the m john harrison blog

Month: July, 2011

anti power

This is from early 2004, when Nova Swing was still called Retro Radio, or just Retro:

    “The human weakness which I find attractive does not allow for individual expansionism, for the assertion of personality at the expense of others or of life itself, nor the urge to harness another person to the realisation of the individual’s own aims and fulfilment.” (Andrey Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time.) This would make an epigraph for Retro. It fits nicely with one of the themes of Light–life proceeds through the unarmoured, etc: try & track down the Elizabeth Taylor quote to that effect*. Who are the unarmoured in Retro ? Certainly, Fat Antoyne, Mona and Liv Hula. Maybe Mrs Keilar. Aschemann appeared to be at first, but is now looking increasingly manipulative. Jack definitely has the urge to harness another person to the realisation of his own aims. As for Frankie DeRaad, well he’s a parody of the manipulative, as all gangsters are. Uniz Bonaventure, what about her ? It seems absolutely right that Antoyne, Mona and Liv escape the judgement of the author, despite their betrayal of Jack: but why Uniz ? & what about Aschemann’s assistant ? Is she manipulated or manipulator ?

That last question is answered in Pearlant; & some of the answers given in Nova Swing are thrown into doubt. Just as Light turned out to be a more complex interaction with Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom” than my original attempt in The Centauri Device (what do you expect after 30 years), Nova Swing turned out to be a more complex response to Tarkovsky & Elizabeth Taylor than I’d made in Light. I still find power loathsome–& neoliberal concepts of “empowerment” loathsomely deceptive–but I can no longer tell a winner from a loser. It’s got to be a step forward.

*A Wreath of Roses, 1949. I love the blatancy of her first paragraph–

    “Afternoons seem unending on branch-line stations in England in summer time. The spiked shelter prints an unmoving shadow on the platform, geraniums blaze, whitewashed stones assault the eye. Such trains as come only add to the air of fantasy, to the idea of the scene being symbolic, or encountered at one level while suggesting another even more alienating.”

Be warned, she’s saying. All is not what it seems. & even that which lies behind what it seems is something other than itself. & while there is that which lies, there is also that which lies…


I had a cat who came with the reputation of having been born in a chip-shop south of the Thames. There was never any proof, but it made an interesting anecdote. What can be said for certain is that he was a lively black & white animal, large, with longish hair; that as a kitten he survived–& indeed seemed to thrive on–a number of medical adventures; & that when we left London to live in the north in 1976 he became the most fabulous killer. He brought in rabbits, half grown & sometimes relatively undamaged, two of which we gave away as pets to local children. He brought in live moles, which he released just inside the back door as if to say, “I’m not sure what to do with this, you think of something.” He brought in every kind of bird, most of them in disarray or partial. He brought in a skylark’s feet. When a local pet parrot went missing, we guiltily put in the bin the few blue feathers we had found. On summer evenings he sat on the inner ledge made by the raised garage door: this enabled him to bat the swallows out of the air when they zoomed in after insects. We never ate breakfast in bare feet. Under the table you might find the back half of a baby rabbit, finished with a flat surface to high tolerances, as if by some macabre meat-milling machine. He lived seventeen years. Moles are angry. They don’t care what size you are.