GNOMON

GNOMON.  Damn. How I do talk about this without spoiling it?

GNOMON is the new book by Nick Harkaway. It’s the best thing he’s ever written and it makes my writing look like the work of a fetal alcohol syndrome case.  You want to know how good GNOMON is?  I hate him for it.  Haaaate.  I had a little hategasm just typing those words.

Imagine a highly-democratised total-surveillance state in the near future.  I mean, extraordinarily fine-grained democratic action by and for the people, which also oversees an utterly transparent national surveillance operation. Refusing to participate will get you noticed. If you refuse an interview on the subject, your mind will be read – a process that is not only painless but also has health benefits!

And then someone dies under the process. An inspector is placed on the case to discover how such a rarity could happen. This involves taking the read into her own head, to relive the interviewee’s experience.

There’s something impossible in the read.  There’s something impossible in the dead woman’s head.

This book has more than one book in it.  It is an astonishing piece of construction, complex and witty and, frankly, evil.  Yes, Nick, I am looking at you right now. There are some downright evil moments in this book.

It’s science fiction, but also historical fiction and social fiction and just plain odd fiction. It is a magnificent achievement and the book everyone will be talking about when it comes out in November. He’s never written a bad book, but this is the one that’ll see him mentioned in the same breath as William Gibson and David Mitchell (CLOUD ATLAS).  Two names I evoke for very specific reasons.

This book seriously just destroyed me with joy.

GNOMON, Nick Harkaway (UK) (US)

Taken from last week’s edition of my newsletter, which you can subscribe to at this link here.

 

 

Some Things, You Don’t Take A Picture Of

I finally saw The Milky Way, the other week.  A bit of it.  I’d never seen it before — never actually seen that many stars at one time before.  The night after, I saw the Northern Lights for the first time.  Well, a bit.  It was white, and dilute.  But clearly there.  The others in my party had seen them the night before.  I’d gone to sleep early and missed them.  The photos the next day were luminous, electric green curtains.  What I saw was more like smoke.  It was still riveting.

The reaction to seeing something extraordinary is always to try and photograph it.  Not least because a photograph will always last longer than memory, and will in fact trigger the deeper experiential record of memory.  But, sometimes?  I almost missed the moment of my daughter’s graduation because the phone camera’s focus weirded out at the last second.

Why bother trying to photograph the Milky Way when I can just lay on my back in a Norwegian forest at night and stare at it until it fills my eyes?

Sometimes, you don’t take the photo.  You just live it.

I am, however, an inveterate plane-window photographer.

JUST ORDERED: AUTONOMOUS, Annalee Newitz (UK) (US)

 

 

Dark Ride

SOME BLEAK CIRCUS.

UNCOVERED, CAREFULLY-CHOSEN, VIVID NIGHT.

IT IS PACKED WITH POSTERITY, SILENT AND EXPECTANT.

POSTERITY IS SILENT, LIKE THE DEAD.

 

Those are the opening lines from ENEMY OF THE STARS, a play written by Wyndham Lewis.  It is supposedly unperformable, and seems in some ways to presage Samuel Beckett’s WAITING FOR GODOT, whose Vladimir and Estragon could even be ragged clowns on the run from Lewis’ bleak circus, as much as they always appear to me to be Laurel and Hardy in Hell.  It’s the crucible of modernism, which we can very loosely describe as the process of making only those things that fit, and speak of, our ever more complex times.  Creating new things for a new world.  Post-modernism, which has probably lasted longer than modernism, is the process of interrogating the aesthetic discourse.  Disrupting the narrative.  Modernism says that things can be right.  Post-modernism says that nothing can be right.  So if you ever wonder why nothing new ever seems to happen any more, find a post-modernist and beat the shit out of then.

I enjoy mentioning that designer and artist Rian Hughes once called me “the last modernist.”  It is, as they say, a dark ride, and silent like the dead.

 

Reading: CANNIBAL METAPHYSICS, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (UK) (US)

Self-consciousness is reached not through confrontation with the other and subsequent self-return but through temporarily occupying, as dramatized by the Tupian cannibalistic sacrificial rituals that this book’s title references, the enemy’s point of view, and seeing “oneself” from there.

 

Box Of Autumn

Took me a full week to fix my sleep pattern after the Norway conference.  Just about back to normal now, and I’m into my simple hermit schedule.  Antipasti and wine in the afternoons at my local place, or walking into town for a cup of bone broth and food shopping. Things that feel like autumn. All the social media is off, nobody can reach me, and in January I start a big job that’ll keep me busy until June.  I watch my global news lists scroll past, and the pretty pictures on Instagram, and stay the hell out of the way. Yesterday I walked around town listening to a Global Dispatches podcast about the Central African Republic.  I’m in Utrecht in a couple of weeks to give a talk.  By next spring I’ll be mad to talk on the internet all day, but right now talking in real rooms and then sitting at my hermit table watching the world through a silent screen feels like the way to go.

Weirdly obsessed with the drinking bowls they served soup in at the Juvet Landscape Hotel. That’s a sign of autumn — bedding in for the winter with all the things that make it go easier.

I’m going out for a walk.  Time for my glass of red wine. If you’re reading this through one of the pipes that lead to my social media accounts, I hope you have a great autumn.

 

>SEN (Home)

Okay, so never fly out of AMS on a Sunday.  Got it.  I need to get me one of those Privium cards to bypass the cattle lines for security. Also, leave early for the airport, because the traffic into Schiphol is fucked.

Also also, eat at Cafe Modern more.  Can’t recommend that place, or the service, enough.  Here was the thing.  I spent a week at the incredible Juvet Landscape Hotel, where the food was magnificent hyperlocal New Nordic, and I may just move there for good one way and you’ll never see me again. But by the time I got to Amsterdam-Noord I was ready for something different to fish and beets. And the set menu featured fish and beets. But it turns out you can say, I don’t want fish or beets, I need meat tonight, and they’ll tweak the plates on the fly.  And I got the most fantastic slices of seared duck with crisped skin.  Amazing food.

Looking forward to being back there. Thanks to Juha and Polina for bringing me over.

 My sleep schedule is shot to shit. I have a lot to process from the last week.

I got given a copy of the book THE NOISE OF BEING while I was in Amsterdam, which you can take a look at over here.

 

AMS

I did my opening sermon for Shadow Channel, the video production course at Sandberg Institute to which I am visiting tutor. Listened to Ash Sarkar be much smarter than me beforehand. My students, a marvellously diverse group, are wonderful humans all, and the extended introductory drinking session was superb. I have great hopes for them, and they are all as curious and hungry and angry as I had hoped.
Amsterdam, which I had never visited before, feels oddly familiar.  The broad low buildings, the little food places and bars slotted between warehouses and wastelands. I could get to like it here. De Ceuvel feels like it could be home base, maybe? I’m back here in January to see what my initiate are making. It may be a start of something new for me, too.
Not so bad.
Time to go home.

AES>AMS

Jumping to Amsterdam today, to commence Shadow Channel on Saturday, a course to which I am a visiting tutor. I am sad to leave Juvet. I could sit outside and watch this view forever. I sleep in a box on the river’s edge, I eat food from the valley, I watch the sun crawl over the mountains and I drink all the coffee on earth because I’m having to wake at the entirely atavistic time of 8am.

Let’s see what’s next.

Someone’s Flying A Drone

I saw the Milky Way last night. A bit of it, anyway. So many stars. I’m in a shallow valley in northern Norway. Someone’s flying a drone overhead, because everyone here is overwhelmed by the loveliness of the place. It’s been years since I’ve seen the mirrored mountain lakes of this region, and I’ve never seen the Milky Way before, not even a bit of it. The air is crisp and scented, the water blue and cold in the way you forget river water is supposed to be. The sun is creeping across the mountains, picking out the gold amongst the green. 
The others just scattered away from the drone. I’m just going to sit up here in the open air with my coffee while they set themselves on fire. Letting the world stop for a bit.

LCY>AMS>AES

Eight months since I’ve been on a plane, more or less. Reeling from barely five hours sleep to make this flight, hoping against hope that I make my connection, facing up to another two hours in a car at the other end, to spend a week in a remote location in conference with a bunch of people I mostly don’t even know. Feels like a leap into the void, but the location is very hermit-friendly.  Travelling without a laptop, which seems almost transgressive these days.

My phone just pinged to let me know my space between flights has just been shaved to an hour. I hate these transient spaces where everything is just probabilities and numbers.  I also hate running across airports.

Going dark. Going up. 

The Flowstate

Writing through the next twelve days before I get on a plane to a private conference in an almost absurdly remote location.  Looking for the flowstate, which is a term I just lifted from Nick Harkaway’s GNOMON, because it fits so well.  In writing, you hope for that magic hour where everything just fits and “all the synchronicities are winking” (that’s from Jamie Delano, I think) and time drops away and it’s just you and the stream of words that are effortless and right and good.

(And then you look at them a day or two later and no, they’re not all good, but that’s okay, because now it’s all out in front of you and you can fix it before anyone else can see it and recognise you for the obvious idiot you are.)

It’s close.  I can feel it.  It better be.  I’m finishing the second volume of the thing below, which has its first volume released next month.

I don’t mind the days of chipping at the rock to find the sculpture hidden inside.  I don’t mind the days of solving problems like a codebreaker, hunched over the notepad and scribbling numbers and maps and arrows. But I want to live in the flowstate.

 

Reading: GNOMON, Nick Harkaway (UK) (US)  It’s an advance copy.  It’s superbly written. I kind of want to kill him.