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Archive for December 1st, 2008

oneiric overground

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The London Overground is a very strange thing indeed. If you’ve only ever visited London, it’s likely that you’ve never used it. While the Underground generally plunges straight from the fringes into the center – the exception being the Circle line and those that share its tracks – the Overground remains content to wander around the northern and western extentions of the city. When it actually makes contact with the center, say at Euston, it almost seems accidental, the result of a wrong turn somewhere along the line.

The stations are the best part of the whole thing. Unlike on the one hand the Underground’s claustrophobic narrowness, constant busy-ness, and iconic look, or on the other hand, the National Rail stations with their trunkline hugeness, the Overground stations are uncannily quaint and often very quiet. Trains are rare on weekends, twice an hour at best.  And the stations are rural looking!  They have the look of some sort of regional rail system built for a not-too-densely populated place. (Another post to be written – what better topic for a proud New Jerseyan like me – about urban woods, roadside woods, the things that you imagine go on there and the things that really do…)

In fact, there is something about the Overground stations that makes me what to call them the sort of station that appears in one’s dreams. (Do I really mean my dreams or one’s dreams?) They look like scene settings for the softer sort of nightmare, the ones that feature maddening repetition and anxiety-inducing confusions, rather than the threat of violence, the threat of real injury. The sort of station where disturbing cinematic effects should be staged – the train with no driver or the train with faceless passengers, the passenger who is always there waiting for a train that never comes, the experience of waiting for a train but having them each one skip your stop, miss your platform, over and over and over and over and over.

It bears mentioning, too, that the Overground can have a disorienting effect on your psychogeographical gestalt. Since it cuts across rather than down, it bridges distances swiftly that ordinarily seem quite vast. Crouch Hill to West Hampstead seems like an impossible distance to travel by bus or underground, but passes in minutes on the train. As if the layout of the city has been compressed, folded – or even that the Hampstead Tunnel itself has opened a rent in the continuity of the city.

It is a bit like dreamwork, the work that the Overground does. Displacement, condensation – the spatialization of time (or is it the other way around?) And it is no wonder, given the contours of its route, its avoidance of the terminals. After all, Freud long ago spelled out the deal when it came to trains that never quite make it to the center city.

Perversions are sexual activities which either (a) extend, in an anatomical sense, beyond the regions of the body that are designed for sexual union, or (b) linger over the intermediate relations to the sexual object which should normally be traversed rapidly on the path towards the final sexual aim.

Both the dream and the perversion smear and blur fetishism, temporalize it, prolong it away from teleology and thus propriety. Wayward mass transit systems like the London Overground, weed-choked and slow, take us places but never anywhere near the goal. In doing so, they re-think for us the city, the psychological directionality that it dictates, the desires it desires us to hold and those we hold that it normally resists.

Written by adswithoutproducts

December 1, 2008 at 4:32 pm

Posted in design, uncanny