the m john harrison blog

Month: September, 2020


A novel I started some years ago seems to have returned from the files and is dragging itself one-leggedly about looking for the outside door. It may be relevant to our present situation. It may just be something I want to do. I’m also assembling a kind of fragmentary non-fiction autofiction, which has its roots not far from us as we speak. I finished my proper ghost story, it’s 4000 words. Quite funny and angry and it would never have got into the English Heritage anthology even if I’d finished it in time to submit. Recent copyright reversions mean that I should be able to do something about bringing Signs of Life and The Course of the Heart back into print. I’ll be active on that, and also looking to reprint those short stories from Things That Never Happen that didn’t make it into Comma’s Settling the World. My plan is to have all three volumes available as soon as I can.


we’re all back from the dead now
even those of us who were alive to start with
so there’s no point you standing there on the one leg
flapping your arms that way
the building, the bars, the unfortunate street
this whole picture’s uncompromisingly cursed
and whatever you do you will not become a “story”

–originally blogged 2016

Landscape in fiction is never just background, or you’re wasting your opportunities. Let the landscape do as much of the work as possible. Entangle everything with the setting. Fold setting & narratuve into one another. Empty Space: the Funene Golden Hour, a landscape derived from photography of the Namib coast. Ad-image pseudo-sublime. What is the difference between awe & oh wow? The reification of an aesthetic judgement, a play on the use of the term “landscape porn”. Woven into the trilogy’s general position on postindustrial spectacle–the transformation of real sites into sites of public art, ie leisure heritage. Climbers: “The moment you step into a landscape it becomes another one.” But also, the gritsone edges as a kinaesthetic abacus on which you “tell” your life. To what degree–& in how many lives–has Stanage served that purpose–emotional touchstone or pivot, hermitage, site of psycho-addiction sought out at points in your life, abandoned at others–but also the sense that the gritstone landscape can in some unforgiving way abandon you & you may never be allowed to go back.

Friday is not my house
I’m coming round yours midnight
& steal the cats I love so much.
You can have your same old problem
Get one-up on those detectives
In the workplace, it won’t
Keep me off the case
Or cure the actors of acting.

Originally published 2015

In 50 years you read a lot of writing, look at a lot of art. After 50 years, your newest “inspiration” is instantly modified by the ghosts of all the earlier ones. Meanwhile, the you that you built from all of that reading and experience is quietly repurposing a new version of itself for every new piece of work. It’s a process you perceive as an identity, an uber-ghost among ghosts, your inherent voice. It lives somewhere down inside you. It knows when to change and when not to. It always knows more than you do. Since the mid 90s, I’m often quite scared to be sharing space with it. When it comes on-stream – sometimes a bit brusquely, a bit contemptuously – it elbows me out of the way and whatever I’m writing begins to take the proper shape.

–Interview with The State of the Arts

Wind all yesterday evening and now rain. It poured in the night but I heard nothing. I was struggling with a nightmare in which it was impossible to leave the ground. Now lights burn orange behind the tinted glass of the stacked apartments: people are appearing on balconies & at windows, staring morosely out at the wet tiles & ruffled water of the swimming pools. Slick palm fronds whip to & fro in the wind. It is as dark as a winter morning in Britain out there; everything we came to escape. Drink another cup of coffee. Read the labels off the tins. “What do we think this is?” “It’s sugar.” “& anyway why would you decorate a self-catering apartment in Tenerife with crap reproductions of Goya?” La Nevada O El Invierno: gales, ice, bent trees. Five figures struggle forward, leading a donkey on to which is strapped a dead pig. They are accompanied by a dog, & they are looking as if they wished they hadn’t come. The dog can’t understand any of it. Neither can I.



I always wanted to break the underlying structures. They’re seen as a kind of neutral container. Into that, each generation pours its preferred imagery and attitudes, under the impression that it’s telling a whole new kind of story. But the underlying structures, flying their rags of ideology and the fruitful organisation of experience, are the story, with its “struggles” and “conclusion,” its “agency,” its losses and gains. What gets healed, every time, by the hero-journey, is the understructure itself, Story Home. Thank god, they cry. The story’s told, and Story Home is safe again. It’s genuinely hard to break out of that, especially if you’re trying to entertain. I prefer actual unstructured fragmentary biographical narrative if I’m honest. Or anecdotes. Or notes: as a reader I’m more entertained by the note, “Milk and eggs,” than any story. Some piece of paper you find blowing about in the street, which was never in any sense meant to be “told.”

–from an interview with Brendan Byrne, at Big Echo.

the core of the heart

This podcast returned the whole 1980s to me, in one vast rush, by being the response I would have wanted then. The best thing in the world is to be working into your internal oppositions. Although not as a conscious “dialogue”. Perish that thought. I’m still happy to define both immanence & transcendence as properties of the continual emergence of the whole from relations at a “deeper” level. But if it’s the universe, it’s the universe. It’s always already the quotidian. Anything else is a beautiful metaphor you fall in love with. The paradox of emergent behaviour is that at a given level the thing is always the thing. To have relations & thus generate the next level, things don’t need to be conscious, only to do what they do. As a result, a liver cell is never going to “know” the next level up, let alone take part in the celebration of liverness. If the universe is emergent, it doesn’t have to know what it is, and only the anthropocentric subjectivity–essentially linguistic–can produce the illusion that it does, or that it can be viewed from that illusory standpoint. The thing is always the thing: you can only deny that by imagining yourself viewing it from the temporary grammatical platform of the “next level up” or down. It’s language that enables that position to be taken, that enables you to become one of the “beautiful swimmers” of The Course of the Heart… Coincidentally–or perhaps not, in this case–a novel is a linguistic object.