Alastair Bonnett is a professor of social geography at Newcastle University and the former editor of the “avant-garde psychogeographical magazine” Transgressions: A Journal of Urban Exploration. Those kinds of bona fides make him the perfect writer to bring us Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies. From the “gutterspaces” (the spaces in between buildings) of New York City to the floating islands of the Maldives, the book is a tour of some of the strangest locations on earth.
Perhaps the strangest place Bonnett profiles is The World , a huge private cruiser ship that’s been circling the world since 2002. It is, as Bonnett describes it, “a floating gated community,” and “a distillation and fulfillment of the art of being rich,” where the wealthy pay millions of dollars to secure an apartment there, and their itinerary encompasses any place in the world that they’d like to see. The ship is emblematic of the self-isolation of the rich these days, something sociologists describe as “secessionary affluence.”
Reading about The World, I was instantly remind of the current film Snowpiercer, which finds humanity living out its last, post-apocalyptic days on a train endlessly traversing the world. As the rich live the good life in their luxurious cars at the front of the train, the poor — who, in this case, at least made it on board — are reduced to animals in the back. Snowpiercer was based on a French graphic novel from the ’80s, whose dystopian vision is far more extreme than what’s happening aboard the ship Bonnett explores. And yet, The World and its ultra-wealthy passengers can’t help but suggest that maybe Snowpiercer wasn’t such a fantasy after all. Perhaps, in some ways, we’re already living in this future. Reading Bonnett’s take on The World gives a goofy movie — and a book that can be rather academic — a bit more impact.