the m john harrison blog

Month: December, 2015

flooded

“Who has time for a shower?” the Guardian asks today: “How busy people get ready.” One celebrity lays the breakfast table before bed; another seems to “slip on her children’s tracksuit bottoms”, which to be honest seems ambiguous if you only read the lede. But what is the secret of a good morning routine? Well, ask the people who live in Tadcaster or Glenridding and they might say: “To not be flooded & have a sewage tidemark in your house.” Nothing illustrates the middle class entitlement to safety–or the idea that built environment sustained by an ideology can supply it–better than a lifestyle article. Will people get this at last? No. And it’s a bit late to get it now anyway; my sympathies go to those who got it fifty years ago and wore themselves threadbare trying to be heard. Might as well just have popped the bubble up around them and got on with consuming their lives like everyone else, because nothing except a proper old fashioned disaster was, or is, going to change the outcome. Meanwhile–aside from the lifestyle game, in which everyone’s just so busy they can’t be expected to take anything else in–they’re all queueing to get their slice, score their points, lay the blame, act out their ideological position for the public: the politicians, the army, the religions, the media. Have I missed anyone?

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If I had a familiar it would resemble less a nervous exotic animal than a chipped enamel sink. You would not find it on my shoulder but in its natural environment at the bottom of a derelict canal in the industrial Midlands. Our connection would be the source of my special powers, which would neither mimic nor metaphorise its qualities but be unmistakably sink-related. I would feel no emotion towards it even when events caused us to be separated and tortured. A sink can feel nothing. That is the baseline or default quality of a sink. But wherever I went I would know that out there, bedded beneath the slow black water, never more than a mile or two from my present location, its energies focussed, site-specific and calm, there my sink would be.

surprising gift

Warwick University have been decent enough to award me an honorary DLitt, which I’ll accept in January. At that time, I don’t doubt, my so-called friends will distribute plenty of incriminating photographs of the hat and gown. Luckily, the acceptance speech has to be short. What do you say? “This is the last thing I expected.” It actually is. Anyway, in case I decide to read three minutes of self-composed Dadaist verse instead, I’d like to thank everyone at Warwick in advance. I’m unfamiliar with everything academic, so this feels like a really quite strange, surprising gift, genuinely unlooked-for; I’m touched and grateful.

orright then?

DSCF7532Suicide Coppice, on the south side of the Gorge. It’s all rain all the way through. Straps, belts and bleached ropes of every kind dangle from the branches. The trees lean away down the scarp to the decommissioned power station. You can see the river but not the opposite bank. Folks have been doing away with themselves up here for nigh on two hundred years; doing away with yourself replaced the earlier industries of lime and charcoal burning. You can still hear them asking one another, “Orright then?” “Orright.” Even the dogs look unhappy.
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I’d kill myself too, but on a morning like this it would seem like imposter syndrome.

a drive in the country

It’s somewhere between the late 50s & the mid 70s. A young man from the lower middle classes, English, early adopter of university education, somehow finds the money to buy a sports car. It may be something interesting or worthwhile, a Jaguar or Lotus, or it may simply be a high end MG, one of those new products just expensive enough to make you a player. Anyway, it’s enough to get him a date with a young woman a little further up the provincial class system. It’s enough to convince her. On their date, he drives her out for an evening, or he takes her for a drive after a dance, or he drives her out into the country, or to the sea for an afternoon–let’s say for convenience it’s the sea–and the car runs out of petrol, or breaks down, on an abandoned-looking stretch of B-road facing out across the estuary at some, I don’t know, gasometers or oil tanks or whatever, on the other shore. There’s no phone box near. There are, of course, no mobile phones or anything like that. In the silence that ensues, you can actually hear the wind whistling over the wing mirrors of the car. There’s a kind of half-industrial, half-salt smell in the air. The young man shrugs, does up his shortie car coat and goes for help. Twenty minutes later he’s back, with petrol, or a mechanic, or a tow truck, and the couple are able to drive back to town. He’s quite pleased with how quickly it’s all been managed, but she doesn’t speak much on the drive back; and after that, she never speaks to him again. The reason, he’s astonished to hear through a third party, is that he was ungentlemanly enough to leave her unattended in a car for twenty minutes in a lonely place.

Not sure if I’ve made this up, or heard it as a pub anecdote so long ago I’ve forgotten the circumstances; or if I’m half-remembering a pivotal event from some UK Angry Young novel or film or TV production from the period? If it’s the latter and you recognise the source, please leave a comment below and put me out of my misery.

…& I am also a novel by “M John Harrison”. Hi.

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teeming with duration

Dr Sarah Dillon’s upcoming seminar on “Alife & Maternity in Empty Space” made me think of Richard Doyle, obviously, so here’s Stephen Dougherty on Wetwares: Experiments in Postvital Living

For the self to dissolve (a fortuitous dissolution), for the novelty of the future to present itself, we must let the knots of the sovereign ego loose themselves and open up to the strange invasion of objects that are themselves dissolved into parts, or swarms. As Bergson taught, and as Deleuze clarified, such a hospitality to objects in their constitutive multiplicity requires the method of intuition rather than intelligence (the trick is not in thinking). Intuitive perception puts us into matter, as Bergson famously put it, and it allows us to use our own duration, the rhythm of our own lived experience, in order ‘to recognize the existence of other durations’ (1991: 33). By intuitively entering into matter, we recognize that things have their own durations–that they are, in a sense, teeming with duration. [My emphasis]

–from “The Future of Seduction”

london by train…

…that metaphysical condition or stupid limbo which sucks in your life and jellies it and doesn’t get you anywhere, even if you fetch up somewhere in the end–late, full of rage, depressed, encircled by people whose casual shoes cost more than your car. Then the same meeting as you’ve been having the last forty or fifty years, at which you learn that nothing is possible. You’ll wish you never came. Still, you made your choices long ago. You rediscover that by the end of day. You come out the other side. You decide to cope. You even see the advantages–which means you can begin to maximise them, or so you hope. You look up at the How Late Is Your Train indicator. The thing is, you tell yourself, not to wait too long. Wait too long and eventually, if you aren’t careful, you’re going to end up looking really quite threadbare.

“It gets me into a rhythm”

Joan Didion, interviewed for The Art of Nonfiction in The Paris Review—

When I’m working on a book, I constantly retype my own sentences. Every day I go back to page one and just retype what I have. It gets me into a rhythm. Once I get over maybe a hundred pages, I won’t go back to page one, but I might go back to page fifty-five, or twenty, even. But then every once in a while I feel the need to go to page one again and start rewriting. At the end of the day, I mark up the pages I’ve done—pages or page—all the way back to page one. I mark them up so that I can retype them in the morning. It gets me past that blank terror.

Also, this.