Paranoid Critical

I haven’t said much about theme parks recently, even though that’s where all the pain is taking place. It seems time for a Pain Bulletin. A really long one, sorry.

(Well actually I should briefly mention some pain not to do with study. A few days ago I had the left half of my thyroid removed, because it was something out of Lovecraft. Be blessed you know nothing of its dark and terrible nature, it is consigned to the flames of hell etc. They cut across my throat to get it out so I am sitting here looking like a Halloween mask. The days of vocals on stage are done, but that was always part of the plan.)

I am determined to make an major artwork based on research. It tells a story in virtual architecture – and architecture in itself is complex battleground. This story extends over centuries, it includes white supremacy, colonialism, surrealism, religion, the psych, notions of progress, pornography, midgets and freaks, kings and presidents… it is like swallowing a grand piano to play it.

Eiffeltorni, Pariisin maailmannäyttely 1889

Paris 1889. A game of my tower is bigger than your tower.

I first understood an Orphic view of the fairground – that it is a combination and opposition of light and dark, yin and yang, Jekyll and Hyde. To attempt a purely ‘light’ version as did Disney, is an act of denial. He banned roller coasters and grog from his land – and they slid back into the vacuum the moment his personal power waned. It is better to employ the dark as a painter does, accentuating the light.

The makers of the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition learned this the hard way when the ‘dark’ settled around the perimeter of their bright white city – in the Midway Plaisance. They lost control of the booze and sex shows and – learning that it’s better to piss out of the tent – they incorporated it inside as THE MIDWAY. A world fair now has two hemispheres – the WHITE CITY and the MIDWAY.

On reaching this Orphic view I read architect Rem Koolhaas’s Delirious New York. At one point he introduces a mock battle between Salvador Dali and Le Corbusier for NYC and the 1939 fair – the baked bean versus the cube – the same fight designed into every World Fairground. In this he explains Dali’s paranoid critical method. Once I understood this process I realised it is necessary to my own work.

Dali, 1939 fair

Currently I am finding infinite resonance and connection between every aspect of my source material. All evidence is interpreted as support for my idée fixe. For example it is possible to see the fairground as the two sides of the human brain, bridged by a corpus callosum – that bridge is right there in the 1939 map. The relationships become tenuous when looked at critically – but that’s for later, when the design has to collapse into an actual production.


NYC 1939 Fair map.

The designers have placed bridges and a portal between these hemispheres

Colonialism and other isms.

A great deal has been written about the racism and colonialism expressed in world fairs. (For example here’s a very useful source regarding fairground Orientalism.) Other people have covered this far better than I can, plus there’s debate that I’m not equipped to settle. For example the common claim that the centre of each fair was the White Anglo-Saxon exhibit, with increasingly ‘inferior races’ spread out towards the edges – one critic has pointed out that just looking at the maps you can see that Austrians must have been held inferior to Hottentots if that were the case and there are more complex economic reasons for the layout than simplistic racial theories.

I’ve been worried about portraying the reality of a 20th century fairground – midgets, belly dancers, American Indians etc. that are going to ‘trigger’ somebody somewhere who can’t see the difference between what was and what should be. Bluntly – my Midway cannot and will not have a Little Miracle or Coon Town even though these were real. They were supposed to present a scale of civilization – which I also need to present, but without the hurtful pseudoscience or the notion of superiority.


Instead I will hold that some mental formations are more primal / fundamental, and portray these as architecture. Rather than arraying people and cultures along my map, I can set the ‘civilized’ Jekyll against the ‘primal’ Hyde, with the constant refrain of their interdependence. For Freud, there was the contest between id and superego, for Jung there were the archetypes, then there are the spiritualists and surrealists and many other symbols I can use without hurting anyone. My exposition will be an interior landscape that informs the exterior civilization.

Sort of. It’s not exactly clear how this will work. On one side the WHITE CITY, tall, hard edged, streamline style, progressive. On the other side of the bridge, the MIDWAY, soft and fleshy, primal and filled with ancient emotions. But who will be in this landscape? What goals? What challenges? There’s a long way to go.



9 thoughts on “Paranoid Critical

  1. You’re describing Shinsekai. It’s literally divided into two sections – Paris one half and Coney Island the other. Where does Shinsekai fit in with fairground Orientalism? Or is the whole argument blindly Eurocentric?

    • Being the site of the 1903 National Industrial Exposition, it is part of a architectural dialogue and competition between fair builders all over the world. Most sites have these features because they are a display of national power. Japan at that time had a strong desire to emulate the West, and be Eurocentric. But I’m not equipped to follow up this up – and there’s already people working on Colonialism and Fairs and I defer to them. Scott A Lukas is one writer worth reading.

  2. Sorry to hear about the gland issue. I had a problem with a salivary one, and I had to have a tumor removed. I didn’t wait for a miracle or a birthing joke to happen, so I beamed it off the ship. Somehow I got a French MD to get rid of it free here in Canada.

  3. Speaking of theme parks, I was just browsing through your cv section again, and thought to mention that Stan Kelly-Bootle was awarded what is considered the first post-graduate degree in computer science in 1954. Before that it was applied mathematical sphignomerometry or some such. Stan is also quoted as saying that computer science is like numerology and astrology only without the precision of the former or the success of the latter.

  4. The League of Nations, yikes, A.T.K. Tech (not T.D.K.) memory inserts at public expodomes/expodesics. Apparently began in France, funded thru “do-gooder” philanthropists (not French, either). Have a good recovery.

  5. Well, commiserations and congratulations from an ex-thyroid owner. For the last week I’ve been off the streets to protect the public from the I131 gradually leaving my body along with any recalcitrant bits of thyroidy stuff, now thoroughly nuked.

    One morning in 2003 after a late night out in Malmö I woke up in unfamiliar surroundings on a friend-of-a-friend’s yacht (I’m not making this up). I picked up Delirious New York and started reading, having no idea what it was. Pretty soon I could feel my brain being rewired in most delicious ways. “The Story of the Pool” made a particular impression.

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