the m john harrison blog

Month: October, 2008

back by popular demand…

…pictures from the Getty Archive collected in C’s London Through A Lens (Time Out London) at the Getty Images Gallery, 29 October to 22 November.


The exploratory month. Walk for miles looking for what you don’t find. Look for it all the places you checked last time. You are not exactly marking territory. Your anxieties have receded but remain perceptible. You would certainly prefer to be somewhere you never went before. Failing that you divide the familiar into smaller & smaller segments, test the shadow of one tree on one wall, turn a corner, look down a lane. Air full of companionable gold light, flecks of it on the leaves & bay windows. Is there a world in here ? Does it contain one hundred percent of itself ? Is that enough ? If you could just arrive at some beach you saw from a car twenty years ago: there would be plenty there to get inside.


in the turbine hall again

I realised I had missed the point. I realised I was watching a whimsy. It was a genuinely cosy catastrophe. This exhibit isn’t failed. The point of it was to install something innocuous. I didn’t get that for a time. The key was in the sounds I didn’t think I could hear properly: the rain, the thunder, the atmosphere that–as I thought–failed to make itself present. In fact these are the sounds of a storm that has already passed–if it was ever, really, in a state of actual occurrence.

The Turbine Hall has turned into somewhere to wait out a little rain. While you’re there you can amuse yourself with a catastrophe. Shop for the condition of being a survivor. Shop for an art artifact with a catastrophe style. Shop for a book in which a catastrophe is happening–illustratively and meaningfully, even poignantly–to someone else. You can pick up a book, leaf through it, decide not to buy it and move on out of the “refuge” when the rain stops. You can continue your walk along the Embankment in the sunshine. You can shop for a disaster the way you shop for a print.

Meanwhile, outside this context, the disaster is being not so much averted as inverted. Disaster means change & change is hope. But soon any sense of change will be past. Everything will be back to normal. There will never really be a disaster, only the sign of it. To put it another way, we move through disasters daily now: they never leave a mark on us–except, briefly, to “make us think”. The Turbine Hall celebrates a safety–a stasis–which enables us to toy with the loss of it. That’s what’s so offensive.

old mortlake burial ground

Half-eaten rubbish pulled out of a bin. Tall thin old gravestones, leaning at different angles to the vertical. A red plastic watering can on its side. On the notice-board at the Avenue Gardens entrance, “For out-of-hours emergencies, telephone…” followed by a Richmond Council number. What kind of emergencies, you wonder: a sudden need to bury someone ? Some of the crosses have been pushed over; just the easy ones, the ones that were balanced on a flat stone surface. It’s as if whatever pushed them over was furious but without much leverage in the world.

A few days ago I noticed a woman slumped on the bench, slowly eating something, some kind of wrap or filled pitta. I couldn’t place her. She wasn’t dressed like the women you see in Barnes and East Sheen during the day. She was older, not thin enough, not entitled enough. In the end I wondered if she was a teacher, trying to escape the children in her lunch hour. There’s Barnes Hospital the other side of the graveyard wall, of course, advertising itself as providing “the very best services for people with mental health problems”. Perhaps she was an outpatient, but she looked harried enough to be a nurse.

I’ve seen computer equipment being delivered to Barnes hospital, day and night, logistics vans, medical supply vans, inching down South Worple Way, a road barely wider than they are. Do you need a lot of computers in Mental Health ? Walking home from P’s house I’ve seen foxes going in the gates late at night. Cars rocking themselves out of their parking places near the recycling bins. Soft wet snow falling straight down. It’s a busy little stretch, under the lamplight. A fox will stop and look directly at you, alert but unafraid, then turn and push through the railings into the cemetery.

During the day it reminds you of the allotments a little further towards Barnes on the opposite side of the railway–something in the layout as well as the kind of organisation implied.

world merely is

Subject of the September 12 post a visitor.

By my own rule–to name is to claim–I didn’t ought to: but I’m calling her Critchley.

an imaginary review (4)

The contemporary investigator is loaded. He drives a Porsche & wears Versace overcoats. He is as big as he is charming, as cultured as he’s ripped & cut. He got his self-defense training from an ex-KGB agent. He has a connection to the CIA; or to a mysterious agency which has only twelve clients worldwide, & which can get him information about anything or anyone, any time he needs it. His family runs every part of the infrastructure of this major American city.

The contemporary investigator is PC, & even when he isn’t, even when he falls from grace a little the way every man can, well, his girlfriend is rich too, and equally well-connected, & she won’t take any male nonsense from him. His assistant’s a Goth, tattoos all over. She won’t have truck with that male manipulative charm either.

Even when he’s arrested in what he calls “Buttfuck, Iowa”, the contemporary investigator’s connections are there for him. Despite that, he can get in trouble! Just in case that happens, he carries with him “four inches of money” (ten thousand dollars) along with unimpeachable false identities for himself and his assistant. Because even when the he’s not in charge, the contemporary investigator is in control. Even when contingency rages, it isn’t entirely contingent, not for him.

unknown promotions

River houses float in light. Looking back along the reach from Chiswick to Barnes you’re thrown out of context & might be anywhere but London, any age but now. This makes you, for an instant, fully human. Whatever that might be. Imagine for a second being genuinely free, not having to participate except through flare & dazzle. You can see why romantic & ecstatic alike busy themselves around this moment of recognition. & why gnostics don’t trust it at all. Later I’m tempted to write a sonnet on Hammersmith Bridge, but S is impatient to get down from there. “It’s a bit Victorian for me, this whole architecture.”

I didn’t know I was in this promotion. Interesting cover. Have they decided to drop the definite article from the title ? Interesting decision. But I still hate the book. Whereas I love this more than I can say & want to have its babies.

Reading: Denis Johnson, Seek.

another view


writing fantasy

Structure as if you’re a pornographer, but don’t deliver the money shot. Instead try to replace it with the very thing the story doesn’t want to see. What’s the form guilty about ? What’s it frightened of ? What’s it trying to hide ? Deliver that instead.

from a view to a death

I went to the Tate Turbine Hall on behalf of the Guardian’s “Another View” column. They were thinking of getting a civil defence expert, but she’d have been even less impressed than me. Results out on Monday.

TH.2058 made me remember the old days, when we knew how to do you a real disaster, a disaster with bottom; so I was doubly saddened to hear that Barry Bayley died. He wrote pretty weird stuff & he was always good for a laugh.