Listening to Nick Papadimitriou talk about the ‘interzones’ and liminal landscapes within a city is sort of like walking onto the set of an old dream, for me. When I was younger, those kinds of in-between places were the places I dreamed about. The dreams that featured those places are the only dreams that I still remember more than a decade later, and wish I could dream again but can’t. One of these imaginary places has embedded itself in my consciousness so deeply that even today I’m not sure if it was actually real or an invention.
The crass materialist inside me smirks somewhat when Papadimitriou talks about some underground, rusted pipe vibrating in emotional resonance to his presence*, but his poetry of these passed-over, neglected spaces has power to me. He is concerned with the history of places, and in particular the micro-history of places; he says he wants to have a history that includes a spider that drowned in a rain barrel in 1965, etc. This sort of micro-history resonates (again, that word) with me, and coincides with the fascination I have always had for micro-things; the life and history of ponds, the rise and fall of algal growth, the daily lives of oarsmen and boatmen insects, the spires of rotten wood and grass creating unmapped forests on pond-floors.
There is also a sort of pantheism in Papadimitriou’s conception of the city and his place in it. He talks about wanting to become the tarmac under a freeway bisecting drainage ditches, about becoming the rusted fence into a purification facility, becoming thick beetles waddling in a pile of piss in an alleyway opening up into a canal.
As an American coming very late to the party, it is uncertain to me how influenced the psycho-geographers/deep topographers were by the earlier work done concerning ‘edgelands’ by environmentalists like Marion Shoard. It is also unclear to me how much their interest is aesthetic, and how much is an environmental concern for ‘wildscapes’ which actually serve an ecological function. This whole concern with edgelands possibly feels played out in England; partly in its aspect as a protracted argument between the traditional, moorland lovers and the wildscape advocates, but also as a pop-cultural phenomenon well known enough to somehow include Russell Brand in an annoying and minor role. Yet it seems for the most part unfamiliar in the states, whose fetishistic self-concern extends little to its own ecology and landscapes.
I think the closest U.S. pop culture ever got to engaging with its own edgelands and in-between spaces came during the furor over what was called the “ruin porn” photography of Detroit. This was when photographers (often not native to Detroit) went into the city to snap its estimated 20,000 abandoned homes, its derelict school houses with their classrooms full of poignantly empty chairs, and so on, and then set up art galleries to display their work, or finagled book deals to publish it. What became known as ruin porn photography had one common aspect with edgeland and wildscape photography in that it depicted a certain languishing of human influence alongside the resurgence of nature. Yet the differences between the two are important: what was called ruin porn was mostly focused on interiors, on shattered glass on old floors and stunted trees growing in operating rooms; edgeland photography is more focused on exteriors, on outside habitats. Edgelands, and wildscapes in particular, are about growth, rejuvenation in unexpected places, the humming of life in furtive areas. American ruin porn was superficially interested in the sunflowers growing in the cracks, but all of its energy was actually invested in decay.
Nonetheless, it makes sense that this concern not only with micro-history, but with the genius loci of places, would interest me as a reader and would-be writer of horror and ghostly fiction. The fiction of haunting is just as much the fiction of place, and the haunting subject can’t be severed from the site which holds it in a sort of ontological escrow. The following statement from Simon Sellars makes this point clearer: “Throughout the Western world, edgelands form the same relationship to the built environment as the unconscious does to the human mind: as a repository of fear, desire, and repression.”
* When Papadimitriou says things like this, it reminds me of object oriented philosophy, although I have no idea if he has any interest or awareness in that.