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National Psychogeographic

My essay, “Dead Seas: The Psychogeography of Southern California,” appears in the new Cabinet.

This is the latest in a series of essays I’ve been writing about growing up in the San Diegan suburb of Chula Vista, in the late ’60s and ’70s.

If you’re unfamiliar with the magazine, it’s a wonderfully arcane compendium of critical theory and personal essays, combining the braininess of, say, October (but not its effete, ’80s theory-jock snobbery) with, say, the omnivorous approach to cultural commentary of, say, The Believer. No, no; that’s not right. Oh, hell, just buy the damn thing.

(FYI, Cabinet is available at bookstores such as Barnes & Noble, as well as other outlets, around the country. Alternatively, it can be bought directly from the publisher.)

Each issue has a theme; this one’s is The Sea. Besides my essay, there are articles on “The Sunset Coast: The past within the present at the English seaside”; “The final voyage of Horatio Nelson”; “The Generation of the Jolly Roger”; “The science of rogue waves”; and “Utopia Beneath the Waves: Narcis Monturiol’s submarine dream.” Plus, there’s an awesome postcard of a Kraken, the legendary giant squid of Scandanavian mythology. Too cool. Here’s what you get, in this one-time, satisfaction-guaranteed-or-your-money back essay:

  • Tales of growing up “in the Silurian age,” in San Diego’s South Bay
  • an homage to the prehistoric seascapes of the Czech scientific illustrator Zdenek Burian
  • an exhaustively close reading of prog-rock artist Roger Dean’s ’70s album covers that wrings more hermeneutic juice out of Yes’s Tales from Topographic Oceans than Rosalind Krauss could squeeze out of Matthew Barney’s entire goddamn oeuvre (I interviewed Dean at length for this section)
  • a meditation on the influence, on Salvador Dali’s soft watches and lobster telephones, of the “grandiose geological delirium” of the micha-schist formations of Cape Creus, near his home
  • and some apocalyptic, here-comes-the-flood premonitions of SoCal buried under a biblical deluge, when the polar caps melt.

And here’s a teaser, to seduce you into buying the magazine:

According to Dali biographer Ian Gibson, one writer concluded, on visiting Cape Creus, “that Dali could only be fully understood if one took into account this extraordinary landscape that had shaped his thinking.”

An instructive phrase: “That had shaped his thinking.” It makes us wonder: Which came first, the neurotic or the rocks? Do landscapes touch off sympathetic vibrations inside us because they resonate with childhood experiences, remembered or not? Dali once observed that his “mental landscape” resembled “the protean and fantastic rocks of Cape Creus.” Did the vaginal clefts, phallic spurs, and fecal blobs of its tortured, metamorphic rocks mirror his sexual psyche, a battleground of (barely) repressed homosexuality, ravenous orality, and shameful anality? Or was Dali, in some weird way, shaped by the landscape he grew up in? The Situationists coined the term “psychogeography” to describe “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” Is there a psychogeology—a study of the psychological effects of the rock formations we grew up around? Are there igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic personalities? Is there a stratigraphy of the soul, a petrology of the psyche?