the m john harrison blog

Tag: politics

something to remember

Yes, prescription drugs are funded by the UK taxpayer. But this is done according to an allocation of funds determined by us, the voters. The NHS is the vehicle by which we have chosen to have our health services delivered to us. It is not a charity, it is not a gift from government and our prescriptions are not given at Jeremy Hunt’s largesse.

–Ann Robinson, Guardian, today.

age wars

The middle aged–that is, those between about thirty five and fifty years old–are afraid of the way old people view the world. They pretend that this view is a criminal ideology for which they have a fine and organised political contempt. They have a duty to root it out. It is an issue. They also pretend that their own faux juvenility (sustained precariously in the face of first the true juvenility then the growing adulthood of their own children) is less an evasion than a special kind of sensibility, one that has to be fought for and that possesses a high political value. What they’ll feel when they come round to old age themselves, I don’t know; one of the great surprises of being old is that whoever you were back then you’ve seen what happens and you couldn’t care less about it any more. That was the discovery you were so determined not to make when you were middle aged. Now you have, you’re stuck with it and it becomes the foundation of your ideological crime. The thing to do is feel no guilt. Life is a series of narratives–all false–learned then unlearned.

where you really were

Insiders know everything about the thing they’re inside and deny everything that doesn’t suit them about what’s outside it. Contemporary insiderism is stickily mixed up with, and still owes its metaphysical base to, postmodernism: pressured, a contemporary insider is not only able to deny there is an outside, but also that there can ever be an outside. Knowing everything about the thing you’re in brings considerable status, although that’s hard to maintain when the bubble pops and you find out where you really were. The last thing you want to be then is an insider. Two generations have shown themselves this again and again but they won’t grow up and learn it.

Middle class left begins its predictable trudge rightwards under the tattered banner, “After all, it can’t be so bad.” Also, “Let’s get a sense of proportion about this.” Etc etc.

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

a difficult time for everyone

If you’re in London on the evening of the 5th March & you’d like to hear me reading “The Crisis”, leave an email address here, or DM me at @mjohnharrison on Twitter–

Adolescence. West London. You always believed a hidden war was being fought, a war nobody would ever admit to. Lay awake at night, listening to bursts of corporate fireworks that seemed too aggressive to be anything other than a small arms exchange; while by day, ground-attack helicopters clattered suddenly and purposively along the curve of the Thames towards Heathrow. You held your breath in moments of prolonged suspense, imagining the smoke trails of rockets launched from the bed of a builder’s pickup in Richmond or Kingston. These fantasy-engagements, asymmetric and furtive, a kind of secret, personalised Middle East, left you as exhausted as masturbation. There was something narcissistic about them. A decade later, everyone was able to feel a similar confused excitement. With the coming of the iGhetti, everyone had a story to tell but no one could be sure what it was. Information was so hard to come by. Between anecdotal evidence and the spectacular misdirections of the news cycle lay gulfs of supposition, fear, and denial. People didn’t know how to act. One minute they heard the guns, the next they were assured that nothing was happening. One day they were panicking and leaving the city in numbers, the next they were returning but rumour had convinced them to throw their tablet computers in the river. The thing they feared most was contagion. They locked their doors. They severed their broadband connections and tanked their cellars. They avoided a growing list of foods. They clustered round a smartphone every summer evening after dark, eavesdropping on the comings and goings of the local militas as they scoured the railway banks and canalsides for telltale astral jelly. Were the iGhetti here or not? It was a difficult time for everyone.

living in the future

There are futures everywhere. They’re at street corners. They’re waiting between the buildings of an old-fashioned industrial estate, the architecture of which hasn’t changed since the 50s. Or they’re waiting for a train in the middle of the day, in the empty middle of an afternoon, for something important to them but invisible to you. They’re in the provinces. They have a provincial nature, which is also invisible to you. They’re ordinary and self-similar. They’re not transparent. They have clothes, children, a job, or no job. They have ambitions. They’re a gesture, a posture, an item of baggage.

the step-aside

N tells us he is able to step aside from the world.

“It’s a trick I learned early,” he says. He learned by exploiting various childhood states. “Being ill, for instance. Or having your parents die: anything that gives you special privileges in terms of not taking part. Later, as an adult, it’s someone else being ill, but you don’t have to look after them. You don’t have the bore of that, you just have to turn up at the hospital with flowers. Births, marriages and deaths. If you learn to distance yourself from other people’s funerals, you’ll eventually learn how to step aside from your own.”

He believes that anything which reduces guilt or responsibility, the anxiety of having to fit in, can be turned into the ability to step aside.

“I don’t fade, I don’t lose anything. It’s not a question of purchase on things. There doesn’t seem to be a down side.” He smiles ruefully. “On the other hand, it isn’t much good for anything but itself.”

What is the step-aside experience like?

There’s a poverty of interpretation, N believes. “We have the traditional guidelines,” but these allow us to imagine only two possibilities: “a world of your own” in which the detached “you” has agency but which contains no possibility of contact with others; or a world in which everyone else is seen as if through a window, by an individual who has no agency. “It’s as if people can’t think up any other possible way of being. Both states emphasise loss of ‘true’ purpose, human purpose.”

As he speaks we hear his voice fade, as if he’s walking away down a corridor. “But I don’t find it like that at all.”

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.

make u think

Jackdaws bickering in the air in the tall back corner of the house made me think briefly of Ravensdale, a crag with which I was so obsessed in 1977/8 that I gave it a bit-part in A Storm of Wings, that well-known novel of documentary realism. Watching the “Entertaining Angels Unawares” video on YouTube made me feel old, but also made me think briefly of this, from 1991. Meanwhile, I just stumbled across this, from Neel Mukherjee; & “Cave & Julia” has earned some more money on Kindle, making it one of the more economically productive short stories I’ve published (maybe a lesson there). And, describing the people he claims to speak for as convenor of some mythical Tory “trades union”, David Cameron has accidentally used the word “resent” instead of “represent”.

Generally, it’s been a weirdly mixed day. & only half over.

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