“He was spending as much time now in the Land of the Dead as in Lawrence, Kansas”: Iain Sinclair visits Burroughs

Burroughs shows us how to take refuge from the horrorshow as we near our end….

He was spending as much time now in the Land of the Dead as in Lawrence, Kansas. It was my impression that Burroughs chose this place in order to make that transition smoother; the twinned locations in the end were impossible to separate. Going out for eggs over easy, bacon, toast, coffee – and getting it, his order filled with a smile and a replenished cup – confirmed the fact that he was not yet in hell. …

Apart from an interest in alien abduction (he pays a visit to Whitley Strieber, author of Breakthrough), and sexual encounters of the third kind, Burroughs was most concerned with proving that the dogmas of science were meaningless or totally misguided. He couldn’t accept that nothing moved faster than the speed of light. He spoke of clicking a switch fifteen years ago and seeing lights come on in an unvisited room: today. Changing sets is a simple matter, he explained: Morocco, Martinique, Manchester, context is everything. The taste of a cigarette will do it, even a photograph of the cigarette, visible traces of rent boy saliva. One line from a book by Joseph Conrad will import, or predict, meteorological conditions. You can read yourself into a storm. But you can’t, when you’re asleep, conjure up a decent plate of ham and eggs. The dead are starving, but they can’t eat.

‘I have seen weather magic,’ Burroughs said. ‘I have even performed it. I stopped rain in Seattle.’

— From ‘Dream Science’: an account by Iain Sinclair of a 1995 visit to William S. Burroughs in Lawrence, Kansas, taken from ‘American Smoke: Journeys to the End of the Light’, which will be published by Hamish Hamilton in November, 2013. At the link is the chapter in its unedited (or: “raw state”) form…


IAIN SINCLAIR on J.G. BALLARD's favorite artwork

Another piece by Iain Sinclair, this one regarding his friend, the late visionary author J.G. Ballard (wiki).

From today’s The Guardian, on the occasion of the new Ballard exhibition at the London Gagosian…


PAUL DELVAUX: Le canapé bleu, 1967 (Oil on canvas/55 1/8 x 70 7/8 inches)

Crash: JG Ballard’s artistic legacy

Shortly before JG Ballard’s death last year, Iain Sinclair made a pilgrimage to the author’s Shepperton semi, a shrine to his surreal tastes and happy family life. A new exhibition of his favourite paintings and of art work he has inspired honours this distinctive vision

Coming away from the official path, on a walk from the mouth of the Thames to Oxford in October 2008, I diverted through Shepperton. Light rain misted my spectacles. An uncertain detour was blocked by a two-tonne Jaguar saloon, white and racing green: XJ MOTOR SERVICES. The upstream settlement has evident 21st-century loot, as well as Edwardian weekend villas and chalets. There is a blue plaque to the literary giant they choose to commemorate: THOMAS LOVE PEACOCK LIVED HERE, 1823-1866. Modernist white cubes with big windows are attracted by reflections of light on water. Natural metaphors for unnatural liquidity in a time of recession.

I head for the station. That’s where JG Ballard met me when I visited him. I never saw the inside of his house. We drove to a riverside pub and sat under whirring fans. I wondered why, after his great success with Empire of the Sun, he didn’t relocate to one of those balconied, sharp-angled properties that were so attractive to the convalescing architects and blocked advertising men who populate his books. Foolish thought. Ballard was a working writer, first and last; the where of it was not to be disturbed. Fixed routines served him well; so many hours, so many words. Breakfast. Times crossword. Desk overlooking a natural ­garden. Stroll to the shops to observe the erotic rhythms of consumerism. Lunch standing up with The World at One on the radio. Back to the study. Forty-minute constitutional down to the river. TV chill-out meditation: ­Hawaii Five-O and The Rockford Files rather than Kenneth Clark.

The interior landscape of the suburban semi was a mirage. The more you studied it, the cannier the decision to settle the family in Shepperton, all those years ago, appeared. It was far enough out of London to limit the pests, the time-devourers. When journalists gained access they were mesmerised by the reproduction Delvaux canvases propped on the floor, the ­aluminium palm tree, the lounger in the front room; dutifully they repeated the standard questions about surrealism and how The Drowned World was saturated in Max Ernst. The house in Old Charlton Road was a premature ­installation; a stage set designed to confirm the expectations of awed pilgrims. But it was also a home in which the widowed author brought up three children who are always laughing in family snapshots.

Ballard may be the first serious ­novelist whose oeuvre is most widely represented in books of interviews. And whose future belongs as much in white-walled warehouse galleries as the diminishing shelves of public libra­ries. He was so generous to those who found his phone number, so direct: he rehearsed polished routines – and ­always agreed, with unfailing courtesy, that the world was indeed a pale Xerox made in homage to the manifold of his fiction. A late moralist, he practised undeceived reportage, not prophecy: closer to Orwell than HG Wells. Closer to Orson Welles than to either. Closer to Hitchcock. Take out the moving ­figures on staircases that go nowhere and stick with hollow architecture that co-authors subversive drama.

CHRIS BURDEN: L.A.P.D. Uniform (1994, Fabric, leather, wood, metal and plastic
88 x 72 x 6 inches Ed. of 30)

Spurning critical theory, Ballard joined his near-namesake Baudrillard as the hot topic for air-miles academics. Off-highway universities, indistinguishable from hospitals or hotels, approve infinite theses. A hall of mirrors in which students, who have lost the habit of literature, recognise, in the Shepperton master’s exquisitely calibrated prose, intimations of a hybrid form capable of processing autopsy ­reports and invasion politics into accidental poetry. The incantatory manifesto, “What I Believe”, deploys Ballard’s favourite device, the list, as he curates a museum of affinities: “I believe in Max Ernst, Delvaux, Dalí, ­Titian, / Goya, Leonardo, Vermeer, Chirico, Magritte, / Redon, Dürer, ­Tanguy, the Facteur Cheval, / the Watts Towers, Böcklin, Francis Bacon, and all the invisible artists / within the psychiatric institutions of the planet.”

It was almost dark when I got there, after walking down a street occupied by Indian ­restaurants, Chinese take­aways, charity and novelty shops. A man spotted me as I lined up the shot.

“A writer bloke is supposed to live in that house. We’ve been out here 25 years and I’ve never set eyes on him, tell the truth. But he’s on the box….”

Read on at The Guardian

Iain Sinclair: "Unconsciously, I had been operating, all along, as a disenfranchised psychogeographer."


Here’s a nice follow-on from the Raoul Vaneigem interview, posted earlier this week: British author/poet/journalist Iain Sinclair on what he’s discovered through the years from “motiveless walking” in London. From the Telegraph:

In London, from the first, I walked. As a film student, newly arrived in the early Sixties, I copied the poet John Clare on his feverish escape from Matthew Allen’s asylum in Epping Forest, when he navigated by lying down to sleep with his head to the north. Skull as compass: all the secret fluids and internal memory-oceans aligned by force of desire. Clare returned, as he thought, to Mary, his first love, his muse; to his heart-place, Helpston, beyond Peterborough, on the edge of the dark fens. My drag was cinema, Bergman seasons in Hampstead, Howard Hawks in Stockwell. Or art: the astonishing Francis Bacon gathering at the old Tate, at Millbank, former prison and panopticon. Bacon’s melting apes were robed like cardinals. Naked men, stitched from photographs, wrestled in glass cages.

Motiveless walking processed the unanchored images that infiltrated dreams of the shadow-belt on either side of the Northern Line. I lodged in West Norwood, a house on a hill, like the one I had left behind in Wales. I wandered through mysterious suburbs to the rooms above the butcher’s shop in Electric Avenue, Brixton, where the school was based. Street markets, I discovered, were a significant part of the substance of this place. Walking was a means of editing a city of free-floating fragments. I composed, privately, epic poems conflating the gilded Byzantium of W.B. Yeats with the slap and strut of Mickey Spillane’s California. London was an impossible relativity of historical periods and superimposed topographies.

After Dublin, where I enjoyed four years of apprentice exile, I came to Hackney: perched, settled, stayed. The modestly impoverished zone had the virtue of being unknown, even to itself. Submerging into a novel territory, as a casual labourer, I found both time and means to pursue my obsession with alignments, reforgotten writers, lost rivers, Hawksmoor churches, crime clusters. Street signs and spray-can slogans were a code to be broken. I had no idea, back then, that rogue Parisian intellectuals had already branded these strategies and given them a provocative title: psychogeography.

30 years later, assembling a collection of essays on London, which I called Lights Out for the Territory (after Mark Twain), I realised that, unconsciously, I had been operating, all along, as a disenfranchised psychogeographer. I stalked a defining urban narrative by sleepwalking through downriver reaches, sniffing after faded traces of Thomas De Quincey – and challenging the post-architectural infill of Docklands, the empty hubris of the Millennium Dome, with ritual expeditions that doubled as curses. Compulsive digressions disavowed the bullet-point banalities of developers and promoters. I wrote about pit bulls and satellite dishes. I attended the funeral of that mythical east London gangster Ronnie Kray: the godfather of the ghosted memoir, of mendacious boasts disguised as confessions. The pulp model for self-serving political autobiographies. I looked down on the glittering Thames from Lord Archer’s penthouse. London was revealed as a city of hidden connections and weird coincidences.

I had stumbled on a model for future projects: the walk as a narrative, as a moving film made from static images. This was a method of preparing the writer for an act of occult possession: in the way that William Blake was captured by the spirit of John Milton in the form of a star striking his heel. Considerations of the present Olympic Park in the Lower Lea Valley would begin by employing the Lights Out for the Territory template…

Read on at the Telegraph

Congratulations to HOWARD WALDROP—first American to win the prestigious Jack Trevor Story Memorial Cup!


above: the winner!

Press release from Michael Moorcock:


The committee awarding the Jack Trevor Story Memorial Cup for humorous writing this year presented the cup to an American for the first time.

Meeting at its traditional venue, L’Horizon, rue Saint Placide, Paris, the Committee consisting of Iain Sinclair (UK), Michael Moorcock (US/UK), Lili Sztajn (France), Jeff VanderMeer (USA), Fabrice Colin (France), Lisa Tuttle (Scotland) and Sebastian Doubinski (Denmark) unanimously agreed to give the Jack Trevor Story Memorial Cup, together with a $1,000 prize to Howard Waldrop, author of Them Bones, The Texas/Israeli War and several collections of short stories including Dream Factories and Radio Pictures and Heart of Whiteness. (All available from Amazon)

The Cup was presented to the winner by Michael Moorcock during a special ceremony at the Doubletree Inn Hotel, Austin, Texas on Friday 14th August 2009.

The usual conditions will apply: that the money be spent within two weeks and the recipient have nothing to show for it by the end of that period. This recalls Story’s remark to a bankruptcy judge when asked what had happened to money from his films The Trouble with Harry and Live Now, Pay Later: “You know how it is, judge. Two hundred or two thousand. It always lasts a week to a fortnight.”

A regular columnist for The Guardian during the 1960s and 1970s, Story also contributed to Punch, The Evening Standard, Sexton Blake Library, The Listener, The New Statesman, New Worlds and many other journals. Milton Keynes’ Writer in Residence, he wrote series for TV and radio as well as many other films and died in 1991 at his typewriter, having written ‘THE END’ to his final novel Shabby Weddings.

Previous winners of the JTS Memorial Cup include Fred Normandale and Steve Aylett.