Settlers Landing

Travis Jeppesen

December 1, 2023 
The following is from Travis Jeppesen's Settlers Landing. Jeppesen is the author of ten books, including The Suiciders, Victims, and See You Again in Pyongyang. He has contributed articles to The New York Times Magazine, Artforum, Mousse, Wall Street Journal, The Believer, Review of Contemporary Fiction, and other media. An accomplished art critic, he is the recipient of an Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant.


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People began to move here, which eventually became a problem. Or try to move, I should say – we were largely able to prevent such a cataclysm from getting underway via legislation and other pro-active measures. But the issue of border security continued to vex us.

To be rather more precise, we faced a statist problem as well as a domestic one concerning the movement of peoples; a national one and a capital one. I shall focus on the latter for now.

History has taught us that as nations develop, so do their capital cities. So often have we as an enlightened species witnessed these maudlin hubs transform themselves into harbingers of disease and pollution by the influx of peripheral immigrants and other unfortunate souls who, though perhaps bearing no ill intention or innate fault of their own, nevertheless accelerate the city’s decline by the committing of certain irreversible biological mistakes. While some cities have sought unique solutions to these problems – one thinks of Paris with its designation of les banlieux as a structuring device for the lower classes, or perhaps megalopolises such as Los Angeles which have merely absorbed neighboring towns and cities as a means of essentially de-centering and de-cluttering themselves – others continue to suffer the rather remorseful conditions of the cosmopolitan malaise well into the century we currently so bravely occupy. To get at the root of the problem, we really have to harken back to the European city of the nineteenth century, where the average life expectancy was just twenty years old, where just walking down the street, one had to endure the daily risk of having the diseased contents of a chamberpot dumped upon one’s head from above, where infanticide was so widespread that many new mothers gave up before even trying and abandoned their newborns to foundling homes where one-third would perish before attaining adolescence, where all sorts of thievery and raping and pillaging and rip-off artists plied their disreputable trades.

Of course, two centuries have passed since then, as has the evolution of so many great capital cities, a number of which I have been fortunate to have traversed alongside Mrdok. Now that we find ourselves in the rather startling position of having to develop our own capital, a certain number of prerogatives corresponding to such factors as demographics and geography have commenced dictating the proceedings.

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If I were pressed to select one word to sum up the needs and ideals imposed by the urbanization process, it would have to be a four-letter one beginning with the letter F: that is, flow. Flow of air, flow of capital, flow of human needs: it is this word that recurs again and again in our President’s correspondence with our various Senators and evolving citizenry.

Paris with the effect of rain. All those intersections of urban life, those crossings actual and symbolic of boundaries seen and depicted by Camille Pissaro from the safety of his hotel window on the place du Théâtre Français in the waning years of Haussmann’s century.

History as a double-edged sword with which one might either accidentally or intentionally stab oneself or others. The challenge being, of course, to fully absorb its lessons while simultaneously ignoring the fact of their occurrence, so that one doesn’t become so mired down in principles so as to delay or else evade the actualization of processes.

Whether one wills it intentionally or more often than not no, a dialectic between center and periphery emerges upon its own restless accord. In the American model, we see a great exodus from the cities into the periphery by the upwardly mobile middle classes; in the European city, the reverse process occurs, Paris again being the most evocative model, where the ruling classes take occupancy of the centre to ensure its preservation, pushing the poor to the outskirts (though, it should be said, providing them with gainful employment oftentimes in the city center and the discounted public transportation with which to attain it.)

In our own Olde Colonia, an approach was underway that unwittingly, though advantageously, combined both European and American models. I have come to think of it as the doctrine of the expanding center. In truth, prior to our arrival, no strict perimeters had been drawn to delineate the city limits. Traditionally, what was called Olde Colonia referred to the smattering of buildings surrounding the main axis in the city center, which, to be fair, could best be described as a town center. Of course, central – or, as some wistfully called it, downtown Olde Colonia had to be both maintained and further developed into the urban sphere that a lifelong cosmopolitan like Mrdok could recognize as such. At the same time, many of the city-town’s classical residences had been built in the hills forming the barrier between Olde Colonia and Baldheaded Mountain; it was here where many of our senators and affiliated quasi-elites took up residence in the vacated mansions of the former quasi-colonials. Then, to the north, the residence of Lil Bigfoot, who had expressed his intention to build his own property early on, and beyond that, the wharf, so vital in our country’s transport and commerce.

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Municipal decisions are ultimately made out of necessity. A utopian society cannot be attained with the stroke of a magic wand – building a castle requires time and patience – and it was thus that the decision was reached to delineate city borders and, in order to protect the capital and its interests, to erect an invisible wall around it, while making its boundaries known to all. Manned with guards at each of its entry points, only those citizens who had attained electronic clearance would be permitted to enter the capital with on an app on their smart phones. This included a broad swath of Settlers Landing society, including Olde Colonia residents, government employees, military, those employed in the city’s burgeoning service industry – in short, anyone who had a true and verifiable purpose for being there. Miscreants were to be kept out, as were tourists and visitors, who had to apply for special temporary permits in order to enjoy the capital’s streets. This was all done not just to ensure residents’ comfort, safety, and well-being, but in the spirit of rational and just nation-building.

It is true that the decision was difficult to fathom for a certain contingent of the quasi-natives, who felt that they were being barred entrance to what many still regarded as their capital and their own island. But it is, in my opinion, silly that it would garner such resistance. All we were doing, really, was concretizing, in dual interests of law and order, a practice that had long held sway on the island. It was also not our fault that many of the quasi-natives who would have liked to apply for an entrance permit did not have the mobile phones that were necessary to support the app. With a new regime comes new rules, like it or not. And with the recent attack on Mrdok at the similarly protected Elias Shores, we were newly aware of the importance of maintaining safety and security for those of us recently arrived and in vulnerable positions of power. Olde Colonia was no longer merely a city or a town, the pseudo-center of some colonial backwater; it was now our nation’s capital.

Olde Colonia with the effect of rain. When staring at the face of the future, it is never a good idea to spit in it. Perhaps it is true that you cannot force evolution from above. But it never hurts to try.

In the dialectic of center and periphery, the challenges of flow can be difficult for outsiders to discern. When it came to national security, our borders, it was fairly easy to control who came in and who didn’t. The problem was, we had an indigenous, quasi-native population that was here before us, that we had to control. We had to discern who the outsiders were, and alert them of their status, so that they would come to understand their place. We did not, it must be stressed, bar them entry as a matter of course. Those who wanted to could also apply for temporary permits to enter the city – for example, to go on shopping excursions on those occasions when they found themselves with capital to spend – though first, they had to submit to a rigorous security protocol that included a background check, a financial assessment (so as to prevent anyone from entering the city in order to beg or otherwise harass our citizens or to try and claim benefits that they did not in fact earn, the law being very clear on these matters but still difficult for certain of the quasi-natives to fathom), and the payment of a small fee to compensate for these services.

Indeed, the evolution of a certain contre-société was, I suppose, bound to happen sooner or later. It is still in its evolution, but appears to be chiefly taking the form of a sort of crude nativism among some of the rowdier and more youthful quasi-natives. Owing to the dual misfortune of having been raised in a global backwater and with a rather inferior educational system, it is easy for bizarre ideas and conspiracy theories relating to the past to spread among these people.

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Culturally, there is nothing really much in the way of a heritage to speak of for the quasi-natives, sad to say. With all the talk of Nelson Rodgers of the glories of the markmaking, etcetera, fascinating as it might have been, what it really amounts to is a typically British and colonialist romanticization of the exotic other’s drunken ditherings in a state of moral disrepair. Which is not to say that their race is in any way inferior to anyone else’s, but that the wantonness with which they as a people might best be characterized hardly possesses the attributes that civilized people normally refer to when they speak of a thing called culture. And as for their mythical origins, well, the very fact that their name requires that particular prefix (quasi-) communicates rather clearly that any blood-and-soil ties that they may assert are clearly the product of illusion and not reality.

I suppose some might consider the institution of the border system around the capital to be the catalyzing moment for the establishment of this contre-société. There was further resentment, however, in what some began to perceive as a certain slowness in the new government’s promised construction of housing for the quasi-natives, most of whom were dwelling in a sprawling trailer park in the south of the island, just north of Pirate’s Bay and to the west of Cove Beach. Baldheaded Mountain formed the symbolic border between this hinterland and the realm of the city and the more prestigious center and northern part of the country, which, by wont of our economic success, was beginning to encroach upon the quasi-natives – or so they felt. While I cannot personally speak of the delays in construction with any great knowledge, as it is outside my personal sphere of influence – my office is with the President and the Ministry of Culture, whereas Senator Brunnei oversees all housing-related matters – the complaint seemed to have to do with the fact that despite the promises, it appeared our government was dragging its feet on the construction of housing, as the flimsy trailers had been designated as temporary, makeshift housing by the former quasi-colonial government, who didn’t seem to care much for the inhabitants, a charge now being leveled at us. What these individuals seem to lack in their understanding is an appreciation that the building of infrastructure requires both time and a prioritization of projection based on the immediacy of need. When we inherited the island, our airport was barely functioning; we had to rely on the rather weak port of Pirate’s Bay, with its rotting docks and vestitures more suited to the quasi-native fishermen than for the supply and cruise ships we intended to bring in, hence the need for constructing our own wharf on the more geographically advantageous northern tip of the island; the upkeep and renovation of certain buildings in the town center, including a number of buildings where key government business is daily conducted; the renovation and building of new homes for the government employees in the hills surrounding Baldheaded Mountain; the repair of Yarmouth Road, the key stretch connecting the city to Cove Beach and the closest thing to a highway that exists on the island; and the buildings in the west of Elias Shores, required as a private luxury alternative to Cove Beach with its inferior waters on the east side of the island. I know that the building of quasi-native housing was meant to feature somewhere on that list, though am unsure of its exact positioning. I am quite sure that Barb intends to embark upon the project any day now, especially given that the Elias Shores resort project with the Saudis has reached its inevitable zenith, which of course the quasi-natives could thank President Mrdok for, were they even aware of his omnipresent concern for their well being.

Tragic as it may sound, in order to continuously maintain the surveillance-free status that our country enjoys and is enshrined in our constitution, the limiting of entrants to the capital and its environs became key to maintaining this freedom shared by all citizens and staff of Settlers Landing – whether they be quasi-elites, quasi-natives, new settlers, or those visitors who venture in increasing numbers to enjoy our fair shores.


From Settlers Landing by Travis Jeppesen. Used with permission of Itna Press. Copyright © 2023 by Travis Jeppesen.

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