the m john harrison blog

Month: December, 2012


Best nonfiction of the year: Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways. Best novel of the year: Will Eaves, This Is Paradise. Best short fiction of the year: David Constantine, Tea at the Midland. Best fiction debut: Sam Thompson’s Communion Town. Best rediscovery: Narrative Discourse, Gerard Genette. Best film: Amour, Michael Haneke (best cinema, The Gate). Best social media of the year: Twitter. Best hot snacks of the year: Penn Ponds car park, Richmond Park. Best new place: the Long Mynd. Best return of the year: S, from Spain. Best news of the year: can’t tell you yet. Wish I’d done more: running.


seasonal greetings

To all our permanent residents, from Alyssia Fignall & the staff at the Ambiente Hotel!



A car park in a strangely shaped corner of the village. The gritting bin looks like a plastic toy, the PAY HERE sign has been photoshopped ineptly on to a previous landscape; for a moment, in the end-of-afternoon winter light, the pay & display machine seems awkward, abandoned, not part of anything. Behind them, something’s reasserting itself. This curve in the road is older than any of the buildings that surround it. The past doesn’t so much force itself on the present as embarrass it.

the coming storm

Forced Entertainment’s The Coming Storm was an extraordinary experience. I watched it on consecutive nights at Battersea Arts, & was so excited–not just by the performance but by the audience’s reaction–that I became incoherent every time I tried to say something about it. A month later I’m still too excited to write anything sensible, so here are some inarticulate notes I took at the time–

Instant control of the space. Characters evolve quickly from their entangled monologues–random, self-involved, confused. Nitpicking pub-style arguments spin up, develop, fade away without issue. Small narratives form & break as the performers undercut one other: their attempts to bulk out each anecdote with music, dance & explicatory material lead to chaos, brief hatreds, sudden violence. Above all, there are interventions: on the surface interruption is a structural device, deeper down it’s a way of life. The men try to outdo one another with avuncularity, baroque lies & unwanted advice; the women go quietly or noisily mad. A man puts on a Freddie Kruger mask & drags a piano about with a piece of rope. The piano whirls & rumbles lethally around the space. Later he tries to hang himself from a clothes rail. He has designed his own electric chair. He tells a story about his dying mother; a woman screams at him, “We agreed that we weren’t going to cheapen memories!” There’s a fight, & another woman urges the audience, “Don’t look at that! If you look at that you’re looking at the wrong thing.” What she wants, really, is that you should look at her. Klaus Kinski enlisted as a possible bus driver. Bits of broken language fall out of monologues & on to the stage: “Eating potatoes can make you aggressive.”

acts of Frankenstein

Brutalise all plans & conceptions. Lose patience with last 10 years of ideas, now seen as prison. Bolt wrong components to wrong components! Sustained acts of Frankenstein & self-piracy! Address current emotional issues not 5 year old ones! New observations/notes; new philosophical/political insight; new structural problems/solutions. New imagery. Sense of adventure. Sense of risk in the material. Explore & affront your hopes for yourself. Glee at breaking own definitions & taboos. Carnage in the files. Parameters missing at the outset may be the things that writing will show you. In the end you have to get frightened enough to push down the pillars of your own establishment.


One of the disadvantages of a paper book is that when the power goes down & the batteries run out, it can only be read during the hours of daylight; one of the advantages of a paper book is that when the power goes down & the batteries run out, it can be read during the hours of daylight.

I see your objection here, which is that because the fairies of modernity will always keep the electricity on now, mine is both a trivial & an old-fashioned argument (as well as being a cheap syllogism generated by someone who doesn’t really appreciate the full modernity of modernity). Because of those fairies, adverse change of any kind is a thing of the past or perhaps other less-fortunate countries. I’m sure you’re right & of course I bow to your superior understanding of history; although I wonder if, when you insist that it can never happen to us, you really mean that it must never happen to us–it’s a reversal so upsetting that it can’t even be contemplated.


Affront the idea of narrative or affront the idea of people, never both. If you affront one of those systems of belief (that story is possible, central & worthwhile, & that character is fixed enough to generate “motive” & not the constantly shifting product of relations at another level) the commentariat will simply assume you’re incompetent or mad. But affront both & they’re up on the roof in an instant, wearing some kind of old sleepwear, ringing the bell & warning this little Texas town, “Wrong! Oh! Wrong!” while you try to sneak away like a fake Mexican wrestler on a stolen horse in the night, someone who has unsuccessfully bet against himself & the system he once loved etc etc.

the web

Deep cold air. Triangular spiderweb, curved like a sail, attached at two points to the house & at the third to an old dry poppy head in a pot on the balcony. Most of it invisible, but the edges & all the rigging picked out with frost. One patch of frost, about three inches in from the leading edge, minutely cross-hatched in the shape of a section through an ammonite. I can’t see if the spider’s part of that little structure. The effect is of a journey in a different regime to ours. Whatever medium is inflating the sail–whatever medium, conversely, is rushing past it–is not a property of our universe & cannot be defined by our way of relating to things. That’s why we have a duty of care to the spider. She’s sailing into an idea of winter we can’t have. Her perception, acted out as this structure, is a valuable resource. I’ve watched her mother & grandmother make webs there, and their mothers and grandmothers, right back into the historical times. They all built ships but none of them built quite like this.

a world

Clear winter dusk. Trees silhouetted, housefronts held very sharp as if in a jar of waterglass; sound, though, seems muffled, set at a distance. A few kids shouting in the alleys by the railway. The usual helicopter. Critchley the squirrel (“world merely is”) has tapped a source of peanuts & is streaking back & forth across the balcony & up over the roof, in an attempt to harvest the lot before nightfall.


Two houses down they’re having the loft opened up. At present the work is halted by rain. Twin skips lie silent, tightly covered in blue tarpaulin–not to keep them dry but to protect the emptiness which represents their value. Materials are no longer being hauled up from the street. Previously I couldn’t make out much of the work, only hear thuds & shouts, but now that the leaves are off the trees I see scaffolding; the pulley that dangles from it; & a thick, ancient-looking rope swinging against a sky filled then emptied on a regular basis. The scaffold has Victorian values. Gothic and energetic even when it’s out of use, it speaks of the rush to be active that achieves nothing but can’t be argued against. All projects, after all, are inherently good. They are good because they are projects. Business is busyness. Although having your loft opened up is a weirdly old-fashioned improvement, an improvement from an era when people could only afford to build upward: the hot money, the property money–the proper modernity–of West London now resides in domestic bunkers mined deep beneath house & garden.