the m john harrison blog

Month: February, 2019

familiarity

If I had a daemon 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, sunk & bedded beneath the torpid 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.

Originally blogged December 19, 2015

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look around

People who lost their ontological security so long ago they don’t even remember it happened to them. They muddle along trying to construct and maintain a self from what’s left, continually remaking the world out of unstable bits and pieces, suffering a condition they don’t even recognise as loneliness. They stumble upon a life of habit and that will have to do. It gives them a certain gallantry. We recognise that about them even when it’s irritating. People who have lost ontological security to that extent are rarely aware of it, so when writing them it is best not to present direct explanations or origins. That would rationalise their behaviour the way single-event trauma is used in the Hollywood blueprint, to add motivation and simple causality to plot-driving characterisations and characterisation-driven plots.

leap into the void

In the 1990s I not only got tired of Klein’s smug approval of his own joke, but of the po-faced seriousness of fans of his who needed to remind me he hadn’t really jumped; as if I might not understand that. I did understand it, but what I felt too ashamed and too inarticulate to explain was this: at that time I knew of punters who had based off the top of a well known limestone gorge into a five square foot gap between boulders, a margin of error that promised nothing physically good if you missed. Unless it could be reinscribed as a celebration of the kinaesthetics, not to say the neurology, of a choice like that, Klein’s artefact seemed embarrassing: empty, bourgeois and academic. Academic, that is, in the sense of being beside the point. It was just another self-congratulatory gesture in the face of real things. In the end, for me, at the time, this became a question of who you would choose to be your shaman: a New Realist or someone who would jump off the top of the Cheddar Gorge to see if they would actually be void at the end of it. How do you explain all that to someone who isn’t really going to listen? Well, you don’t, and as a result you suffer the consequences of one more cultural traffic collision in a long and inreasingly boring life of them. Now, of course, when every act is carefully-Kleined porn of itself, it’s immaterial. We do these things but at the same time we counterfeit doing them. The two performances have been inextricable for years. By now our sleight of hand is magnificent.

some sense of pursuit

I was worn out. I was so tired. I could hardly walk. At last I reached the opening of a dry concrete pipe, big enough to crawl into. From there it was possible to look back at the landscape I had crossed. There was some sense of pursuit, which I had escaped. But the relief I felt brought its own difficulties. I knew that if I fell asleep I wouldn’t wake up again. Nevertheless I turned away from the landscape–which, picturesque and under a magnifying haze, resembled that of Tuscany, a place I have never been–and lay down anyway, feeling an astonishing, liquid wash of gratitude. I was so glad not to have to try any more. I curled up and slept. I have always had dreams of being exhausted. For me it’s as if sleep is just another state of awareness, heavy with rules, demarcated by its own event horizons and transitional states.

why I don’t go to church any more

If you suggest to five sci-fi insiders that there’s something inconsistent in the plot, science causalities or background set-up of a sci-fi novel, they’ll agree promptly but identify six completely different inconsistencies to the one you found. Raise the number of responders and you will raise the number of inconsistencies. I tend to shelve this self-deconstructing syndrome alongside its Jungian reverse, the response I get most from sci-fi outsiders when I complain about low self-consistency or poor fidelity to initial assumptions in a sci-fi novel, which is: “Mike, is this book describing a real thing that happened? Or is it merely a fiction designed to give people fun?” –a rhetorical question often delivered in the blandly sarcastic tones of people who are on the verge of not having any fun because your opinions are standing between them and it. There’s no solution to either of these problems because they reflect differences in temperament so irresolvable that both sides often deny that the other side exists. For some years I felt double-bound by this understanding. That made me irritable. But the advantage of late style is that you can just write what you like on a minute-to-minute basis, while keeping in mind the imaginary you began in and the point you’re trying to make.