the m john harrison blog

Month: April, 2020

corona journal found in an abandoned old house

Day 400m: Decided I’ll never write directly about any of this. (a) Because fiction isn’t journalism; (b) because I never write directly about anything; (c) because everything leaks into what you write anyway, & that’s all to the good. Even long-term processing is destructive when it’s conscious. Events should leak in & saturate everything you do without ever naming themselves; you should leave just a little space in the work to invite that to happen.

Day 16,042: please don’t make me go on Radio 4 & be pressured in a chirpy way to tell the listeners What Lockdown Means To Me. I would probably burst into tears & say, “I don’t know what lockdown means to anyone? Unless it’s being confined with Nicholas Cage 24 hours a day because there’s a riot in Cell Block No. 9?” Or: “I really don’t mind staying at home for a bit if it means I don’t die or kill someone else that month?”

5th January, 1958: This morning I started mapping commonly-reported lockdown anxieties on to a cluster of feelings I’ve had most of my life & don’t really notice anymore. Gave up out of a sudden raw panic. Not because of being alone: because, obviously, I’m not. I’m not even banged up, & can go out for exercise every day & shout cheerfully to someone I see across the road. “Orright?” “Orright!” It has to do with some deeper kind of alienation & that’s what panicked me. Culture is a lockdown & lockdown is already a culture. The speed at which the feedback loop turbos up is alienating in itself. I don’t want corona to give me full run of that understanding. Not at my age. Anyway it would spoil the writing.


in the phatic zone

Recognition-signalling is the weirdest product of web culture. It is downright creepy, but also ensures that a trope can never be used except as a celebration of itself. A trope appropriated, loaded and directed at a target, is instantly stripped of its new framing, divested of any additional rhetorical mechanisms (as in, say, sarcasm) and redirected towards a lively recognition of its recognisability. This is achieved either by outright repetition; or by a further but not complex re-coding of the reference–a weak extension of the joke the only purpose of which is to reveal that you know the trope. Echo, reaffirmation & celebration deny repurposing: they trap the user of the trope in the trope, possibly so that it can always be comfortingly reaffirmed that we are trapped by tropes and have thus never been able to say anything new in the history of language or maybe even the species, etc etc.

on the television

In every move of the camera, every gesture of the presenter, every line of the script, you receive not what is being communicated but the discussions, arguments and decisions made in the production & directorial meetings. Fiction or nonfiction, what you view isn’t the apparent content, it’s the decisions of the makers expressed as a series of commentaries on the technical constraints & professional choices open to them when making the programme. What is communicated is only an excuse for this commentary, which seems more & more blatant, more & more part of each item. I am not trying to describe the result of ideology here, but the result of a profession’s self-absorption, the insiderism of having a professionalised view. The only trade with more sense of itself as its own subject matter, more awareness of the mirror, is that queen of sciences, politics. As a result, watching the political news on the television is quite a complex affair.

Originally published as who’s the fairest, July, 2014

the new PPE

Every time I read something like this or this, I get the feeling of a country desperately trying to wake itself up and failing.

Also the feeling of a government to which governance is still a matter of being able to find the point of reasonable media deniability–the acceptable bad-faith excuse for a certain allowable incompetence–while you push on with your ideological ambitions.

Ironically, now that it’s actually all about getting something done, this administration is seen to be the living fossil of an era when running the infrastructure was a small uninteresting aspect of politics. This is inappropriate in the situation.

Certainly they’re corrupt, certainly their ideology is rubbish, certainly their ties to billionaire capital, fascism and the Gibsonian klept are scary: but the main, the intense, quotidian problem with them has always been their privileged impracticality and their dozy lack of engagement; the basically narcissistic assumption that you can always charm other people into achieving your goals for you.

Corona may have massive consequences in politics, philsophy & economics but it is not in itself political, philosophical or economical, in origin or nature. We’re in a different regime, with a different episteme. We need a different kind of PPE.

I can’t understand why the opposition is collaborating with this failed administration and the inappropriate concept of government it’s based on. Perhaps they’re paralysed like the rest of us by Stockholm syndrome. The thing is, out in the body of the population we have a genuine excuse for paralysis and confusion. We’re just ordinary people: they claimed to be able to run a country. Administration or opposition, they stepped up and got themselves elected. Now let’s see them do the job they claimed to be fit for.

You can’t do medicine by patiently repeating that the foundational assumptions of your ideology precede and control the existential nature of the crisis. That’s a failure to act in the correct regime. To do medicine, you do medicine. One of the absolutely basic jobs of an administration is to enable medicine to do medicine. What good is it otherwise.

the early days of a better catastrophe

Notes: (1) Territoriality returns as conflicts of usage in middle-class shared space, including intergenerational usage. (2) Hardening of usage-group loyalties, hyped emotional, cultural positioning & claims that a personal intepretation of the protocols is not an interpretation but the “real meaning”. (3) Owning the space by emotional labelling. “I so love our wonderful NHS now” “My entitlement is clearly greater than yours on the following common sense grounds–” “Will no one think of the children” “Will no one think of the future” etc. (4) Localism, testing of boundaries, literal redrawing of boundaries via home-made signage; all kinds of stealthy [re]capture of small-scale administrative divisions, up to & inc police. (5) Precedence of use decided by ghost-privilege still faintly visible through florid, heavily performed new styles of behaviour. (6) Who ousts or imprisons you, enlists or enslaves you–who eventually throws you to the dogs or feeds you to their children—will not be interesting or enlightening, just completely predictable. (7) Observe instances from everywhere you look, not from JG Ballard novels. (8) Don’t refer to available sci-fi imagery, or to the imagery of any genre of entertainment media.

NB: Hierarchies of groups more interesting than hierarchies within groups.

this is not a place

In the age of fake you have to be responsible when you write fiction. You can’t just shrug off the possibility that by making fantasy the lingua franca and reader-immersion the goal, you contribute to the mess. There are conjurors and there are audiences. Audiences hate a conjuror who reveals the trick, because that leaves them nowhere to go but the real. Among conjurors, revealing the trick is seen to be a mistake. But the history of the West since the early 1970s is of a concerted attempt to turn conjuring into real magic, and force open a fully occupiable space between the real and the unreal, between what entropy allows and what it doesn’t. Freedom from entropy–magic–is what “immersion” means, in the context of imaginative fiction (and in the context of branding, media theatre & political rhetoric, modern imaginative fiction’s closest relatives). Immersion is a massive act of denial. Denial passes itself off as a place, and everybody will live happily there until a way is found to watermark each scene or sentence, accompanying fantasy with the patient reminder, “This isn’t happening. It isn’t a ‘secondary world’. It’s an entertainment.” Presentationally, puppet shows, fairy tales, spoken word storytelling, whimsy, outright satires and Edwardian dioramas long past their best are the way to go: they have such unrelenting honesty about the nature of the relationship.

new neo noir

There’s the Tom Waits song about the woman who leaves a small town because she can’t accept lifestyle policing & goes west, to LA or wherever, to find the freedom to be herself. It avoids the reality of these situations, which I suspect is that if you ever do get up the energy to leave & be yourself, people from the town will follow you about thereafter, trying to introduce themselves into your new situation & earnestly advising everyone how to react to the things you say or do. The truth about that particular pseudo-existentialist sentimental cliche is that when they put up the sign “If you live it up/You won’t live it down”, what that sign actually means is that they don’t want you in their town but they don’t want you out of it either.