Hotel Melancholia


Suzanne Joinson in Aeon (image Western Motel by Edward Hopper. 1957):

A person is not supposed to be in both Asia and Africa in the same week on a regular basis; the world should not be traversed at that speed. It was scrambling, discombobulating; worse, it was damaging – some central element of my subjective self was being ebbed away. Yet, I still said yes. I was the go-to girl for a last-minute flight to anywhere, and whenever I returned home, lightly tethered to a house-share in Brixton, south London, I plotted to be away again.

When I climbed out of a taxi on my way home, or dragged my suitcase towards my front door, I would think of Jean Rhys, writing in Good Morning, Midnight (1939): ‘Walking back in the night. Back to the hotel. Always the same hotel … You go up the stairs. Always the same stairs, always the same room.’ My life on a loop, searching for the new, but in reality going round in circles.

There is a part of the brain called the hippocampus that is shaped just like a seahorse. It is in many ways still an unconquered mystery, but it is believed to act as an internal sat-nav. It provides a crossroads between memory and the processing of location, and not just locations of geography and place – although it does deal in those, contextualising landmark objects and images to understand landscapes, interiors and scenes – but also the mapping of an emotional geography such as future goals and aspirations and how to reach them, or memory sequences, or the systemisation of our own personal narratives. It is how we understand where we are and how we put ourselves into the points of view of others. Depression has been found to have a dampening and distorting effect on the hippocampus, so that we become, in many layers of the word, lost.

I don’t know if my hippocampus navigator was suppressed by too much travel or if I was simply exhausted from a decade of avoiding intimate relationships and any semblance of a stable home. Whatever it was, the suicidal impulse triggered by the architecture of hotels and all the signifiers connected to them – key cards, long corridors, the ting of a service bell – kept growing stronger.

More here.