the m john harrison blog

Month: October, 2016

the missing

As soon as I start watching it I’m exhausted. Something about the way the scenes are overweighted with meaning–implications of subtexts which the material itself is simply too ordinary to support–almost as if, through editing & dubbed dialogue, someone has tried to write a more interesting story on to the unfolding images. Some of it, I know, is that I don’t really care about any of the characters in what’s just a TV thriller bloated up to “significance”. Some of it is because I don’t understand why the returned girl has to look like someone’s mistaken memory of a zombie from the vastly superior Les Revenants. Some of it is because I don’t understand why the investigation of a civilian kidnapping in Europe should be led by the UK military, except to centralise and pump up the UK military in the eyes of UK viewers. And when people call it “the best of British drama” I think: yes, overloaded, overacted & convinced of its own importance in the face of the evidence.

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on the white road to carleon

In 1923 Arthur Machen calculates that writing has earned him six hundred and thirty-five pounds in forty two years. “That is, I have been paid at the rate of fifteen pounds and a few shillings per annum.” So he wasn’t writing for the money. As for the rest of what the trade might be about, you never really write what you hoped you would, not so much in terms of quality as in terms of content and structure: in the end, he admits, it’s never quite the story you intended to tell. Why do it, then? Well, to provide interest in a bland life, much the way mountaineers “expose themselves to horrors, miseries and the instant risk of death on the most desperate mountains of the world”. Life is “cold mutton”, he says, intolerable without sauce. If this seems to us quite a bland response in itself, not to mention (especially given what we know about the single-minded ambition and sheer personality disorder of mountaineers) an evasion or cover-up, well Machen isn’t going to show any more of his cards. Except of course to suggest that perhaps what we call life isn’t really life at all. My review of Machen’s Things Near & Far and Catherine Fisher’s Machen’s Gwent: A country hardly to be known in the TLS today (£).

terranauts

Ecosphere 2, a sealed multi-biome habitat in the Arizona desert, is a dry-run for life off Earth; an experiment in closed systems living sunk by sex, hunger and competitive tensions; and a two-year reality show and visitor attraction set in a popular-science theme park, the gift shop of which offers soft-toy bush babies “at $14.95 a pop” “It wasn’t a stunt,” one of its occupants admits, “And it wasn’t theatre. But certainly those elements were present… Call it science-theatre.” Something we’ve seen plenty of this week, as “all eyes” were turned to Mars etc etc, and will see plenty of again as the publicity of science becomes more important than the science of science. My review of The Terranauts, TC Boyle’s blackly comic novel, not quite a new Tono Bungay but a savage enough pisstake of contemporary techno-boosterism, up at the Guardian.

may time

HE Bates is good at people dying puzzled after a life lived without interrogation or protest and an old age that has reduced them to the human equivalent of a salmon after breeding, coming to pieces in the upstream pool. The absolute triumph of modernism was to make it clear that, while you have to accept the reality of death, you don’t have to accept anyone’s description of the “realities” of the life that precedes it. We should cling to that understanding as Theresa May moves us gently but firmly back to small town English life in Bates’s 1920s.

late style

Late style arrives when you realise that you are: competent enough to write those things you wanted to write when you were twenty five; impatient enough to have one more go at going all the way; angry enough not to allow anyone else to persuade you to do something else. At the same time late style is cold, amused, contemptuous and savage about everyone you have been or ever tried to be. Late style is when the monster down there has finally had enough. Late style is when the people who have all your life jumped in front of you–waving their arms No! Careful!–jump out one more time to encourage you to run them down.

A day suspended from interpretation to interpretation, hung between guesses. It’s late when you look up. Something in the street. Bassline oozes from a passing car. Rain between here & the night. You close the shutters, switch on the light, read, “Lost cities found.” Read, “This attempt to see a future that leaves us all exhausted.” Read, “A pure, gargled emotional demand.” The cat walks round the room. Purrs briefly by the door. Your phone is trying to remind you of a name you don’t know.

weight of words

Soon afterwards he found himself wearing his own clothes, carrying a two-day-old copy of the Guardian and some hospital toothpaste in a plastic bag, waiting for a cab to come down through the traffic and turn on to the hospital apron. When he got home he was exhausted just from leaning forward and telling the cabby how to get where they were going. He lay down on the sofa and pulled a blanket up over him and went to sleep. When he woke up it was on the edge of being dark. The street outside was quiet. The light in Short’s room had a kind of sixty-year-old smokinesss, as if he was looking at things through nicotine-stained glass. The door of the room was open, and the man he had met in the hospital corridor now stood at the window, holding the net curtain back with one long hand so he could stare down into the street. He was whispering, “Yummie? Yummie?” to himself.

I’m moving forward into something here, Short thought: but I don’t know what it is.

From “Yummie”, my contribution to the forthcoming The Weight of Words, Subterranean Press, ed Dave McKean & William Schafer. Preorder here.

map boy writes on his handkerchief–

The pollluted sublime. Pockets of the sublime. The sublime as haunting. The sublime as antechamber. The powerless or disconnected sublime. The sublime immanent in its opposite (gnostic sublime). Beatification & the anti-sublime: Visions of Johanna. The absent or absurd sublime. The ironic counter-sublime. The failed sublime. The lost or misplaced sublime. Jouissance & the carnal sublime. The sublime of the commodified, or spectacular sublime. Intellectual branding & the cosmological sublime. The sublime will eat itself. Lists of unsublime objects presented as being in some overall way sublime (the rhetorical sublime). The toon sublime. Light slowly peels the surface of things. The Indian Ocean.

dscf0772

Originally posted November 2011