Falling to Medieval Unconsciousness

I had smacked against the cliff face of shore (my body folding into the rocks like batter) and there have lain sleeping under arcs of orange and lavender atmosphere in the stone city labyrinth named CHICAGO. In my dream I kneel at a molten river, fingering the lines of current, wandering back in time.

The earth of this twisted city is frozen shut with asphalt. It does not liberally let roots through. The people must spend their lives distributing their weight among the stacked rocks, hammering stakes and lashing down their legs to withstand the uncertain violence of the weather. Fingers run white holding their grip. The land would seem to repulse life, pushing it up into the sky, which is the mystic glowing city sky, which shoots orange and lavender on the river water and blows a colored smoke into the glass, filling people with abstract visions of the Middle Ages.

* * *

Giovanni di Paolo

Medievalness of mind: it appears in the form of a shadow (a coldness, darkness, an alluding shape of light), an atavistic consciousness of true memory from beyond experience, or a false memory. It is a highly selective projection, a personal, contemporized, Crichton-ized Medievalism, bleached of feudalism, Christ, and horses: a loose goo with some edges filed into reactionary vividness against the present times. For these times, it must be a boutique Medievalism.

A medievalist might be a hopeless reactionary, an anachronism to the point of parody. Ignatius Reilly of A Confederacy of Dunces: cranky, deluded, and ridiculous (a ridiculousness that projects him off the surface of the real world, and protects him from harm). Post-modernity likes the improvised jumble of Chicago without the liquor of omnipresent rock-hard religion; old blind Money persistently prints out contemporary shapes and circumstances and coping with that will be enough. Here is the pastoralist in an engineered landscape bent into a fractured shape of millions of humans — the Chicago road arrow straight, the Medieval road roving with the wisdom of the walking cows. The modern Medievalist would almost have to be a buffoon.

A parodic Medievalism: actually, doesn’t that seem post-modern? Chicago’s signature frilly Beaux-Art aesthetic (directly influenced by Victorian-era resuscitation of Medieval decorative art) and subconscious Francophilia paints the scene for such a farce. Modern people’s fetishistic mythology of the organic lifestyle, perhaps, will be understood as a parodic yearning to become the Medieval person, the original “natural person,” a human synonym of the soil they tilled. The Medievalist Chicagoan appreciates the local, the romantic, the hermetic, the folk decorative, the artisan, the arts and crafts, the freedom hidden latent in hands, the importance of community in work, the importance of spirit in work.
John Ruskin, iconoclastic Medievalist aesthete and key figure in the late-19th century relaunch of thinking about the Middle Ages, would see the Medieval tradition alive in the Chicago underground DIY music and arts scene. With castle gates to somewhat fend back the world, the artists establish their own order, leaning their own communitarian values as pillars against the prevailing values of the world. (And there is Ruskin in his time, jealously imagining the ordered fraternal spirituality of the Middle Ages against the bleak alienation of early industrialism’s factories frivolously eating generations of people.) Medieval art is art put to the service of religion, politics or society, rather than as an outlet for personal expression or for its own sake (a Renaissance sensibility); DIY Chicago uses art and music to bring people together, make love, create community, and (to some extent) engage with and change society. Some modern artists and musicians after the Medieval strain make spiritual art as healing antidote to the Age — and while doing it feel “out of time.”

20th century events trephinated Western heritage, blotting out pieces of the Enlightenment brain (such as conventions of visual representation and devout progressive rationality); a musty Middle Ages mind leaks out, scabbing over the wounds as generations peel off in the night.


A powerful image of a Woman opened the door of my Medieval unconsciousness. Time marked by, the Woman mystified and possessed me. In her realm she would rub a lamp and I would be compelled to appear. I was a genie made from magic yet before her enchained. Then I was bellowing monophonic music in my heart, quilling low verse, and making crude vernacular paintings. Then I could effortlessly spend the duration of my life dragging stones in her honor, then I sought a quarry. The very trace of her compelled me.

I reached for the weird words of Henry Adams, Mont St Michel and Chartres. Writing in 1904, Adams surveys the immortal glory of 12th-century French Gothic architecture and concludes that the forgotten secret to the success of Medieval civilization is its worship of Woman. Adams describes a spiritual interregnum, a brief golden window around the 1100s when the old White Goddess (“the eternal woman,— Astarte, Isis, Demeter, Aphrodite”) ruled again, costumed now as the Virgin. For Adams, this deity built the great cathedrals. The form of the Virgin gave Medieval people an alternative type of consciousness (lost in the patrimonial smog of his times) — an enlightened ideal feminism, where sex and the irrational were admitted in the Church’s front door. For a brief moment, Woman was the ideal, the superior of men, and at the center of the social order. Adams, holding the sculptured light of Gothic Cathedrals beside the Science then discombobulating his world, ultimately concludes that “the proper study of mankind is woman.”

Modernity, with emergent feminized consciousness, probably has renewed access to an occult Medieval type of apprehension of and engagement with the world. The rich meat of the Middle Ages is its soul: the Medieval world is the ensouled world, anima mundi, where goes systemic social purpose (the elements of Medieval society in purposeful Cosmic interrelation, unified under the boot of their God) streaked with sunken magic symbols (as Roger Bacon’s semiotics, 600 years before Peirce or Lacan) rounding a Boethian Wheel of circular time (relieved of linear time’s mythology of progressive growth). Many vernacular institutions have gone dormant in our time, but soul does persist and we also still have love, the classic gushing love that fuses. Post-modern people dream of the ensouled world of the Middle Ages, and still live in it.


When a man undertakes to create something, he establishes a new heaven, as it were, and from it the work that he desires to create flows into him… For such is the immensity of man that he is greater than heaven and earth

— Paracelsus, Middle Ages occultist and psychosomatician

Chicago Local Hot Scoop Blog Roll

I stare off (skimming the generally bloodless and uninformative online Sun-Times) and wonder — how I will get connected with the HOT SCOOP? Whatever is going on out there? Something would have to be. At least somebody could dig at it or make it up. EXTRA EXTRA. In this merchant’s town, shouldn’t inside information still be worth something? So I read these spunky 2015 Chicago blogs, too, which dish fresh scoops with hot spoons.

Chicago, Former Smelt Fishing Capital

Chicago Patterns
(http://chicagopatterns.com/) —  I would like to freeze time and, flying merrily through the air, run my hands along all the byzantine decoration stuck to the faces of Chicago buildings. This very fun blog mimics this sort of glee. We get not only photos, but also legwork. We discover the oldest building in Avondale — an old barn in an alley– and watch it abruptly torn down. We put Stephen Douglas back at home on the near South Side. Chicago architecture deep cuts.

Second City Cop
(http://secondcitycop.blogspot.com/) — Pull up a stool, why don’t you, and warm yourself before the anonymous blog comments of a crowd of Chicago cops? Don’t get singed on the hot hot hot paternalism. But enjoy the hot wet mouths of police officers mouthing off.

City Notes (http://danielkayhertz.com/) — A satisfying and stimulating Chicago urban policy blog penned by a careful and studied smarty. A fount of stats, history, and maps of the city’s stark economic and racial geography — Hertz lays out a spread of facts, and then has the audacity to interpret them toward a truth about the city.

Crime in Wrigleyville & Boystown (http://www.cwbchicago.com/) — A “gawking” blog for me, this is a very active community crime bulletin for the Lakeview neighborhood. The newspapers run a skeletal sketch story about a crime; this blog goes on the beat to give you the full scoop (witness and victim interviews, original photography). The comment sections are flooded (I mean, like, more than 50 comments) with hysterical shrieks about moving to the suburbs. This blog makes the crime in Lakeview seem really bad.

Chicago History Today (https://chicagohistorytoday.wordpress.com/) — A candy tray of colorful Chicago history tidbits. We go from William Jennings Bryan named the surprise Democratic candidate deep on the South Side to the Jefferson Park of the 1950s.

Tumbler of Chicago History Museum (http://chicagohistorymuseum.tumblr.com) — Sometimes I wonder if Chicago will exist in 1,000 years. This blog shows in lush photography a series of cities called “Chicago” hovering on this spot. Take a look at the Gay Pride Parade of 1971 or the Uptown beach in 1916.

Mysterious Chicago (http://www.mysteriouschicagoblog.com/) Long dark explorations of Chicago’s occult past, animating generations of murders with old newspapers spun into a yarn.

(No food blogs because I’m just not a yuppie yet.)



Delightful Folk Art Classics

Don’t try to find outsider art inside the Art Institute of Chicago. You might eventually locate the folk art gallery (secreted in a passage off a staircase) but will be certainly disappointed by the scanty and un-entertaining art it holds. You must meet the folk on Milwaukee Avenue, at Intuit Gallery.

William Hawkins

Outsider art never felt outside of where I was. “Brut” has been the natural clacking tongue of images — of teenagers making saucy jokes in magazine collage, of loose doodle maps penciled out by introverts, of all the secret impulsive art drawn aboard all the buses of Chicago each day (only some of which could ever be Wesley Willis’). It must be almost all art made and consumed.
Wesley WillisI recognize it instantaneously and with joy. From here, with the Volk, the insider art is the anomaly (with its combed lines and arcane bloviations). Outsider art shepherds in all the folk, not just the crazy or those with other ways certifiable authentic naivete. In this weird world, who can be familiar enough to get all the way “inside”?

Simon SparrowThe images are magical: they are supposed to do something. The images have a destiny. It is not always clear why the images have appeared or what they want. They have forced themselves out through a person, and it would seem they’re not done traveling somewhere, back and forth across worlds.
Jon Serl
The artist may imagine they have saddled their works as “therapy,” but then, panting, they will recognize they are the ones running, blindered and whipped. And we may smirk at the artist’s contortions to catch the message (their advanced finger-painting technique), at the clarity of their subjection to their images (how charming the enslavement of Henry Darger to his world), and how we can see through the screen of their cute common media to the place where gods live. The images burn out from their hearts, lingering on the world a few human lifetimes like grey coals.

All art is up now at Intuit Gallery, 756 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL

Old King Content & The Weird Art Out There

“Content is King” they had said — so Content becomes a man, the enlightened warlock despot casting spells of letters at the world, the Vector with the logic of a field of dandelions. The “they” that says this are the enlightened graphic designers and  tech types who, despite their lack of taste, engineer the Internet and spray down the world with Trapper Keeper aesthetics to trick people into buying awful products.

What if Google reworked its algorithm after the cliche “Silence is golden”, by which people encourage other people to not take up as much social space? Which is more “relevant,” the soggy blather of corporate blogs, written by unpaid intern drone adult children to feed their King the words he likes, or a irrelevant blog entry that was not even written at all? Perhaps ideally search queries should show empty pages, representing the content that was mercifully, justly, appropriately NOT imposed on the entire world via the Internet. Can’t the market reward what is not? I don’t have the answers but I’d guess the most correct response to many questions is silence.

So you can sense I am in a sour mood. Things get weird here in Chicago and I dipped into silence. I’ve seen art I loved and didn’t photograph, and I’ve missed out on some real good times. Can’t it be OK there in the void? No — the high moral logic of the Internet pleads it to be vanquished with as much tact as you can make. The evil of absence will justify the crass imposition of my perspective on otherwise ideal empty space somewhere in the Internet. Please forgive me but I must choose Good.

I’ll leave you now with the threat of my lips flapping like two wet towels in the wind, fighting this jihad against absence, and some fresh weird Chicago gallery art (uh, yes that is a complete copy of Bertolt Brecht’s FBI file on display at an apartment art show).
Jovencio de la Paz


5 Months in Chicago: A Reflection, Illustrated by Ed Paschke

Ed Paschke I cast myself down five months of this obscure Chicago life and the endless pressing into the pointed urban face prints me to its mold. Each day this year I have schooled in a battery of basic skills that had atrophied in the provinces: how to cross the streets smoothly, how to pass in most society, how to drink the city’s gin, how to sweet-talk Chicago post office workers, how to hustle locally, how to be broadened by a wealth of people. Though I start to look the fool, I have not cut my hair. The city becomes me.

Ed Paschke

It possesses me demonically, and I only just begin to let it speak with my tongue. I point my empathy into it, feel it. I read shared poignancy in the color of its sky, I squint into the terrible shadow cast by its entropy. I see the clues it throws off that suggest its depth, like the distant echo of a deep well. I want to articulate it, I want to cultivate myself that it could articulate itself through me. This is a romance of longing and sugared embrace, set against vivid fears of ruin.Ed Paschke

Stacked memories from another life a decade ago play songs to me on every block– this other person was almost everywhere I am today. Such memories do not fill up the place; I re-remember the city while also working to create it. Sometimes, when my angle aligns just so, I see clearly that nothing is at all like it was and marvel at this busy place. And then other times I wonder if the jaws haven’t already begun to jail me, if I’m no different than a bag of sawdust to the monsters of the realm, if the city’s fleshtone is not vivid streaks of macaw colors but a cold matte gray.
20150429_192952Summer will arrive soon, beautiful and overwhelming, public consciousness will glide along the hinge. I hope some people of the city will gain a few paces on their pursuers.

Ed Paschke((All art in this post by Chicago’s signature late-20th century painter, Ed Paschke, on display at his gallery / museum in Jefferson Park.))

Loving a Woman With a Broken Nose

For a few weeks there I got lost in a fold of the season: I was back in the alley petting rats and sharing my bread with birds, and I was biking at night alone and laughing, singing, crying of joy. I went out planting onions. I felt so happy to somehow have made it back here, the improbable labyrinth of dark beauty. Chicago. I put my emotions like balm into the landscape and I felt a knotty fabric tangled at the bottom of my throat.

“The psyche chooses its geography,” archetypal psychologist James Hillman says. We could n20150319_182142ot all be here by mistake. Many people move with purpose, going toward exactly somewhere. They have set out to seek their fortune, like you hear about in folk tales. The city with its millions of rooms will have to be the medium of their destiny.

Myself– I am utterly lost in gloom. I touch at forms masked in darkness. Flashes of poetry erratically light the city, like the blue sparks thrown off the train. Loving Chicago is like “loving a woman with a broken nose,” Nelson Algren once suggested, putting an aura of ugliness and abuse about it. But a woman is not her nose; loving a woman with a broken nose must be like loving any woman at all. Which is a shadowed enough enterprise in its own right.

Chicago Onion

Recent Chicago Tableaus

Boulders of priceless amber line the Chicago coast.
Boulders of priceless amber line the Chicago coast.
This is a chill meet-up spot.
"Wild Garbage Island" aka Streeterville Chicago -- where God would live if He had money
“Wild Garbage Island” aka Streeterville Chicago — where God would live if He had money
Chicago falls to the forces of night

Chicago Local Fauna Report: Breeding Plans, Respects, & A Thought About the Prairie Dreaming

I imagine that land can dream, and the swampy prairie that was here had a prophesy dream about Chicago as a dark flash of stones and steel that would segregate the soil from the sun. The wolves and buffalo went away, the prairie went almost silent for a few beats of history. This city appears in history instantaneously, as a disruption. A measure later and the broken bones of ecology have set. The prairie lurches back in empty lots and along the railroad tracks.

People don’t dream about the prairie the way they used to, but they still do. I daydream about it and I’m rooting for it in Chicago.

Specifically I dream incessantly about breeding and releasing local native fauna into the wilds of the city. To begin with, the Ruffed Grouse. This is a large majestic prairie bird, historically resident to the neighborhood: it should be able to rough it out in some nook in the city (I have seen pheasants in Detroit). I conceive of breeding them in the basement on a massive scale and releasing them everywhere. (Perhaps there is some kind of Ruffed Grouse bird box that could be built and distributed in empty lots and parks?)

Ruffed Grouse
Coming to Chicago alleys: the Ruffed Grouse

Also I fantasize about breeding the teensy weensy Four-toed Salamander, which I guess I would probably do in the bathtub. When I have my way, these little lungless guys will be crawling all over Chicago. No, there is not much clean wild water in Chicago. I’d spread salamanders on Woody Island, Humboldt Park Lagoon, Northly Island, maybe up north on the Chicago River. Perhaps furnish a section of a park as a salamander fresh water fountain refuge, with all their favorite mosses (both Philadelphia and New York have resident salamander populations).

I am loving the local reptiles– they’re so benign. I would like it if there were a problematic amount of Smooth Green Snakes in Chicago — like clogging up the curbs. While we’re at it, let’s get some American Glass Snakes in the house, too.

American Glass SnakeBefore we part, let’s tip our hat to the mighty burbot, a feisty fish, the only freshwater member of the cod family. This fish can live almost 1,000 feet beneath the surface of Lake Michigan. The burbot: for the ultimate “meanwhile” perspective– as in, “Meanwhile nearby out to sea 1000 feet down the burbot were stirring.” Remember the burbot.

The deep fresh water burbot

What the Strangers are Like Here

If you forget to wear your glasses in Georgia you will mistake perfect strangers for your friends, so honeycombed will be their words (ladies without names calling you “darling” or “baby” like its nothing). Conversely in small town Vermont the strangers will be unmistakable– cut into strips by the shifty eyes of the Yankee proletarian cabal who secretly run things. In Chicago, strangerliness is core civic culture: a traditional local way of life with rooted system of social values. The style and code of being a stranger among strangers is a hunk of Chicago’s dialect. A Stranger is one of the city’s mascots.

Strangers have always needed somewhere to live; Chicago, in the spirit of the old west, has always been a stranger’s home. Generations drift in and out of a labyrinth of rooms built by the foreign scion of lost worlds; transitory people, countless millions who lived here for a month or season, people pulled by the eddy of economics to move, to go to the site of modern work amongst the efficiencies of so many other people (strangers themselves). A common ground for people to be strange against.

Home sculpture Humboldt Park Chicago

The strangers have a good perspective on the city’s vast riddle-like Unknown, as ceaselessly butting against their ignorance of the truths of the city’s endless rooms, and also knowing their own personal complexity as of the Unknown to the rest of the city. The people here have taken a familiarity with this kind of Unknown.

Now every day you will meet with new people in the city and never meet their end. And no matter how many people you know, you can easily never run into people you know.

Generally the strangers in Chicago act professionally, maintaining a mannered distance. Strangers won’t make a big fuss about you. They might extend simple polite courtesies, like holding a door, giving up a seat on the bus to an old folk, or offering a helpful hand or word. But generally they prefer to remain non-verbal, with minimal chit-chat, without an agenda toward fellowship (though alas some will cat call). Chicagoans are minding their own business, assuming they’ll never see any given trainload of people ever again in their life.

The strangers of Chicago cooperate to set each other free. They give each other the space they need for their grain of humanity– they know how to leave you to it. They are alone together in their crowded estrangement. The Chicago stranger can be indecent and untrustworthy. But this whole paper hive is built on the trust of strangers. Generally you’ll find them reserved, competent, patient and sophisticated about the city. And they’ll find you and look right through you, content to let you float away into your dreams.

Things Chicago Could Have Folksy Nicknames About

When you introduce Chicago (in print or conversation) you will immediately mention one or more of the city’s vacuous nicknames: the Windy City, the Second City, City of Big Shoulders, Hog Butcher for the World. These phrases are charming and classic, inviting a foggy familiarity. But they are also cliches, exhausted of description and accuracy. This metropolis has enough character for better nicknames.

Here are some distinctive attributes that Chicago today could be folk-famous for, with some cute new nicknames sprinkled in.


They could sing about the remarkable FLATNESS of Chicago’s land. Being “flat” has negative connotations (for soda pop, breastlessness, performance) but it uniquely makes possible various efficiencies for the city like the grid system, the easiest possible urban biking, being able to build everywhere. Euphonious words to use in a nickname may be “linearity”, “level”, “plane”, “even”.  Flatness has aesthetic consequence, too: on almost every street and sidewalk you can see straight til it blurs off at the horizon. Hence I imagine a nickname about vanishing points, like “Land of a Million Vanishing Points.”

Chicago Sky

The prehistoric inheritance of Chicago is the GLACIERS that plowed the prairies of the Midwest and melted to become the great fresh water Lake Michigan. Human encampment at the edge of glacier melt makes economic sense: it’s the root of wealth. Fresh water, essential for all life, is a fundamental form of value; Chicago abuts one of the most vast concentrations of it in the world. As global drying — not global warming — will remain Life’s true ecological problem, Chicago may be “Third Coast” (to some) today, but it is “First Coast of the Future”: “The City on a Beverage.”

Chicago’s ceaseless RE-FACING, as considered elsewhere on this blog, perhaps deserves a nickname. The swamps are drained, the streets and buildings elevated, the rivers canalized and reversed, all elevations leveled, the lake-front land-filled. Marshall Fields is Macy’s and the Sears Tower is Willis. Each generation’s bohemian skid row has been swallowed in condo glass: from the Water Tower district of the 1910s, River North of the 50s, Old Town of the 60s, Lincoln Park of the 80s, Wicker Park of the 90s, Logan Square of the ’00s. Chicago Chimera. Mass movements of people, immigration and segregation (politely referenced as “City of Neighborhoods”) scramble who the city is and how it is used.

The city would do with a nickname regarding restaurant FOOD (something blustery like “Good Food Capital of America” would suit me). Chicagoans are passionate eaters and have palettes trained to know what tasty food is (very many non-Chicagoans have shocking ideas of what good food tastes like). For both proletarian fare and yuppie post-modern gastronomy, Chicago cuisine is superior (something that locals know but other people do not). (You could throw in DRINK too– it is a place full of drunks and easy liquor.)

An unsung thing that has always struck me about this city is its SKY. It’s a matte gray many days of the year, but often singularly bizarre, complex, colorful, and, to these sentimental eyes, stirring. Lingering Midwest industry does us a favor here– sunset in Chicago is as insane-looking as anywhere. The brilliant orange and violets of the winter sky at night are also nonpareil (they can see many more stars in Brooklyn). “Land of Candy-Colored Sky”

Well, “Land of Enchantment” is already taken, but the heavy feeling on the ground in the city, the lyrical VIBES which sweep over us are real. To suggest the feeling of the streets, while alluding the benign little lappings of the lake, I suggest the nickname “City of Good Waves.”

Runner-up nicknames to use or workshop: “Chicago 2” (instead of Second City), “Bus Stop to the World”, something about ALLEYS, or “the Grid” (Steve says “I only walk cardinal directions and make 90 degree turns”).