Category Archives: America

Randonautica #8

The intention yesterday was “Pluto.” There was a reason for this having to do with Vaneigem’s theory of spontaneity, but the connection escapes me now. I don’t think it really matters. More and more, I sense that if there is anything to the idea that the Randonautica quantum-bot enacts some sort of mind-machine meld, it must be at the level of the subconscious, not of announced intention. That’s not to say that the unconscious can’t be summoned into consciousness, and those instances could possibly help explain some of the heavier randonauting synchronicities. But it seems doubtful that following the app’s directive to “focus on your intent[ion?]” during the five seconds it takes to generate coordinates is enough to achieve the necessary depth. If the notion is to be accepted, or in any case entertained, that there is a quantum-level relationship between the user’s thoughts and the app’s computations, then the possibility should be considered that the full accumulation of the user’s mental state, which may or may not be spoken or even speakable, is involved. Perhaps, then, we don’t know what our intention is until we arrive at the coordinates, or a sequence of coordinates, which reveal it.

It should also be considered that Randonautica is one of many Alternate Reality Games on offer, essentially an 18-and-up treasure hunt like Geocaching, which predates it by nearly twenty years, and letterboxing (or “questing”), which predates it by more than 150. The difference, of course,  is that instead of finding physical objects that have been planted in a particular spot by another person or people, the randonaut is looking mainly for coincidences. At base, randonauting is a fun and sometimes meaningful way to walk around (or drive around, if you prefer) and see new places and things — or familiar ones, but from a new perspective.

Perhaps above all, it’s good idea to stay aware that Randonautica is a fairly new and increasingly popular recreational platform — it has nearly doubled its number of Twitter followers in the last four months — that, despite cloaking its operations in some notable ways (e.g. who is this exactly?), is clearly aiming at greater development, mass appeal, and more overall legitimacy. It has recently redone (and relocated) its website, and started a reality television series. Meanwhile, the app itself seems to have just added protective language. At least, I think these “Pro Tips,” which now appear on the user’s phone when the app launches, are new:

And now on to randonauting. Continue reading Randonautica #8

Randonautica #7: Random Noticing #1

(This subseries, if it turns into one — which is doubtful — attends to auxiliary, secondary, or casual observations made outside but as an effect of formal randonauting, an activity which heightens the mind’s general awareness and alertness, and encourages it to find and tease out “random” connections.)

“You do not stop a jogger who is jogging. Foaming at the mouth, his mind riveted on the inner countdown to the moment when he will achieve a higher plane of consciousness, he is not to be stopped. If you stopped him to ask the time, he would bite your head off.” — Jean Baudrillard, America

I just recently read these lines, which are excerpted from a longer observation by Baudrillard of the American jogger. I’m an American jogger myself, and I tend to perk up at attempts to understand the “meaning” of this particular pastime and the people who engage in it. My interest derives not only from personal experience as a jogger but also from how uninteresting jogging actually is, both to do and to observe. It is a very difficult subject from which to draw much sense or sensibility.

There are direct efforts, like Haruki Murakami’s memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, whose title, taken from Carver, is as deliberately flat as the long-distance runner’s experience of the miles. The only passage I can recall from this book has nothing to do with running at all. It recounts the moment when Murakami decided to become a writer, which occurred at a baseball game at the moment when a player who had hit a ball into the outfield pulled into second base for a double. Murakami’s life flashed in front of his eyes: not the life he was about to depart, but the one he was about to begin.

There is also the runner, and running, as archetype and metaphor, most famously in Alan Sillitoe’s short story The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. While running, “I’ve been asking myself all sorts of questions and thinking about my life up to now,” writes the narrator — identified only as Smith (perhaps appropriately the most uninteresting name in English). This thinking while running more closely resembles one’s life flashing in front of one’s eyes before death, but is categorically different, less a mortal reckoning than an incrementally updated accounting. With every run, a little more is added to “my life up to now.” Yet there isn’t an equal relationship between time input and thought output: “By God,” Smith blurts, “to say that last sentence has needed a few hundred miles of long-distance running.” Continue reading Randonautica #7: Random Noticing #1

Azerbaijan 2: Baku, the Incomprehensible

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On the promenade by the Caspian, everything seems to be made of marble, even the underground passageway that leads to it from underneath the boulevard. Once you emerge, Russian ballet music is coming from somewhere: speakers mounted in light posts, it turns out. A sparkling white fountain is populated by statues of swans. All along the promenade runs a grassy park shaded with trees and lined with benches. One section of the promenade is called “Little Venice”: you go up and down over more marble steps above a network of canals where gondoliers row visitors in the twilight. At the far end of the promenade is an enormous, flower-shaped architectural wonder known as the pearl. Beyond that, around a bend, is a giant, glittering ferris wheel.

At nightfall, around nine o’clock, the promenade is at its most crowded, especially around the fountain of swans. The open plaza yields a good view up and away from the Caspian toward the “Flame Towers.” Once it’s dark, these three high-rises light up in undulations of red-orange, then sea-blue. (Or is it gas-flame blue? This is oil-rich Azerbaijan, after all.) Now each tower takes on its own color: one blue, one red, one green, the colors of Azerbaijan’s flag. After another minute, the image changes to a giant white-on-black silhouette of a heroic figure waving that flag. All around the fountain of swans, people are taking selfies with these images as backdrop, the music as soundtrack.

It’s something else (really, check it out), which I mean not as a figure of speech but as literally unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Baku might be the city of the future, yet perhaps the future it’s the city of will never come to be; if it does, it will have no America in it, because no American city has even begun to remake itself in the twenty-first-century image that cities like Baku are shaping. More and more, America seems to me a place caught between two eras: detached from the traditionalism that gives durable cultures the lifeblood that sustains them through epochal change (for example, in the part of Georgia we’re in now, they’ve been making wine the same semi-primitive way for hundreds if not thousands of years); but lagging way behind the innovation and reimagining that mark the vanguard of civilization. It sometimes seems plausible that the US is so stuck on and in itself, so paralyzed by its divisions and addictions, and still so pitiably longing for the late twentieth century (i.e. the time before 9/11 that we will wake up one day to find that the world we thought we were leading has taken an alternate and faster route to some completely different destination and left us still driving our cars to nowhere while civilization is soaring up and away to heights undreamt.

Meanwhile, as Baku leaps, probably too quickly, toward the future, there are so many metaphors for/symbols of its paradoxes of simultaneous obviousness and indecipherability, of novelty and backwardness, of stylishness and awkwardness, authenticity and counterfeit, wealth and poverty, that you’d have to be asleep not to notice them. Here are a few:

Continue reading Azerbaijan 2: Baku, the Incomprehensible