the m john harrison blog

Tag: the postmodernised landscape

the story today

Dear BBC, I know that the story is the story. But do you have to structure every story around the story that it’s a story, & advise me that you’re storying the story, EVEN WHEN IT’S JUST THE FUCKING WEATHER? I’m fucking storied up to here with the fucking story. Really. I just want to know if it’s going to rain. I do not want to know that it’s going to be “a story of rain”. I do not want the story of the rain. I want to know if it’s going to rain or not. Anything else is meaningless nonsense to me in this context. Rain or no rain? Be careful how you answer this. Because you are a weather forecaster. Get it?

Today’s story has been one of bollocks all over the British Isles, with more bollocks, I’m afraid to say, to come.

post industrial zones

Dubious & formalised, as in Bilbao’s ex-docks or Sheffield reinvented as an apres-steel boutique: from industry to heritage industry. Wreckage needs to be real. It needs to be free. The central, inevitable & useful thing about a bent & rusty girder sticking up out of an overgrown cooling pond is that it’s a bent & rusty girder sticking up out of an overgrown cooling pond. Anything else is so pathetic: cleaned up, saved from itself (separated from the entropic processes it was always part of) & fit for a place on the mantelpiece in a nice front room. That teaches us something about the sublime in general: ie, really, it’s the Black Spot, the beginning of the end. So try & avoid capturing, recapturing or–especially– “celebrating” it. The urge to convey the authentic glee & terror of the post industrial wasteland is the beginning of the processes of romanticisation, postmodernisation & domestication. From the raw horror of a working blast furnace, through the uncanny of that much rust, to the kitsch. We need to live in the ruins; forget them; then live through them all over again, as whatever the landscape makes of them. Anything else is the media souvenir.

mapping the obvious

SF Signal celebrated the mapping of invented landscapes by asking, “Which fantasy maps are your favourites ?” I enjoyed Matthew Cheney’s contribution. Most invented landscapes are so dull they wouldn’t detain you for a second from a 24 hour barefoot trudge between abandoned Welsh slate workings in the rain, carrying your ex-partner’s oil-fired Aga on your back (halfway through which you’ll discover that instead of OS OL17 you’ve inadvertently packed the groundplan to Harvey Nicholls’ perfume department).

safe from this constant obscene revelation of things

The best outcome here would be a few more glimpses then nothing. The sooner the pursuit is abandoned to loonies & internet obsessives the better; that way the mystery can slip behind its own bad reputation & vanish. Was there ever an orang pendek ? It won’t be possible to know. Only some kitschy meme will remain.

head back

It was hot. My legs hurt from the day before. The first couple of miles were like Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon. Every time someone passed me I was angrier than before but as soon as I got up onto the ridge I felt calm again. I looked out over the lake. There was enough of a breeze to feel cool, not enough to need a coat. Lucky because I hadn’t brought one. I cut an apple into quarters with my old Puma knife & watched someone being helicoptered off one of the popular tracks on the north side. Heart attack. Sprained ankle. Lost their iPhone. After five minutes the helicopter clattered past the length of a back garden away & at the same level as my eyes, oily & machine-looking like a yellow bulldozer suspended in clear air. It banked away north east, the despatcher staring out blankly in my direction, seeing nothing but an afternoon’s work. Scores of people crowded on to the summit like bristles on a brush. They were holding up their phones, taking the pictures, looking for a signal. I could go up there but I didn’t have to, so I ate the apple, wiped the knife & went down instead & spent the rest of the afternoon lying in the grass listening to the stream. My head was back on.


If Cowboys & Aliens has one tenth the genius of this (which I will never forgive myself for leaving off the interesting sf list), it will be quite good. But I bet it hasn’t.

Catching up on: To Die For, Lucy Siegle’s eye-opener on the fast fashion industry, in which people admit to throwing away their used socks & underpants because it’s “cheaper” than washing them.

Also Fire Season, Philip Connors’ contemporary firewatching classic: not quite Desolation Angels, but a man unafraid to write this

    One indisputable charm of being a lookout is the sanction it offers to be shed of the the social imperative of productivity, to slip away from the group hug of a digital culture enthralled with social networking, the hive mind, and efficiency defined as connectedness. I often think of a line from Arno Leopold: “Nothing could be more salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings.”

into the present climate, where it will be received as at best misanthropic (when did the rejection of materialism become synonymous with the rejection of some basic level of humanity ? Answer, during the Thatcher period) & at worst a criminally elitist attack on everybody else, deserves to be read.

mars is just a place

That’s the beauty of it. It’s not a myth, it’s not a dream, it’s not a story, it’s not an investment opportunity: it’s some stones. It’s a place. That’s just so restful. It’s as semiotically empty as parts of the Lisbon underground. No one is shrieking at you to buy anything on Mars, not that I can see, & I’ve studied this picture long & hard. Can I get a ticket ? I’d really love to go. The problem is, by the time you or I get there it’ll be just like it is here. Every single piece of it will be talking to your head. There will be built environment everywhere, & every single riser of every single staircase in every single structure will have its ad. Every wall will have something to say to you. & you will have plenty to say too, because on Mars, by then, surely, comment will be free.

living the fantasy

A woman, dressed in a pastiche of Australian farming wear apparently designed by Studio Ghibli, hurries down Grove Road carrying a huge bunch of lilies in the rain. You see this all the time in Barnes. People don’t dress: they dress up as. You feel a great pathos, a complex emotional upwelling in which tenderness conflicts with disbelief, & don’t really know where to lodge it. It would be easier, you suspect, if you were Will Self.

i’m not buying

Today’s classic example of how to grip the outside with a rhetoric that deftly turns it into an extension of the inside. But the outside is already there; it is not a “free gym”. The concept of an outside is the last of the commons; a bit more of it is enclosed every time someone writes an article like this. I can’t say how unpleasant it feels to be encouraged to exploit the outside as an inside–to be given permission to exploit it that way–by someone called Lucy; or by someone who sells me back the commons as my membership of their Green Gym. (Or at present, of course, White Gym: expect valuable lifestyle insights on that from a Lucy or two if the current media end of the world, Big Freeze Britain 2010, lasts for another whole week.)

Fascinated by: the responses to Barbara Ehrenreich’s Smile or Die, which indicate that people all over are waking up to the wankfest they have enjoyed for the last 30 years. Listening to: The Books, courtesy Deb & Tim. Eagerly anticipating: the arrival of The Stone Tape from LoveFilm (I want to watch it again, but not at £50 for a secondhand DVD). Trying to avoid finishing: Notes from Walnut Tree Farm. Deakin has joined the list of authors good enough to ration. I’ve got sufficient unread Nemirovsky to last a couple of years. A powerful list to make would be of writers you wish you’d measured out across your life instead of binge-reading their entire oeuvre in three weeks when you were twenty seven. If I’d been a bit more abstemious with HE Bates he would easily have seen me through.

boxing day

Bicycle in mud.
Monitor in mud.
Putney from Fulham.

We went past Fulham football ground, where a man was fighting repeatedly with security guards who were trying to throw him out. He would shout “Hey!” in a surprised voice, as if they had attacked him without warning; then, when they left him in the street & went back into the ground, follow them in & jump at them. They would throw him out again. “Hey!” As if their response was the last thing he had expected. The cycle had repeated itself more than once before we arrived. He seemed happy. His needs were being filled by a behaviour that seemed intelligent & motiveless at the same time.


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