the m john harrison blog

Tag: media

interesting times

Despite being the definition of selfish, the Tories always know when it’s time to pull together–because if they don’t, nobody will get their snout in the trough. While Labour, despite starting from the assumption that we all should work for the common good, face every crisis by factionalising, falling apart and adamantly refusing to co-operate with one another. This has got to mean something, but I am not clever enough to see what it is. The other noticeable thing about this farrago is explanatory failure. People I admired for their political steadiness reveal themselves to be as changeable–as at a loss and dependent on the gossip of the last minute or two to form a plan–as I am. While outside UKIP and the political journalism industry, you sense, even the bigots no longer know what to think. And of course, everyone’s running for cover in one vomit-inducing fantasyland or another as quickly as they can. In later life, Christopher Isherwood felt it necessary to apologise for manipulating his friends so they made better material for fiction; an entire culture is going to be apologising for itself in a generation’s time.

wild ride

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Trying to read a report on Mars geology while someone listens to weird, honking football commentary in another room. Yada dawah yadda-yadda DI DAH. O Da Da DAH! (Di yadda di dah dah dah.) “This MAHLI image, taken of a shadowed spot on the outcrop, shows that Bardin Bluffs is a pebbly sandstone.” Its DAH its DAH its DAH. “It is gravel-rich, with a sandy matrix and granule- to pebble-sized clasts that are subrounded to rounded in shape.” Di yadda. O WOR WAR, di YAD! [ar for di yad der o no]. “The way that the grains touch each other indicates they were deposited by water.” o gor DI YA! Grains are lumpy and pock-marked, indicating that they collided with each other as they were being transported.” Rhetorics of terror and wonder. Something wonderful, something witheld. Something important and valuable. Puzzles of considerable interest & indeed some small excitement.

All quotes from Emily Lakdawalla, The Planetary Society blog.

into the valley

Everything is uncanny valley at the moment. I have no real idea of the political shape. Things are about to reveal themselves as having gone badly wrong. I’m only certain that while we think we understand what’s happening, we don’t. The descriptive systems we’re used to are about to stop working–they may already have stopped working. I feel the way I did in the mid-to-late ’70s–that the ideas I get for weird fiction understand the political situation better than I do. They have a connection to some great sore lump of political material we’re too rational to see. It’s implied by events, but at the moment we are only looking at the events. Given what happened in the mid-to-late ’70s, I’m not comfortable with this feeling.

who’s the fairest

In every move of the camera, every gesture of the presenter, every line of the script, you receive not what is being communicated but the discussions, arguments and decisions made in the production & directorial meetings. Fiction or nonfiction, what you view isn’t the apparent content, it’s the decisions of the makers expressed as a series of commentaries on the technical constraints & professional choices open to them when making the programme. What is communicated is only an excuse for this commentary, which seems more & more blatant, more & more part of each item. I am not trying to describe the result of ideology here, but the result of a profession’s self-absorption, the insiderism of having a professionalised view. The only trade with more sense of itself as its own subject matter, more awareness of the mirror, is that queen of sciences, politics.

vast pantomimic signage

I’m not in the least convinced by this. “…Scandinavian crime dramas–their dour sensibility chimes soddenly with our rain-soaked souls.” But however hard it tries, the BBC Wallander isn’t Scandi-crime. They’ve got the landscapes right, the photography right, the direction right, the script nearly right. But they can’t do anything about the acting. Branagh can’t leave well enough alone. He cues up the crux of every occasion with his eyes or a gesture, recluttering a clean text with the vast pantomimic signage we associate with British TV drama: “This moment is so important. We are so important: us actors, you viewers, this thing we know.” In Britain our souls aren’t “soaked with rain”, they are bloated with the theatricality of denied entitlement, self pity & –wherever the arts are concerned–mutual congratulation. I’d say “mutual self-congratulation” if that bore examination.

spring cannibalism

I heard an equivalence in tone between the words “the Leveson Inquiry” & Mark Danielewski’s phrase “the Navidson Record”. Instantly, Leveson fell whole into Danielewski’s arid self-flattering maze of layered & ultimately unproductive discourses; while in return the presiding void of House of Leaves gained for a second an authentic horror it hadn’t earned. Then the pair of them rustled, shifted & vanished into one another, cannibalising mutually as they went. Discourse space was empty again & I felt free.

lifestyling gadget earth

This object is rather beautiful. Realised topology. But somehow I can only envisage it as a sort of late 90s techno-pagan toy, a gadgetised Chinese lantern already heading downslope from the sublime to the banal after its fifteen minutes as an expensive Christmas present. & that’s before they crowdsource a way to use it to deliver surveillance. Which reminds me: this. Which is the most frightening: (a) little hummy birds ? (b) that this waffle was written by an adult ? (c) that we live in a world where the words “take-home pitch” have a meaning ? Oh, wow, Darpa will help us spy on everyone else from a distance! With little hummy birds! & bomb them in, what, can I believe this ?, a very short time! Wow, gosh, I have such a crush on the rocket scientist aspirational speaker.

karaoke culture

Karaoke Culture is a sharp piece of commentary. As ever, Ugresic sucks you in with wit & mad charm; cheekily sandbags you with her ability to merge her observations of cultural events, venues & styles; engineers cheerful hit & run connections between media. You think it’s a rat’s nest but it develops a sly inevitable logic, & it’s probably the only way to get away with some of the things she says. Meanwhile, I wonder if this is going to be anything like as sharp & honest as These Foolish Things, the Deborah Moggach novel on which it’s based, a TLS review of which I’ll put up here if I can ever find it again in my own rat’s nest. Thinking about: Shame, which struck me as little more than a dutiful turn round the relevant sections of DSM IV-TR. I like that smelly nourishing suet of dysfunctional & chaotic behaviour, but Shame didn’t seem an especially intense slice.

Sommer, Somerfield, Deakin

John Timberlake recommended Frederick Sommer’s photography & now I’m obsessed by this chicken. Some of John’s own work can be seen here.

Roger Deakin writes on page four of Waterlog (1999):

    “Most of us live in a world where more and more places and things are signposted, labelled, and officially ‘interpreted’. There is something about this that is turning the reality of things into virtual reality. It is the reason why walking and cycling and swimming will always be subversive activities.”

Within a decade, wholly driven by the success of Waterlog, the media cult of “wild swimming” had taken off & was well into the process of commodification & interpretation. Significant points along Deakin’s journey–easily-available pools, beaches & rivers–were becoming stations of the wild swimming cross. You could buy a wild swimming holiday, a score of wild swimming guides & DVDs. Stratification of ambition had set in: some wild swims were clearly wilder than others. Soon you could buy a logbook in which to record your wild swimming ticks. Waterlog abounds in so many sad ironies of this kind I’m not sure I can re-read it. (At date of first publication, he was already wrong about walking & cycling, which had become part of the signposted, packaged & commodified outdoors–the indoor outdoors–long before.)

Finally today, a very short story in the New Weird mode, from an observation of Claire Marshall’s: “It seems darker than other supermarkets.”