the m john harrison blog

Tag: notes

broken circuits

He has two new shoulder joints, an elbow replacement and one wrist that doesn’t articulate. He got that falling off the town Christmas tree one year, while he was setting up the lights. He can still use a screwdriver with that hand. He had bowel cancer, which they fixed, but he thinks his cough is asbestosis. We’ll need a rewire, he says, because we have a lot of rubber in the lighting circuits. You only need to touch that old, perished rubber and you’ll have it flaking off. But he’s optimistic. There’s plenty of good new neoprene in there too. Never anything that can’t be fixed. Can we just unplug the wi-fi router a moment?

anyone know what this is?


Deciduous woodland, by an old railway line. Sorry the picture’s no good.

what it really is

Lots of boxes remain unpacked. Mostly books. Lots of lists with nothing crossed off them, as in “finish painting”. Lots of room for improvement & no money. But apart from some problems with the bathroom plumbing & a recognition that we’d rather romanticised the state of the cellars, it’s been a curiously enjoyable move. I can’t quite believe I’ve been here two weeks. Nothing much has happened except for falling off the kitchen. The sense of transition was experienced at the other end, somehow; it was preemptive. I’ve always wanted to live somewhere old-fashioned, with a black & red tiled hall & a foxglove by the back door. & on the edge of fields & woods. Hawthorn. Dog rose. Weather. So in a way it’s like coming home. Also, I suspect, I’m being reminded of a house I lived in when I was too young to lay down anything that could now be called a memory, a big old terrace in the Midlands. I feel a growing relief to be away from London. But life has this eerie edge of dissociation too, because it really isn’t any of the above things–they’re approximations, metaphors, guesses, passing feelings–& as yet I have no idea what it really is.

note made at night

“The repeated killing of R is leading up to the narrator’s first meeting with him inside the space, clarifying references to their previous penetrations of it. We see some of that as a flashback. (Maybe up to R’s death from the fungal infection?) Anyway, everything is tracking towards a partial reveal which sets up the cyclic nature of the story.” And then: “Don’t forget Isis myth, & The Treasure of the Sierra Madre!”

I am so close to understanding why I wrote that.

the web

Deep cold air. Triangular spiderweb, curved like a sail, attached at two points to the house & at the third to an old dry poppy head in a pot on the balcony. Most of it invisible, but the edges & all the rigging picked out with frost. One patch of frost, about three inches in from the leading edge, minutely cross-hatched in the shape of a section through an ammonite. I can’t see if the spider’s part of that little structure. The effect is of a journey in a different regime to ours. Whatever medium is inflating the sail–whatever medium, conversely, is rushing past it–is not a property of our universe & cannot be defined by our way of relating to things. That’s why we have a duty of care to the spider. She’s sailing into an idea of winter we can’t have. Her perception, acted out as this structure, is a valuable resource. I’ve watched her mother & grandmother make webs there, and their mothers and grandmothers, right back into the historical times. They all built ships but none of them built quite like this.

a world

Clear winter dusk. Trees silhouetted, housefronts held very sharp as if in a jar of waterglass; sound, though, seems muffled, set at a distance. A few kids shouting in the alleys by the railway. The usual helicopter. Critchley the squirrel (“world merely is”) has tapped a source of peanuts & is streaking back & forth across the balcony & up over the roof, in an attempt to harvest the lot before nightfall.


Two houses down they’re having the loft opened up. At present the work is halted by rain. Twin skips lie silent, tightly covered in blue tarpaulin–not to keep them dry but to protect the emptiness which represents their value. Materials are no longer being hauled up from the street. Previously I couldn’t make out much of the work, only hear thuds & shouts, but now that the leaves are off the trees I see scaffolding; the pulley that dangles from it; & a thick, ancient-looking rope swinging against a sky filled then emptied on a regular basis. The scaffold has Victorian values. Gothic and energetic even when it’s out of use, it speaks of the rush to be active that achieves nothing but can’t be argued against. All projects, after all, are inherently good. They are good because they are projects. Business is busyness. Although having your loft opened up is a weirdly old-fashioned improvement, an improvement from an era when people could only afford to build upward: the hot money, the property money–the proper modernity–of West London now resides in domestic bunkers mined deep beneath house & garden.

outside the beauty rooms

Thin wind & grazing sheep. We collect the old key & trudge between drainage channels to the church. It’s colder in than out. Someone has abandoned a black & red umbrella by the font; at the other end, on a windowsill less than five feet from the altar, there are huge fresh roses in a cheap vase. It’s like the window of a pub. (Later I’ll write, “A church like a pub, a pub like a church. Heritage creep,” perhaps a little glib.) Back to the village, where lemon yellow lichen thickens the roof tiles. Outside Serene Hair & Beauty Rooms, someone asks: “When did you last have a new thing ?” I can’t hear the reply, but he goes on quickly, as if he’d anticipated it, as if he doesn’t want an interruption: “& they’re still selling ?” After that it’s something about window dressing & a decorator & I’m unable to context it enough to understand what they’re talking about. As they move away I think I hear him spell out the word “toes”; then recite, “House. Louse. Mouse. Yes, mouth. But touch,” as if he’s giving the other man a lesson in pronunciation. Across the road four or five schoolgirls laugh suddenly at something of their own.

notebook entry 2009

Lee Smolin: The Trouble with Physics, p44: a description of non-background-dependent descriptions. “We no longer have fields moving in a fixed-background geometry. We have a bunch of fields all interacting with one another, all dynamical, all influencing one another…”

Personality generated the same way, as a product of all the interacting systems of a body. Even the context, which seems like a fixed frame, is a process & part of the process. Personality a constantly shifting product of these processes & interactions. Every process is responding to every other one via “rules of engagement” that only apply to that type of transaction. No station-master is needed—or could be developed—to oversee the process. When was the last time you gave an instruction to your liver ? A liver cell knows nothing but how to be a liver cell; its “knowledge” of being a liver cell consists in operating. It never gets instructions from above, from a unifying regulator. It reacts to inputs in ways determined by its own rules. “You” is the second-by-second product of a billion decisions taken second-by-second by thousands of totally autonomous systems. “You” stacks up; it accretes, or agglomerates–but it also falls down and changes and shifts evanescently moment by moment. “You” is a by-product, an artefact of all those processes. You don’t like to be told that. It’s offensive. But once you understand it you understand the evanescence and undependability of a conscious personality.



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