Wherever you go, there you are

Rob owns and operates Waterbed World, a kind of bring-and-buy retail establishment situated in the not too distant future, where things are, not surprisingly, quite different. Things have changed a lot since the late 20th century. The high capitalist epoch has fallen, for example (which no one really misses, although it was a very traumatic transition for those involved), and it has been replaced with an age of recreation. Many died during this catastrophic change-over (hence the generally therapeutic tone to things now), but, for that matter, plenty of folks survived, and they are so much happier and more human for it. As a race, humans no longer rock plague proportions and pay far more attention to literature than what used to be thought of as the reality-based humanities. Resources seem plentiful, and work is easy and fun. Health and nutrition considerations no longer cause any stress, which is a thing of the past. An observer from the past might even describe the population as ‘high’ due to a prevailing imaginative, fanciful mood; a sort of latter-day Warholian ‘everything is interesting’ goes on.

Anyway, this is how his ‘business’ works: people come in with boxes of surplus storage stuff, and they take away anything they want in a pretty fair ratio. Someone else was responsible for tidying it up, cleaning and disposing of rubbish. He is allowed to take whatever he wants to too. Right now he was very happy with his new vintage ‘Nowhere Fast’ T-shirt. It looks excellent on. Just about as good as the ‘Youth in Asia’ one he had just spilt coffee on. He sincerely hoped the stain would come out.

Around him sat a series of large padded boxes, some filled for display and others empty ready to be taken away. People use them as daybeds – waterbeds are horrible to actually sleep on. By now, everyone has these in all non-bedroom, un-plumbed rooms of their houses. He does a really good trade in these 20th century survivors – restoring them, or rather having them restored if necessary. And he does enjoy having leisurely conversations with the woman responsible for this conservo-restoration work. They share a common interest in history, books, art video, music, rock video; all the good old stuff that came in really. In fiction generally. But that is no longer a rare thing.

It had been George that had pointed out that Paul Holmes, the old-time square-o news TV personality, had once been the host of Grunt Machine, an early New Zealand music video “magazine” show that they had watched last time she was in. They really enjoyed it when a box of home videos turned up in the store, and were especially happy when they found old TV footage. (TV was fundamentally different now as there was no need to have a commercial thrust to programming.) He also really liked it when people didn’t use the maximum technology available to them – it seems more human, an attribute he values. As he “worked”, his old-ish video player’s mechanism panted. He knew it was just the heads turning, but it just sounded just like a dog. I’d like to get a dog, he thought. It would be fun naming it and training it.

As you can see, names haven’t really changed either. George and Rob really liked verb names. Well someone had to, and they didn’t know anyone else who gave a toss – everyone is just too busy with their own interests. She was also the one who thought he wasn’t really diabolic or sticky-fingered enough to carry off Rob, so she nicknamed him Nick. No one else found this very funny either. But that’s OK. Everything is. Although, with a slight pang, he noted, looking in his diary, that today would have been his sixth wedding anniversary. What’s that? He thought to himself. Paper? Glass? Shrimp crackers? And stifling a giggle – there were people in the store, and he did not want to engage with them unnecessarily – he put his hand to his mouth, which reminded him he had a nasty bruise there. Got a bit carried away the other night, Rob did. But bored with that train of thought, he went back to coming up with 20th century-isms to make George laugh – she had such a lovely laugh. “He was bored. He was tired. He was both.” “There’s nothing wrong with her that a good fuck wouldn’t fix.” “Five will make you feel alright.”

From the PoV of an objective outsider, Rob operates under the impression he belongs to the early stages of an era, rather than the tail end of the protracted (and fraught) historico-political process that manifested in the late 20th century. (Rob, like his compatriots, had the distinct feeling that he was “from the future”, which contributed to his habit of recreational retrospection and projection – he looks back and forward, lumping both together as “not now”.) To him, people from that time seemed to keep things tied down very tight; hatches battened down against stress, input very limited, and psychological doors kept closed as if all hell would break loose if certain impulses were given in to. Others, on the other hand, evidently, made very interesting artwork, and material came to him now and again that exhibits this opposite tendency.

He considers this strange tension to be pretty important in terms of piecing together particular past events and future possibilities. Not part of some fore­warned is fore-armed alarmist strategy – everything is fine, and he is OK – but towards understanding. Even though by now it is universally (even though universal thinking had become quite out-moded) accepted that we simply cannot process the intricate textures of sensation and their interplay with what has happened and what might. But that is fine too – it’s pretty enjoyable to lie around for most of the day and let fragments of such things wash over one, the waterbed undulating beneath.

I mean, it’s all very lovely living now, and not as hippy as you might think, but he, and a lot of others, still feel the strong need to be attached to the material culture of the past, ancient and modern. He likes to leaf through many many confusing but apparently “hot” fragments of symbolically diseased material (as in “you’re getting warmer”) and let his mind play over possible backgrounds and implications he material might represent. His interest in the past is by virtue of some kind of suspicion that on a metabolic, body-memory level, there is a residue from this time - one that sends out sensations of discomfort and attendant urge for both comfort and treasonous behaviour. He liked to fantasise about James Ellroy-esque adversity as he had none. (Like that dreamy thing Hercule Poirot had said on another of those secondhand TV videos that he had watched earlier that day: “Today, the maladjusted lives and complexities bring the young people together…”) He wrote on a pad lying on the counter “there’s something wrong with my silence.” And “Be very careful what you say. Think before you shoot your mouth off. Loose lips sink ships.”

It is as if there will always be the sensation that something is missing. To have unsolvable, downright unfeasible desires, to want “more or not this”, seems to be permanently and fundamentally human. But this is OK too – thin-­skinned people are OK now. There are plenty of recreational outlets for what once might have been frightening scenarios. He counts his lucky stars that his days have been freed of the tragically oligarchic situation that had fucked over his forebears. It was evidently a lot harder then. But still really interesting. And the weather is so nice at the moment. He goes to the stereo and puts on another record. This time, an oldie, but a goodie (quel surprise): Border Lord by Kris Kristofferson. “Getting by, high and strange” seemed to him to be an appropriate sound component to consideration of some book material he was about to sit down to, and he had so just enjoyed Jesus was a Capricorn.

“Why couldn’t there be, in some way, a new science for everything? A mathesis singularis, and no longer universalis?” an obscure theorist asked from the pages of the book he was reading [see fig. 1). Very interesting, he thought, just one year after 1987 ““ a year of significant interest to him, He had recently read in this strange, cheaply produced ‘90s New Zealand “new age” magazine called Input the assertion “Hell was closed in 1987”. Now, as he was and is wondering about the state of mind of 20th century man (i.e. how things became so, why he felt as he does etc.), he was naturally keen to find out what was meant by this. Evidently, he was not alone in this. Tucked into the magazine was a letter from the columnist, a Judy from Waiheke Island, to some reader who had asked the same thing. She had written that she didn’t remember where she had read this assertion about 1987, but also claimed that her intuition had lead her to believe it even before she had read the book, so it didn’t matter anyway. Rob was certainly there with Judy on getting down with his Higher Self (although he suspected they meant quite different things by this), but wished people generally would be more organised and forthcoming with their source material. He’d love it even more if he could just pick up a telephone and call one of those psychic hotlines advertised in this musty old zine and ask the psychic on duty what it all meant.

Moving right along, an article in the next month’s issue revealed a lot about the odd meshing of art and science that was at the heart of many of the societal changes that took place in the ensuing years. An unidentified author (his name had been lost during an email transmission of his piece, “The universe as a hologram: does objective reality exist, or is the universe a phantasm?”) was writing, he read, about Pribam’s Law, according to which “our brains mathematically construct ‘hard’ reality by relying on input from a frequency domain. It has been found that each of our senses is sensitive to a much broader range of frequencies than was previously suspected … But if the concreteness of the world is but a secondary reality, and what is ‘there’ is actually as holographic blur of frequencies, and if the brain is also a hologram and only selects some of the frequencies out of this blur and mathematically transforms them into sensory perceptions, what becomes of objective reality?”

But this was, of course, no real news to him. In realising the intrinsically fictional nature of things, people had been released from gravity, from burden, and allowed to be light. A popular way of explaining this to history students was by quoting the great 20th century Italian writer (who also was also the author of the memos mentioned just a little way back there): “In practical life, time is a form of wealth with which we are stingy. In literature, time is a form of wealth to be spent at leisure and with detachment. We do not have to be first past a pre-determined finish line…” He saw no reason to beat himself up about having a flystrip-ish predisposition for collage.

He made a mental note to, after work and once home, start in on a pile of Hugo and Nebula Award winners in hardback that had come in today. There might be some answers between the lines there. You never know. He looked for a fashion magazine or something else published in 1987 to see what might have been going on. An issue of The Face burbled on about some “summer of love” which he thought sounded pretty lame. He recognised some of the music mentioned, and wondered if the rise of electronic music might have had anything to do with the supposed closure of hell (and its re­location to earth). He put this small bundle of Input issues aside, but picked up a quaint old photocopied section of a book that was tucked in with them. Someone had made copies from a book called The Aesthetics of Rock and circled sections of it. The first one he read read thusly:

“Every time I come home drunk and weepy-eyed from some horrible party where kids half my age, and with triple my energy, sit around a room – there’s always such a room - doing nothing (not even talk) but watch rock vids by who could care whom, I run for the headphones, pull out all these albs and singles from a time when music was more concerned with sound than image, more about risk than fashion, more involved in the dialectic of profit than the “fore-the-fact-of-it fact of it, more a touchstone of genuwine liberation, by gum, than a ring through your cultural nose awaiting the yanks’n’tugs of the absolute forces of the status quo… I reach, as for a lifeline, for the records described in this book.”

He did not agree with this as he liked historical art video and rock video both. Whenever given a choice (A or B, Rob?), he always took both. Rock video, to him, seems to illustrate nicely a theory that a lot of supposedly male traits resembled the symptoms of mild autism – only being able to do one thing at a time, inability to engage with some things, transfixion with other things etc. He wondered also if rock video might have something to do with a semi­conscious desire to act out the tenets of Pribam’s Law. The protagonists seem to move, sway, pulse, as if unduly affected and beatified (both) by frequencies not entirely of their own making. Richard Hell always said audiences packed in to see his band for a dose of reality. And Rob always liked to receive a lot of input. It made for interesting pictures if nothing else. (Since he was small, he had been trained to receive signals in order to sublimate darkness and the pull of the shadow world which beckons us all to collective sleep…)

Continuing with the circled sections, he received the following: “Rock is the brute actualization where all other art is potential. Rock is the only possible future for philosophy and art. Rock is a totality: it contains, or implies that it can contain, all varieties of experience. But because it refuses to talk straight, it collapses its own status as art. Rock collapses into the quotidian: a version of everyday life, which is what ‘quotidian’ means.”

Reading this made him want to smoke some pot to affect more of a ‘80s or ‘90s mood. He might even smoke a cigarette or three – get a little blood to rush from his head to his pants and all that. He considered momentarily about drinking a little, but after last week’s ‘I am the ocean’ debacle, he thought better of it. And verily, by design, a small power surge made him feel more sinister, 0 yes. He wrote a small note to himself to describe the slight rushing feeling he was experiencing: “I don’t know if it’s me or the pot, but I feel like my brain – sitting up behind my mouth like it does – is like the driver of a van or campervan or some other vehicle with no bonnet to speak of and that involves sitting close, real close, too close to the windscreen. Very disturbing driving like that.” He sat down in front of his Work TV fully intending to watch so much of it that he would have no easy way of working out what to do or say.