the m john harrison blog

Category: lost & found

who’s dead & who’s alive

Disconnected memories. Uncertainty of events and entities in their “relationship” with reality. The author positioned like Maxwell’s demon, feeling able to claim that this is the inside & that is the outside (the conscious & unconscious, the forgotten & remembered, the admissible & the inadmissible). Calculatedly inefficient filters will be placed at points of transition represented as boundaries and edgelands. The hiatus or glitch, the dropped catch or stitch between the living & the written.

london by train…

…that metaphysical condition or stupid limbo which sucks in your life and jellies it and doesn’t get you anywhere, even if you fetch up somewhere in the end–late, full of rage, depressed, encircled by people whose casual shoes cost more than your car. Then the same meeting as you’ve been having the last forty or fifty years, at which you learn that nothing is possible. You’ll wish you never came. Still, you made your choices long ago. You rediscover that by the end of day. You come out the other side. You decide to cope. You even see the advantages–which means you can begin to maximise them, or so you hope. You look up at the How Late Is Your Train indicator. The thing is, you tell yourself, not to wait too long. Wait too long and eventually, if you aren’t careful, you’re going to end up looking really quite threadbare.

tidelines

DSCF5712For years I lived at the edge of the Sea of Artefacts, where great-looking stuff was washed up every day. People came & went: turnover was higher than you’d expect given the relaxed style, the constant good weather, the ease with which some sort of existence could be pursued. The explanation for that was, people took away the first thing they could carry & parlayed it into an income elsewhere. But the hard core of us hung on, out there shine or shine, throwing the small ones back, waiting for an item that would make us think. Our living structures glowed at night a hundred miles up and down the coast, their temporary qualities defining over the years a permanent aesthetic–whitened sticks, mirrors & rags, although to incorporate an Artefact would be considered bad taste as much as bad luck. Back from that, the hinterland was dark, maybe a little more threatening? There was poured cement there, you would have to talk yourself through the bars and blockhouses to get your item out to market.

hastings

Implacable calm of the water. No horizon line. Heat blurs the edges of the air before eight in the morning. Distant objects–hikers on the cliffs, seabirds on the harbour mole–seem too large. Everything like a film, wrapped in cameraman sublime, documentary sublime. Light, silhouettes, warmth like a perfect saturated colour, all at once. South coast as Salton Sea. Wandering dazzled between the net shops and the fish stalls, I read “locally sourced” as “locally soured”; later, have a dream in which I am a painting by Anne Redpath. My whole life has become lodged in a few daisies, some grapes in a bowl. As the dream progresses I’m in more and more paintings. Whole rooms of myself, whole shows, stretch back for years, done out in the chalky greys of degreased paint. All my objects look calm but raw. Everything seems deliberately unfinished, wilfully unseen (or as-yet-unseen). A kind of indoor weathering has taken place on every surface. Every morning the shore is full of toddlers who don’t want to go somewhere. They’re sitting down, they’re kicking their legs, they’re repeating the same couple of words fifteen times in a row. You have to admire their commitment. But eventually even these athletes of the self will find themselves reconciled to the understanding that nothing you want–or don’t want–fits your fantasy of it, leaving you free not to want anything any more.

–reblogged from 2012

speaking of ghosts…

…this notebook entry from 1993, first blogged in 2009, is seeing new traffic:

Ghosts, or fragments of ghosts, phantoms of partial vanished events, appear to have piled up in an old house until its new occupant, A, becomes sensitive to them. She is upset by a particular manifestation. She begins to track it down in local history records, piece it together. With each discovery, more of the apparitions in the house are brought in under the umbrella: everything begins to make sense.

Along with this comes an increased pressure on A to bring peace to the house: she feels that only she can understand what has happened–of course, it mirrors events in her own life–and that only such an understanding can “earth out” the psychic overload in the house. But one piece of the story–its conclusion–is missing: no local record can tell her what happened. She doesn’t know where to dig to find the corpse, the star-crossed lovers, the stolen birthright, or the evil object. A can’t right the wrong.

Balked, she becomes ill. In parallel, the hauntings become more horrific.

Worried all along by A’s skewed relationship to her house and its past, her friend B repeats the local history research, but across the whole life of the house. B discovers that the attempt to find a single historical explanation for the haunting has caused A to conflate events from two thousand years or more of occupation of the ground. The fountain of blood in the cellar comes from a different incident to the repetitive shriek in the attic. She has mistaken medieval manifestations for seventeenth century ones, children for adults, sex for murder, & strung them all together to make a story she cannot quite complete.

Once B has relocated each incident to its proper temporal place, he understands that the hauntings are not motivated. They are fragmentary, palimpsestic, meaningless. They are a record of habitation, not an explanation of the personal lives of particular inhabitants or a message to the future about some injustice so monstrous no one can have peace until it is righted. It is not the responsibility of the living to redress–or even facilitate the redressing–of wrongs in the past. The past is only the past: we do not owe it any guilt, we cannot even recognise anymore what constitutes it. The past is just some decaying, meaningless echoes. When we “learn” from it, all we are doing is rewriting it according to what we need at the time.

As soon as A understands this, she gets well. The hauntings stop. She has laid the past to rest not by understanding it but by consigning it to the past where it belongs.

a story of ghosts

The structure of the story, as it is engaged by the reader, should have a similar effect to that of discovering a puzzling selection of items in a container of unlabelled material from someone else’s life. The end of the story, instead of providing closure, tries to recreate the moment in which some fragments of evidence–which might not actually be evidence–flicker together to suggest the possibility of a pattern that might never have been there anyway. Glimpses of emotional meaning that shift with the light, framed by uncertain nostalgias. The sense of briefly understanding or failing to understand emotional states that you might, anyway, have invented. The aim of the writer is not to become an exhibitor of found objects, but instead to not quite succeed in curating that which might or might not have been there in the first place. There is, obviously, a politics to that. & it always produces, by definition, a story of ghosts, if not an actual ghost story.

mysteries of the houses

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loss lit list

Nostalgia for arrangements of fields. Nostalgia for arrangements of buildings in the corners of fields. Nostalgia for things that can’t stand the sight of one another. Nostalgia for that which is accepted, celebrated and inhabited. Nostalgia for things that remain distinct & visible. Nostalgia for the excitable medium. Nostalgia for the ballistic tradition. Nostalgia for the finished & the unfinished. Trees. Trains. “The hawthorn brides.” A winter funeral in a summer suit. Nostalgia for the passage of life, the deep curve, the sense of it. Nostalgia for things you haven’t yet lost, or barely had.

any port in a storm (2)

Child as audience to parental narrative. The child raised by the parent as witness to the struggle that gave rise to the child. That would include the struggle to sexual maturity; the capture of sex, social space & economic capital from the previous (grandparental) generation; &, especially, the rehearsed mythic structure of the parents’ struggle to make and maintain a relationship.

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