Thursday, 30 November 2006

Three days of constant rain

The sound of water pouring ceaselessly from a drainpipe onto the flags of the pavement: an endless sheet of silk being continuously ripped in two.

Wednesday, 29 November 2006

Northern Lights

There’s always a scene in an 'Invisible Man' drama where the invisible character is splashed with something—water, paint, rainfall—and his limbs and position become suddenly apparent to us. Before we weren’t sure, but this adhering stuff shows us the truth. And that’s precisely what’s so striking about the northern lights. A bucketful of light thrown by the sun that makes visible the invisible shape of the earth’s own magnetosphere. And what is the shape? Blankets. Blankets, folded and enveloping. That’s the true but invisible nature of our magnetosphere. Is there a cosier notion?

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

Turner’s ‘Rain, Steam and Speed’ (1844)

It’s only the title that fools us into thinking this painting has anything at all to do with velocity. Look at it again; those expert musses and swirls, the umbers and browns, the yellows and reds, that perfectly poised composition: it rises above and bears down upon the al-Hajar-ul-Aswad solidity of a black train engine that is very obviously motionless, stalled by the storm upon the bridge. Not even the hare is running.

Monday, 27 November 2006

The very process of writing

Writing, I have found, is a process of technically controlled self-distraction. In my case it involves the cultivation of a writing state: loud music through headphones, strong coffee through the mouth and into the bloodstream, an absorption in the mere process of tapping at a keyboard that it would not be wholly wrongheaded to call trance-like. Naturally a writer must maintain some degree of rational and intellectual control over what he or she is writing, but I prefer to favour the absence-seizure model of first draft writing, and to bring in Enlightenment Reason to judge the rewrites, the second and third drafts, the reconsiderations. The damage it can do, at this secondary stage, being limited, you see. No writer wants to produce mere splurge, of course. But no writer, I would submit, can write with somebody staring hard at them whilst they write, even (no: especially) if that person is themselves. You get self-conscious. You get embarrassed. The words come awkwardly, or stop coming at all. You feel like shouting ‘leave me alone! Get out of my study! You’re putting me off!’

Sunday, 26 November 2006

Pure love

What if the only pure love were the love that does not reveal itself? Would that say more about love, or about purity?

Saturday, 25 November 2006

A Skeleton in Black Rags

Newness is always coming into time. And death is always a novelty, of the most unexpected sort. It's odd, then, that death always feels to us like the oldest of the old, like something that entered human affairs at the very beginning of time and has aged pitilessly since then. In fact, in life, our dying begins once our genes have passed on, like the rats leaving the clipper. Really the figure of death should be emblematised as a naked new-born babe, and not that skeleton in black rags.

Friday, 24 November 2006


Fielding says somewhere that Hunger is a better appetiser than a French Chef. He could have added that Greed is a better appetiser even than Hunger, for the greedy man does not feel that painful stretching of his stomach that even a few mouthfuls inflicts on the starving. And because Greed is satiety-as-insufficiency, we can say that Satiety, as a state of being-in-the-world, is really the best appetiser of all. Hence, modern American obesity.

Thursday, 23 November 2006

Two Uzès poems

Uzès I: Gauze

Mistral in the one big tree
blows like rushing water.
Sunlight shares out sky and clouds.

Water can be found in the sky;
and air underground. All
things blended. So: gauze

is half cloth and half atmosphere
each woven in the other; like
lungs stitching air into blood.

Uzès II: Zest

Sunwebs on the swimmingpool floor
shudder as if blown by
underwater breezes. Dive into

the shimmer net; you won't
snag in its mesh.
Because light is atoms,

as water is, as stone,
White atoms. A fictitious cleanness
here washed doubly clean.

Out she climbs from the pool,
dripping on hot stone flags,
the sound of fat frying.

Zest. The sun’s
glare. Chlorine in my eyes,
the white rush of the wind

rummaging in the leaves of the
fat-headed sycamores, making a noise
exactly like a shower of rain.

Wednesday, 22 November 2006

Rings and torcs

It’s not our clever brains but our clever hands that make us human. Our distinctiveness is really not in ratiocination but in those abilities of creative manipulation of which no other animal is capable. This is why the finger ring will always carry much greater symbolic weight than the torc.

Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Johnson said

Johnson said ‘No man is a hypocrite in his pleasures.’ This may be the most wrongheaded thing Johnson ever said. I used to think it was, perhaps, half-wrongheaded: that a man might find hypocritical pleasure in Wagner in public, for the benefit of those he hoped to impress, and thereby for his own benefit, though he would still go home to his solitary domicile and his Easy Listening CDs. In other words I used to think that taste is, in large part defined by the movement from ego to Other and that it therefore necessarily encompasses both. But things are, I think, more complex than that.

It occurs to me now that in fact we can only gauge what our pleasures are by apprehending other peoples’ pleasures. The pleasure of others, for the various ways we construe that term ‘pleasure’, determines and shapes our pleasure. We sexually desire those who shape our sexual desire. We admire the art that is admirable by the standards of others (‘I don’t know much about art, but I know what others like …’). There aren’t any other standards for us to apply. In the sense that we all own enjoyments that are not actually ours, we are nothing but hypocrites in our pleasures.

Johnson also said ‘he who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man’ Thus the drunk, the crack-addict, the lecher and the sadist are all hoping for solace in their beastly life-projects. But these passtimes are quite alien to beasts (a lecherous beast? A drunk beast? A sadistic beast?). To say this is not to assert any animal-lib moral superiority of beasts over people; quite the reverse. It’s not that beasts are incapable of selfish self-indulgence: patently, they are – there’s nothing so gluttonous as a pampered dog. Rather it is to say that to live as a beast is to inhabit their moment-to-moment immersion in mortality, and that’s precisely where the pain of being a man inheres. Beasts do not need to rid themselves of the pain of being beasts because that’s not the shape of beastly consciousness; but men who method-act beastiality can never do other than throw into horrible relief their own self-conscious humanity. If you live moment by moment then death is only ever a moment away. It's that moment-ness that narcotics and fantasy are there to obscure.

Monday, 20 November 2006

Bloggers’ ambition

They (hard, somehow, for me to say we; although ‘we’ is of course the truth of it, now) adhere to two main models. Theirs, ours, is either the ambition to write a public version of the private diary in which the world can find fascination and intimacy in the trivia of their everyday lives; or theirs-ours is the ambition to write, in effect, a twenty-first century Minima Moralia. Or perhaps a twenty-first century Negative Dialectics, although they (we) ought to have learnt by now that "nobody wants to read overlong blog entries." Time, gentlemen, gentlewomen, time! Please!

Sunday, 19 November 2006

Three questions, answers

A: What’s it like being old?
B: Like being young, only less so.

A: What’s it like being dead?
B: Like being alive, only much less so.

A: So, what’s it like being you?
B: Exactly like being you. Not less so, just so, You can understand what I mean, can’t you?

Saturday, 18 November 2006

Nineteenth-century Photography

To spend even a short time amongst the vast, mostly uncatalogued resources of nineteenth-century photographs in the British Library is to realise something important about the mentality of early photographers; and therefore about people who take photographs as a whole. I want to put aside, for a moment, the very many portraits that were snapped in this era, people in their Sunday best standing stiffly before painted screens or alongside potplants. I want, instead, to talk about photographs of the nineteenth-century city. What we would like, of course, as twenty-first century voyeurs, are: snaps of ordinary Victorian existence; of slums and thoroughfares, of horses and shops, the mundane clutter of London life, all the things that were so comprehensively swept away by the Blitz. We very rarely get this. Instead we find endless numbers of photographs of: Saint Paul’s Cathedral; Westminster Abbey; Cleopatra’s needle; the Houses of Parliament. And here’s the thing: they look exactly as the same then as now. These are monuments that people have spent, and continue to spend, a deal of time and effort preserving from decay. What this means is that Victorian snappers did not photograph for the benefit of posterity, even though they often talked precisely as if they did. A moment’s thought would have been enough to persuade them: it is likely that the dome of St Pauls will still be standing a century and a half hence; but these slums, those beggars, they will likely have passed away. No: the Victorians photographed for themselves, to reinforce the public discourses of ‘significance’ and ‘importance’ (why photograph an unimportant building, when a great cathedral is just around the corner?)

Photography is not a record, except of one thing: the photographer’s proximity to the photographed edifice. Hence the passion, which still endures today, for photographing the much-photographed (as if the world really needs another image of the Taj Mahal, or New York’s ground zero). The photograph is a flat icon of ‘I was there’-ness, and in the overwhelming majority of cases it’s nothing more than that. And we don’t want to say ‘I was there next to triviality.’ We want to try and appropriate, by the magical osmosis of proximity, greatness.

Friday, 17 November 2006

The Earthquake God Speaks

And it is also creative, this mad
Restlessness of men.
I shudder down their cities;
They build them up again.

Thursday, 16 November 2006


Who am I? I’m a writer. I write: science fiction; parodies; criticism and reviews; bits and pieces; this and that. You read that right: both this and that. No end to my talents, you see.

So … a blog? There are already sixty million blogs. Does the world need a new one? No.

More, I already contribute to a group-blog, at The Valve. But that’s a place for discussion of literary, cultural or philosophical matters. That’s what I do there; and it’s a very good venue for that. I have also already got a personal website. But that’s a place to post information about my publications, and my writing. So what’s this blog for?

This blog is other material. I’ll try and post every day, and in what I post I will make no aim (as I do in most of the other things I write) to please others. I will try to avoid posting diary style chatter, or to give away too much about my personal life; there’s enough about that on those other two sites. This will be user unfriendly stuff. This will be a semianonymous space; because, after all, a crowd of sixty million is a very good place to hide indeed. If people find out about this blog, let along start reading it and linking to it, then it will have failed.

That’s as far as I’ll go along the road of manifesto: this single criterion of failure. And now that I come to think of it, maybe it’s really what’s going on here. That’s what the AR project amounts to: the mapping of small-scale and unimportant failure.

Off we go then.