The Temple of the Attainment of Happiness, originally built in 1398 in Nara, Japan, now at The Philadelphia Museum of Art
March 20, 2020

Artificial

We shelter-in-place while the television counts the infections and the people who’ve died. They keep the numbers in the corner of the screen like the scoreboard for some dystopian sport. We take breaks from the news, trying to find whatever scarce poetry can be found in social-distancing. We walk outside simply to walk outside. Seeing the sky feels more important than before. Maybe because so many other interactions have been flattened behind a screen.

My sense of the virtual and the real is beginning to blur. Looking up at the first day of spring, I remember a museum exhibit meant to look like a Japanese garden. I get weak in the knees whenever I stand beneath an artificial sky. A ceiling painted pale blue. Diffuse lighting. An artist’s rendition of clouds. There’s a blush of dopamine, an uncoiling of the nerves. The smudged memory of doing arts and crafts in a classroom while a storm beats against the windows. A painted sky jacks into a childhood fantasy of living in a diorama, of inventing better worlds without any sense of time. It’s a premonition realized, a glimpse of the future that leaves my brain humming with aerodynamic names like Spaceship Earth, Biosphere, and the tape-recorded skies of Neuromancer’s Freeside.

There’s also dread. I remember the illuminated photos of cherry blossoms in the drop ceiling of the hospital room where my father lay dying. Recreating something natural echos the psychic disturbances of clowns. The happiness without reason, the painted smile that must conceal an awful expression underneath—else why the make-up? A climate-controlled room promises protection from nature’s unpredictability and violence, yet sooner or later you wonder what might be going wrong beyond its walls.

A representation implies the real thing must be lost, ruined, or otherwise unavailable. And there’s a connection here that I cannot quite articulate without sounding clumsy, some deep-boned fear that the screens we inhabit today are becoming an artificial replacement for something that can no longer be salvaged.


Fripp & Eno — Heavenly Music Corporation

Polydor, 1973 | More information

The glorious sound of power lines humming on a summer night. Fripp suggested naming this track ‘The Transcendental Music Corporation’ but Eno worried this would “make people think they were serious.” An interesting point: ‘transcendental’ is chained to earnest New Age jargon whereas there’s a wink behind ‘heavenly’, an acknowledgment of its impossibility.

Each night in 2020 I'm writing a short post for a series called Notes From the End of a World because I want to etch these days into my memory before I forget them. Before the world changes completely.
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