Author Archives: Jamie Atherton

01. Orbis Tertius | 5. The horizon of our concerns | c. The spheres are in commotion i.

i. Already a fictitious past occupies in our memories the place of another…

Until not all that long ago, a statue of Isaac Newton stood in Leicester Square (along with Shakespeare, Hogarth and Chaplin, among others). Further back still, this was the site of Wyld’s Great Globe, a 60-foot tall inverted representation of the Earth built by James Wyld the younger, noted geographer, map-seller and clearly something of a showman. The continents protruding from the surface of the interior were comprised of some 6000 plaster casts of mountain ranges, plains, deserts and tundra. Punch described it as “a geographical globule, which the mind can take in at one swallow” — a sensation perhaps akin to confronting JLB’s Aleph.

01. Orbis Tertius | 5. The horizon of our concerns | b. Muggletonian pursuits i.

i. Not unlike the original flat earthers, the Muggletonians prefered to take their understanding of the cosmos from the Bible as opposed to science. A 1846 book, Two Systems of Astronomy, proposed an alternative to the prevalent heliocentric, Newtonian description of the heavens. In it the Earth is a fixed point about which extraterrestrial bodies orbit.


01. Orbis Tertius | 5. The horizon of our concerns | a. Looking backward iii.

iii. Howard’s garden cities were circular in form with six radial boulevards, 37m wide, and a population of 32,000. Each would produce its own food and be self-sustaining. This solar system of “slumless, smokeless cities” would orbit a central city (pop. 58,000), connected to it, and each other, by road, rail and canal, with the land in between given over to farms and forests, as well as homes for convalescents, waifs, inebriates and the insane (the other spaces).



But these heterotopias of crisis are disappearing today and are being replaced, I believe, by what we might call heterotopias of deviation: those in which individuals whose behaviour is deviant  in relation to the required mean of the norm are placed. Cases of this are rest homes and psychiatric hospitals, and of course prisons…

—Michel Foucault, Other Spaces, 1967

01. Orbis Tertius | 5. The horizon of our concerns | a. Looking backward i.

i. Looking Backward, a science fiction novel describing a utopian socialist America of the future, sold 200,000 copies in a year and by the end of the nineteenth century had — with the exception of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben Hur: a Tale of the Christ — sold more than any other book in the history of American publishing.

01. Orbis Tertius | 4. Cold wind, tide moves in | d. A certain tincture of Socialism ii.

ii. Writing in the Commonweal in 1889, in response to the recently published Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, William Morris declared that “the only safe way of reading a utopia is to consider it as the expression of the temperament of its author.”

[Bellamy’s] temperament may be called the unmixed modern one, unhistoric and unartistic; it makes its owner (if a Socialist) perfectly satisfied with modern civilisation, if only the injustice, misery, and waste of class society could be got rid of; which half-change seems possible to him. The only ideal of life which such a man can see is that of the industrious professional middle-class man of to-day purified from their crime of complicity with the monopolist class, and become independent instead of being, as they now are, parasitical.¹

¹ The full essay can be found on the Marxists Internet Archive.

CIRCLE 2: The beautifullest place on earth.

On a sodden late-August bank holiday we took the train from London Bridge to Bexleyheath to visit William Morris’ Red House. The story of the house, as we came to understand it, is of a sort of sanctuary from that brutish, industrial modernity Morris railed so vehemently against: an utopian project on the friends-and-family scale. Here a microcosm society of artists and freethinkers would sequester itself in window seats or collaborate on painting the walls with pre-Raphaelite visions of what the world outside might be, if only it could be what it never had been: a depopulated Arthurian arcadia of turreted wishing wells and pasty maidens. The idyll — a condition I’m presumptuously (romantically) superimposing over the gabled roofs — was not to last. The Morris family had five years at the Red House before the costs involved in maintaining their medieval manor, and the strains of the daily commute, obliged them to vacate. Morris said he would never return, the memories of halcyon days being too much to confront. In the years to come the Firm would grow in popularity, Morris — adding yet another string to his bow — would come to be recognised as an important poet and travel to Iceland on a research trip, leaving Janey Morris and Rossetti — as we learned from National Trust docents speaking in morose yet tantalised tones — to continue their affair at the family home in Kelmscott.

It is knowing the end that clouds the chapter: the honeymooning couple, the newborns, the parties, the painted smiley-face concealed in the rafters. And the sunlight flooding William’s study, where, as thousands of miles away, the New World tears itself apart, he perhaps sits reading the latest from German émigré, Karl Marx, reflecting on the role design and craftsmanship might play in realising the visions of a fairer, better future society forming all around him.

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01. Orbis Tertius | 4. Cold wind, tide moves in | d. A certain tincture of Socialism i.

i. We walked back to Rye and up to the 900 year old parish church of Saint Mary. The north aisle of the church features a stained glass window by Morris & Co. from 1897. It is in the “sentimental style.”¹

¹ Ian Nairn and Nikolaus Pevsner, Sussex (The Buildings of England), 1965.

01. Orbis Tertius | 4. Cold wind, tide moves in | c. Rise up iii.

iii. Zion City, Illinois, was established in 1902 as a Christian utopia by Scottish clergyman John Alexander Dowie, who planned the entire city before building commenced, basing it on the Union Jack. In 1987, the Illinois chapter of American Atheists filed suit against the city as its seal, featuring a cross, a dove and the phrase “God Reigns”, was unconstitutional.

01. Orbis Tertius | 4. Cold wind, tide moves in | c. Rise up ii.

ii. Almost 160 years after Frederick Marley was born in Rye, his great-grandson, Robert Nesta Marley, would sing of a vampiric “Babylon system”. Babylon in Rastafarian thought is the embodiment of corrupt, oppressive western society, the antidote to which is the utopian ideal of Zion (where heaven is a place on earth).