the m john harrison blog

Month: September, 2008

other sides

Infinite Thought, porn & a pig.

& if you really want to do science-&-the-arts, transforms like this –invisibility to light = invisibility to waves–should make the structure of what you write. The formal & metaphorical possibilities are huge for young, genuinely C21 writers who can sail these kinds of seas.

Reviewing: The Other Side of the Island, Allegra Goodman. About to watch: Lust, Caution. Just read: Denis Johnson, The Resurrection of a Hanged Man, which left me bruised & anxious & feeling as if he’d made contact with part of me I haven’t. One of the eeriest feelings you can get from a piece of fiction, the sense that you’re a less developed territory than you thought.

written abroad

There’s this feeling that if I don’t capture something–take a photograph, write a paragraph–I will be “wasting” this trip. if I don’t record it, when I’m home again I’ll have forgotten most of it & won’t really have been anywhere.

I send C an email. “I remember us walking around the city.”

In fact waves of nostalgia did go over me yesterday, when I began to recognise a park we’d walked in last time we were here, a park full of shallow granite domes. I stood at its upper end in the sunshine, thinking: “I know I’ve been here before. I know I have.” Though I couldn’t remember the day itself, or how we’d felt, nostalgia made me happy in retrospect. I’m not complaining. That was more than enough.

This memory/not-memory of being in the park is true. It isn’t manufactured. But it is only fetched back by nostalgia. You would not reach it or connect with it otherwise. It isn’t just framed but formulated by nostalgia. Standing in the sunshine, I couldn’t remember the actual circumstances of being there with C, or how we got there, or what we did there. I wasn’t even sure which of our trips here I was remembering (although clearly it wasn’t the weekend of ten below zero & nine inches of ice in the harbour). But nostalgia made me happy at that moment.

I miss nostalgia. Nostalgia came of age as an unacceptable sentiment with the invention of cheap, easy data storage–photography, tape recorders, analogue film cameras. At that point, memory started to die because its direct relationship with the felt began to die. Before the age of storage a memory arrived as an emotion. Now, memory is conceived of as something separate that can be guaranteed by a piece of equipment.

& there’s another rhetorical move since the 80s: nostalgia is part of your life come back to burn your fingers, so you piss on not just this fire but the whole idea of fire, as quick as you can.

an imaginary review (2)

The humanity of the world is maintained only through constant effort. If you learn to grow flowers as a child–if you understand how quickly they die without water–you become a better adult. People think of love as a given. Love is made. Maybe it does come out of nowhere but it can’t support itself here, and it would soon go back there if we let it. To occur at all, festivals, celebrations, civilizations must be constructed; sustained by contribution. The nightmare of this novel is that among its characters nothing is being constructed. The only alternative to inertia, animalism and paranoia is magical thinking. Nothing practical is being done. The curve of humanity bottoms out. From here the only way is up. Where its author sites herself in relation to this understanding is uncertain.

the aleph of east sheen

B knelt down to look at the foot of the wall. He seemed to have found something there among the ivy, the dead leaves, the litter of discarded condoms & wrappers trodden into the ground beneath the yews. After a moment he scratched energetically among this stuff with both hands. Then he said, “Oh. It’s gone,” and got to his feet.

“Did you see ?” he said. “The tiniest spark of light! It’s often there.” He looked down at his hands. “Sometimes you see more,” he said apologetically. I said I hadn’t seen anything at all. “Oh dear,” he said. “No ? Oh well. Let’s go and get a drink.”

We sat in the warmth & loud music of the pub, surrounded by very much younger people.

“Sometimes,” he said, “it seems to be expanding into a sphere.”

I wondered if he had read the Borges story, “The Aleph”. No, he said, he didn’t recall that. But he was delighted by it all the same.

“Why would it appear to us in a derelict graveyard in West London ?” he said. “That’s the question.”

I said I didn’t think it was the question.

Later that week I saw him wandering across Church Road with his dry cleaning. No one knows how to carry dry cleaning, it’s one of the basic puzzles of being human. B had his folded over both forearms and clutched to his chest, as if it was a lot more substantial than a cotton jacket & a pair of slacks, a lot heavier. Was he deriving comfort from it ? To me he looked harried & afraid, but that’s how most people in West London look.

interview

A new interview up at Concept Sci Fi.

dying to be someone

Competent or not, the other four-year-olds were aggressively in charge of themselves: they did up their own coats. I let an adult do mine, so I could remain preoccupied by the colour of the buttons. At eight, I was staring into ponds, bemused by the way there seemed to be more clarity in the water than in the air. I became lodged in the moment and found it hard to move from one state to the next. By eleven I could imagine myself grown up, but only as someone who, reaching some undefined gate-level, had flipped into a completely novel state. Adulthood would happen to me, but not because of me. Unlike my friends I had put in place no strategy. Meanwhile, my parents and teachers were panicking. I was perfectly intelligent but if I carried on not connecting I would end up digging ditches. I reacted to that as an imposition. Arriving in their eighteenth year, no one could have been angrier, more confused or more directionless. One Sunday afternoon I stood at the side of the Lutterworth Road in the rain and stuck out my thumb. I was facing north. In two hours not a single vehicle stopped, but as soon as I crossed the road and faced back the way I had come, they were queuing up to take me home. I was relieved. I got a job in a hunting stable a few miles up the A5. Seven pounds a week. Shovelling shit was the nearest thing I could find to digging those ditches. With my first pay I bought objects I hoped would define me. A Dutch blanket, an ashtray with horses on it; a Ronson cigarette lighter. I was dying to be someone but I didn’t know how.

an imaginary review

In this curiously involuted thriller of the near future, the father is not dead but absent, if only temporarily. The son must act for him, whether he wishes to or not. They exist in the most ideal loop of anxiety, the father a ghost in the son’s brain, the son a sub-routine of the father’s competence. They are a single entity, the hero only completed by his father’s wealth and prior achievement; the father present in the world only through his son’s ability to act in it. Whose anxiety is the greatest ? It is hardly possible to venture a guess. They describe between them not so much a main character as a desirable state, a circle whose perfection is forbidden to the son, no longer obtainable by the father.

mars

Our ears were bleeding and one of us had lost an arm: but what did that matter ? We had arrived on Mars, simply by pinching the bridges of our noses and wanting be there.

a visitor

A squirrel arrived on my balcony yesterday afternoon, carrying an unripe fig as big as its head, & tried to get in through the window. Each time it banged the fig against the glass, the glass produced a kind of soft booming noise. I found it hard not to laugh. I pointed at the squirrel & said, “It’s a window, you complete dickhead.” Instead of running away, the squirrel made eye contact & had another go at getting in. Boom. Some squirrel imperative was involved. Finally it got tired, took up a sphinxlike position on the balcony rail with its fig in its mouth, & stared out across its domain. Every so often a little shiver went along its body under the impeccable fur. Don’t tell me squirrels are vermin etc, because that will only increase my sense of solidarity with them. I’ve been quite shy with squirrels because I’d so like one to adopt me, or at least my balcony. Perhaps that’s been a mistake. Perhaps I should have been laughing at them all along. The fig tree is two or three gardens across, in the direction of the pond. Squirrels come to it from all over Barnes, then, unable to see round their fig, loop riskily about in the road in front of women in SUVs. These women–whose jeans & little leather jackets have a semiotic of expense that somehow collapses the distinction between the terms “casual” & “overdressed” –have things to do. Even as small girls they understood without needing to be told how important it is to be anthropoid.

on the couch

Simon Chapman reads “The East” at Starship Sofa.

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