the m john harrison blog

Month: April, 2018

any new but the new

The commentariat limits the new to the new it already knows: the only new it will acknowledge is the new predicted and confirmed by its own discourse. The new it doesn’t know has been staring any given commentariat in the face for a decade, but the commentariat pays no attention. The new the commentariat doesn’t know pays the commentariat no attention in return, but gets on with being what it is. That’s where science fiction, with its knack for predicting the present, can sometimes help. The best science fiction seems to drag the present into some sort of consciousness of itself. It seems to be ahead of the times because the times are always behind themselves. But science fiction must never accept the temptation to become a commentariat in itself, or by definition it will start to fail to recognise any new but the new that its internal discourse predicts & confirms.

Oh, wait…

Blogged as “a tree falls in a forest” in 2012, when the penny was beginning to drop


there are memories of west london you can use in the new book & memories you can’t

It’s been raining in a steady, thoughtful way for about twenty four hours. There’s a pair of Converse in the paved area outside the kitchen door, not far from the bleaching wicker chair. They’re black. They’re well-used. They’re mine. One of them has tipped over on its side. It’s leaning on the other, while the other leans away from it in an appalled fashion. I can’t remember how they got there, although I do remember it was dark, also shouting, “And don’t come back.” Whatever our quarrel it’s forgotten, but they’re so wet now there doesn’t seem to be much point in fetching them in. Nothing looks shabbier than a pair of wet Converse. A bleaching wicker chair, propped up at one corner by two bricks, is one thing–it can look quite deliberate, quite arranged, cottagey if you like: but discarded shoes are quite another. You could’t pass those off at the Chelsea Flower Show as an eye-catching feature of the urban garden. Or maybe you could. Anyway, it’s an ASBO in Barnes, quick as you like. Wet Converse, for some reason, make me think of Andy Murray. To me he’s always looked as if he should be wearing long shorts & oversize unlaced baseball boots, in a three-frame comic or soft-drink advert from the late 80s. He has a puzzled look. Speaking of Barnes & tennis, I once saw Tim Henman in Sonny’s, just after his career was over.


fleamarket ontologies

Found material is a private experience. If I use it I try not to draw narrative conclusions from it. It’s not there to provide “story”. The reader doesn’t need my idea of what happened; I don’t need the reader’s. It would be a crude intrusion into someone else’s fantasies. But there’s more. We both know how interpretations spin away from found material, but we also recognise that choosing one of them breaks “history” out of its quantum state and turns it into a lurching caricature, a bad guess, a sentimentalised drawing of an event in someone else’s life. Found material might be “evidence” –might even be a direct, indexical sign of a thing that happened–but the thing that happened, the life that contained it, can’t be reassembled, or back-engineered into existence. It’s only what it is now: if you try to glue the fragments together with the sentiments “evoked” in you, all you will have is a golem. All you’ve done is bully the mud into a shape that satisfies your needs. But avoid interpretation as determinedly as you can, and you have a metaphor for the way we encounter not just the past but the present. Lives as the most tentative assemblages; interactions in your own life as partially interpretable fragments, fading images, achieving the condition of conversations overheard on the tops of buses, postcards from the past even as they happen.

You Should Come With Me Now

this book

The only working rule on this book just now is, “Trust yourself.” That’s not entirely true. The other two rules are, “Always flatten it off,” which doesn’t mean it will come out flat, only that it won’t be winning any trophies at the Crufts of the imagination; and, “Don’t say too much.” With regard to the latter, an editor once told me, over lunch in a not very good restaurant (predictably an act of language in itself), “There’s a perfectly good plot behind your novel, it’s just that the author has taken most of it out.” I thought that astonishingly perceptive until I realised that it wasn’t supposed to be a compliment. That was before I moved on to the stage of not putting most of it in.

none of this

Empty items, delivered like ads but without content, begin to appear in your inbox. The first is entitled: You Got to Gas It Up & Go. You press all of the buttons. You leave the things behind. Within a week you’re on the run, on the turn, your little town’s Most Wanted. All you have left is your favourite undersize T shirt with its faded legend: I’m In Bits. Eventually you follow the lights out of town and towards the river. La Reve. Innocente. I Got No Dog In This Fight. Further out, they cluster under the bridges, singing opera they remember from a 1980s Cher vehicle. None of this is real.