Apocalypse, now.

You are not alone. Don’t fool yourself.

Even when you are on your own, your data surrounds you, a sort of diffuse golden haze that is picked up by electronic devices and relayed to busy people in offices, who file it away. That is to say, it is stored on a computer. It is zipped, it is compressed. The world is perceptibly warming. Eventually, after a certain amount of non-geological time, this data reaches a state in which it can be manipulated without risk of destabilisation.  Homogenised.  The office is a hive of activity. (Aren’t they all?) You’ll be reborn as pure information. Isomorphic. Same as everyone else.

This place is a hothouse. Condensation gathers at the edges of windows. I swear you can hear the plants growing in their stalls. The girl on reception is getting nervous. She drinks constantly. Only water, but there’s a bitterness in the air like gin.

Some time last week David flung back his chair from his desk, reached into his jacket and shot a flare straight through the roof.  Glass shattered, I could see smoke against the sky. Nobody moved. It burst in a garish shower of scarlet and lime. Gunpowder and treason. Help, he shouted before he was escorted off the premises. Remember, remember. The next morning the skylight had been repaired.

The last glacier has melted. Here today, gone tomorrow. At least, says my manager, at least we’ve still got each other.

The city smells of tar and guttersmoke.

Today the sun didn’t set.

On headphones & ‘Distant Lights’

Distant Lights, Burial

There are certain moonstruck streets along which it seems necessary to plug yourself in, to have music with you. Walking through the murmur of cars and far-off drunken shrieks and past kebab shops brimming with light, it is as though these things require it of you. It is as though they implore it. And so from inside your coat pocket you remove your music player and your headphones – tangled, always – and after a short pause to consider the sounds you are about to shut out, the real world you are about lose, you plug yourself in.

As you walk now down the same street, the whole district has changed. A quiet wind has risen. Distant lights are charged with an unfamiliar energy. You catch your coat on a fence, the trees roadside are moving with a sort of controlled mania, the shadows around you seem longer. In fact everything now seems subtly disposed towards your mood, and you are jittery, caffeinated, you are an artist about to start a painting or a climber on the first hard move of a long climb. The street also seems lengthened, and anything which before appeared mundane, everyday, now seems directed towards some secret purpose. As you walk though the occasional patch of light thrown down by a streetlamp it is as if you are crossing a spot-lit stage, and the people watching you are momentarily stunned to see an actor appear, then as you lurch out of the light there is a low rumble of discontent, building steadily to an insistent buzz, which disperses only when you find yourself at a street crossing and stop to wait for cars to pass in a deadened blitz of light and muffled sound.

There is it seems a theatricality to this street of yours. The music in your head describes it.

The Improbability of Flight

There is something absurd in a jet taking off. Clumsy. Touching, almost. Like watching a swan try to swim backwards.

That first moment when the plane sweeps around, wingtip pointing down or up,  and you check whether you’re falling and you’re not.

Your porthole fills with clouds. Sculpted cirrus fronds. Huge cumulus waves. Moonfluff, raindance, skyscrape.

Through, to the sunswept glacier above, gilded porcelain or ivory. Lilac, grey, and arctic white. It moves of course, silently, and breaks apart.

Nosing down. The jet rips into soft belly, gathers the rain to itself and leaves, leftover cloud trailing like a sigh.

And here is the world. Greyer, is your first thought. And browner, though unchanged really.

Scored with lines, gridded, on second thought. Imagine in the airtower the jet moving like a chess piece, square by square. Blip, blip. Check.

Get some perspective. Down here, all lines travel invariably to a single vanishing point, it’s a matter of calculation, triangulation, and hard data.

Land bound. Auto-pilot on, landing gear out; the mechanical groan, the internal groan. Nearly there.

Touch down. But first that bounce, its sly intimation of anti-gravity, and the urge to leave again, quickly, to fly off before the weight of it is inescapable.

Impossible, after all, to never come back. Land-bound, unchanged really, you check whether you’re falling but you’re not. Clumsy. Touching, almost.

On Espionage, and other Notes

I

Espionage catches part of the essence of reading. Readership is an exercise in the dark arts of diplomacy: on the one hand, the controlling hand of the author; and on the other the reader as undercover agent, sabateour, loose cannon. Reading is in some sense an incursion into a territory representing the interests of the writer. Crucially, this is a space in which we, the readers, can bring some imaginative influence to bear.

II

Control of the passes was, he saw, the key
To this new district, but who would get it?
He, the trained spy, had walked into the trap
For a bogus guide, seduced by the old tricks.

III

The reader as amateur cryptographer, intercepting rogue signals; the pages of the book strung with telephone lines, and in the air the ancient chatter of the telegraph, the blink of morse at sea, the underground flicker of data sped through wires, silently.

IV

There is also secrecy: the loneliness of the author is entirely commensurate to the silence of the reader.

V

The street is grey in the twilight. You are alone but for the wind in the elms.

A curtain twitches.

On Coleridge; or, Solitude.

 
The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet’s cry
Came loud —and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
‘Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams!

—————————–From ‘Frost at Midnight’

I am sitting, laptop open, to let the false moon of the screen perform its secret ministry. The windowed world darkens. A skateboarder floats by, unhelped by any wind, turning grit underwheel;  twilight unravels its silks noiselessly, and all the silent mouthings of the street accrue. A sign above a dark doorway pulses in neon – blue! – and then again, blue as before. All the inmates of my head have left me to my solitude.

I have been reading Richard Holmes’ biography of Coleridge, Early Visions, which follows the great man through precocious youth into frustrated adulthood. It’s a sympathetic, reassuringly complicated account of a man whose genius never quite overcame his dreaminess. Coleridge wrote most of his really important poems while still young, in short bursts of intense creativity which punctatued much longer periods of indecision, prevarication or mute incapacity.

The poet is presented in such a humane way that it is impossible not to like him. Holmes’ Coleridge is a tragi-comic character, a mess of contradictions, gregarious yet lonely, worldly, earnest,  often incredibly naive: a silly genius. He is something of an exile and a wanderer, not really ever bedding down or settling in, never quite ready to commit. And yet he feels a profound sense of vocation as a poet, and a spiritual longing for resolution as a man. One gets the impression of someone who feels, who deeply feels, the horror and the joy of living. Perhaps this depth of feeling is the key to his famously addictive personality, the attraction being to both poles at once, to the extremeties, anywhere where the air is thinner and more intoxicating.

Early Visions is the first volume of a biography in two parts (I’m now onto the second, Darker Reflections), and is most compelling as Holmes tries to follow Coleridge’s reluctant slide from adolescent daydreams into adult responsibilities, mostly because of the difficulties this presents the biographer. The temptation is to expunge complexity, to order and standardise, and to build a pleasingly symmetrical subject: Holmes is, more often than not, alive to the danger. In truth, I’ve never understood the taxonomy of growing up. It doesn’t seem to me as easy as shedding one skin for another: I still blunder about like an adolescent most of the time. Likewise, Coleridge periodically emerges as a new man – revolutionary, public speaker, itinerant scholar, father – but in reality flickers between these roles without ever fully acheiving his ambitions or satisfying his sense of duty. He falls in and out of love with women, with places, and with ideas. He makes friends and estranges them. He is, in other words, a quite exemplary human being.

One of the most seductive properties of any biography is its offer of evidence and data in order that we might dissect a life.  Lay yourself on the table Mr Coleridge, drowsy sir, and let us get to the bottom of this. And yet just as we cannot ever reach the solitude in the centre of a person by cutting him up, we must accept that dates are no more compelling witnesses to a life than a few airborne flakes of dust in the corridor are to the last words of a conversation. In the end, the most fascinating thing about Coleridge, lost poet, is that he is as unknowable as any of us, and that we will never know his passions or his fears, his abstruser musings, just as you will never know mine. We will all of us live and die in strange and extreme silence, inaudible as dreams.

Shortly I’ll have reviews on here of The Leopard, Wonderboys and Pincher Martin. The latter is quite unbelievably good.

And here’s a link to my diary of life as a marooned graduate, working in a call centre. I have given it the apt (if rather ungainly) title ‘This is my substitute for pistol and ball’, a quote taken from the opening of Moby Dick which expresses the all too familiar frustration of pseudo-employment in the service sector. The blog is an attempt to ward off what seems at the moment to be the inevitable onset of depression. Call me Ishmael. All landsmen dream of the sea.

Blue in Green



(a poem written in 5:37)

Blown rain,
slow curving
descent,
dark over silver
stippled street
the horned moon
blares.