By the time you read this, I will be on my way to London to do a podcast interview with The Economist and my friend Kenn Cukier. Because my life is weird sometimes. This is the first of six trips this month, and seven events, which constitutes me being Out In The World again. Also, stupidly, I’ve decided to attempt to write here every day this month. Are we taking odds on how long I last?
One of the trips takes me back to the US, for a private conference, and I’m weirdly nervous about that, even though I’m pretty much at the bottom of the list of people who might get some shit at border control. I naturally assume that I am haunted by Sod’s Law at all times. Interest in travel to the US has apparently slumped by some 18% worldwide? And what with a hard Brexit on the way, it’s starting to feel like the world is closing down a little bit even for people with massive unearned privilege like me. One wonders if the rest of the people like me are noticing, too.
Still. Winter hermitage is over. Time to prep the bags and the tools and take a deep breath and go out into the world to speak and listen and learn.
EDC: Maxpedition TC-9 Pouch (UK) (US)
“The strategic adversary is fascism… the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.” – Michel Foucault
I’m rather enjoying this little thing I picked up from Amazon, THE QUOTABLE FOUCAULT, because I’d never really considered Foucault as an aphoristic writer. Which, you know, I’m not sure he even really was. But this selection of quotes – snappy lines severed from their deep context, of course — is still quite smartly done. “The Strategic Adversary Is Fascism” would go nicely on a mug, even. Which is terribly vulgar, of course, but, Michel, I desire it.
There’s something refreshing in that direct sound coming from the recent past. It rings out over precarity politics and the plight of the yoof wot capital has no use for so the pressures of the world turn them into gurning Milo-bots or whatever we’re supposed to feel sad for fascists about today.
If you’re just discovering this page – every thought here is, as Simon Reynolds used to say, not fully baked. These are all rough, untested and unfinished notes in a journal.
THE QUOTABLE FOUCAULT (UK) (US)
When Apollo 1 caught fire on the launchpad and three astronauts died, there was grief. These were national heroes, risking their lives in pursuit of breakthrough explorations and geopolitical battle.
When SpaceX almost inevitably kills two private space tourists on an over-accelerated full-up launch schedule to send them around the moon like Apollo 8 in 1968, people will just laugh, because those guys were billionaires on a joy ride and nobody’s heroes.
Also, SpaceX have yet to service NASA’s contract with them to ferry live humans to the ISS. Because the reality of private spaceflight is always going to be that new money is sexier than old deals. So, you know, enjoy the fun press releases, but don’t wait around for anything else – especially not what amounts to a period re-enactment.
READING: THE ENDS OF THE WORLD, Danowski et al (UK) (US)
Cosey Fanni Tutti’s new book ART SEX MUSIC just arrived here. You may know her name from Throbbing Gristle, COUM Transmissions, Chris & Cosey or Carter Tutti Void. Cosey has long been one of my favourite artists, and Chris & Cosey have soundtracked much of the last several years for me.
It’s a brick of an autobiography. I’ve spent the last half-hour dipping in and out of it, and it is as I would expect. Warmly conversational, self-reflective, painterly in its observation, and takes no shit whatsoever.
I have a lot of time on trains in March, and I’m probably going to save the book for then, rattling around this strange ageless country with one of its greatest strange ageless artists. Thank you, Cosey.
It’s out in April (UK) and May (US).
ART SEX MUSIC, Cosey Fanni Tutti (UK) (US)
Another turn around the sun. Aside from being barely 95% over this flu bug that’s annihilating the Thames Delta area like the Black fucking Plague, I feel great. I’m massively overworking, everything’s happening at once, the world is on fire and it’s giving me life. I’ve rarely felt so personally positive about an oncoming year and that’s probably because I’ll die before it’s over. The euphoria of the last tour before the funeral – there’s probably a long German word and a FURY ROAD gif for that. I’ve accidentally handrolled my own http://youarelistening.to/ by playing Soma.fm Drone Zone over Bloomberg news.
My social media are either deleted or shut off in some way, but it’s not hermitage, because friends and comrades know how to reach me. I’ve just turned the volume control down on the world, and I focus on other things, in other ways. It brings me peace, and peace brings me clarity, and clarity brings me energy. Good to go.
Another turn around the sun. Forty-nine and counting. Not dead yet.
Reading: DARK MONEY, Jane Mayer (UK) (CA) (US)
That idea crumpled when (Lenin’s) wife reminded him that he would give the game away on any crowded train because he shouted in his sleep. He would have woken an entire carriage, she was certain, with his outbursts, in vernacular but unmistakable Russian, about the perfidies of Kerensky and Miliukov.
LENIN ON THE TRAIN is one of my favourite recent reads.
He toiled in a high-tension frenzy, his stack of books a fortress wall, his pencils sharpened to cruel points.
It is full of wonderful observations, recovered reportage and bon mots. Bons mot?
…German officers, who were said to have taken to soaking suspicious cross-border travellers in chemical baths to find out if there might be concealed writing on their skin…
‘Not one party was preparing for the great upheaval,’ remembered Nikolai Sukhanov, then thirty-five years old and working semi-legally as a socialist and writer. ‘Everyone was dreaming, ruminating, full of foreboding, feeling his way.’
Strongly recommended. Parts of it strongly echo against the walls of the 2010’s. Perhaps not surprising, when a Lenin-admiring political officer sits on the US National Security Council.
…the new wave were shop-floor radicals who wanted more than talk and promises. Younger, more optimistic and often ready for a fight (Colonel Nikitin, the head of Petrograd counter-intelligence, described them as ‘the dregs of the nation’), the new recruits knew little about ideology or the niceties of Zimmerwald internationalism. They joined the Bolshevik Party because it was known to be the most extreme, the party of the dispossessed, the one whose members talked the toughest line.
LENIN ON THE TRAIN, Catherine Merridale (UK) (CA) (US)
And on winter days in Giza, it is often possible to see the sun breaking through the clouds and shining down at the same angle as the pyramids: a stairway to heaven, formed by the rays of the sun on which the king, ‘nimble and wise, could ascend to the indestructible stars.’
From In Search Of The First Civilizations by Michael Wood.
At least one source has the last line as part of an alternate translation of, and I love this terminology, Spell 269 of the Pyramid Texts.
The “indestructible stars” is said to refer to two circumpolar stars, Mizar and Kochab, which, due to their position, seem never to set; and that the angles of pyramids aim at the space they occupy, for it surely had to be heaven.
No matter what happened on Earth, there were still ways to walk on sunlight to the indestructible stars.
Every now and then, some charming soul will attempt to fuck with me by informing me that they’d seen one of my books in a remainders bin, or a discount store, or a charity shop. The intent is apparently to let me know that nobody likes my work and I am a failure.
I smile every time.
I was poor for a long, long time. You know how I bought books? From remainders bins, discount outlets and charity shops. I would never have been able to afford books without those places. I would never have discovered the books that were in fact the most formative in my development as a writer and as a human without those places. Those places are second, third and fourth chances for the right person to find the right book in the right moment.
Those photos of my books on a discount table or an Oxfam spinner give me hope. Bring me full circle. Make me smile.
READING: LENIN ON THE TRAIN, Catherine Merridale (UK) (US)
I need this so much. Mine. I mean, the updated, 2017 version, of course. “…a typewriter, television screens, video recorder and a photocopier from an 1969 exhibition in Hanover, Germany.” I’m vaguely reminded of the setup that the game writer had in Neal Stephenson’s REAMDE. There’s a fascination with the fictional devices and setups that information workers in novels and films have, from Hubertus Bigend’s ghost state to Eric Packer’s seat with Cybersyn-style armrest-screen that shows him things that haven’t happened yet.
Remember when there was enough time and such a lack of pressure in the world that we felt like we could burn hours complaining about how our fictional futures never quite turned up?
I want and crave this thing. It’s the same thing that happened to Ben Hammersley when he saw Stokowski’s desk-trunk. But, to conclude a thought I noted to myself a few weeks back – it’s time to put away the old things, even the old futures.
But god, I need that thing.
The fog is so thick out here you can touch it. It’s like pushing through fine chilled gauze. The air is sweet and soft, and everything beyond the garden fence is an abstract of diffused light and faded charcoals.
I wish it would last for months.
I understand some people still read these notes, and that they comment on social networks. I’m glad you find some pleasure in these little sketches I send to myself, but I’m afraid I don’t see your comments. I’m gone from social media. I like the fog. It’s a quiet life for me. One hopes my remaining acquaintances will stop me before I go full survivalist. I might have been reading about hugelkultur again. I’m wearing an Icelandic wool hoodie, for god’s sake.
I still get broadcast waves. I’m still engaged with the world and learning every day. But I’ve chosen a quiet life in the fog. I leave you to that other world. I like it better where I am.
If you want me, I’m at email@example.com. If you can recommend me ambient or electronic music podcasts, all the better. This is been, for the remaining eight readers of this journal, my reminder for the year that I live in other, more distant spaces now.
READING: LENIN ON THE TRAIN, Catherine Merridale (UK) (US)