New critical theory/fiction imprint Zero Books now has a blog - and the line-up of its first four books looking extremely impressive. Within the next month will be the publication of Fear of Music, by David Stubbs - easily one of our finest, smartest and most pugilistic music writers, tackling a subject close to my own heart - and Militant Modernism, by Owen Hatherley of Sit Down Man... and The Measures Taken fame, heir apparent to Jonathan Meades and Ian Nairn. Yes, I know, flattery/sycophancy, etc., but the point is that they're both very much worth investing yr pesetas in.
Further joys are expected later in the year from Dominic 'Poetix' Fox, imprint editor Tariq Goddard, Nina Power and Mark 'K-Punk' Fisher.
Oh dear. This is worrying. Or disturbing. Or something else entirely, I'm not really sure. Certainly, it's highly morbid and abnormal.
First of all: I don't think I'm the only one who finds the titles pretty LOLable - something which can, of course, be good, but which the Manics, at their best, were certainly very far from. Moreover, the relentless cold assault that backed up the lyrics of The Holy Bible is very much not what they deliver these days; try to imagine 'The Intense Humming of Evil' backed by rote pub-rock. The fact is that, if the Manics are trying to reclaim the cred they gained from The Holy Bible and Everything Must Go - and the Jenny Saville artwork and contextual framing of the album suggests that's exactly what they're doing (Holy Bible 2: Revenge of the Holy Bible, to steal a joke) - they are pursuing a fool's errand. They are now far too invested in the world, the business of living (hell, Nicky Wire has kids!) to have anything to do with the hopeless misanthropy of that album. It's literally a case of listening to middle-aged men reliving their youth. Moreover, the world is now in an entirely different place: we no longer need assaults on social complacency, but a soundtrack for the dissolution of socially-determined reality. And the ethics of allowing lyrics out into the public domain posthumously
(Also amusing were the comments on the margin: "I'm so upset, I can't go to any of the gigs as I have GCSE exams!" I had no idea that anyone under the age of 30 still followed the Manics these days.)
Mapping the Wasteland
I've been back in Bournemouth nearly two-and-a-half weeks. The most distressing thing about coming back is that absolutely nothing has changed. One might consider this to be a fine attribute in a place one calls home - to find that things are how you left them. With Bournemouth, what it really means is that everything that made me leave in the first place remains: the same hierarchies and prejudices, the uneasy mix of small-town narrowmindedness and aspirational art-think (certain parts of town - The Winchester, 60 Million Postcards, the AIB campus, Dusk Till Dawn - are in fact mini-colonies of Shoreditch), the constant presence of so many no-hopers, and, above all, the topography.
Urban environments are often conceived of topologically, but we experience them - the places we grow up with, grow into - no other way than spatially. And as the years multiply, geography is saturated with memory - with familiarity. Every single bearable route through town I've walked - all its parks, its leafier suburbs, its beachfront paths and clifftops - countless times. Just as it grows increasingly memorialised - with the pleasure, of course, of revisiting those traces each time you come back - it grows increasingly boring. Bournemouth, I considered the other day, never had anything to give me, and still doesn't: the only thing it had to offer was total mental desertification, and nice public gardens (well, a few). Although, leafing through some old files tonight, I found some papers from when I was still in Sixth Form - almost two years ago, now. They were from the Creative Writing group I participated in with a couple of other people; I was the only person to turn up regularly. It was a couple of sheets of poems by John Hughes, the English teacher who convened the group. I remember now how strange it seemed that a teacher should write poetry; and, for that matter, the tone of the poems, the kind of toughened, humane, exploratory feel that I wouldn't find until I read Staying Alive two years later - and began writing poetry again. The habit of riding to and from the school each day, the route, the space around the school (how claustrophobic, positively resonant with the old-boy network, Oxbridge-training air - it should be noted that I got in only because I read Kafka and Nietzsche) is completely engrained in my mind, and bound up with that time. You know what they say about the myth of origins, etc. etc.
We Are The Dead
Still getting aftershocks from the final episode of Red Riding on Thursday. Unsurprised my parents, dedicated viewers of Midsomer Murders and Poirot, were not only uninterested, but entirely unaware of it: Red Riding seems to slip outside of categories of what we refer to as 'crime drama' in this country, simply by virtue of playing the genre better than any of its so-called predecessors. One of the reasons for the feting of David Peace's novels was their perceived distance from the crime genre as such: they were held up more as iron-hard snuff-books, blood-and-guts for the arthouse crowd and politicos; something 'edgy'. Commentators saying this couldn't be more wrong: as Peace himself has argued, the Red Riding books are steeped in pulp, in crime tradition, influenced massively by James Ellroy, Raymond Chandler, George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, and that the genre needn't be ashamed of calling itself what it is: "Crime fiction has both the opportunity and the obligation to be the most political of any writing or any media, crime itself being the most manifest example of the politics of the time". Dealing as it does with the heaviest and most complex of material - life, death, sin, guilt, power - crime fiction and drama has enormous potential for reaching the places even poetry can't enter. Red Riding realised that potential by simply doing Waking The Dead's job, but better.
Most astonishing was the direction, cinematography and camerawork, which was easily the best I've seen in a television production for years. Heavy darkness, bleached-out colours, sudden slashes of light across rooms (as in Edward Dunford's torture sequence in 1974), bizarre focuses, sinister movements along walls, slow motion... by the second half of 1980, it already felt as if the viewer had ploughed stumbled into the heavy atmosphere of a dream, in which every gesture is imbued with a frightening significance (the red-moustached, vested cop, hammer in one hand, wiping a blood-stained hand over his face). It brings out precisely what k-punk discussed here: like Derek Raymond's similarly horrific 'Factory' tetralogy (note confluence: Factory, late 70s, the black and melancholy North), Red Riding is a metaphysical journey through a land of the damned all the more terrible for being the world in which we exist. The elements of fiction in the Red Riding novels are not quite so interesting as the facts, or rather the indistinguishability of the two: the recreation of the Yorkshire Ripper's interrogation is followed by actual footage of Sutcliffe being lead to Leeds central police station; the fictional Claire Strachan is surrounded by a litany of the Ripper's victims. The horrific geography of murder across Yorkshire, the map of taped-off blood-sites we see through Kemplay, Garland and Strachan, was substantially real. In Peace's world, the problem of evil is not one of abstract logic, but one the characters encounter materially, through eviscerated flesh, the inscription of power on the body through torture and rape. As k-punk puts it, we are "simultaneously drawn towards actuality and theology, as if the proximity of the one entailed the other". And if man alone is responsible for what goes on in such a world, there could be no bearing of it, let alone a telling. The increasingly contorted and entangled plot-lines - as if, with the bodies stacking up, it becomes impossible to see what is going on through all the blood - and increasingly murky, oblique and oneiric visual style, seem almost to suggest the characters surrendering their agency to another, impersonal force. The boundaries between the dead and the quick, between the past and the present dissolve: the psychic frantically scratching around on the floor, the visions of 'the others', the home-movie footage of BJ, and the lad himself, coming back to revenge the past...
Nothing Left But The Text
Not often that I get the opportunity to shamelessly promote myself, so I shall enjoy this, though readers averse to such activities are advised to look away now:
First and foremost, the excellent new issue of Horizon Review, capably edited by Jane Holland, is now online. The quality is even higher than the first issue, with poems by Fiona Sampson, Michael McKimm and Daljit Nagra, fascinating interviews and a lovely article by the editor on the linguistic afterlife of Old English. Oh, and a couple of poems by me.
Secondly, the March issue of The Warwick Review, on which I did Student Editor duties, should be out any time now, featuring poetry by George Szirtes (!), and a number of poets paying tribute to octagenarian Peter Porter. And this for only £6.95! (Sorry, rather excitable.) Enquiries about copies and subscriptions should be directed to m.w.hulse (at) warwick.ac.uk
Thirdly, and a bit late, but the new issue of Warwick's own arts publication, tapFactory, is now out, with work by myself and a great many Creative Writing compatriots, all produced in a delightful package, and all for just £1.50. Available from RISE in the Warwick Arts Centre, the the tapFactory facebook group or, sparing that, drop me a line, and I can get you a copy.