the m john harrison blog

Category: lost & found

contents

The collection:

Lost & Found
In Autotelia
Cries
The Walls
Rockets of the Western Suburbs
Cicisbeo
Imaginary Reviews
Entertaining Angels Unawares
Elf Land: the Lost Palaces
Psychoarcheology
Royal Estate
Last Transmission from the Deep Halls
Places you Didn’t Think to Look for Yourself
Not All Men
Dog People
Jackdaw Bingo
Earth Advengers
Keep Smiling (with Great Minutes)
The Crisis
The Theory Cadre
Recovering the Rites
Anti Promethian
Animals
Here
In the Crime Quarter
The Good Detective
Name This City
Crome
Studio
The Old Fox
Awake Early
Explaining the Undiscovered Continent
Self Storage
A Web
Back to the Island
Cave & Julia
Alternate World
At the Seaside
Getting Out of There

& speaking of imaginary places…

…I keep thinking I’m closer to writing this third Autotelia story–

“Every generation has its intellectual obsession: a new kind of politics, a new kind of science, a new kind of war. My generation was obsessed with Autotelia, a new kind of country. We watched with a tense amazement the grainy video of its capital city, the greyish streets so similar to our own. When the first Autotelians began to arrive on our side of things…etc.” His mother’s tea party for the Autotelians is a farce. After it, when he goes to their house, he sees the men in overcoats smashing the flower pot in the hearth, then a “yawning white face” in the hall. He leaves hurriedly. Work up to the tea party through his mother’s descriptions of the Autotelians; some events of little significance in the square; and his interest in the girl. Later, in Autotelia itself, he is taken to a place where a man who might have been his vanished friend Ashman once “stayed for some time”. The room sordid. Some accident–a small fire perhaps–on the carpet near the tallboy; a faint smell of excrement. “‘There was a lot of crying out,’ the landlord said: ‘Always a lot of crying out.’ And he managed to convey with shrugs, nods and grins that we both knew what that might mean. ‘In the morning he was gone.’ While we talked, I could hear someone pacing about in the room above.”

–then discovering I’m not. These are glimpses from the early 1980s, a couple of which remain fresh and clear, the rest being just sentences someone else might have written. It’s odd how this happens, odder still that you won’t give up on a thing even when you suspect the window of opportunity’s closed. You used to be the writer it needed but now it’s just some old love affair which never quite got going.

slight return

Home: the journey itself broke some kind of continuity necessary for you to use the word. It’s not just Penelope looking a little guilty & at the same time too pleased with herself; or all those suitors finishing their jack & coke & slinking off out the back. It’s not just the dwarf in the Macao silk suit & the shoulder holster. It’s that something put an edge between what you remembered & what was there on your return. The story you told yourself to get you through all the crapdscf4578nights–the constant thankless struggle with the dumb shit crew, the whirlpools, the mad cunt with the one eye, the rocks that turned into kings, the kings who turned into junkies, all that singing & indifferent special effects–wasn’t quite enough. Even the word “return” begins to seem undependable, not the weight-carrier you’re used to. It’s the right house but it’s the wrong place. The distinctions are so subtle they’re fatal. Once you’ve noticed them it doesn’t even look like the same fucking country & the only thing to do is turn right around & leave. Maybe in another twenty years, you tell yourself, you’ll swing by again.

at the skyline

Living in Shropshire has brought me closer to achieving this long-held ambition–

Someone arrived here yesterday by typing [m john shoe]. Whoever it was, I say: genius! If I was younger & less trapped by everything I ever did, & could untie from all old versions of myself, I might reinvent as m john shoe. m john shoe would be braver but at the same time slippier than I ever was. You would never be able to tell if he was a shoe-in or a shoe-out, always on the edge of the frame. Would never have capitals. Would be more of a band than me, on tonite then in the morning you would see him no more. m john shoe would always leave you guessing. m john shoe never stares out the window like this wondering where August went & deciding to make another cup of tea. Not in South London. m john shoe is at the skyline & turning back briefly to wave his arms in a moment of charming but meaningless triumph; he’s never the same place twice.

Originally blogged September 4, 2009.

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curiouser & curiouser

Poor souls blundered helplessly around in the remains of their lives in the atrium of Manchester John Rylands Library yesterday evening. It was a curious tale, indeed it was two of them. The Rylands would be a fantastic place to read anything, let alone a ghost story. Spotted in the audience: John Coulthart & the fabled Michael Butterworth. Nick Royle took this picture in the modern annexe afterwards–B5KeYHLIUAAfHqu-1Left to right: Alison Moore, Tom Fletcher, Beth Ward & AN Other. Curious Tales: Poor Souls’ Light.

love & perspective

I’ve spent the whole day writing about Love for Lydia, and now I wonder why. Bates isn’t a writer anyone’s much interested in any more. Love for Lydia‘s not even his best work. I start out adoring it and end up angry with myself for being pulled in. A bit like Richardson himself, I suppose. It was published in the early 1950s, when I was a child in Warwickshire, and it seems to catch that time better than it catches the time it’s set in. This post, Lost Worlds, from four years ago, suggests I’m picking up on that:

…when I began to read HE Bates, my memories of the town of my birth, Rugby in Warwickshire, became fatally enslaved to Bates’s fictional Evensford. How to free them, except with care & hard work, image by image ? They were far too similar. Black sticks of reeds where the towpath has collapsed into the canal. A dead cat in a gutter in melting snow. The movements of people through streetlight, projected faintly on to the ceilings and upper walls of a bedroom; their laughter. The bang & squeal of trains coupling and decoupling in the night. A constant sense of the dry cold winds of the early part of the year, on building sites, on the corners of the streets down by the railway, under bridges, across pond ice, over the vast empty expanse of the cattle market with its moveable metal dividers. How do you begin to retrieve a landscape you spent so much of your life forgetting ? Not by using satellite maps, that’s for sure. All they record is its absence. To separate Evensford & Rugby, I need a psychic splitter, & it is uncertainty. Evensford is a place certain of its feelings–certain anyway that feelings, whatever turmoil they create, are the point; that even coldness and despair are part of human warmth & hope; that human mess is nothing less than human. I can read that out of the pervasive combination of love & perspective Bates imparts to every story. But everything I felt–everything that was communicated to me–in the very similar social & geographical spaces of postwar Warwickshire was simultaneously clouded and sharpened by anxiety, cancered-up with stealthy growths of alienation.

Though I didn’t read it until the mid-1970s, Love for Lydia trapped me in what’s become a weird, 60-year double loop, a tangle of memory, landscape, politics, emotional politics. I’ve never been clever enough to reason my way out. It sums me up, somehow. Inexplicable.

learning to skate

The first time you read Love for Lydia, you understand those opening scenes in which she learns to skate not just as a metaphor for life, or love, or sex, but as the beginning of a forty page allegorical synopsis of the rest of the novel. You know, somehow, what’s going to happen. Everything is unutterably lyrical but unutterably full of tension. You don’t know quite what you’re being told, but you know you are being told everything. While Lydia learns to skate, you are learning an emotional symbology. Later on you’ll be mapping every single tragic turn on to those frozen marshes, the bitter air, Lydia’s confusion and blunt self-consciousness as it gives way to elation, the great cry, “I can do it!” She can skate. Lydia can skate! “She went forward in a flash of release, suddenly, as everyone does, all alone, clear and confident at last and free.” Lydia can skate, and everything has already started to go wrong…

a curious tale

Poor Souls’ Light event in Birmingham this evening, with Jenn Ashworth and Alison Moore. Decided to read the first twenty minutes of “Animals”. Thought I’d better try that out. Strange to read aloud for the first time something you wrote nearly a decade ago. There’s already something like a dirty window between you and it. You keep thinking, “Why did I write this? Did I write this to be read out loud? Or just for the page?” Then you begin to to remember who you were back then, and the inevitable huge rift opens up between the two of you. There’s a further complication with “Animals”: it’s assembled from so many layers of my own life that reading it is like reading a maze, like trying to interpret your own geological nonconformities and discontinuities. I feel like a Robert Aickman character, looking for Rosamund’s Bower but without any idea what Rosamund’s Bower might be or at what point you might be said to have found it. Serves me right I expect.

what you can expect

Eventually you have to stop using lists of personal objects as indices of alienation and admit instead that they are your objects; that outside of the fiction they have actual emotional value; and that therefore you might have done something unforgivable to your own life, done your life real hurt. Where do you go from there? What can you expect of an admission like that? All you can do is develop a sense of humour.

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