Thursday, February 17, 2005

YLEM Journal

I'm monstrously behind on my reading, and rather than frantically catch up (which I know I'll never do) what I'll end up doing is simply bypassing many of the items on my to-read stack in favor of newer strata. But one interesting arrival from a couple of weeks ago finally floated to the surface: The YLEM Journal. Published by YLEM: Artists Using Science and Technology, it nicely intersects some of the overlapping boundaries of technology and speculative fiction. The current September/October issue has some fine material in it, including an interview with China Miéville. In the interview, Miéville says a number of thought-provoking things, which he has a tendency to do in such interviews:
Loren Means: William Gibson was talking with me about London and the people like Ian Sinclair who are doing this deep geography...

China Miéville: ...Psycho-geography...

LM: And I asked him if Vancouver was such a place, and he said, "No it's too new, but San Francisco is."

CM: Absolutely. And I like cities that one can do that in, cities that have a--to sound monstrously pretentious--a psycho-geographical hinterland. I think London, I think New York, I think Cairo, Havana, and I absolutely take your word, San Francisco has that feel to it. There is a San Francisco literature, isn't there? And certainly one of my favorite films of all time is Vertigo. One of the things I like about Vertigo is the way it does this really strange thing which is to create a feeling of absolute architectural uncanny and strangeness. It does it not by doing anything weird with the landscape of San Francisco, but by looking at it simply too precisely. It just follows everything very, very carefully. You have these long, winding journeys through the streets. The city becomes uncanny through its very physical existence. You couldn't do that with all cities. I doubt you could do it with Vancouver, to take an example. But with San Francisco, it works brilliantly.

I like this line of thinking, and believe there's a good deal of validity to it. There are places I've been, cities, towns and other locations that have a tangible weight of history to them, which literally gives them an invisible, omnipresent personality. A well-defined psycho-geographical terrain, as it were. Houston and Dallas don't have this--their history is long since buried under vast slabs of urban concrete. I think most Texas writers would say Austin is a prime candidate--after all, it attracts writers like flies--but Austin's history and personality is rooted in the recent past, if not explicitly in the here and now. It's so cutting edge, the past doesn't exist, except in the context of wistful mourning for the halcyon days of clothing-optional apartment complexes and the Armadillo World Headquarters.

I would venture to say that the only two real cities in Texas that could claim to hold well-defined psycho-geographical topography are San Antonio and El Paso. Marty Robbins alone might be responsible for the majority of El Paso's mythology--that and proximmity to Juarez. That place is barren and desolate, though, all the negatives of the West Texas desert concentrated into one dismal town. That's a psycho-geography I have no desire to ever revisit or explore. San Antonio, however, that place speaks to me. It's a lot more than the Alamo, River Walk and tourist traps. It's got age and maturity to it. If you know where to look--and even if you don't--remnants of the Spanish colonial town are still there. San Pedro Park, created in 1729 by King Philip V of Spain, is the oldest public park in the United States, behind only Boston Common. There's history here, enhanced by the overwhelming Latino flavor throughout the city and willing belief of the population in all manner of cultural and religious mythology. It's almost like visiting the single largest concentration of magic realism in North America. I find it somewhat depressing that the city hasn't developed a high profile literary community to capitalize on the unique environment. Certainly not to Austin's level. Perhaps that will come in time.

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