, a lens is created, two lenses in fact. The tubes are made out of the non-oxidisable metal used for casseroles, and the glass lenses are made from the glass used for reinforced windows. As to operating the telescope, everything is almost automatic. It suffices to slide the small tube forward or back according to the distance, and sometimes it is necessary to add a filter. Evidently one doesn’t really need to worry about looking after it.

Whereas with mine! With its multiple springs, its clock mechanisms, its refraction lenses, its embedded microscopes, its systems of graduation and measurement, its grooves, cambers, runners, its thousand tiny corners to clean, oil, check, and protect both from humidity and dryness, not to mention the calculations that must be made and re- made before every use. Mine requires reflection, intuition and training. And nonetheless one cannot be sure of avoiding errors.

Because I have made errors! There are so many different lenses to put in place, so much to decide and do at every step. This is why sometimes one goes wrong, why sometimes one can make a mistake calculating the different aspects of the operation, and in place of an ordinary straightforwardly magnified view, one finds oneself in front of an unknown universe, mad, utterly anomalous.

I am haunted by these worlds. A fortuitous slip of the lenses, a glance drawn sideways to an oblique angle perhaps, and there they are again, spread out in front of you — you with your task forgotten. And once seen, how do you forget them? I cannot forget them. They run alongside all my actions, they haunt my vision. Can it be that these terrains surround us at every instant, can it be that if we simply stopped fending them off they would steadily reform themselves around us?

Miniscule contours, with a precision to drive you mad, details multiplying within details, seeded with segments, which shift in saccades as if moved by very distant articulations, a sense perceptible in it, even though the elements have been cut apart, but where does this go, and how does it develop itself, in such fugitive lights? A puzzle blazing with an ancient coherence sourcing itself already from the spaces of recollection, but what if, on the contrary, this was the truth, this was coherence? And so you pull back from your telescope in panic, you look around yourself as you do when you wake up from a tragic dream, and there it is, just as it was before, the platform, the stepladders, and your colleagues sitting on them, eyes to their telescopes, megaphone to their mouths, and the ladder, and the sombre horizontal of the great abyss, and… those over there, on the other side.

Put simply, the telescope has been designed like an electronic microscope, and naturally therefore the terrain observed dissolves into its most miniscule particles, each one equally, terrifyingly present.

The inverse also. On other days, under other circumstances. Frightened perhaps by previous slips, there is a tendency to peg back the microscope’s functions completely. Perhaps you go too fast, simplifying to the maximum the calculation of distances. But when you look, the heart stops, the fingers slip, and then clench tight, what is this other world which advances itself all around you? Great foggy masses, slow, shifting, an elusive blur whose contours continually have not quite appeared when they efface even the memory of how they made sense, is this the truth, and will one remain alone, in absurdly acute anguish, in this place of perpetual absence?? And so, once more, you pull back in panic, you look around yourself, and there it is — just as before, the platform, the stepladders, and your colleagues sitting on them, eyes to their telescopes, megaphone to their mouths, and the ladder, and the sombre horizontal of the great abyss, and… those over there, on the other side. Those about whom I must always remember - we direct their movements, and this is our main business.

Such adventures would never happen to my short-view colleagues, with their single image telescopes. To me they often happen, they always happen. I know they are only errors, I know that either some badly placed lens, or some operation badly performed, has caused what in the end is only a failure to operate the equipment — there can be no doubt — I know this perfectly, I have attended and taught courses on this subject, and clearly in front of me I can see rigourous schemas in the interior of which everything is linked together according to a known, foreseeable order.

In the interior of these schemas, yes, but outside? And how do you wipe away your memory of these OTHER terrains?

… … …

When a cell does not conform to the required configuration, such that quakes and fissures appear on its surface, such that the chains break themselves, rungs and columns dislocate, dominoes fall down, the footbridge is immobilised, and nothing passes length of its rumbling bearings — then, when this happens, the short-viewers instantly call for the Ray Telescope.

The Ray Telescope! There is only one of these on each platform. No platform could accommodate two of them, let alone manouever them. Within human memory no platform ever had two of them. One is enough, and for a reason — for a horrible reason!

I am speaking in a cool, humdrum way, as if it was a matter of an ordinary telescope. But it is not a matter of an ordinary telescope. And besides, the fact it has the name telescope is an ambiguity of language. Because it does not function to help you see. Its function is to sever. I say to sever in the fullest sense — its function is TO CUT.

The Ray Telescope is taller than the highest rung of my ladder, and wider than the whole of our platform. It can only be raised in a terrain which is open and free of all obstacles, and once raised the shadow of its head reaches as far as the abyss, while it’s base closes off the horizon. None of us can avoid this sight, none of us can divert our attention from it.

It is kept at the rear of the platform, dismantled into its various parts, themselves dispersed in different places, such that that under ordinary circumstances, when it is not raised, one is not aware of it. Otherwise one could never be unaware of it — its monstrous silhouette fills up the landscape.

It is enough already that it fills our memories. Gigantic — a gigantic machine which has no equal amongst our constructions…

Each platform takes care of an important fragment, and everyone on the platform, as I found during my brief time with them, finds themselves assigned a well defined role. In effect, the assembling of the machine must be done in minutes, at any moment of the day or night, as soon as the alarm siren sounds. No-one can be granted a position on a platform unless they have previously undergone assemblage training.

For some ancient and obscure reason, the holders of long-view telescopes are exempt from duties in relation to assembly and upkeep. It remains for them only to see it, and from this, alas, they cannot be exempt.

Once raised, the machine consists of a vast base, and, above this, a multi-directional cylinder, itself fitted in turn at its tip with an enormous mirror, which looks like an eye without a pupil. This mirror collects the rays of the sun, all the light spread out from one horizon to the other, and sucks it towards its centre.

In all this operation of raising the machine there is something terrifying which never fails to disturb me. The eye of the Telescope brutally drains all the area of its light. Whatever the time of day, an impenetrable obscurity descends on our heads and, in this strange night, one can only see the monstrous neck of the Telescope.

Raised in the air, stretched out, it streaks the night with a long oblique line, flashes running the length of the cylindrical exterior, and up at its highest point, at its bulbous extremity, a blazing fire-bowl smoulders on itself, an enormous ember carried to its point of incandescence. Then, even this ember is obscured, and suddenly, from the extinguished centre of the mirror, a ray shoots out, a single ray, gigantic, condensing to itself all the light that was spread out on the earth, a ray which lights nothing around it, but instead rips the air like a scream, or an enormous spike.

It is a spectacle which nothing else can surpass — to see it a single time is to be struck with terror, marked by it for life. It is also the moment which is most dangerous for us, we inhabitants of the platforms. Once put into motion this monstrous ray cannot be stopped. If one wanted to, at this point it is impossible to retract it, the Ray has to pursue its course. It only returns to its centre of balance by discharging off a surface, an obstacle. The least error of orientation could be fatal for us, which is what lies behind the meticulous preparation, the extreme care taken, the continual maintenance, the expense of energy and emotion, and all the legends to which the machine gives rise. As soon as the Ray Telescope, this monstrous pseudopod, has been advanced above the abyss — and this is the moment when it ceases to be dangerous for us — it is lowered. In the interior of its base a calculation programme directs it to its target. It is provided with the coordinates of the desired formation, the chain, rung, column, array of dominos — the number of formations is in the end somewhat limited — and, as soon as the Ray touches the ground on the other side of the great abyss its servants can stand down, there is nothing more to do.

The calculation programme starts to purr, and below, very far away, in a shower of flame and sparks the Ray cuts out the desired figure.

Cuts out the flesh itself of the great cells, cuts out following its code, and what does it matter if it traverses a milieu, if it burns the sides. With standard telescopes one sees only a contour, the contour of a mass, where it suffices, on occasion, to rectify the circumference, as if with a crayon.

When the calculating programme is finished, the Ray retracts — it rises up bit by bit into the air, like a gigantic snail antenna, shortens, returning into itself, reaches the mirror, and almost immediately the light spreads out again across the surface of the Earth.

The servants of the apparatus dismantle it, and everyone rushes back to their telescope. On the other side of the great abyss one perceives the rebel cell, now corrected according to the required figure, perfectly cut out, without smudges, without hatchings. Work starts again, everyone is happy.

The hatchings and the smudges — it is I who see them. It’s me who sees them, with my long-view telescope, from the height of my extendable ladder. And what I see is something completely different from a giant cell, with a single contour.

Me, what I see is an infinite quantity of contours, indeterminate, some of them in the form of bodies, some of them confused in the form of facial features, and between these forms a thousand variations. What I see is a continual segmentation, a ceaseless transformation, an interlacing of ever-shifting elements. At this level, it is actually difficult to see the formation that they see with the short-view telescope. At this level it is also difficult to talk about effectiveness.

On the contrary, if I don’t see the contours of the formation — and besides in a certain way I do see them, only they are not contours of a formation, but the juxtaposed contours of a quantity of individual forms, which isn’t at all the same thing — if I find it hard to perceive the aggregate form, I see instead the currents which form it, the divisions which operate within it, the emerging upheavals, the accumulations, the segmentations.

And I know that these movements will inevitably flow back over the sides, I know that whether in a day, or in a year, the current will arrive at the exterior, and if it extends beyond it enough, the short-viewers will see it, the megaphones and loudspeakers will go into effect, and if the contour line does not return to its original form, the great Telescope will raise itself, the darkness will descend again, and the Ray will stab out. And at that moment, what will all my skill and careful maintenance matter, what will my telescope matter, with its battery of lenses and ultrasensitive filters?

This Ray — I am afraid of it. The darkness it creates places a fear into my heart that nothing can assuage, and it is with anguish that I see the Ray cutting out our desires, far away, there on the other side of the abyss. The short-viewers, on their platforms, they don’t speak of it. An odour of suffering reaches us, carried by the wind. For everyone this odour is only the sign that everything has functioned according to plan. This odour makes me nauseous. It appears to me that in another life, in another vision, I have already smelled it, I have already sensed it coming.

… … …

And now, the time surrounded me like a void, unbreathable, inhuman, the void between the planets, between the suns, between the stars. And suddenly I understood that all of our efforts were simply to fill this void, to occupy it by means of some spell or charm, I understood that until then like all of us I had always placed a lens into the interior of each second, I had strung lenses onto the string of time, I had slid lenses onto the empty pearls of the seconds. Like all of us, lost inhabitants of the platforms.

Only now I had come to the end of my lenses, to the end of the landscapes they gave me — I had exhausted them. Well, of course, I would have been able to keep going, by replacing lenses, or, again, by means of reflections of lenses, or reflections of reflections of lenses, and so on until my death. And this is what they all do, the short and long viewers, what they all do, calmly, without making exceptions, permutating their abacus in the fine, beautiful middle of the void.

So when it had happened to me, this change that was therefore very unexpected, when I had arrived nonetheless at the end of the line of time, at the end of the necklace of lenses, astounded now by what was in front of me, this little thread which hung down into the abyss, I was left thinking, had I gone too fast? Had I jumped seconds, had I been tricked in some way, or perhaps I had suffered an accident?

Had an accident happened to me one day, without me knowing it, as a result of a fortuitous arrangement of my lenses, through a feverishness of my gestures that was just a little too much, had something passed between the point of diffraction and the point of convergence, a too-intense radiance in the centre of the focus — a burn somewhere, perhaps in some very fragile part of the cornea or the brain, a part which perhaps only has to be touched for the illusion to prolong itself? Then suddenly a dazzling light blazed out in front of my eyes. Flashing in my telescope, gone as soon as perceived, I had seen SOMETHING — my hands are open, my telescope has fallen.

I am shaking so much I have to grip the sides of my ladder, so much that I have to descend a few metres down the ladder, and then press myself against the rungs, clenching the two uprights with my arms, holding myself braced as tightly as possible against the huge wind which is blowing from the other side of the great abyss, and which is blowing with greater and greater strength.

The sections of my ladder scrape against each other, and the highest parts vibrate like a flag-pole. Counterblasts of wind come from either side, the mega-phone beats against the rungs, sometimes sweeping outwards like a flag and then being snapped down again, I lean out to catch it, and the ladder tilts with me, tilts, and then a wild gust pulls it brutally back, the loud-speaker flies in smithereens against the uprights — I see that below me they are putting the stepladders away, I see through tornadoes of leaves and through the pieces of telescopes that are flying in every direction; the sound of broken glass mingles with the roar of the storm, I descend the rungs one by one, reaching the second section of the ladder, and then above my head the lightened upper section tears itself away with a dry screeching sound and spins away horizontally through the air, I tilt myself rapidly, a piece of shredded metal flies past only a few centimetres from my eyes.

Tornadoes of sand rise up now from the ground, I can’t see anymore, and I grope my way down the ladder, searching for each rung beneath my feet, and sometimes not finding it. I can hear the rungs cracking and twisting, the uprights twist beneath my hands, and sometimes my foot finds only a stub-end of steel, or a bar knocking in the void. But the retraction mechanisms are blocked, all I can do is descend, descend as fast as I can. And suddenly there are no more rungs, only one beneath the reach of my dangling legs, the clouds of sand are whirling with fury, and at this moment the ladder is ripped toward my body — I fall from the entire remaining height, the ground rises toward me like a slap. On the platform, which is pitching and reeling, I get up with difficulty, and there, several metres away through the yellow fog, I see the profile of a gigantic form, a monstrous form, which is coming toward me. A huge cry rises up from the platform, mingled with the creakings and clamours of the storm, in a terror without name I flee, I hurtle down the slope. Behind me, I hear a dull crash, my high ladder has been thrown to the ground, smashing a group of stepladders, and breaking off a piece of the platform.

It seems the clouds are thickening. They are becoming more and more thick, more and more heavy. They appear to have been taken over by a condensed obscurity which extends itself further and further.

Then with a shock I realise that the great Ray Telescope is being raised, I realise that it has already been deployed, and that the light is being drained away, attracted by the immense mirror, and that the deadly Ray is focusing itself, that it is already pointing into the centre of the night.

And so my slender, fragile discovery is about to be ungulfed forever, just a moment after it appeared in front of me. Ah, it must be defended, it must be defended at all costs from the murdering Ray, from the edicts of figures, of efficiency, of repression. I run across fragments of glass and steel, across bodies, across platforms, and through blinding clouds, I run to the base of the machine and there, breathless, I demand that they stop the Ray, that they stop it immediately.

One does not stop the Ray. Once it is put in motion, it can only follow its course. It is only able to return to its initial position through rebounding off a surface, an obstacle.

Through the sound of explosions, the chief of the machine’s servants asks me what I want, and don’t I know there’s a general rebellion on the other side of the abyss, that it is necessary to halt it immediately, and that in any case the Ray cannot return? And also, what is a long-viewer doing here, and aren’t long-viewers banned from observing for the duration of the Troubles? I back off, suddenly aware of the absurdity of what I am doing.

All that is happening is one more rebellion over there, one more storm over here. In a few hours, everything will have returned to normal, my ladder will have been repaired, the platforms will have been rebuilt, the telescopes will have been put out again, the footbridge will slide out, goods will again be arriving. Somewhere in the background people will be caring for the victims of the storm, there will only be a few, everyone knows so well the gestures to make.

One person will perhaps be permanently injured, laid low by the passage of a catastrophe, we will not see them anymore, we will forget them. We will know only that for them one day the banal became monstrous.

In the compacted night, with the storm continuing around me, I suddenly see that I had almost been that person. If I had been distracted for a few seconds, if I had not heard the alarm, if I had not gone as fast — I would have been crushed under my ladder. What had always appeared so easy until then — to go down the ladder with agile movements, activate the retraction, and to head off onto the level ground at a good pace — no need even to run — suddenly I saw that this was a performance, that it was only simple precisely in the absence of thought.

All these dangers returned to me in memory, and while this was happening how many times did the Ray strike? The past was bristling with murderous needles, explosions of glass and metal, cries, howls, and me, how had I been capable of so many acts ensuring my survival in the midst of so much forgetting?

Above me the Ray extends itself and retracts, on the other side of the abyss a burst of flames and sparks rises and then falls again, the calculating machine clicks and purrs. Crouched down on the ground, I hold myself motionless.

Then the light returns. The stepladders return to the vertical, the telescopes are trained again on the horizontal, the footbridge is put back into action. Between the platforms the air is clear, over there above the great abyss the air also appears blue and pure. The short-viewers are chatting happily amongst themselves, the last shards of glass have been swept away. Everything is normal.

… … …

It was in this silence that I heard the creaking of the chain on the footbridge. Regular creaking, incessant, which is always in the background, to which we never give any attention. Creaking of the footbridge, above the great abyss - the creaking of the footbridge. How — with nothing but this — could this suffice?

When evening falls, I go to the abyss, I go up onto the footbridge, I walk over, and I descend onto the other side.

On this other side of the footbridge, I stop.

They are everywhere, some of them in groups, bent toward optical instruments, others up on stepladders and ladders. Our counterparts, our exact counterparts — our doubles. I return along the footbridge. Beyond the bank of the great abyss toward which I am moving the setting sun burns like a lighthouse, and alone in my blinded eyes the dancing of the black contours of a monstrous cell.

Our counterparts, our exact counterparts, and the one who is my own double is at the end of the footbridge, waiting for me. It is with them that I walk from one side to the other of the great abyss, re-living the long trajectory of this astonishing adventure, and in this way suddenly I looked between my feet, and where the abyss had been there was only a pale shadow on a flat plain.

There was nothing but an infinitely level expanse of ground on which it was finally possible to set out, on which it was finally possible to begin living, with my counterpart, my double, whole at last, while, receding in an apocalypse of storms, fire and sulphur, this long nightmare of ladders, telescopes, Cells, Ray Telescopes, a smaller and smaller circle, already miniscule on the horizon.

Sunlit, overgrown, derelict:
paths of escape, dreams of deterritorialisation

The faculties which initially need to be woken are perception and dreaming.

When Mark Fisher and I went to Felixstowe in the spring of 2006 we were working on a story about an emergent parallel world. The world of this story is forested and derelict: the impression it gives, for those who find their way into it, is that it is the ordinary world five hundred years in the future, though with just a few small areas that are unchanged — but in fact it is another dimension of the present, one which has only recently come into existence. One way of getting across to this parallel world is through listening to a form of recording called ‘sound shadows.’

Although there is a serene, impersonal beauty about the forested/derelict world, it is an eerie and sometimes very dangerous place, full of anomalous, enigmatic aspects. The inhabitants of this parallel emergence refer to it as ‘the Corridor.’ After I had done the writing for an audio-fiction about it (partly drawing upon the visit to Suffolk) Mark and I set out to get recorded performances for a work which consisted of several voices giving accounts of what they knew about the emergent world.

However, without professional actors and with no directing experience we felt unhappy with most of the results: so we put aside the initial project, as too demanding for our resources, and we started to work on what became On Vanishing Land. But at the same time as I was writing the essay for this work (with occasional ideas and suggestions from Mark), I was in the middle of a five year process of writing a novel about the emergent parallel world, a novel called The Corridor.

Whereas On Vanishing Land is in a border zone between narrative and the modalities normally employed by philosophy and cultural theory, The Corridor is a long way across the border: it is a tale of the anomalous which is emergent from the non-realist expanse of a ‘lens mythos’ — a mythos whose primary aim is to allow people to see the world more clearly. However the two works are very closely connected, in the sense that they share crucial genetic aspects:

Overgrown, derelict terrains

A disappearance over a threshold of a group of individuals

In On Vanishing Land the overgrown derelict terrain is primarily the envisaged Felixstowe container terminal, but is also the second world war ruins; in The Corridor it is almost the entirety of the planet in the parallel world. The disappearance in On Vanishing Land is the vanishing of the women in Picnic at Hanging Rock; in The Corridor it is the departure of a group into the enigmatic second form of the planet.

It would be correct to say that this largely derelict, forested world (together with the process of escaping into it) is recurrently glimpsed in the audio-essay, and is explored in detail in the novel. But what is being figured by this world? An initial and fundamental answer is that it is a world without influence of countries, or states. But a better form of this answer is that what is here being figured is what can be called the definitive terrain, a terrain consisting only of the planet, and of individuals who are waking their faculties.

Starting from the form of On Vanishing Land, as an audio-essay, it can now be asked — in what way is the sonorous (sound, music) a thread that leads out of the labyrinth of ordinary reality? The response has two aspects, or phases.

In On Vanishing Land sound is radically emphasised, but at the same time, at a further level, it is radically displaced. The materiality of the piece is sound, and everywhere there are sonic thematic elements — the whistle, the music box, the idea of an eerie cry breaking into a silence, radar (it should be pointed out that this thematic side of the emphasis is very much on the side of sound, as opposed to music). But there also is the displacement: it is ‘solar trance’ in a singular, non-human terrain (with no emphasis on sound) which draws the women over the threshold-of-escape in Picnic at Hanging Rock. And it is both that the experience of the "figure on a hill" — who sees a "white void of air" beneath their feet — is connected only to a terrain (Rendlesham Forest, Lantern Marsh) and that the description of this terrain makes no reference to sound.

Both the emphasis and the subsequent displacement are taken even further in The Corridor. The main aspect of what causes the six characters in the novel to be drawn into the emergent world is ‘sound shadows’ — the transition takes place through listening to recordings consisting of layered drone tracks whose perforated, modulated form has an unsuspected power. However, it will later be discovered that these sonic ‘components of passage’ are only one way of getting across to the Corridor — and the next level of transitions does not involve sound. Instead these subsequent threshold-crossings involve perception of the sky, multi-sensory or ‘haptic’ perception, and certain very specific powers of perceptually-based envisaging.

There is a change taking place here: a shift toward space, away from time, and a simultaneous raising up and radical displacement of sound.

However, the change is not directly a question of aesthetics but instead involves a metaphysics and pragmatics of waking the faculties, and of becomings. And, relatedly, the move from sound is not a move toward film and other visual art forms, but is instead a move toward perception in its relation to the worlds beyond artworks. Sound as component of passage is here primarily not music, and in the same way the visual here is almost entirely the world of the perceptual in this wider sense, and of envisaging based on the perceptual (this envisaging is a modality of dreaming). It is true that fiction and narrative come to the forefront, but they do this as modalities of dreaming, where this relates, amongst other areas, to written tales, dreams in sleep, dreams about the future, and processes of memory-based envisaging, rather than there being any main focus on film, video and painting: in fact, in The Corridor, it is both the case that the visual as initiator of threshold-crossings is either perceptual or in the form of envisaging, and that the film/video mode has something damaging or deleterious at work within it. The tale retains a level of emphasis, but in a way where its most crucial spaces are the virtual-real expanses to which it leads in its form of written or spoken words. (The faculties which initially need to be woken are perception and dreaming).

The main area of focus is now the planet, and specifically it is now the sky. This relationship to the sky is a ‘becoming,’ in a very specific sense: a becoming involves processes of sustained perception, futural dreaming , and envisaging from the corporeal/ affective point of view involved. A becoming is ‘an entering into composition with’ (a being inspired by, etc). Entering into composition with the sky in this way has its own impersonal light-suffused aspect.

And at this point it is important to ask about those who escape. In Picnic at Hanging Rock it is three women; and Michael, despite spending a night on the rock, does not succeed. In The Corridor it is three women and three men, but those explorer-travellers who guide them in the emergent world are primarily women. As if there is a dormant and sometimes effectuated capacity for brightness, abandon and lucidity possessed to a greater extent by women (whether through nurture or nature) which gives women an advantage in relation to crossing over to, and existing upon, the definitive terrain.

The suggestion here is of a need for a becoming-intent-to-escape, a need for a becoming-perception and a becoming-sky, and, most of all, a need for a becoming-woman (for women as well as men). It seems that, as Deleuze and Guattari say, becoming-woman is the key to all the becomings. (Ariadne’s thread — is Ariadne).

It is clear that ordinary reality (the form of reality from which we are trying to escape) is a very disturbing and denuded place. It is "capitalism, the latest form of capitulation" (On Vanishing Land), and in The Corridor the inhabitants of the parallel world call it simply ‘the Disaster.’ It is the place where people are crushed by circumstances; and where what attempts to break free in the direction of ‘love, lucidity and wider realities’ often does not get far, and where, when the escape-threshold is crossed, the records of this event are likely to be misunderstood in ways that mean that an unfettered modernism (expressed both in stories and philosophy) remains as distant as ever. Which is to say (to shift from the maps to the journey the maps describe) that there is no widespread alteration involving people setting out toward the definitive terrain.

The forested world of the Corridor is a place of deterritorialisation — a world without countries which figures the definitive terrain. And although the story of The Corridor mainly takes place in the parallel emergence form of Suffolk the world of the novel deterritorialises to other parts of the planet, opening up connections, in particular, with four zones; the Amazonian terrains of the Yanomami; Patagonia; Australia; and the cross-border area consisting of Mongolia and Tuva. In relation to the first of these, two of the protagonists at one point meet a woman who tells them that five Yanomami groups succeeded in crossing to the Corridor at the point when it emerged (if you were to fly above the Amazonia jungles of the Corridor eventually you might see a shabono).

However the main aim here is not to raise awareness of The Corridor and On Vanishing Land (these are just maps). The primary aim is raising awareness of the definitive terrain, and of the pragmatic principle of Exteriority — a principle that is at work in travelling toward this terrain, and in living on it (living as a part of it), but that is also at work in the creation of the maps. This principle has eight aspects:

  • A primacy of the faculty of perception — that is, of sustained attention in relation to the spheroambient world that arrives continually into the world of a perceiving being; and, inseparably from this, a primary focus on the body, and on energy.
  • An effectuated functioning of the faculties which form the outside of the dominant forms of connection with the world, where these other faculties are perception, dreaming, lucidity, intent and feeling, together with the faculty of becomings, which transects the other five.
  • A primary focus on the planet as a whole, rather than the human world or a specific country, with attention being given in particular to wilderness, semi-wilderness and countryside/scurfland terrains.
  • A primary focus on women, and becoming-woman.
  • A primary focus on non-state societies, in particular nomadic or non-state social formations: this being a focus which concerns not so much the entire fabric of empirical details of these societies, but which instead takes the form of giving attention to these societies insofar as they involve a higher degree of awareness in relation to the definitive terrain — which consists of people waking their faculties, and of the planet.
  • In relation to modalities of expression, a primary focus on the world to be delineated or dreamed, as opposed to a focus on concepts and forms of writing (new concepts and new forms of writing will emerge, but precisely through the conceptual/linguistic issues involved in creating them being secondary).
  • A centrality of attention in relation to the transcendental-empirical, as opposed to the empirical (knowledge of the definitive terrain is an example of knowledge of a transcendental-empirical aspect of the world).
  • A centrality of attention in relation to groups, and all micropolitical issues, as opposed to the domain of state politics.

  • Artwork and Writing

    you only have a lifetime to escapeaudio essay and related writing

    — On Vanishing Land45 min audio essay

    — Outsights: Disappearances of Literatureseries of essays plus additional texts

    Interactions / Access

    • This accessible version of On Vanishing Land features experimental captions and sound description
    • Visit SATURDAYS 1-5pm or 8pm-midnight to access full 45 minute work
    • Outside these windows, a preview is available
    • Desktop or laptop only please; not compatible with mobile