the m john harrison blog

Month: February, 2013

an intense kind of nothing

The nightmare of the self: whatever you discover, it will never actually allow you to say anything about the foundation of things. Each discovery will only open up another scale, which, probed, will almost immediately begin to imply a further scale, a finer-grained space. The very small always has something smaller inside it. Whatever you find isn’t the end, it’s only ever the beginning of something else. Worse, the characteristic of these successive foundational states is that they’re composed increasingly of emptiness, of the gaps between things. Everything diffuses out into nothing. And the tools you develop operate only at the scale for which you develop them–though they have just enough sensitivity to alert you, as you push towards each outside edge, to the possiblility of the need for another, yet more subtle, toolset.


march coming on

After each thaw the view from Sankey’s upstairs window became much bleaker. The snow retreated to the edge of the fields and lay there piled up against the low stone walls. To Sankey, everything had a curiously unfinished look. Sheep picked their way over the steep fields in single file, unnerved by the re-emergence of this forgotten landscape. The old poached places reappeared at gates, black against the bruised grass. Nothing could yet be said to be green. It was less quiet. Starlings sat up in the house gutters and on the telephone wires to do poor, cracked imitations of other birds; after each effort, sneers, whistles and a kind of rhythmical creaking or scraping noise broke out. Later every afternoon as the days grew longer, the sodium lights came on on the other side of the valley, grouped in twos and threes near farms, following the line of a road. In the fading light the wooded cloughs struck diagonally across the hillside, very black and immobile. The next time he looked up it had all gone quite black, and only the orange lights were left. [Climbers, 1989: new paperback & kindle editions from Gollancz, May 2013.]

narrative structure

An old black cat on the garden wall. A few fine flakes of snow, more like paper ash, start then stop. Start again, stop again. I wonder if an idea can be written one way, then if it can be written another: after this examination the idea seems like rubbish anyway and I close the file, but don’t, for the moment, bin it. Instead I email a friend, “I wish someone had shot the monomyth through the bathroom door & was now standing trial for it in front of the Pryce jury,” then feel ashamed of myself and add: “I’m sorry, that was glib and unpleasant.” Then I bin the email and reopen the file. The cat has reached the end of the wall. He looks over the edge, sits down as if to give it some thought. Paper ash snow in his coat. I’m guilty on all counts this morning. I even had sugar on the porridge. Later I’ll make up for it somehow.

note found in a copy of The Cosmic Code

Stop reading. Stop being anxious about your relations with books. Assume your skills are adequate. Assume you don’t know who you are. Go away to another town. When you get there, don’t “write”: instead begin recording what you see. Describe a life you can only be on the edge of. Get those people down. Get down what they do, what they say, how they say it. Aim for observational accuracy but understand that you can only ever proceed from emotional & moral judgements you have already made. Never try to resolve that opposition. Never think beyond the problem of getting things down. Keep everything. After two years go back to where you came from, if you any longer believe that to be possible, or if you believe yourself any longer to be the you that went away. You can start trying to “write” again now.

st valentinus day

1985, broke, confused but fiercely healthy, I spent a week sleeping under a table in Camden Town. During that time I held a dialogue with the twin undead souls of Harold Bloom (as played by Mickey Rourke and Gerard Genette, who would later co-script Angel Heart). We discussed how, as Harold put it, romanticism is a vast revisionary tragedy. Harold was insistent that the ephebe must fall. I said I wasn’t so certain of that although I was perfectly willing to try the experience out. That conversation was to lead indirectly to my novel Vision Babies of Immiseration 1989. Oh but Harold and Harold and I, we were such spies in the House of Failure! We were essentially unmarked! When someone went past the window calling sadly, “Lawrence, Lawrence,” I spoke the words “the failure of Coventry” without being certain what I meant. It’s why, nearly thirty years down the line, I receive so many wonderful single star reviews. Oh, happy, happy valentines to us all!

cheap ideas of the future

    She stood companionably next to him for a moment, hands on hips, looking around the mostly empty space as if oil-stained floors and fluorescent warning stripes held an innate interest for her. Epstein didn’t like the way she relaxed. She was too hard to avoid. Her tailoring occupied the warehouse like another personality: everything interested it, from a momentary change in Epstein’s breathing to the sound of footsteps half a mile away. Every time its attention shifted, he caught the rank, exciting smell of hormonal gradients. She would smile at you behind that as if remembering something sexual you had enjoyed together, while pictographs ran chaos patterns down the inside of her forearm, from elbow to wrist like print from the historical times. She was some cheap cutter’s idea of the future.”

empty space, what it means (3)

    Emmanuelle Riva: “You make an empty space and the empty space comes to you.”


same old story

The hero returns from her journey a wiser but humbler person, only to find that her start point has changed. It’s a rusted-out cultural madhouse, with none of the core values that demanded she go on the journey in the first place. No one remembers her or her family, they’re all different people with different ideas. There’s nothing left in the way of recognisable social situations in which to demonstrate her valuable new self; which she now sees isn’t new anyway, only out of date. She sees that she was conned all along, as much by ideas of “return” as by the idea of a goal: the journey, like the self, is both meaningless and unavoidable, but more important it is endless. The journey is without telos and what happens on the journey is the mechanics of the journey. Anything else is a wish fulfilment of the 1940s or, to be more precise, of Joseph insanely boring bloody Campbell.