December 08, 2015

[ Fractal Interpolation ] Episode 21: Zoom Out

Episode 21

Zoom Out

2015–12–07

TOC

Input

Pan Sonic and Heino Keiji - In the hollow created by the eyebrows, what offering would be most appropriate : Aching minimal choral degrading into scathing noise, then, silence.

Hello

Hello from an arbitrary point from which to map the trajectories of a world going mad… signal is weak here… raw feed follows.

Zooming out from the Lament Configuration

This is less standing on the shoulders of giants than peering over the shoulders of the better-dressed, but I’m just going to steal a riff from Wolven, here:

“I have no snappy opener, just now. There’s too much of a sense like this world is losing its cohesion around vital seams. Everyone and everything decomposing and huddling together in the dying light.”

I know. That’s a bleak opening for someone who hasn’t spoken in months. Hard times for dreamers all around.

Zoom Out. That’s what I keep doing.

I keep trying to write you something, I really do. But in the context of this medium I feel like I have to comprehend what’s going on. I keep getting trapped in this notion of needing to summarize, to make a narrative that can be grasped. I keep overusing the word “narrative” in desperate repetition. I keep going techne instead of metis, which is not working well under the circumstances. And I should know that by now, but… there’s that urge to build patterns, that we all have.

I wrote a thing about when Black Mirror became a documentary. But then I zoomed back to cyberpunk dystopia, and Gibson, and how his fiction became our reality, and the shifts that it underwent (Cyberspace meets the cellphone, and we still have horses) and tried to generalize that into a model of how fiction mutates as it becomes the world we live in, and at that point we’re in thesis paper, starting a blog, or book outline territory.

I wrote a thing about walking into a bookstore, and it became a mediation on Amazon as a gothic cathedral at the edge of the fall of the Roman Empire, which I’ll probably actually polish and put here, or somewhere else. But it feels too personal, not in the sense that I don’t want to share with you, more that it seems uninteresting to anyone other than me.

I’ve been sketching a notion of Culture War Journalism that’s maybe going to be useful once it’s more than a map of the inside of my head, and a thing about the great ideas I’m getting out of Chiver’s excellent history of the AK–47 that have little to do with guns, and a bunch of stuff about the Undead and the Underworld which is partly for a talk I gave for Odd Salon (in that slideshow there’s a photo of me looking super unimpressed for some reason) and partly for the novel, and I opened up some doors on the novel (which will retroactively be a pun when you read it). And I’ve done a bit of professional paid writing in the game industry which I need to talk about over on Patreon… etc etc etc…

And it’s not good enough. It never is. I mean, I’m sure I’m subjective of course, everything the artist produces they think is shit, yadda yadda. But It’s never big enough. It never feels like I’m seeing anything more useful than fragments spinning into the widening gyre.

It feels apocalyptic. But I was raised on the apocalypse that never happened. My origins include a house in the middle of the wilderness where I learned how to reload ammunition, and growing up Industrial I was surrounded by music which blurred the line between love and global politics. I grew up under Reagan and the Bomb and I remember The Wall, as performed by both Ulbrecht and Waters. So, psychologically, the apocalypse is my baseline. I’ve spent my life playing eschatonic chords in the jazz band of historic analysis. But even with that work experience, nothing I’m producing now feels right.

It’s never big enough to comprehend the sheer… enormity of what’s happening in the world right now. It’s not even that it’s awful, we’ve done plenty of awful things before. It’s just that it seems like we’re seemingly exploring new strange dimensions of awful, like the narratives that drive our world are being placed in such bizarre conjunctions that it’s not “This is terrible” as often as it is “what were they thinking?” I used to think that when Gibson said “The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed” we were’t talking about the future from the perspective of the pre-medieval era, but I keep seeing social constructs that should have died out with the Black Plague.

I’ve even stopped saying things like “the world is going to shit” because it’s too simple. That’s a convenient, tight little story. That allows you to put it in a box, but every time I try to look at that box it shifts across dimensions like the puzzle box in Hellraiser, moving in ways that reveal the far richer agonies below the surfaces. In the movie, the box starts to approach the event horizon (equally bad 80s space horror reference intended) of hollywood ludicrousness. Just how big is that thing, anyway? But it never quite goes over the edge. It always feels the most terrible thing in a fictional reality composed mostly of terrible things. Because you never know its boundaries.

Because of course, if you know the mythos, the Lament Configuration isn’t the box. It’s a series of vectors that when traversed open holes in space and logic. Elsewhere in Barker’s mythology there’s a description of a hedge maze that, when walked in the proper order, also opens a door to hell. It’s in the forms, the shape of the thing, not whatever manifestation it takes at that moment.

Fractals, as we are now all exhaustively aware, exhibit self-similarity on all scales. What this means, if you for some reason didn’t skip high school math class to read James Gleick like I did, is that you can see the same basic curves on a coastline whether you’re looking from 3 inches or 30,000 feet. The shapes are the same, whether you’re talking about the shape of a fern leaf or the shape of a fern plant. And, I’m starting to feel, they’re also the same whether you’re looking at white supremacists with bulletproof jackets opening fire at a mostly black protest in front of a Minneapolis police station while the police do nothing, or the face of a terrified Syrian child sitting alone on a cold beach.

There’s a shape to the shitstorm, but I’m starting to realize that I can’t keep zooming out and trying to get the big picture, because that’s an exercise in madness. What I can do is stay at whatever arbitrary zoom level and try to pick out the details that make the image regardless of scale. The curve of Donald Schicklgruber nee Trump’s poll numbers. The precipitous rise of climate graphs. The curve of the axe blade on the fasces.

This is by necessity a poetic exercise, and thus fraught with apophenia and wildly inaccurate reductions. Don’t expect exactitude from this. But exactitude doesn’t necessarily seem to be the best tool for dealing with everything, and when you’re dealing with a world like the one we are accelerating into approximations are always going to happen, because it’s not possible to hold all the misery in your mind without risking madness, or indifference, which is its own form of madness.

So I’m trying to grasp the world using an internally consistent logic, because fuck all if I can fit it into any other kind. And maybe this means I’ll be able to wring some meaning, however fictionalized, out of what’s going on. If not enough to say I understand, at least enough to build a narrative I can grasp. Maybe if I stop zooming out, I’ll be able to extrapolate a picture that’s not based on scale. And maybe this means I’ll be able to come up with a way of seeing the world that includes a way out.

And when I do, you’ll be the first to know.