the m john harrison blog

Tag: the Theory Cadre at the Ambiente Hotel

a few ideas

Something by Nicola Hicks. Something by Francis Bacon or Gerhard Richter. A bust of Michel Houllebecq. Busts of Michel Tournier & Ernst Junger, presented in alternate years. This. A bust of Joanne Greenberg. A Bredogue. A bust of Judy Garland. The bronzed baby shoes of Mabel Lucy Atwell. The bronzed baby shoes of the Brothers Quay. The bronzed baby shoes of Hildegard of Bingen. The gilded baby shoes of the One Percent. A rediscovered mural of Bruno Schulz. A perfectly realistic silk poppy. The Tenth Century ceramic icon of St Arethas. A representation on “reclaimed wood” of The Church Not Made With Hands. A large mounted specimen of Fordite. The gilded notebooks of Jan Svankmajer. Every year, in place of an award, a different 1970s performance artist makes eye contact with the winning author while driving a six inch nail through her own hand. Or: a different object is given every year. Or: some years no object is given at all, or the object is given late, or given to the wrong author. Something by Eleanor Crook. The reclaimed notebooks of Mabel Lucy Atwell. The reclaimed notebooks of Dino Buzzati. A signed photograph of Judy Garland. A certificate, signed after a public disagreement, by three of the four award judges. A bust of ST Joshi. No award.

the vacuous-realist image

Alice Finkel writes: “We use the term ‘vacuous-realist’ to describe group photos like these. In a vacuous-realist image, the subjects will always be seen looking, or moving, in different directions. This reveals a startling, hitherto unsuspected lack of coherence to their activities, undercutting our intuitive sense of the structuredness and continuity of human behaviour. But it also enables us to project & manipulate the deep group dynamic.” It’s not possible, Finkel believes, to plan a vacuous-realist shot, “although the accomplished vacuous-realist will have an intuitive grasp of the occasion which might produce one.”


For fun I put some random blog entries through I Write Like, which told me I write like: Jack London, JRR Tolkien, Chuck Palahniuk (twice), Arthur Clarke (for the “Earth Advengers” post), Cory Doctorow, Gertrude Stein, Dan Brown (for the first paragraph of a review of a Peter Ackroyd novel), Ray Bradbury, David Foster Wallace (twice, once for “Keep Smiling With Great Minutes”), and HG Wells. After that, deciding that my samples must have been generally too short to give a consistent result, I tried the whole of “Imaginary Reviews” and got Isaac Asimov; a 4000 word English ghost story, set mainly at the seaside and featuring an ageing middle class woman called Elizabeth, and got Isaac Asimov again; and then “Cave & Julia” & got HG Wells again. For the whole of Empty Space I got Arthur Clarke; but for its final chapter, which ends with that memorable sentence of crawling Cosmic horror, “First she would separate Dominic the pharma from his friends, take him upstairs, and fuck him carefully to a tearful overnight understanding of the life they all led now,” I got HP Lovecraft.

occupant of room 121

Few medical procedures are neccessary to maintain an occupancy once it is established. A bucket of disinfectant every two days, one or two injections of penicillin. The wiring, the other technical procedures, even the selection of the original subject all seem to have a preservative effect. What is meant by this ? Well, not simply that the more durable guests are chosen. In fact the reverse can be said: being chosen actually confers a quality of spiritual endurance the guest may not have possessed in ordinary life. Of course a certain physical toughness is also necessary, and guests can often surprise in that respect. Some won’t survive the first two or three days; those I always recognise, and dispose of quickly. But others seem so frail and last so long.

core membership

(1) R.I. Gaines, a photograph taken in Oaxaca within the last ten years.


A team led by Lisi Fearnall established that the painted image displays “gains & losses of clarity” on a twelve day cycle. (“Though it is always sharper and brighter,” Fearnall reported to a private session of the Steering Committee, “whenever the vehicle is present.” Fearnall, emphasising the complexity of the physics, dismisses the view that R.I. Gaines is actually in the wall.)

& more here.


children welcome

Guests, normally kept in the most humane of conditions elsewhere in the hotel, are sometimes encouraged to leave their quarters and practise their skills in the public areas. They are surprisingly gifted! Talents include karaoke, balancing small items on their edges, and a kind of dance particular to the Midlands. Children are always welcome. Here, two guests can be seen enjoying their liberty in the upstairs back bar on Two for One Tuesday–


Well done!

seasonal greetings

To all our permanent residents, from Alyssia Fignall & the staff at the Ambiente Hotel!


paragraph from a manuscript found in room 121, the Ambiente Hotel

Learn to exactly mimic having written a story, an ageing science fiction hack once advised me: then learn to write a story in a way that exactly mimics having written a different one. Write each separate sentence, paragraph & chapter of every book as if they’re mimicking some other sentence, paragraph or chapter. Soon there’s this odd, constant sense of implication in the text. It seems loaded. It seems like the alienated echo of something else. That something else is your gift to the reader. Your gift to the reader isn’t a lot of words. It’s to have a grasp of syntax & inflexion that lets you load more into the text than it seems to be able to accomodate. He’s dead now of course, his books passed over as ragtime & illiterate, but I’ve taken up where he left off.

the traffic of the spectacular

Narrative structure, AE Fennel has always believed, is the trunk route of the spectacle. Free flow of the spectacular is as neccessary to a well-built secondary world as it is to a well-run modern state. Therefore, in every “story” our ambition should be the calculated failure of service, the single perfect interruption of traffic. “Failing that,” AE advises the Wednesday evening workshop in the refectory of the Ambiente Hotel’s Cultural Wing & Conference Centre, “do at least try to dig a pothole in the road.”


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