Monday, February 29, 2016

A House is a Machine for Living In: A Warm-up for Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise (Part 1).

1. Architecture or Revolution?

In the new beginning that dates from Le Corbusier’s Vers une architecture, the machine occupied a central place: its austerity, its economy, its geometric cleanness was claimed almost the sole virtue of the new architecture. Thus the kitchen became a laboratory, and the bathroom took on the characteristics of a surgical operating room; while the other parts of the house, for a decade or so, achieved excellence almost to the degree that they, too, were white, cleanable, empty of human content.

Lewis Mumford, The Case Against “Modern Architecture”, 1962.

The spectacular view always made Laing aware of his ambivalent feelings for this concrete landscape. Part of its appeal lay all too clearly in the fact that this was an environment built, not for man, but for man’s absence.

J.G. Ballard, High-Rise, 1975.

The high-rise apartment or office tower is a perennial icon and symbol of the modern world. It embodies the primary characteristics of high modernist architecture: the rejection of ornamentation in favour of cool, minimalist function, and organic complexity in favour of an austere rectilinear geometry; the omnipresence of glass facades and curtain walling, which prompted Lewis Mumford to pithily observe that glass was the only material modern architects were unable to see through. In its clean, uniform character, it evokes the age of the machine and of mass production; in its scale and elevation, the dream of conquering gravity which presided over the twentieth century in a myriad forms. Most of all, the high rise represents the dream of a fully rational, mathematically simple and predictable landscape in which the wilder vagaries of the natural world, and human nature, have been ousted. 

A vertical village in which nobody knows anybody else, the high-rise embodies many of the contradictions of urban life: the close physical proximity and emotional distance of its inhabitants, the merging of their public and private space in its tiers of balconies, corridors and stairwells, allows the high-rise to serve as a model for the city's peculiar conjunction of populousness and alienation. As a symbol of modernity and urbanism, the high-rise carries a variety of different meanings and resonances, and provokes antithetical responses of considerable emotional intensity. An ambiguous entity, it embodies both the utopian and dystopian characteristics of modern life. On the one hand, the high-rise tower block makes us think of the disastrous structures that urban councils built to house (and segregate) the urban poor in the 60s and 70s, with all the morass of crime, deprivation, and hopelessness that resulted. On the other, we think of the luxury high-rise blocks favoured by middle and upper middle-class dwellers as the embodiment of a certain kind of sleek urban elegance - a living space somewhere between home and hotel, safely cloistered in the upper air from the clamour of the streets below.

Apartment Building, Ramat Gran, Israel, 1960-65, (Alfred Neumann, Zvi Hecker and Eldar Sharon) Fuck Yeah Brutalism

Hiliard Center, Chicago, 1964, (Bertrand Goldberg) Fuck Yeah Brutalism

Orange County Government Center, Goshen, New York, 1971, (Paul Rudolph) Fuck Yeah Brutalism

Parish Church for the Resurrection of Christ, Melaten, Germany, 1964-70 (Gottfried Bohm)  Fuck Yeah Brutalism.

Modernist architecture has always been hugely divisive. For some, it has embodied all the failings, aesthetic, intellectual, or spiritual, of modernity itself. A common idea (or ideology) underlying modernity was that it represented a point of total historical novelty in which a new awareness or mode of consciousness was born, wholly unconnected to and unencumbered by the past. This is the essence of modernity conceived as a utopian project: a Manichean conflict between the past, envisioned in a wholly negative light, and the salvation offered by the novelty of the present moment, which contains in utero a future of continual improvement and progress. Modernist architecture was keenly informed by this sense of a radical break with the past, and as such its towers and monuments arose with a brash disregard for their predecessors in time and surroundings in space, serving for some as the harbingers of a new aesthetic order, and others as a crude effacement of the historical continuity of the urban landscape, the city in time which is a living record of its own history.

In the late 1960s and 70s, modernist architecture and urban planning were undergoing a particularly sustained backlash. This perhaps provides a partial explanation for the striking coincidence of two works of art which appeared in 1975: JG Ballard's novel High-Rise and David Cronenberg's feature debut Shivers (They Came from Within.) High-Rise and Shivers are so similar in theme and basic outline that I'd always assumed one must have influenced the other, until I realized that they came out in the same year. 

Both are apocalypses of the middle-class in which the denizens of luxury modernist high rise towers cumulatively descend (or perhaps ascend) into total anarchy and violence. In Ballard's version, a series of small, petty acrimonies gradually escalate into sectarian violence, tribalism, and eventually a total reversion to nomadic primitivism. In Cronenberg's more explicitly psychosexual vision of the high-rise apocalypse, our location is Starliner Towers, a self-contained high-modernist Montreal community where “day to day living becomes a luxury cruise.” Starliner's placid middle-class seclusion is shattered by the spread of an invasive parasite, however, which turns its residents into polymorphously perverse zombies.

Ballard's novel concerns class-warfare and the effective collapse of society, while Cronenberg's movie presents the sexual revolution in fast-forward as a claustrophobic George Romero freak-out. Both works hinge on the same basic set of ironic contrasts: between the sterility of the environment and the eventual anarchy of its inhabitants, between the geometry of modern urban architecture and the disorder which both artists present as seething under the surface of its human residents, or, more succinctly, between the utopian aspirations of modernist urban planning, and the apocalypses which Ballard and Cronenberg stage, both with a distinct gusto, within the confines of its iconic signifier, the high-rise. In this essay, I’m going to look at Shivers and High Rise as critiques of Modernist utopianism which both express Freudian ideas regarding the fragility of civilisation in the form of ambiguous, darkly comic middle-class apocalypses.

In a broad historical sense, the word modern denotes the whole panoply of changes which engulfed society, culture and human identity between the 17th and 20th centuries: the rapid development of the physical sciences, industrialisation, mechanisation, increasing urbanisation, the questioning of traditional values and sources of authority, the emergence of state bureaucracies, and so on. In his study of modernity All That is Solid Melts into Air, Marshall Berman quotes (and derives his title from) Karl Marx's poetic evocation of the profound sense of upheaval engendered by modernity:
“All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and men at last are forced to face....the real conditions of their lives and their relations with their fellow men.”

In a climate of such accelerated change and radical uncertainty, new faiths and foundations were required to replace the old, and a faith in the idea of modernity itself would become increasingly powerful by the twentieth century. This was the belief that all human problems were best served, and could indeed potentially be solved, by the application of scientific, rationalistic, and technocratic means. The world was no longer a conflict between good and evil so much as one between the Utopian promise of the modern present and the dank, superstitious follies of the past.

Lewis Mumford argued that a belief in mechanical progress was the central underlying assumption of modern architecture: “Concealed within this notion was the assumption that human improvement would come about more rapidly, indeed almost automatically, through devoting all our energies to the expansion of scientific knowledge and to technological inventions; that traditional knowledge and experience, traditional forms and values, acted as a brake upon such expansion and invention, and that since the order embodied by the machine was the highest type of order, no brakes of any kind were desirable.” In a similar vein, James C. Scott, writing in Seeing Like a State, describes the high-modernist faith as “a strong (one might even say muscle-bound) version of the beliefs in scientific and technical progress that were associated with industrialisation in Western Europe and in North America from roughly 1830 until World War I. At its centre was a supreme self-confidence about continued linear progress, the development of scientific and technical knowledge, the expansion of production, the rational design of social order, the growing satisfaction of human needs, and not least, an increasing control over nature (including human nature) commensurate with scientific understanding of natural laws.”

  Futurist architecture by Antonio Casa Sant'Elia (via wikipedia and rust' n' concrete)

                                                            Futurist art by Tullio Crali.

Among the most extreme of the modernist utopians were the Italian Futurists, an avant-garde movement of the early twentieth century whose work expressed an unqualified rejection of the past, and an altogether rhapsodic mania for the powers unleashed by the industrial age: “Comrades, we tell you now that that the triumphant progress of science makes changes in humanity inevitable, changes that are hacking an abyss between those docile slaves of tradition and us free moderns who are confident in the radiant splendour of our future.” (Manifesto of the Futurist Painters, 1910, F.T. Marinetti.) Everybody was excited to some degree or another by the sweeping march of the modern world; the Futurists were stone drunk on it. Their intoxication focussed on images and themes which would become uniquely expressive of the 20th century, and the youth culture which began to flourish after the wars: the automobile, the airplane, the industrial city, youth, speed and violence. (These same signifiers become hugely prominent in J.G. Ballard’s fiction, albeit viewed from a far more ambiguous perspective.)

The first great modernist Utopian in the architectural sphere was Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Grist, an extraordinary man of Swiss-French extraction whom the world came to know by the pseudonym le Corbusier. An indefatigable architect, painter, author, urban planner and visionary, the range of le Corbusier’s talents was amply matched by the hubristic scale of his ambitions. Like the Futurists, le Corbusier had been intoxicated by the sense of immense power embodied in the technological world. In L’Urbanisme (The City of Tomorrow, 1924), le Corbusier describes a kind of “conversion” experience to the faith of modernism. The author is taking an evening stroll on the Champs Elysées, and begins his narrative in a mood of stereotypical alienation from the sound and fury of the modern city. Intimidated by the speeding cars, he broods over the loss of the era of the pedestrian, a quieter, idealized world which moved to a statelier tempo.
An abrupt and total change of heart overtakes him, however; he begins to conceive of the modern world as a tidal wave of energy which the individual can participate in, experiencing almost a theophany of technological animism:
“On the 1st of October, 1924, I was assisting in the titanic rebirth of a new phenomenon….traffic. Cars, cars, fast, fast! One is seized, filled with enthusiasm, with joy…the joy of power. The simple and naïve pleasure of being in the midst of power, of strength. One participates in it. One takes part in this society that is just dawning. One has confidence in this new society: it will find a magnificent expression of its power. One believes in it (cited in All That is Solid Melts into Air). ”

Le Corbusier sought to create the architecture of this bold new society, and his project is suffused with all the galvanizing energy, as well as the unsettling autocratic undertones, of the above passage. He becomes the theorist, prophet and practitioner of a new Machine Age design aesthetic, with his hugely influential 1923 manifesto Towards a New Architecture providing the iconic slogan “A House is a Machine for Living In.” His dreams are grandiose in scale, requiring the construction of whole cities from scratch. The Ville Contemoraine, an unrealized project from 1920, encapsulates many of Le Corbusier’s ideas about urbanism, and is a quintessential example of the Utopian mega-city of the future which would become the dystopian backdrop of science fiction like Judge Dredd and Blade Runner. Designed to house three million inhabitants, the focal-point of the Ville was its 24 imposing, glass curtain-walled cruciform apartment/office blocks, “towers in a park” which formed the commercial district, separated by rectangular green-belts from the residential and industrial areas. The plan shows Le Corbusier’s extreme commitment to functionalism in urban design: a network of buses, trains, high-ways, and even roof-top airports makes the intervening spaces almost redundant. The city is divided very strictly into residential and work spaces, with the traditional city’s tendency to produce bricolages of mixed function and purpose eliminated by wide open spaces, traversed by the modern miracle of rapid transportation.

Sketches for the Ville Contemporaine, via FONDATION LE CORBUSIER.

In 1925, Le Corbusier proposed demolishing two square miles of the north bank of the Seine in order to facilitate a smaller version of the ideas embodied in the Ville Contemoraine. His description of the proposed development (Plan Voisin) is typically lyrical and rhapsodic, transforming the office towers into weightless, almost spiritual entities:

“I shall ask my readers to imagine they are walking in this new city, and have begun to acclimatize themselves to its untraditional advantages. You are under the shade of trees, vast lawns spread all round you. The air is clear and pure; there is hardly any noise. What, you cannot see where the buildings are ? Look through the charmingly diapered arabesques of branches out into the sky towards those widely-spaced crystal towers which soar higher than any pinnacle on earth. These translucent prisms that seem to float in the air without anchorage to the ground - flashing in summer sunshine, softly gleaming under grey winter skies, magically glittering at nightfall - are huge blocks of offices.”

Most of Le Corbusier's grander schemes remained unrealized (the closest he got to working on such a vast scale were his contributions to the planned city of Chandigrarh in the north of India.) On more modest terms, however, we find his ideas realized in the Unité d'habitation residential block in Marseille which is often called the Cité radieuse (Radiant City). Built in béton brut (rough-cast concrete) because of post-war steel frame shortages, the Cité radieuse formed the inspiration for the confrontational Brutalist school of architecture which Wheatley and his designers seem to have adopted for Anthony Royal's buildings in the High-Rise movie. Suspended on large piloti containing 237 apartments over 12 floors, it is a fascinating, ugly/beautiful monolith of a building. Also incorporating shops, restaurants, medical and sporting facilities, even a hotel open to the public, the Unité d'habitation provides us the classic model of the self-contained, utopian “city in the sky” which we find satirised in Shivers and High-Rise.

                   Photos by Paul Koslowski, via FONDATION LE CORBUSIER.

What Le Corbusier and like-mined modernists sought to combat most of all was the normal organic evolution of cities. Traditionally, cities and urban settlements developed in an unplanned fashion, following the changing needs of their citizenry. For the modernists, infused by a passion for idealized mathematical order, this produced only a chaos, a detestable hodgepodge. The city street is noteworthy for its randomness: it leads us to chance encounters, unexpected detours, and the experience of various street theatres of public exhibitionism and desperation, pathos and comedy. This was unacceptable to the modernists; they sought in a very real sense to destroy the street. This was because they had a keen appreciation of what is today called pyschogeography, allied to an ideology of muscle-bound modernism.

The environment in which we live and work is not merely a series of functional or aesthetically pleasing locations that we use and enjoy in the course of our daily activities. Rather, the environment is an intrinsic part of our total experience. Like the food that we eat and the books that we read, it becomes a part of us, and has a profound, though often quite subliminal effect on our mental lives. As a corollary to the general mystery surrounding how the mental and physical interact with one another, place and mind are intertwined in various subtle ways. Le Corbusier and his disciples were not only aware of this, but they believed that urban planning was explicitly a form of social planning and control. Le Corbusier believed that there was a Plan, as unique and precise as the solution to an equation, for the design of urban settlements, which, once instigated, would inevitably yield a perfectly harmonious society. This was the meaning of his polemical slogan/question Architecture or Revolution? Environments are no longer to be determined by the unpredictable behaviour of people and history; rather this situation is reversed, so that a centrally planned and controlled environment begins to determine the behaviour of people and history.

This was why the modernists dreamed of razing vast areas of existing cities, and building new ones from scratch. Like contemporary neoliberal economists, they saw no room to gradually implement change; the world had to be remade in the image of their ideology. It is reductive, however, to view le Corbusier and early modernist architecture exclusively in the light of its dubious political underpinnings, and the ultimate failure of modernist urban planning. To do so, at any rate, overlooks his brilliance as an artist, and the fact that his buildings, viewed in isolation from his troubling manifestos, were often striking, even beautiful creations. Nevertheless, by the late sixties, the modernist ethos of urbanism was increasingly being viewed as a failure. Jane Jacobs' 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities was an influential critique, and a powerful argument for the spontaneity and ecological intelligence of the organic street over the mono-functional blocks of the modernist dream. In the waning fortunes of the high-rise in Great Britain, we find probably the most direct influence on Ballard's High-Rise: Erno Goldfinger's Trellick Tower. Goldfinger was a six-foot tall, taciturn Hungarian-born architect who moved to London in the '30s. He occupies a somewhat comical place in pop culture history: Ian Fleming found his architecture and general character disagreeable enough to christen the quintessential James Bond villain in his honour. When Goldfinger threatened legal action, a farcical clash between the two ensued, with Fleming threatening to change the name to Goldprick before the matter was settled out of court.

Commissioned by the London Council in 1966 for social housing in North Kensington, the 98 metre concrete behemoth of Trellick Tower is today regarded as a fashionable London icon. In its early years, however, it was nick-named the “Tower of Terror,” having acquired a reputation for litter, mechanical failure, and an epidemic of serious crimes and sexual assaults.

Top photograph by Andy Spain.  Bottom image found at London From the Rooftops.

Continued shortly.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Last Will and Testament of Tillinghast Nebula (Part 2).

That was how the old year ended, and the new began: with the image of the dead astronaut presiding over everything, its myriad associative meanings reflected in every surface, and every joy an overwrought fleeing from its grim determinism. In my head, occupying its own habitually strange environs, the danger was that Gabriel Summers’ corpse would become the symbol of the new century, a sort of capstone and negation of every dream of the previous one. It had the scope to be more than a symbol, to evolve into an entire mythology. Elor Summers had been for us the kind of aspirational icon that the rock star or film actor had been to our parents: the innovative entrepreneur with galaxy-spanning dreams; the youthful billionaire who’d sealed his fortune writing code in a dorm-room; the dynamic CEO who stirred his creatives to dreams of the future like generals sent soldiers to the imagined glories of a battlefield. Now he was a squat, broken figure, forever to be remembered as the man who sent his son to another world, never to return and never to be resurrected.

Even prior the Martian tragedy, however, our dreams had turned to orbit nightly around the themes of death and technology. Our lives had become rudderless, uncertain things: with job security a thing of the past, we were office nomads, working one and two month contracts in a dizzying succession of companies whose actual business we were no longer cognisant of; rents escalated so rapidly that urban-dwellers often carried their entire life-possessions around in ruck-sacks, using real-time trackers to monitor the ever-fluctuating geography of affordable rental zones. With all these assaults on our stability, all this narrowing of our aspirational horizons, one might have expected violence, revolution, or some degree of discontent to be the order of the day. In actuality, we were the most passive, anaesthetized generation imaginable. As though being led drugged over a precipice, our lives in this time of upheaval were dominated by algorithms and entertainment. The image of Gabriel Summers seemed on some level to echo our own – the image of a dead thing encased in a technological shell. The emergence of some upstart theology was surely required to rouse us from the peculiar condition of somnambulism which attended upon the early years of the new century.

Perhaps it was this yearning which had infused the imminent return of Tillinghast Nebula which such a weight of expectation. As with many of his contemporaries, the 80s had not been kind to the star's reputation and carefully cultivated mystique. The gods of the post-war youth explosion – those who'd made it through the other side – washed up on the shorelines of the 80s as middle-aged men, like a group of huddled revellers whom daylight had finally discovered, the joys and wayward, fleeting enthusiasms of their long night laid bare. The ultimate currency of their youth was gone, and popular music had shifted from the Dionysian mode to something like the regulated marching anthems of Plato's ideal autocratic regime. To have been iconic representations of youth in an era of unbridled youthfulness, their destiny was now to fall to the earth of middle-years with crushing velocity, and the 80s mowed through the dreams constellated around them like the Reaper with his scythe, revealing in high relief the comedy of all our lives, the parodies of ourselves that we will one day became, the nostalgias we will feel for an irretrievable zeitgeist.

Healthy, happily married, and having abandoned the chronic drug-use that somehow achieved an effect of synaesthesia between his own identity and the personae of his songs, Tillinghast was now a regular human being, after all. He flirted with world music and stadium rock, participated in several of the then popular live telecasts in support of global benevolence, and spoke wryly of his youthful misadventures on the chat show circuit. It was the beginning of a gradual retreat from the public eye which was all but complete by the late 90s.

He now lived with his family in a penthouse suite in New York's ill-omened Dakota Building, with public appearances as fleeting and inconclusive as those of UFOs. Various rumours regarding his mental condition were circulated by Mission Command, a Nebula fansite which was also steeped in the popular conspirative which held that entertainment superstars were divided between the mind-controlled proxies of secret political cabals (themselves the representatives of sinister Off World Interests), and a counter-force of insurgents who utilize the sorcery of mass media for benevolent means. Some said that Nebula was haunted by the re-emergence of his erstwhile alien personae, and the suspicion that the real life of an artist is an insubstantial shadow cast off by the more vivid existence of his creations. Others claimed that the star had become almost catatonic, and spent long, bedridden days in contemplation of a series of film props which he had accumulated over the years, and arranged in a puzzling tableau. This tableau was said to include the mirror from his own film Looking Glass (1975), the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz (1939), the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and the buckskin shirt worn by Alan Ladd in Shane (1953).

What this particular juxtaposition of objects meant to the ageing star, we were not given to know. Perhaps in contemplating them, his mind journeyed through some archetypal landscape of deep-rooted personal significance – a notional Death Valley where Brandon deWilde's plaintive boy-cries still echoed after the receding image of the gunslinger; where Dorothy, Toto (here morphed by the errant logic of dreams into a Martian rover), the Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man still follow the Yellow Brick Road, past solitary cowpokes who strum their lullabies to dying fires and lost loves, onward to an Emerald City which has been replaced by the austere form of the Monolith, around which sanguine chimps play games of checkers and watch the sand sift to the bottom of hourglasses, as though waiting to witness some transformation denied to their species, something incalculable that resides far beyond wit, courage or heart.

It was also possible, of course, that Tillinghast was merely leading the life of a more or less typical husband and father, away from the prying eyes of the media, and a public who couldn't help but mythologise him, and couldn't concede that it had been only a performance, and a trick of the times.


Other winds of paranoia were blowing through the ether that January. On the 6th, a spoiler dropped on Noosfeed for the season 2 finale of Angel Investor. It was a catastrophe – people were so demoralized that they instantly shared it, figuring to spread the misery or something. After a couple of days, the spoiler was everywhere, not just on Noosfeed, but spilling out into the real world like a contagious and vindictive Tourette's . Various hitherto quote unquote normal people, seemingly unhinged by the effects of the reveal, were shouting it in the streets. Some bitter case hired a aeroplane to tow around a banner with the spoiler summarised until the authorities interceded. One friend of mine saw it tattooed on the shoulder of an elegant young Japanese neo-punk – another written in the sand on a beach, washed away by the tide an instant later.

So far I'd been inexplicably lucky. I hadn't got caught yet, but it meant I had to stay off Noosfeed, and walk around the streets in a hyper-alert paranoiac state. Whenever I went out, I listened to Tillinghast Nebula music on my head-phones, and tried to maintain a state of awareness whereby I wouldn't drift automatically into reading any text, or even lose my concentration sufficiently that some troll, aware of my head-phones, might somehow physically act out the spoil in a way that was instantly comprehensible to me. I may have been losing my mind a little, but it was interesting.

Having to avoid Noosfeed put me in a pickle, though, going beyond standard withdrawal symptoms. I'm a freelance entertainment/conspirative journalist. I contribute content to various 'Feed nodes and click-holes. I wanted to do some digging into the source of the spoiler itself. Most people think that major spoiler drops come from rival streamers, but that's just the beginning of it. Chinese hackers and Russian psi's have been probing the secrets of Western long-form narrative television for years, dropping spoilers through proxies as a form of destabilizing psychological warfare. Without Noosfeed, I was going to have to carry out my investigation in the Deeper Web.

It's a testament the success of the Deeper Web that not a great many people are aware of its existence. The problem with the Deep Web was that you just couldn't hide anything on it from the real specialists. No matter how many layers of encryption buried under, or how sophisticated the overlay network, government agencies had classified super-computing tech that opened it up as easy as clicking on a regular 'Feed node. As soon as any information is stored digitally, no matter how far from the beaten path, it is instantly available to intelligence agencies, many of whom have already gone further off the grid than you could imagine. So to move forward, the architects of the Deeper Web turned full-circle: they resolved that the only way to exchange information freely and safely was to restore an oral culture. The Deeper Web was a group of individuals – they called them USB Bards – who had elected to become the repositories and brokers of vast stores of contraband information. The USB Bards had undertaken an in-depth study of long lost mnemonic techniques going back to ancient Greece. Each Bard had their own virtual city which operated as a visual data base. Their powers of visualization were so intense that many of them were said to spend idle, opiated hours wandering the streets of their own notional principalities, and in the Deepest Web of all, the Bards shared notes amongst themselves on mysterious encounters they'd had therein.

Not only had the Bards mastered the ancient art of memory retention, but they also evolved entirely new techniques that made them equally adept at forgetting. Using the visual iconography of long outmoded desktop computers, the Bards could move memories into a Recycle Bin, and even permanently delete them, making them impervious to all forms of enhanced interrogation. It is widely believed that the peculiarly ascetic and neutral character of the USB Bard was a by-product of the fact that they edited their personal memories, removing traumatic emotional complexes in the manner of the system adumbrated in Hubbard's Dianetics, making themselves spectral and robotic in the process.

USB Bards exercise a series of different functions for clients, while ultimately following their own inscrutable agenda at all times. They carried insurance data dumps for whistle-blowers and sold credit details to carders; they saved a thousand things screamed by psychotics and whispered by dreamers in their sleep that otherwise would be lost forever; they sometimes acted as pornographers, recounting ten minute vignettes of amateur porn in an elevated poetic meter of their own creation, in performances which were prized as eerily erotic by connoisseurs; they stored film scripts, manuscripts of novels, philosophical treatises, lewd limericks and haiku which were deemed to have dangerous or subversive content; they saved things that people thought while they were shaving or emptying their bowels, fusing them into a single mosaic of transient impressions which was like a vast Joycean novel; they had created an index of plausibility for conspiratives, and shared information with low-level journalists like myself, again serving their own elusive long-term ends.

I had arranged a meet with my USB Bard, who called himself Malcolm, through the usual Whisperer, and an encryption code that utilized billboards, news-paper headlines, and the tilt of a high-street store mannequin's pelvis. I took a bus out into the mountains, and as soon I disembark, the otherness of the natural world hits me all at once. I feel like I've been in the city and staring at a screen too long, maybe, too long in the porous, schizophrenic, hectoring ambience of the street and the 'Feed. The hedgerows and the fields, the crows wheeling above and the cows with cautious, sluggish eyes, all seem to recognise me as an unwelcome intrusion. After trudging along for about ten minutes, I see the USB Bard standing by a rusty meadow gate, his form almost lost in a dense ticket of brambles. He wears a Burberry macintosh, navy pinstripe suit and bowler hat. He has an umbrella to complete the look. His skin is translucently pale, gleaming in the setting evening sun. When he speaks, it is the sound of a half-forgotten decade, an early morning before you were born.

“The most plausible conspiratives suggest the Angel Investor spoiler is Russian in origin....but the purpose of the release is not disruptive, but more in the line of a fact-finding exercise.”

“To find out facts about what, exactly?”

“I don't have any reliable conspirative to answer that. But bear certain things in mind: the character of the show's titular angel investor, Tyrone Crest, is believed to be modelled on Elor Summer. Conspiratives of moderate plausibility suggest that the failure of the Martian mission was due to sabotage.”

“Sabotage by whom? US government?”

“Unlikely to be US acting autonomously, more probably at the behest of a transnational, such as the GFAB.”

The Global Fiscal Advisory Board is an international think tank which meets under considerable secrecy and security every four years. It's stated purpose is to provide policy suggestions to ensure proper co-ordination in the economic strategies of the various transnational conglomerates: the IMF, World Bank, European Union, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and so on. The GFAB was believed to be involved in the trading of insider information with a certain Off World Cartel, speculators on an interplanetary exchange index whose stocks and currencies are levels of sentient misery in different quadrants of the galaxy.

“Several moderately plausible conspiratives suggest that the plot of Angel Investor is a clearing-house for a mixture of genuine inside intelligence and carefully seeded disinformation. Hence, it seems likely that the Russians have dropped the spoiler in response to the possible sabotage of the Summers Mars mission, as a means to probe the attitude of the GFAB towards private-sector space exploration.”

What the fuck is going on here?”

I don't have any reliable conspirative to answer that. But consider this: a highly plausible conspirative suggests that Noostream have re-written the season finale episode, so that the spoiler is no longer strictly accurate. A question remains, however: if the spoiler was originally correct, but no longer, is it still a spoiler?”

The Bard looked at me with a peculiar intensity, as though matters of great import hinged on the solution to this abstruse problem.

“Some more information which may prove relevant. The name of Tillinghast Nebula's forthcoming album is Dog Star Lazarus Lounge Lizard. A highly plausible conspirative suggests that Nebula is dying, and intends the album – or some document associated with the album – to be his last will and testament.” 

Continued shortly.