Friday, November 26, 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"Morley once told me that he sacrificed a goat to make the spare part for his broken washing machine arrive sooner from China."

That's the first line of my short story "The Dolphins of Lagos", which has just been published in a gorgeous limited edition of 200 with shiny blue covers by Hugh Frost at Landfill Editions. Buy it here for £4 + P&P. I think it may be the first piece of fiction I've ever written without some sort of forlorn romantic angle, but don't let that put you off: it does have pirates, dolphins, submarines, Xbox games, hoisin sauce and Chatroulette, and it's set in Peckham where I used to live. Also, I don't write many short stories, and this one won't appear in any other form for several years at least, so if you enjoyed Boxer, Beetle and you want to read any more fiction from me before The Teleportation Accident comes out in 2012, this may be almost your only opportunity. (If you didn't, and you don't, then it will still look nice in your house.)
I've just read the sixth issue of The Return of Bruce Wayne, which is the final instalment of the current phase of an epic Batman story that Scottish comics writer Grant Morrison has been telling in serialised form for the past four years. When I included Morrison as a literary influence next to people like David Foster Wallace and Michael Chabon in my recent Guardian interview, I did so very deliberately – although I ingest a lot of superhero comics, Morrison is several echelons above any one else working in that medium at the moment, and the only one who teaches me things about storytelling with every single comic of his that I read. His work on Batman is a daily creative and personal inspiration. And just like Borges or Ballard or Burroughs or Dick or Lovecraft, he's a writer whose imagination produces tremors that ought to be felt far beyond the borders of whatever strange non-genre he inhabits. Which is why it's so frustrating to me that almost no one in this country has heard of him. The problem is, even recommending a Morrison book for a beginner to start with would require several paragraphs of exegesis, and I don't want to write any more about him in this form just yet. But please be aware that next time you see a discussion somewhere about what's exciting in contemporary British fiction, Morrison's inevitable absence from it is – to borrow a significant phrase from his recent Batman comics that means a lot to me but, of course, nothing to any of you – "the hole in things".

Friday, November 12, 2010

I'm very excited to announce that Boxer, Beetle will be published in America in autumn 2011 by Bloomsbury USA.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Some notes on some old films I've seen recently

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

I'd always avoided seeing this film, because I used to cherish Capote's original novella, and I was worried that the film version would turn a story that's supposed to be about friendship into a story that's merely about romance. But it doesn't. It turns it into a story about capitalism. I promise I'm not being perverse when I say the Hepburn Breakfast at Tiffany's seems to me almost indisputably a Marxist work. It is, after all, about the love between a quasi-prostitute and a quasi-gigolo. (2E, the older woman who "keeps" Paul, is nowhere in the novella.) The real clue is that Paul gets the exact same amount of money, $50, for publishing his short story that Holly gets for her "trips to the powder room": in art, sex and all other endeavours, the film argues, we offer ourselves only as products. When Holly's abandoned husband from Texas insists on calling her Lula-Mae, she firmly corrects him that she's not Lula-Mae any more. What she means is that, in Marx's terms, she has passed irreversibly from the old agrarian logic of use value to the new urban logic of exchange value. This is why, when she goes to Tiffany's to cheer herself up, she's not looking hungrily at the jewelry there, she's looking at the price tags. Later in the film, Paul promises to spend $10 on Holly there, and of course they can't get any diamonds for that, but neither of them care – their only aim is to put some money into the system so that they can feel as if they are part of it. (Even this is only possible because they have a strange bonding moment with the shop assistant, not over anything genuinely human, but over a mass-produced toy that comes in a box of popcorn. Commodities can be persuasive in this context, but not their owners.) When Holly and Paul get together at the end of the film, it's only because Holly has just been turned down by José da Silva Pereira, and Paul is now the best deal she can get. "I'd marry you for your money in a minute," she has told him earlier. "Would you marry me for my money?" Paul agrees that he would, and Holly replies: "I guess it's pretty lucky neither of us is rich, huh?"

2. Shogun Assassin (1980)

This is the film from which RZA sampled all that dialogue for GZA's Liquid Swords. It's very entertaining, but what I couldn't stop thinking about was the sound design. It's minimal, disjointed and lo-fi in a way that must surely have been a significant technical influence on RZA's production style. After all, the whole Wu Tang Clan probably watched this about a million times, right?

3. La Règle du Jeu (1939)

Did Henry Green see this film? His novel Loving, which came out six years later, is similar not just on the level of subject matter – country house farce in which aristocrats and servants observe each other's romances with bemusement – but also on the level of method. The way that Green will begin a scene with one pair of characters, let them eavesdrop for a moment on another pair of characters, and use that as a path to move smoothly into a new scene with the second pair, exactly parallels Renoir's famously graceful camera movements in La Règle du Jeu. (The clip I've chosen above doesn't demonstrate this, I just like it a lot.)

4. Rififi (1955)
Joins Le Trou (1960) in the small genre that I'm going to call "French noir films with explicit scenes of criminals chiselling at stone floors without any dialogue for almost unendurable periods of time." I think this may be my favourite of all genres.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

More Lefebvre, this time on a theory of language. As well as Hegel and Bataille he mentions Nietzsche and Blanchot in this connection.

"For [this] view of language... an examination of signs reveals a terrible reality. Whether letters, words, images or sounds, signs are rigid, glacial, and abstract in a peculiarly menacing way. Furthermore, they are harbingers of death. A great portion of their importance lies in the fact that they demonstrate an intimate connection between words and death, between human consciousness and deadly acts: breaking, killing, suicide. In this perspective, all signs are bad signs, threats – and weapons. This accounts for their cryptic nature, and explains why they are liable to be hidden in the depths of grottoes or belong to sorcerors (Georges Bataille evokes Lascaux in this connection). Signs and figures of the invisible threaten the visible world. When associated with weapons, or found amidst weapons, they serve the purposes of the will to power. Written, they serve authority. What are they? They are doubles of things. When they assume the properties of things, when they pass for things, they have the power to move us emotionally, to cause frustrations, to engender neuroses. As replicas capable of disassembling the 'beings' they replicate, they make possible the breaking and destruction of those beings, and hence also their reconstruction in different forms. The power of the sign is thus extended both by the power of knowledge over nature and by the sign's own hegemony over human beings; this capacity of the sign for action embodies what Hegel called 'the terrible power of negativity'. As compared with what is signified, whether a thing or a 'being', whether actual or possible, a sign has a repetitive aspect in that it adds a corresponding representation. Between the signified and the sign there is a mesmerising difference, a deceptive gap: the shift from one to the other seems simple enough, and it is easy for someone who has the words to feel that they possess the things those words refer to. And, indeed, they do possess them up to a certain point – a terrible point. As a vain yet also effective trace, the sign has the power of destruction because it has the power of abstraction – and thus also the power to construct a new world different from nature's initial one. Herein lies the secret of the Logos as foundation of all power and all authority; hence too the growth in Europe of knowledge and technology, industry and imperialism."