The Call of the Cornfield

Dear reader, I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more. Penniless, and at the end of my supply of the drug which alone makes life endurable, I can bear the torture no longer; and shall cast myself from this garret window into the squalid street below.

For tonight I dared visit the fabled Cornfield, where, SL-lore has it, those virtual souls who incur the displeasure of the Lindens are damned to wander aimlessly until the end of time.

What did I see? That at which dogs howl in the dark, and that at which cats prick up their ears after midnight. But… I hear a noise at the door, as of some immense slippery body lumbering against it. It shall not find me. God, that hand! The window! The window!

Feel Good Hit of the Autumn

It’s a couple of years now since I added “go to the Burning Man Festival” to the long list of ambitions that I am destined never to fulfil, alongside “play in a rock band”, “run for President” and “make a living from blogging”. It may be for the best, since I’ve heard that it’s not as good as it used to be. If I ever did go I would probably just accelerate the rot, since I would be there purely to consume the spectacle rather than contribute to the creativity – though if anyone pulled me up for that I guess I could argue that all aesthetic endeavour is the result of the interaction between artist and audience, assuming that I could summon up the energy to make such a case after a few days wandering around stoned in the hot sun, gawping at the freaks.

Legend has it that Philip Rosedale was inspired to create Second Life after a trip to Burning Man in 1999. The man himself has debunked this, but there are interesting parallels between the way that die-hard burners complain that the festival has lost its way, and the general feeling among long-time SL residents that things aren’t the way they were, and are only going to get worse. Philip sort of addresses the question in this post, (which in summary says that what we have now in SL is terribly precious, but in order to move on everything has to be renewed), but his subsequent departure from day-to-day management at Linden Lab can only serve to deepen anxiety about where Second Life is headed.

Anyway, in lieu of actually making the effort to haul my bod up to the Nevada desert, I thought it would be cool to take in this year’s Burning Life. I had heard how great the event had been in the past of course, but I have to admit that I was expecting to be thouroughly underwhelmed.

I’m happy to say that my cynicism was entirely misplaced; I ended up spending about ten times as long as I had planned exploring the many and varied installations dotted around the virtual playa, and still had the feeling that I had barely scratched the surface. For the first time in ages I felt a real sense of the creative possibilities offered by Second Life, unsullied by the crass commercialism that too often clouds the grid experience.

The best part though was that there were other people around; friendly people who were willing to exchange opinions about the art and the music, or just have a chat. I know that Burning Life isn’t unique in that regard, but it is unusual to have so many agreeable types gathered together in such a small area.

After a couple of hours I was in such a good mood that even the drawbacks of the platform started to seem strangely endearing. The latest iteration of the SL viewer is far too heavy for my elderly box, obliging me to run it at the lowest graphics setting to avoid the sensation of wading through treacle. The short draw distance meant that each new installation loomed up in front of me as if emerging from a dust storm, greatly enhancing the verisimilitude of the experience.

If there was a disappointing aspect it was the music; in my imagination Burning Man is always soundtracked by Queens of the Stone Age, but try as I might I couldn’t find any robot rock on the many stages scattered around the site. Maybe I should rectify that next year with my own build.

I took lots of snapshots of the festival, but due to the aforementioned graphic limitations most of them are pretty poor; have a look at the Burning Life Flickr stream instead.

Sadly, due to my tragic inability to understand the relationship between SLT and GMT I missed the climatic burning of the Man by twelve hours:

burninglife01

There’s always next year I guess…

I need to return some videotapes…

Man, these flotation tanks are something else; I went in for a quick dip, and when I got out three weeks had passed…

The weather has turned much colder since I last posted, dispelling any lingering memories of the summer and heralding the onset of another brutal North-European winter. When I was younger I used to quite like autumn and the winter months; walking to work in the crisp cold dawn and spending the long dark nights drinking and socialising by friendly fires. Now, as the leaves fall and the darkness draws in, I can’t help but reflect gloomily on the season just past, and how it is likely that I have more summers behind me than lie ahead.

Recent years have seen me go out a lot less in the winter, a trend exacerbated by my growing addiction to the internet. Brave the icy winds to meet friends in a crowded bar, or enjoy wandering on a (virtual) tropical beach? Drive up into the mountains for a day of skiing, or curl up with my laptop and read about someone else doing it instead? Looking out the window at the grey sky, it seems like an easy choice.

I do make more of an effort to leave the house during the warmer weather, usually going to the park with a book. I did perhaps read a bit less this summer, now I’ve got an iPhone, which lets me get my cyber-fix even when I’m out and about. The city where I live has a “no drinking in public” ordinance though, which means if I am minded to take a small refreshment and/or a discreet smoke while reading, which I often am, I am obliged to remove myself to the quieter corners of the park where the other substance abusers hang out, and where it is rarely advisable to flash expensive electronic gadgets, so the low-tech book still comes in handy for entertainment.

What I’m reading at any given time is largely dependent on what happened to be on the shelves of my local second-hand bookstore the week before, but I do try to rotate through a cycle of contemporary fiction, classic literature and non-fiction, padded out with a lot of pulpy sci-fi.

This summer I finally got round to buying a copy of Lunar Park, which had been on my “to-read” list for ages. Bret Easton Ellis is one of my favourite living authors; when I daydream about writing a novel his is the style I imagine myself emulating. I like the way he can build a sense of dread and paranoia from deceptively banal descriptive prose; never has an appreciation of the work of Phil Collins sounded so terrifying. American Psycho is easily his best work, maintaining a thoroughly unsettling tone from start to finish, thanks to a central character at once monsterous and comic, insecure psychopath Patrick Bateman. Ellis’s other novels are more patchy; Less Than Zero is certainly efficient in evoking a sense of ennui, but as a result it rather lacks narrative momentum, similarly Glamorama‘s characters are so authentically shallow that it is hard to remember who they are let alone care what happens to them.

Lunar Park isn’t as good as Psycho but it is very entertaining, particularly the opening chapters where Ellis constructs a plausibly alternative autobiography, before setting up an intiguing suburban horror story. It flags a bit in the last third, when the subtext overwhelms the narrative to some extent, but the themes of loss and regret are mostly woven into the story in a pleasingly organic fashion, and the ending is unexpectedly poignant.

I’ve picked out a few volumes to get through before the end of the year, and I’ll try to write some brief notes on them, since I think this blog would benefit from some more intellectually challenging content amongst the pop-culture ephemera.

That’s on hold for this week though, while I take a look at Burning Life. Look out for a post on that sometime in the next month or so…