the m john harrison blog

Month: July, 2019

in search of the ordinary

The difference between defamiliarising the ordinary and glamourising the unglamourous: it’s to do with how many directions at once the process is facing in. Glamourising only ever really takes up one position, only works in one direction. Defamiliarising—finding the strange in the ordinary and the ordinary in the strange—is a conversation, zipping backwards and forwards between states to produce oddness rather than an enchanting sheen–although an enchanting sheen might well be a by-product. Defamiliarisers know they’ve hit the motherlode when what they do is rejected more angrily than seems necessary. That’s the response you want: a kind of huffiness and ruffled feathers. A certain amount of “But… but…” But audiences get over that. It’s time to move on when your original defamiliarising measures have been accepted and absorbed and are being applied by others like a coating to something else. You’ve been gentrified. Your surfaces, which were a byproduct of a specific process, have been detached from it and are being used to signal to another kind of customer. So you move on to the next undesirable location. At the moment, I find that the way of ruffling most feathers is to flatten things off. For instance, the only real lesson it’s possible to take from Robert Aickman is that life is generally dull; so the strange is probably a little bit dull, too. Don’t you think? I’m also interested in the idea that you might miss it altogether. Not “until it’s too late”, or any of that horror bollocks. Just that you might miss it altogether.


People feel nostalgia. They want to understand it. They write about it, they read about it. But the attempt to capture the experiential moment in which they suffer nostalgia—in which they are overwhelmed by the recognitions involved, the sudden partial, uncontrollable step-change from one timescale to another as the very particular slides into some brief, passing relationship with the heartbreakingly general—is not always fully describable via the idea of hauntology. The experience of nostalgia can be acknowledged, without loss, as belonging to the sufferer.

joan didion

“Part of what I want to tell you is what it is like to be young in New York, how six months can become eight years with the deceptive ease of a film dissolve, for that is how those years appear to me now, in a long sequence of sentimental dissolves and old-fashioned trick shots–the Seagram Building fountains dissolve into snowflakes, and I enter a revolving door at twenty and come out a good deal older, and on a different street.” [“Goodbye to all that”, Slouching Toward Bethlehem.] This, along with the preceding essay, “Los Angeles Note Books”, is the best of her. Observationally clean & stripped-down, perfectly sweet & sour, nostalgic but taking no prisoners, not even herself. Especially herself. I’d kill to write like this, to be able to face and record things from this angle, which is both slyly direct and directly oblique. All distinctions between forms dissolve into this. It is written so lightly & fluidly into being. By the mid-to-late 60s she had already done everything I associate with Jayne Anne Phillips & Denis Johnson.

no news is good news

Just to reassure people: there is a new novel & it will be published through the typical channels at some point. Other stuff: I’m still working on collaborative projects. News if & when something emerges into the grey light of day etc etc. The disorienting science fiction novel I began in 2013 is still writhing in & out of existence like one of the monsters in “The Crisis”. There are also short ghost stories in various stages of completion, set in the world as-is & with the ghost hidden in the ambient fabric. This is the direction the fiction is going in at the moment, so if you want Light-style bizarro (or its default opposite, Just A Really Wonderful Empathic Story) I’m not your man. Oh, & I have a very short, very distributed item called “Colonising the Future” coming out in the second issue of VISIONS.