So the Map Boy builds a horse-drawn caravan by scaling-up the plans for a model. He travels round Britain in the caravan for a decade, with his dog, doing agricultural work. When the dog dies he buries it in the wood, & makes for it out of Horsham stone a monument like a low curved wall, where it rests for twelve months before badgers & foxes dig it up & eat it.
The Map Boy haunts the wood. He shifts easily between its layers of time. He knows where everything is, he knows what you can eat; there are endless ways you can make a fire. He won’t get another dog. All around him, Coulsdon is haemorrhaging its Jaguars into the surrounding tissues of Redhill, Reigate and Dorking, which flush and bruise suddenly under the strain. Oh, Reigate and Banstead in the sunshine! Woods and flint-faced garden walls! Further south, new shapes move in the woods as you drive past–earth caked in the roots of fallen trees to make the silhouettes of aurochs and wild boar in the medieval light. Later the seafront floats between the grey water and a sky deep stratospheric blue, between each side of the century, real gold, buildings biscuit and cream, suspended there in the horizontal sunlight–which also falls on the seaward side of the waves before they break on the beach, discovering in the low muddy swell by the stanchions of the pier two frozen-looking surfers in wetsuits. He is noting everything. A designer moon, a meticulous sliver in a sky hardly darker than this afternoon’s!
Or Leicestershire and Warwickshire, he’s telling us now. Mist thickening out of the Charnwood copses. Closer to, you can feel the water vapour in the air, but it’s invisible except as a guess until it polarises some BMW’s halogen light & startles briefly with little elusive blue wisps & flickers. So quick & faint you can never be sure they’re real. I was born near there, he will admit, if you press him, but I never saw anything like that before. Look, I’m trying to explain to you how the small fields used to fill up with white mist like industrial separation tanks, or how the late afternoon sun in November turned the air pinky gold–not the sky, the air itself–in moments of kitsch heartbreak from a thirty-years-yet-unwritten romance. There’s a constant, constantly-renewed sense of immanence in those landscapes. In the 1950s they had one sort of magic; now, just when you’d think all magic had evaporated, they discover another.
It’s like the Map Boy, when he talks the night away this way, is trying to educate us how to see everything as objective correlative. Everything interpretable in some strong Ballardian sense, dune fields as much as Hilton balconies. Your own hand in certain lights. & in uncertain lights a line of railway sleepers or sleeping women who (like Delvaux, or Henry Moore tube dwellers) explain something unknowable, something that remains unexplained even in the gesture of offering. Everything an earnest, he tells us, a guarantee, both of itself & something else. Immanence: the constant act of interpreting things that weren’t made. The Map Boy says, it’s like the world is a difficult painting of something. It’s the understanding of stuff not directly–not even indirectly, not even one time removed–but by the index of something that might, if you look at it in the right light, be evidence of the possibility of evidence. How do you understand a thing by its shadow when you don’t even know how shadows are thrown?
If you think you can answer that question, the Map Boy says, if you think the need to answer is implied by me asking, you are not getting this & we may have a problem. It’s so clear to him! Someone doesn’t even know how shadows are thrown, how beautiful is that? It is very beautiful indeed.