TIME FOR LIGHTS OUT, Raymond Briggs

Not sure how I ended up on this particular comps list, but, hey, it’s a new Raymond Briggs, I’m not complaining. A trailblazer and a master.

In his customary pose as the grumpiest of grumpy old men, Raymond Briggs contemplates old age and death… and doesn’t like them much. Illustrated with Briggs’s inimitable pencil drawings, Time for Lights Out is a collection of short pieces, some funny, some melancholy, some remembering his wife who died young, others about the joy of grandchildren, of walking the dog… He looks back at his schooldays and his time as an evacuee during the war, and remembers his parents and the house in which he grew up. But most, like this one, are about his home in Sussex:

Looking round this house,
What will they say,
The future ghosts?

It is a beautiful book, and, on first inspection, performatively melancholy but fiercely alive. He’s 85 now, and if this might be his last book, then it is a fine point on which to sign out and leave the room. And if, as one hopes, it’s not? Then, in these October years, we know that he’s still smiling to himself and still stretching. What a joy to be gifted a new Briggs this season.

TIME FOR LIGHTS OUT (UK) (US)

SCARFOLK ANNUAL

Just arrived today, from writer/designer Richard Littler, the latest SCARFOLK emanation.

Scarfolk is a town in North West England that did not progress beyond 1979. Instead, the entire decade of the 1970s loops ad infinitum. Here in Scarfolk, pagan rituals blend seamlessly with science; hauntology is a compulsory subject at school, and everyone must be in bed by 8pm because they are perpetually running a slight fever. 

I have loved the SCARFOLK work forever, and am delighted to now possess an actual Annual (hardcover Annual books in this style were a mainstay Xmas publishing phenomenon back then). This stuff is always funny, bitter, weird and chilling in equal measure, and never less than witty and wonderful.

Order your own: (UK) (US)

A Christmas necessity. Stand around your burning oil can at Yuletide as you roast some rats and read it to each other over the constant wail of sirens in the distance.

COLD BLOW MARSH, Polly Wright

I am, infamously, Not Good with poetry. But, googling around after falling for the record SING AS THE CROW FLIES by Laura Cannell and Polly Wright, I found this short book of Polly Wright’s poetry, COLD BLOW MARSH.

It arrived as the temperature dropped here, so “Winter, Always Winter” immediately struck a resonant note.

It is gorgeously written, with surprising bursts of humour, and it speaks of places I know. The rusted melancholy of broken microwave ovens laying in fields with their mouths lolling open, old homes being eaten by vines.

Teeth rattle in tobacco tins with rusted corners

she says, and I know exactly what she means. It’s a book of the life of the haunted marshes, the sparse woodlands we throw out old dreams out into, and the sounds of the past whistling through the long grass.

It’s nine quid from this website, and I loved it.

Five Books That Changed Me In One Summer

I must have been around 14.  Rayleigh Library and the Oxfam shop a few doors down the high street from it, which someone was clearly using to pay things forward and warp younger minds. In a single year — may even have been just spring-summer-autumn — these things happened to me:

  • ON THE ROAD, Jack Kerouac.  I wasn’t reading particularly widely at the time, so god knows why I picked it up.  I have a dim recollection of Alan Moore likening Eddie Campbell, whose comics I’d just discovered, to Kerouac.  It may have been the first time that prose spoke to me like music spoke to me.  An album I never wanted to end.  In the next four years I read everything Kerouac in print at the time. (UK) (US)
  • NOVA EXPRESS, William Burroughs.  I was mostly a science fiction reader at the time.  This was exploded science fiction, a league beyond the Philip K. Dick I’d already devoured hundreds of pages of.  I loved, and love, Philip K. Dick, but this was the real unfiltered sound. (UK) (US)
  • A CURE FOR CANCER, Michael Moorcock.  I read this before THE FINAL PROGRAMME, in fact.  And, in a weird way, it let me connect up Kerouac and Burroughs, in that you could fracture narrative and also be of your time and place no matter where it was. (UK) (US)
  • CRASH, JG Ballard.  Which, to me, was the new horror fiction, and talked about landscape and society and change in new and thrillingly relevant ways to a kid who could see, literally week by week, the roads widen and the concrete spill over on to the woodland. (UK) (US)
  • SHIKASTA, Doris Lessing.  Which was like dropping a bomb on the four other books.  That book is so underrated, even today, so misunderstood, with such brilliant, jewelled and incredibly human prose.  Even the pen-portraits therein feel like condensed books, and I would spend minutes staring into space and just thinking after each page. (UK) (US)

(Written 16 March 2015, recovered from morning.computer)

MALIGN VELOCITIES

MALIGN VELOCITIES by Benjamin Noys is a recent work on the subject of accelerationism, a notion whose general thrust is that, in order to achieve the goals of revolution, capitalism should be unchained, turbo-charged, and driven to its natural conclusion so that it explodes and dies. Noys provides an extremely thorough historical context for the idea, and it’s a fascinating deep dive. I lingered on a wonderful bit about the Italian Futurists, which lead me into some memory-refreshment on the Vorticists. There are times, in the early part of the book, where it feels like Noys has some score-settling to do, but it quickly becomes a superb and largely non-technical exp;loration of a very interesting space.  For me, it didn’t sustain towards the end, with a Freudian seizure of a chapter on “anal capitalism” and a tangled final statement, but everything up to that was marvellous.

Accelerationism is, for me, worth studying briefly, as it seems to me to be a response to pervasive capitalism brought on by the mental illnesses that capitalism has induced in people. (Schizophrenia is talked about, a lot, e.g. “in Nietzsche’s ‘schizo’ delirium he announced ‘I am all the names of history’”) Noys himself calls them “the fetishists of capital” at one point, but I have a feeling, and Noys often implies, that it’s a deeper malaise.

Capitalism is lately cast as that Lovecraftian force that some people should not look directly at for fear of going completely mad and being banged up in the Arkham Sanitarium. Maybe meditating upon it as some Dark God From Beyond Space that is crushing the world into new shapes just leads some people to rub their mouths on it and plead for it to go faster. And never stop.

(Also: accelerationism, like speculative realism and its surrounding notions, kind of strikes me as Science Fiction Condition philosophical enterprise. its roots may indeed go back to the 19th Century, but the modern conception is something else.)

MALIGN VELOCITIES, Benjamin Noys (UK) (US)

(originally written 2 Jan 2015, recovered from morning.computer)

LENZ: Early Cosmic Horror

….the heavens were a stupid blue eye…

Wayne Chambliss put me on to Georg Buchner’s LENZ, which I read in its entirely before sleep one night.  Because me smart.

At last it grew dark inside him, he experienced a soft, profound compassion for himself, he wept for himself, his head sank down upon his chest, he went to sleep.

It is a speculation upon the true story of Jakob Lenz, who, having become increasingly “eccentric,” is sent to a rural location by his associate Goethe.  Lenz has a complete mental break.  Buchner imagines that descent into madness.  It feels completely true, and is completely chilling.

In his breast hell was rehearsing a song of triumph.

It’s been described as the beginning of modern prose.  I was aware of Buchner, having discovered DANTON’S DEATH as a teenager, but had never read this. Wayne put me on to it because I’d been talking about cosmic horror and this, to him, had its overtones – perhaps even its original notes.  He was quite right.

Next morning he came down and told Oberlin quite calmly how in the night his mother had appeared to him: dressed in white, she had stepped from the dark churchyard wall, a red and a white rose fastened to her breast; she had sunk down into a corner and slowly the roses had overgrown her – she must surely be dead; he was quite untroubled on that account.

It’s a magnificent act of immersion in an alien mind. It has utter truth.  It has real, human horror – looking out through the eyes of a man losing his mind.  I’ve seen people describe reading it as transformative, and I can see why.

On the morning of the 8th he remained in bed. Oberlin went to see him; he lay there almost naked and was greatly excited. Oberlin wished to cover him, but Lenzcomplained bitterly, saying that all was so heavy, so very heavy! that he did not think he could walk at all, that never before had he felt the immense weight of the air.

LENZ is most readily (and, I think, cheaply) available as part of a collection: (UK) (US)

LANNY, Max Porter: Dead Papa Toothwort Awakens

Dead Papa Toothwort exhales, relaxes, lolls inside the stile, smiles and drinks it in, his English symphony.

LANNY by Max Porter is about England, to be sure.  His awful Dead Papa Toothwort, Green Man and spirit of an English village, could probably be productively read against Rooster Byron in Jez Butterworth’s JERUSALEM, in fact. That earthly, faintly malign, strutting and lolling poisonous Englishness.

Dead Papa Toothwort has seen monks executed on this land, seen witches drowned, seen industrial slaughter of animals, seen men beat each other senseless, seen bodies abused and violated, seen people hurt their closest, harm themselves, plot and worry or panic and rage, and the same can be said of the earth. He has seen the land itself cut apart, its top layer disembowelled, stripped and re-plundered, sliced into tinier pieces by wire, hedges and law. He has seen it poisoned by chemicals. He has seen it outlive its surgeons, worshippers and attackers. It holds firm and survives the village again and again and he loves it. He wouldn’t do well in a wilderness.

Dead Papa Toothwort is the spirit of a rural village which has recently become home to Robert, a financial services worker, Jolie, an ex-actor working on her first novel, and their young son Lanny.  Who is, immediately, of the land, like a bud from Papa Toothwort.  To try and channel his wild dreamy nature, they convince a local artist — known in the village as Mad Pete, a part-retired avant-garde artist of the 20th Century — to give him lessons.  

Dead Papa Toothwort has lessons he wants to teach, too.

Glorious, he sings, as he swings his way back into the woods, flinging himself in thirty-foot arcs between telegraph poles, dressed as a barn owl with car-tyre arms…

Reviews of LANNY alight on different things, I’ve noticed.  It’s a novel of three parts.  The longest, and most enjoyable, is an exploration of spirit and art.  The language is often astonishing, and I recommend it chiefly to swim in Porter’s sentences.  The second part is harrowing.  And the final part is disturbing, and can be characterised as a trial. What do you alight on?  The woman writing a crime novel finds herself living a crime novel?  The moment where hope is punished on the stage? The way the rankness of old England reclaims the wondrous and renders it declawed and quotidian?

It’s about England.  It’s about how cities and towns and villages want to knock the art out of you.  It’s about how you stop listening to the world and start doing what the invisible voices tell you to.

Note: buy this in print, or use something other than a basic Kindle.  It does tricks with word art that an e-ink Kindle can’t render.

LANNY, Max Porter (UK) (US)

LENZ, Georg Büchner



I need to get into the habit of logging book purchases, too. Wayne Chambliss put me on to this.

…the tale of the real-life writer J.M.R. Lenz’s nineteen-day stay in Waldersbach in 1778, describing his wanderings around the mountainous surroundings and his worsening fits of madness, eventually culminating in his removal, under guard, to Strasbourg. Valued both as a chillingly convincing exploration of the reality of paranoid schizophrenia and an influential forerunner of literary modernism…

Sold, right?

(UK) (US edition includes other work)

 

The Miasma

I’m reading FALL, OR DODGE IN HELL by Neal Stephenson this week, and was amused to see characters refer to social media as The Miasma. Maybe a little obvious, but so was that “Dark Forest” piece that was circulating the other week, and the Miasma mixes its metaphors less.

In the early parts, there are cynically-conceived attempts to crash The Miasma – not in an INFINITE DETAILS just-fuck-the-whole-internet way, more like techbro over-engineered GAN-y game-y bot-y ways. Sociocultural accelerationism, basically, where the bad parts are ramped up and overheated until social media crashes into a wall of reality.

It’s not offered as a solution, of course, because this is a piece of fiction. But there does seem a growing sense that fiction should now be the lab for speculative solutions to The Miasma.

Personally, I’m about to declare RSS bankruptcy, edit my subscriptions and start from scratch. If you’re blogging and I know you, please drop me a note so I can make sure I’m following along. Thanks.

FALL, OR DODGE IN HELL, Neal Stephenson (UK) (US)