Monthly Archives: December 2011

Morning Camus

Describing—that is the last ambition of an absurd thought. Science likewise, having reached the end of its paradoxes, ceases to propound and stops to contemplate and sketch the ever virgin landscape of phenomena. The heart learns thus that the emotion delighting us when we see the world’s aspects comes to us not from its depth but from their diversity. Explanation is useless, but the sensation remains and, with it, the constant attractions of a universe inexhaustible in quantity. The place of the work of art can be understood at this point.

— Camus, A.,p87. The Myth of Sisyphus. Penguin Classics.

For an absurd work of art to be possible, thought in its most lucid form must be involved in it. But at the same time thought must not be apparent except as the regulating intelligence. This paradox can be explained according to the absurd. The work of art is born of the intelligence’s refusal to reason the concrete. It marks the triumph of the carnal. It is lucid thought that provokes it, but in that very act that thought repudiates itself. It will not yield to the temptation of adding to what is described a deeper meaning that it knows to be illegitimate. The work of art embodies a drama of the intelligence, but it proves this only indirectly. The absurd work requires an artist conscious of these limitations and an art in which the concrete signifies nothing more than itself. It cannot be the end, the meaning, and the consolation of a life. Creating or not creating changes nothing. The absurd creator does not prize his work. He could repudiate it. He does sometimes repudiate it. An Abyssinia suffices for this, as in the case of Rimbaud.

— Camus, A.,pp89, The Myth of Sisyphus. Penguin Classics.

Christopher Priest’s Fugue for a Darkening Island.

The whole of Africa is in turmoil., refugees from the continent are fleeing to anywhere they can force a landing. In their millions.

In England the trickle of refugees looking for a home, for safety, becomes a flood. Soon the South of England is overrun Towns succumb to mob rule, pitched battles are fought over houses. The refugees gather together a government, an army and soon the Afrims are in negotiations with the British Government. Compromise is reached, promises are made. And broken.

And through these chaotic days, as extremists vie for control, as violence flares and society collapses, one man tells his story.

Alan Whitman has lost his job, his home, his family, everything. He is a desperate man…

This is a curious book. The edition that I read is a revised edition of a book first published in 1972. Fugue for a Darkening Island posses a curious atemporality because while the book has been revised to make Christopher Priest’s intended neutrality more explicit the general attitude and details of the society depicted haven’t. The cover copy refers to the book as being a “classic catastrophe novel” and I read it as part of the same tradition that books by John Wyndham, although harder and generally of a less conservative and hopeful character. And while it is less cosey than other catastrophe novels there’s still some restraint that slows the books down so that actually the book becomes boring.

Not badly written or unreadable, just boring.

There are violent set pieces and scenes of domestic breakdown caused by both the crisis and Alan Whitman’s own emotional immaturity, and taken individually these scenes do excite and hold interest. Like I said, this isn’t a badly written book. But there’s a lot of bumbling around the south of England and all the standard problems found in a catastrophe are all present. We are shown there is a genuine lack of shelter (except the book does, for a short while, turn into a typical British camping holiday), security, and a place to go for a pint and read the newspaper. However this is a two hundred page novel and I’m quite sure that if this was compressed into a novella of half its length with all the fat and faffing cut I might not have drifted off into periods of profound boredom.

One final problem is that the novels end is fatally obvious and very Daily Mail. But Fugue for a Darkening Island is curious and I’m not sure if this is a deliberate dissonant effect intended by Christopher Priest. Not sure because while Fugue for a Darkening Island demonstrates a complex attitude towards extreme immigration issues, with Alan Whiteman being a tolerant liberal at the start of the novel, by the end of the novel we are left with a text that demonstrates Africans are always cruel savages and that white Anglo-Saxon little Englanders are decent people.

All I’m going to say is white people rape and kill women too.

So there’s Fugue for a Darkening Island. It’s a problematic book and I haven’t even begun to explore the issues raised by this being a revised edition of a forty year old book. That might be an issue not worth starting as unwrapping the past from the present is a notoriously difficult task and in a book like Fugue for a Darkening Island is rife with double arguments that leave us with no firm answers. Maybe all I can say on this issue is that I think I’d rather have read the text unrevised from the original 1972 edition.

This is a boring, yet curious, book. A dull catastrophe that in places seems close to the way thing are or would be, and in other places seems like the rantings found in the Daily Express/Mail letters page. Not bad, but also not good.

All the Possible Routes

I am turning into my Dad.

My memories of trips to the mythic north to visit Grandparents during the festive season follow a consistent pattern. In the morning we blasted up the M1 and across the M62 to get to Rochdale before lunch time. Meals and small talk took up the afternoon until we had to leave for the return south. Our stay often only equalled the time spent travelling. The return route never exactly retracted our original tracks along the M62 and M1. We’d drive along the M62 until we reached Barnsley and then drove over the moors to Huddersfield. When asked why my Dad does this he only replies it makes the journey more interesting. I suspect that like me he cannot stand to retrace his steps too often.

The hundreds of times I’ve travelled through these places as a passenger has given me a virtual knowledge of these towns. One day I’ll stop in Huddersfield to find out what it’s like. I suspect I’ll be disappointed.

Last weekend I met my girlfriend’s parents for the first time. I made jokes to friends about the risk of being buried in a Warwickshire field, but in the end it turned out fine. There was a meal, slightly tense, but aren’t meetings like that always a little bit? There were two Sundays that weekend, not one. With Sunday #1 involving a wander along bucolic county lanes covered in mist and lit by the weak winter sun. On Sunday #2 Jen showed me her village. It scared me with its event horizon of restaurants and the existence of a village auction house.

I wasn’t disappointed. Mostly because of the deli and second-hand bookshop.

Leaving on Monday afternoon I decided not to follow the motorway corridor that me and Jen took on Saturday. That’d be rammed with rush hour traffic and it’d be boring. Instead I consulted Jen’s Dad for advice on alternative routes, bringing him the vague idea that following the Coventry orbital in my silver Fiesta might prove more interesting. The great God Google was consulted for directions. Directions were printed. They proved illegible in the dark but useful to consult in a petrol station. After goodbyes I disappeared back to Leicester with a kiss from Jen as I left her behind for nine days. The journey was only bearable because I got to throw my car around dark country roads while getting mildly lost and using my initiative until all the possible routes converged on the M69 as the final leg to get home. Driving is only worthwhile when it illuminates new places, otherwise it becomes a chore I’d rather avoid by catching a bus so I can read.

I am only turning into my Dad by repeating his behaviours.

Next time: what a small car filled with books is like to handle while driving up hill in heavy traffic.

Sky Attempting to Snow

This morning when I was forced out of bed to answer the doorbell the sky was attempting to snow. A few drips of sleet landed on my naked torso as I signed for my brother’s Amazon parcel. That sad state of attempted snowfall reminds me of my own attempts at writing fiction, or anything else for that matter, over the past couple of months.

Always on the edge of a surprise storm.