‘a great silent beautiful blossom opening up to the economic light’

From M. John Harrison’s ‘Crisis’ in the TLS:

Music came from somewhere at the back of the house, dance hits from the mid-90s. It seemed distant, then someone opened a door onto the terrace. A hot evening, a wedding party. The river stank. Bright flashes in the sky, heavy, muted thuds off in the north around Camden Town. You leaned on the balustrade and stared down into the space between the house and the river, a dark strip of trampled turf – littered with discarded paper plates, beer cans and discarded condoms – where the bride, oblivious to everything but her own happiness, was dancing alone, skipping and spinning, dipping and bending, trailing her arms. It was, depending where you stood, a simple expression of joy or a complex expression of nostalgia for a time when all such moments were fuelled by money, aspiration, and a true, fully functional narcissism, a performative sense of self only hinted at by the Twentieth Century – days when it was still possible to see yourself as a great silent beautiful blossom opening up to the economic light.

Harrison accomplishes something here that recent dystopian fictions have gestured towards but not – to my eye – fully accomplished. It’s one thing to imagine the end of this bubble that we’ve been unsteadily inhabiting for so long, to depict the crash or the crashes and the aftermath. We can imagine the aftermath – what it would be like to inhabit the grimmer quarters of the world that have not been ours. We can imagine what it would be like for ‘all of this to come to an end.’

What has been more difficult, however, is to get a bead on what exactly the ‘this’ is that may be about to end, that is in the process of ending. We have danced, we have blossomed to the economic light. But we have not been able to name, to describe, the nature of that light – the unnaturalness of that radiance – or the music that the bride is hearing (something like ‘dance hits from the mid-90s’ but also something else too…)

As Agamben has it in The Coming Community:

But the absurdity of individual existence, inherited from the subbase of nihilism, has become in the meantime so senseless that it has lost all pathos and been transformed, brought out into the open, into an everyday exhibition: Nothing resembles the life of this new humanity more than advertising footage from which every trace of the advertised product has been wiped out.

The ads continue to run without any reference to the product for sale, the service to be tendered, and we continue to act them out anticipating the tag-line, the title and tariff, the terms and conditions…

how to make the parochial reverberate

Interesting moment in this Paris Review interview with Ishiguro, and one that speaks to a question that I’m sure I’m not alone in having. Namely, why exactly it is that doing a pseudo-pontilist autofictional of quotidian life in North London (or Brooklyn, or Northern New Jersey, or wherever it woud be that I’d live now were I still over there) wouldn’t work in the same way that Knausgård’s rendition of the same sort of thing in Norway and Sweden does (adjusting, of course, for compositional ability and the like).


Is that when you began writing A Pale View of Hills


Yes, and Robert McCrum at Faber gave me my first advance so that I could finish it. I had started a story set in a Cornish town about a young woman with a disturbed child, who had a murky background. I had it in my mind that this woman would alternate between saying, I’m going to devote myself to the child, and, I’ve fallen in love with this man and this child is a nuisance. I’d met many people like this when I was working with the homeless. But when I got this tremendous response to the Japanese short story from my classmates, I went back and looked at the story set in Cornwall. I realized that if I told this story in terms of Japan, everything that looked parochial and small would reverberate.

The truth is, strangely enough, that Norway is just far enough away – and, luckily, a place very few of us in Anglo-America have visited – to allow for a certain micro-verberation, a little hum underneath the ordinary. Berlin wouldn’t have worked, nor would Rome. Ferrante’s Naples works for a related, if slight different reason… On the other hand, would we feel a work to fit into this incipient tradition if it was more exotic than these – would it tilt into auto-ethnography?