(If the following comes off as sweet, sweet crap n’ babble, know that I wrote it after a night of exactly 2.25 hours sleep with an unhappy teething boy-child, and further, wrote it on my lunch break at work, where I rub naked ladies with warm fragrant oils. That I could even get near this head space surprises even me... )
Before we move on to the Arcadia story arc...
Some thoughts on Mad Tom’s secret teachings in this issue re: the true nature of cities. Much like cities themselves, this little speech to the be-pigeoned Dane comes off as a kind of gloss, in my reading at least. The surface is a ‘truth’ about cities and their viral nature, their “one directive is to use up all available resources in producing copies of itself ... until there’s no more raw material left and the host body, overwhelmed, can only die.”
But what are cities if not coral accretions of matter around immaterial linguistic structures, conceptual frameworks, wire and steel cages for flocks of dualities/symmetries?
HOUSE HOME FLOOR WALL FAMILY WORK EDUCATION LOVE FOOD US THEM IN OUT COLD WARMTH ... these are the ideas that act as rich substrate upon which we build our michorizal relationship with a CITY, which is an idea also.
Note that no city is exactly like any other city: London is not Tokyo is not Calgary is not Moscow is not LA is not Mexico City is not ad infinitum... because we build them out of and because of our ideas and needs and in turn they shape us.
So on these pages, I think that GM (through Tom) is talking about language. Certainly the series has language as an obsession and running theme: control language, secret alphabets, the infranet, magic(al) words pulled screaming from the surrounding environment (here, IXAT, or, later, ‘Top of the Pops’ on the telly = TOTEP and hey oh! aneurisms all round)... language is the virus.
The panel in which Tom speaks about the original human homeostatic cultures shows us (I’m assuming) a traditional neo-lithic hunter-gatherer society, small, tribal, self-sustaining. There’s some goats next to that hut, but whatever. It’s been remarked upon elsewhere that the rise of agriculture saw a corresponding increase in our language skills as a species: the ability to describe and classify beneficial and toxic plant types, mark seasons, build calendars, make transactions, etc. That’s the gathering; hunting is a different story. To hunt as we do requires a large reserve of stoicism, a predilection for silence and, when needed, a minimal, succinct, instantly understood language, and most of that gestural. To farm successfully requires a massive vocabulary and a safe environment in which to use it. There’s speculation (only ever!) that women were largely responsible for the burst in prehistoric, pre-agriculture language usage. Quite aside from the various Gnostic interpretations given the ur-myth of the Old Testament, most can agree that the “first harvest” was accomplished by the hands of Eve.
And of course agriculture necessitates the building of cities. Gotta have a wall round your food stores, after all, cuz there’s starving rabble about. Are cities an ancillary/intermediary stage of the language virus? If the Word became Flesh, would it not have to undergo a period of transformation, of putting on technological clothing, wearing artifacts and cities, of “talking” to itself ie. the inhabitants of those cities (Tom again: “Catch sight of the reflection of a neon sign and it’ll spell out a magic word that summons strange dreams...”) before it could complete the cycle and make itself Word again?
The city is where it’s at. Country mouse don’t know shit, yo.
We, all of us, inhabit Burroughs’ conceptual Cities of the Red Night, cycling through every smoking iteration of ‘nothing is true, all is allowed’ on our way to some kind of transcendence through and beyond the consuming fires of language, that flaming, spinning blade blocking the gate to Paradise. This is something THE INVISIBLES points to as its final statement, with the last line of the series, in Volume 4 issue #0: “Our sentence is up.” That last/next spin into the black void of the “.” Language, like Tom’s viral cities, must in due course exhaust itself as a meaning generator. Perhaps when a species-wide immunity is built up? “Our world is sick, boy. Very sick. A virus got in a long time ago and we’ve got so use to its effects, we’ve forgotten what it was like before we became ill...”
In the meantime, you gotta hang your hat somewhere, and the rent is due. Now, where’d I put my keys?
Scott (urban polyp), writing in/as Victoria BC