the m john harrison blog

at the time I described this as a memory I was there writing it down in a notebook & I knew & loved every part of that game

I only ever went to Morecambe once. Even though it was late in the day the sky was like brass. I had been climbing all through July further up the coast. I remember the placid muddy water of the boating pool, beyond which rotting piles go out into some great slow tidal stream slipping past to join the Kent Channel; sleeping women on the sand, their dresses pulled up to expose their thighs to the thick hot light; the giant cone above the ice cream stall. In a fish restaurant they advertised “best butter” on the bread. A man finished his meal then stared ahead with his mouth open while two teenage couples took snaps of each other across the table with a cheap camera. Music hung in the air in the amusement park, with diesel smoke and the smell of fried onions. “Blue Moon, now I’m no longer alone.” A dog trotted by. Nobody was playing Catch-a-Duck. I felt relaxed and elated both at once. The heat, the smells, the music, the signs on the sea front might all have been one thing, one stimulus appealing to a simple sensory organ we all used to have but have now forgotten we possess.

–Climbers, W&N Essentials, coming May 26 2022

bricolage

The city of Viriconium drifts around the internet like a ghost site, abandoned, glitched and malfunctioning, composed of failed reviewerly attempts to place it back in the genre it began to undo in 1966; or as imitations in which it’s “healed”, ie corrected for the fantasy market. In Japan, meanwhile, a version generated by the selection of one novel and five of the short stories was recently published in real life: essentially a revision, a brave try at resource extraction, the curation of a canon from the chaos of the wilfully anti-canonical. Obviously I enjoy the accidental ironies of these rewrites, aborted coups and desperate counter revolutions. To a degree they’re in the spirit of the thing, which was conceived of from the start as impossible to bring into focus. Certainly they’re in the spirit of cities.

[Originally published May 31 2020. In fact, if you’re interested in how Viriconium works, it’s worth reading the dialogue in the comments below that entry, especially my exchanges with “Andrei”. A Viriconium search will bring in further reading.]

flashes

–not of memory but of pure disconnected visual imagery. In fact they are flash-throughs, I understand now, not flashes of something static. Something is passing through and sometimes I can slow it down, or it slows down of its own volition, allowing me to examine it a bit more–or at least catch a glimpse of some aspect I haven’t previously noticed. That dream train of early childhood, with the coloured dragon pouring from its chimney: why is the memory of it always followed almost immediately by an image of the board and wooden pegs of a game of “Chinese Chequers”? Well, it’s the colours–of the board, the packaging, the pegs. It’s the colour-relations between the dream and the game that are the memory. I am in a struggle with memory’s means of communication, like an early radar operator. What’s signal? What’s noise? What’s neither, only some artefact of the process itself? When I find a metaphor like this I am much happier.

I will be compiling an earlier version of the author, who was suppressed for fifty years by London, writing, and the writing industry. His lostness, his elusiveness, his fragmentariness, his willed lack of agency, his tendency to live off to the side of events, will occupy this book the way he occupied his life. I hesitate to use the word haunt. I also intend to contact his darker sibling. This creature knows the score! They’re at home in every text! This book will be their book, a book of personal metaphysics or surreal phenomenology. It will be what, between the two of them, they arranged my life to be: a memoir without history. There will be no continuity and no social or professional revelations.

unused opening

The most passive-aggressive communication I ever received was from a man named David, a note that went, approximately, ”Just writing to say that X died a week ago. The funeral was yesterday. I didn’t go.” X had been central to both of our lives some years before. I hadn’t kept up with her, and I’d drifted away from him too. The note was on lined paper pulled from a spiral bound notebook. There was no return address. I stood by the kitchen stove in my bare feet at half past eight in the morning and wondered why he had sent it. I wasn’t even sure how he knew where to find me.

At that time I lived on the edge of the Peak District in a terrace of small stone houses. They were unprotected from the weather that came down off the moor, and when the wind blew from the east, filled with smoke because the chimneys wouldn’t draw.

changes (2)

This is a belated New Year post, with all the irritations of a family newsletter. So forgive me. Following a change of agents last year, I moved publisher too, to Serpents Tail. My editor there is Luke Brown. I have two new books with Luke. Habitual readers of the blog will know a little about them already. Fall Lines is a nonfiction, heavily fragmented, with elements drawn from thirty years of journals and notebooks (including this one), focussing on the shadowier aspects of memory, writing and explanatory collapse in the moddun world. It will appear in May 2023. The second book is a novel I’ve been chipping away at since around 2008. It doesn’t have a proper title yet, but the working one is Anabasis. Anabasis bears as much relationship to a post-disaster novel as Fall Lines does to a memoir, and won’t be out for a while. Habitual readers of the blog will be used to descriptions like this.

Orion continue to publish Viriconium, The Centauri Device, and the Light trilogy under the Gollancz imprint; along with Climbers, a new edition of which is scheduled to appear in May 2022, under their W&N Essentials imprint, which launched in 2021 with a list including classics from Renata Adler, Jane Bowles, Vladimir Nabokov, Ntozake Shange, Alice Walker, L.P. Hartley, J.G. Farrell and more. Rights in the rest of the old Gollancz backlist, including The Course of the Heart, Signs of Life and the retrospective collection Things That Never Happen, have reverted to me and are now represented by Will Francis at Janklow & Nesbit UK.

I believe Light, Nova Swing and Empty Space are scheduled to reappear soon in one volume, so that they can be read as the single item they are.

In addition to some of the usual reviewing work, I’ll be continuing my collaboration with Matt Rogers to put music to a shortened version of Fall Lines, for which we got our first tranche of finance late last year; and writing an introduction to the late Joel Lane’s The Witnesses Are Gone. In addition, I have reading to do for a well-known literary prize: this will certainly cut down the amount of blogging I’ll be able to manage between now and November, although it won’t stop me from tweeting @MJohnHarrison. I hope not to have terminal eyestrain by the end of it.

When you look at your life & whisper, “Oh no, that’s not it; that’s not it at all.” But also, though you can so easily see what it wasn’t, you haven’t one single clue to what it was. Except for these indistinct images with their horizon lines invisible but seriously aslant, in a format no one uses any more. They’re disconnected—from you, each other & everything else. How can they be compiled—at this late, malign date—into a record of anything.

the idea you have

The idea you have when you’re young, to reach the edge of what can be done with your abilities and find out what might happen if you went past it? You promise yourself you’ll try but then wake up fifty years later to discover that you were in fact always too sensible to push things until they fell over, in case people thought less of you. In your seventies, though, it doesn’t seem to matter any more what other people think. That’s probably the first phase of your life in which you can actually do what you want. And certainly the last.

what you see is what you get


so cassandra wanders a bowlesian inner landscape wondering what to predict next & by dawn all she can think to do is sit by the road & hold up a sign that begs HOW CAN YOU MISPLACE A CONTINENT. her teeth ache. meanwhile, palinurus, having fallen from the boat yet again, drives up & down this once-popular resort coast still trying to work out where he is. two mysterious brothers sit outside the cafe on the shingle.

the sea is what you get, but whose sacrifice will this be in the end.

funny weather

I fell in love with Olivia Laing’s writing when her The Lonely City convinced me that in writing “about alienation” for forty years I had probably been writing about loneliness, and the loneliness had probably been my own.

Laing is a real writer: that is, someone who loves the work and its relation to the subject matter. She also seems to me to have engaged and merged two important problems, how you relate writing to living (how the writer avoids becoming trapped by the discourse, so that the lived always grounds the written, not the other way round); and how you connect writing to politics–how the writer sites herself at the heart of politics yet remains a writer.

Prior to reading her new book, Everybody,  I re-read her essays. Collected from the art magazine Frieze and elsewhere, they settle easily under the title of her Frieze column, Funny Weather. They cover more than art. Even when they cover art, they cover more than art. Her goal is to look for art’s reparative relationship with the world’s recent Gibsonian emergencies–emergencies that are here but, like the future, still in the process of being evenly distributed.

Everybody is a multiple superposition of the physical body, the cultural body, the body of history, the body of art, the body politic, charting, as Lisa Appignanesi puts it, its “pleasures and pains, its fragilities, and endurance in the long 20th century”. It’s about what tied us up and how we tried to free ourselves, personally and socially; and what we gained and lost in the processes we chose. From a writerly point of view, what leaves me as bemused as ever is Laing’s ability to make imagery and argument at the same time, entangling the two so that neither seems to have the primacy and they run one through the other like seams of ore. Which is which? Figure and ground: here, the body flickers constantly between the two. This is what lies at the heart of the best contemporary nonfiction writing–the art of interleaving history, science and poetry, the observed personal and the political, the literal and the metaphorical–and I wish I knew how to do it.