Monday, August 5, 2019

Every Kind of Dionysian Thrill: Revisiting the Charles Manson Saga.


(Previous writings about Manson here, here, here, here, and here.)

Many hippies are socially almost dead inside. Some require massive emotions to feel any thing at all. They need bizarre, intensive acts to feel alive – sexual acts, acts of violence, nudity, every kind of Dionysian thrill.
The Hippie Trip, Dr Lewis Yablonsky (cited in Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA and the Secret History of the Sixties, by Tom O'Neill and Dan Piepenbring.)

He, the god who appeared among men with his ripe intoxicating drink, was the same as the frenzied one whose spirit drove the women to madness in the loneliness of the mountains.
Dionysus: Myth and Cult, by Walter F. Otto.

  1. Infinite Rapture and Infinite Terror.

In the past, it was always a tiny minority of adventurous individuals who sought out the undiscovered corners of the world. Many of them died and many others returned ravaged by extremity and solitude, never quite themselves again. 

The great tumult of the 1960s is a cultural phenomenon without any parallel in modern history, and yet it had innumerable precedents. Its lineage can be traced back to the Romantics, rebels against industrial and scientific modernity who dabbled in mind-altering drugs (Coleridge and de Quincey) and free love cults (Blake). The decadent/symbolist movements of the fin de siècle pre-empted the 60s with their occult obsessions and proto-psychedelic flights of intricately weird fantasy, as did the occult revivalists of the 19th century.



None of these movements, however, adequately adumbrated the scale and intensity of cultural and ontological upheaval which was compressed into the latter half of the 60s. This qantitive and qualitive difference was facilated by advances in pharmacology and communication technology. Enovid, the first contraceptive pill, was approved for use by the FDA on June 23, 1960. Meanwhile, the Swiss company Sandoz had introduced a new psychoactive chemical called Delysid to the research market in 1947. It was LSD, of course, and it had been slowly creeping its way into post-war America via the unlikely route of Project MKUltra, a top secret CIA mind control programme which has been shrouded in infamy, mystery and speculative mythology ever since. 

By the middle of the 60s, telephones, radios and televisions had collapsed the distance between spaces and people, creating a mass culture in which social change happened at larger and much more rapid scales. Either by accident or design (depending on who you want to believe), LSD seeped into this mass culture, and a great chunk of the population went in search of the undiscovered corners of human pyschology and experience. 



Any adventure in transgression, risk-taking and unfettered self-exploration carries with it the underlying fear that, like a policeman, priest or grandiose hangover, some dire consequence looms on the horizon, waiting to pounce. In the aftermath of the events of the night of the 8th of August, 1969 at 10050 Cielo Drive, that fear burst out like a thunderclap through the elite enclaves of the movie and music industries. The mood of biblical panic that engulfed LA's hippie royalty probably had two primary sources. One was just a general superstitious sense that all the freaky hedonism and druggy abandon had gone too far, somehow summoning Manson and his acolytes like demons to turn the Aquarian pool-sides red with blood. Another was perhaps more pointed: the full degree to which the Family had infiltrated the upper echelons of Hollywood babylon remains shrouded in mystery. Researching the article that would eventually blossom into Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA and the Secret History of the Sixties, Tom O'Neill found that virtually none of the surviving Hollywood heavyweights would speak to him about Manson:
I'd been in touch with Diane Ladd's manager, having heard that Ladd, who'd been married to Bruce Dern at the time of the murders, ran in some of the same circles as Tate and Polanksi. Her manager promised to set up the interview. The next day she called back, saying that Ladd had had an “emotionally visceral reaction.” The manager said, “I don't know what happened with Diane back in the sixties, but she adamantly refused to have anything to do with the piece. She even told me that if her name was in it, she was going to contact her attorney.” (Chaos.)

For conservatives, the horrors of Cielo Drive have alway been codified as an inevitable outgrowth of the 60s counter-culture. This was never entirely convincing: although the saga of the Family could not have occured at any other time, Manson himself was a product of the US penal system and a dysfunctional upbringing in the 30s and 40s. Nevertheless, it may not be entirely wrong to suggest a certain inevitability in the fact that some very dark things slipped through the many doors thrown open in the latter years of the 60s. The term “Dionysian” has been applied so frequently to the decade of the 60s (and the subject of rock music in general) as to border on meaningless cliche. Yet the evocation remains apt, and as we shall see, often unnervingly so in relation to Manson and his followers. 

Dionysus is the most fascinating and puzzling of the Greek gods. His nature is characterised by insoluble paradox and contradiction. He is, on the one hand, the great liberator who awakens all the repressed energies and creative potentialities of the community which has fallen into the cowardice of habit and convention, the stasis of excessive order and control. As such, he is also the conduit of all untrammelled physical joy in being, all ecstatic transport and epiphany. Yet the doors opened by the Dionysian revel are primordial and ungovernable: through them comes all the grandeur of life, but also all its madness and horror. In Dionysus: Myth and Cult, Walter F. Otto evokes the apocalyptic upheaval engendered by the outsider “God who Comes”:
The world man knows, the world in which he has settled himself so securely and snugly – that world is no more. The turbulance which accompanied the arrival of Dionysus has swept it away. Everything has been transformed. But it has not been transformed into a charming fairy story or into an ingenuous child's paradise. The primeval world has stepped into the foreground, the depths of reality have been opened, the elemental forms of everything that is creative, everything that is destructive, have arisen, bringing with them infinite rapture and infinite terror. The innocent picture of a well-ordered routine world has been shattered by their coming, and they bring with them no illusions or fantasies but truth – a truth that brings on madness. 

The ambiguous character of Dionysus is echoed in the drug which fuelled the heightened and fraying ambience of the late 60s. The LSD experience engendered total transformations of reality whose only predictable quality was their intensity: enchanted paradises and looping corridors of madness and dissociation formed a new mental topography which seemed to have emerged overnight around the familiar social mores of the pre-Space Age world:
In the myth and in the experience of those who have been affected by this event, the appearance of Dionysus brings with it nourishing intoxicating waters that bubble up from the earth. Rocks split open, and streams of water gush forth. Everything that has been locked up is released. The alien and the hostile unite in miraculous harmony. Age-old laws have suddenly lost their power, and even the dimensions of time and space are no longer valid.
(Dionysus: Myth and Cult.)
The utopian glow of the 60s had already passed its high-water mark by the beginning of '69. Emerging from their secluded revels in the desert, Manson and his frenzied maenads embodied with an eerie perfection the dark side of the Dionysian myth.

2. Murder and Obsession: The Ecstatic Elusiveness of Truth. 



“One’s file, you know, is never quite complete, a case is never really closed, even after a century, when all of the participants are dead.”
The Third Man, Graham Greene, cited in Why Popular Culture Still Can't Get Enough of Charles Manson, by Ed Sanders.

David Fincher's best movie Zodiac (2007) deals with how unsolved murder can become an all-encompassing obsession. The movie traces an obsession with solving the Zodiac murders as it plays itself out through three separate characters: journalist Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.), detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and cartoonist and later true crime author Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal). Crime holds a peculiar obsessive power over the imagination. As much as it has been derided as exploitative trash, the true crime genre has probably never been as vital.

What accounts for the enduring popularity of sifting through the often labyrinthine minutiae of traumatic and appalling events from the past? Morbidity only accounts for a part of the phenomenon. There is a perennial appeal to the mind of attempting to solve dense, seemingly intractable problems. Mystery captures the mind with an almost erotic ardour, an obsessive passion which is at its height when in a state of irresolution, where the apparent proximity of the solution and the ultimate, ecstatic elusiveness of finality and resolution are equidistant to one another. 

This perhaps accounts for the appeal of the cold case. Sufficiently distant in the past, an old case can rarely be definitively solved – but that those not deter us from chasing after some kind of ambiguous resolution, or provisional certainty that the truth can yet be wrestled from the hazy fog of time's passage. The past, like the truth, plays a game with our obsessive imaginations, appearing one moment within our reach, and the next utterly irretrievable. The investigation of a cold case, whether in fiction or true crime, dramatizes our peculiar relationship with the past. It is at once divorced from the present by cleavage greater than that of the farthest star in the sky, and yet innumerable threads and links remain: a detail in a file nobody noticed before, a witness nobody thought to interview, a memory, a physical trace etched into a wall somewhere – something to restore the past by decoding its unfinished business. 



Of all the twentieth century crimes that have taken hold of excitable and obsessive imaginations, none have enjoyed the same pre-eminence as those which bookend the 60s: the assassination of Kennedy in '63, and the Manson Family murders of August '69. Both had the air of ominous ritual: in the first the slaying of a virile (or, in less flattering language, priapic) chieftan, and in the latter the slaugther of a beautiful and pregnant young woman. In the insuing years, America had careened into a giddy, creative, apocalyptically violent tumult, and latterly walked on the moon, having in the meantime engaged in so much labyrinthine conspiratorial sorcery that a not inconsiderable section of the population would never believe that it really happened. The lasting legacy of the 60s, of brains rewired by drugs, technology and subliminal state coercion, was that nothing would ever be how it seemed any more.

The Kennedy and Manson murders take their researchers into a strange, often scarcely credible world which is more like fiction than reality – more outre than fiction itself, in fact. This is because they occur not in the everyday world, but in worlds characterised by different types of power. To attempt to unravel Kennedy's murder, one enters the complex, compartmentalized and occult (in the sense of “hidden”, and maybe some others) machinations of the national security state, a largely unseen world where real power is exercised through the merging of corporate, military, intelligence and organized crime networks. The Manson saga takes us into a different kind of power – the great power over the imagination exercised by movies and popular music, and by the sybaritic lifestyles of the icons and celebrities who make them – and finally to the power exercised by Manson himself, the power of the mesmerist, the hypnotist and cult leader, the psychopath who we despise, but from whom we cannot withhold our enduring fascination. These are worlds buzzing, almost mystically, with coincidences, connections and secrets.

3. A Story that has Never Been Told in Its Entirety. 



The Manson Family murders are solved, insofar as nobody really debates who actually did the killing. Yet there has always been a sense that the Manson saga is a story that has never been told in its entirety. Going all the way back to Ed Sanders' The Family (the first book on the subject published in 1971), dark rumours and conspiranoid theories have always swirled around the core story. Sanders discussed persistent tales of decadence having run amok in the house on Cielo Drive prior to the grizzly events of August 8/9, and his book positions the Family within a wider matrix of satanic biker gangs, organized crime both petty and more professionally ambitious, and a burgeoning sub-culture of gnostic mind control control cults (including Scientology and the Process Church of the Final Judgement) that makes Panos Cosmatos' movie Mandy feel like the Barry Manilow track of the same name. Pioneering conspiracy maven Mae Brussell argued that the killings were a false flag operation against the counter-culture, and posited Manson as a COINTELPRO patsy. (Whatever the ultimate validy of this theory, her research did highlight a persistent, baffling and disturbing leniency shown to Manson and his followers by law enforcement authorities.)



In 1974, however, vainglorious DA Vincent Bugliosi published his account of the trial in Helter Skelter, and this book enshrined forever the official Manson narrative, with its White Album inspired race war apocalypse as the scarcely credible, but rarely thereafter questioned, motive for the brutal killings. Sanders' book was dismissed as poorly sourced sensationalism, and the weirder backwaters of the case were largely relegated to underground works like Peter Levanda's epic melange of true crime, occult history and conspiranoia Sinister Forces.

What is striking about Tom O'Neill's book Chaos (released fortuitously on the eve of Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) is that it is, to the best of my knowledge, the first mainstream book to really wade into the dark, long repressed undercurrents of the Manson story. This was by no means O'Neill's intention. The whole thing began – it's hard to avoid the movie-like structure of the book – as a routine freelance assignment for Premier magazine, a Manson anniversary piece with a Hollywood angle. Stonewalled by the luminaries, however, O'Neill found himself drifting slowly into the obsessive realm charted out in Fincher's Zodiac. At an early point in his investigations, the recently departed activist/journalist Paul Krassner warned O'Neill “This will take over your life if you let it.” So it came to pass: the Premier piece, its deadline endlessly deferred, became a 20 year obsession. 
 
There may not be much in Chaos which is completely new to seasoned Mansonoids, but O'Neill has done a heroic amount of investigative legwork, and in many cases provided substantiation for much that has previously hovered in the ambiguous realm of rumour and innuendo. Chaos relentlessly exposes the Manson Family prosecution as riddled with so many improprieties and irregularities that it could have been struck out of court many times over. He mounts a very convincing assault on the legitimacy of the putative Helter Skelter motive, pointing out that Bugliosi stated on two separate occasions that he didn't think Manson himself believed in the coming race war/underground getaway mythos; this is an extremely telling admission, because if Manson didn't believe in Helter Skelter, and ordered the killings, then the race war angle couldn't have been the actual motive, only at best what Watson, Atkins and the other Mansonoids had been told it was. 
 
O'Neill then makes the case, based on circumstantial but undeniably suggestive evidence, that Manson might have been an asset of some or other of the deeply immoral underground programs the US government had become embroiled in in the 60s (COINTELPRO, MKUltra, etc.) This is by no means implausible. As a COINTELPRO asset, Manson would have been win-win, in the sense that his activities would both inflame tensions with black militant groups like the Panthers and present the 60s counter-culture in general in the most negative light possible. In relation to MKUltra, many have observed that Manson's activities dovetailed precisely with those of the shadowy program, ie the use of hallucinogenic drugs and ritualized psychotherapies and sexuality to create re-programmed and obedient subjects. 
 
To make the case for MKUltra involvement, O'Neill focuses on Manson's period in Haight-Ashbury, during which the life-long prison inmate very rapidly adopted the newfangled role of acid guru, and particularly on the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic (HAFMC). O'Neill isolates no less than three figures associated with the Clinic who had academic/experimental interests which eerily prefigure Manson's activities with the Family. Federal officer Roger Smith had studied how drug use precipitates violent behaviour among gangs, often using immersive, observer-participant methods to gather data. Meanwhile, David E Smith, the founder of the HAFMC, had also been studying the link between drug use and violent behaviour in groups, this time amongst rodent populations. The first of the two, Roger, was Manson's parole officer, and his relationship with his charge was unorthodox, to say the very least, and characterised by the kind of bizarre leniency which would reoccur in various departments throughout the ensuing saga. 


 
Another occasional visitor to the HAFMC was Louis Jolyon “Jolly” West, a psychiatrist and life-long friend of Charlton Heston who once accidentally killed an elephant by injecting it with LSD and antipsychotics. “Jolly” West was also one of the many medical practitioners sub-contracted under the MKUltra program, and O'Neill discovered his direct correspondence with its leader Sidney Gottlieb, known in his lifetime as the Black Sorcerer and the Dirty Trickster. West is one of those figures who constantly shows up in peculiar places. In 1959, he persuaded DJ Peter Tripp to stage the notorious wakeathon, in which the radio personality broadcasted his show from a glass booth in Times Square for 200 hours straight without sleep. In 1964, West privately examined Jack Ruby, declaring him to be “obviously psychotic.” (Incidentally, Ruby claimed to have been taking Preludin at the time of killing Oswald. Preludin was marketed as an appetite suppressant, but it was in fact an amphetamine substitute which the Beatles had taken during their Hamburg days, bringing us back to the subject of amphetamines and violence.) In West we find a link – however tenuous – between the MKUltra program, the JFK assassination, and the decaying Haight-Ashbury hippie milieu that Charles Manson moved in in '68, demonstrating once again the strange dark tapestry and nexus of coincidence underlying America's cultural and political tumults of the 60s. 
 
Whether or not Manson was an informant, asset or unwitting guinea pig of some government program, one persistent and plausible theory of the Tate-LaBianca murders places them in the more banal realm of dope dealing and petty crime gone awry. The theory posits the murders as the end-product of a sequence of messy, confused episodes which began with Manson shooting (and thinking he had killed) drug dealer Bernard Crowe, and basically having less to do with mind control sorcery, and more to do with small time crime spiralling out of control owing to its participants being thoroughly pickled by isolation and excessive psychedelic drug use. (Read this interview with James Buddy Day for a succinct breakdown of this theory.) This is certainly one way of interpreting the Manson saga – that because of Manson's peculiar charisma, because he had been swept along in the collapsing historical wave of the 60s, because the Cielo Drive victims had been beautiful, famous and well-connected, an otherwise squalid and banal sequence of events became seared forever into our historical subconscious. Bugliosi aided this process by covering up the extent to which Hollywood elites had become embroiled in this small time criminal world, and by crafting the narrative of a master manipulator which put the final nail in the coffin of the revolutionary 60s.

Nevertheless, the Manson story continues to fascinate, because we still have a sense that crucial parts of it remain elusive and deliberately hidden from view. The pointed silence of Hollywood's hip set (in his 1993 autobiography What's It All About, Michael Caine describes encountering a “scruffy little man” - you know who – at a party also attended by Jay Sebring and Sharon Tate), the extraordinary, recurring leniency shown to both Manson and Susan Akins by the authorities (both should have been busted back inside many times over before the killings), the eerie dovetailing of David E Smith and “Jolly” West's research interests with the emerging dynamics of the Manson Family cult – all of these things point to a definite, dark something that remains elusive about the case. Chaos manages to weave a compulsively readable narrative out of O'Neill's dense, diligent, Ahab-like quest to finally bring that something into the light of day. In the end, the book is perhaps inevitably anti-climatic – after all the obsessive excitement, the smoking gun remains elusive, O'Neill refuses to enter the realm of speculation, and the reader is left, like Oedipa Mass at the end of Thomas Pynchon's prescient conspiranoid classic The Crying of Lot 49, on the threshold of a revelation. O'Neill's investigation ends, more by virtue of time and necessity than anything else, its threads still multiplying, and and the Manson case returns to the indecisiveness of history, to the realm of ambiguity and myth, and the fiction of the Tarantino film. 

Continued shortly.

 

Monday, June 3, 2019

Intermundia Airport (Chapter 6).


Chapter 1 , Chapter 2 , Chapter 3 , Chapter 4 , Chapter 5

Renton placed a leaflet in Mark's hand. 'This should give you the gist, if you want to consult it tomorrow,' he said, a tinge of impatience touching the edges of his smile. The leaflet was headed: “DON'T PANIC – ENJOY THE INTERIM!” It depicted the typical experience of a New Arrival in a series of tersely captioned illustrations. The style of the artwork was crudely functional, suggesting airplane emergency instructions or a road safety pamphlet for children. The first image showed the Arrival, a nondescript Caucasian with fair hair and innocuous features, seated in the terminal with a stricken expression:
ARRIVAL IN INTERMUNDIA CAN BE DISORIENTATING AND EVEN UNPLEASANT – CHIN UP, HELP IS ON THE WAY!
Now the Arrival, more relaxed, is lead through a busy underground train station by a comedic duo of mismatched security guards. The Arrival, in the centre, laughs while the guards bicker and scowl at one another:
YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE MAD TO WORK IN INTERMUNDIA SECURITY – BUT IT HELPS!
In the next image, apparently a non-sequitur, the Arrival has joined forces with a group of plucky young adults and a dog to foil some kind of criminal scheme, mastermined by a villian who wears purple robes and a turban with a Uraeus. The gang laugh while the humiliated villian is lead away by the temporarily non-bumbling security guards:
MANY ADVENTURES TO BE ENJOYED ON ROUTE TO CENTRAL COMMAND!
The Arrival is next seated in genial conversation with his Case Officer. The figure of Marlene is represented by a coarse caricature: her breasts spill out over her top, and swimming eyes suggest an alcoholic stupor. An anatomist's skeleton hangs in the far corner of the office:
NOW ALL YOUR QUESTIONS ARE ANSWERED, IT'S TIME TO RELAX – JUST THINK OF THE INTERIM AS A HOLIDAY WHERE YOU NEVER LEAVE THE AIRPORT!
The next image is the most expansive in the narrative, and depicts the Arrival remembering his last incarnation. His is seated, assumably in the restaurant of the Intermundia Overnight, flanked by a waiter with his head respectfully bowed. The Arrival's hands, palms upturned, lie at either side of the plate. His eyes look aloft, and the open-mouthed, awestruck expression evinces an air of profound epiphany which is peculiarly haunting in the context of the leaflet's drab colours and perfunctionary draughtsmanship. The scenes of his life appear in the form of compressed cliches in a series of smaller bubbles that surround this image. Beaming parents cradle a new-born infant; scenes of a flawlessly happy childhood; the line of trees that mark the edge of the lawn, beyond which a vast world and an endless surfeit of time looms like an extension of the womb; in the afternoon, children's voices soar up from a near-by school, and in the evening the sun sets over hilly meadows and haunted trees; games and high jinks on a muddy field, tears and a grazed knee in a concrete schoolyard; adolescence: a group of boys in an alleyway watch a group of girls walk by, the girls' heads high and aloof, the boy's eyes imploring their receding forms like winsome dogs begging for scraps; college: parents, proud and bittersweet, wave to the young man seated in a train carriage, embarking on the adventure of adulthood; first love, disappointments, challenges; marriage, children, money, time speeding up and space narrowing; now the man sees his own children off to college; aging, struggling with an addiction, hospitals, test results; the autumn of life: a return to the hilly meadows and haunted trees, children's voices rising up from a near-by school, memories and dreams stirring strange echoes, realer than the fading days that surround them; death: his body laid to rest, frail wife and grown-up children by his side; in the final bubble, he has re-awoken in the Intermundia terminal, stark fear and disorientation, forgetfulness once again. These images wheel around the scene in the Intermundia Overnight, the awestruck Arrival and the solemn waiter who is perhaps merely solicitous of a tip:
NOW, HAVING REMEMBERED ALL THE BITTERSWEET GRANDEUR OF LIFE – IT'S TIME TO BOOK YOUR FLIGHT AND BECOME A NEW YOU!
The final panel is a double image: the Arrival and his Case Officer embrace in the terminal; an airplane ascends into the blue sky:
YOUR PLANE HAS SET ITS COURSE FOR THE OVUM – A NEW LIFE AND A NEW ADVENTURE BEGINS!
'Well, thanks, that's a great help', Mark said sourly, stuffing the leaflet into his pocket alongside his passport. Marlene turned briskly from her typewriter, her upper lip curving into an inquisitive pout. Then she lit another cigarette and resumed the trance of her work. Renton gave a final kindly nod, and the door between them closed. Back in the stairwell, the outside world reasserted itself. The boisterous clatter of the bantering guards had risen to a steady hum, beneath which the fountains maintained their placid and timeless falling and refilling. He went gingerly down the stairs, grinning broadly. After all the stresses of the day, the release of the alcohol had turned his mood to that of a carefree, childlike stupor. A woman appeared, mounting the stairs at a reluctant pace. Her body was immobile, like a sack that she lifted from step to step, with the only sign of vitality a spasmodic twitching of her facial muscles. Unable to look her in the eyes, Mark patted her gently on the shoulder as he passed. 


Outside on the concourse, the night sky had grown pitch black, and the primary illumination of the street came from the slowly diminishing droves of airplanes that passed overhead. Unruly stars, they painted the fountains and revellers in an undulating flow of flashing oranges and reds that made the world feel unstable and intoxicated. The strange and indolent loafers remained seated at the terraces. They were now drinking coffees and liqueurs. They watched the scene from the disaffected vantage of some immeasurable distance, and their manners had become so dilatory as to suggest that they were images projected from an entirely separate time-stream. Mark wandered into the crowd, looking for Eddie and Giacomo. He went from fountain to fountain for what seemed like an age. The faces of the security guards were terrifying in their explosive gaiety, and he experienced an unexpectedly poignant longing to see his old companions, to find again those faces which alone had become familiar to him in this strange landscape.
Finally, the duo accosted him. In their tipsiness, Eddie and Giacomo were utterly transformed, to the point that they appeared to have exchanged personalities. Eddie was now the more overbearing and assertive of the two, speaking with a brusque, booming voice. Giacomo, in contrast, had lost all his surly and arrogant demeanour. He smiled placidly, and seemed to follow Eddie like a shy, happy child.
Eddie put two bottles of beer in Mark's pockets. 'We better get a move on,' he said, 'we have to get you to the Overnight.' So the they started the journey back the way they had came, swigging from a bottle as they careened into the dark and chilly woodland, among the last stragglers of the day's Arrivals. The journey back was infused with a new kind of strangeness, for Mark observed the terrain in a piecemeal and impressionistic character, from the elevated and temporary vantage of alcoholic sagehood. Stripped of its frightening and bewildering intensity, Intermundia presented itself as a series of ineffable dream paintings, a nighttime gallery where all the walls and frames had vanished, leaving the artworks to press together into an indivisible sequence of wonders and oddities.
At the newsagents, the journalists were emerging from their hammocks, wiping their eyelids and yawning, preparing themselves for another night of wakefulness in which they would wander about, gathering their trove of fugitive images and impressions to scatter in an altered guise in the news headlines of the next day. The homes of the technocrats were now illuminated by soft, warm lamps and dancing gas fires that gave the surrounding trees a reddish glow. Some of the technocrats reclined in studies, drinking wine from goblets and turning the pages of books while their eyes scanned the far distance. Couples were seated in living rooms, and Mark felt as though they spoke to one-another, but their lips didn't move, and the impression of conversation was conveyed by the intensity of their eye-contact. Others had retired to the up-stairs bedrooms and were sleeping. Above the their beds, flatscreen TV panels played hypnotic sequences of intricate and iridescent gemetric patterns that ebbed and flowed into one-another in slow, musical rhythms. Their colours were unlike any that Mark could associate with any earthly thing, and the casual ingenuity and complexity of their evanescent designs beggared belief. 'Those are the dreams of the Technocrats,' Eddie whispered, 'what strange minds they must have.' 'I had a dream like that once, ' Giacomo said, and Eddie flashed him a quick, troubled look.
As they went deeper into the woods, all the planes had ceased their courses, and the sky was starless and moonless. 'How do you know the way?' Mark asked Eddie. 'I've done it so many times, it's like the back of my hand,' Eddie replied, before colliding with a tree. The still, blank deep darkness of the sky troubled Mark. He realized for the first time how accustomed he'd grown the distant roaring of the airplane engines. 'Here we are, ' Eddie announced, and he crouched down and began to lift the steel covering of the manhole. He motioned Giacomo to be go first, and then it was Mark's turn. Finally the three of them were scurrying down the pitch darkness of the shaft with miraculous alacrity. Back in the strange abandoned work-station, their mood became pensive and subdued. Eddie spoke in a whisper: 'Sometimes I think I can figure everything out – that this world is something I can understand. I get very caught up in that feeling for awhile – the feeling like there is a story underlying all these places, a pattern that I can trace out. But every time the excitement eventually fizzles out, and I go back to thinking about what I'm going to have for dinner when I get home. I often wonder what this place was. It seems like everybody left all of a sudden, in a terrible hurry.'
Giacomo, regarding Eddie intensely , replied: 'I grew up a long way away from here. When I was younger, I hated the airport, and I wanted to get away from it. So one night in the bar I was drinking by myself, and I heard these two old pilots talking about the Greenbelt. My ears pricked up, and it was like a hidden world had finally been revealed to me. So after that, I was always listening, always looking for scraps of information about the Greenbelt. And it was like a secret that I knew, and a place both real and unreal at the same time, and I used to dream about it. And whenever I encountered older fellers, who looked like they'd seen a lot of Intermundia, I always asked them when they had wine glowing in their eyes if they'd ever been as far as the 'Belt. And some of them laughed, and some of them looked at me like I was a criminal. But early one morning, I was drinking with one of the vendors, an ancient, wiry fella who always had a weird, faraway expression, like half of his mind was at a dance with the faeries, and I asked him, and he smiled, and his big, deep smile came from that same faraway place, and I knew I finally had an answer in the affirmative. And I put my hand on his shoulder, and whispered How do you get there? And he raised his long, thin arm, and pointed to the west, and said: Keep going straight in that direction and you'll get to the Greenbelt. You can't veer off course, cause the Belt is vast, so if you keep going that way, you can't fail to wander into the middle of it. But the thing is that it's far, far away. Further away than you can imagine. I looked at him, and around the bar, and I looked out at the runways, at the planes departing and arriving, departing and arriving. And I finished my drink, and I started walking in the direction he'd pointed, and I could hear his laugher behind me.'


'Well, that was the beginning of my quest to find the Greenbelt. I lived as a vagrant, scrounging around for money and places to sleep, always on the move. At first I used to sleep in the parking lots, in back of a truck or sometimes inside a car if the door had been left unlocked. Other times I'd go to an Overnight and try to pass myself off as an Arrival. You'd get away with it in some, and in others catch all kinds of hell from the manager. And I kept moving onwards all the time, going straight in the direction that the wiry old vendor had pointed, counting the terminals that I passed each day, and it was always exactly the same thing, again and again: the terminals, the Overnights, the parking lots, the old estates like the ones that we grew up in, the same thing over and over again. Everybody knows that Intermundia is the same thing everywhere, but I don't think you really believe it unless you spend a long time travelling in a straight line. It does things to your mind, that's for sure. And the more the endless monotony drove me to distraction, the more I dreamed about the Greenbelt – the richer, greener, wilder and realer it became in my imagination. The only thing I really looked forward to was sleep, because every night, without fail, I went straight to the Greenbelt, straight to freedom, straight to a place where you could luxuriate in the unpredictable and the unruly, a place without schedules and repetition, a place where being lost was the normal condition because there was no starting point to find your way back to, where all there was to do was wander about in a wondrous daze, a haunted surrender from one adventure and one inexplicable prodigy to the next.'
'And sometimes I thought maybe that's all the Greenbelt was – the dreams you had while you were trying to get there. But I didn't lose faith and I kept moving – moving all the time. And I often fell into the company of Malingerers, because they were the most sympathetic to a vagrant like myself. They'd give me money or food, or let me have a few drinks on them. The Malingerers had all kinds of strange ideas about Intermundia, and I think part of the reason why they bought me drinks was because they wanted to grill me about what really goes on here. And I always told them that I was as wise as they were, and that only the Technocrats and the Case Officers really knew what Intermundia was all about, and maybe even they didn't know. And then they'd ask me about the pilots, and maybe they knew, and I said no, the pilots don't know anything. I'd grilled the pilots myself about what happens up the air, and they told me that they just fly up and up until they get to the Ovum, and the Ovum is like a blinding ball of pure light, and when they get nearer to the Ovum they start to go into a trance, and the next thing they know they're flying back and the plane is empty except for the stewardesses. And I grilled the Malingerers about the Greenbelt, and a lot of them had fascinating information about it, and one of them told me that Malingerers who stay long enough in Intermundia always go the Greenbelt, and that it was Malingerers who founded the city in the 'Belt in the first place. But to this day, the wiry vendor was the only person I've ever met who said he'd actually been there.'
'And on and on I kept going, passing through the same thing again and again. Every once in a very long stretch, you'd come upon the enclaves where the pilots lived – amazing tree-lined estates with beautiful big houses not like anything you'd ever imagine. And they had swimming pools and beautiful wives and servants, and your eyes would get drunk just looking at the lives they lead – the air felt different there, somehow. But then you were back into the grid – back in the endless succession of terminals and overpasses and Overnights – and it almost felt like the same people, and you'd get the fear that you might run into yourself eventually. It got to the point where I could predict which Overnight managers wouldn't ask questions, and which ones would be loony cases like old Digsby – it was like the different personalities were also laid out in a mathematical grid, like we were the same as the buildings and the lots and the Overnights, the same thing again and again. I don't know how long I was searching for the Greenbelt – three years anyway, maybe four or five. Eventually, I stopped dreaming about the 'Belt, and then my nights were the same as my days, the same grind and repetition. And one day, just as suddenly as I'd started off, I stopped right at our terminal, and the next day they put me working with you.'
The pair fell silent after Giacomo's long speech, and they emerged into the train station in the vast cavern beneath the brooding and inscrutable limestone face.
'What's the Greenbelt?' Mark asked.
Eddie, beginning to sober up, was gruff and dismissive: 'It's supposed be a huge area of parks and woodland, and there is a city in the interior where there are no rules, and every possible pleasure and indulgence and vice is freely indulged. It's a made up place, a tale people have been whispering to themselves all these many years.'
Giacomo seemed unconvinced, and he lifted his arm slowly, and pointed it to the west, into the darkness where the train track receded from visibility.


They sobered up on the train, and Mark watched their reflections in the mirror as each returned to his habitual disposition: Eddie to his harried but cheerful obsequiousness, Giacomo to his sleepy arrogance, and Mark to his own suspicious detachment. His introspective mood was interrupted by the appearance of an old man wheeling a tea trolley through the carriage. The man had a lean, lank frame and a thin, wrinkled face whose expression suggested a choleric and senile disposition. It occurred to Mark that he would like a cup of tea, but as soon as the old man registered their presence, his eyes became livid and a torrent of words issued from his mouth like steam from a boiling kettle: 'I WOULDN'T SPIT ON THEM! I WOULDN'T SPIT ON THEM! TELL ME TO PACK UP MY STUFF AND GO HOME, AFTER I'D ALREADY GREASED ME OXTERS AND PUT ON MY OVERALLS! I WOULDN'T SPIT ON THEM! DISRESPECTED BILLY WHEN THEY HADN'T EVEN PUT HIM IN THE GROUND YET, SAID THE CHILD DIDN'T COME FROM BILLY, THAT IT WAS FROM ONE OF THE CARNY MEN WHO RAN THE WHIRLIGIG OR THE CLAW MACHINE! I WOULDN'T SPIT ON THEM!
He continued past their table, the wheels of the trolley whining and his own limbs creaking as he went, turning back occasionally to glare at them and reiterate his total renunciation of whatever party had been the subject of his vituperative outburst. Eddie smirked dryly: 'Ernie's been on the trolley too long.'

Emerging from the underground station, it seemed at first as though the terminal was completely empty. Their footsteps echoed in the looming silence of its red corridors and vast atriums. A petroleum cathedral of the restless modern spirit, the airport had an eerie beauty in its empty and torpid hours. The windows that overlooked the runways were pitch back, projecting a reflection of the observation decks and their rows of empty seating into the night, and creating the ambience of a structure suspended intact in a great void, its purpose elusive and forgotten. Out on the main floor of the terminal, however, they encountered groups of night workers who had finished their shift. They smoked cigarettes and chatted in little groups, conveying the palpable air of contentment which attends the daily cessation of long toils. The morning staff were also arriving, blear-eyed and withdrawn, embodying the contrary mood of grey lethargy and depression which commences the cycle.
Outside, the motorway was all but silent, and the rooftop lettering of the Intermundia Overnight shone bright red against the blackness of the sky. A handful of the conservatories still had their lights on, and figures sat in the wicker chairs or paced the narrow space back and forth. Mark and his companions reached the front steps of the Overnight, and paused at its revolving door. Eddie looked at Mark with a mournful expression. 'Well,' he finally spoke, 'this is where we leave you. It's not the nicest place on earth. The food is very fresh, though – you can be sure the tin was opened that day! Old Digsby has his moods, but he means well. But anyway, no need to worry – you'll be leaving us in no time, going up there, ' his hand pointed up 'faraway from this place. Its been a real pleasure, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay.' They shook hands. Giacomo shrugged and yawned. For a couple of seconds, it appeared as though Eddie was reluctant to go and wanted to say something else, but then he turned awkwardly and the pair sauntered away across the motorway in the direction of the terminal. Mark watched them until they were no longer visible, and then, with little other options, he entered the Intermundia Overnight.

Continued Shortly (Art by George Tooker and Remedios Varo.)

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Intermundia Airport. (Chapter 5).




The office was compact and spare, with white walls, green carpet and a faint, yellowish light which was more apt to bedside reading than clerical work. Renton had a modest desk with a green deco-style lamp, some papers and an ancient looking rotary telephone. A secretary was seated at a smaller desk at the far side of the door, typing and smoking. She had sleek black hair, pale, almost translucent skin, green eyes and full lips whose redness startled the nameless man. She had the strange quality of eroticism and inertia which he found characteristic of the technocrats. He glanced at her as Renton ushered him into the office, but her attention remained fixed and distant, exhaling a plume of smoke that shrouded her face in the dim light.
Renton, in contrast, exuded concern and conviviality. He saw the nameless man to his seat and sat down opposite, studying him with a physician's earnest and helpful gaze. The nameless man's first impulse was to lean over the desk and attempt to throttle him, but Renton's air of suave civility was disarming. They sat regarding one another for a moment, the only sound in the office the steady clack of the typewriter and a distant hum of machinery. Finally, Renton spoke in a gentle, mellifluous accent:
'Well, you don't seem too bad, all things considered. It's a difficult process, but you seem to be bearing up to it. Do you remember anything?'
'Nothing.'
'Nothing at all? Even your name?'
'Nothing.'
Renton looked down at the nameless man's breast pocket.
'Did you check your passport?'
The nameless man reached into his pocket and found, to his astonishment, a passport. He opened the document and studied it. The picture was of the stranger whom he'd discovered in the terminal to be himself: the same timid features, pale blue eyes and sandy hair. Though much of the passport was written in a language unfamiliar to him, there was a name beneath the photograph: MARK WILLIAM SMITH.
'So my name is Mark Smith?'
'Yes', Renton beamed.
'It sounds made up.'
'Well, aren't all names?'
Mark turned to glance briefly at the secretary, who continued typing impassively, then back to Renton.
'What's she writing?'
'Oh, I wouldn't worry about that, it has nothing to do with our situation. Her presence here is largely theatrical. She is here because you expect her to be here. The environment, you see, is responsive to archetypal patterns of memory, and she corresponds to a wider complex of expectations. But she is working, of course, we're not wasteful. As to what she is working on, well, suppose that somebody, somewhere, is subject to an idea or an impression which seems to emerge out of the thin air – a strange, fugitive notion which doesn't derive from their own experiences or thought processes. Where do these notions come from? Well, it might be that such things are simply a mystery, or it might be that whenever a person experiences such an idea or impression, in some other place a secretary like Marlene there is dutifully typing up the crux of the matter, and her typewriter is in a sense a transmitting device.'
Mark turned back to regard Marlene again. She didn't show the slightest awareness that they were discussing her, and continued to work as though she were alone in the room. She typed with an extraordinary rapidity and lack of apparent mental exertion, as though a text were being dictated to her. She exhaled her cigarette, and her features were lost again in the slowly curling plume of smoke. Mark swung back to face Renton.
'What is this place? You have to tell me what's going on here.'
'Oh, of course, that's what I'm here for. But I can assure you that you just won't believe me at first. That's why I want you to promise that you won't actively resist what I'm about to tell you – you will, at least for awhile, indulge me, and entertain what I'm telling you. The process is difficult, but it will run more smoothly if you do just that much.'
'You want me to believe whatever you tell me?'
'No, I didn't say that. I'm not saying that you must accept what I'm telling you – only that you should entertain it. How else does one come to believe things, anyway? It seems to me that, when approached without preconceptions, all things must be equally fantastical and difficult to credit. The everyday is really only those fantastical things which impinge upon our attention with the more boorish persistence. So we acquire our beliefs by entertaining more or less queer notions, until such a time as their reality becomes undeniable. This is what will happen to you in Intermundia Airport.'
'Well, go ahead then.'
Renton opened a drawer in his desk and produced a bottle of whiskey and two glasses. He poured two measures and gently pushed a glass in Mark's direction.
'Well, there's good news and bad news, Mark. Let's start with the bad news. You are recently deceased.'
'I'm what?'
Renton's face and the timbre of his voice sank in an actorly modulation to condolence.
'You recently died. I'm very sorry.'
His face brightened almost instantaneously, and he stretched out his arms in an expansive gesture:
'But take cheer, Mark, the good news should be rather obvious by now: the rumours of death's finality have clearly been grossly exaggerated!'
Mark gaped at the strange bureaucrat, then took the glass and gulped back its contents. The whiskey burned his throat and he felt an intense wave of nausea grip his body. When this passed, he felt an involuntary, light-headed calmness.
'So my is name is Mark Smith and I'm dead?'
'Well, more or less, but not quite. Do you have any memory of the concept of reincarnation or transmigration?'
'The words are familiar but I don't know what they mean.'
'Well, they mean basically that a person leads many different lives. When they die, it's really not the end but only a new beginning. Night falls, and they must go to sleep, but the sun will rise again in the morning, and they also to a new life, a new round of pleasures and pains and all the strange business and exigencies of life, with only a fleeting awareness here and there that they have done it all before, many, many times. So you are Mark Smith, but you are also that unitary principle – let's call it a soul for convenience – which has persisted through all these myriad prior incarnations. But Mark Smith is dead, and will linger on only for a short while in this intermediate condition, until such time as you let him go, and go back to do it all again in a new identity.'
'Do you really expect me to believe any of this?'
'Well, I told you already you wouldn't at first. But, Mark, you have to be honest with yourself – you've surely had some suspicion or intimation about what was going on here all along. What other explanation, really, is tenable, for all the things you have seen today?'
'Okay, lets say I go along with you, for argument's sake. Where is this place?'
Renton sighed, and poured another glass of whiskey for Mark.
'Well, that's rather a difficult question. This is no place, really. We are currently occupying – if you'll permit the rather loose use of the term – a realm outside of space and time. What you might have called a void or a vacuum, if those words ring any bells.'
'So there is no time or space here?'
'Right!'
'And yet we're sitting on chairs, talking. And there is a clock on the wall.'
'Well, yes, it is a little difficult to wrap one's head around at first. Logic, you see, is a formalized property of time and space. Once one steps outside those parameters, such niceties as the law of non-contradiction are no longer applicable. Let me try to sketch out the territory to make things a little clearer for you. Time and space is the natural element of the human soul. When one incarnation ends and the physical body dies, the soul is extracted from its natural medium, rather like a fish taken out of water. And this process is very traumatic, very perilous, to the soul. There is a danger that the soul will lose its integrity and continuity – that its sense of self-identity will be obliterated in the immensity of the void. The fish, after all, dies in the upper world, just as the human drowns in the depths of the ocean. Luckily, however, the soul has evolved a fail-safe mechanism to maintain its integrity. That mechanism resides in the persistence of habit and memory. The soul continues to do in the void precisely what it did in the physical world, albeit with only its memories to replace the world itself.'
'Meaning what, exactly?'
'Are you aware of the concept of the phantom limb?'
Mark shook his head.
'It is a curious medical phenomenon. Say that a person loses a limb – an arm or a leg – in some catastrophe. After the amputation, perhaps continuing for a period of years, the person is haunted by the sensory conviction that the absent limb is still extant. Now logically, of course, they know that this is not the case, but experientially, the sensation is exactly as though an arm or leg were present. So what is happening? Well, we must assume that the brain, following its habitual interactions with the nervous system, is projecting the absent member's continuity over the void which has replaced it. Though indistinguishable from the sensation of real flesh and blood, it is but a memory of neurons and nerve-endings, a maudlin artifice of mechanistic biology.'
'Well, that's very interesting, but what's the relevance to me?'
'Well, the relevance, Mark, is that your physical body is dead and faraway from here. The body that you currently inhabit is an eidolon composed entirely of memory. There is no flesh, no corpuscles, not a single material atom in your entire frame – only a memory of the last body your soul inhabited, maintained by habit and projected onto the emptiness of the void.'
Mark took the glass and swallowed the second measure of whiskey. After another wave of nausea and elation, he patted his knees lightly and pressed his palms together.
'Well, it all feels very – solid and tangible to me.'
'Yes, it is absolutely the same – on an experiential level – as having a physical body. But it is made of your thoughts, simply clumped together into a localized and continuous form by force of habit. The entire reality of Intermundia – your own body, and everything which you can see and touch around you – is of a mental rather than physical constitution. Like a dream, in a sense. It is a rather disorientating thing to get your head around at first, but really I wouldn't dwell on it too much – it's business as usual, to all intents and purposes.'
Mark had a strong sense that he should have been arguing with Renton, expressing his disbelief vociferously, and demanding that the bureaucrat spare him further nonsense, and come to the truth of the matter. However, he was exhausted and becoming more than a little drunk, and he had to concede that he'd been troubled throughout the day by an intimation that Intermundia was some kind of non-ordinary reality, or, more precisely, a hyperreality which carried with it disquieting associations with universality and death. Though he was not quite persuaded by Renton, he found himself hypnotized by the bureaucrat's peculiar mixture of dry civility and erudite madness. He found, in short, that he was playing along.
'So all this place is made up of my memories?'
'No, not your memories. Your own body, that is a product is of your individual memory. The environment, on the other hand, is a product of collective memory. It is generated by all the souls that pass through here. Let's say that the soul in this place is in transition between two distinct states of being. Now the soul simply can't process that experience in its raw state. The whole thing is just too unfamiliar, too alien and jarring. So the soul does what it habitually does when faced with the unknown and unknowable – it translates them into something familiar and comprehensible. Now the soul, in each particular epoch, has an iconic or archetypal image which encapsulates the idea of transition from one state to another. In the epoch prior to yours, it was a boatman ferrying the traveller across a gloomy subterranean river. For people who lived and died in your era, the over-lit and mechanized airport is the perfect communal image to encapsulate the idea of transition. So this world in which we find ourselves is partially true and partially imaginary. It is a concretized communal memory and a metaphor. How does it feel to ramble around in a metaphor?'
Mark pored himself a third drink.
'The trains are better in fables.'
Renton issued a loud boom of laughter.
'Yes, well, in some respects it really is remarkable how detailed and consistent this world is, considering that it is at bottom a shared hallucination. But it has its...little quirks and foibles, as you have no doubt noticed.'
'What exactly am I supposed to do here, anyway?'
'That's more of the good news. You don't really have to do anything. Just rest up. Recuperate. Take stock. Get ready for another go at it. Your memories will come back to you very shortly. Generally, they come all in one instant. Well, for some people, the process is slower and more piecemeal. But generally speaking, it's all in a flash. And you have to prepare yourself for that. It is a very emotionally overwhelming experience. You'll need a little time, after that, a little rest. And then, well, you're ready to book yourself a flight. Ready to be born again. We've booked you into the Intermundia Overnight for your Interim. It's not ideal.....but perfectly adequate.'
'But, who are you, exactly?'
'Well, I'm Renton, your case officer.'
'I mean, what are you? Who do you represent?'
'Lets just say that we are dutiful functionaries – we are here to insure that the process runs along smoothly. We are here to help.'
'And that's all you are prepared to say about it?'
'Yes.'
'Well, are you a person?'
Renton's face became momentarily blank and expressionless.
'No.'
Mark's head began to swim, and it was though as the world were a signal subject to electromagnetic static, with Renton's immobile face a still centre around which everything else buzzed and shimmered out of focus. The bureaucrat's features brightened again.
'I am personable though!'
He rose from his seat.
'Well, I think that's more than enough for our first session together. Who knows, perhaps it will be our last? The guards will escort you back to the terminal you arrived at, and you can get yourself settled into the Overnight. Show the fish a wide berth! Take everything nice and easy, and I promise you will be on your way back to the world of the living in no time!'
Renton shook Mark's hand, and began to guide him gently towards the door, but Mark paused and eyed him suspiciously.
'You said when I came in that we'd met many times before.'
'Yes, I'm your case officer, Mark.'
'But you also said that there was no time here. So how could we have met many times before?'
Renton smiled indulgently.
'You really shouldn't concern yourself overmuch with the physics – or rather mentalics – of Intermundia. However, you are correct in a sense. From your perspective, we have met many times before. From mine, it would be more accurate to say that we are meeting many times. Elsewhere in Intermundia, I am currently meeting all of your past selves, and all of those to come. So you see that we really are very old friends, Mark.'

Monday, April 9, 2018

Intermundia Airport (Chapter 4).



They walked unhurried through the woods in silence, the nameless man at the centre and the quarrelsome security guards at either side. The faces of Eddie and Giacomo were fixed on the path ahead, while that of the nameless man swivelled this way and that, as though his eyes, like darting, skittish squirrels, were eager to consume every morsel of the woodland scene. The peculiarly archetypal quality of his memories reached a new pitch of intensity, and walking through the rooted, restive languor of the trees, it was though he remembered all silence, all peace, every sustained mystic caesura in the ordeal of life's intensity, every loll between every crashing tide, every moment where the child's apprehension of a bounteous, enchanted world returned unbidden and eerie, a flash of memory that stirs a thousand scintillations in a darkened pool. 
 
There is an old book you saw when you were a child, he thought, that told the story of your life. The book is about two orphans, a boy and girl, who flee the witch's cave where they have been imprisoned, and embark on a journey on the Long and Winding Road. Along the Road, the boy and girl have many adventures, encountering strange characters like the Peacock of Plenty and the Sneaky Serpent. The Peacock tells them that if they follow the Road to it's termination, they will find a place called the Pasture of Plenty; there boys and girls lay down their heads in peace, and dream enchanted dreams. (The Serpent whispers sibilantly that the Pasture is nothing but a garden of stones.) Before they reach the Pasture, the witch catches up with the boy and girl, and puts them under an enchantment which separates them. The spell also causes them to forget forever their adventures on the Long and Winding Road, and their quest for the Pasture of Plenty. So when the boy and girl grow to adulthood, they meet by chance, and the girl remembers but the boy does not. And once more, now in old age, they meet again, and this time the boy remembers but the girl does not.....

As they drew nearer to Central Command, the great solitude of the wood slowly yielded its intimations of timeless quietude back to the frenetic activity of Intermundia Airport. Eddie nudged him, and pointed to their left: some distance away, another New Arrival was emerging out of a man-hole, accompanied by security guards. The further they went, the more this scene was repeated all around them. Once again, it was an exact facsimile of his own prior experience: the New Arrivals emerged from the darkness of the shaft and looked with awe at the scene around them, while the grinning security guards wiped their gleaming brows after the arduous climb. In Intermundia, it was as though a single sequence of events were infinitely repeated, and arranged spatially so that it kept encountering itself at different junctures of the sequence. 
 
The sun had fallen now in the sky, giving the trees and the people emerging from the underground a luminescence and vividness of presence that made the whole scene feel realer than reality, like a super-imposition of dreaming and wakefulness that annulled and transcended both states, a perceptual clarity out of time and equidistant to life and death. New Arrivals and guards approached them, on route back from Central Command. The guards smiled and nodded casually to Eddie and Giacomo; the New Arrivals, haunted by whatever they had learned from their case officers, avoided eye contact. 
 
The woodland began to thin out into clearings, and they entered the world of the technocrats. He noticed their houses first, built seamlessly into the rolling terrain of the wood. In this context, they were peculiarly spartan and geometrical. Square and rectangular walls of glass in shells of rough concrete, they revealed the whole of their multi-level domestic spaces to passers by, making them more like art installations than homes. The interior of the houses had refined the contrivances of living to an abstract functionality which nevertheless betrayed a kind of alien sensibility, as though the proportions and precise angles of their cold, grey furnishings were designed to appeal to a sensibility only tangentially related to that of the human. Their aesthetic adornments were peculiar and unsettling: the living room of one featured a large flat screen television, on which a fire blazed silently. Faces appeared intermittently in the fire, their expressions wide-eyed and apprehensive.

Most of the technocrats were at work, and in their absence maids and butlers were busy maintaining the homes in a kind of pristine order that gave them their air of idealized and abstracted sculpture. Here and there, however, he saw technocrats relaxing in their homes. Seated in white robes, their features as flawless and blank as the furnishings, they too seemed to have abstracted their existence into an idealized absence, so were they lost in a kind of mineral contemplation, like a species of middle-management mystic. In one house, however, a male technocrat was having intercourse with his maid. The maid, a pale, slender brunette, stood with her hands pinned against the glass while the technocrat thrust against her from behind in staccato bursts. The girl's eyes were wide and her cheeks ruddy and flushed, but the expression of the technocrat remained distant and disengaged, as though contemplating a mathematical problem. Regarding the scene as he passed, Eddie reddened and giggled like a school boy. Giacomo looked away with a sullen expression. 
 
Having passed through the residential section of the wood, they now entered a commercial district where the technocrats gathered in groups and took their lunches. The walls of the luncheon booths were cunningly embroidered with moss and hanging verdure, giving them the appearance of sylvan bowers from some quaint woodland romance. The waiters belonged to the same plebeian class as the security guards and servants. They served coffees whose rich aromas were infused with subtle, unaccountable spices, and mouth-watering, glazed savouries in vivid, variegated hues that ranged from fleshy, strawberry reds to cerulean and ultramarine blues. Seating had been arranged for the technocrats on the branches of nearby trees. With leaden trays balanced adroitly in their free hands, the waiters climbed up thick ropes which had been woven into the trunk of the trees, passing the beverages and delicacies across to the technocrats seated placidly on the boughs. 
 
Removed from their homes, where they had exhibited a peculiar, almost comatose languor, the technocrats were now more animated in the company of their colleagues. They spoke contently to one another, and the mingling of their sonorous, melodic voices was like a chorus of birds heralding the dawn in a bureaucratic effusion of measured joy. Despite their greater ease, all the technocrats wore that distant, inscrutable smile which he had noted on their colleagues back on the train. They instilled in him an intense mixture of emotions: an attraction towards their flawless and unattainable beauty, and a visceral resentment of their innate, impervious sense of superiority. The beauty and physical grace of each technocrat seemed more luminous and ravishing to the eye than the last, and yet there was something galling and even repulsive about the way in which they barely seemed to register the steady traffic of waiters, guards and New Arrivals that moved about them in a steady stream. It was as though every other class of human were like a species of semi-domesticated wild-life, which familiarity and a lack of perceived threat had long inured them to. 
 
When they had finished their lunches, some of the technocrats wandered over to a nearby newsagent to acquaint themselves with the latest stories. This, however, was a most unusual purveyor of current events. It appeared that the technocrats were too important a class to lower themselves to peruse mere ink and paper documents, and thus a group of about thirty journalists were dispatched to perform the “news” live. Hammocks had been hoisted between bushes and trees, and the recumbent, semi-conscious journalists whispered the contents of their errant, ranging imaginations, while a species of stenographer, patient and resilient of limb, held microphones to their mouths so that the technocrats didn't have to crane their necks to hear the latest events. It was a strange thing to witness as they passed: the deep, low voices of the journalists, collating in a random yet seemingly significant manner the ineffable images and inchoate or untranslatable yearnings of their chasm-separated dream-worlds, while the technocrats, for once divested of their sly grins, exchanged grave, meaningful looks, as though the hushed mental somnambulisms issuing through the microphones did indeed portend to public events that would soon subsume the world. 
 
After this disquieting scene, they entered a more densely wooded area, and began to climb a steepening slope. Almost imperceptibly, they had become a huge, silent throng, he and the other New Arrivals, with their accompanying security guards. He had a presentiment, almost like a specific memory for the first time, that they had reached the last leg of their journey. The sun had fallen behind them now, and the darkening woodland slope was divested of all its crisp, spring enchantment. In its insinuating shadow and abrupt chill, it had become wintry, poised and watchful, a nature not of sporting young, but of looming, predatory threat. The New Arrivals exchanged brief, intense glances to one another, expressions of composed kinship in an agony of uncertainty. He felt as though there was a sound, a low guttural chanting, that rose steadily as they neared Central Command. Then they reached the summit of the cliff, and its immense, sombre structure lay before them. 


 
Central Command was composed of a dizzying array of concrete blocks, slate grey in colour but mottled here and there with sickly blotches of black and rusty copper brown. Cyclopean in scale, the blocks all took rigidly geometric forms, but were arranged in such a dizzyingly asymmetrical jumble as to give the whole structure the appearance of a constantly morphing, improvisatory puzzle, whose every new permutation only made its ultimate solution ever more intractable. A paradoxical kind of stability was attained only by falling water that came down in streams from various points at the apex of the building, mingling together in a concrete moat that surrounded the base. Central Command instilled a feeling of awe and almost cosmic disquiet in the nameless man for two reasons. The first lay in its immemorial air. Though clearly a product of abstract mathematical reasoning, it felt in some irrational but undeniable sense to predate all the surrounding landscape. It was older than the trees, older than the soil and the grass. It was as though the woodland had been fashioned upon its stark primordial base, a riotous plunge into the freedom or decadence of the organic and sentient. It was a uniquely frightening presentiment, he thought, to discover the hidden seat of an antediluvian bureaucracy. 
 
The second reason for his unease was the conviction that he had been here, and felt all these precise intimations, before. Having finally grown accustomed to his amnesiac condition, to the distant and impersonal nature of his memories, to suddenly encounter a recollection of something specific to his own prior experience was as uncanny and disorientating as the most profound déjà vu met by a normal constitution. As they drew down the hill, into the looming shadow of Central Command, he felt like a twig swept along in a stream, like a hapless dreamer unable to stir his distant, rigid body to motion. The vast, ageless building worked itself with renewed violence on his mental state. The inhuman chanting increased in its volume and duration; he felt as though it were a vibration emitted by the particular structure of the building, to which his nervous system operated as a tuning fork. He became nauseous and feint as they drew nearer, the sound conjuring to his imagination a vast being, ponderous, inimical and unmoored from all the frailties and compassion of time and space. Finally, they reached the moat's narrow bridge, and he found the clamour and sickness instantly annulled by contemplating the steady serenity of the stream. He leaned over the edge of the bridge, allowing his fraught nerves to merge with the unhurried whisper of the water. 
 
After he had been thus collecting himself for some time, Eddie nudged him gently, and they continued across the bridge. The central facade of Command was a large rectangular pane of tinted glass, through which the hillside and surrounding woodland were reflected. At the base of the pane there were four evenly spaced revolving doors. People streamed into the building through the two doors to the left, and back out through those at the right. As they neared their point of entry, he noted the expressions of the New Arrivals as they exited Central Command. Most were befuddled, nonplussed, haunted; some exhibited a kind of mordant fatalism, as though they had just been initiated into the punchline of an infinite cosmic farce. One chubby, sunburnt Caucasian, bearing all the appearances of an intoxicated tourist, emerged from the revolving door swivel-headed and goggle-eyed, laughing hysterically. Eddie and Giacomo then ushered the nameless man into the turning wing of the door, and they went within. 

In a sharp contrast to its austere and bureaucratic exterior, he found himself in a vast, high-ceilinged vestibule which was far more redolent of an antique mosque or temple. The walls were divided along their full length by horseshoe arches, the floors and walls decorated with a series of intricately beautiful mosaics. These mosaic patterns, like the equations of some ecstatic physicist, felt as though they embodied the ultimate abstract simplicity underlying all the world's variegated appearances. The colours of the lower sections were airy blues and yellows, gradually deepening to otherworldly twilight hues as the structure ascended to a domed ceiling, whose prismatic, honeycombed pattern resembled the visionary transports of the opium or hashish eater at the apex of his debauch. 

Though the vestibule itself embodied an atmosphere of pious tranquillity, the scene within was an unstinting babble and bustle of bodies going this direction and that. Those who had presently arrived formed queues at a series of arched alcoves on the wall adjacent to the entrance. The security guards were then greeted by technocratic secretaries seated at their desks in the alcoves. The secretaries administered tickets to them, and the guards escorted their Arrivals to specific alcoves along the left wall, wherein they disappeared through little doors and stairwells. This continuous traffic of people going into the alcoves progressed on the left side of the vestibule, whilst on the right the same volume were emerging from beneath the arches and making their way towards the exit doors. Betwixt all this ceaseless motion, a large pool of water lay serene and motionless, reflecting the prismatic honeycomb of the ceiling.

When they arrived at the desk, Eddie rooted around in his pockets, finally producing, after much scowling from Giacomo, a perfect golden orb which was about the size of a marble. The sight of the golden ball produced in the nameless man a sharp start, like an electrical shock. Eddie passed the golden orb to a secretary who promptly deposited it on a small weighing scale which stood atop a narrow, green-tinted ticket machine. The orb made a delicate chiming sound as it struck the pan, and the scale tilted very slightly. A ticket issued instantly from the machine, which the secretary passed to Eddie. An attendant took the orb from the pan and disappeared down a stairwell to the rear of the alcove. Eddie looked at the ticket and grinned. 



'You've got Renton', he said, 'he's a wonderful case officer, a very conscientious man.'
They made their way to the left wall, and crouched into a tiny alcove. Within the alcove, there was a smaller arch, obscured by a curtain. To the right of the curtain, a slender, feeble-looking old man with taut, dessicated brown skin sat in attendance. The old man smoked a cigarette and gazed listlessly at a cruciform board game arranged on a mat at his feet. Eddie handed him the ticket, and the old man placed it in his mouth, swirling it around his toothless jaws as though apprehensive of swallowing. Finally, the ticket passed down his gullet with a clicking sound, and he stood up and lifted the curtain for them, revealing the entrance to a spiral staircase. 'Show us your tongue, Jobim,' Giacomo said with a cruel grin as they passed through. The old man opened his mouth, and a pitch black tongue protruded from it. He leered at the nameless man with the callow spitefulness of a school girl. His face then re-composed itself, and he resumed his seat, cigarette and board game with a kind of mournful dignity. 'Jobim's diet is just the ticket!' Eddie said, causing the two guards to explode with laughter as the curtain fell back behind them. 

As they began their descent of the staircase, the nameless man noted that the walls were decorated with posters. In contrast to the abstract and often inscrutable images and slogans that adorned the terminal, these posters were more straight-forward and consistent in their message. Each one showed New Arrivals consulting with their case officers. The officers were invariably depicted as kindly, capable figures, and the whole scene suggested a reassuring visit to the village GP. The Arrivals, he divined from the posters, were grappling with a personal state of affairs referred to as their “Interim.” YOUR CASE OFFICERS ARE HERE, announced one, TO HELP YOU MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR INTERIM!
YOUR INTERIM SHOULD BE A RELAXING TIME, said another, LET YOUR CASE OFFICER PUT YOUR MIND AT EASE!
Others had a slightly more insistent tone: CO-OPERATE WITH YOUR CASE OFFICER, AND YOU'LL BE ON YOUR WAY IN NO TIME!
THE INTERIM IS SHORT – DON'T WASTE YOUR CASE OFFICER'S TIME – OR YOUR OWN!
At every circuit of the staircase, they passed another curtained entrance where more guards were emerging with their charges. He paused, leaning over the bannister to look down. The staircase wound its way in layers down to a darkened central point, and evenly spaced groups moved down the spiral like the hands of a fractured clock.
'Do we have far to go to get to Renton?' he asked.
'It's a ways yet,' Eddie said with a kindly expression. They continued their descent. 



At the bottom, they passed swifty through a circular chamber, and entered a vast cavern which they traversed along an elevated footbridge. The first thing that captured the nameless man's attention in the cavern was an eerie and ambient wash of sounds. The predominant texture was a thrilling, melodious rush of tones, a steady rise and fall of glissandos, as though from a great forest of chime trees, glockenspiel and timpani. He became lost in that sound for a time; it stirred in him a sequence of intense, contrary emotions which were so absorbing that he first forgot where he was, and after that each proceeding emotional totality which the sequence moved through. He felt, by turns, the deep placidity of a warm, drowsy infant, the ravenous, instinctive appetite of a beast, the intellectual transports of a scholar and the wordless ecstasies of a sage, the loneliness of old age and abandonment, the omniscience of a god and the blank, mindless patience of a spider, and on and on, until he came to again. Now he noted that the chiming sounds were underscored by hissing, crackling waves of electromagnetic static. This background white noise was punctuated by fragments of old big band music: ballads, waltzes and foxtrots that must once had accompanied great swellings of the heart and the loins, and great sinkings of the soul into jealous rancour and self-pity, and great forgettings of all things but single moments cleaved out of time's passage and life's care, moments in the bloom of youth that might be recalled later in the ineluctable return of time's passage and life's care, steady and stately itself as a dance; but now the music recalled only a general idea of memory and the past; like old skin, shed, anonymous and unwanted, it faded in and out, dust stirred and dispersed in the poised, unremembering air.

'Where are those sounds coming from?' he asked Eddie. 

'This is where the traffic controllers work', Eddie replied giddily, 'have a look for yourself.' The nameless man leaned over the railings and looked down. It was a significant drop, and the lateral extent of the cavern was difficult to fathom. The scene below was the most staggering example he had yet encountered of Intermundia's perpetual industriousness. The offices of the traffic controllers formed a vast geometric maze, broken into cubes and traversed by pathways. There was about twenty four individual cubical desks in each cube. A plinth was raised at the four corners of every cube, and on each plinth stood a large weighting scale, decorated with heraldic symbols. Controllers worked at their desks and walked to and fro along the pathways with poised, stringent expressions and motions. 
Every controller had at their desks an antiquated television and radio set. Each row of desks had a wax cylinder phonograph, and the mournful fragments of ballroom music issued periodically from those machines. The controllers monitored the flickering, jittery monochrome images on the television screens, occasionally adjusting the tuning and volume. At intervals, the images on the screens faded into static, then blackness, and finally a crystal clear image of a face, frozen and vulnerable, emerged. The controller regarded the solemn, anxious face on the screen for a moment, before switching off the set. Next, they reached over to a bureau drawer behind the set, and extracted a little golden orb, identical to the one Eddie had presented to the secretary. The controller rose and deposited the golden orb in the pan of one or other of the scales, before resuming their desk and commencing to study a fresh series of transmissions on the television. 

At other times, responding to a particularly harsh burst of static from the radios, the controller went to the scales to retrieve an orb from the pan, which they then returned to its drawer in the bureau. This activity went on at such a dizzying pace that at all times, and at every individual balance, there was always one orb being deposited and another extracted, such that a kind of equilibrium was maintained in both the volume of orbs and the angle of the lever; and the nameless man noted with a deep start that the chiming, melodious sound which had so ravished and befuddled his senses derived solely from the constant activity and slight perturbation of the weighting scales, which most have been almost innumerable, and the meticulously choreographed motions of the controllers who maintained them. Just as the constant sound of the orbs striking the scales created a kind of music, so the movements of the controllers through the maze of their cubicles suggested the unconscious geometries of ant and honey bee colonies. 

The nameless man turned to Eddie and Giacomo.
'What is this place?' he asked.

Eddie looked slightly abashed. 'Central Command is where they control all the traffic going in and out of Intermundia Airport. But I don't really know what it's about, or how it works. Wherever I get somebody to explain it, my brain goes soft, and start to remember old nursery rhymes my mother used to sing to me.' Having thus spoken, his eyes became vacant and dazed, and he turned away. 'They don't pay us enough to care,' Giacomo added, and they continued along the footbridge. 

The rest of the journey to Renton's office was uneventful. After exiting the cavern, they climbed another stairwell, and emerged onto a large, open-air concourse which resembled a pedestrianized city street. The central walkway was lined by trees and broken up by a succession of fountains. At either side, the offices of the case officers were stacked one atop the other in imposing blocks of concrete, with stairwells positioned at the side of each block to provide access from the street. New Arrivals were ascending and descending the stairwells, but the windows of the offices were shuttered, with only vague silhouetted motions to suggest the activity within. Above the mottled concrete walls, airplanes swam in dizzying multitude across a narrow strip of darkening sky like drunken constellations.

Down below, the cool night air and soft, persistent rushing sound of the fountains engendered a peculiar air of languor and gaiety. Bistros and bars operated from the ground level of the office blocks, and the nameless man studied the patrons seated at their terraces as they passed. They were Arrivals, he thought, but certainly not new to Intermundia. All the characteristic terror and disorientation was absent from their bearing, and they appeared instead as creatures of an almost mystical sloth and detachment. A species of jaded flaneur to this strange, busy world, they sat like infants swaddled in the sleepy warmth of an unimaginable surfeit of time, unhurriedly raising soup spoons or cigarettes to carelessly open mouths as they watched the traffic of the street flow by. Groups of security guards, temporarily divested of their charges, gathered around the fountains to drink glasses of beer and engage in boisterous tomfoolery. The fountains themselves stirred in the nameless man another swoon of recollection, a sense not quite of memory but something that would be repeated endlessly: a vow, a loss, a forgetting, and a quest. 

When he came to again, Eddie and Giacomo had stopped in their tracks, and both regarded him with an almost paternal expression of sorrow. 'Well, here we are,' Giacomo said softly, and he pointed to an office block. 'The fifth floor,' Eddie added, patting his shoulders, 'we'll be over there at the fountain when you get out.' The security guards gave him a final look of encouragement, and then they trotted off in the direction of a bar. He was alone for the first time since they had accosted him back in the terminal. 

His was unable to move at first, so he closed his eyes and listened to the sounds: the waters gathering and swirling around their basins, the raucous laugher of the guards, footfalls going back and forth, the engines of the planes high above in the night sky. He tried to remember what his face looked like. When nothing came, he felt a surge of courage, detachment and pristine immediacy. He made his way to the stairwell, and climbed to the fifth floor. Nobody met him on the way down. Renton stood at his office door awaiting the nameless man. He was a tall, slender man in his middle years, with the appearance of an educated and humane British civil servant. He wore a dark navy two-piece suit and thick horn-rimmed reading glasses. His hair, receding slightly at the temples, was straight, longish, silver grey and combed back in an elegant manner. His features were handsome and tinged with an urbane, ironical humour. He took the nameless man's hand and shook it vigorously. 

'It's very good to see you again,' he said.
'We've met before?'
The ironic mirth of Renton's smile deepened.
'Oh yes, many, many times.' 



Continued shortly.  (Artwork by George Tooker and  Remedios Varo).