Thursday, 14 June 2018

The Society of the Spectrecle

(Nieuwe Binnenweg except if you were super-dimensional and could walk from and to both ends of the street at the same time.)

When I was about 14 we went on a school trip to the city of York in northeast England. One of the things we did was participating in a Ghost Tour. The curious activity consisted of a guide leading us (a group of maybe 30 kids) through the historical streets of  York city centre, while giving us several accounts of paranormal haunting that were attached to storiful locations along the route. The specific mental image is fuzzy by now, but I am 80% certain he had a top-hat and a cane. The experience was coloured with a kooky(-cutter) halloween charm, and I think back to it fondly. I guess it was my first-ever exposure to a cliché form or any form of psychogeography. The notion that places can be populated by stories, which is to say space can be filled with people and events of the (possible) past, came not as revelation but more as reminder. Of course that's true, that much of human reality is just stories. When I was a slightly older teenager I remember explaining to a friend this theory of how ghosts are just the universe's way of recording human beings' interactions with the universe itself. The guy was not convinced but I was.

I do remember several stories from York. This is impressive because I don't even remember many things I've done myself from that relatively distant time. There was a loyal dog trapped in cement in the church's groundwork, barking still at the exact same hour every day, trying to alert his owner of certain danger (serving also as a grimmer version of the church bells). There was the ghosts of an entire Roman legion marching through the houses and cafés , heading toward their original destination but stuck in the timeless action of ghostly mobility. There were the small feeble touches of starved children from times of urban famine, tiny fingers from children's heights reaching for the hands of passer-bys through all eternity, asking for food but are never fulfilled. There was...

Recently I have returned to the earlier habit and hobby of aimlessly walking in Rotterdam (at this point I feel pretentious to call it "flaneren" or "dérive"). A new area of attention is how the streets are filled with the stories of my own lived experience and interactions with others in this city year after year. In a sense these are ghosts of my own making. Over the years I have taken some photos and videos of these experiences in urban space. It wouldn't be such a stretch to geotag these media artifacts with locational information and place them on a map-interface. It would be like a google streetview merged with my own memories, a personalised ghostropolis.

We walked down Nieuwe Binnenweg as it was made pedestrian-only on King's Day, and I stupidly said that the guys in great local bands are starting to be younger than me now. Or I walked to a party in heavy rain to see somebody because I was dumb (still am) and my shoes were super wet (Why did I walk from Blaak to Rotterdam Noord in the rain? Wasn't there a tram?). Or probably the last time I played music in the city on the side of the small bridge on Hoogstraat, when some guy asked me to teach him how to play the guitar, and I ended up really giving him a few lessons, even when I was hardly qualified (but in punk if you know how to play 2 chords you can teach somebody who only knows 1 chord. This is the only way we will get by). And this and that.

More recent and intense is a piece of urban memory that is, in this line of thinking, ghost-on-ghost action. We played Pokemon Go around Halloween time and there was a special in-game event where the game space is saturated with ghost-type Pokemons such as Gengar and Duskull. This is, I think, the closest we got to combining ghost-hunting with location-based mobile technology. We spent many evenings searching for pokemons in Rotterdam West. It was great fun and very precious. I haven't played much Pokemon Go since. In due time we will play again, but maybe not in Rotterdam unfortunately.  The recent-past versions of us chasing ghosts here are ghosts themselves.

(Here's something I saw on Gouvernestraat. First I thought the most ghostly item in this artwork is the white rectangle at the bottom corner, having a strong presence by means of absence.)

(However as I got closer I reliased that the tree wasn't graffiti, it was actually dead. Maybe the whole situation wasn't planned to look like this at all.  The wall-climbing plant could've died naturally. The story of death and decay only comes alive in the process of death and decay. We can say ghosts are stories that tell themselves.)

These ideas may be trite and derivative. As you like to say, with the charismatic confidence of a cult leader receiving compliments, "tell me something new". You also said, of great ideas, something like "not many of them materialise (into successful products or successful businesses)". Indeed, one time I participated in a project in which we came up with a location based augmented-reality ghost-hunting game, but ultimately it didn't materialise. For this project I wrote some characters one could encounter in the AR environment. Some memorable ones are an old pagan god made of an infinite number of hissing and writhing snakes ("Yessss....touch the earth so we may feel your sssskin...") and a (literally) fallen angel who only exists in the sounds of broken wings, and is eager to offer the player knowledge which whilst true may cause him/her great harm.

At the time I didn't think of it like this, but of course that was the first psychogeography project I was involved in the making of.  Maybe that or the first ideas for this blog. It was an incubatory period for my urban imagination. In the present moment I can entertain the narrative that the two projects have come to converge in some way. The version of me which is created in the urban sensibility of GIR can be found in Rotterdam as a ghost, not unlike a loyal dog trapped in concrete eternal (isn't the concrete material ideal for horror stories involving death-by-building-construction?), or a fictional ancient god (should any god be considered ancient if believes are not preserved but rather re-created by every generation of believers?), or a Pokemon creature (imagine playing Pokemon Go but as a pokemon instead of a trainer).

As I was writing this post, I found out that Rotterdam has its own historical ghost tour.
I think I have to see it. Maybe when I do, I can really tell you about something newer than ghosts.

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