the m john harrison blog

Month: January, 2019

the big tease

This small town by the sea reminded him of films he remembered from his childhood–pantomimes of panic and desperation, harrowing stories of lives continually forced back on to the rails of localised and embodied knowledge–in which, as if to emphasise their entrapment, no one ever spoke in less than a shout. One afternoon he asked his aunt, was there something special about the town? Well I’ve always liked it, dear, she said. No, he said, he meant was there something different about it to other towns. The old woman stared at him. Of course there isn’t, she said. Don’t be stupid. He hired a car and drove her up and down the coast. While she enjoyed this at first, later it tired her out. All she wanted to do was watch wildlife videos and be read to from the myths. Tales of anabasis, she said, she could take or leave. But I can never have enough of Isis and Osiris, I suppose it’s how I am. Soon he was dreaming nightly of the metaphysics of dismemberment. A detective. The hunt for the murderer. The metaphysics of life from the sea. An obsession with alternate genetic pathways to being human. Later the weekly meetings of the Philosophical Society were embarrassed by a man who had put his faith in just such a theory, who read to the gathered local philosophers from an autofictional text he was writing, in which bodies and body-parts were washing up on beaches, at first all over England, then all over the world.


last of the dwarf grapes

Saturday a.m. in what looks like a slate mine. One of those mornings you wake up and a bunch of your tweets has gone missing in the night. You feel weird for two hours because you know you saw them before. Breakfast is the last of the dwarf grapes; after that, it’s ‘“Not leaving the EU could aid me and my sketchy associates in our efforts to end centuries of moderate politics in the UK,” says transport secretary.’ Or that might have been ‘transparent secretary’, not sure. Anyway, the Independent is selling the new colonialism by describing some rock in orbit round Barnard’s Star as “a better home for life”. Hard to know what to experience anxiety about next. I already miss not having an unfinished project to worry about. Still, soon I can start worrying what’s happened to the finished one. In the end you have to conclude that life is emergent one moment but that it goes back in the next.

year of

A generation on, they’re all getting back from the trip. Palinurus fell off the boat and thinks he might be in the wrong country. He says you can spend a long time in a room, wondering how dead you are. Orpheus, it turns out, never went anyway. Two days down the stairs he met a nice bloke from the next village. It’s been a varied career for those two, though primarily in hospitality. Heracles picked up more parasites than you’ve ever seen, some of the internal ones come out at night and he entertains us with reenactments of all those old fights he won. So it was an interesting class and tomorrow’s the reunion dance.

full fathom five

Like much in the new economy, Tranquility Fish Supplies endured yet didn’t prosper. Quickly more of an incident than a business, it was one of those smalltown events that has its day. The little square soon went back to sleep. Footfall was the problem, although in the dark evenings the shop still had its visitors. That couldn’t be denied. You would catch sight of these people from behind, silhouetted against the window they were staring into; and your lasting impression would be of shoulders that, when they weren’t hunched against the early winter weather, were long and steeply sloping. A bell rang as they went in.

Wee Oss was now seen behind the counter more often than Tommy or Brenda. His Toyota reappeared in the car park, in its customary position tight up against the yellow gritting bin, at a bit of an angle. The mud had been jetwashed away, the deflated tyre replaced; to balance that, someone had bashed in the rear window, as if whatever had happened in the quarry needed to be understood as part of an ongoing process. The old man closed up late, and always had some difficulty with the door. That was how Victoria came upon him, ten o’clock one evening early in the month, bent double but trying to keep off his knees as he struggled with the lock.

“Have those two gone already?” she said. “I thought they fitted in so well.”

He had to smile at that, Wee Oss said. “They’re up at Kinver, Tom and Brenda, on business of their own: we shan’t be seeing them again. Not so soon at any rate. Not so soon.”

For a moment, they both gazed into the shop. The fishtanks glimmered or shone. At this point along the flattening commercial arc of the business, they contained more tank decor, that curious built environment in which everything is sunken or drowned, than fish. There were drowned cottages, drowned bridges, drowned castles, drowned temple columns and oriental towers. Sunken villes of mixed structure dispersed themselves on beds of gravel that contoured away into the calm green mirrored infinity of each tank. There was an aesthetic of glow-effect pebbles, toadstools in vibrant purples and greens; a lightweight conspiracy architecture of “ancient stone heads”, sunken submarines and sarcophagi.

Down there, where scale meant nothing and even water could be depicted as drowned, postmodern treasure chests dwarfed the houses, overflowing with vast coins and strings of pearls. Everything was vividly simulated, luminous, tropically coloured, encrusted with plastic algae to signal slow, deep, marine change: it was as if the tanks had transformed themselves into dioramic representations of the famous but now lost coral reefs of the world, designed by animation artists who had never seen one. Victoria pointed. “That waterfall?” she said. “It’s made of plastic. Doesn’t that give you such an uncomfortable feeling? Water shown flowing under water?”

She felt herself shiver.

“It does me,” she said, “it gives me an uncomfortable feeling.”

The old man bent down without a word and began fiddling with the lock again. His eyes were sore. His nose was running. She clutched at the shoulder of his Castrol jacket and tried to pull him to his feet, the way you pull a toddler upright in a mall. She was determined to capture his attention.

Where have you been?” she said.