In Search of A/The Point of Life

POINTS OF DEPARTURE

REVERIES OF A SOLITARY RUNNER III: following the footsteps of runner-writer Dr George Sheehan (1975)

Birds of different feathers ruffle together

Birds of different feathers ruffle together. Nondon WC1.

The words of Dr George Sheehan resonate deeply in the world of running. Such a cult figure he is that his book titles include his name (not just On Running, but Dr Sheehan On Running, 1975 Bantam). As a (still relatively) new runner, we are beginning to read his work, and do enjoy his discussion of the relationship between running and writing – a topic that cult novelist Haruki Murakami talks at length in his What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. What we wish to highlight in this post is what he says with regards to the loneliness of a long distance runner, which echoes the laments of Rousseau and Qu Yuan in their flights, actual and metaphorical. While we do not agree with everything he says that is quoted here, we like his unapologetic approach, his assertion of his individuality (many [non-runners] will call this selfishness). His defiance and irreverence remind us too of the gentle anarchism of Lao Zi, whose renouncement of court duties and wanderings were tactics of resistance. Interestingly, we note that Sheehan was not quite solitary enough however to not give talk after talk (hence also establishing a cult following) – and to not have fathered not one but TWELVE children, an activity that we know requires more than one (unless there are scientific interventions, of course)…

Page 42:

Runners are solitary and cerebral rebels in silent and meditative protest against our modern ways.

A world composed solely of runners  might be unworkable, but a world with them will be unliveable.

Page 44-45

There is a metaphysical lawlessness about running. The runner puts himself above law, above society. He is a law unto himself.

The runner follows no one’s law but his own. He cares for little but the workings of his own mind and body. He would, as one runner told me, rather give up his best friend than give up running. He cares even less for this institutions that protect and support him. He despises authority and, if anything, agrees with Auguste Comte, who wrote that participation in government is fundamentally degrading,

He further alienates those who see the crowd as carnival where everyone joins in, becoming one happy, amorphous glob. The runner is an ascetic. pleasure is painful to him. Singing and dancing and even talking to another human being are avoided at all costs.

When he runs on the roads, he is making a comment about life. He is, in effect, criticising  the life-style of everyone who sees him. He may not want to do this, but he does. he is putting down those who smoke and drink and socialize and call everyone by their first name. He has given up on that world and those in it, and has gone inside himself. No wonder those who live by the rules, or live by community, feel threatened by him.

Seen this way, what happens to runners is the just wrath of a society pushed too far. Those who believe we should all be one, as citizens or brothers, see the runner as a loner who never will contribute to the common good. That, they say, is man’s real inhumanity to man. And they may be right. In this world, no one is innocent.

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REVERIES OF A SOLITARY RUNNER II: flights with Qu Yuan and his beautiful suicide lament (3BCE)

We seek not immortality - not even longevity (what for?), but a life lived to its fullest, every lifetime, each time we live it.

Qu Yuan’s description of his passage to death and beyond (3BCE) is simply one of the most beautiful passages we have ever encountered – the juxtapositions of internal turmoil with external journey, the spiritual and the tangible, the political and the personal, the metaphysical with the physical, the melancholic and the ecstatic, the extreme feeling of isolation and liberation, the unliving with being most alive – are so skillfully presented that the reader can not but feel happy (for the narrator) and heartbroken (for us, for there will be no more beautiful verses from him) at the same time. (Any experience that evokes 2 opposing emotions simultaneously – that the sublime embodies perfectly, with the interplay of the fearful and the awe-inspiring – is the most powerful experience for us). While we certainly cannot say that we fully agree with or understand it (with the multiple references to the religious/spiritual), Qu Yuan’s song hits us. According to Livia Kohn in her delightful The Taoist Experience: An Anthology, Later Printing (State University of New York Press, 1993), Qu Yuan’s The Far-Off Journey (Yuanyou) is ‘most classical of all ecstatic journeys in Chinese religion and literature’. In this song, the poet and official describes ‘a visionary journey that takes him from the sorrows bad afflictions of his unhappy life on earth through various physical practices and concentration efforts to the realm of the gods and immortals.’ Qu Yuan is of course renowned for eventually having thrown himself in sorrow into the Miluo River as a protest to the corruption of his government, the reason for many Chinese to mark the annual Dragon Boat Festival by throwing rice dumplings into the river from dragon boats in the futile wish that the fish would eat the dumplings instead of the tormented poet. Sensible 21st century beings that we are, we respect and enjoy the lovely story/legend/myth that makes Qu Yuan heroic and poetic, as much as we take it with a pinch of salt (as we wolf down the rice dumplings). At the same time, trans-dimensional runners that we are, we have 1 foot on the ground, and the other in cuckoo land, in blue skies; grounded and earth-bound as we are, we travel the world(s) (in spirit – whatever that might be? With more bags of salt? How heavy is that!?!) with the doomed anti-hero-fantasist-travellers, ala Don Quixote (Cervantes’ and Kathy Acker’s), Fitzcarraldo and Orlando. While Qu Yuan flies (and at some point of the song, GALLOP!!), we run, trans-dimensionally; while he seeks union / re-union with an ineffable force (the Tao), we dispel the notion of the existence of any convenient, centralised thing/being/institution; while he is disembodied, leaving his physical body behind, we run, embodied, burdened, with us, our physical, corporeal beings – which is the point, which is also the problem, the problem of our 1000-day troublesome endeavour, but the problem is very much the point. And, unlike Qu Yuan, we seek neither longevity nor immortality (as if one lifetime is not more than enough!?!). Yet, like Qu Yuan, and like Rousseau, we know, and we do, want to move on. Here, we reproduce Qu Yuan’s Far-off Journey (Yuanyou) from Kohn’s anthology (p. 251 – 257). Qu Yuan’s astral journey reminds us of that of the ancient Egyptian as we learnt at the British Museum at the wonderful Book of the Dead show, as well as the hauntingly beautiful paintings of Marc Chagall (so much so that we are compelled to pick up the brush and paint and canvas to paint [again]- although the production of paintings, of things, is is direct contradiction to our desire/purpose of wanting to not attach, to be free from burden, in our earthly travels and beyond…). The process of transcribing the translated text help us move closer to Qu Yuan’s mind, as he traverses the worlds, as every word comes off the page to the screen, from the poet to paper, from text in one language to another via the translator, from the translator to us, from us to you.

Saddened by the hardships of the common world,

How I wish to rise up and travel ways far-off!
My own strength is feeble; there is no support -
What could I stride on to float up and away?

Encountering nothing but foulness and defilement,
I am alone and miserable – who could I talk to?
At night I lie restless, never sleeping,
My soul roving about till the approach of dawn.

Thinking of the infinity of heaven and of earth,
I cry with the eternal toil of human life.
People of the past I cannot reach;
People of the future I will never know.

Pacing with restlessness, I yearn to get away,
Confused and close to madness, I long for the eternal.
My mind goes wild, strays off without control;
My heart melancholy, I am ever sadder.

Then suddenly my spirit, off, never to come back.
My body, like a withered tree, left behind alone.

I look within, try to get back my grip,
To find the place where life’s energy arises:
All vastly empty and tranquil, there is serenity.
Quietly in non-action, spontaneous truth is found.

I hear how Master Redpine cleansed the world’s defilements
And wish to follow the model he has left.

Honoring the blessed virtue of the perfected,
I admire all who in the past have become immortal.
Taking off in a transformation, they were never seen,
While still their name and nature continue on and on.

Oh, how Fu Yue went to live among the stars!
How Han Zhong Succeeded to realize the One!
Oh, for the body to slowly fade off in the distance -
To leave the human crowd behind, to vanish so completely!

Oh, to follow the flow of energy, rising ever upward -
Swift as the spirit, wondrous as a ghost!
To see thaw rolled get hazy, look back from far-off -
All dazzling essence, flashing back and forth!

Oh, to go away from all the dust to greater purity -
Never to turn back to old home!
To escape all the afflictions and never fear again -
None in the world knows how this truly is!

And here I am, afraid of the passing of the seasons,
With every rising of the sun on its westward move.
A subtle frost descends, sinking ever downward,
I fear my fragrant freshness will fade all too soon.

Oh, to leave it all for free and easy journey
Through years eternal that will never end!
Here, who would enjoy with me my remaining fragrance,
Walk, through the country air and share my depth with me?

Gaoyang, my hero, is removed ever farther,
Where will this life, so lonely, lead me to?

Then again, as spring and autumn hurry,
How can I always stay in my old home?
The Yellow Emperor cannot become my model,
But I can follow Jumping Wang to please myself.

So I eat the six energies and drink the nightly dew,
Rinse my mouth with yang itself and swallow morning light.
Guarding the purity of the spirit light within,
I absorb essence and energy, drive out all that’s coarse.

Wandering in the wake of the gentle wind,
I reach the Southern Nest without a single stop.
I meet with Master Wang and pause to speak to him,
Inquire about the harmony and virtue of the One.

‘The Tao can only be received,’ he says,
‘It never can be given.
‘So small that has no within,
‘So big it has no bounds.

‘No twists at all inside your soul,
‘And it will come spontaneously.
‘Focus on energy and open up to spirit -
‘Let them grow in you at the midnight hour.

‘Wait for the Tao in emptiness,
‘Clear even of non-action.
‘All living species rise from this,
‘It is the Gate of Virtue.’

Thinking of my dear old friends in my imagination.
I heave a heavy sigh and brush the tears away.
Slowly again I float, rising ever farther:
Suppressing now my will, keeping myself controlled.

I point to the God of Fire and gallop straight to him,
Wishing to journey to the world’s southern end.
I gaze on wilderness beyond all known directions,
Float on and on over watery expanse.

The Blessed Melter of the South stops me on the way,
So I go back by phoenix and visit the River Consorts.
They play the ‘Pool of Heaven’ and sing me ‘To the Clouds’;
Both ladies then perform the Nine Songs of Shao.

Asking the Xiang goddesses to play their zithers for me,
I bid the Sea God dance with the River God.
They pull up water monsters ti step forward with them,
Their bodies coiling and writhing in ever swaying motion!

Gracefully the Lady Rainbow circles all around them;
The Phoenixes soar up, stay hovering above -
The music swells ever higher, into infinity.

At this point I leave to wander yet again;
With my entourage, I gallop far away.

At the world’s far end at the Gate of Coldness,
I race the rushing wind to Clarity Springs.
I follow Zhuanxu of the North over piled-up ice,
Turn from my path to pass through Mystery Darkness.

Striding on cosmic mainstays, I look back behind me,
Summon Qian Lei the Creator to appear,
To go in front of me on the level way.

Thus I tour all four outlands,
Traverse all the six regions,
Up to the crakes of Heaven,
Down to the Great Abyss.

Below just lofty openess, there is no more earth;
Above just empty vastness, there is no more heaven.

I look but my vision blurs, nothing to be seen;
I listen but my ears are numb, nothing to be heard.

Going beyond non-action, I reach the Clarity,
Become a neighbour of the Great Beginning.

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REVERIES OF A SOLITARY RUNNER I: Following the footsteps of Rousseau and his final work, Reveries of a Solitary Walker (1776-1778)

One of the images we collected in our solitary runs - a picture of peace and a fecal-matter-smeared wall and the defecator in Nondon.

The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote Reveries of the Solitary Walker (Les reveries du promeneur solitaire) between 1776-1778. When he died in 2 July 1778 at the age of 66, the work remained incomplete. The autobiographical series of essays is structured as 10 walks that Rousseau undertook in Paris alone. The work was written just after Rousseau ‘emerged from the darkest passages of his life’ (says Peter France in the introduction to this 2004 Penguin edition, which we read at the Waterstones at Gower Street in Nondon one difficult midmorning), after many years of exile. During these final 2 years of his life, Rousseau felt misunderstood and unhappy. Rather than a work that is about walking, or has walking as a subject matter, Rousseau uses the act of walking as a medium, as a form, to express his final thoughts, before his death. Although Rousseau was not a runner, we identify with his sentiments as a solitary wanderer, and especially so in these unshiny days of ours. Bitter but at peace with himself (or rather resigned to his fate, whatever ‘fate’ might mean), Rousseau’s contemplations remind us of those of the other hermit-philosopher-poets, EM Cioran and Fernando Pessoa. We are also reminded of Viktor Sjostrom’s character in Ingmar Bergamn’s powerful Wild Strawberries (1957), who is also a bitter man looking back at his past, laden with regrets. While there is a salvaging epiphany at the end of the film/road-movie of sorts (and much quiet humour – Bergman or Scandinavian style, if we could say so? – throughout the film – some of which Woody Allen later played up), it is a nicely dark and murky. This is one of our favourite works of art of all times that continues to haunt us all these years and lifetimes, to our death(s). As Rousseau expresses in Emile (published 1762): ‘Every attachment is a sign of insufficiency [...] A truly happy being is a solitary being.’ As we draft ours, Rousseau’s pre-death message in the Reveries of a Solitary Walker enables us to feel a certain delirium – as much as despair and desperation:

WALK 1

Everything is finished for me on earth. People can no longer do good or evil to me here. I have nothing more to hope for or to fear in this world; and here I am, tranquil at the bottom of the abyss, a poor unfortunate mortal, but unperturbed, like God Himself.

A recent event as sad as it was unexpected has finally extinguished this feeble ray of hope and shown me that my earthly destiny is irrevocably fixed for all time. Since then, I have resigned myself utterly and recovered my peace of mind.

…realizing eventually that all my efforts were in vain and my self-torment of no avail, I took the only course left to me, that of submitting to my fate and ceasing to fight against the inevitable. This resignation has made up for all my trials by the peace of mind it brings me, a peace of mind incompatible with the unceasing exertions of a struggle as painful as it was unavailing.

Even physical suffering would take my mind off my misfortunes rather than adding to them. Perhaps the cries of pain would save me the groans of unhappiness, and the laceration of my body would prevent that of my heart.

Actual misfortunes have little effect on me; it is easy for me to accept those which I suffer in reality, but not those which I fear. My fevered imagination builds them up, works on them, magnifies them, and inspects them from every angle. They are far more of a torment to me imminent than present; the threat is far more worse than the blow. As soon as they happen, they lose all the terrors lent to them by imagination and appear in their true size. I find them far less formidable than I had feared, and even in the midst of my suffering I feel a sort of relief. In this state, freed from all further fear and from the anxieties of hope, I shall learn from mere habit to accept ever more easily a situation which can grow no worse; and as my awareness of it is dulled by time they can find no further way of reviving it. So much good my persecutors have done me by recklessly pouring out all the shafts of their hatred. They have deprived themselves of any power over me and henceforward I can laugh at them.

Everything external is henceforth foreign to me. I no longer have any neighbours, fellow-men, or brothers in this world. I live here as in some strange planet on to which I have fallen from the one I knew. All around me I can recognize nothing but objects which afflict and wound my heart, and I cannot look at anything that is close to me or round about me without discovering some subject for indignant scorn or painful emotion. Let me therefore detach my mind from these afflicting sights; they would only cause me pain, and to no end. Alone for the rest of my life, since it is only in myself that I find consolation, hope and peace of mind, my only remaining duty is towards myself and this is all I desire.

WALK 2

These hours of solitude and meditation are the only ones in the day during which I am fully myself and for myself, without diversion, without obstacle, and during which I can truly claim to be what nature willed.

Today there is more recollection than creation in the products of my imagination, a tepid languor saps all my faculties, the vital spirit is gradually dying down within me, my soul no longer flies up without effort from its decaying prison of flesh, and were it not for the hope of a state to which I aspire because I feel that it is mine by right, I should now live only in the past. Thus if I am to contemplate myself before my decline, I must go back several years to the time when, losing all hope for this life and finding no food left on earth for my soul, I gradually learnt to feed it on its own substance and seek all its nourishment within myself.

The country was still green and pleasant, but it was deserted and many of the leaves had fallen; everything gave an impression of solitude and impending winter. This picture evoked mixed feelings of gentle sadness which were too closely akin to my age and my experience for me not to make the comparison. I saw myself at the close of an innocent and unhappy life, with a soul still full of intense feelings and a mind still adorned with a few flowers, even if they were already blighted by sadness and withered by care. Alone and neglected, I could feel the approach of the first frosts and my failing imagination no longer filled my solitude with beings formed after the desires of my heart. Sighing I said to myself: What have I done in this world? I was created to live, and I am dying without having lived.

Let men and fate do their worst, we must learn to suffer in silence, everything will find its proper place in the end and sooner or later my turn will come.

WALK 3

Secluded meditation, the study of nature, and contemplation of the universe force a solitary person to search with tender concern for the purpose in everything he sees and the cause of everything he feels.

When death is already at the door, is it worth learning how we should have lived?

The sad truth that time and reason have revealed to me in making me aware of my misfortune, has convinced me that there is no remedy and that resignation is my only course. Thus all the experience of my old age is of no use to me in my present state, nor will it help me in the future.

Since the days of my youth I had fixed on the age of forty as the end of my efforts to succeed, the final term of my various ambitions. I had the firm intention, when I reached this age, of making no further effort to climb out of whatever situation I was in and of spending the rest of my life living from day to day with no thought for the future. When the time came I carried out my plan without difficulty, and although my fortune at the time seemed to be on the point of changing permanently for the better, it was not only without regret but with real pleasure that I gave up these prospects. In shaking off all these lures and vain hopes, I abandoned myself entirely to the nonchalant tranquillity which has always been my dominant taste and most lasting inclination. I quitted the world and its vanities, I gave up all finery–no more sword, no more watch, no more white stockings, gilt trimmings and powder, but a simple wig and a good solid coat of broadcloth–and what is more than all the rest, I uprooted from my heart the greed and covetousness which gave value to all I was leaving behind. I gave up the position I was then occupying, a position for which I was quite unsuited, and set myself to copying music at so much a page, an occupation for which I had always had a distinct liking.

All the sharpest torments lose their sting if one can confidently expect a glorious recompense, and the certainty of this recompense was the principal fruit of my earlier meditations.

WALK 5

Everything is in constant flux on this earth. Nothing keeps the same unchanging shape, and our affections, being attached to things outside us, necessarily change and pass away as they do. Always out ahead of us or lagging behind, they recall a past which is gone or anticipate a future which may never come into being; there is nothing solid there for the heart to attach itself to. Thus our earthly joys are almost without exception the creatures of a moment; I doubt whether any of us knows the meaning of lasting happiness. Even in our keenest pleasures there is scarcely a single moment of which the heart could truthfully say: ‘Would that this moment could last for ever!’ And how can we give the name of happiness to a fleeting state which leaves our hearts still empty and anxious, either regretting something that is past or desiring something that is yet to come? But if there is a state where the soul can find a resting-place secure enough to establish itself and concentrate its entire being there, with no need to remember the past or reach into the future, where time is nothing to it, where the present runs on indefinitely but this duration goes unnoticed, with no sign of the passing of time, and no other feeling of deprivation or enjoyment, pleasure or pain, desire or fear than the simple feeling of existence, a feeling that fills our soul entirely, as long as this state lasts, we can call ourselves happy, not with a poor, incomplete and relative happiness such as we find in the pleasures of life, but with a sufficient, complete and perfect happiness which leaves no emptiness to be filled in the soul….What is the source of our happiness in such a state? Nothing external to us, nothing apart from ourselves and our own existence; as long as this state lasts we are self-sufficient like God. The feeling of existence unmixed with any other emotion is in itself a precious feeling of peace and contentment which would be enough to make this mode of being loved and cherished by anyone who could guard against all the earthly and sensual influences that are constantly distracting us from it in this life and troubling the joy it could give us. But most men being continually stirred by passion know little of this condition, and having only enjoyed it fleetingly and incompletely they retain no more than a dim and confused notion of it and are unaware of its true charm. Nor would it be desirable in our present state of affairs that the avid desire for these sweet ecstasies should give people a distaste for the active life which their constantly recurring needs impose upon them. But an unfortunate man who has been excluded from human society, and can do nothing more in this world to serve or benefit himself or others, may be allowed to seek in this state a compensation for human joys, a compensation which neither fortune nor mankind can take away from him.

WALK 6

I have never been truly suited for civil society, where everything is annoyance, obligation, and duty, … my naturally independent temperament always made me incapable of the subjection necessary to anyone who wants to live among men.

There are types of adversity which elevate and strengthen the soul, but there are others which depress and crush it; such is the one of which I am a victim. If there had been the slightest leaven of evil in my soul, this adversity would have fermented it to excess and driven me into a frenzy, but it only succeeded in reducing me to inactivity. Unable to do good to myself or anyone else, I abstain from acting; and this state, which is only blameless because I cannot avoid it, makes me find a sort of satisfaction in abandoning myself completely and without reproach to my natural inclination. No doubt I go too far, since I avoid opportunities for action even when I think nothing but good can come from them. But knowing that I am not allowed to see things as they are, I refrain from judging by the appearances my enemies give to things, and however alluring the motives for action may seem, it is enough that they have been left within my grasp for me to be sure they are deceptive.

I have never believed that man’s freedom consists in doing what he wants, but rather in never doing what he does not want to do, and this is the freedom I have always sought after and often achieved, the freedom by virtue of which I have most scandalized my contemporaries.

WALK 7

Seeking refuge in mother nature, I sought in her arms to escape the attacks of her children. I have become solitary, or, as they say, unsociable and misanthropic, because to me the most desolate solitude seems preferable to the society of wicked men which is nourished only in betrayals and hatred.

WALK 8

In all the ills that befall us, we are more concerned by the intention than the result. A tile that falls off a roof may injure us more seriously, but it will not wound us so deeply as a stone thrown deliberately by a malevolent hand. The blow may miss, but the intention always strikes home.

Since by the light of reason I could see nothing but absurdities in the explanations I tried to give for everything that happened to me, I realized that, as all its causes and operations were unknown and incomprehensible to me, I should ignore them completely, that I should regard all the details of my fate as the workings of mere necessity, in which I should not seek to find any intention, purpose, or moral cause, that I must submit to it without argument or resistance since these were useless, that since all that was left to me on earth was to regard myself as a purely passive being, I should not waste the strength I needed to endure my fate in trying to fight against it. This was what I told myself. My reason and my heart assented, yet I could feel that my heart was not entirely satisfied. Whence came this dissatisfaction? I searched and found the answer: it came from my self-love, which, having waxed indignant against mankind, still rebelled against reason.

WALK 9

Happiness is a lasting state which does not seem to be made for man in this world. Everything here on earth is in a continual flux which allows nothing to assume any constant form. All things change round about us, we ourselves change, and no one can be sure of loving tomorrow what he loves today. All our plans of happiness in this life are therefore empty dreams. Let us make the most of peace of mind when it comes to us, taking care to do nothing to drive it away, but not making plans to hold it fast, since such plans are sheer folly. I have seen few if any happy people, but I have seen many who were contented, and of all the sights that have come my way this is the one that has left me most contented myself.

…if my pleasures are brief and few in number, it is also true that when they come they give me an intenser enjoyment than if I were more used to them. I ruminate on them so to speak, turning them over frequently in my memory, and few as they are, if they were pure and unmixed, they would perhaps make me happier than in my days of prosperity. In extreme poverty a little is enough to make one rich; a beggar is gladder to find one gold coin than a rich man to find a purse full of money. People would laugh if they could see how my soul is affected by the slightest pleasures…

It is only when I am alone that I am my own master, at all other times I am the plaything of all who surround me.


WE ARE STILL RAISING MONEY FOR OUR RUN FOR SHELTER AT THE 2011 NONDON MARATHON  NEXT SUNDAY- PLEASE HELP! ANY AMOUNT IS APPRECIATED!

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WERNER HERZOG (‘My mandate is poetry. Period.’) WAS CHARMING, AS EXPECTED. Unexpected: technical cockup, and a very cocky ‘interviewer’ who should be subjected to a Kinski rant, 23 March 2011.

In the midst of a mid-journey lassitude and systematic switching-off-of-things-&-people, we came across the astounding news that the legendary German auteur Werner Herzog was visiting Nondon. The many powerful works of the poet-philosopher (our favourite include Fitzcarraldo, Even Dwarfs Started Small, the Enigma of Kasper Hauser, My Best Fiend and Heart of Glass) have long haunted/irritated/angered/moved/inspired/stirred us across our many lifetimes. Magical as they are polemical, we have always made at least one of his films compulsory viewing for our students in our previous lives. As we run, out of breath, and everywhere we run, anytime we run, across lands, ages, cultures and political circumstances, Herzog is one we turn to whenever we feel that we are losing our bearings (Other guides we turn to include Tarkovsky, Chris Marker, Apichatpong, EM Cioran, Pessoa, Chagall, Bach, Beethoven, Barthes, Tristram Shandy, Maguerite Duras, Samuel Beckett). (Not that losing one’s bearings is a bad thing, for not being clear, being confused, having doubts, being torn both and all sides leftrightcentre by opposing sentiments, being pissed off, being irritated by pesky things, finding everything and everybody pesky, feeling lethargic, and hitting of walls are vital parts of any meaningful process of working.) We have had the privilege of encountering Herzog in the flesh in a previous life and were, as expected,  charmed by Herzog ‘live’ (a very polished, calculated performance by the maestro no doubt). Hence, when the chance to catch him again here, in Nondon, in this life, popped up, we ran for it. Literally.

2 things spoiled our evening: 1) repeated technical cock-ups: The microphones registered a noise throughout, and the projector failed to work at a few points. For a £30 ticket in a grand, 900-seater situated in the posh Belgravia, such flaws were surely unforgivable – not to mention utterly embarassing,  in the presence of a top-notch filmmaker; not to mention too that many in the crowd were clearly people with professional relationships to the film/cultural industry in one way or another (everyone of whom was polite- in the pictures above, look at the neat queues we form the entire evening as we patiently awaited for the doors to open!).  To say the least, this was a booboo, big time. 2) The next thing that spoiled our evening was the interviewer. Or ‘interviewer’, so-called. Aware that there are many young (what society labels as ‘underaged’ and ‘vulnerable’?) people who read this running blog, we shall sum up the work of this interviewer as such: very, very, very, very, very, very cr*p’ that evening (or all evenings? and day times?). Let us explain (for we are responsible adults [470days-old as we are, out of our 1000-day lifespan) who support any claims of ours, however obvious, with studiously-crafted elucidations). Although it was alleged (by the interviewer) that the interviewer had worked with Herzog on several occassions before, and that the interviewer and the filmmaker are personal friends (another allegation put forward by the interviewer himself, with comments such as ‘your wife told me that …’), the interviewer did not seem to have done enough homework, and was even disrepectful to his subject: Not only did he abruptly interrupt Herzog throughout the 2.5 hours, he would look at his watch in an obvious manner.  We are disinterested in interviewers who are only fawning to their subject (even if for the goal of ‘getting more’ out of them), but this really felt profoundly wrong and cringe-inducing, for, the interviewer seemed to try way too hard in getting across his own agenda – that is, that he, and not just his celebrity subjects, had a personality, too – which only goes to show his own insecurity and incompetence (the personality of the best interviewers/interpretants would naturally shine through – see Jeremy Paxman, Jon Snow and Glenn Gould for instance).  There was no effort whatsoever from the interviewer to build a rapport/chemistry/lively tension with his subject. And, when the projector broke down, said interviewer even went on hissy fits – as if he was the star of the show and the one being allowed to have hissy fits – and Herzog even calmed him down. In classic Herzog-ian manner, the filmmaker returned the frivololity, rudeness with a picture of calm, no doubt honed for several years by his fiery working relationship with the superbly brilliant but/and supremely mad Klaus Kinski. Herzog was above the petty and attention-seeking tactics of the interviewer, towards whom we feel not anger but sympathy – for feeling the need to do what he did. So what if this same interviewer is said to have interviewed several big names? This one gig he did that we saw was, simply put, not interesting. Not interesting at all.  And it seems that we are far from alone in our evaluation of the interviewer’s diabolical performance for the evening.

Speaking of diabolicalness and human foibles, we leave us with Herzog’s quote: that ‘the common denominator of the Universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility and murder’.

PS: WE ARE STILL TRYING TO RAISE MONEY FOR OUR RUN FOR SHELTER FOR THE 2011 NONDON MARATHON! DO LEND US A HAND! OR TOE! OR DOLE! OR DOUGH!

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THANKS to EMMANUEL, SHEA, ANONYMOUS and ERIC, SPRING HAS COME EARLY TO NONDON. GBP £600 raised for our marathon – another £1000 to go.

When Spring arrives, cherry blossoms bloom. The time when cherry blossoms bloom indicates the beginning of the new year, a start of something new. A start of something new also means the end, or death, of something not new.  It is only the middle of January, but Nondon has been seeing double-digit temperatures (Celsius, not Fahrenheit, darling. While we are at it, not the imperial system, not inches and feet. Nor stones, nor yards, nor miles, darling). It has been so warm that we have been running in sleeveless tops (Nike Dri-fit) and shorts (Nike-somthing-or-other)- still we sweat, as slimy roast pork does, as if it is Spring, even as if Summer. We run best when we run/feel/are light; last Thursday, at a muggy 13 degrees celsius, we ran a strong 17km exploding with endorphins along the canal, to Victoria Fark and back again. It was one of our happiest runs of late.

Last Saturday, we passed the GBP£600 mark in our donation drive for our run for Shelter at the 2011 Nondon Marathon, ALL THANKS TO OUR FRIENDS EMMANUEL, SHEA, ANONYMOUS and ERIC AULD. THANK YOU VERY MUCH – your very generous support has given us a lovely push in the midst of a still dire economic crisis. We have 2 months left. Just another £1000 to go. Go we will!

Let us end this little post with a little quote from writer-runner Haruki Murakami. We are not usually fans of his work as we find that they can be a little too cute, but we slurped up What We Talk About When We Talk About Running in a matter of hours (in the midst of writing/repairing 15,000 of our own words). That which we find meaningful, we will have to devote another fresh post to, but at this point, with the photograph of the unseasonable cherry blossoms in the middle of Winter in Nondon, we want to juxtapose the very final paragraph of the book on page 197 here:

Some day, if I have a gravestone and I’m able to pick out whats carved on it, I’d like to say this: ‘Haruki Murakami 1949 – 20** Writer (and Runner) At Least He Never Walked.’ At this point, that’s what I’d like to say.

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As we stuff our faces with stuffed birds/puds/sprouts/mulling about, shall we have a DISCOURSE? (RUNNING TO & FRO, from the Latin ‘discursus’)?

Hard at work (as if): reading, or rather, posing with books that we have ordered for the library. If we hold the books close enough, hopefully our skin will be able to absorb all the contents, swiftly. And paraphrase them enough to regurgitate in our writing, too, hopefully.

Before you complain that we have been less-than-diligent in our postings in the past couple of months, we must tell you that it is because we have been extremely hard at work writing something else, namely our grand 80,000-word fabulousness and sweetness of our thesis, which theorises our critical strategy of trans-dimensional running for our 21st century technologically-enabled multiverse.

To write, we have to read too, of course. Here are some pictorial evidence of us (LOOKING AS IF WE ARE VERY) hard at work, reading some of the books that we have ordered. We particularly enjoy running with Dr Bernd Heinrich in his Why We Run: A Natural History. Himself is a TOP marathon and ultramarathon runner (coming in as champion, at the age of 41, a race of 100km in 6 hours 30 minutes in 1981 in Chicago!!), award-winning biologist Dr Heinrich presents a dazzling story of why human beings, compared to our relatives in the animal kingdom, run. One of our favourite quotes is found on page 103. It is a conversation between the author and his friend, when the former ran 5-minutes faster than what the friend predicted.

As is usually the case in science, you make a prediction, and if it comes out close, you are happy because you’re potentially right with one idea, and if it comes out different, you’re closer to some other idea that you didn’t even think of before. That’s even better.

What a beautiful, powerful thought. And this comes from the perfectionist and overachiever of the writer-scientist-ultrarunner. To stray from an expectation is not a sign of defeat, but instead, a potentially exciting route of discovery into something that one didn’t expect, perhaps leading one to something else that is even more interesting than where one could have ventured.

Dr Heinrich’s writing is simple and clear, while also loaded with first-hand anecdotes (so this is not some armchair critic/theoryhead who only sits on their fatarses in their ivory towers and conceptualise about the world and the moons and the stars till the  cows come home, or as one of our favourite artists ever, the brilliant Groucho Marx, says in the 1933 cccclassssssiccccc Duck Soup, ‘I could dance with you till the cows come home. On second thoughts, I’d rather dance with the cows till you came home.‘) We are, frankly speaking, dogtired of all those highfalutin empty gibberish expounded by the socalled pureminds of the socalled academia, some of whom really are only capable of blowing pungent wind through their holycracks.

We are however disappointed with Christopher McDougall’s Born To Run, albeit its extremely exciting premise of learning to run ultra-distances from the humble and hidden tribe of the amazing Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, who have run all their lives, since they first ran away from the invading Spanish (what a poetic and empowering imagery!!).  What we find disagreeable however is ultrarunner-and-journalist McDougall’s writing style which has the irritating trying-hard-to-be-cute-and-oh-so-personal-first-person-narrative-smug-frockingfullofselfbelief-noironywhatsoever-chest-beating-we-are-the-world-we-rule-the-world-yayyayay-watch-us-we-feel-ohsofrockinggood-about-ourselves approach also neatly encapsulated in the American talk show which we quite absolutely cannot stand (unless, of course, if it is so very bad that it is very good, out & out excessively trashy The Jerry Springer ShowJerry!  Jerry! we chant, fists in the air and on other guests’ holy bodies).

Philosopher and runner Michael Austin was the one who drew our attention to, in his good (although could-be-better, if each essay by the different philosopher-runners wasn’t so short but was more developed) Running and Philosophy, the etymology of the word  ‘discourse’, which comes from the Latin discursus, and which refers to a running to-&-fro! What a poetic image. We have said this before, but we will say this again (because we keep getting asked!), but to all the snobs who still insist that walking is the only valid psychogeographical strategy, we say that you are too closed-minded, and that you really should try running (YES WE CHALLENGE YOU TO SWEAT IT OUT AND GET YOUR ‘PUREMINDS’ AND FATARSES MOVIN’!) to see how it works. Alan Turing would go for a 2-3hour run midday, to run away problems from that he faced at work; yet, it was in the middle of such a run that he conceptualised the beginnings of the modern computer.

Now, what better synthesis of the mind-body-technology-imagination could you get??

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FOLLOWING THE FOOTSTEPS OF WALID RAAD / THE ATLAS GROUP at the Whitechapel Gallery!

Place: Nondon. Date: 2 November 2010. Time: from 13:00hr GMT. Starting point/point of departure: Central Nondon. Loop point: Whitechapel Art Gallery. What for: To see Walid Raad's show. Route: via the City. How was it, then: Crowded. Nice Gherkin you've got. Pet peeves: 1) Shoveling past people dangling cigarettes in their fingers. 2) Women/very large people who walk slowly but occupying entire pavements 3) Women/'girls' (sic) who are in a large group but walking very slowly or giggling and chatting away in the middle of the pavement believing that they look cute and are drawing attention - indeed, from an angry runner 4) Children/babies/prams with young parents with same level of entitlement as the chatty women and fat bastards who block entire pavements and roads, as if they are the first people on earth who have given birth and hence demand special treatment and that the rest of the world have been created from playdoh. We don't blame the kids but we blame their smugly parents. GET OUT OF OUR £k*fING FACE!!!! Attire: Short-sleeved T-shirt and shorts. Temperature: 14 degrees celsius (sweaty run). Smell: Not So Terribly Good for an art gallery (or elsewhere). Quality of outward-bound run: Painful now with not one, but BOTH legs with shin splints. Could not get a comfortable gait. At least our limp is balanced now. Run back was easier and even sweatier.

On 2 November, we awoke from a 12-hour sleep (after none the previous night) to run through the City to the Whitechapel Gallery. There are many, many artists we admire (Chris Marker, Marc Chagall, AES+F, Tarkovsky, Fernando Pessoa et al). Walid Raad/Atlas Group is one of these people whose footsteps we (attempt to) follow. In a previous life we had the privilege of experiencing his performance-lecture in a workshop we attended. Already conflating fact with fiction, objectivity with subjectivity, history with memory, ‘official’ grand narratives with micronarrative in our own work, and already familiar with the genres of the essay film, performance as practitioner, lecturer and sometime writer, Raad’s performance-lecture made an impact.

At this Whitechapel show, Raad’s appropriation of museum aesthetics in a trademark clinical austerity in his approach is chillingly disturbing as it is dead funny. We particularly love the small model of a gallery which contains tiny precise replica of his work.

We realised that there was another source of chilliness, and that came from our exposed legs. Another observation: except for primary school kids, not many other gallery-goers wear shorts. Was that why we received some interesting looks from the gallery-sitters, as we did when we visited the Wolfgang Tillmans show after a 30km run in Hyde Park? Will spandex and leg warmers have saved us from the faux pas (if it was indeed one), and also help us look ‘tuned in’ onto the retro ’80s look (or at the very least, an artistically clever and ironic wink/nod, that the artistically clever and ironic art world would approve of)? As usual, suggestions and advice welcome.

The above is the GPS track of our run to the gallery and back, totaling about 8.9km. For a detailed version of this and other GPS tracks of ours in Life 1.0, look here.

Anyhow. Go run with Walid Raad. He’s not bad at all.

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RUNNING THE NEXT LAPS OF THE LONG-RUNNING BODY vs MIND vs TECHNOLOGY vs SOUL DISCOURSES. Trans-dimensional running as a critical strategy for our techonologically-layered multiverse.

Trans-dimensional running is as much a visceral counterstrike as it is a celebration of our technologically-expanded lives. As we run trans-dimensionally, we embody both the techno-utopianist Cyborg as well as the fragile, flesh-and-blood animal. We have one foot embedded in the physical world, and the other afloat in the non-physical and metaphysical worlds, detached from worldly matters. Technology permeates the activity of running, as it does in almost every aspect of our lives today. Yet, running could arguably be an act that utilises the least technology. In its most unembellished form, practitioners can run shoeless[1] – and indeed naked, as Pheidippides did 2500 years ago. Trans-dimensional running is a simple means of navigation in the digitally-saturated reality today. Running across the varied topographies, no one is in a better position than the trans-dimensional runner to tease out the long-existing as well as current debates of the battles between body, mind and technology. The undertaking of any endurance sport is a training of not only physical but mental resilience. In exercising our body and mind to revel and wrangle with our technologically-enhanced realities, the trans-dimensional runner has one foot in a techno-utopianist delirium (Clay Shirky et al), the other in a scepticism (Michael Zimmer et al). Running is a visceral counterpoint to the relentless development of technology. Web 2.0’s (somewhat ironically-named) social media was constructed by and for the geek –socially dysfunctional in Life 1.0– to virtually do virtually everything online without ever leaving one’s chair (or flat). While we celebrate our newfound ability to leave our bodies behind and run off into metaverses online,[2] pounding the pavements in meatspace immediately pulls us back to earth (and nature), reminding us the presence and limitations of our flesh-and-blood machines, and, indeed, our mortality.

And to the snobs (invariably bound to the armchair) who say that running is unthinking, one’s mind must work as actively as one’s body when one is running, as runners and sport psychologists attest.[3] When the body hits the metaphoric wall, only willpower and imagination can propel the runner to complete the last 6 miles of a 26.2-mile race.[4] When the body undergoes extreme states of duress, the chemicals in the brains pushes the runner into an altered state of consciousness.[5] At an optimal level, this can be the proverbial ‘flow’, a notion of focused motivation put forward by psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihály. As Daniel Shiffman, creator of open-source software Processing says, ‘I do all my best programming while jogging.’ [6] We also do not forget that Alan Turing, who was a highly-accomplished marathon-runner,[7] was said to have invented the beginnings of the computer in the middle of a run.[8]

Who better than the mythical ‘Marathon Monks’ of Mount Hiei, Japan, to refer to in the discussion of the importance of the lucidity of the mind (and spirit) when the body runs? While we are not unfamiliar with ascetic feats that humans are capable of in the bid to attain enlightenment (as seen in the fervent twirling of the Dervishes, and the practice of fire-walking of Hindus, just to name a few), the achievement of these monks still seem out of the world. The tofu-eating monks of the Tendai sect chant – while carrying scriptures, and running and walking for a total of 1000 days across a period of 7 years, in a practice called the kaihogyo. Running the equivalent of 2 marathons daily for a large part of the task,[9] the monk must cover a total distance of around 40,000 kilometres, equivalent to 1000 marathons.[10] In an exercise that already sounds like no walk in the park, the monk must go without food, sleep and drinks for a stretch of nine days as well.

Talk about effort. Perhaps those self-proclaimed Cyborgs and Cyborg-lovers (Donna Haraway, as well as the Orlans and Stelarcs) – could come out of their ivory towers and learn from the practice that has begun since the 18th century, which has feet firmly on the ground, while reaching for (self-) transcendence. Our ‘1000-day run’ is a mockery to the phrase when compared to this extraordinary synthesis of the mind, body and spirit…



[1] Vijai Singh, Barefoot Running – Video Library – The New York Times [accessed 12 July 2010]. In this video, we see that the writer of Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, Professor Christopher McDougall also runs barefeet.

[2] Tim Guest, Second Lives (Arrow Books Ltd, 2008) p. 355.

[3] Such as Costas Karageorghis, ‘Sport Psychology: How Mental Imagery and Self-Hypnosis Can Improve Performance’, Peak Peroformance: Sporting Excellence [accessed 25 September 2010].

[4] As Barry Magee, bronze winner of the marathon in Rome, 1960 says, ‘(a)nyone can run 20 miles. It’s the next six that count.’ Quoted in ‘Running Quotes | Training & Racing’, Run the Planet: World Wide Resource for Runners, 1996 [accessed 24 September 2010].

[5] As discussed in such literature as Henriette van Praag, Gerd Kempermann and Fred H. Gage, ‘Running Increases Cell Proliferation and Neurogenesis in the Adult Mouse Dentate Gyrus’, Nat Neurosci, 2 (1999), 266-270.

[6] Daniel Shiffman, Learning Processing: A Beginner’s Guide to Programming Images, Animation, and Interaction (Morgan Kaufmann, 2008), p. xii.

[7] Although Turing did not manage to be selected for the 1948 Olympics, having come in fifth, his best time of 2 hours, 46 minutes, 3 seconds, achieved in 1947, was only 11 minutes slower than the winner in that Olympic Games. John Graham-Cumming, ‘An Olympic Honour for Alan Turing | Comment Is Free | Guardian.co.uk’, 2010  [accessed 5 July 2010].

[8] According to 1968 Boston Marathon winner Amby Burfoot in the foreword (p. ix), in Michael W. Austin, Running and Philosophy: A Marathon for the Mind (Wiley-Blackwell, 2007), p. 135.

[9] Jayne Storey, ‘Running Buddhas. Ultra-Endurance and the Spiritual Athlete’ [accessed 10 July 2010]. According to Storey, the full menu of the monk’s 10000-day feat, the Sennichi Kaihogyo, is as follows: ’1st year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2-mile marathons, beginning at 1:30 a.m., each day after an hour of prayer. 2nd year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2 mile marathons. 3rd year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2 mile marathons. 4th year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2 mile marathons – performed twice. 5th year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2 mile marathons – performed twice. On the 700th day, the monks undergo a 9 day fast without food, water, rest or sleep – a mind-boggling feat which would result in certain death for most human beings, before having a short rest of a few weeks and increasing their gruelling schedule. 6th year: 100 consecutive days of 37.5 mile marathons. 7th year: 100 days of 52.2 mile marathons and 100 days of 26.2 mile marathons.’

[10] Anthony Kuhn, ‘Monk’s Enlightenment Begins With A Marathon Walk’ (NPR, 2010)  [accessed 11 July 2010].

Images on this page are photographed by Michael Larsson.

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No offence to all you lovely trans-dimensional running companions – virtual and real – of ours, but WE’VE DEVELOPED A FATAL ATTRACTION TO THOSE RUNNING BUDDIES WHO HAVE DROPPED DEAD, GORGEOUS.

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WE HAVE RUN AND COMPLETED OUR FIRST LIFE 1.0 MARATHON, FOLLOWING THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE PILGRIMS. Thank you all for your support and donations! BIG THANK YOU to the organisers too!

PS We must also congratulate Team Carter, led by one of the organisers, HILLARY CARTER who was running with his son Henry and wife Trisha. This was Trisha’s first marathon, and Hillary’s ONE HUNDREDTH!! Hence qualifying him to the prestigious 100 marathon club. How very inspiring indeed. Watch out Hillary, HERE WE COME! 99 more for us to go (hopefully within this lifetime?)! We also put up a review in Runner’s World and note that we are definitely not alone in our appraisal of the amazing event!

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WE REALLY SHOULD GET CHANGED AND GO TO OUR EXHIBITION SITE (which opens in 2 hours!!), BUT WE CAN’T RESIST STEALING A GLANCE AT THIS BOOK.

In a couple of hours, a group show that we are participating in will open. We really should get changed and get our fatar*sses moving to Nondon Bridge. However, we simply cannot resist taking a peek at this new book that we have just ordered through the library. There are  20 other books we are reading / supposed to be reading at the same time, and which take higher priority. In addition, we have been ‘saving’ this book for our tiny little sojourn this weekend out of Nondon (We have been meaning to get out of Nondon, and although now there are 56,000 compelling reasons stop us from taking a break, we are forcing ourselves to do so, and take up one of your suggestions of a day out [THANK YOU!!], but trying to make us feel less guilty by also doing some work while we play).

Once we landed our hands on Running and Philosophy – A Marathon For The Mind (ed. Michael W Austin 2007, Blackwell Publishing Ltd),  we wanted to read it all at a go. This is a collection of writings about the relationship between running and philosophy, by philosophers who run. (YES THEY EXIST. AGAIN, FOR THOSE OF YOU FLABBY ACADEMIC SNOBS WHO RUBBISH RUNNING AS UNTHINKING AND SAY WALKING IS MORE CONTEMPLATIVE, POETIC ETC ETC – wait till you read this book – and indeed OUR BOOK, later. Sooner. Some day. Just you wait, fatty). And as transient beings ourselves (with 750 days left on our life/death sentence) we know only too well about seizing the moment,  enjoying the pleasures of pleasure while it lasts, etc etc. However, we also tried to delay this, with the reasoning (we are rational beings as well, you know) that a prolongation/holding back/delay of a pleasure will increase it infinitely, when it does come (also simply due to the accentuation of the pain of waiting/longing/desiring).

Ah, the chaosmos of pain vs pleasure. As usual. Just now, we cheated a little. (Ah, the chaosmos reason vs desire. As usual). We plunged into the middle (as usual, rather than from the beginning – linearity is not the non-linear trans-dimensional runner‘s cup of tea), and read snippets here and there. And there and there. And a bit more there, and over there there, too.

It is assuring a glance (or a few glances) – we have been writing a good, usable 18,000 words in the past 2 months (and 100,000 more that may never ever see any light – and we are not talking about writing from this amazing travel blog). It is useful at this point to read something that articulates what we have been saying or meaning to say (for reasons including that of copyright, we are not able to share with you that other kind of  -equally if not more brilliant – writing of ours, at this point, though we would, later) .

Also, our running for the week has been rather rubbish, due to pain in the knee, the tendon… -something or other area, and a burning sensation on our feet, and general pain in the ar*e, real, imagined, or rhetorical. Reading about the running philosophers who talk about pain reminds us to stop being sissies and get moving.

And get moving out of our flat in Kings Kross, towards Nondon Bridge too. See you in a couple of hours.  (And don’t worry, we will erase the pencil marks we have made in the books when we are done – and they will remain good as new.) (And more on the book later – after we read it in Non-Nondon this weekend.)


** Currently #5 in the War of Films contest: CLAUDIA TOMAZ’S film about KAIDIE AND HER MEANING OF LIFE 3.0. VOTE NOW!** Vote by clicking on + sign at the top of video player. ** Don’t forget to vote for Episode 2, Run Kaidie Run, too!**

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TRANS-DIMENSIONAL RUNNING FOR OUR LIVES! A ROUGH GUIDE: IN THE CHAOSMOS OF OUTSIDE/IN. Or: Why running is an excellent tactic for the urban dweller.

** Breaking news: Currently #5 in the War of Films contest: CLAUDIA TOMAZ’S film about KAIDIE AND HER MEANING OF LIFE 3.0. VOTE NOW!** Vote by clicking on + sign at the top of video player. ** Don’t forget to vote for Episode 2, Run Kaidie Run, too!**

As we ran about in our neighbourhood on voting day May 2010, we found something found, and not lost. For a change. But perhaps she was unwanted, as it had been more than 2 weeks. Or perhaps she was the one who decided to leave, to have a new place to dwell.

In the physical, primary world of Life 1.0[1], running as a means of navigating the urban landscape has the clear advantage of not increasing our carbon footprints. While this single reason should be compelling enough to persuade the uninitiated, there are several more reasons  – philosophical, poetic, psychogeographical, personal and political  – why running is an excellent tactic for the urban dweller.

When we run in the city, we are able to personalise what could otherwise be an anonymous, alienating and brutal landscape. While located as an extension of the long traditions of walking (Benjamin, Debord, Richard Long, Lake District writers, Herzog et al), reality becomes more heightened for the runner (with the increased heart rate, speed, physical duress et al given the high impact activity). As an everyday (and legitimate and safe) activity, running departs from other urban tactics such as parkour, skateboarding and grafitti.

We can outrun our fears and danger when we run in the city. We could allow ourselves to be intimidated by the oppressive Barbican buildings and its heavily concrete surroundings, or, we could find our own ways around it, by running it. Running through a council estate in Peckham enables us to conquer our insecurities and paranoia, real, imagined or simply rumoured. If we have no physical advantage over another person (especially if one armed with a weapon, a hoody and ugly tracksuits, a fighter dog or ill-intent), like the Kalahari endurance hunter, we understand that we have our tenacity to rely on, that will allow us to outrun any potential matters of life and death.

Let all the 10,000[2] CCTVs in London follow our movements, for we will register as nothing more than blurs, as if in a Marinetti painting. Haussmann built broad boulevards that were not only beautiful for the flaneur (including those on hashish) to stroll on, but easier for Napoleon’s troops to run down delinquent Parisiens. We could theoretically outwit that, by running through it, as Lola did Berlin, not once but thrice, in Lola Rennt (Tom Twyer, 1998). (Indeed, Lola not only made us see different faces of Berlin, she overcame her useless lover’s problems and overturned her own fate). In precisely-built concrete jungles, the runner can find small ways to defy grand narratives, by running and discovering unknown alleyways and pockets of areas that are neglected. For tightly controlled cities that have been infamously described as having chaos is that is ‘authored’ or absurdity that is ‘willed’, running is a gesture that we can adopt as a comeback (also to the one who described it as such). If we have nowhere to run to, or to run away from, we can discover new spaces within a difficult system, to run. This is one way to ‘not let the bastards grind us down’, as the angry young Arthur reminds us in Sillitoe’s other Kitchen Sink classic, Saturday Night Sunday Morning.

Running also offers a refreshing filter for us to explore a foreign city. When we run in a new city, we interpret landmarks in ways that differ from the overexposed versions pushed forward by tourist books and postcards. Being literally and metaphorically on the ground, we can also run into places – including those that are filled with chaos and absurdity – that would otherwise be whitewashed from the glossy official or so-called authoritative versions. Exposure to the unedited and un-Photoshopped places can open our eyes, ears and minds to other, perhaps more meaningful micro-narratives than the overarching ones.

As runners, we also cease to be taken as ignorant foreigners or exotic Others who are vulnerable, helpless or simply irritating (although we now irritate in other ways, by for instance, ‘endangering the lives of other [slow] users of the pavement’, and so on). While we have previously seen how remains vital to assume the ideological position of an outsider, it is also strategic to look like a local every now and then. Other tourists or even locals ask us for directions, as if the runner has a greater authority on the given site. Indeed, we do.

Virtually anyone can run anytime, anywhere. While it remains unfathomable how the ‘female species’ are still viewed as ‘the weaker sex’ in the 21st century (this is a separate discussion that warrants another 2010,000 theses, and more, but not this one), running is a method in which the female urban dweller could subvert this tiresome outlook. While the female runner is still likely to be spectated upon, she is soon gone, away from any actual bullying that might have befallen someone in a slower mode of navigation. In return, we can enjoy a few moments of tokenistic reciprocations of taunts (after all, we have been at the receiving end from the beginning of time, since having allegedly been created from some spare rib, according to one best-selling storybook), by deliberately making eye contact with the male spectators, but swiftly sprinting off, as if saying ‘catch me if you can’. They do not, and / because they cannot, and they know it only too well. Hence, the look of impotence. A female runner navigating the big city alone can be a sign of physical and mental strength and confidence, thereby warding off any unwanted attention. Or, perhaps it is the face of intense concentration, or simply the excessive (and offensive) perspiration (and animalistic panting) of the serious female runner that desexualises her for the male spectator.

One female, foreign urban-dwelling runner is always warming up. Left: June 2010. Middle: April 2010. Right: May 2010, with our Garmin Forerunner 405 with a broken strap (due to our excessive perspiration, perhaps), here seen taped down to our wrist. We try to use brown tape instead of say, black gaffer tape, for aesthetic purposes as the former can blend in with the colour of our skin. You could not have seen the tape had we not pointed it out, could you?

Running in the city, we produce our own desire paths that subvert tracks laid out for us by the city planners. Should we have a Global Positioning System (GPS) device, we are also able to literally draw our own desire paths. In this way, we create our own unique marks in the midst of the concrete jungle. Akin to the graffiti artist’s surreptitious insignias on walls or trains (or the dog’s trail of urination in the streets), GPS drawing allow us to register our place and existence in the urban landscape. These new tracks, and indeed maps, can be shared with the online community on GPS-sharing sites[4], and further modified collaboratively[5]. From these, further mashups can be created. Like the Situationist tactic of deliberately reading a map upside down, the trans-dimensional runner can appropriate the mashups in innovative ways. In this manner, a lively Life 1.0-Life 2.0-Life 3.0 translation process is generated, all in turn allowing us to return to explore, question and understand our relationship with the city, and indeed, the builders of the city.

The glories of GPS aside, running in a city that we are unfamiliar with without a map can be liberating. Even in a city that we think we know, running without a map can open our eyes, ears and minds in new ways. In an age in which every frontier has been marked, mapped and fully known, such are small ways in which we can re-imagine and re-assess the environment that we live in, as well as its dwellers, including ourselves.

Running in the city, we can run away without physically away. Our minds travel while we remain fully embedded in the urban din. That it is neither illegal (as graffiti is), esoteric (as tai-chi is), extreme (as base jumping is, in which people jump off skyscrapers), technically-complex (as parkour is) or requiring special equipment (as nordic walking does), is the forte of running. Running is so simple as to be banal. While the likes of Roger Deakin, Byron and Martin Amis have made the activity of wild swimming sound lyrical, that it necessarily takes place outside the city, in somewhere unchartered and, indeed, wild, makes it escapist. With running, we can remain fully within a / the system. The ability to conform to a system while playfully questioning it, is an important point of the tactic of trans-dimensional running. Rather than to deny the city or reject reality, running allows us to opt in and play by the rules of the games, while slyly overturning them in personal but powerful ways. Running allows us to take ownership of a place that can be otherwise intimidating and prohibitive. By running, we see the city unpack itself in new ways that in turn also open us up.

Kaidie's desire paths for the month of May 2010.

This is an edited extract from a chapter. Where on googleearth does Kaidie do her writing (and some thinking)? Where is the place in Nondon that inspires us to generate such mindblowing, worldchanging, teethbearing words of wisdom?? To find out, read the next post!


[1] The various lives have been defined in the following ways in this thesis (as of 10 August 2010): Life 1.0 refers to the primary, physical world, ‘reality as it is’.  Life 2.0 refers to the realm of imagination, ‘reality as I like’, as well as realities made possible by Web 2.0. Life 3.0 points to our current hybrid, mixed and augmented realities made possible by Web 3.0. Life 4.0 refers to ‘Web 4.0? and other future technologically-enabled realities, as well as other cycles of our lives to come, in the form of transmigration.

[2] Justin Davenport, ‘Tens of thousands of CCTV cameras, yet 80% of crime unsolved | News’, London Evening Standard, 19 September 2007  [accessed 9 August 2010].

[4] Such as GPSies

[5] Such as open source software Qgis

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INTERMISSION: RUNNING AWAY FROM NONDON FOR A DAY OR TWO. WHERE TO? Part II.

In the previous post, Kaidie asked where she could go for a day or two, away from Nondon. As Chatwin says in his Anatomy of Restlessness, there exists an innate need in us to undertake ‘journeys of the mind and body’. Even while travelling, as we are, being on the journey from life to death, in Nondon. Reprinted here are some of the advice we have received so far. Thank you Susan, Miss Nim (a sponsor of Kaidie’s charity run in March 2010), Chuthatip aka Chutha Indigo aka The Good Pirate aka Fisherman, Aaron and Meena (who had previously helped to look for Kaidie when she was missing)! Kaidie’s running buddy, Claudia Tomaz, is also itching to have a little respite. So, do keep the advice coming in!

Reprinted from Facebook as of Sunday 25 July 2010.

* Walking around Woolwich and Greenwich for 3.5 hours this afternoon, Kaidie realised that Nondon is the one city she is not felt strange, or different, or is foreign (one of the reasons being simply that nearly every other person is strange, different and foreign, too), or out of place (what an evocative expression), or that she shouldn’t be. This is not necessarily the case of the 102 other cities in 32 countries that Kaidie has visited or lived in her previous lives, not even the one that she first arrived in. (All that said, one of the reasons why we are employing running as a navigational tactic for our 21st century reality is precisely because we do want to always feel foreign, strange, different and never settled down. We are never at home, but are out of our comfort zones at all times, and are instead invariably homesick, yearning for a ‘home’  - or an idea, or idealisation of a home. This ‘home’ is yet to be defined, and we resist and put off and postpone calling any place ‘home’, including Nondon).

** Do continue to watch and vote for CLAUDIA TOMAZ’s film, Kaidie and The Meaning of Life 3.0, Episode 1. Episode 2 coming up!

Some of Kaidie's desired next stops (in this or other lives): Iceland (where Marker filmed the '3 children on a road' in Sans Soleil), Norway (aha, a childish desire), Denmark (for Dreyer, and not for Von Trier), Brazil (this October?) (where Herzog crossed the Amazon with his impossible task), Morocco, Canada (for Gould), Algeria (for Camus), the Trans-Siberian (for ever and ever), the Taklimakan desert (ditto), Bhutan (the happiest place on earth), Dubai (one from one theme park to an other), Las Vegas (ditto) (and travels in hyperreality), Belfast (as a city of in-between), Bilbao, River Danube (bordering 10 countries - does it connect or separate them?), DMZ , Gaza (instead of viewing from the other side in Sderot), Xinjiang, Damascus (when Peter O'Toole took over her in Lean's epic that was watched 40 times in a previous life as a child), Mexico (for the amazing Tarahumara runners), Mount Hiei (for the mad marathon monks), Greenland (for Miss Smilla), the part of Russia where The Belovs was filmed, other parts of Finland (for the Leningrad cowboys and Lordi) and Suomenlinna again.

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INTERMISSION: RUNNING AWAY FROM NONDON FOR A DAY OR TWO. WHERE TO?

Hair 6 June 2010, split till Kaidie's end (uncut 12.12.2009 - 09.09.2012, after Tehching Hsieh)

In Life 1.0, Kaidie lives in Nondon. Yet, as we know, any peripetetic runner must deny herself allegiances, and must attach herself to the ethos of non-attachment. Instead, she traverses multiple terrains at the same time, double-triple-crossing, happily crisscrossing her eyes, splitending her hair and curling her toes while dipping curly fries in pig’s cheeks at the same time. So, while Kaidie always insists that she loves Nondon (and that Nondon loves her?), every so often, she must run away from her, to an other place in Life 1.0 that is non-Nondon, non-non-London. We love the city, but the task of the trans-dimensional runner is to resist liking any one place or thing too much. Also, it is Summer just now. Kaidie and her all-consuming love affair with Nondon could do with a little break.

Hence, our Dear Reader, where can Kaidie run away to, for just a day trip, this Summer? Somewhere nearby, but somewhere that looks/sounds/smells/feels different enough from our lovely Nondon. A different terrain to run, with a different scenary, that would give Kaidie a different gait and different rhythm of breathing, and to urge – ever so gently – that stubborn flu of 3 weeks to please leave her system, if not for good, for a little while.

Kaidie recalls a particularly invigorating Summer in a previous life, during which she spent a month in Suomenlinna, in Helsinki, Finland. The weather was extremely crisp, dry and sunny, the flat splendidly spacious and bright (Kaidie was retrospectively told that that was an especially brilliant Nordic Summer). Upon arrival, she was filled with a dread, assuming at once that as a lifelong urban denizen across many lifespans, the fortress island would be unbearable and boring. What arrogance. For, within a couple of days, Kaidie began a month-long routine of walking along the coasts for hours at length, as well as exploring the many tunnels. Although a tiny island, the place opened up the more Kaidie walked it, as if an endless Escher print full of surprising rabbit holes. She would return to the studio to type some notes with no particular intention. In the heady mixture of liqourice ice-cream, squeaky cheese, canons facing generations of enemies, picnics at sloping hills, dipping into the sea, rocking in ferries, blond hair, blue eyes, green eyes, blue-green eyes, and midnight suns, the seeds of Kaidie’s current life, and life story, and task, were planted.

This, of course, was before Kaidie became ‘Kaidie’.

Foam with (foamy) memory. What does it recall? What does it forget? What does it selectively memorise?

Travelling to Stockholm from Helsinki on the trashy Viking Line that Summer, Kaidie recalled Ingmar Bergman’s Summer With Monika (1953). (Kaidie’s favourite work of the great auteur, however, is the shattering Wild Strawberries). This summer, one of Kaidie’s virtual running buddies, James Odling-Smee, tells Kaidie about another Summer with Monika, by Roger McGough (Liverpool, 1967). That summer, Kaidie’s hair was slightly longer than it is now. After she left Suomenlinna, to return home, or ‘home’, she had much of it cut.

In the spirit of summer, with Monika, Monikas, in Stockholm, Suomenlinna, Liverpool, London, Non-London, Nondon, Non-Nondon, Non-non-London, 1953, 1967, 2006, 2010, we reprint McGough’s poem here.

Summer With Monika

They say the sun shone now and again
but it was probably cloudy with far too much rain.
They say the greatest train robbery in history took place,
probably students,
who else wants to steal a train.
They say cabinet ministers and osteopaths
were particularly vulgar about this time,
they say babies were born,
married couples made love,
often with each other
and people died, sometimes violently.
They say it was an average, ordinary, moderate,
run-of-the-mill, common-or-garden summer,
but it wasn’t.
For I locked a yellow door
and I threw away the key
and I spent summer with Monica
and Monica spent summer with me.
Unlike everybody else we made friends with the weather,
most days the sun called and sprawled all over the place,
or the wind blew in as breezily as ever
and ran its fingers through our hair.
But usually it was the moon that kept us company.
Some days we thought about the sea-side
and built sandcastles on the blankets
and paddled in the pillows
or swam in the sink,
and played with the shoals of dishes.
Other days we went for long walks around the table
And picnicked on the banks of the settee.
Or just sun-bathed lazily in front of the fire
Until the shilling set on the horizon.
We danced a lot that summer
bosa nova-ed by the bookcase,
or Madisoned instead,
Hulli-gullied by the oven,
or did the twist in bed.
At first we kept birds in a transistor box to sing for us,
but sadly they died,
we being too embraced in each other to feed them.
But it didn’t really matter
because we made love songs with our bodies.
I became the words and she put me to music.
They say it was just like any other summer,
but it wasn’t.
For we had love and each other and the moon for company,
when I spent summer with Monica
and Monica spent summer with me.

Ten milk bottles standing in the hall,
ten milk bottles up against the wall,
next door neighbour thinks we’re dead,
hasn’t heard a sound he said,
doesn’t know we’ve been in bed,
the ten whole days since we were wed.
No one knows and no one sees
we lovers doing as we please
but people stop and point at these
ten milk bottles a-turning into cheese.
Ten milk bottles standing day and night,
ten different thicknesses and different shades of white.
Persistent carol singers without a note to utter
silent carol singers,
a-turning into butter.
Now she’s run out of passion
and there’s not much left in me
so maybe we’ll get up and make a cup of tea.
then people can stop wondering what they’re waiting for
those ten milk bottles a queuing at our door.

I have lately learned to swim
and feel more at home in the ebb and flow
of your slim rhythmic tide
than in the fully dressed,
couldn’t care less
restless world outside.
You squeeze my hand and cry a little
You cannot comprehend the raggle taggle of living
and think it unfair that death
should be the only one
who knows what he’s doing.
You are afraid of the big bad dark
which loiters in our room
the night it prowls about the yard
the wind howls in distress
The Tom-moon peeps through the window
waiting for the table to undress.
It will soon be tomorrow
there’s nothing to fear
You whisper,
‘ever leave me?’
and put your tongue in my ear.
Sssshhhhh…….
don’t open it,
it can only be
the enemy.
____________

Said I trusted you, spoke too soon
heard of your affair with the man in the moon,
You say that it’s all over, then if you’re right
why does he call at the house every night.

Once I paid the piper and called the tune,
but one afternoon returning home early from the office
I found you in bed with the piper.
You call the last waltz
and now I dance sadly out of your life.

Monica who’s been eating my porridge
while I’ve been away?
My Quaker oats are nearly gone, what have you got to say?
Someone’s been at the whisky,
taken the jaguar keys
and Monica another thing
who’s trousers are these.
I love and trust you darling
can’t really believe you’d flirt
but there’s a strange man under the table
wearing only a shirt.
There’s someone in the bathroom,
someone behind the door,
the house is full of sexy men,
Monica,
Don’t you love me anymore?

You are a woman of many faces
and the one that suits you best I fear
is the one you wear when I’m not here,
for when you wear your marriage face
boredom lounges round the place

Your finger sadly has a familiar ring about it.

Last night was your night out
and just before you went
you put your scowls in a tumbler
half filled with Sterodent
so they’d keep nice and fresh for me.

Monica,
the tea things are taking over,
the cups are as big as bubble cars
they throttle round the room,
the tin-openers skate on the greasy plates
by the light of the silvery moon.
The biscuits are having a party
they’re necking in our bread bin,
that’s jazz you hear in the salt cellars
but they don’t let non-members in.
The egg spoons had our eggs for breakfast,
the sauce bottle’s asleep in our bed,
I overheard the knives and forks
it won’t be long, they said
it won’t be long, they said,
and it wasn’t.

It all started yesterday evening
as I was helping the potatoes off with their jackets
I heard you making a date with the kettle,
I distinctly heard you making a date with the kettle,
my kettle.
Then at midnight,
In the half light,
When I was polishing the blue speckles in a famous soap powder,
I saw you fondling the frying-pan,
I distinctly saw you fondling the frying-pan,
My frying-pan.
Finally at mid-dawn,
In the half light
While waiting in the cool shadows beneath the sink,
I saw you making love with the gas cooker,
I distinctly saw you making love with the gas cooker,
My gas cooker.
My mistake was to leap upon you crying,
Monica, spare the saucers.
For now I’m alone,
you having left me for someone with a bigger kitchen.

In, October, when winter the lodger the sod,
came a-knocking at our door,
I set in a store of biscuits and whisky
you filled the hot-water bottle with tears
and we went to bed until spring.
In April we arose,
warm and smelling of morning,
we kissed the sleep from each others eyes,
and went out into the world,
and now summers here again regular as the rent man,
but our lives are now more ordered, more arranged.
The kissing, wily, carefree times are changed.
We no longer stroll along the beaches of the bed,
or snuggle in the long grass of the carpets,
the room no longer a world for make believing in
but a ceiling and four walls that are for living in.
We no longer eat our dinner holding hands
or neck in the back stalls of the television
the room no longer a place for hide and seeking in
but a container that we use for eat and sleeping in.
Our love has become as comfortable
as the jeans you lounge about in
as my old green coat
as necessary as the change you get from the milkman
for a ten bob note.
Our love has become as nice as a cup of tea in bed,
as simple as something the baby said.
Monica, the sky is blue, the leaves are green,
The birds are singing, the bells are ringing,
For me and my gal.
The suns as big as an ice cream factory,
the corns as high as an elephants eye
could go on for hours about the lovely weather
we are having,
but Monica,
they don’t make summers like they used to.
- Roger McGough

** Do continue to watch and vote for CLAUDIA TOMAZ‘s film, Kaidie and The Meaning of Life 3.0, Episode 1. Episode 2 coming up. **

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KAIDIE’S SLIGHT DETOUR/DIVERSION/REALITY CHECK: ON HERZOG’S ENIGMA OF KASPER HAUSER (Catch on BBC iplayer now!)

Werner Herzog at the San Francisco International Film Festival, 1999. Frame grab from final chapter of Chlorine Addiction by Kai Syng Tan (2000)

If it wasn’t for this (this tedious 1000-day hell of an ‘epic’ endeavour, of Kaidie’s quixotic running across dimensions in search of the so-called ‘Meaning of Life 3.0′), we could possibly have conducted our research on Werner Herzog, as we had contemplated at some moments of our previous lives. How nice now, in this life, to revisit his The Enigma of Kasper Hauser (1974).

The classic Herzogian leitmotifs are there: beasts (fainting chicken, kneeling camel), outcasts/freaks (myth of tiny king with tiny kingdom, each king tinier than before; Kasper Hauser himself); freak shows (including the film we are watching); dreamscapes (ditto, and Kasper’s flickering Super-8 Sahara dreams);  hero/anti-hero (Kasper/Bruno S.); character/actor, acting/not acting (Kasper/Bruno S.); ‘realism’ vs self-mythologisation (including Herzog’s own); the clash of cultures/civilisations (Kasper scrutinised again and again as an Other; “Mother, I have been so cut off from the world”, says Kasper, holding her baby); an assault on ourselves (the Other or the ‘idiot-savant’/savage being more enlightened and more civilised than us); power play and cruelty (boys at chicken and Kasper); moments of tenderness (Kasper playing with black crow, recalling the iconic image of Klaus Kinski playing with monkey in the final scene of Fitzcarraldo); man vs nature (“Let the apples sleep, they are tired.”); man and art (“The music feels strong in my heart. All of a sudden I feel old. Why can’t I play the piano like I breathe?”); godlessness and the absence of redemption (the subtitle, Every Man for Himself, and God Against All of Them, says it all.)

Controversial and problematic as his work and methodologies were/are, Herzog always haunts and provokes, in a manner that is austere, Brechtian and  unsentimental as it is acutely Romantic.

In a previous life, I saw the filmmaker speak at the San Francisco International Film Festival. (I had rushed back to the cinema from my tour around San Francisco of Hitchcock’s film locations of Vertigo - the very same tour that Chris Marker took, I am told, to film the passage that pays homage to Vertigo/Madaleine’s ghost, in his Sans Soleil). As usual, Herzog spoke contemplatively, measuredly, in flawless English with his unmistakably charming accent (but he offered an obligatory ‘apology’ for his ‘bad English’ at the beginning of his speech), punctuated with calculated pauses (Is that Herzog narrating the final dream sequence in Kasper?)

Herzog reminds us of many things, and reminds Kaidie the need to keep running and not lose her vision, flickering and faint as they may be at times. (She is short-sighted after all. Time to clean her mouldy glasses.)

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TRAVELLING IN THE WORLD-WITHIN-WORLD-WITHIN-WORLD OF THE METAVERSE

The following is an other one of several imaginary discussions between ‘Pro-First-Lifers’ (realists who value meatspace more than our virtual) and ‘Pro-Second-Lifers’ (Cyber-enthusiasts and those who celebrate the power of imagination), in a fictitious online academic forum. Entitled (How) Does Physics Function In Cyberspace? Metaphysical Enquiries For The 21st Century: An Online Peer-To-Peer Peer-Reviewed Forum, subscribers include very serious philosophers, psychologists, media theorists, writers, cyber-geographers, cyber-artists, cyber-anthropologists and cyber-anybody-else. And very, very serious PhD students. However, it is sometimes unclear which side they speak for. It is also suspected that some of the subscribers may have more than one account and speak from different sides. Like the real world, the online world is not black and white …

Since March 2, Kaidie has been running about in Second Life as Kaidie Absent, having been kidnapped by The Good Pirate, a.k.a. Chutha  Achavasmit, away from Life 1.0. The images we see here are screen grabs from Kaidie’s  Cyberspace Odyssey in the past 2 months.

Perhaps it is about time Kaidie runs out of the Metaverse, and come ‘back’ to run her Life 1.0, Life 2.0 and Life 3.0 by herself.

Bruce Damer: The surface area of virtual worlds (if an avatar’s height is taken as a unit of measure) will probably exceed the surface area of the Earth within a couple of years.[1]

Pro-Second-Lifer C: Thanks to the Internet, my world has expanded vastly. Cyberspace is a not only a great place to visit – within there, there are so many more worlds that I can inhabit. The attraction of the virtual worlds of MUDs and MMOGs is how nearly anything is possible, including things I cannot do in Life 1.0, and things that once only belonged to the realms of my imagination in Life 2.0. Thus is their attraction, as their popularity attest. China alone recorded 55.5 million online gamers by 2008, with the total market value for virtual transactions at RMB 10-13 billion[2]. What Damer said in late 1997 with respect to Alpha World is not far fetched (although hitherto unverified, to be sure). According to Edward Castronova, tens of thousands of people are logged on into virtual worlds at a time, 24 hours a day, all year round. And, for many, ‘life in the virtual reality spaces seemed preferable to life on Earth.’[3]

Wagner James Au: On an innovation scale, Second Life suggested the potential for MMOs to also be a development platform for commercial, educational, and research projects. […] In South Korea, an estimated one in twelve members of the entire population have played an MMO called Lineage; in China, a whole cottage industry is devoted to “gold harvesting”, the acquisition of gold coins and other fictional money in MMOs. […] As broadband and high end PCs saturate the international market, it’s time to consider MMOs as the likeliest candidate for the Internet’s next generation, supplanting the two dimensional, semi–interactive portal of the Web for an immersive, three–dimensional, fully interactive Metaverse of data. [4]

Pro-First-Lifer C: I am baffled about these statistics of the happenings in Life 2.0, since I can hardly feel a thing in Life 1.0! What is shocking is how pervasive, in all aspects of Life 1.0, this impact has been! What is even more disastrous to contemplate, is Au’s mad prediction is that this mad fictive world within the already-mad Internet world will become the norm of the Internet! What on earth are the conditions that are behind this exodus, where you, and all the millions of gamers ‘leave the real world behind’[5]?

Edward Castronova: [… ]the industries that produce shared virtual reality environments [are developing] rapidly. Advances in connectivity (bandwidth) and interfaces (haptic devices, heads-up displays) have been driven by technology. The amount of available content (narratives, folklores, backstories) has expanded; the video game industry has begun to surpass the motion picture industry in gross revenues. As the phenomenon continues to grow, the aggregate amount of time devoted to shared virtual reality spaces seems likely to rise from today’s tens of thousands of person-years into the hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions.[6]

Pro-Second-Lifer C: There are no lack of examples of large corporations expanding into Cyberspace and building virtual worlds, such as Sony and Microsoft, and Electronic Arts, which support Sims. [7]

Edward Castronova: The Earth is very nice, but there are experiences we can imagine in our minds that we cannot have here. [8]

Pro-Second-Lifer C: Preferring the term ‘synthetic world’, Castronova defines one as ‘persistent online 3D spaces that replicate many of the features of the real world’. Similar to a video game character, the user negotiates synthetic worlds using a virtual body, known as an avatar. That thousands of people can be in the world at the same time make the environments ‘much like a real place, socially speaking’. The worlds, according to Castronova, ‘have a sort of fantastical yet logical reality to them, such that people can fly, but only if they have wings or a flying spell or happen to be birds to begin with.’[9]

William Gibson: A square of cyberspace directly in front of him flipped sickeningly and he found himself in a pale blue graphic that seemed to represent a very spacious apartment, low shapes of furniture sketched in hair-fine lines of blue neon. A woman stood in front of him, a sort of glowing cartoon squiggle of a woman, the face a brown smudge. “I’m Slide,” the figure said, hands on its hips…[10]

Pro-First-Lifer C: Do you not see the problem? These are much like, as Castronova says, but are definitely not real places. You are looking through what Tim Guest labels an electronic looking glass[11], and everything is distorted! You are going the dark streets, the downward spirals, where you would not have dare even thought of venturing in RL.

Pro-Second-Lifer C: What might the problem be? Take pornography – being highly stylised with its own sets of conventions, no one takes them to be ‘the real thing’, but simulations and performances. No pun intended, but pornography slips in and out of ‘reality’ as we know in Life 1.0, to the extent that it does not even matter if they are real or not. This would be the fictive world that philosopher Daniel Dennett says we do not question in this way, because it is not set out to be approached as such.[12] Reality is not the question. Whether something is real or not, or, for that matter, if it is distortion or not, is not the point. This is no different from your illicit agreement with the rules of cinema, when you enter a movie theatre. While you are in there, within the magic circle, you suspend your disbelief, and for the next 90 minutes watch a similar-looking, albeit also significantly different, world unfold in front of you. And it’s even better in a virtual world, since you can participate in it, and direct it!

Sherry Turkle: MUD players are MUD authors, the creators as well as consumers of media content. In this, participating in a MUD has much in common with scriptwriting, performance art, street theater, improvisational theater, or even commedia dell’arte[13].

Wagner James Au: Unlike most MMOs, Second Life encourages its subscribers (the preferred terms is ‘Residents’) to literally build the world with the construction and programming tools provided for them.[14]

Edward Castronova: A not insignificant fraction of the players of these games reported that they felt themselves to be not game players, but citizens of a new world.[15]

Pro-Second-Lifer C: From a wild, untamed piece of virtual land, entire mansions, towns and cities and be architected, hence increasing my sense of ownership and belonging in these worlds. Like Hiro, I can imprint my virtual addresses on my namecard. With a place to call home, and one I have built (or paid Linden dollars for someone else to build) at that, who wouldn’t want to keep going back back?

Pro-Second-Lifer D: Following Pro-Second-Lifer C’s previous line of thought, Cyberporn is even more attractive than porn, being a simulation-within-simulation, a double-simulation. Similarly, a virtual world, being a world within the world of cyberspace, is a double attraction. Virtual worlds are even better than pornography, since I am not only watching it, but participating in it! Well, very nearly. (Sex within virtual worlds is a topic that warrants long discussions – let us do that in a separate thread.) Hard-core Second-Lifers, such as the Second Life resident journalist Au, even go to the extent of describing cyber-activities outside of virtual worlds, such as emailing and blogging, as belonging to ‘real life’![16]

Wagner James Au: […] the experience of one’s alter ego being in an immersive space is experientially different from any other kind of Net–mediated interface that has come before it. Different, and in several key ways, better, than the limited, distanced, largely asynchronous interactivity of the Web as it exists now. An MMO quite literally offers a direct pathway into data, and global collaboration with an international community through avatars that afford each individual a high degree of anonymity, and paradoxically, an equally high degree of self–representation. With so much potential, and the technical/commercial infrastructure in place to make it feasible, it’s difficult to imagine online worlds not becoming the next real leap in the Internet’s evolution. [17]

Pro-Second-Lifer-D: Au is referring to immersion, that which distinguishes being embedded in a virtual world from other kinds of net-mediated interfaces. There are 2 types of immersions that Computer Mediated Communications (CMC) researchers have identified: ‘perceptual immersion’ and ‘psychological immersion’ (the latter drawing us back to the how we derive pleasure from pornography, the art of simulated pleasure – it is all in the mind). Hard at work as well here is the concept of flow.

Richard Bartle: Virtual world designers view psychological immersion as paramount, considering perceptual immersion to be merely one of many possible means to achieve that end. Immersion is also connected with the psychological concept of flow. […] Flow is an exhilarating sense of control and mastery that can arise from pursuing a focused, goal-driven activity; it’s a deep involvement that transcends distractions and sense of time, leading to an ecstatic state of peak productivity.[18]

Pro-First-Lifer-D:  Call a rose by any name – flow and immersion are just fancy ways of saying the old, familiar dirty word: addiction.

Sherry Turkle: Stewart is logged on to one MUD or another for at least 40 hours a week. It seems misleading to call what he does there playing. He spends his time constructing a life that is more expansive than the one he lives in physical reality.[19]

Pro-Second-Lifer C: I do not mean to sound pedantic, but addiction has a physical component alongside the psychological one. The concept of flow, theorised by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a positive and creative one, which refers to theoptimal state of experience for the individual is one in which intentions are not in conflict with each other’. [20] This is the state of heightened energy and focus where one could lose track of time. This altered state of consciousness is the same state experienced by a runner on a runner’s high, a person taking drugs or an artist at the peak of creativity.[21] And, if you wish to talk about an old, familiar dirty word, the word, my friend, is not ‘addiction’ but ‘TV’. Dr. Turkle certainly does not think of being in-world as automatically a bad thing.

Sherry Turkle: If the computer is replacing time with peers and parents, that’s not good. But if the computer is replacing television, then that may well be an upgrade.[22]

Pro-First-Lifer D: But Dr Turkle, you do not realise that the computer is the new TV! In 1895, the audience ran away at the sight of the approaching train in the Lumiere Brothers’ projection. And although the premise of Orson Welles’s radio prank was obviously improbable (invasion of aliens – or, for that matter, pancakes), listeners were sent into a panic. TV entered our living rooms and became our windows to the world; now the entire earth is brought to you on your laptop. We were enchanted then by the capability of these shrewd mimetic machines; today, we are still at the stage of enchantment by the Internet and its dark streets. Even better than photography and cinema, we are now able to not only mimic reality, but be more real than real. We need to unpack this simulacra, and like Barthes, track down, in the ‘decorative display of what-goes-without-saying’, the ‘ideological abuse’ hidden there[23] Break the fourth wall, step out of the magic circle and wake up from the evil dream!

Pro-Second-Lifer D: It is clear that not being of this (virtual) world, you cannot understand what we have said about the rules of the game, the ‘laws of nature’ in-world, if you like. Or, you are one of the spoilsports, what we term ‘griefers’ in-world.

Wagner James Au: Griefing is at heart an attempt to violate the implicit social contract needed to sufficiently maintain the consensus reality necessary for an online world to function. By looking for flaws in that implicit agreement, griefers often force the company and the community to examine basic assumptions in its structure — something potentially valuable in itself. […] [But, more] fundamentally, their behavior breaks the world itself, in a way that’s inexplicable from within the context of a world. Again, a shattering of the consensual reality not intended by the owners or the inhabitants, often through external, artificial means. [24]

Pro-First-Lifer D: ‘Consensual reality’? Mr Au, you have been in-world for so long that you are unable to spell properly. ‘Consensual unreality’, more like! How deluded are you! Are you all cultists, dimwits in denial, or simply mad? Or are you all failures of the real world, and hence escape and create alternative realities? Are you all blind wo/men with the elephant, and in Plato’s cave, or rather, Dungeon, as it were?! Nearly half of your lot – 43%  – actually believe that what you do in-world is as important as RL, according to a new study. Unbelievable![25]

Pro-Second-Lifer D: What you said about artifice is extremely rich coming from your world as well – so many of your so-called rules are artificial constructs as well. Pick any – gender, sexuality, race, the list goes on. Surely we do not have to go into all that discussion again, for we have moved on. That is why we are here, in-world. And contrary to what you say, we are very much ‘awake’ and sober here, as everyone comes in knowing well that this is an artificial, constructed world, the ultimate Brechtian truth. I also argue that this is a more deliberate life, one that you enter willingly, than the one you are simply thrown into. Hence it is a life of a higher quality than Life 1.0, because you have come in of your own will, and you construct yourself as you like, and live as you wish.

Pro-Second-Lifer C: Pro-First-Lifer D, once again, recall what we said earlier about how much the real world is realising the importance of our Second Lives, by joining in. Au rightly points out the importance of positioning online worlds as a part of the real, echoing Dr Turkle’s reminder for us to take them as more than just games, but to pay attention to what they reveal about us[26]. The director of the USC Annenberg School Centre for the Digital Future, Jeffrey I. Cole, also remind us to pay attention to the Internet as a powerful medium.

Wagner James Au:[ …] [I]t’s time to approach these worlds with the seriousness they deserve — to treat online worlds as an essential, inseparable part of our contemporary experience.[27]

Sherry Turkle: Some are tempted to think of life in cyberspace as insignificant, as escape or meaningless diversion. It is not. Our experiences there are serious play. [28]

Jeffrey I Cole: More than a decade after the portals of the worldwide web opened to the public, we are now witnessing the true emergence of the internet as the powerful personal and social phenomenon we knew it would become The internet has been a source of entertainment, information, and communication since the web became available to the American public in 1994. However, we are now beginning to measure real growth and discover new directions for the Internet as a comprehensive tool that Americans are using to touch the world. [29]

Pro-Second-Lifer D: I shiver at bit at Cole’s last statement though – is he implying an American online invasion?!

Pro-Second-Lifer C: Let’s just ignore his bragging. Pro-First-Lifer D, I have yet more examples of interesting First Life presence in Second Life, which reminds us of the point raised by Dr Dodge about how ideology comes into play in cybergeography. In 2007, news website Islam Online created a virtual Mecca in SL, and in the first Hajj, 7,000 people ‘made the journey without even moving’. Not only does this help to provide some relief to the some annual congestion of two million pilgrims, Island developer Walid Wahba says that this aids to ‘educate both Muslims and non-Muslims about the journey. It shows people what the Hajj is and what we do when we’re there.’[30] And, in somewhat amusingly light parlance, he continues: ‘They can check out the worship of God.’[31]However, as common in RL, conflict and discrimination abound in SL. In this case, griefers plastered up pornography on the building, shouting: “We will not leave this place unless this island is shut and Muslims are out.” [32] In 2006, an Israeli built the first synagogue in SL, which grew into a full Jewish neighbourhood with more than 600 members[33]. This expanded into an Israel Island in the following year. Today, users can visit the Old City, Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Dome of the Rock, or ‘float’ in the Dead Sea [34]sans humiliating manhandling by the ill-mannered Mossads for no less than 5 times during immigration checkpoints. One cannot help but attempt to draw parallels about the Israel’s contemporary presence and expansion online, with its troubled endeavours offline, today and historically. Indeed, when interviewed in 2007, the creator of Israel Island had remarked – in hindsight or with foresight, or perhaps innocently – that ‘Second Life is a combination of the real and the imaginary. This came true in December 2008: when Israel launched its brutal attack on Gaza, people, offline and on, reacted furiously. Au reports first hand, in-world.

Wagner James Au: As the airstrikes pounded Gaza, so did protesters, teleporting into SL Israel, waving flags.[…] [T]he protesters kept coming, and eventually [the creator] felt forced to close all of SL Israel to outsiders.[35]

Pro-Second-Lifer D: To continue with Pro-Second-Lifer C’s point about geopolitics: The government of Singapore, the tiny nation with more than 100% broadband penetration, has even bought land in SL. Given that the island has reached her geopolitical (land reclamation) and safety (aerial) limits for expansion, virtual expansion provides the next best ego boost. The young country may also try to lure new (virtual) immigrants from SL, which boasts a population more than double that of Singapore.[36]

Pro-First-Lifer D: You have presented some stark information here. But I am not convinced that SL and the likes are filled with decadent hairy hippie idealists – that is the foundation after all, is it not? Second Life itself says that it is an attempt at a realization of Stephenson’s Metaverse[37]. Also, Au himself states that ‘[m]uch of the Internet’s development in the ’90s was fueled by the cyberpunk–tinged, Bay Area techno–utopianism of Wired.’[38]

Pro-Second-Lifer C: I have to admit defeat with regards to your point about hippies. They have shaved, put on clothes, tuned in and wired up too. I have to admit that we do have them here. One just can’t shake them off, even in SL… Actually I may even be one of them, but you may never find out. Anyways, do not let a few cultural glitches turn you off.  Just like RL, SL has a large diversity of people, and non-people. Just like RL as well, SL has different landscapes and sceneries for every taste and experiment. You could have sex with a horse[39], take part in an anti-Bush protest[40] or become an octopus and rape another octopus, or more radically for an octopus, have sex with, or rape a human being[41]. Au himself boasts of the myriad of pixelated beings that he has interviewed,

Wagner James Au: I’ve interviewed strippers and Catholic priests, combat veterans and peace activists, socialist utopians and midget warmongers. I’ve profiled entrepreneurs who own whole continents and earn six figure incomes from the buying and selling of virtual land, and a homeless hacker who built a virtual mansion while squatting in an abandoned building. [… ]I am talking about seeing the citizens of online worlds as a cross–section of the world itself. […[ And even though none of these events or persons really exist, except as data bits in a San Francisco server farm, they’re part of the best story I’ve ever been lucky enough to cover as a journalist. Because I’ve come to believe that it’s an inadvertent advance report on the future of the Internet, and how we’ll interact in it in decades to come. [42]

Pro-First-Lifer D: You need a reality check. In fact, I am going to leave this forum right now and return to Life 1.0. Get a Life 1.0, you.

Moderator: Discussion closed.

This was sketched in January 2010. Obviously, some things, including Kaidie’s grasp of things and her own position, have moved on. We are just uncertain if the ‘moving on’ is a progression, regression, or an other loopy trip).




[1] Bruce Damer, author of Avatars! Exploring and Building Virtual Worlds on the Internet in late 1997, quoted in  ‘To Thine Own Selves Be True: Review of Sherry Turkle’s Life on the Screen’, Introduction to Computers and Technology: Electronic Resources Center [accessed 25 December 2009].

[2] ‘JLM Pacific Epoch – CNNIC: China Has 55.5M Online Gamers’, JLM Pacific Epoch, 2009 [accessed 5 January 2010].

[3] Edward Castronova, ‘Theory of the Avatar’, SSRN eLibrary, 2003  [accessed 4 January 2010].

[4] Au, Taking New World Notes. [accessed 30 December 2009]

[5] Tim Guest, Second Lives, Arrow Books, 2007, p. 9.

[6] Castronova, ‘Theory of the Avatar’.

[7] Castronova, ‘Theory of the Avatar’.

[8] 2005, p. 25, quoted in Freund.

[9] Edward Castronova, Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games (University Of Chicago Press, 2006), p. 1.

[10] William Gibson, ‘Count Zero’, Voidspace, 1986 [accessed 5 January 2010].

[11] Guest, p. 1.

[12] Daniel Dennett, ‘The Self as a Center of Narrative Gravity’, in Self and Consciousness, ed. by F. Kessel and D. Johnson (Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1986), pp. 275-88 [accessed 5 January 2010].

[13] Turkle, ‘Who Am We?’ [accessed 30 December 2009]

[14] Au, ‘Taking New World Notes’.

[15] Castronova, Theory of the Avatar.

[16] Au.

[17] Au.

[18] Quoted in Michael Hohl, ‘A Glossary for Interactive Technologies’, Hohlwelt, 2009  [accessed 5 January 2010].

[19] Turkle.

[20] Quoted in Hohl.

[21] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, ‘Flow’, TED talks, 2004 [accessed 22 November 2009].

[22] Technology Review, ‘Life On Line – S. Turkle Interview’, Pol.it: The Italian on line psychiatric magazine, 1996 [accessed 22 December 2009].

[23] Roland Barthes, Mythologies, Later Printing (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1972).

[24] Au.

[25] ElectricNews.net, ‘Second Life equal with First Life •’, The Register, 2006 [accessed 5 January 2010].

[26] Turkle, ‘Who Am We’.

[27] Au.

[28] Turkle, ‘Who Am We’.

[29] ElectricNews.net.

[30]Second Life Visit To Mecca For The Hajj’, Sky News: Technology, 2007  [accessed 22 December 2009].

[31] ‘Second Life Visit To Mecca For The Hajj’. Italics mine.

[32] ‘Second Life Visit To Mecca For The Hajj’.

[33] Megan Jacobs, ‘Second life Israel | Internet and Technology | Jerusalem Post’, Jerusalem Post, 2008 [accessed 22 December 2009].

[34] Jacobs.

[35] Wagner James Au, ‘New World Notes: Disputed Territory: War in Gaza Provokes Protest (And Conversation) In Second Life Israel’, 2009 [accessed 22 December 2009].

[36] Nicholas Aaron Khoo, ‘Come to Singapore in your Second Life! – CNET Asia Blogs: Geekonomics’, CNET Asia, 2007 [accessed 5 January 2010].

[37] Au, Taking New World Notes.

[38] Au, Taking New World Notes.

[39] Xah Lee, ‘Animal Love in Second Life’, A Tour In Second Life, 2007 [accessed 29 December 2009].

[40] Au, Taking New World Notes.

[41] Xah Lee, ‘Forced Play in Second Life’, A Tour In Second Life, 2007 [accessed 29 December 2009].

[42] Au, Taking New World Notes.

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WHERE IS THAT ‘SPACE’ IN CYBERSPACE? (HOW) DOES PHYSICS FUNCTION IN CYBERSPACE? Where did we come from? Where are we now? Where (the hell) are we off to?

Should Kaidie use this map to plot her escape from her kidnapper in Second Life? After all it's been nearly 2 months since she's been there!

The following is one of several imaginary discussions between ‘Pro-First-Lifers’ (realists who value meatspace more than our virtual) and ‘Pro-Second-Lifers’ (cyber-enthusiasts and those who celebrate the power of imagination), in a fictitious online academic forum. Entitled (How) Does Physics Function In Cyberspace? Metaphysical Enquiries For The 21st Century: An Online Peer-To-Peer Peer-Reviewed Forum, subscribers include very serious philosophers, psychologists, media theorists, writers, cyber-geographers, cyber-artists, cyber-anthropologists and cyber-anybody-else. As in real life forums, participants are civilised – most of the time. Subscribers who identify themselves as a Pro-First-Lifer see Life 1.0 as the more important life, warn us of the dangers that lurk in Cyberspace, and view the Pro-Second Lifers as delusional dreamers who run away from problems they have in RL. Some of them also pelt names like ‘Stelarc Nutters’ and ‘Technogeeks’ at them. On the other hand, the pro-Second-Lifers retaliate by calling them names such as ‘Luddite’, ‘Academics who-are-pretend-Liberalists-but-are-actually-Fascists-in-real-life-Who-Diss-Everything-Because-It-Is-Uncool-Not-To’, ‘Conservatives’ and ‘Amish’. While many subscribers chose to hide behind generic avatars, some bravely use their real names (such as Sherry Turkle, Lev Manovich and Martin Heiddeger). That said, it is sometimes unclear which side they speak for. It is also suspected that some of the subscribers may have more than one account and speak from different sides. Such is the nature of any debates, especially online ones…

Let us begin our Cyberspace Odyssey.

Neal Stephenson: Like any place in Reality, the Street is subject to development. Developers can build their own small streets feeding off of the main one. They can build buildings, parks, signs, as well as things that do not exist in Reality, such as vast hovering overhead light shows and special neighbourhoods where the rules of three-dimensional spacetime are ignored.[1]

Pro-Second-Lifer A: This is an extraordinary time to be alive. Not only can I travel to different cities in real life (RL), there are even more travels I can have outside of RL. Thanks to the Internet, my world has expanded vastly. Cyberspace is a not only a great place to visit – within there, there are so many more places to enter. In Stephenson’s imagination, a metaverse is a ‘place’, with ‘streets’. In Gibson’s, it is a big neon ‘city’, within which there are many centres to visit. But the land size of Second Life alone, at 1,700 virtual square km, is larger than metropolitan London.[2] So it would not be a stretch, even, to describe Cyberspace as a world, within which there are yet many worlds to explore.

William Gibson: People jacked in so they could hustle. Put the trodes on and they were out there, all the data in the world stacked up like one big neon city, so you could cruise around and have a kind of grip of it, visually anyway, because if you didn’t, it was too complicated, trying to find your way to a particular piece of data you needed.[3]

Neal Stephenson: Hiro is approaching the Street. It is the Broadway, the Champs Elysees of the Metaverse. It is the brilliantly lit boulevard that can be seen, miniaturized and backward, reflected in the lenses of his goggles. It does not really exist. But right now, millions of people are walking up and down it.[4]

Pro-Second-Lifer B: Even when simply cruising around as Gibson does, surfing in cyberspace can be akin to psychogeographical tactic that the Situationists advocated in the streets. In these trips, surprises happen, bringing me to unexpected places. When I open my customised homepage on my Firefox browser, I may see a CNN news headlines that I click into to read; there, I may see comments written in by a viewer. Intrigued by her words, I check out her linked Blogspot blog. There, a Google ad pops up to tell me to check out a related topic, which I do, and at the same time, watch a Youtube posting by the same writer, at the same time! I write in a comment to her video, and seconds before I know it, someone else has already responded to my comment. So, another thing that makes my around-the-(Cyber)world-trip better than a RL one, is its simultaneity and real-time quality. It is as if I am visiting London, New York, Shanghai and Johannesburg at the same time! Better still, this world seems to be infinite, with no limits, capable of unending expansion. Like Columbus discovering virgin territories in the 15th century, Web 2.0 is our golden age of exploration, of Cyberspace. As not only a user but a content-creator myself with the easy-to-use tools, not only can I participate in the various virtual worlds, I can construct my own new territories.

Pro First-Lifer A: I might not have the guts to say this to you face–to-face, but I think you are being naïve, crass and Romantic. You are speaking of Cyberspace as if you are Alice entering Wonderland the first time, still in the state of enchantment. In the past two decades, the academic world has  been up to speed with this – if not entire new departments like Informatics, there are new divisions in every discipline, such as digital anthropology or ethnography in the ‘old’ discipline of Anthropology, ‘new’ media art in Fine Art (which is by now rather old, so old that artists have dropped the ‘new’ out of embarrassment). This may disappoint you, but there is even the new discipline of Cybergeography – where geographers attempt to fully map the space that you describe as ‘infinite’. The same way psychoanalysts in Life 1.0 rationalise your dreams in your Life 2.0, Cybergeographers conduct their field work online, in-world, and share their data with us in Life 1.0. I am very sorry, but it is time to wake up from your (wet) dreams and have a reality check.

Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchin: The hype around much of Internet, especially in the mid 1990s, was that it was ‘everywhere and nowhere’ and it would make geography less significant in human organisation through the ‘death of distance’. This is patently not been the case. While the Internet has undoubtedly had an affect on the geography of business operation and individual consumption, distance is not dead. What is being witnessed is a complicated restructuring, through processes of concentration and decentralisation, across scales.[5]

Pro-Second-Lifer B: I do not disagree with Dr Dodge and Dr Kitchin. As we invent and use it, we also struggle to make sense of the complex medium. Just as we can approach life itself from different perspectives such as biology, religion and the arts, so, too, could Cyberspace be analysed from various ways. In fact, the penetration of the Internet on our lives is so far and deep, that it is as complex as life itself. And as Pro-First-Lifer 1 pointed out, pre-internet phenomena, disciplines and objects create neologisms, insert hyphens to join the new wave (e-commerce, iphone, Government 2.0); all offices, schools, libraries and institutions in First Life have an equal or even bigger Second Lives online (BBC’s iPlayer, tiny country Maldives as the first country to open its official embassy in Second Life in 2007[6]). Many brick-and-mortar businesses have also found it more efficient to have only virtual offices. So this is a complex stage of re-structuring and paradigm shifts indeed, as First Life attempts to be up to speed with the Second in Cyberspace, in order to fully make use of the powerful medium of the Internet.

Pro-First Lifer A: Check out my government’s website- on the page entitled ‘Social Media and Web 2.0 in Government’, the White House even has a tagline of ‘Better websites, better government’[7]! Recall too how part of Obama’s success during the election was because of his team’s ability to exploit the medium, being pervasive on Youtube and Twitter. So this is a case in point of an clever integration of our First and Second Lives.

Pro-Second –Lifer A:  I’m confused though – should it not be the other way around? Better government, therefore better websites? … Anyways, let’s not digress from the discussion of the geography of Cyberspace that Dr Dodge and Dr Kitchin are trying to explain. In any case, no offence to Pro-First Lifer 1, but we certainly don’t need more of this country’s presence in our Second Lives, or of this country’s ‘exploitation’ of anything, for that matter, which we have in our First Lives. Way more than enough. Do not get me started.

Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchin: The idea of the Internet as being somehow ‘anti-geographical’ is based on three key notions: fantasy, denial, and ignorance: 1. Internet geography was assumed not to exist. This is anti-corporeal, cyber-utopianist fantasy that somehow the virtual communities of cyberspace can be produced in a realm divorced from material existence. 2. Internet geography was assumed not to be important, so could be denied. The failure of many e-commerce ventures in the dotcom boom, we would argue, was based in part on ignoring the grounded, geographic, realities of computer-mediated communication, logistic networks and labour markets. 3. Internet geography was assumed not be measurable. Because it was hard to do, it was ignored, especially in the heady days of bubble growth. The medium of communication might be virtual, but the Internet is dependent on physical infrastructure and human labour, most of which is invisible to users. The computers are small in scale and are usually hidden from view in anonymous servers rooms and secure, windowless buildings, while the cables are under floors, in ceilings and in conduits buried under roads. The banal technicalities of Internet infrastructures are easily overlooked (just like for other essential utilities of water, electricity) but they are not naturally given. The geographical structure and operation of networks that service modern living have politics.[8]

Pro-Second Lifer B: Dr Dodge, could you give an example please about the political nature of geography?

Martin Dodge: Domain names are important locational tools at a technical level, but also have a wider political geography in terms of how they are allocated and how this naming relates back to real-world territorial and jurisdictional boundaries. (For example, the recent ruling from a French court that the Yahoo Internet service must block users in France from buying Nazi memorabilia through the web.[9]

Pro-First-Lifer A: Just as there is geopolitics in the real world, there is cybergeopolitics as well. Let us discuss this in a later thread. Pro-Second Lifer 1, your Cyberbubble may burst if you come to my country and see Second Life’s 700 Debian Linux servers in a San Francisco data warehouse[10] – large, physical metals with lots of cables, all working furiously to generate your fantasy world. Just because you do not see them, you are blind also to their presence. And, by the way, if you do not already know, but this is a democratic society, so I have the right to free speech. Or, do you come from a repressed country with dismal human rights records? Have they blocked your Google search engine from the words ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ like the Chinese, or even ‘Life’ itself? Or, are you an oppressed Chinese yourself? I am a little busy saving the (real) world, but shall I liberate you as well?

John Perry Barlow: Whether by one telephonic tendril or millions, they are all connected to one another. Collectively, they form what their inhabitants call the Net. It extends across that immense region of electron states, microwaves, magnetic fields, light pulses and thought which sci-fi writer William Gibson named Cyberspace.[11]

Pro-Second Lifer A: The knowledge of the existence of hardworking machines running my Second Life in no way disrupts my enjoyment in-world. Incidentally, artist group Tsunami precisely attempted to question the meaning of distance in their presentation at Documenta 11, by walking from Kassel to Kiev, where Documenta’s servers are located.[12] Understanding that the workings of the dream machine of Hollywood studios, and for that matter, the behind-the-scenes of a blockbuster movie, can enhance my pleasure of the fictional world that is created. And even more so, arguably, in virtual worlds such as Second Life, since I am responsible for creating it! Like Pygmalion, can’t I help but marvel at my own creation! To return us to the topic of geography, I think it is a good idea to have a map around Cyberspace. GPS navigators, maps, Googlemaps and Google Earth certainly help and do not diminish the adventurer’s pleasure in her explorations. Magellan, with his crappy, low-tech compass (high tech at that time, to be sure), was the first to travel around the world, and went all the way to the Philippines (and got killed there, however, god bless his soul). In Cyberspace, search engines are already performing the function of helping one get oriented. Pro-First-Lifer A, answering you question, yes I am Chinese, but not that kind. What kind I am is none of your business. I think the Moderator of this forum should ‘liberate’ you and let you go. Like your country, you are uncivil. I must say that I find you repulsive.

John Perry Barlow: Cyberspace, in its present condition, has a lot in common with the 19th Century West. It is vast, unmapped, culturally and legally ambiguous, verbally terse (unless you happen to be a court stenographer), hard to get around in, and up for grabs. Large institutions already claim to own the place, but most of the actual natives are solitary and independent, sometimes to the point of sociopathy. It is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for both outlaws and new ideas about liberty.[13]

Bruce Sterling: Cyberspace is the ‘place’ where a telephone conversation appears to occur. Not inside your actual phone, the plastic device on your desk. Not inside the other person’s phone, in some other city. The place between the phones. [...] [I]n the past twenty years, this electrical ‘space,’ which was once thin and dark and one-dimensional—little more than a narrow speaking-tube, stretching from phone to phone—has flung itself open like a gigantic jack-in the- box. Light has flooded upon it, the eerie light of the glowing computer screen. This dark electric netherworld has become a vast flowering electronic landscape. Since the 1960s, the world of the telephone has cross-bred itself with computers and television, and though there is still no substance to cyberspace, nothing you can handle, it has a strange kind of physicality now. It makes good sense today to talk of cyberspace as a place all its own[14].

Martin Dodge: [Cyberspace] suggests that we can exist in a digital ether. But these dreams are nowhere near reality, for cyberspace is hardly immaterial in that it is very much an embodied space. […] [I]t should be treated as an extension of the geographic realm, not as some disembodied, parallel universe. Nevertheless, cyberspace is changing geography, it is warping space, shrinking distance, and modifying our sense of place. Understanding these complex warpings and distortions is very much at the heart of cybergeography.[15]

Pro-Second Lifer B: Cyberspace, conceptualised in science-fiction of Life 2.0, is now brought back to the material world of Life 1.0 by Cybergeographers. While the realists or academics measure Life 2.0 with the rules of Life 1.0, Residents of Life 2.0 continue to attempt to push their limits of imagination and go deeper, further. While Dr Dodge maps Cyberspace as an ‘extension of the geographic realm’, Pro-Second Lifers like myself and Turkle’s MMOG player Doug would have mapped physical geography as an extension of Cyberspace, the same way he sees RL as another window in his desktop. In a similar vein, we can see our online existence as an extension of our physical existence, since many of us have email ‘addresses’ and ‘home’ pages, apart from an address and home in a physical location.

John Perry Barlow: Cyberspace is the homeland of the Information Age – the place where the citizens of the future are destined to dwell.[16]

Neal Stephenson: HIRO PROTAGONIST: Last of the freelance hackers/ Greatest sword fighter in the world/ Stringer, Central Intelligence Corporation / Specializing in software-related intel (music, movies & microcode). On the back is gibberish explaining how he may be reached: a telephone number. A universal voice phone locator code. A P.O. box. His address on half a dozen electronic communications nets. And an address in the Metaverse.[17]

Pro-Second-Lifer B: Like Stephenson’s Hiro Protagonist, our namecards can provide an address in the Metaverse rather than the physical – which in any case is becoming increasingly insignificant, given the death of the culture of letter-writing in preference of email (or briefer still, 140 characters). If we look at the larger picture, Cyberspace – not Earth – is our destined homeland, as Barlow tells us. Also, given that content is user-generated and emergent – by that I mean that which arises and exists only as a phenomenon of independent parts working together, and that which is not predictable on the basis of their properties[18] there really seems to be more places that we can build, faster than the Cybergeographers are able to map them. The tension between Life 1.0 and Life 2.0 imaginations of the geography of Cyberspace is extremely interesting, just as the tension between Life 1.0 and Life 2.0 imaginations of of any aspect of life (identity, politics, behaviour, reality) and indeed, Life itself, extremely rich.

Pro-First-Lifer B: Pro-Second-Lifer B, you speak of the changes in Cyberspace as if human and natural geographies are static! In response to the changes in physical geography, new maps – and more importantly, new methods of thinking about mapping- are constantly generated. And, in this age, no one is so naïve as to assume that maps are transparent, neutral or objective, but are dynamic mappings.[19] Ditto Cyberspace! I also strongly advise you to have a look at Dr Dodge and Dr Kitchin’s wonderful book, Atlas of Cyberspace, which contains many mappings of many facets of Cyberspace, including maps of the structure of cyberspace, maps of the Web, maps of emails and virtual worlds, as well as an entire section of imaginations from the arts, including science fiction[20]. The existence of this book itself is proof enough of the Cybergeographers recognition of the diversity and wealth of Cyberspace.

Rob Kitchin and Martin Dodge: Maps are never fully formed and their work is never complete. Maps are transitory and fleeting, being contingent, relational and context-dependent; they are always mappings; spatial practices enacted to solve relational problems (eg, how best to create a spatial representation, how to understand a spatial distribution, how to get between A and B, and so on). [21]

Pro-Second-Lifer B: Thank you for the lead, I will definitely read that. I think we recognise that our quarrel about the gap between what we imagine (Life 2.0) and what we translate into reality (Life 1.0), belongs, in part, to the old debate of Cartesian anxiety. As a Pro-Second-Lifer, I certainly am in the ‘mind’ camp. Speaking of which, children certainly have very interesting imaginations of geography on- and off-line. Sherry Turkle talks about how children think of their creations in MMOGs coming to live, and travelling outside of their metaverse into cyberspace![22]

Sherry Turkle: Robbie, a 10-year-old who has been given a modem for her birthday, puts the emphasis not on communication but on mobility in considering whether the creatures she has evolved on SimLife are alive. […] if your modem were on, [the creatures] could get out of your computer and go to America Online. […] Sean, 13, who has never used a modem, comes up with a variant on Robbie’s ideas about travel. “The creatures could be more alive if they could get into DOS. If they were in DOS, they would be like a computer virus and they could get onto all of your disks, and if you loaned your disks to friends, it would be like they were travelling.”[23]

Pro-Second-Lifer A: And don’t we forget that it was, again, Google Earth – the powerful tool of military precision that raises concerns of privacy for the Pro-First-Lifers – is founded in science fiction as much as Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon. We don’t need to fly up the skies or outside of earth itself, to now have a bird’s or god’s eye view. Don’t we see the importance of Life 2.0, with its rich imaginations, supplying Life 1.0 with Life itself!

Neal Stephenson: There is something new: A globe about the size of a grapefruit, a perfectly detailed rendition of Planet Earth, hanging in space at arm’s length in front of his eyes. Hiro has heard about this but never seen it. It is a piece of CIC software called, simply, Earth. It is the user interface that CIC uses to keep track of every bit of spatial information that it owns — all the maps, weather data, architectural plans, and satellite surveillance stuff. [24]

Pro-Second-Lifer A: The MMOG Second Life begins as a vast landscape of untamed wilderness, that the Resident has to sculpt, shape, and settle. Just as RL, SL has different landscapes and sceneries for every taste and ambition – if one has enough Linden dollars, that is.

Wagner James Au: From open oceans spring sailboats, submarines, and cruise ships; from the plains come racing tracks, clothing–optional nightclubs, and Resident–made games of all size and style. From the mountains appears sprawling, Frank Lloyd Wright–style homes, tree villages, and heavily–armed World War II fortresses. In all this, there’s a distinct sense of an expanding wilderness being settled. [25]

Pro-First-Lifer A: You have a great sense of irony – the irony however is that you do not know it.  You claim that ‘Life 2.0 supplying Life 1.0 with Life itself’ – do you not see that in your own formulation, Life 1.0 is the larger entity, with Life 2.0 a little grapefruit within it? And, my dear Pro-Second Lifer A, the ‘A’ in my avatar refers to my Almighty country, but I suppose yours refers to A***hole.

Moderator: Discussion thread closed due to Antagonistic behaviours of some users.

(This was sketched January 2010. Obviously, some things, including Kaidie’s grasp of things and her own position, have moved on. We are just uncertain if the ‘moving on’ is a progression, regression, or an other loopy trip).


[1] Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash (Spectra, 2000), pp. 24-25. (Chapter 4)

[2] Freund, Katie, ‘DIGC101 Online Worlds’, 2009 [accessed 2 January 2010].

[3] William Gibson, Mona Lisa Overdrive, (Spectra, 1989), p. 22.

[4] Stephenson, p. 24 (Chapter 1), Snow crash.

[5] Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchin, ‘Net: Geography Fieldwork: Frequently Asked Questions’, CASA: Working Paper Series, 83 (2004).

[6]Tiny island nation opens the first real embassy in virtual world – Times Online’, Times Online, 2007  [accessed 22 December 2009].

[7] USA government, ‘Better websites. Better government: Social Media and Web 2.0 in Government’, WebContent.gov:, 2009  [accessed 4 January 2010].

[8] Dodge and Kitchin.

[9] Martin Dodge, ‘Cybergeography’, Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 28(1) 1-2, 2001 [accessed 4 January 2010].

[10] Tim Guest, Second Lives (Arrow Books Ltd, 2008), p. 7.

[11] John Perry Barlow, Crime and Puzzlement, 1990. Quoted in Dodge, The Geography of Cyberspace Directory – What is Cyberspace ? [accessed 26 December 2009].

[12] Tilman Baumgartel, ‘[Reader-list] A different take on Documenta 11’  [accessed 4 January 2010].

[13] John Perry Barlow, Crime and Puzzlement, 1990. Quoted in Dodge, The Geography of Cyberspace Directory – What is Cyberspace? [accessed 26 December 2009].

[14] Bruce Sterling, Introduction to The Hacker Crackdown.

[15] Dodge 2001, ‘Cybergeography’, Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 28(1) 1 – 2 .

[16] 1991, quoted in Dodge.

[17] Stephenson, Snow Crash.

[18] Apple Macintosh Dictionary function, version 2.0.3 (51.5).

[19] Rob Kitchin and Martin Dodge, ‘Rethinking maps’, Progress in Human Geography, 31 (2007), 331-344  [accessed 5 January 2010].

[20] Dodge and Kitchin.

[21] Rob Kitchin and Martin Dodge, ‘Rethinking maps’, Progress in Human Geography, 31 (2007), 331-344  [accessed 5 January 2010].

[22] Turkle, 4.01: Who Am We?

[23] Turkle, 4.01: Who Am We?

[24] Stephenson, Snow Crash. Chapter 13.

[25] Au, Taking New World Notes.

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IN THE METAVERSE, NO ICARUS WILL CRASH. Even if/when I crash, I will be reborn and life goes on. And on. Infinitely. Ad nauseum.

A generation cushioned from the cold by central heating, from the heat by airconditioning, carted in aseptic transports from one identical house or hotel to the another, should feel the need for journeys of mind and body, for pep pills or tranquillisers, or for the cathartic journeys of sex, music and dance. We spend far too much time in shuttered rooms.

-  Bruce Chatwin, Anatomy of Restlessness: Selected Writings 1969 – 1989 [1]


Travelling is the act of getting from one place to another[2]. There has been a long history of human movement. Motivations vary – people travel out of pleasure, or reasons political , economical and poetic, or out of necessity, for short or long term, due to push or pull factors, and in various modes of transportation as technologies improve and ambitions engorge. Think climate changes, agricultural practices, trade, migration, famines. Think nomads, gypsies, sailors, stateless people and their diasporas. Think political conquests, search for new, virgin territories, untapped resources, ‘discoveries’ of ‘new’ continents like your Americas and Temasek-s[3]. Think of the revolutionary heroes, as writer, romantic and compulsive traveller Chatwin urges, who are ‘not worth a thing until he has been on a good walk. Che Guevara spoke of the “nomadic phase” of the Cuban Revolution. Look what the Long March did for Mao TseTung, or Exodus for Moses.’[4] Think escape and the search for Paradise, by Thelma, Louise, and Gauguin, and the middle-aged European/Australian woman in Bali with the Kuta cowboys, and the modestly-sized Oriental man with the towering platinum-blonde escort. Think religious pilgrimages, rites of passage and existential quests for the meaning of life. Think Romantic, heroic and punishing quests by madmen Fitzcarraldo/Klaus Kinski in the Amazon, and the solo walks from Kiev to Madrid by Werner Herzog himself, as if the very act of a strenuous trek exorcises their demons. Think trade shows, World Expos, and the travelling circus in town. Think Grand Tours to see the world for those with the leisure time (for it did take a bit longer than it would today) and spending power. For those with even more spending power, think travels to outer space, as the guy appropriately named Laliberte did in 2009 – something technologically impossible only years ago, but haunted those rich in imagination for centuries, like George Melies and Arthur C. Clark. Think poetic search for inspirations and new ways of seeing, by Barthes in Japan, and Basho the poet who cured himself of his loneliness by islandhopping in Japan. As Chatwin observes,

travel does not merely broaden the mind. It makes the mind, The raw materials of Proust’s imagination were two walks round the town of Illiers where he spent his family holidays. These walks later became Méséglise and Guermantes Ways in À la Recherche du Temps Perdu. [5]

Chatwin notes also that ‘(m)an walked and swam long before he rode or flew. Our human possibilities are best fulfilled on land or sea. Poor Icarus crashed.’[6]. Think Maldives, Goa, Ibiza. Entire cities and towns perform. Today, globalisation and 1-pence early-bird gimmicks from budget airlines gives everyone the opportunity to fly, making travelling a part of contemporary life. We become tourists, take breaks, have getaways, go for vacations, perform public sex on the beach with strangers [7] in the city constructed for public show-and-tell. Think casino-city Macau, Documenta in Kassel once every 5 years, Olympics in London in 2012. Then, there are also those who travel simply because the act of travelling is pleasurable in itself, like ‘the indefatigable Arab wanderer who strolled from Tangier to China and back for the sake of it’ [8].

Some American brain specialists took encephalograh reading of travellers. They found that changes of scenery and awareness of the passage of seasons trough the year stimulated the rhythms of the brain, contributing to a sense of wellbeing and an active purpose in life. Monotonous surroundings and tedious regular activities wove patterns which produce fatigue, nervous disorders, apathy, self-disgust and violent reactions.

- Chatwin[9]



[1] Bruce Chatwin, Anatomy of Restlessness: Uncollected Writings, New edition (Picador, 1997). (pp 100-106)

[2] ‘Travel – Definition of travel noun’, in  (Cambridge Dictionary Online: Free English Dictionary and Thesaurus, 2009) [accessed 30 December 2009].

[3] Temasek was the ancient name of Singapore before its ‘founding’ by the British.

[4] Chatwin.

[5] Chatwin.

[6] Chatwin.

[7] John Bingham and Laura Clout, ‘British couple arrested in Dubai over ‘sex on the beach’’, Telegraph.co.uk, 9 July 2008 [accessed 31 December 2009].

[8] Chatwin.

[9] Chatwin.

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DOUBLETHINK: CONTRADICTORY IN TERMS

1984_doublethink

One of Kaidie’s guidebooks in Life 3.0 is George Orwell’s 1984, for several reasons. Like Life 3.0, the city of London is the novel’s mise-en-scene. In Orwell’s universe, reality is seen through an inverted lens, where the Ministry of Defence fights permanent wars, and the Ministry of Love (I love this- ‘miniluv’) operates through the mechanism of fear. That deep parallels can be drawn with our reality today can not be emphasised enough. And, like the notion of doublethink, Life 3.0 embodies contradictions without contradiction, with no apology. Like Smith, Kaidie is an experiment; while Smith’s choices may seem limited compared to Kaidie’s in Life 3.0, like Kaidie, Smith  contrives to seek spaces within which he could exist/live/be. Orwell’s depiction of Smith’s process of torture through to reeducation and final love of Big Brother, is so slowburning that the  final inevitable explosion – or, more accurately, implosion -  resembles fingernails scratching a chalkboard, largo, breaking in the process and the small sharp bits scratching and incising the pink raw skin where the nail once was itself, a procedure so calculated and clinical as to be chilling, heartbreaking, repulsive and devastating as it is sublimely beautiful,  a la Pasolini’s 120 Days of Sodom, Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange or a Gould’s rendition of the slow movement of the Emperor concerto. Yet another reason why 1984 resonates with Kaidie is of course, how it has been said that the circumstances of one of her previous lives was ‘Orwellian’.

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IN THE PINK OF HEALTH: DAY 55: (ONE OF) KAIDIE’S MAPPINGS OF HER LIFE 3.0: NOT A WORLD OF BLACKS AND WHITES, BUT OSCILLATIONS OF IN BETWEENS.

2009oct12map

If you can read between the lines and gaze between the greys and grays, why don't you test out this mapping in YOUR life?

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TRIP-WITHIN-A-TRIP-WITHIN-A-TRIP: KAIDIE IN HEIDILAND!

Heidiland

Much as I love Nondon, I am travelling to Switzerland for a short break. I will reside in Villa Straeuli, Winterthur, for a short period. As I have never been, and the residence looks quite wonderful, you, my dear reader, must agree that I should feel terribly excited.

I will be visiting Heidiland, to meet my Facebook friend Heidi. Afterall I have appropriated my name, Kaidie from her. We are similar in many ways (female, ageless, having been born in theme parks, being cartoon figures) though she lives in the mountains. I persuade her to update herself and turn urbane, but she is stubborn like that, and insists that she is ‘timeless’. What sentimental tosh. But we do love her, do we not.

On 26 January Tuesday 2000 hrs, I will do a ‘live’ presentation at Villa Straeuli. Please do come! It is free of charge! It is my first Life 1.0 appearance. I can’t wait to see you, my dear Reader! And I am sure you feel the same. Don’t lie.

During my stay, I will also visit Dignitas. As someone who has the ability to specify her life and lifespan, I am interested to visit to understand and learn more about how we think about death,  which is a vital part of life. In our inability to discuss death in an open manner, we mystify it further. Since life consists of cycles of lives, rather than calling this ‘suicide’ or ‘death tourism’, it would be more helpful to think of it as life tourism.

I am looking forward to my trip! It is a trip within my trip in Nondon; zoom out, and you can see this as a trip-within-a-trip-within-a-trip, since, as a Third Lifer, I am a traveller between Life 1.0 and Life 2.0.  Perhaps I could even find the meaning of the meaning of the meaning of life – triply profound.

So, Come join Kaidie in Heidiland! This will be my 1st reallife appearance 2000hrs 26 January Tuesday. Apart from sharing images of my visit to the themepark, I will talk about my travels to the other themeparks of Life 3.0, Life 2.0 and Life 1.0. Entry free (voluntary donations).


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IF YOU COULD LIVE YOUR LIFE ALL OVER AGAIN, HOW WOULD YOU CHANGE IT?


Original composition by Philip Tan 2009

* ERICH FROMM: Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve.

* MONTY PYTHON, THE MEANING OF LIFE: Lady Presenter: Well, that’s the end of the film. Now, here’s the meaning of life. …Well, it’s nothing very special. Uh, try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.

* QUEEN, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY: Is this the real life? /Is this just fantasy/Caught in a landslide/ No escape from reality

*ANDRE BRETON: It is living and ceasing to live that are imaginary solutions. Existence is elsewhere.

*KUNDERA, THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING: How can one perform life when the dress rehearsal for life is life?”

*PESSOA: THE BOOK OF DISQUIET: To create I have destroyed myself … I’m the empty stage where various actors act out various plays. I am a secret orchestra whose instruments strum and bang inside me. I only know myself as the symphony.

*PESSOA: Fernando Pessoa, strictly speaking, does not exist.

*DARWIN: It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.

*WERNER HERZOG: I believe the common denominator of the Universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility and murder.

*CHRIS MARKER, SANS SOLEIL: The first image he told me about was of three children on a road in Iceland, in 1965. He said that for him it was the image of happiness and also that he had tried several times to link it to other images, but it never worked. He wrote me: one day I’ll have to put it all alone at the beginning of a film with a long piece of black leader; if they don’t see happiness in the picture, at least they’ll see the black.

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SUPERMAN/SAMSARA, LIGHTNESS/WEIGHT

NIETZSCHE:

* THE GAY SCIENCE (1882): What if a demon were to creep after you one day or night, in your loneliest loneness, and say: “This life which you live and have lived, must be lived again by you, and innumerable times more. And mere will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and every sigh— everything unspeakably small and great in your life—must come again to you, and in the same sequence and series—” Would you not throw your self down and curse the demon who spoke to you thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment, in which you would answer him: “Thou art a god, and never have I heard anything more divine!”

* THE BIRTH OF TRAGEDY (1872): The metaphysical comfort—with which, I am suggesting even now, every true tragedy leaves us—that life is at the bottom of things, despite all the changes of appearances, indestructibly powerful and pleasurablethis comfort appears in incarnate clarity in the chorus of the satyrs, a chorus of natural beings who live ineradicably, as it were, behind all civilization and remain eternally the same, despite the changes of generations and of the history of nations.

* THE WILL TO POWER: Everything becomes and recurs eternally – escape is impossible! – Supposing we could judge value, what follows? The idea of recurrence as a selective principle, in the service of strength (and barbarism!!)… To endure the idea of the recurrence one needs: freedom from morality; new means against the fact of pain ( pain conceived as a tool, as the father of pleasure…); the enjoyment of all kinds of uncertainty, experimentalism, as a counterweight to this extreme fatalism; abolition of the concept of necessity; abolition of the “will”; abolition of “knowledge-in-itself.” Greatest elevation of the consciousness of strength in man, as he creates the overman.

Kundera

KUNDERA, THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING (1984):

* And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself?
* We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.
*Parmenides saw the world divided into pairs of opposites: light/darkness, fineness/coarseness, warmth/cold, being/non-being.
* What then shall we choose?  Weight or lightness?
* Was he correct or not?  That is the question.  The only certainty is: the lightness/weight opposition is the most mysterious of all.
*  The heaviest of burdens is simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment.
* The absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.
* History is as light as individual human life, unbearably light, light as a feather, as dust swirling into the air, as whatever will no longer exist tomorrow.

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THE MUSEUM OF EVERYTHING AND HENRY DARGER (many thanks to JO & ROB for this wonderful recommendation!)

What is between everything and nothing? Something, for sure.

What is between everything and nothing? Something, for sure.

At Jo and Roy’s recommendation, I visited the Museum of Everything last Sunday. (DO GET YOUR RECOMMENDATIONS POURING IN! I will take them up and report back!! This blog entry is proof!) I walked to and from the museum (about 7km) at a temperature not fit for humans. Fortunately I was a hamster then (and now). Unfortunately, my little hands/feet (call them what you will – ok, limbs) could not have a good grip of the icy ground, so I slipped and landed on my ass. In Life 3.0, being the smart ass that I am, I turned my accident into a positive experience, and instead of trying to stand up and confront the chuckling spectators, I rolled myself on the ground, all the way to the Museum at Sharples Hall Street, which is right next to Primprose Hill.

Museum3

Sharples Hall Street

How glad I am to have visited. I quite like the show (though I must say that I find the term ‘Outsider Art’ – which the show has been described as – slightly problematic, the way all forms of ghetto-isation are, and also dangerous, to an extent, for a sort of mythologisation and romanticisation of artists and their processes. This is interesting also especially if the curators of a show are NOT outside but on the contrary, inside inside. Or perhaps this is meant to be an other of those clever contemporary self-reflexive joke?).

Anyways. I like the space, narrow even for me (I have been invariably described as ‘diminutive’ – yes yes, compared to you human beings I am vertically challenged, but please note that while I am a hamster, I am NOT a dwarf hamster – that’s an other breed altogether. Kindly note that I am much taller than them). Being the last day of the show (20 Dec), the place was jam-packed. What a surprise. A very tall (nearly 200cm) young man with very arresting green eyes tells me that the space used to be a dairy. The way the artworks are arranged is quite clever, efficient and intimate. For the uninitiated (like this writer for instance), this might have even appeared to be a show by a single artist. Which goes to show, either that the selection of artists/artworks is a result of their similar aesthetic approaches, or that the curators have done a good job in unifying the entire show in a sharp and coherent manner, or both.

My favourite, favourite is Henry Darger. I stared for some time at his large superwidescreen drawings of toddlers in what looks like edens. There is as much violence as there is beauty, transience as there is timelessness, comehither -ness as there is repugnance and repulsion. The drawings are highly restrained as they are too much.

Even though Life 3.0 is free from death (except on  09.09.2012), I respect the wishes of the organiser.

Even though Life 3.0 is free from death (except on 09.09.2012), I respect the wishes of the organiser.

This concoction of emotions is rather powerful. I quickly travel back in time and cycle through my bank of memory and knowledge, and immediately many names, images and sounds jump up for my attention: Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, Chagall, El Greco, Elsie Beckmann and Hans Beckert/Peter Lorre in Lang’s M, Chapman Brothers, the muse of Lewis Carroll and imaginations of Nabokov, AES+F’s Last Riot, and of course, the Great Pretender Takashi Murakami and his faux naif approach. I also recall that I had felt this surge of feelings only a few times before in my previous life: when I saw Boltanski’s solo exhibition in France, a Mark Rothko painting in Chicago, and Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil.

I came back, and tell myself that I must, must go and find out more about Darger.

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