the m john harrison blog

Month: August, 2012

black flags

My head seems to have gone to the beach. I think it’s going to stay there until the UK left emerges from its doomed attempt to absorb the Olympic spectacle & enjoy a share of the theatre of nationalist sport. It’s one thing to cheer for Bradley Wiggins, it’s another to fall for watered neoliberal Riefenstahlism. Sandbagged by emotions they’re not used to managing, they’ve allowed the political arena to be dragged to the right again. As a result they won’t be winning their heat. The sheer quantity of defeat that’s been handed out here to an inexperienced team can best be described by this analogy: Jeremy Clarkson commissions Danny Boyle to do his opening credits & the UK left scrambles to construct a positive position re Top Gear. Nil points for accepting that gambit.


PS: it’s the twelfth of August & the right will be out supporting the sport it really loves. I’m not wearing any of it, so here’s a picture of some black flags & plastic bins.

authenticity waifs

We believed objects shouldn’t arrive along normal pathways. They should bear a freight of difference. They should be the result of some event. If you needed a cup it wasn’t enough to go out and buy one. Artificial flowers in a thin tubular brass vase: injection-moulded plastic stems bulge into crude shiny buds & calyxes, but their silk petals are delicate enough to remind you, in some lights, of cornflowers & small poppies. I kept them in front of my desk on a bookcase, so I could see them whenever I looked up. The bookcase was interesting in itself. Someone had banged it together out of oddments of softwood. It was slathered with shiny tan varnish. Nails stuck out where the corners didn’t meet. Attracted like children to second-hand shops, builders’ skips, piles of stuff at street corners–anything other people had grown out of or away from–we had found it on waste ground in Camden near St Pancras Way, 1970. That was the last time you could be that kind of authenticity-waif. I was glad to leave it behind when the time came. Everything becomes a symbol in the end anyway. There’s no need to work at it. I kept the vase–it’s in need of a polish–but the flowers got lost somewhere.

or are you in Bilbao

Hi there! It’s hot here again, rain threatens, it always seems to be the Olympics & I still can’t work out why my wastepaper basket is so full of chicken & bacon sandwich wrappers. Despite that I’ve had an enjoyable morning, watching two experienced tightrope artists balance their way between oppositions: Will Self quartering London in the New Statesman; & Manuel Vazquez Montalban, prowling the subterranean power gradients of Buenos Aires in the first part of The Buenos Aires Quintet (which I’m re-reading already). I wish I could be as clever as these men, especially in the way they tease out their conflicts & contradictions via the contradictions & conflicts of eras & cities, but I can’t. I wish I had their amused calm. Compared to them I’ll always be a rhinoceros in a horse race, a rhinoceros saddled up by a clown. Other than that, I’ve had a lunchtime walk by the river, where I met a person with two unimaginative dogs; eaten without noticing it another of those mysterious sandwiches; & tried to work out who I am by writing: that is, by bashing my head through the overgrown fence &–snout draped in convolvulus–staring bemusedly at the landscape laid out with such cunning on the other side. I start with the best will in the world but it always ends in anger & blunt enigma. I hope you’re well & that France is suiting you. Or was it Bilbao this week? I have to say I’ve forgotten. I love that coast! Anyway, enjoy your holiday & I’ll see you when you get back to the UK.

once & for all, Posie

People always draw the same picture to illustrate “a zebra crossing”. They think they found a clever creative ambiguity in the words. It’s easy to deal with the unambiguously ambiguous, the foregrounded ambiguous; it’s the actually ambiguous people have the problem with. If the zebra isn’t flogged after death, they can’t be certain it’s been flogged at all. You could drive a bus through the ambiguities of Henry James, they’re so heavily cued-up. Unsigned ambiguities are less easy to bear & will always be received as failure of technique–that is, the failure to placate the causal anxieties of a broad spread of midwestern filmgoers in 1953. I quite enjoy Michael Bay movies. It’s restful not to have to spot trains. You can eat your Maltesers safe in the knowledge that the timetable’s been ripped up. The only downside is listening to other people whining, “Look, this can’t be the four thirty to Edgbaston. Once & for all, Posie, it’s got the wrong kind of carriages.” Jesus, send a rocket to Mars or something. By the way, make sure you don’t mix up yr inches & centimeters.

i’ll wait here

The man in my garden stares up & points. “There’s something wrong in there.” I look down out of the window at him & tell him there’s no one in here but me. “That’s not quite right,” the man in my garden says: “I’m in there too.” He claims he is the thief of death who takes from people their mortality, leaving them suspended & abjectly juvenile forever. “I’m afraid you’re not quite right in yourself,” he tells me now: “If I can see that, you can see that too.” I say that we all need to grow up, I say I appreciate his metaphor: but I wonder how he got into my garden. “You’re too fat to have come over the fence. In addition, it’s my experience that mortality is brought home to the individual through unavoidable circumstance, not education.” How, I ask him, can he steal that from anyone? “Speaking of the unavoidable, go back in your room, have a look,” he suggests, “I’ll wait here.”

real weather

I crossed the Loire at Pont Aristide Briand & walked downstream. The water was muddy & tidal-looking. I saw an old fashioned boat, painted white. I saw a magpie fly up into a tree. I looked into the sunlight where it dissolved the Rue Alain Barbe Torte & made the world seem both ended & endless. There were yellow leaves everywhere. I felt free. I felt like 1948 in my denim jacket, ready to write what I saw. I saw the neat cobbles & the little cars & the neat French all around. I crossed back by the new metal footbridge. By the river the sun was all over the wet morning air; but in the town the streets were dark and chilly. I walked down the Rue d’Alger to Notre Dame de Son Port, a church with an impressive dome. I observed that there is a lot of dog shit in Nantes, much of it of distinct colours, brick red, yellow ochre, autumn tints. A whole street smelled of petrol. Every street I looked down seemed more interesting than the one I was on. I looked up at the sign “Rue Belle Image” & thought of you. Eventually I entered a cul de sac, with fallen-down walls and buildings that leaned in towards one another, which narrowed to an alley. A cat came out on to the cobbles in the sun to say hello. 10:30 am next morning, it was fog. The aeroplane spent some time waddling to & fro across the airfield like a pregnant duck. We might have been in Britain already: the fields, the little copses brown with autumn and soaked with dew. Finally the duck lurches upwards & the fog proves to be a thin, Atlantic layer. It sprays off the wing like water from a car tyre. We’re in the light that awaits everyone, the real weather of the world.

perhaps if I could see you

I can recover nothing. The city is already an endlessly fragmenting dream, endlessly reconstructing itself. The lime cliff of Minnet Saba crumbles into the side-streets of tall pastel-coloured apartments around Chenaniaguine. The waters of the Aqualate Pond lap about the base of Cold Walls, while at the same time–or at least in a continuous instant–the Entreflex, that beautifully-drawn but meaningless white symbol, stands in the distance above the city asking a question in a language we are forgetting even as we look. Churches of all denominations form themselves suddenly out of the fountains by an open air cafe. Old machines are discovered trembling with attention & anxiety in a toy wood between major avenues. As for you & me, we were bitten by insects somewhere between Uranium Street & the Horse Museum; you bought a yellow notebook which you never wrote in. For years I’ve kept these fragments floating around one another–it’s such an effort–attracted into patterns less by the order in which they occurred or by any “story” I can make about them than by gravity or animal magnetism. But I have no memory at all of the experience as it fell out. Perhaps if I could see you, I’d remember more.