For as long as humans have thought, we have sought to dramatise our landscapes.
A hundred thousand years ago, in what is now Israel, we daubed the bones of our dead, and the places we laid them, in red ochre paste. The places of our dead were made red to mark them. In Callanish, in the Orkneys, the standing stones present the sun's rise and procession as a production of majesty. It makes dramatic art, rich with portent, of natural events and features. In Avebury there is a ritual walk designed specifically to make mystery and drama of the surrounding landscape. Features are hidden and revealed by the walk to create wonder and awe in the walker.
We want fiction overlaid upon our lives. We want our places to be even more vivid than they are. We want broad bluebell-spangled fields to be faerie sidhes, we want Green Men in our woodlands. In a graphic novel I'm currently planning, archaic Britain is known as The Henge And Green, and that speaks directly to the ways our ancient populace fictionalised their world to enrich and consider their daily lives. In the same way, the Greeks placed a layer of fiction over the happenstance of their lives. That theirs took the form of big blokes with beards and scary businesswomen managing their lives from a mountaintop office block indicates only that at heart they were wino surrender-monkeys who gave it up for a bunch of Italian fascisti in leather skirts.
These things always go down better with a bit of national slander, eh?
We invite fiction to leak into our lives. This is part of what Grant Morrison is talking about when he gives his gloriously wild-eyed interviews about creating a fictional world that will emerge into self-awareness. Memetic theory has been an obsession of his for twenty years -- the notion that ideas can communicate and replicate like virii. Lately, what he's talking about is the equivalent of biological weaponeering -- specifically designing a cluster of virulent ideas with, at the very least, implicate consciousness.
In a way, we've had one of those before. Jack The Ripper. Everything we know about Jack The Ripper outside of the forensic documentation of those five murders is fiction. Even the name is a fabrication. The Jack The Ripper letters, in the most optimistic reading, constitute the actual killer creating a fictional framework for himself. And Jack operated in a landscape already primed for his presence by dramatisation. Robert Louis Stevenson's THE STRANGE CASE OF DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE presented a monster whose identity was unknown to the public, turning the streets of 1880s London into a killing zone. A monster, it transpires in the story, from the educated classes -- as Jack, with his apparently trained eye for vivisection, almost certainly was.
For all we know of Jack The Ripper, he could have been Mr Hyde, released from fiction into Whitechapel.
And now we fictionalise that, telling stories of repressed Jekyll letting wild Hyde out on to whore's streetcorners in the dead of night, exploding Victorian morals in a storm of fucking and killing, leaving Jekyll with Puritan guilt and a hangover in the morning.
Imagine how that would have been, if Hyde had gotten out of the pages into the East End. A whorer and a murderer, leaving bastard children with the hookers he didn't chop up. Even if he'd disappeared after the Ripper killings, dead inside doomed Jekyll within that grim little chemicals shed at the end of the garden... by 1889, the first of his children would have been born.
Imagine the children of Edward Hyde. Inhumanly strong Id-things clawing their way out of scabby wombs. 1880s London already had a serious social problem with the number of children living on the street; stealing food, attacking passers-by, killing each other, fucking on the pavement as soon as they were old enough to manage it. By 1900, the streets of London could have been littered with dead children. Dead children laying on the cobbles, dirty snow filling their open mouths and the hollows of their staring eyes, as the children of Edward Hyde grow older and stronger, following their twisted genetic programming, obeying the demons of their nature.
By 1900, London would have been a nightmare zone. And a few years later, those children would be breeding.
The 21st Century's first great cultural disappointment, the MATRIX films, are predicated on the concept that we've been fully inserted into a fictional landscape, and reality is that the world is a poisoned rock gripped by nuclear winter. One of the many things that sorry trilogy never properly addresses is that freeing the world from fiction into reality requires boosting people out of comfortable late 20th Century life into a hellhole and convincing them that real experience in a denuded landscape incapable of supporting basic agriculture is the preferred option. But that is a fictional framework around our own lives, dramatising the landscape we live in today -- telling us that seeing the world properly, in all its horror, is preferable to the managed and fictional version of reality our handlers would have us live in.
Don't let fiction out into the world. You don't know what's in it.
(C) Warren Ellis 2003 All Rights Reserved