Hauntings are structural. The text is haunted by its own components & haunts them in return, offering an almost constant bait & switch. Eventually every haunting is haunted by another haunting. Every element flips from being a subject to being an object, inviting the reader to view from a sequence of continually refreshed relationships between context and contexted. The background of one scene is the foreground of the next. It is impossible to say, in the illuminated flipbook of the narrative, which is the “character” –the haunted vicar; the moonlit figure crawling across the lawn towards the manse; or the manse itself; or the lawn; or the Church of England; or the cedar trees off at the edge of the picture; or the engraver of the image, who never appears, in fact is never even mentioned anywhere in the fiction and is only present by having once been real and having once engraved a very similar item in what might be called “real” life.
Ben Myers’ grainy, uncompromising, wildly exciting The Gallows Pole, from tiny Northern publisher BlueMoose, wins the Walter Scott Award, 2018. A fortnight or so later, Crudo, Olivia Laing’s “experimental novel about Kathy Acker” becomes a bestseller a week after publication. These are only the most snapshot examples, the most visible evidence. Things are broadening out. A little catch-up is going to have to be played. No one’s claiming the 1980s are finally on their way out; but we have as much right to dream about that as we do about reaching the semifinals of Global Sportsball. So, for all you aspirational writers out there: a big round of the chorus from Eddy & the Hot Rods’ greatest hit again, I think. And, kids, always remember: you are not writing a book. You are in the basement with Tom. You are building your version of Voodoo Larry’s Lead Sled. You need to be able to explain without embarrassment, “I Frenched the headlights.” Understand Voodoo Larry Grobe, you understand The Work, this is a metaphor ok it is what we do.
Found material is a private experience. If I use it I try not to draw narrative conclusions from it. It’s not there to provide “story”. The reader doesn’t need my idea of what happened; I don’t need the reader’s. It would be a crude intrusion into someone else’s fantasies. But there’s more. We both know how interpretations spin away from found material, but we also recognise that choosing one of them breaks “history” out of its quantum state and turns it into a lurching caricature, a bad guess, a sentimentalised drawing of an event in someone else’s life. Found material might be “evidence” –might even be a direct, indexical sign of a thing that happened–but the thing that happened, the life that contained it, can’t be reassembled, or back-engineered into existence. It’s only what it is now: if you try to glue the fragments together with the sentiments “evoked” in you, all you will have is a golem. All you’ve done is bully the mud into a shape that satisfies your needs. But avoid interpretation as determinedly as you can, and you have a metaphor for the way we encounter not just the past but the present. Lives as the most tentative assemblages; interactions in your own life as partially interpretable fragments, fading images, achieving the condition of conversations overheard on the tops of buses, postcards from the past even as they happen.
I saw him too! He was with his cat. The cat–it was white–was keeping three feet ahead and about five to the side, in the angle between the wall and the street. I’m glad you saw them, and especially there. I daydream about the light there this time of year. I can’t quite understand why I’m not there now. It’s an enchanted venue more than any other. You hear the music two streets away. You look up and see soot. A church. Trees, feathered against the sky like something real. The world is just completely perfect, completely completed. The minotaur hides in the maze, the maze hides in itself. Look down at your hands, so cold you can hardly open them. Time to go now, it will all be there for you again tomorrow. It’s a noticeboard with just so much of everything written on it, we must somehow preserve that. We’re brave enough but we have to make such tragic assumptions.
Obviously there should be a place in every town–it’s dark, there’s a steep street, cobbles and shadows; then a corner; a flight of steps, perhaps two; then a single street lamp!–where people are drawn some nights of the year to hear this music played. It’s quite separate from its contemporary origins. You can forget them. You aren’t a child, you can perfectly well strip them away. When you stand there you will. Because it will be repurposing itself in front of you, or–more likely–revealing some purpose it had before there were people, or even the bandoneon, if you can imagine anything that distant. I’m not promising you this–I’m not promising anything–but that’s where it promises itself, and you would be a fool not to go there, however long it takes, & see.
passing the sump, 2017
Some ways of being dead are good, some are not so good, X claimed. But admitting you are dead is generally a good thing. When he first entered the sump he found a layer of dense blue “air” which lay at the midpoint between the ceiling and the floor. While this layer was generally twelve to eighteen inches thick, and in some places could be measured at twenty five inches, it once shrank to a millimetre or two, causing him to choke and panic. It looked & behaved more like a liquid than a gas. How was he to pass it? He began work immediately. For two nights in a row he didn’t sleep at all. For six nights in a row, he dreamed of the wrong thing. For a further fourteen nights in a row he dreamed that his lungs had turned inside out and expressed themselves through his mouth, after the use of a home-made SCUBA device–he had failed to pass the sump in all fourteen cases. For eight nights in a row he didn’t dream, although he woke with memories of something moving in darkness. On the next night he passed the sump, but not in a dream. No equipment was required. He was able to breathe normally.