Category Archives: Circle 2

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 | 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 | a. The ferocity of tides ii.

ii. Hidden in the colophon of my copy of The Rings of Saturn is this quote from Brokhaus Encyclopedia:

The rings of Saturn consist of ice crystals and probably meteorite particles describing circular orbits around the planet’s equator. In all likelihood these are fragments of a former moon that was too close to the planet and was destroyed by its tidal effect (→ Roche limit).

CIRCLE 2: Making this work, I felt a certain reluctance to return again and again to ‘The Rings of Saturn’ for it is well trodden territory by now. But many years ago, when I first encountered the book, it proved remarkably formative and a need — an honesty of sorts — to signpost its location (indeed, multiple locations) on this map superseded any faux embarrassment. There are reasons for the formation of desire lines.

01. Orbis Tertius | 4. Cold wind, tide moves in | a. The ferocity of tides i.

i. …hlör u fang axaxaxas mlö … upward behind the onstreaming it mooned.

CIRCLE 2: In ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’, Borges describes the peculiarities of the languages of the northern and southern hemispheres of the planet, each consistent with the other in their pervading Berkeleyan idealism and absence of nouns (of which, paradoxically, there are therefore an infinite number):

The popular magazines, with pardonable excess, have spread news of the zoology and topography of Tlön; I think its transparent tiger and towers of blood perhaps do not merit the continued attention of all men. I shall venture to request a few minutes to expound its concept of the universe.

Hume noted for all time that Berkeley’s arguments did not admit the slightest refutation nor did they cause the slightest conviction. This dictum is entirely correct in its application to the earth, but entirely false in Tlön. The nations of this planet are congenitally idealist. Their language and the derivations of their language – religion, letters, metaphysics – all presuppose idealism. The world for them is not a concourse of objects in space; it is a heterogeneous series of independent acts. It is successive and temporal, not spatial. There are no nouns in Tlön’s conjectural Ursprache, from which the “present” languages and the dialects are derived: there are impersonal verbs, modified by monosyllabic suffixes (or prefixes) with an adverbial value. For example: there is no word corresponding to the word “moon,”, but there is a verb which in English would be “to moon” or “to moonate.” “The moon rose above the river” is hlor u fang axaxaxas mlo, or literally: “upward behind the onstreaming it mooned.”

The preceding applies to the languages of the southern hemisphere. In those of the northern hemisphere (on whose Ursprache there is very little data in the Eleventh Volume) the prime unit is not the verb, but the monosyllabic adjective. The noun is formed by an accumulation of adjectives. They do not say “moon,” but rather “round airy-light on dark” or “pale-orange-of-the-sky” or any other such combination. In the example selected the mass of adjectives refers to a real object, but this is purely fortuitous. The literature of this hemisphere (like Meinong’s subsistent world) abounds in ideal objects, which are convoked and dissolved in a moment, according to poetic needs. At times they are determined by mere simultaneity. There are objects composed of two terms, one of visual and another of auditory character: the color of the rising sun and the faraway cry of a bird. There are objects of many terms: the sun and the water on a swimmer’s chest, the vague tremulous rose color we see with our eyes closed, the sensation of being carried along by a river and also by sleep. These second-degree objects can be combined with others; through the use of certain abbreviations, the process is practically infinite. There are famous poems made up of one enormous word. This word forms a poetic object created by the author. The fact that no one believes in the reality of nouns paradoxically causes their number to be unending. The languages of Tlön’s northern hemisphere contain all the nouns of the Indo-European languages – and many others as well.

A project: create parallel texts in the Ursprache of both hemispheres, perhaps one word poems.

A mode of production: “successive and temporal, not spatial”


01. Orbis Tertius | 1. I hear a new world | d. Dog days are over i.

i. Orbiting a planet of his own imaginings in East Anglia, WGS recalls Browne’s observation that there is no antidote against the opium of time.

And since the heaviest stone that melancholy can throw at a man is to tell him he is at the end of his nature, Browne scrutinizes that which escaped annihilation for any sign of the mysterious capacity for transmigration he has so often observed in caterpillars and moths.¹

¹ WG Sebald, The Rings of Saturn, 1995.

CIRCLE 2: When Jeremy and I first moved to London from California seven years ago, we were always broke and the city seemed to be to blame. We’re still always broke but we don’t begrudge the city’s thirst for our resources quite so much anymore. We’re thirsty a lot ourselves. Jeremy wrote a blog entry called dog days are over.


Back then the phrase was emblazoned on exterior of the Hayward Gallery, a sculpture by Ugo Rondinone. That’s what it looks like — a rainbow on concrete — and at around the same time Florence and the Machine had that song, so it sounds a bit like that. Florence Welch would apparently pass the Hayward daily, so there is a line of influence here. I’d like to imagine that in turn Rondinone was inspired by the opening line of The Rings of Saturn (“In August 1992, when the dog days were drawing to an end, I set off to walk the county of Suffolk, in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work.”), but there’s nothing to indicate that was the case.

‘Dog days are over’ has stuck with me: ironic, optimistic, melancholic; a sweet, sad comfort.

01. Orbis Tertius | 1. I hear a new world | c. More Thomases iii.

iii. STC had his own utopian ambitions: Pantisocracy, a democratic and egalitarian community, free of the corrupting influence of personal property. STC and fellow Pantisocratic poets, including Robert Southey and George Burnett, planned to establish their society on the banks of the Susquehanna in the New World. In a letter from 1794 Southey, wrote of a place

…where the common ground was cultivated by common toil, and its produce laid in common granaries, where none are rich because none should be poor, where every motive for vice should be annihilated and every motive for virtue strengthened … When Coleridge and I are sawing down a tree, we shall discuss metaphysics; criticize poetry when hunting a buffalo; and write sonnets whilst following the plough. Our society will be of the most polished order.

As Joseph Priestley the younger — who along with his father had been driven from England to Pennsylvania and another stretch of the Susquehanna in the previous year — wrote later, it was fortunate for the poets that “the scheme was abandoned”, for

…the generality of Englishmen come to this country with such erroneous ideas, and, unless previously accustomed to a life of labour, are so ill qualified to commence cultivation in a wilderness, that the projectors would most probably have been subject to still more unfounded abuse than they have been, for their well-meant endeavours to promote the interests of their countrymen.¹

¹ Joseph Priestley, Memoirs of the Rev. Dr. Joseph Priestley to the year 1795 with a Continuation by his son, Joseph Priestley, 1809. Cited in an essay by J Edmund White (Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville): Pantisocracy and Pennsylvania: plans of Coleridge and Southey and of Cooper and Priestly, 2004.

photo1 (8)CIRCLE 2: The published version of this text came back from the printers today. 50 copies in a surprisingly small box. The colours look good and I’m pleased with the space between things.
There is a diagram at the end of the main body of the text that has printed faintly, as I rather hoped it would. I didn’t want it to be read as definitive, more as a clue, an indicator that there is a structure to the text: a certain pattern, circular in shape, with connecting lines criss-crossing it. A diagram of the paths contained within. 

Or at least, a partial diagram. Even returning to it as the drafting of the text reached a close, I realised I had lost track of some of the signposts and markings I’d set for myself along the way (and looking back through notes for the answers, I became aware of the inadequacies in my method).

So, yes, it would have been misleading to have made this diagram too legible (a false “legend” to the map — perhaps that would’ve made sense in the context of this erratic orbit around a Borges story).

What degree of opacity? It is a troublesome question (one that might be asked by the builders of mazes). 

01. Orbis Tertius | 1. I hear a new world | c. More Thomases i.

i. Thomas De Quincey, influenced in his writings by Browne, was in turn an influence on JLB. In his research into the literature of a mysterious kingdom known as Uqbar, JLB finds reference to a book by German theologian Johannes Valentius Andreae who claimed to be the author of the Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, one of the founding texts of Rosicrucianism.¹ It was a name he recognised from volume XIII of TDQ’s Collected Writings.

¹The book was influenced by the writings of the Elizabethan magus John Dee. Indeed, Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica — a symbol representing his belief in the unity of the cosmos — is included in the design of the invitation to the titular wedding. In his second theorem on the symbol, Dee observes that “neither the circle without the line, nor the line without the point, can be artificially produced.”

CIRCLE 2: One thing leads to another. How ought we to measure the value of research — in fathoms? How then to respond when it seemingly skims the surface: racing eagerly through the maze, searching wildly for clues. I know relatively little of these Thomases. I have not read the Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz. But should the drive to survey and map these rhizomatic trails be curbed for fear of appearing the dilatant? I believe not: firstly, it is not the purpose of this piece to prescribe knowledge, it is not my intention to assume a position behind the lectern; and secondly, I am interested in a sort of inherent truthfulness in the making of the work that comes from the opening up of note-taking — the unending list of curios, eccentricities and lines of enquiry of the enthusiast laid bare. It is not to forsake rigour, or to dismiss the narrow and deep focus, but rather to consider the myriad alternate cartographies that might emerge through eager, playful and unrestricted investigation.


01. Orbis Tertius | 1. I hear a new world | b. There was a ship i.

i. Living, as we do, in post-Tlön times, it is easy to forget that some held out against the deluge. Jorge Luis Borges dug down deeply into his translation of Thomas Browne’s Urn Burial with no intention of publishing, as though to print, to reproduce and share, would spell the end for his quiet resistance. If there is a utopia in this story, it is a private one, contained in this act like water in a vessel.


CIRCLE 2: Ideas around utopia have been prevalent in much of my research of late. This is a large part of the reason Borges’s story appealed so. Although the world imagined within it makes no claims towards the utopian, it is still an act of new world making and as such mirrors the desires and actions of those seeking utopia. Therefore (inevitably) it became inextricably linked to the threads, paths and tangents of research I had been pursuing; lines of enquiry that reveal patterns, coincidences and maps. 

01. Orbis Tertius | 1. I hear a new world | a. No place like Tlön i.

Now I held in my hands a vast methodical fragment of an unknown planet’s entire history…¹

This revision of an illusory world, was called, provisionally, Orbis Tertius…

i. Tlön², the world described in the forty-volume encyclopedia known as Orbis Tertius, is by no means a utopia, but like Utopia, it is a place imagined, or rather was. The imagining of Tlön began in the early seventeenth century and so thoroughly was it conceived of that, like an incoming tide, it has succeeded in erasing almost all trace of that which came before it. There are now few who remember the old world.


¹Jorge Luis Borges, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, 1940. Borge’s story, from the collection Labyrinths, was the origin of this exercise in cartography. As such, from here on in posts with titles beginning “01. Orbis Tertius…”, if no reference is made to a quote’s source it can be assumed to be from this text.

²On 6 June 2014 I travelled to Camber Sands, Suffolk, in the company of Jeremy Atherton Lin, with the intention of drawing a large circular map of the imagined world, Tlön, on the beach.

CIRCLE 2: I recognise the enthusiast in David Medalla. He said you should do something for the London Biennale. And he was right, I had been hiding in the studio for too long. The theme is Maps, Mazes and Mystery, he said. I’d been wanting to draw a maze for a while and remembered a fleeting moment in the late 90s when, upon my return from the first trip to California, I spent a weekend camping with teenhood friends on a beach in Devon. In the morning I took a piece of driftwood and drew a maze on the beach, insisting, upon its completion, that my friends take the challenge. Initially I thought I would do something similar for the London Biennale, but the theme also made me think of the Borges I’d been reading recently, especially Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, the first story in Labyrinths. In keeping with the numerous circles and the large circular map I’d been working on, not to mention the circuitous routes my research — often into circles, spheres, orbs, globes — had been taking me in, I would still find an expanse of sand, but rather than a maze, I would draw a map: an outline of the planet described in the story. The ideas began to form themselves into a map of sorts too — a textual one. As they took shape I attempted to understand the emerging text-cartography by plotting it out. Not surprisingly, it took the shape of a circle. Simultaneously, the rules of the text emerged, the conditions of an alternate universe in which Borges’s story was a true account, and in which the imagined world really had subsumed our own. For it to work (this time at least) within the constraints of the timeframe of David’s London Biennale, there were aspects of the Borges’s story that could not be factored into the parameters of the story, namely the language and philosophy of Tlön. There is, I believe, scope for returning to this in the future.