I am in Hay. The rain is hammering down. I am in the green room yurt, which is filled to the gills with damp philosophers. I am still alive. This may not last. Last night I watched lightning scratch across the sky over the town. I may have to build a boat.
By the time you read this, I’ll be on one of the three trains I have to take to get to Hay-on-Wye, in order to make my third appearance at the How The Light Gets In philosophy festival there. You may ask, how far has Western society fallen, that I would not only be invited to speak at a philosophy festival, but invited back, more than once? Oh, yeah, we are all beyond screwed.
(As is the British rail system – this used to be a two-train journey.)
I am, in fact, in no shape to do this trip. My arse has been in this chair in front of this laptop since Jan 2 and I’ve had maybe three days off since then. Dragging my arse through this country’s broken train system to uncertain accomodation in a flood-prone area on a forecast stormy weekend is not quite what I needed. Still, I can feel several people giving me a hard stare for being a miserable hermit, so let’s give it a go. And if I die in a river on the edge of civilisation it’s your fault. Yes, you.
I’m packing my FIRE HD 8 tablet (UK) (US) because I need to rewatch some work by a director before I get lunch with him on Tuesday. (Hi!) It’s actually a great little portable video device. That and the Kindle Paperwhite are all the tech I’m taking.
Is currently on hiatus until June 4. Because I needed the space in my week that it takes up, and because it was time for one of the periodic pauses I need in order to refigure what it’s for. You can subscribe to it here — please disregard the fact that it’s so basic that Robin Sloan once said it looks like a dark web page. I don’t know how to do proper landing pages.
It goes out on Sundays, currently to some 20,000 people. I presume my mailing list service will implement some crippling GDPR protocol to that at some imminent point and half of those people will go away overnight. But still. For a weekly newsletter written by a fringe-culture hermit author in darkest Essex, that’s not bad. I mean, most of them open it. The 35% of people whose opens don’t register, it turns out, defeat the little pixel-counter by various means. So it has an insane open rate. When I say it goes out to 20,000 people, I mean that almost all of them read it within a couple of weeks.
And it’s mostly me just crapping away about random shit. It’s not often about my work – in fact, it’s so rarely about my work that sometimes readers write to me to tell me that it’s okay if I want to talk about my stuff.
In my head, though, it’s always wanted to be a magazine. A journal. A curation of whatever I’m interested in, in any given moment. I’ve just never had the time to make it that thing — at the end of the week, there’s really been no time for anything but my emptying my head out into the newsletter machine and hitting send. This space was the place I was supposed to empty my unedited brain into. The newsletter was supposed to be broader, more considered, and with more voices than mine.
So this is me committing in public to making that happen. Writing it down makes it true, right?
I’m at warrenellis at gmail if you want to tell me what you want to see.
CURRENTLY READING – ALL GATES OPEN: THE STORY OF CAN, Rob Young & Irmin Schimdt (UK) (US)
The Pandemonium Manifestos… ‘an angry declaration of support for an art of recollection, mysticism, ecstasy, and fantasy. Comprised of absurd and grandiose phrases conjuring up loathsome images, the manifesto employs a language of apocalyptic proportions.’
All Gates Open: The Story of Can, Rob Young and Irmin Schmidt (UK) (US)
Poets are men who refuse to utilize language.
The “engaged” writer knows that words are action. He knows that to reveal is to change and that one can reveal only by planning to change. He has given up the impossible dream of giving an impartial picture of Society and the human condition.
Literature & Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre (UK) (US) (too early in the history of the universe to use “they” instead of “he” apparently)
To make metaphysics out of spoken language is to make language convey what it does not normally convey. That is to use it in a new, exceptional and unusual way, to give it its full, physical shock potential, to split it up and distribute it actively in space, to treat inflections in a completely tangible manner and restore their shattering power and really to manifest something; to turn against language and its basely utilitarian, one might almost say alimentary sources, against its origins as a hunted beast, and finally to consider language in the form of Incantation. This whole active, poetic way of visualizing stage expression leads us to turn away from present-day theatre’s human, psychological meaning and to rediscover a religious, mystical meaning our theatre has forgotten.
The Theatre and Its Double, Antonin Artaud (UK) (US)
Hegel now had just enough to live on, and he wrote to his friend Schelling asking if he could recommend a German city where Hegel could live cheaply – one with a simple local cuisine, a comprehensive library, and ‘ein gutes bier’ (a drinkable draft). At the time Schelling was the precocious star professor of the University of Jena, and he immediately encouraged Hegel to join him. (Unusually for philosophers, it appears that neither of them had good taste in beer. The local beer I tasted in Jena was certainly not in the Bundesliga of Great German Beers. I was later ominously informed that it originated from the local hospice.)
Hegel: Philosophy in an Hour, Paul Strathern (UK) (US)
Note to self: being a man of A Certain Age, do not read Beckett’s KRAPP’S LAST TAPE on your own in the middle of the night again.
Working my way, again, through THE COMPLETE DRAMATIC WORKS OF SAMUEL BECKETT (UK) (US).
I always go back to Beckett. I found WAITING FOR GODOT when I was around twenty years old, and that was it. I continue to learn from him. I’ve never seen Beckett performed, which I guess some people might find odd, but, you know, I never lived in what you might call a cultural hub. I’ve only ever read Beckett. Once, I was too young to do more than admire KRAPP’S LAST TAPE. Then, I was the voice of the younger Krapp on tape. Now I’m Krapp. This is how actors grow up with King Lear. Except that Lear is a lion at bay, and I’m a mad old writer. We have Krapp, instead, with the ghosts of the past and his seventeen copies sold, of which eleven at trade prices.
(“…sometimes one would think you were struggling with a dead language.”)
Never met him. Don’t think I ever spoke to him. We had a few friends in common over the years — once you’ve been doing this job for a while, the degrees of separation between you and the people who made your favourite things decrease quite alarmingly. And APOCALYPSE CULTURE was one of my favourite things, as was CULT RAPTURE. The story going around is that he simply fell over, hit his head and died. This is unfair. If he was going to go, then he should have exploded in a shack on the edge of a volcano, or have been found in a cult compound surrounded by people having sex with cars.
Parfrey was one of the last essential windows into the weird outlying territories of the world before the internet brought it all into our homes. He continued to be a force in bringing fringe literatures out into the light. He made strange-looking choices in his work and his publishing because he was so obviously just so damned curious about the cracks in the planet and the things that lived in them. 61 is no age for the culture to lose him at.
I didn’t know him at all, but he brought me all these gifts, and I’m sad to see him go.
Leaving York shortly. Should be in London in a couple hours, and after I’ve stopped for a drink I’ll be headed back to the Thames Delta. My throat is sore. This is because I sometimes go days without speaking to another person, and then I do something like my Visiting Professor gig here and talk for five or six hours. And the next day my throat is all “what did you do with all the noises I don’t like it any more ”
Hermit life is weird sometimes. Time to go home.
It’s a bright chilly morning. Once again, I’ve seen next to nothing of the town so far. I am out on the hotel balcony with coffee, looking out at the city wall and enough people in waterproofs that I could easily be in Denmark. Which I suppose is apt. Some big Norse beards happening here now, too. I’m here as Visiting Professor to talk about narrative, and York is a place of big old stories.
I might walk the walk later. Get the history under my feet again. Here we go.
Heading up to York this morning, to do my Visiting Professor bit at York St John University. Followed by a murky trail of digital carrier-pigeon shit. Trying to put an artist on a comics series (remarkably hard for me, because I’ve been doing this so long, with so many hiatuses from the medium to write novels and the like, that people either think I’m dead or have never heard of me), dealing with deals, doing show notes and dialogue rewrites… I actually wrote out my Monday, on a private Slack with some other writers, as we like to share the misery. And it was so absurdly full, mostly with things that were not actual writing, that I am oddly glad to be spending time on trains, talking to students, and being nowhere near my desk. Followed all over the country by the electric ghost-pigeons of email and texts.
Yes, I’m a little punchy today. Ghost-pigeons. Fuck. I need some sleep.
I used to have a rule. If Warren has been awake less than three hours, it is Morning, no matter what the time on the clock says. I am returning to this rule, because my sleep schedule is shot. Last night I finished and delivered a script at 145am and my brain was still spinning while I was laying in bed three hours later. And that was after I necked two painkillers to try and switch it off. Today I have to rewrite three episodes of something to take casting into account, as well as try to get my inbox back under 30. There are no mornings. There is simply “when Warren wakes up.” I am 50 now, and working harder than I have in years. I trust I will continue to wake up.
Voice recording schedule notes just arrived. Good morning.