Inner Space

In the corner of my backyard out of view from the house, I have a ring of black stones that forms an imaginary well. Like a character from a Murakami novel, I often imagine climbing down to the dark bottom of that well, where I find all sorts of other spaces: caverns, chambers, libraries, and laboratories, as well as entire imaginary landscapes, usually beaches or lakesides, sometimes a yawning abyss. It feels like there is an entire cosmos down there, big enough to swallow galaxies like raindrops. The goal of this idle reverie is the Delphic maxim, “know thyself,” and we understand ourselves with metaphors of space. 

That is why my imaginary well (for others it may be a cellar, cave, or canyon) seems so deep. To look inward is to look down into depth. We imagine the unconscious as some subterranean chasm or fathomless ocean. Post-Jungian psychologist James Hillman writes, in The Dream and The Underworld, “The fundamental language of depth is neither feelings, nor persons, nor time and numbers. It is space. Depth presents itself foremost as psychic structures in spatial metaphors.” Among these metaphors, the ego is a house, the psyche is a labyrinth, and every dream is a mythological descent to the underworld. To dream, to be deep in thought, or to be deep in psychological analysis is to explore this inner geography. 

Within this massive space, our memories are tied to more intimate spaces, like kitchens, closets, and bedrooms. Gaston Bachelard writes, in The Poetics of Space, that the house we grew up in “is our corner of the world…. It is our first universe, a real cosmos in every sense of the word.” We never stop exploring “the universe of the house by means of thoughts and dreams” because to explore the material spaces—the musty attics, damp cellars, and winding corridors—is to explore ourselves. Every drawer, chest, and wardrobe is a container for memory, reverie, and imagination. The house itself is “the topography of our intimate being.” Our very identities are housed in the spaces we knew in childhood. 

Thus, the maps we make of outer spaces give our inner worlds structure. Bachelard writes, “… over and beyond our memories, the house we were born in is physically inscribed within us. It is a group of organic habits. After twenty years, in spite of all the other anonymous stairways, we would recapture the reflexes of the ‘first stairway,’ we would not stumble on that rather high step. The house’s entire being would open up, faithful to our own being. We would push the door that creaks with the same gesture, we would find our way in the dark to the distant attic. The feel of the tiniest latch has remained in our hands.” 

In this way, inner spaces become ontological. In his Spheres trilogy, Peter Sloterdijk defines human existence as “being in” a particular kind of space, “the place that humans create in order to have somewhere where they can appear as those who they are.” The sphere is his primary metaphor for the space which Being itself inhabits; it can be a womb, a house, a city, or a globe. In particular, “The sphere is the interior, disclosed, shared realm inhabited by humans—in so far as they succeed at becoming humans. Because living always means building spheres, both on a small and a large scale, humans are the beings that establish globes and look out into horizons. Living in spheres means creating the dimension in which humans can be contained.” 

To understand something that “is,” to understand its “Being,” is to understand the space it inhabits and creates in relation to other beings. To change ourselves is to leave old spaces for new ones. 

So, we are precisely the spaces we define and most importantly share with others. We share the womb with our mothers, we share our beds with our lovers, and we share our hideouts with our coconspirators. Our relationships are defined by the spaces in which we encounter one another. Spheres are imaginary spaces for “being in” together, and Sloderdijk works from “the hypothesis that love stories are stories of form, and that every act of solidarity is an act of sphere formation, that is to say the creation of an interior.” We not only understand “I” in terms of space, we understand “we” as well. 

While I am sitting at the bottom of my imaginary well, I see myself as a kind of galaxy with a supermassive black hole at its center. I am its spiral arms and uncanny glow. This may seem inflated and preposterous, but consider the strange and sublime fact that within the vastness of outer space there is an infinitesimally small point in which all of that space is contained. Our own humble minds are just 15 centimeters long, but like jewels in Indira’s net, those tiny spaces contain reflections of an observable universe so large that fifty billion years of light could not trace its edges. The boundaries of space, as we understand them, are the boundaries of the self. To gaze above into outer space is always a gaze below too, into the inner spaces we build to hold our identities, our relationships, and our dreams. 

Writing For Screens – Introduction

In about a month, I’m going to presenting an academic paper and twenty-minute “talk” to a symposium at the University of Portsmouth in the UK called “Writing for Screens.” My topic, unsurprisingly, concerns screenwriting, but it is more specifically about how approaches to screenwriting can adapt and evolve in the 21st Century.

Why would approaches to screenwriting need to evolve at all? How is writing a movie in 2019 any different than writing a movie in 1969? Aren’t the basic tools of storytelling pretty much the same as they were when Aristotle wrote Poetics? Regardless of the internet, interactivity, transmedia, gaming, and virtual/augmented/alternate realities, isn’t writing a movie pretty much the same as it has always been?

Well, my premise is in the paper is “no.” Things are not the same, and approaches to screenwriting and storytelling need to evolve. As I write the paper, record a video presentation, and interact with others who are attending “Writing For Screens,” I plan to share my work here on Undergrids as it develops (and by posting daily on Ask a Screenwriter.)

So stay tuned. Please feel free to comment (and challenge my conclusions.)

More to come…


So, since many of our children are refusing to go to school today in order to protest climate change, I’m going to invite the rest of you – ironic Gen Xers, sensitive Millennials, and stubborn Boomers back into the classroom in order to learn a new word.

Ever wonder why so many people are skeptical about global warming? Ever wonder why so many people, who understand perfectly well that humans are baking the planet, don’t do anything about it? Every wonder why it so hard for YOU to care, really care, about climate change more than say, losing weight, Game of Thrones, or what your ex just posted on Instagram? Why exactly is it that so many of us who are not in Gen Z are so complacent about the biggest calamity to hit our planet since a comet got the dinosaurs?

Well, an extremely useful word, when trying to understand the average person’s indifference to or outright denial of climate change, is HYPEROBJECT.

Ecologist-Philosopher Timothy Morton coined the word and defined it as “objects that are so massively distributed in time and space as to transcend spatiotemporal specificity.” What that means is that “Climate Change” has no specific place, yet it touches everything across the entire globe; it covers times at least as far back as the industrial age but perhaps as far back as the dawn of agriculture, like a spooky fog only visible at a distance. It is not “present” in a way that one can point to, like pointing to an apple, or a country, or a basketball team; we can only point to its effects, its traces, which can seem suspicious, like the footprints of Bigfoot.

Hyperobjects are just too big, too elusive, and too weird to get our heads around. They don’t behave as ordinary “objects” are supposed to behave- objects like cars, carrots, winter, or the super bowl. This is why it’s easy to get emotional about an ordinary object like the weather (it’s raining!) buts its hard to get truly emotional about climate – which seems to happen mostly in other places, to other people, someday far in the future.

In a sense, denialists and skeptics are right when they say climate change doesn’t “exist.” Rather, it weirdly haunts the weather, making it more extreme but never “causing” a specific event.  It rises in intensity slowly, boiling us like a frog in a pot, without us noticing year by year that anything is really happening. It appears in statistics about warming oceans, dying coral reefs, melting glaciers, and superstorms, but those statistics never manifest in ways that interrupt our day-to-day lives.

The human brain simply isn’t built to deal with hyperobjects. Our minds evolved to think about time scales contained by seasons and lifetimes. A hunter on the savannah only had to think about straightforward objects (that lion stalking me…) with clear temporal boundaries (…it appeared this morning…) in particular places (… here the foot of these mountains,) that are unambiguously NOT other things (A lion is not a deer. A lion does not slowly morph into a deer. The heard of deer is not partly caused by a lion.)

Hyperobjects are everywhere but also nowhere. They are so big and so withdrawn from everyday experience, the average person (like you, like me) has trouble maintaining strong emotions about them. So with climate change, we mostly just ignore it, and if we do try to get our heads around it, we become paralyzed by its terrifying and spectral immensity. In fact, Hyperobjects can seem vaguely religious in scope, which is why people talk about “believing in” global warming – as if it required a kind of leap of faith, taking science as scripture.

But Climate Change is real. It doesn’t care what you believe. And it’s unfolding right now. It is, in fact, another comet striking the earth in hyper-slow motion, over the course of decades and centuries, hyper-distributed over billions of exhaust pipes, chimneys, and industrial farms.

Other hyperobjects include things like “race” and “class” and the growing continent of human trash clumping together in the Pacific, but perhaps the biggest hurdle we have to understand climate change is the hyperobject human species. As Western democratic capitalists, we always see the world through the lens of Individualism. As an individual, “I” have essentially no effect on climate change. The exhaust from my car, the beef that I eat, and the number of times I ride on an airplane make no difference. Or rather, it all makes a difference so small, it becomes a kind of MICRO-object, so tiny that it’s just too tedious and abstract to bother with. It’s hard enough to think on the level of family, tribe or nation; it’s nearly impossible to think about ourselves on the level of species.

Nearly impossible for us, I mean.

Gen Z grew up with hyperobjects. They understand on an emotional level how vanishingly small things, like a single tweet, can blow up into something vast and global. They have an intuitive sense about how things, like a social media storm, can be distributed widely in time and space, yet can become powerful, destructive, and deeply personal.

For Millennials, Gen-X, and Boomers, climate change is a thing that’s happening to someone else, in some other place, at some future time. For Gen Z, climate change is happening right here, right now, TO THEM.

And, unsurprisingly, they are freaking out.


For more on hyperobjects, I think anyone interested in climate change should read Timothy Morton’s book, Hyperobjects. It’s been around for a while, but only in academic, intellectual and activist circles. Morton’s writing is inventive and entertaining, so reading it won’t feel like doing homework or eating Kale.