Tuesday, December 28, 2010

In Paul Collins' delightful Banvard's Folly I have just come across the story of Victorian inventor Henry Bessemer, who went to great lengths to protect his steam-powered machine for the manufacture of cheap bronze powder from industrial espionage. It's like something from Pynchon! From his memoirs:

'Up to this juncture the details of my invention and the nature of the several machines used in the process were an absolute secret, and I feared to patent these inventions: firstly, because they might be modified or improved by others, but chiefly because secret machinery could be erected abroad, and the article smuggled into this country without fear of detection, because powder cannot be identified as having been made by any special machinery. Thus, a patent would have afforded no protection whatever to me. Then came the difficult question of continued secrecy; there were powerful machines of many tons in weight to be made; some of them were necessarily very complicated, and somebody must know for whom they were. The result of a review of all these difficulties was this:

Firstly, we both agreed that if brass were still to be sold at a higher price than silver, it would be impossible for us to maintain this price if all the details of my system were shown and described in a patent blue-book, which anyone could buy for six pence. This fact absolutely decided me not to patent the invention.

Secondly, how could we trust workpeople who could have a thousand pounds or so given them at any time for an hour or two's talk with a rival manufacturer? This difficulty we proposed to meet by engaging, at high salaries, my wife's three young brothers, on whom we felt we could entirely rely; so this point was satisfactorily arranged.

Thirdly, how about making these massive machines? What engineers could we trust? -- for any engineer must have such work done in his workshops open to the eyes of all his men.

Fortunately, here I was enabled to step in.I could undertake personally to make, not only all the general plans, but also each of the working drawings, to a large scale, for each of the machines required; and when I had thus devised and settled every machine as a whole, I undertook to dissect it and make separate drawings of each part, accurately figured for dimensions, and to take these separate parts of the several machines and get them made: some in Manchester, some in Glasgow, some in Liverpool, and some in London, so that no engineer could ever guess what these parts of machines were intended to be used for. Of course, I was able to undertake the proper fitting together of all these detached parts after they had arrived in London[...]

After much personal labour and study, this part of the undertaking was accomplished, and the making of all the machines was commenced. Meanwhile, I sought for quiet, unobtrusive premises, with sufficient land to build a factory and engine-house, and on which there was also a dwelling-house for myself and family: for such premises must not be left unguarded either by day or night. In the quiet suburb of St. Pancras I found just what I wanted, viz., an old-fashioned, unostentatious, but comfortable house, lying some distance back from the high road, and having a large garden in the rear. Such was old "Baxter House," the scene of so many experiments, and the birthplace of several entirely new manufactures.

The ground for the factory having been chosen, and a long lease of the premises obtained, I had next to plan the necessary buildings. One or two cardinal points were first determined. A substantial wall was to separate the engine and boiler-house from the factory proper, into which the engine-driver could have no access or connection whatever, except in so far that the shafting from the 20 horse-power engine passed through a stuffing-box in the wall of separation. Access to the engine-house and coal-store was confined to a back entrance leading into another street.

The factory proper was to have but one external door, opening into a large hall, from which all the other rooms were separated by locked doors; there were no windows, except to this one outer room, all light being obtained by means of double skylights, through which no one could look; and these were further secured by impregnable inside sliding shutters. Adjoining the entrance-hall was a washing and dressing-room, as a change of clothes on going in and coming out was imperative.

Then came other important provisions rendered necessary by the fact that the machinery was massive and very heavy, and no labourers or other workmen could be admitted to assist in putting it together and erecting it in its destined place. Concrete foundations and iron bed-plates had been put in wherever necessary, with bolts inserted therein corresponding with bolt-holes in the machine framing then being made. Heavy beams were fixed on the walls crossing over the several places where the weighty machines were to be erected, each beam having stout eye-bolts inserted in it for the purpose of attaching a block-and-tackle for hoisting. In order to facilitate the erection of all this machinery by myself and my three unpractised assistants, I had so divided the large frame castings that no single piece would weigh over ten or fifteen hundredweight.

All the smaller shafts and driving-drums were put in place, the gas and water laid on, and Chubb's safety-locks were affixed to every door before any of the machinery had arrived. The last workman had already departed, and silence reigned supreme in the empty building, into which, from that day forward, for probably twenty years, only five persons ever passed. In such a case secrecy must be absolute to be effective, and although mere vague curiosity induced many persons of my intimate acquaintance to ask to be allowed to just go in and have a peep, I never admitted anyone. Even my own sons were rigidly excluded until they were grown up. When mere lads, if they teased me to let them in, I would sometimes say, "No, you will find much more amusement at the theatres, and to-night you may go if you wish." I need scarcely say that this was greatly preferred.'

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

In the new issue of Frieze magazine you'll find my first ever attempt at art criticism, a review of British Art Show 7 which concentrates mostly on Matthew Darbyshire's installation An Exhibition for Modern Living.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Last month I was a guest on a new podcast called East Pillage, hosted by Dan Murtha of the band Danimal Kingdom. We talked about Batman, Charles Burns, and indie computer games. It's pretty niche!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

"The one great personal tragedy of [Edward Page] Mitchell's life was a bizarre accident in 1872, when he was twenty years old. On a train journey from Bowdoin College to Bath, Maine, a hot cinder from the engine's smokestack flew in through the window and struck Mitchell's left eye, blinding it. After several weeks, while doctors attempted to restore this eye's sight, Mitchell's uninjured right eye suddenly underwent sympathetic blindness, rendering him completely sightless. His burnt left eye eventually healed and regained its sight, but his uninjured right eye remained blind. The sightless eye was later removed surgically, and replaced with a prosthetic glass eye."

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."

Friday, October 29, 2010

"The adoption of another people's gods always entails the adoption of their space and system of measurement." - The Production of Space by Henri Lefebvre

Monday, October 11, 2010

On Wednesday 13th at 7 I'll be doing an event at the excellent Pages of Hackney on the Lower Clapton Road. It's free entry and free wine, and I intend to read a bit from my novel in progress The Teleportation Accident, which nobody has seen yet and will not be out until 2012.

Friday, October 08, 2010

From Updike's essay on Borges' "The Library of Babel" in Picked-Up Pieces:

"This kind of comedy and desperation, these themes of vindication and unattainability, suggest Kafka. But The Castle is a more human work, more personal and neurotic; the fantastic realities of Kafka's fiction are projections of the narrator-hero's anxieties, and have no communion, no interlocking structure, without him. 'The Library of Babel' instead has an adamant solidity. Built of mathematics and science, it will certainly survive the weary voice describing it, and outlast all its librarians, already decimated, we learn in a footnote, by 'suicide and pulmonary disease.' We move, with Borges, beyond psychology, beyond the human, and confront, in his work, the world atomised and vacant. Perhaps not since Lucretius has a poet so definitely felt men as incidents in space.

What are we to make of him? The economy of his prose, the tact of his imagery, the courage of his thought are there to be admired and emulated. In resounding the note of the marvellous last struck in English by Wells and Chesterton, in permitted infinity to enter and distort his imagination, he has lifted fiction away from that flat earth where most of our novels and short stories still take place. Yet discouragingly large areas of truth seem excluded from his vision. Though the population of the Library somehow replenishes itself, and 'fecal necessities' are provided for, neither food nor fornication is mentioned - and in truth they are not generally seen in libraries. I feel in Borges a curious implication: the unrealities of physical science and the senseless repetitions of history have made the world outside the library an uninhabitable vacuum. Litereature - that European empire augmented with translations from remote kingdoms - is now the only world capable of housing and sustaining new litereature. Is this too curious? Did not Eliot recommend forty years ago, in reviewing Ulysses, that new novels be retellings of old myths? Is not the greatest of modern novels, Remembrance of Things Past, about its own inspiration? Have not many books already been written from within Homer and the Bible? Did not Cervantes write from within Airosto and Shakespeare from within Holinshed? Borges, by predilection and by program, carries these inklings towards a logical extreme: the view of books as, in sum, an alternate creation, vast, accessible, highly colored, rich in arcana, possibly sacred. Just as physical man, in his cities, has manufactured an environment whose scope and challenge and hostitility eclipse that of the natural world, so literate man has heaped up a counterfeit unvierse capable of supporting life. Certainly the traditional novel as a transparent imitation of human circumstances has 'a distracted or tired air.' Ironic and blasphemous as Borges' hidden message may seem, the texture and method of his creations, though strictly inimitable, answer to a deep need in contemporary fiction - the need to confess the fact of artifice."

Because Updike mentions Lucretius there – and because the notion of "men as incidents in space" comes up a lot at the moment – I thought I should read a bit of De Rerum Natura. This passage (from an old prose translation by Cyril Bailey) is delightful:

"Herein there is left a slight chance of hiding from justice, which Anaxagoras grasps for himself, to hold that all things are mingled, though in hiding, in all things, but that one thing comes out clear, whereof there are most parts mingled in, stationed more ready to view and in the forefront. But this is very far banished from true reasoning. For it were right then that corn also, when crushed by the threatening strength of rock, should often give out some sign of blood, or one of those things which are nourished in our body, and that when we rub it with stone on stone, gore should ooze forth. In the same way it were fitting that blades of grass too and willow-plants should often give out sweet drops with a savour like the richness of the milk of fleecy beasts, and that often when sods of earth are crumbled, kinds of grasses and corn and leave should be seen, hiding in tiny form, scattered about among the earthy, lastly that ash and smoke should be seen in logs, when there were broken off, and tiny flames in hiding. But since facts clearly show that none of these things come to pass, you may be sure that things are not so mingled in other things, but that seeds common to many things lie mingled and hidden in things in many ways."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"He looks out of her windows. There was a time - the year after leaving, five years after - when this homely street, with its old-fashioned high crown, its sidewalk blocks tugged up and down by maple roots, its retaining walls of sandstone and railings of painted iron and two-family brickfront houses whose siding imitates grey rocks, excited Rabbit with the magic of his own existence. These mundane surfaces had given witness to his life; this chalice had held his blood; here the universe had centred, each downtwirling maple seed of more account than galaxies. No more. Jackson Road seems an ordinary street anywhere. Millions of such American streets hold millions of lives, and let them sift through, and neither notice nor mourn, but fall into decay, and do not even mourn their own passing but instead grimace at the wrecking ball with the same gaunt facades that have outweathered all their winters. However steadily Mom communes with these maples, the branches' misty snake-shapes as inflexibly fixed in these two windows as the leading of stained glass, they will not hold back her fate by the space of a breath; nor, if they are cut down tomorrow to widen Jackson Road at last, will her staring, that planted them within herself, halt their vanishing. And the wash of new light will extinguish even her memory of them. Time is our element, not a mistaken invader. How stupid, it has taken him thirty-six years to begin to believe that."

From Rabbit Redux. Downtwirling! I know a lot of people prefer their fiction about mortality as French as possible, but for me nothing beats Updike.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

On the cover of the hefty new issue of AnOther magazine you'll find Björk looking stunning in a Bea Szenfeld paper headdress, and inside you'll find my essay on the Voyager Golden Record, which I had a very enjoyable time researching and writing.

Monday, September 20, 2010

I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that, despite all the research I did for Boxer, Beetle, I never bothered to find out what Anophthalmus hitleri looks like in real life. But Natascha Geier, a producer for the German TV channel NDR, is far more diligent than me, and retrieved the photo above from the Zoologische Staatssammlung München. As you can see, it looks nothing like the beetle on the cover of the book, and also nothing like the beetle I describe in the text – disappointingly unintimidating, in other words.

By the way, since Boxer, Beetle has just got the last print review it's likely to get until the paperback comes out, here is a reminder that I have been compiling all the reviews – and of course by 'all the reviews' I mean short, representative extracts from all the favourable reviews and shorter, unrepresentative extracts from all the unfavourable ones – in this post.

Monday, September 13, 2010

"Far from reducing the violence [in Los Angeles' early years], the police at times contributed to it, as on the memorable occasion when the city marshal (also the city dogcatcher and tax collector) got into a shootout with one of his own officers at the corner of Temple and Main after a dispute over who should receive the reward for capturing and returning a prostitute who had escaped from one of the city's Chinese tongs."

from LA Noir by John Buntin

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

As I mentioned before, Rebecca Hunt and I are doing a reading and Q&A next Wednesday at my literary agency's bookshop, Lutyens & Rubinstein in Notting Hill. It starts at 6:30 for 7, tickets are £5, you get a glass of wine, and you can buy a signed copy of either book at a discount. Email anna@lutyensrubinstein.co.uk to reserve a ticket, or go into the shop.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

'It will be said that these are overly complicated remarks': a few notes on reading Heidegger's Being and Time (although not so much on Being and Time itself)

1. I've always disliked Beckett. Then someone told me that to understand Beckett, you have to read Being and Time. So I read Being and Time. Then I read some more Beckett. I still dislike Beckett. But I'm glad I read Being and Time. (There is no primary evidence, by the way, that Beckett himself had any interest in Heidegger.)

2. I read it in six days, at a rate of 12 or 13 pages an hour. I don't think there's really any other way to read it but continuously: your eyes have to adjust to the light down there. By the end of the first day, I had a sense of pleasant mental exhaustion. By the end of the sixth day, I felt as if I'd been interrogated by secret police. It's a truism, but this book is extraordinarily hard. I didn't understand much of the second half. If I hadn't done a degree in analytic philosophy, I don't think I would have understood much of the first half.

3. Back at university, I was only really familiar with Heidegger as a whipping boy for logical positivism (which is, simply put, the notion that unless a statement can be verified somehow, it has no meaning, a position developed by AJ Ayer in Language, Truth and Logic when he was only 24). Carnap famously quoted Heidegger's declaration 'The nothing itself nothings' as an example of why philosophy needed a positivist emetic, and I was looking forward to getting to that bit, but then I found out it's not from Being and Time.

4. Logical positivism as a stark rule has long since been discarded, but logical positivism as a general demeanour still hangs around places like Cambridge. That's a good thing, but it does mean it can be difficult, after an analytic training, to take continental philosophy at all seriously. In fact, the only continental philosophers I can tolerate are guys like Baudrillard and Zizek who don't take themselves at all seriously. This is a shame, because I'd like to read the others – I sometimes feel as if I've been inoculated against a disease I wouldn't mind contracting. Heidegger was mostly OK in this respect, although he is pretty cloudy a lot of the time.

5. The biggest obstacle, of course, is Heidegger's language. For one thing, he's so blithe about redefining words: 'guilt', 'ecstasy' and 'freedom', for instance, mean things here that have almost nothing to do with their familiar usage, and I don't think it's the translator's fault. Then there are all the untranslatable Germanic compound words. Guess what 'the ownmost nonrelational potentiality-of-being-not-to-be-bypassed' is a synonym for. Anyone? No? It means 'death'. And he uses it a lot.

6. In fact, sometimes this book was so hair-greyingly laborious that the only way to stay sane was to look for accidental pop culture references. 'Not only is the call meant for him who is summoned “without regard to his person,” the caller, too, remains in striking indefiniteness. It not only fails to answer question about name, status, origin, and repute, but also leaves not the slightest possibility of making the call familiar...' The calls are coming from inside the house!

7. Also: 'What we are alarmed about is initially something known and familiar. But when what threatens has the character of something completely unfamiliar, fear becomes horror. And when something threatening is encountered in the aspect of the horrible, and at the same time is encountered as something alarming, suddenness, fear becomes terror.' The hermeneutics of HP Lovecraft?

8. Finally, Heidegger's constant use of A. inverted commas B. rhetorical questions and C. the word 'relevance' reminded me quite often of Hipster Runoff. 'What is proved in this demonstration? What is the meaning of confirming this statement? Do we perhaps ascertain an agreement between “knowledge or “what is known” with the thing on the wall?... To what is the speaker related when he judges without perceiving the picture, but “only representing” it? Possibly to “representations”?'

9. On the other hand, there are lots of moments of clunky accidental poetry. 'Beings nearest at hand can be met up with in taking care of things as unusable, as improperly adapted for their specific use. Tools turn out to be damaged, their material unusable.' Later on: 'When we do not find something in its place, the region of that place often becomes explicitly accessible as such for the first time. Space... belongs to beings themselves as their place. Bare space is still veiled.'

10. And I loved this little excuse for why it's all such hard going. 'We can see the stunning character of the formulations with which their philosophers challenged the Greeks. Since our powers are essentially inferior, and also since the area of being to be disclosed ontologically is far more difficult than that presented to the Greeks, the complexity of our concept-formation and the severity of our expression will increase.'

11. Every so often, Heidegger will make a totally unexpected swoop from pure metaphysics down to some social or political point that seems to be fairly specifically about his own time and place. For instance, in chapter four, one minute he's explaining the abstract concept of 'entanglement' and the next minute there's this: 'In utilising public transportation, in the use of information services such as the newspaper, every other is like the next... In this inconspicuousness and unascertainability, the “they” unfolds its true dictatorship. We enjoy ourselves and have fun the way they enjoy themselves. We read, see, and judge literature and art the way they see and judge. But we also withdraw from the “great mass” the way they withdraw, we find “shocking” what they find shocking... This averageness, which prescribes what can and may be ventured, watches over every exception which thrusts itself to the fore. Every priority is noiselessly squashed. Overnight, everything primordial is flattened down as something long since known. Everything gained by a struggle becomes something to be manipulated. Every mystery loses its power.' Some of that, you think, could have come straight out of Adorno. Some of it could have come straight out of Nietzsche. And then with a shudder you remember Heidegger's Nazi years and you start thinking of other sources entirely.

12. Being and Time was supposed to be twice as long, but (to widespread relief, presumably) Heidegger never wrote the second half. Which makes it perhaps the only masterwork in the history of philosophy that ends on a genuine cliffhanger.

13. So what did I think about Heidegger's actual metaphysical argument? About the great double act, Being and Time? About his relationship with literary modernism? No bloody idea. I think I'd have to read a lot of secondary material before I'd even attempt to formulate an original observation. But just as the methods of philosophers like Ayers and Quine and Rawls have stayed with me for years in a way that I never would have expected when I was trudging through them at university, I'm hoping that Heidegger will have made at least some so-far-unconfirmed permanent impression. So Being and Time is totally worth a read, if you're willing to give up a full week of your life and quite a lot of ripe, healthy brain matter.

Update: 14. The day after publishing this post, I picked up, for no particular reason, my copy of Barthelme's Sixty Stories, opened it at random, and straight away found this: 'Heidegger suggests that "Nothing nothings" - a calm, sensible idea with which Sartre, among others, disagrees. (What Heidegger thinks about nothing is not nothing.) Heidegger points us toward dread. Having borrowed a cup of dread from Kierkegaard, he spills it, and in the spreading stain he finds (like a tea-leaf reader) Nothing. Original dread, for Heidegger, is what intolerabilises all of what-is, offering us a momentary glimpse of what is not, finally a way of bumping into Being. But Heidegger is far too grand for us; he applaud his daring but are ourselves performing a homelier task, making a list.'

Friday, August 27, 2010

Boxer, Beetle is among ten novels longlisted for the Guardian first book award. They interviewed me for the article. I'm pleased to see Rebecca Hunt there too: we are both represented by Lutyens & Rubinstein, so I've already read Mr Chartwell, which is terrific, and we will be doing a reading together on September 15th.

Friday, August 20, 2010

This week I've been guestblogging at the excellent It's Nice That. Note: of the four things I claim therein that I had "planned this week", I have failed to accomplish three, which is why you should never let anyone ask you that question in an interview.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bad manners indeed to gloat for too long over your own reviews, but if you saw me speak at the Lion Boxing Club last week you may be interested in these two paragraphs from today's papers. (And if you didn't: well, I hope to write a lot more about this topic in the future, so consider this an overture.) Firstly, from Peter Aspden's review of Whatever Happened to Modernism? by Gabriel Josipovici in the Financial Times:

"The best contemporary fiction fizzes with multiplicities, ambiguities and playful experiments with form. It surely does not need to keep reminding us of its own anxieties. It would make for a dull and angst-ridden literary universe that was permanently and ostentatiously wrestling with its own inadequacies. That may keep academics in work, but it would bore the hell out of the rest of us. The market for disenchantment is a limited one."

Secondly, from Scarlett Thomas' review of my own book in the Guardian:

"The "well-made" realist novel has been thoroughly picked over lately, and many commentators have wondered why writers persist with, as Coetzee puts it, 'its plot and its characters and its settings'. Some have said the realist novel is dead, or just boring. But... great realist fiction has always been about messing with reality – exposing it, heightening it, exploring it, smashing it up a bit, turning it inside out and shaking it to get a better look at it. It doesn't always have to be "realistic", but it does need to be compassionate... Because we are emotionally involved in the drama of the novel and its characters, we can more meaningfully engage with its thematic questions."

(And an odd coincidence that will be of interest to no one but myself and a few school friends: the review I've just quoted has been printed right next to a review of a poetry collection by Lachlan Mackinnon, my old A-level English teacher.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

James M Cain at MGM:

'One morning around nine-thirty there was a knock on the door. Cain said, "Come in," the door opened, and there appeared "this collegiate-looking character, in Hollywood slacks and lounge coat."

"Mr. Cain?" said the man.

"Yes," replied Cain.

"I'm Scott Fitzgerald – just dropped in to say hello and welcome you to the lot."

"Oh, thanks."

"Well," said Fitzgerald, and backed out the door.

Then Cain got to thinking that was hardly any way to treat the great Scott Fitzgerald, so around noon he went down the hall, found Fitzgerald's name on a door, knocked, and was invited in. Fitzgerald was not doing anything; he was just walking around, no secretary with him. Cain suggested lunch, and without saying anything, Fitzgerald nodded and came out. They went to the commissary and took their seats, with Cain chatting amiably, until he realised that Fitzgerald had said nothing and was saying nothing. "He just sat staring at me."

Finally Cain said, "Well, nice seeing you," stood up, paid his check, and left. Later, someone who knew Fitzgerald – John O'Hara, Cain recalled – told Cain that Fitzgerald probably figured "you were pitying him for being a has-been and had invited him to lunch for that reason." Whatever it was, said Cain, it was the most uncomfortable hour he ever spent in his life. He never saw Fitzgerald again.'

from Cain by Roy Hoopes

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Here are some photos from last week's launch of Boxer, Beetle, taken by the brilliant Nick Seaton, who also took my author photos.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Monomethylhydrazine is a rocket fuel used in the Orbital Manoeuvring System of the NASA Space Shuttle. It can also cause vomiting, delirium, coma and even death after it is metabolised in the human body from the gyromitrin in Gyromitra esculenta, the false morel sometimes known as the brain mushroom or turban fungus (above). And it has a "chemical relative" with the gangsterish name of unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine. What a compound!

Friday, August 06, 2010

Boxer, Beetle is officially out! The night before last we had a party at the Lion Boxing Club in Hoxton. On Monday I will be reading at an event called To Hell with the Lighthouse at Peter Parker's Rock'n'Roll Club in Soho, along with Natasha Solomons and Adam Thirlwell. And here is an interview with me by blogger Lija Kresowaty.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Winner of the UK Writers' Guild Award for Best Fiction Book 2011.

Winner of the Goldberg Prize 2012.

Shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award 2010.

Shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2011.

Some reviews of Boxer, Beetle:


"Astonishingly assured... confident, droll... well observed... funny, touching... real flair and invention... Many first novels are judged promising. Boxer, Beetle arrives fully formed: original, exhilarating and hugely enjoyable." - Peter Parker, Sunday Times

"Wildly subversive" - Godfrey Smith, Sunday Times

"Gripping and clever... taut, thematically rich and extremely well written... It's clear from this compelling debut that Beauman can perform the complicated paradoxical trick required of the best 21st-century realist novelists: to take an old and predictable structure and allow it to produce new and unpredictable connections." - Scarlett Thomas, The Guardian

"Dazzling." - Claire Armitstead, The Guardian"

Prodigiously clever and energetically entertaining." - Adam Foulds, The Guardian

"Exuberantly clever and ingenious... energetic... witty." - Isobel Montgomery, The Guardian

"Staggeringly energetic intellectual slapstick... crammed with strange, funny and interesting things." - Sam Leith, The Guardian

"Riotous." - Justine Jordan, The Guardian

"Exuberant... wild originality... terrific." - The Times

"Dazzling... impressive... exhilarating... a fine debut: clever, inventive, intelligently structured... an enjoyable, high-octane read." - Rob Sharp, Independent on Sunday

"Frighteningly assured." - Katy Guest, Independent on Sunday

"Probably the most politically incorrect novel of the decade - as well as the funniest... monstrous misfits with ugly motives are beautifully rendered in a novel where Beauman’s scrupulous research is deftly threaded through serious themes in a laugh-out-loud-on-the-train history lesson." - Sunday Telegraph"

A debut with the whiff of a cult classic... ferociously imaginative... his killer irony evokes early Evelyn Waugh... this is humour that goes beyond black, careening off into regions of darkness to deliver the funniest new book I've read in a year or two." - Peter Carty, The Independent

"Uproarious." - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

"A rambunctious, deftly plotted delight of a debut." - The Observer

"Very funny... ambitious and energetic." - The Daily Telegraph

"An assured debut... Beauman writes with wit and verve." - Carl Wilkinson, The Financial Times

"Clever... an enjoyable confection: witty, ludicrous and entertaining." – James Urquhart, The Financial Times

"A real knockout... dazzling... one of the best novels of the year... ingeniously constructed and utterly readable." - Leo Robson, The Daily Express

"Intelligent... impressive... this would be a brilliant debut from anyone, regardless of their age. As it is, I can only gape in admiration at a new writing force and wonder what he's going to produce next." - The Daily Mail

"Dazzling... compellingly tragic... darkly funny... an utterly unique work that marks the London-based author out as an exciting new voice in fiction." - The List (Edinburgh)

"Witty, erudite... articulate and original... often gobsmackingly smutty." - Time Out

"Fantastically precocious... a witty, fascinating, romping read." - Word

"Dizzying." - The Big Issue

"Very funny." – Times Literary Supplement

"Curiously entertaining... Ned Beauman's debut novel Boxer, Beetle has got everyone talking." - Evening Standard

"Confident and accomplished... Beauman writes like a dream." - Camden New Journal

"Startlingly original and written with compelling energy." – Edward Stourton, chair of the Desmond Elliott Prize judges

Named as one of the ten most promising UK debuts by The Culture Show 2011.


"Boxer, Beetle is driven by a rapacious and addictive hilarity... brilliant... Beauman's writing is as elegant and sharp as the narrative is wild." - The Age (Melbourne)


"A premise as wonderfully outlandish as any we’ve seen in a long while... oddball and rambunctious... funny, raw and stylish." – The New York Times

Pick of the week, starred review. "An ebullient and thrilling narrative... Irreverent, profane and very funny. Best of all, he writes prose that... has the power to startle, no small feat in a debut." - Publisher's Weekly

Starred review. "A bizarre and funny mystery that is filled with eccentric scholarship." - Booklist

"The story wonderfully mocks eugenics and fascism, while the writing bursts with imaginative metaphors... Quirky, comical, brilliant." - Kirkus Reviews

"A romp across the decades, with quirky characters and a complex, darkly humorous story." - Library Journal

"Amusing and rampageous." – NPR

Friday, July 30, 2010

Boxer, Beetle now has an awesome Hollywood-type teaser website, designed by the unbelievably capable Dan Rees-Jones, where you can read the characters' letters, medical records, deleted emails etc. Meanwhile, the book isn't officially out until Thursday, but it's pretty easy to purchase right now: if you're in London there are copies in (for instance) Lutyens & Rubinstein and Pages of Hackney, or otherwise Amazon.co.uk and Play.com are already posting it out.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I've uploaded the bibliography for Boxer, Beetle. I did nearly all my research in the London Library, without which the book couldn't possibly have been written; but I should also mention here the writer James Sturz, who was generous enough to invite me to his apartment in New York to look through his old notes for his 1993 New York Times article on the Nazi memorabilia trade.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"During the Gay Nineties, Europe sent us beef and brawn to tamp railroad ties on our section gangs. Since the World War, she has sent us brains and culture – to be filtered into American life through the crude screens of Hollywood studios. There are more than four thousand White Russians hanging around Hollywood – Cossack generals running cafés... chief of staff of a great Russian fleet baiting his hooks from a San Pedro fish boat... art critics who were known the length and breadth of Europe fussing with the decorations on studio sets – the architect who built the German government buildings in the Camaroons, designing gangster dives... barons, grand dukes, counts who have commanded Imperial boy-guards taking orders from assistant directors who were corporals.

Europe has sent us also a ragged fringe – fakers, slickers, imposters. A war correspondent of some celebrity who had invaded royal palaces to sit with kings said that the only potentate who really over-awed him was a Cincinnati tailor masquerading as a Romanoff, bumming free board at hotels. Meanwhile, the Austrian grand duke who was real was sleeping on the sand at Santa Monica with his devoted and unpaid valet – starving until he found a way to get one square meal a day by his promise not to expose the 'Commander of His Imperial Majesty's Household Troops, Sir,' as a servant in an officers' mess."

from Los Angeles: City of Dreams (1935) by Harry Carr

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Gilke's relentless sense of integrity could at times be excessive. PG Wodehouse, who left Dulwich [College] in the year of [Raymond] Chandler's arrival, remembered the Master as the sort of man who would approach him after a good cricket performance and say 'Fine innings, Wodehouse, but remember we all die in the end.'"

from Raymond Chandler by Tom Hiney. Also:

"There would be an intense blackout scene involving amnesia and usually alcohol in every one of Chandler's Marlowe novels, as well as in one of his Hollywood screenplays. In fact, the blackout scene became a distinct trademark of Marlowe's adventures. These scenes were given such prominence and space throughout Chandler's writing that they beg at least two clear biographical correlations. First the German bombardment that left Chandler unconscious during the First World War and ended his infrantry career. Second, the blackouts that he experienced when he drank heavily; specifically, the sustained binge he embarked on at Dabney's.

There are of course other, less subtextual, reasons why Chandler may have detailed so many blackouts. Like other serial heroes, Marlowe must fight villains, but he can never die. One way in which his survival could retain any sort of credibility is for him to receive regular non-fatal blows. That said, few action writers can ever have given the head injury so much attention, or lavished upon it as much imagery, as did Chandler."

Monday, July 19, 2010

In his book The Dream Endures, Kevin Starr mentions a San Francisco chef called Tao Yuen who "had been trained before the Revolution at the Imperial School of Cookery in Peking where the textbook was the 753-volume, three-million-page Imperial Encyclopedia of National Cookery." I can't find any other reference to this entity, but there's something a bit Borgesian about a cookbook so demonically comprehensive that you'd starve to death long before you even got to the end of the marinades – "The Book of Sand" in particular comes to mind, plus, as ever, "The Library of Babel". Scattered through the Encyclopedia, presumably, are recipes that have not yet been read for dishes that have not yet been invented using ingredients that have not yet been discovered. Talking of Borges, it's good to see Christopher Nolan confirm in this interview that one inspiration for his breathtakingly enjoyable Inception was "The Secret Miracle", which I was reminded of often during the film.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

There's a page on me and my book in this month's Dazed & Confused. Meanwhile, the first finished copies have just arrived.

Monday, July 12, 2010

"Most notoriously, on March 13, 1919, a letter purporting to be from the [New Orleans] Axeman was published in the newspapers saying that he would kill again at 15 minutes past midnight on the night of March 19, but would spare the occupants of any place where a jazz band was playing. That night all of New Orleans's dance halls were filled to capacity, and professional and amateur bands played jazz at parties at hundreds of houses around town. There were no murders that night."

Monday, June 21, 2010

The fifth president of the University of South California was Rufus Bernhard von KleinSmid – a rare and excellent example of the internally capitalised surname.
Joseph Barcroft researching chemical weapons at Porton Down:

"On one occasion, one of his female assistants travelled by train from his laboratory in Cambridge carrying a canister of poison gas. The canister began to leak in the compartment. She attached it to a piece of string, hung it out of the window and completed her journey to Porton."

Stanley Lovell researching bombs at the Office of Strategic Services:

"Cats, it was suggested to the OSS, always land on their feet, and will go to any lengths to avoid water. Why not wire a cat up to a bomb, and sling both cat and attached high explosive below to a bomber? When flying over enemy sips, the explosive cat would be released. The cat would be so concerned to avoid landing int he water that it could, it was argued, be virtually certain of guiding the bomb onto the deck of enemy warships. Exerpiments with flying cats soon proved to the supporters of the project that even unattached to high explosive, the cat was likely to become unconscious long before Nazi decks seemed an attractive landing place."

both from A Higher Form of Killing by Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman

Friday, June 18, 2010

I was on the Guardian Books Podcast this week talking about comics with Sarah Crown and Rachel Cooke.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"When you live in a place that you know could be destroyed at any time, it changes the way you think."

In May I flew to New Orleans to interview The Dead Weather (Jack White, Alison Mosshart etc.), and the resulting article is in this month's Dazed & Confused, which has MIA on the cover.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Another German interview with me put through Google Translate. I'm described as "the wildest debut of the season", which makes me sound a bit like the flighty daughter of some 1920s aristocrats. Also, here and here are podcasts talking about the book. No idea whether they like it or not.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

From a paper by Professor Philip Morrison, given at the Communication With Extraterrestrial Intelligence Conference in 1973, about the possible conquences of receiving a message from an alien civilisation:

"A message channel cannot open us to the sort of impact which we have often seen in history once contact is opened between two societies at very different levels of advance. There will be absent across space, of course, any military dominance, whether as in Mexico in the sixteenth century when military dominance from the outside was dependent upon a local alliance, or as in the Canary Islands or in Peru where it was fully external. Nor will there be the thrust of any technical economic competition, like that which induced famine among the highly developed Bengal hand weavers, faced with the machine-made cloth of Manchester. At most, we expose ourselves to the dangers or opportunities faced by the Japanese society on two occasions in its history, once when it encountered the enormously strong culture of the T'ang through a very few persons traveling; or in the nineteenth century when the Japanese system changed entirely after what was only a threatened invasion, but a threat which brought out internal strains that were very deep in Japanese society. So I am confident that on this kind of model, which seems to me very plausible, we could imagine the signal to have great impact - but slowly and soberly mediated, transmitted through all those filter devices of scholars who have to interpret and publish a book, and so forth. Note that the total gloss on Greek thought is at least as voluminous as the Greek texts themselves!"

Friday, May 28, 2010

Interview with me on a German website. Again, I've had to use Google Translate to find out what I apparently said. "The categorization is to completely flounder." Profound.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

So Boxer, Beetle came out in a German translation earlier this month under the title Flieg, Hitler, Flieg. Why is it out in Germany, Austria and Switzerland before it's out in the UK? No particular reason. I mention it because I've just had a long review in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and I'm pleased to say it's a review that really gets the book. (Well, I think it does; although I'm now writing a novel with a German protagonist, I don't actually speak any German, so I've had to use Google Translate. "And yet he succumb especially those who aspire as Erskine nigh hysterical after drift-order systems." Couldn't have put it better myself.)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Interview with me in The Bookseller.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"Until now no concern had been expressed about the possible side-effects of the rejuvenation operations. But on 12 May 1921, the death in London was announced of Alfred Wilson, a wealthy septuagenarian, who had made his money in ship-breaking. This otherwise unremarkable event had aroused interest because some months previously he had gone to Vienna and had undergone the Steinach operation. On his return to London he had felt so well that he booked the Albert Hall in London to deliver a lecture entitled 'How I Was Made Twenty Years Younger'. A little while before the lecture he had visited his doctor and complained of some chest pain. Both doctor and patient agreed that this discomfort was the result of Wilson's new habit of hitting himself on the chest to demonstrate his renewed virility. However, the pain probably came from a coronary artery disease and Wilson dropped dead from a heart attack twelve hours before giving his lecture. At the inquest into the the death it was mentioned that Dr Steinach had charged £700 for the operation."

from The Monkey Gland Affair by David Hamilton

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Josef Svoboda "described a scenography for a proposed production of Faust in 1970 with director Alfred Radok, in which a crucial conceptual understanding was that Mephistopheles and Wagner, Faust's student and domestic servant, were one and the same person, and, of course, one and the same actor. The stage box was an empty and seemingly void space, shaped only by huge, very dark brown, barely distinguishable wall surfaces to the back and sides. The stage floor was steeply raked and apparently flagged with stone. A crucial feature of this floor was that beneath the stage were to be fitted felt-covered 'dampers' that could, by the action of the silently operating pistons, be made to press against the under-surface of the stage and render it silent. As Faust prepared his occult pentagram down stage to 'conjure' diabolic forces, the stage would echo with the sound of his and Wagner's footsteps. Wagner, however, would not engage or assist in Faust's conjuring practices; he would turn and make to elave, walking up stage, and his echoing foosteps would be heard. As he reached the farthest limit of the stage he would turn and walk back down the stage in total silent to stand before Faust – everyone in the theatre would know that in that transition of sound from echoing noise to silence he had become Mephistopheles."

from Theatre, Performance and Technology by Christopher Baugh

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Paris in the 17th century:

"A politician called Jean-Jacques Rounuard de Villayer, tired of sending servants to deliver messages and money across the expanding city, came up with the idea of a postal service and postboxes began to spring up in the well-heeled parts of town. The first properly run public transport systems had apepared earlier in the century – a carriage for hire by several citizens at once and called a carrosse had been invented by an enterprising carpenter called Nicolas Sauvage in around 1654. By the 1660s, more than twenty or so of these carriages could regularly be found lined up for hire at the church of Saint-Fiacre (they were nicknamed fiacres thereafter) and a decade or so later, following itineraries dvised by the philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal, for 5 sous, the Parisian could travel in some comfort from the Palais de Luxembourg to the Pont-Neuf to the Louvre and back again."

from Paris: The Secret History by Andrew Hussey

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

"The Harvard Aesthetes of 1916 were trying to create in Cambridge, Massachusetts, an after-image of Oxford in the 1890s. They read the Yellow Book, they read Casanova's memoirs and Les Liaisons Dangereuses, both in French, and Petronius in Latin; they gathered at teatime in one another's rooms, or at punches in the office of the Harvard Monthly; they drank, instead of weak punch, seidels of straight gin topped with a maraschino cherry; they discussed the harmonies of Pater, the rhythms of Aubrey Beardsley and, growing louder, the voluptuousness of the Church, the essential virtue of prostitution. They had crucifixes in their bedrooms, and ticket stubs from last Saturday's burlesque show at the Old Howard. They wrote, too; dozens of them were prematurely decayed poets, each with his invocation to Antinoüs, his mournful descriptions of Venetian lagoons, his sonnets to a chorus girl in which he addressed her as 'little painted poem of God.' In spite of these beginnings, a few of them became good writer."

from Exile's Return by Malcolm Cowley

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

"Halfway across the stone bridge I was so struck by the beauty of the view that I sat down on the low wall and gave myself up to contemplation. A similarly extensive view of life was what I lacked. I was still distracted and engrossed by every detail, I could see every hair and pimple on a human face, without seeing the face itself. I had, morever, no experience of anything but ecstasy. I had never known despair or anguish, which I looked on as literary expressions. I had not endured hunger, frustration, illness, or chastity; these were the afflictions of others. I had nothing on my conscience and had never wept except from loneliness, fright, or boredom. How then was I qualified to write? Could I go on treating life as an amusing spectacle, a kind of joke? the only serious emotions I had were connected with my sense of the hideously fleeting passage of my own happiness, of the mortal beauty of everything I saw, of the inexorable progress of my own body to decay and death; but the conclusions to be drawn from these seemed neither original nor profound. I was at last faced with the fact that the only thing bothering me was not having enough money and that all I desired in the literary way was not to be a bore."

from Memoirs of Montparnasse by John Glassco

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Here is an interesting account of a talk by the restaurateur Alan Yau. I love Alan Yau.

Monday, February 22, 2010

'Hemingway's account of his Paris apprenticeship from 1922 to 1926 are full of dedication and poverty. The dedication was authentic, but the poverty was illusory. At the time of their marriage Hadley had an income of $3,000 a year from her trust fund. Americans with dollars could live comfortably in Paris during the Twenties, for the rate of exchange was favorable. Although Hadley's income was reduced by the mismanagement of her trustee, the Hemingways were never paupers and did not have to rely on his sporadic earnings for eating or drinking money. Their apartment lacked plumping, but there was always money for the things he wanted to do. "Hunger was good discipline," he claimed in A Moveable Feast; nonetheless, they had a cook.'

from Fitzgerald and Hemingway by Matthew J. Bruccoli

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Because obsessively manicuring my internet presence is a lot easier than actually sitting down to write my second novel, I have just updated my 2005-2009 journalism archive for the final time. You can now read, among 150+ other articles, my lengthy interview with Bradford Cox of Deerhunter from the December issue of Dazed & Confused, my essay on urban foxes from Meat, and my risotto recipe from Hustle, London!, which is probably my favourite thing that I've ever published. Since I've already got in trouble about that piece at least once, I should probably emphasise that the whole thing is written in character...

Friday, January 22, 2010

"But sometimes I get the impression that all this is a rubbishy rumour, a tired legend, that it has been created out of those same suspicious granules of approximate knowledge that I use myself when my dreams muddle through regions known to me only by hearsay or out of books, so that the first knowledgeable person who has really seen at the time the place referred to will refuse to recognise them, will make fun of the exoticism of my thoughts, the hills of my sorrow, the precipices of my imagination, and will find in my conjectures just as many topographical errors as he will find anachronisms. So much the better."

- Nabokov, The Gift

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I've redesigned my website. There's actually less information on it now than there was before so I'm not sure this counts as progress.

Friday, January 08, 2010

"Thursday was a zombie plague, Saturday was a neutron bomb, and Monday was romance, but tomorrow, Tuesday, was a custom job."

That's the opening sentence of my short story "Client" in the new issue of Icon, my favourite architecture magazine. Very appropriate that it comes out the same week as the opening of the Burj Khalifa. Meanwhile, Eurogamer.net just ran a preview of a game called Spec Ops: The Line, in which you fight through a ruined near-future Dubai: "The tops of buried skyscrapers peek through ever-shifting dunes, whilst the city's chattels of excess lie forgotten and useless in its streets."

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Yesterday my friend Hermione sent me this great photo of a fox that was published on the Telegraph website, to which the title of this blog could not be more relevant, and then today I happened to come across this passage in The Life of Lenin by Louis Fischer:

Once Lenin and Krilenko went fox hunting. The Russian method in this aristocratic sport consists in forcing the fox into a very large circle marked by red flags from which there is only one exist and, by handclapping and yells, to impel the fox to that exit where the hunter waits. The fox came straight at Lenin, who did not notice him because the animal's bright red fur was covered with snow fallen from the spruce trees. When Lenin became aware of the fox's presence he was transfixed and "stared... and stared... and did not shoot." The fox looked at Lenin as he slowly raised his gun, then lifting his tail, made off like lightning.

"Why didn't you shoot?" Krilenko exclaimed.

"He was so beautiful and pretty," Lenin apologized. "I'm not a hunter but a shoemaker."

Monday, January 04, 2010

A little book to which I contributed has just come out in the UK. It's called Dear Old Love, compiled by Andy Selsberg, and it's a paper version of the terrific blog of the same name. I interviewed Andy last year for Jess Holland's Hustle, London! zine, so perhaps this is a good opportunity to put that Q&A online for the first time.

Who are you?
I'm a freelance writer, and I teach freshman composition part time. I'm originally from Wisconsin, now living in Brooklyn.

What was the inspiration for the site?
I had a personal, aphoristic blog for a years. I love the openness of the web, mixed with a disciplined concision - looking for those perfect lines. My focus on the original blog started to dip. I got married this summer, and briefly considered writing a book-length fictionalized letter to an ex (along the lines of Home Land by Sam Lipsyte). But I can't seem to write much more than a few sentences at a time now. All that somehow pointed to Dear Old Love.

Are you on the site yourself?
I'm definitely on the site, definitely more than once. I wanted to set a tone. And I don't think you need to have had a lot of relationships to have a lot of DOL notes in you. It's more a way of looking at the world, sussing out the right details. You could get dozens out of childhood crush on a sweetie down the block. I'm reading the Charles Schulz/Peanuts biography right now, and it's amazing how much "little red-haired girl" mileage he got out of very little raw relationship material.

Do you ever get any submissions that are simply too sad to include?
Most submissions don't get posted, but not due to excess sadness. I'm looking for freshness, humour, poignancy - an old feeling expressed a new way. The site exists for the pleasure of readers more than the therapy of writers. In the midst of heartbreak, it can be tough to come up with original, resonant ideas on the topic. I worry that one boring entry or two will turn readers off. The web is tough like that.

What’s your favourite break-up song?
Favourite break-up song is "Missing You" by your countryman John Waite. Love the way the proclamation "I ain't missing you" contradicts itself. Plus I was born in the early 70's and think pop culture peaked in 1984.