At 10:35 on an early summer's morning, John Lanchester sat down at his study desk, switched on his new Dell computer, opened up the word processing programme that the computer had come with and began

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Because I didn't want to clutter up the What Are You Reading thread with the way this book perpetually perks its folly in my face.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 11:18 (eight years ago) link

On a rainy morning in early December, an 82-year-old woman sat in her front room at 42 Pepys Road, looking out at the street through a lace curtain. Her name was Petunia Howe...

Don't be absurd! Also, reader wonders whether she is distantly or even closely related to Geoffrey.

The proprietor of 51 Pepys Road, the house across the road from Petunia Howe's, was at work in the City of London. Roger Yount sat at his office desk at his bank, Pinker Lloyd, doing sums.

I hope you're already getting a sense of fatigue at the toiling rhythm and progress of his sentences, the way he leaves nothing to chance.

It was late afternoon. Roger sat on one of the sofas in his office,

Stop telling me the time of day.

Ahmed Kamal, who owned the shop (sorry thomp) at the end of Pepys Road, number 68, came awake 3.59 in the morning, one minute before his alarm was set to go off.

Please stop telling me the time of day. Also - came awake?

Shahid Kamal, who was due to work a shift at the family shop between eight o'clock in the morning and six o'clock in the evening, walked down the street at a brisk clip.

ffs

At number 51 Pepys Road, Mrs Arabella Yount...

At ten o'clock Shahid was stacking...

Two weeks before Christmas, Petunia sat...

I've reached Part 2. Things are going to start happening!

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 11:19 (eight years ago) link

You can't buy this sort of publicity. Will read (this thread).

Ismael Klata, Friday, 9 March 2012 11:23 (eight years ago) link

Didn't bring the book with me today, of course.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 11:29 (eight years ago) link

I was on the verge of ordering this yesterday, will hold off on that one then.

Homosexual Satan Wasp (Matt DC), Friday, 9 March 2012 11:47 (eight years ago) link

Can tell you the characters of course.

You just have to insert ffs or 'oh god' after each one:

Petunia Howe - an octogenarian lady who notices how young people like doctors are etc.

Roger and Arabella Yount - a wealthy banker and his wife who likes shopping and spas and says 'dahling'.

Quentina Mkfesi BSc MSc - a Zimbabwean refugee (escaping political death squads), who can't be deported, and who has a job as a traffic warden.

'Bogdan' Zbigniew (can't remember his surname) - a Polish builder who is saving up money to give to his father back in Poland. He saves this money up by playing the stock market (??).

Ahmed, Usman, and Shahid. Brothers who collectively run a corner shop. Shahid has dabbled in terrorism, and a shady terrorist friend from his past has just appeared on the scene. Goes to a militant mosque in Brixton. Can't remember what Usman does.

Freddy Kamo(!) - Young African footballer with lanky legs (Lanchester is an Arsenal fan right?) who plays for a thinly disguised Chelsea. Always smiling. Stern father.

Smitty - a 'concept' artist, who leaves anonymous graffiti around the place, and who Lanchester somehow manages to get talking in a faux faux-Cockney/Mockney.

All of these behave exactly as you'd imagine they'd behave if you a) had no imagination b) got all your information from Sunday Supplements/daytime tv? apart from 'surprising' gestures towards 'civilised' or nuanced (ie white male) thinking.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 11:49 (eight years ago) link

read you talking about this in the reading thread and am glad this hilarious spin-off exists

Nultified Ancients of Man U (Noodle Vague), Friday, 9 March 2012 11:53 (eight years ago) link

Why isn't there a racist taxi driver? I demand a racist taxi driver.

Homosexual Satan Wasp (Matt DC), Friday, 9 March 2012 11:53 (eight years ago) link

further comments from here, Matt. Just couldn't be bothered to cnp them all in.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 11:54 (eight years ago) link

Ah, with Lanchester the 'racist taxi driver' would in fact be a surprisingly tolerant racist taxi driver who has a copy of the Economist on the front shelf of his taximetered cabriolet.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 11:55 (eight years ago) link

Q. Is the problem with "state of the nation" novels usually that they are written by people far removed from most of the nation?

Nultified Ancients of Man U (Noodle Vague), Friday, 9 March 2012 11:56 (eight years ago) link

Q. I though Lanchester's steez was a kind of sub-Banville aestheticism. Wtf was he thinking?

Nultified Ancients of Man U (Noodle Vague), Friday, 9 March 2012 11:57 (eight years ago) link

A little surprised there are no media types, unless that's Smitty's role of course. There should also be a harassed woman juggling kids with running some sort of poorly-funded third-sector body.

Ismael Klata, Friday, 9 March 2012 11:58 (eight years ago) link

Must have fancied it after everyone loved Whoops!, I guess. Once you're thinking 'I get bankers, I've talked to a lot of bankers', and you've written abt London property, it must be p much irresistible to write a 'city of do-you-see contrasts' novel.

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:12 (eight years ago) link

Also - came awake?

It's when someone has a nocturnal emission so violent that it wakes them up.
The cover of this book annoys me the way the cover of 'Cloud Atlas' does.

Is there any detailed exposition of what bankers actually do, other than having three computer screens? Ian McEwan, even if being tedious, would always have some of this to redeem it.

Ismael Klata, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:19 (eight years ago) link

xpost to NV.

thomp p much nailed The Debt to Pleasure on the what are you reading thread - 'debt to pleasure' = would maybe have like to have been nabokov when it grew up, narrator has poisoned some dudes, envies his brother's career as chef, is self-described gourmand, presents memoir of dudes he has poisoned as a series of menus. it's aight i guess.

Problems with this state of the nation novel, with a star by problems that I think are possibly generic pitfalls:

The characters attempt to be 'representative' and of course are pure ciphers and representative of nothing.*

Lanchester isn't very good, in fact is very very bad at filling his book with material.

The need to fill your book with situations that, again, are representative, makes it feel like satireless satire.*(unless its actual satire)

Capital is extraordinarily badly written on a sentence by toiling sentence basis, which makes me wonder whether he's even capable of doing the sub-Banville aestheticism, on any level.

Insights of daily life barely merit the name insight, apart from a couple of occasions where I said to myself 'yeah, I guess that's just about a thing'.

The interior monologues of the characters are utterly utterly dreadful, full of truly mundane material that should never be in a book. 'So and so looked at the Prius and its leather seats, he wished he could afford a Prius but in the meantime would continue to take the tubefghk;lsfb;hadfjghvflk;sxnhjnhj'

It is a book whose messages come as a clearly attached post-it at the beginning of each chapter. *(I guess - message novels have to stay on message, rather than let the imagination of the writer take them in places that are interesting or entertaining. You just feel like you're being shown things that you've read a thousand times before in longer-form journalism.)

What it reminds me of most is The Information by Martin Amis, which isn't an amazing book, but is world's classics status compared to Capital. Amis wouldn't call a bar 'Uprising' but he might do something similar, better, but similar. Likewise there are the shady figures, the underclasses, the outsider figures, presaging doom for the main power characters.

But MA was probably the best recent State of the Nation novelist? He was funny and he was a very good writer, which helped. Still easy to come a cropper, with the all CAPS text messaging in Yellow Dog for instance. And everything from The Information onwards has been increasingly flawed, and is probably a continuation of the things that made London Fields weaker than Money?

Any other candidates for good recent State of the Nation novelists? (Or any time - would George Eliot have counted? Probably?)]

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:21 (eight years ago) link

xp

His dad was some kind of banker iirc, & he does seem to have actual friends in the city, so you think it'd be his strong suit.

Feel like this is going to be a MAJOR NEW DRAMA on BBC1 at some point.

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:22 (eight years ago) link

What a Carve Up? I remember it being good, but don't trust 90s me as a judge tbh. It also doesn't quite take the cross-section of society route iirc.

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:24 (eight years ago) link

Amis also had a couple of Zbigniews in I think London Fields.

Ismael Klata, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:25 (eight years ago) link

McEwan's Saturday is clunky-as-hell but basically alright.

Ismael Klata, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:26 (eight years ago) link

Is there any detailed exposition of what bankers actually do, other than having three computer screens? Ian McEwan, even if being tedious, would always have some of this to redeem it.

― Ismael Klata, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:19 (2 minutes ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

There isn't, perhaps surprisingly. There's some rather awkward handwaving towards types of trading, and bankery things, to indicate he knows what he's talking about (which he does), but it's kept at a minimum, I suspect because Lanchester feared (prob rightly) that going too much into it would a)be disproportionate b)reveal that he knows rather less about the working detail of everyone else.

I think a fictional account of a banker by Lanchester, or a group of bankers, would have been far more interesting than this 'terrorist', 'immigrant', 'old lady', 'young artist' media stereotype bollocks.

Things where you can tell Lanchester feels more comfortable:

Talking about football (this isn't good, but it doesn't feel RONG).
Bringing up small children (this isn't funny, but " " " ")

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:26 (eight years ago) link

er 'of a banker or a group of bankers by Lanchester' not 'by Lanchester or group of bankers' obv.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:27 (eight years ago) link

xp

aesthetic saturday objections aside, I think a state-of-the-nation has to be significantly longer than that, 400pp minimum.

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:28 (eight years ago) link

Heh, I like the idea of a group of bankers writing as Luther Blisset.

Ismael Klata, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:29 (eight years ago) link

is Hensher's Northern Clemency in this vein? Anyone read that?

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:32 (eight years ago) link

Wasn't Amis' new book originally going to be called The State Of England? A better title than Lionel Asbo, anyway.

I enjoyed Theo Tait putting the boot into Ali Smith's last, vaguely S-o-E book: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n02/theo-tait/the-absolute-end - doesn't happen often enough, presumably because of the very small world of London publishing. Read the kindle sample of the Lanchester and couldn't believe how slack it was, yet I haven't read a bad, or even mixed, review yet.

Stevie T, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:51 (eight years ago) link

Have the feeling this is going to belong on this thread soon:

http://fivedials.com/images/672.jpg

Stevie T, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:58 (eight years ago) link

private eye gave captial a stinky review, fwiw

x-post

― Ward Fowler, Thursday, 8 March 2012 14:25 (Yesterday) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:05 (eight years ago) link

I am actually looking forward to Lionel Asbo.

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:05 (eight years ago) link

xp

I also saw a mixed somewhere serious, but can't remember where.

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:06 (eight years ago) link

How about a state-of-the-nation novel not set in London? Is there such a thing?

Ismael Klata, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:07 (eight years ago) link

oh, theo tait again, Guardian.

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:07 (eight years ago) link

If the Northern Clemency is that sort of thing, it seems to be Sheffield-based. But I think most SoN-type novels would try to do London a bit maybe? At least have one character moving/working there?

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:11 (eight years ago) link

Actually, I may be imagining it, but is there something of Adam Curtis's faux-humdrum tone to some of those opening sentences up top? Like how all his BBC blogs begin with sentences like "One September night in 1945 three British mathematicians and astronomers went to see a new film at a cinema in Cambridge". I can almost hear Curtis reading the one about Petunia Howe.

Stevie T, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:13 (eight years ago) link

i was a fan of What a Carve Up when i read it but when i've flicked through it since i thing i was mostly wrong, and the clumsiness i excused as Dickensian at the time just reads like clumsiness to me now.

interesting to think of Middlemarch as a state-of-the-nation novel because of course it's addressing "middle England" before the fact, at a time when it was far from central to English notions of England maybe?

Nultified Ancients of Man U (Noodle Vague), Friday, 9 March 2012 13:13 (eight years ago) link

iirc Lanchester has too many friends in the journalism trade to get many bad reviews?

Nultified Ancients of Man U (Noodle Vague), Friday, 9 March 2012 13:15 (eight years ago) link

Wasn't Amis' new book originally going to be called The State Of England? A better title than Lionel Asbo, anyway

Should have just gone the whole hog with 'I Hate The Fucking Proles'.

Homosexual Satan Wasp (Matt DC), Friday, 9 March 2012 13:38 (eight years ago) link

don't think he realises his dad was sometimes joking

Nultified Ancients of Man U (Noodle Vague), Friday, 9 March 2012 13:39 (eight years ago) link

I quite enjoyed that Ali Smith book as I was reading it but some of its sympathetic characters are more annoying than its unsympathetic characters and it descends into caricature rather a lot. Also it doesn't really go anywhere.

Homosexual Satan Wasp (Matt DC), Friday, 9 March 2012 13:40 (eight years ago) link

oh, theo tait again, Guardian.

― woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:07 (31 minutes ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

"Actually it was a good sandwich," runs a typical sentence

Good job the review has forewarned me of this particular sentence, otherwise I might have hurled the book across the room.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:44 (eight years ago) link

That review is spot on about the 'drone' of the prose. Also:

And there's a lot of slightly lazy repetition: "Parker, the boy she had been going out with ever since they kissed at a sixth-form dance on a hot June night back at sixth-form college."

This! Who on earth let this sort of thing through? It's like the weird repetition of the business about the skips and builders in the first chapter and the 'Transport for London card charging device'.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:54 (eight years ago) link

There was an interview I skimmed through that did say L's dad was banker. But so what? Isn't part of the 'story' how the system almost took on a life of its own and no one really has any control/understanding?

Part of the reason why I never got round to Whoops! anyway was that all of a sudden this novelist that is never on your radar acquires an interest over these topical matters - except that in this case, as I've said, my impression is that even the so-called experts are no experts when it comes to the financial system, so what chance does this guy have? The other reason is that unemployed/laid-off bankers started writing a mountain of these so cynicism set in.

Related but separate thing is you have other novelists I think I'd hate - Geoff Dyer and Adam Mars-Jones writing bks on things I really like: on Stalker and Late Spring, whereas I would like to see these being written by film writers that would bring wider knowledge on Japanese and Russian cinema instead of what I think it would be (= too many boring personal reflections...its for the fans you know). Its depressing that this might be the only way for bks to get published on really interesting films/topics and this seems like the only way to get any shelf-space/coverage.

I guess they've done their 'research', ffs.

xyzzzz__, Friday, 9 March 2012 14:01 (eight years ago) link

'the system' took control -- this is SF material of course, fuck 'station of the nation' bullshit.

xyzzzz__, Friday, 9 March 2012 14:04 (eight years ago) link

otm.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 14:05 (eight years ago) link

iirc Lanchester has too many friends in the journalism trade to get many bad reviews?

yes, I get the impression he's well-liked; also bad reviews aren't really done that much anymore (there was some fuss about this recently, maybe centred around that hatchet-job award?). The notable thing is how much attention it's getting - I got the impression that Lanchester was slipping into the terminal midlist zone before this, releasing also-reviewed, diminishing-returns novels every few years. Now he's a hit! I guess that's partly Whoops!, partly a canny topic, partly a very quiet literary spring in the uk, partly book-page need to have some literary middle-aged men to take seriously.

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 14:18 (eight years ago) link

Actually, I may be imagining it, but is there something of Adam Curtis's faux-humdrum tone to some of those opening sentences up top? Like how all his BBC blogs begin with sentences like "One September night in 1945 three British mathematicians and astronomers went to see a new film at a cinema in Cambridge". I can almost hear Curtis reading the one about Petunia Howe.

― Stevie T, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:13 (56 minutes ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

there is a little bit. But I think the thing that annoys me about these specific sentences is the way he smuggles in other information. The 'brisk clip', and another one where after the usual time and season bollocks, Lanchester puts in a 'slightly out of breath'. I wouldn't mind so much if it was as formulaic as Adam Curtis' 'I'm going to tell you the story of x. It's a remarkable story that involves x,y,z,π and ك'.'

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 14:23 (eight years ago) link

Idk, should this be changed into a 'State of the Nation' novel thread? Change title one of these maybe?

'Actually it was a good sandwich' - State of the Nation novels and what is in them

'fuck 'station of the nation' bullshit'

'I am actually looking forward to Lionel Asbo'

'Why isn't there a racist taxi driver? I demand a racist taxi driver'

'I also saw a mixed somewhere serious'

'i'm assuming the copies i saw in waterstones were some britain-wide conspiracy'

'wonky textspeak'

' I guess it looks like what broadsheet journalism likes to believe novels are'

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 14:44 (eight years ago) link

ah, 'I also saw a mixed review somewhere serious'.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 14:44 (eight years ago) link

I dunno, enjoying the title as it stands, above all "that the computer had come with"

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 14:53 (eight years ago) link

xp there might be something in the deep-seated bourgeois worldview that makes it impossible to believe in grotesque evil

― 1000 Scampo DJs (Noodle Vague), Friday, October 9, 2020 8:38 AM bookmarkflaglink

I think this is what I was reaching towards, NV, otm.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 October 2020 11:13 (one month ago) link

i am by NO means versed in present-day uk lit compared to any ilxors and ilbows but the two figures i have encountered personally (possibly oddities within it anyway?) could not be less like JL = t0by l!tt and n!cola b4rker

i also used to know someone who was in NA with will s3lf who said his stories there were very very funny and er s3lf-deprecating (couldn't work out how to avoid that sorry)

mark s, Friday, 9 October 2020 11:27 (one month ago) link

i am fonder of S3lf and his work than a lot of ilxors i suspect tho i haven't felt the urge to read him in a decade or more

1000 Scampo DJs (Noodle Vague), Friday, 9 October 2020 11:30 (one month ago) link

yeah, one good aspect of LD has been looking into a bit more contemporary fiction, and even where I haven't really enjoyed something otherwise lauded (Angela Chadwick's XX for example), I've generally found writers seriously interested in their craft, and what is more achieving unusual and interesting things (I'm particularly referring to Jen Calleja, Eley Williams (short stories anyway) and Isabel Waidner. That isn't hugely representative, and I know personally one fairly successful writer who can outdo even Lanchester in terms of utter pomposity but is actually skilled and interested in his craft.

I just think the crucial thing here is... well, the shortcut for me anyway, is that John Lanchester isn't actually very bright. I don't worry about that in all sorts of spaces, and I think you can achieve a lot with dogged progression and tackling a subject, without a particular need for a ginormous bean, but he sort of positions himself as insightful. The other aspect is, to steal a phrase incorrectly from Wyndham Lewis, he is a man without Art. He just doesn't get the world of the imagination (and I think this goes for The Debt to Pleasure as much as it does his later painfully literal works).

So, the overall conundrum is that he's a really not very good writer, very securely lauded by one significant aspect of the critical world. I'm not sure that can be applied across UK lit.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 October 2020 11:34 (one month ago) link

LD = lockdown sorry.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 October 2020 11:34 (one month ago) link

i should say that for all this quite heartfelt slagging of the man - the livestream really did annoy the hell out of me - there remains something enduringly fascinating and irresolvable about the qualities of his badness, especially in his fictional prose.

in a conversation i was having elsewhere i said:

i do think intentionality is the sphinx-like mystery at the centre of lanchester. and although i keep offering benefit of doubt (he *can’t* have meant this surely? he *must* have *meant* to do this, but why? etc), in the end... well i find myself permanently deferring judgment so that there is no “in the end” i guess. i think one of the intriguing things, especially where it starts intersecting with systemic stuff like publishing, editing and reviewing, is that you start reflexively to doubt your own aesthetic judgment. not necessarily in totality, but on the sentence by sentence judgments. so that you find yourself going “is this... bad?”. then a bit later there’s almost relief at a really egregious sentence-logic turd, where you go “no ok this is definitely bad” and then you go allllll the way back round and say “but why? how was this allowed to happen?”

and that micro-doubt has a way of insidiously undermining the whole lanchester critique, so it feels almost a matter of faith and doubt.

for some reason i’m more angry about him than anyone else at the moment because when you ask the question, given the above, how did you get here? how did you earn this status? you realise he’s a really potent avatar of privelege. even more potent because he doesn’t seem to have the first clue this is the case (nothing has even penetrated the privelege to cause an inkling of self doubt or hypocritical defence mechanism, completely lack of awareness of the grift). you could argue his entire MO is wonderingly and moralistically probing at his own privelege, of which he is unaware. it’s like a truman show where lanchester is living inside a massive lanchester world. or a matrix where he’s looking at which pill to take, and one will show him the world outside lanchester and the other will allow him to stay innocently lanchester.

there’s an odd sort of everyman quality to this epistemic problem, or problem of philosophical scepticism. but also it’s lanchester. so it’s v visible. it’ll oddly godlike being a reader in lanchester’s world. you see e hopeless innocent fallibility. and it’s v irritating.



that is to say we all wonder to what extent we are able to get outside ourselves, but... and i can’t stress this enough..: especially john.

what if lanchester but too much.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 October 2020 12:25 (one month ago) link

as the other half of this "conversation elsewhere" lol i am curretly in the throes of finetuning my actualreal review of JL's actualreal collection of horror stories which i have actualreal read, compellingly obvious mere 4-word review notwithstanding (viz it's bad not good)

mark s, Friday, 9 October 2020 12:37 (one month ago) link

unlikely to complete b4 next week sadly, i have to reread a big sigh fvckton of stuff

mark s, Friday, 9 October 2020 12:38 (one month ago) link

lol i'm never quite sure how much to observe social media boundaries. I am getting left behind like J0hn Lanch¯\_(ツ)_/¯ster.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 October 2020 13:18 (one month ago) link

are u re-reading capital.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 October 2020 13:18 (one month ago) link

i will never read capital

mark s, Friday, 9 October 2020 14:37 (one month ago) link

A contra-Lanchester reflection: compared to other things, technology is not spectral or haunted.

It might just qualify as 'uncanny' in that it sometimes allows people do to unusual things they couldn't do before.

the pinefox, Friday, 9 October 2020 14:58 (one month ago) link

a contra-pinefox reflection: maybe only technology can be haunted

mark s, Friday, 9 October 2020 15:21 (one month ago) link

It is a mystery.

the pinefox, Friday, 9 October 2020 15:29 (one month ago) link

Basically my line on this is that technology represents new framing devices and so can be a vehicle for haunting, but the natural environmental niche for haunting and ghosts is most definitely not technology, probably for atmospheric and genre reasons as much as anything else. Kipling is an exception as usual, eg in his excellent short story The End of the Passage, where he uses the then novel Kodak camera to convey a haunting.

(I mean he was amazing at the use of technology to explore the metaphysical (that extraordinary short story The Eye of Allah, combining inter religious love, the microscope, medieval monasticism, and germ theory for example).)

Speaking of unbearable pomposity, my thinking a while ago on The End of the Passage:

I have said that ghosts do not like the light. This is because, although they have a fondness for apparition and animation, they do not like being seen. The eye is the sense organ of light, and is the vehicle of that reason that comes from observation, which we call science, and is the symbol of the movement that promotes that reason, the Enlightenment.

Ghosts never appear in well-lit laboratories, are notoriously chary of experimental conditions, in the light of science they become ‘phenomena’, their trappings bed sheets, paste-board masks, projections of psychological megrims and disorder. They may look unconvincing or gimcrack, even becoming subjects not of fear but (disastrously for their ability to frighten) of mockery, laughter and scorn.

The eye is also the most sedulously duplicitous of the sense organs, its world so detailed and convincing, so seemingly incapable of modification, that we call its representations reality. This is the world we exist in, and its light is the light by which we read. In order to have a successful ghost story, the ineluctable modality of the visual must be eluded, the rules of reason modified.

Or you can do what Rudyard Kipling did in The End of the Passage – take the very instruments of observational rationalism, the camera and the eye, and make them the vessels of the terror that they are supposed to dissolve, producing an ocular ghost story.

> ‘T’isn’t in medical science.’

> ‘What?’

> ‘Things in a dead man’s eye.’

The End of the Passage – Rudyard Kipling

...

Spurstow asks another of the men, Mottram, to look into Hummil’s eyes.

Mottram leaned over his shoulder and looked intently.

> ‘I see nothing except some gray blurs in the pupil. There can be nothing there, you know.’

Despite Mottram’s insistence, Spurstow decides to take a photograph of the eyes with a Kodak camera, but destroys the pictures without showing them to anyone else.

> ‘It was impossible, of course. You needn’t look, Mottram. I’ve torn up the films. There was nothing there. It was impossible.’

> ‘That,’ said Lowndes, very distinctly, watching the shaking hand striving to relight the pipe, ‘is a damned lie.’

The eye is no longer the vessel of reason, and has become like the sarcophagus that contains Count Magnus, a vessel of mortal fear, unopenable, and sealed by more than padlocks.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 October 2020 16:25 (one month ago) link

mark s can say this better than i’m about to, but recording technology of all kinds has been associated with the supernatural since the beginning. what are photos anyway but a kind of embalming of a dead moment? and edison of course believing - or feigning to believe - that he could use phonograph technology to speak to the dead. there’s a rich history there. and then you think of movies like the conversation, or blade runner, where new information gets somehow magicked up from within the unseen heart of an artifact as a consequence of applied concentration by the protagonist, acting like a medium. (a medium! aha - no - let me not go down that road perhaps)

Li'l Brexit (Tracer Hand), Friday, 9 October 2020 16:35 (one month ago) link

yes of course, very good point - odds and ends of voices coming out of nowhere (there's a really good Machen short story on this). recording technology - the aural - is really significant isn't it. I thought Berberian Sound Studio did this very well, and it was either a Tony Herrington or Mark S piece on The Fall in The Wire that really bought this to my mind back when i was a teenager.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 October 2020 16:41 (one month ago) link

Wasn't Marconi trying to contact the dead by his early investigations into wireless technology. I remember reading that a while back.

Stevolende, Saturday, 10 October 2020 00:02 (one month ago) link

I’m pretty rusty on the details of all this, and it’s become more of an internet crypto-truism since I last picked through it but yes, this deliberately credulous and somewhat suspect net essay sets out the main beats — at various times, tech pioneers Edison, Bell, Lodge and Marconi all apparently flirted with the notion that a machine would be built which could contact the dead: as ever it takes it back to the Fox sisters, presumed charlatans since they were bullied into confessions they immediately recanted, and links the spirit-knocking that they traded in to morse code (because tapping had become an excellent way to transmit messages across distance. Needs more Tesla imo.

Oliver Lodge is the best catch here, tbh: he was a theoretical physicist as well as an inventor (the “coherer” was an essential item in getting early radio to work), and he had as good a grasp of the various established-science wave theories (sound, electricity and magnetism) as anyone on earth. The phrases “thought wave” and “brain wave” aren’t accidental — they were notions proposed to explain an evidently existing phenomenon (thinking lol, it DOES exist, it DOES) which was not then well explained. If it’s a wave then it travels. If iut travels through the body — perhaps via the electric impulses also known to control the body — then perhaps it can travel beyond? And be measured and translated? As speculation goes, this was not bad or goofy science! Electricity is evolved, and some of the aspects not explained then are not explained now.

Tracer shies from the ”medium” pun — but it’s not a pun, it’s the same word being used in the same way. The tranced-up medium in a spiritualist seance was an element in a an embodied technology (the receiver or the coherer or what have you) by which the spirit guide on the other side (effectively the telephone exchange operative, often a native american presumably since so many of these were newly dead courtesy philip sheridan etc) connected the loved one to the bereaved.

Bell, Lodge and Marconi were all on working machines that translated sound waves to electricity and back (a telephone is an early microphone attached to an early speaker) — at first (telephones) using wires, latterly (radio) doing without. The realisation that radio could be recived at enormous distance without a connecting machinery simply amplified the speculation that thought waves or brain waves might work this way too.

But the dead? The dead are the dead! Not if you’re a Christian, which everyone involved was (even a bullshit artist like Edison). If science is true and Christian belief is true, then each must support and”prove:” the other! and In the 19th century, scientific proof was very often a matter of fashioning a technology whose working was in effect a proof. Soon and inevitably the technology that linked the eternal spirit on that (to be hoped) blessed side to this mortal side was there for the grasping. Surely?

In Europe, America and the wider world, the second half of the 19th centiry and the first of the 20th were years of immense woe and loss. Industrially powered wars, ruthless colonialexploitation, death on unprecedented new scales: the need for solace was vast and entirely genuine. Millions flirted with the comforts spiritualism seemed to offer, and no surprise. People wanted desperately to know that those taken far too early were doing OK! Ideally in a better place, this one place was horrible.

Scientists and practical men — materialists of a very specific mien aren’t immune to loss and yearning, or to being fooled once they step outside their zones of expertise. The great scourge of the seance was Houdini, escapologist and practiced prestidigator, who literally recognised half the technical conjurors’ tricks being deployed, and the shrewd technique that went into levitation, ectoplasm, and so on. He knew that carney culture was about fleecing dopes even when it’s mostly benign.

As extremely practical men, Bell, Edison and Marconi were all half carney men themselves: funding their research via self-promotion and promises. Edison in particular was two parts circus barker and idea thief and three parts brilliant business operative to one part genuine inventor, always talking all kinds of bollocks to keep the ball rolling. If he said his technology could talk to ghosts, he was definitely eyeing your wallet. I hadn’t till now known that Marconi also had interests in this direction, as stevolende suggests — the article I linked says yes with qualifications, which I think I’d amplify.

In different ways, Bell and Lodge seem the best match for the image that article sketches: Lodge as a hugely important forward-looking scientific and speculative theorist. Bell was fascinated by the social dimensions of the technologisation of communication (the article claims his assistant Thomas Watson was a spiritualist, though I think this was much later in life, not while he was working on the telephone — in old age he became an adherent of Meher Baba! iirc he was quite sceptical that telephony could be achieved, tho i may be misremembering this…)

Telegraph, telephony, telepathy — the point was a fancy greek word including tele-, the prefix meaning “far”, to indicate that action at a distance was a scientific reality. This realisation was a massively disorientating paradigm shift in materialist scientific assumption, and explaining its possibility is the basis for much of the most brain-busting stuff in 20th century physics.

mark s, Saturday, 10 October 2020 11:53 (one month ago) link

lol "booming post" aka tl;dr sorry fizzles, sorry mr lanchester

mark s, Saturday, 10 October 2020 11:54 (one month ago) link

(ok i also meant to put in something abt trances, mesmer and "animal magnetism" but that can probably wait)

mark s, Saturday, 10 October 2020 11:56 (one month ago) link

i am not the booming post; i come to bear witness to the booming post

Li'l Brexit (Tracer Hand), Saturday, 10 October 2020 17:12 (one month ago) link

confession is not absolution. you cannot escape the

BOOMING (and extremely interesting) POST, MARK

make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Fizzles, Sunday, 11 October 2020 10:12 (one month ago) link

i have reached the middle of whoops! and actally it is NOT at all as bad as the opening two chapters, long stretches of reasonably clear summary of events -- it's only when he reaches out of this narrative for quick explanatory stabilisation that you glimpse some of the ghastly bouvard&pecuchet level jibrish that are his touchstone lodestar and ground zero

a mode more like his essays on christie and simenon as dissected above

mark s, Sunday, 11 October 2020 14:41 (one month ago) link

(apologies all i've been derailed by life on this review: actual work and job applications and other projects with more pressing deadlines)

mark s, Wednesday, 14 October 2020 10:53 (one month ago) link

rereading stuff for mind-focusing purposes i just re-encountered this glorious question from ilxor calumerio: "why do we need to be reassured as to smitty's cum-spotting bona fides?"

he so doesn't deserve readers like those in this thread

mark s, Thursday, 15 October 2020 19:18 (one month ago) link

Who is publishing your review of the short stories?

the pinefox, Monday, 19 October 2020 09:17 (one month ago) link

at the moment it seem i will be self-publishing on the funding platform patreon

mark s, Monday, 19 October 2020 09:19 (one month ago) link

This is the most elaborate and unremunerative long con I have ever heard of.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Monday, 19 October 2020 11:30 (one month ago) link

ffs

mark s, Monday, 19 October 2020 11:38 (one month ago) link

What is, James M? The Patreon thing (haven't seen it) or Lanchester's book (ditto really) or -- ?

the pinefox, Monday, 19 October 2020 11:50 (one month ago) link

This is the most elaborate and unremunerative long con I have ever heard of.


it is my “penultimate truth” waking nightmare.

Fizzles, Monday, 19 October 2020 20:11 (one month ago) link

It was a joke about this whole years-long thread being a setup to get patreon $. It fell flat.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Monday, 19 October 2020 23:02 (one month ago) link

oh lol, i thought it was a joke about lanchester’s whole grift being a long con or deep trolling of this thread. to what mystical or hermetic end who knows. i have considered it.

Fizzles, Tuesday, 20 October 2020 06:57 (one month ago) link

He was on R4 earlier. God knows what the pitiful wanker was talking about, my already deficient brain shut down after about roughly something like 10 seconds of listening to him.

calzino, Thursday, 22 October 2020 22:39 (one month ago) link

The collection is £0.99 on Kindle at the moment, if anyone is brave enough to read it.

Scampo di tutti i Scampi (ShariVari), Tuesday, 3 November 2020 06:59 (three weeks ago) link

i bought it the other day simultaneously thinking, i would pay no more than 99p and also wow what a bargain for such entertainment.

Fizzles, Tuesday, 3 November 2020 11:08 (three weeks ago) link

"there’s an odd sort of everyman quality to this epistemic problem, or problem of philosophical scepticism. but also it’s lanchester. so it’s v visible. it’ll oddly godlike being a reader in lanchester’s world. you see e hopeless innocent fallibility. and it’s v irritating."

this is one of the best things i've ever read posted on ilx lol. the lrb podcast where they paired him with patricia lockwood was chefs kiss. i think the moment where he was like "there's wine enthusiast blogs lol" has already been reported with alarm somewhere on this or the lrb thread.

btw my bf read capital about five years ago and it basically made him quit reading contemporary fiction and since than he hasn't read any fiction written after 1900.

plax (ico), Tuesday, 3 November 2020 11:28 (three weeks ago) link

bf otm

big man on scampus (Noodle Vague), Tuesday, 3 November 2020 11:29 (three weeks ago) link

i know but he does annoying things like read every zola novel in a year and literally months later say he doesn't really remember anything about them

plax (ico), Tuesday, 3 November 2020 11:32 (three weeks ago) link

lol maybe that's Zola's fault?

big man on scampus (Noodle Vague), Tuesday, 3 November 2020 11:38 (three weeks ago) link

oh great yr on his side

plax (ico), Tuesday, 3 November 2020 12:17 (three weeks ago) link

I'm trying to read Zola now and it's like I'm the one who's working in a coalmine.

Young Boys of Bernie (Tom D.), Tuesday, 3 November 2020 13:17 (three weeks ago) link

the lrb podcast where they paired him with patricia lockwood was chefs kiss.

lol this was amazing.

Fizzles, Tuesday, 3 November 2020 18:53 (three weeks ago) link

three weeks pass...

Surprised this hasn't been picked up here. It's very ripe for ILB's view.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/nov/21/john-lanchester-i-started-writing-capital-in-2006-assuming-a-crash-was-about-to-happen

the pinefox, Tuesday, 24 November 2020 12:34 (yesterday) link

There were two big differences in my writing process when I worked on Capital. The first was that I drafted it on a computer. With my previous novels I wrote the first draft in longhand, on index cards. For my first novel, The Debt to Pleasure, I tried typing out those cards, but I started to come down with carpal tunnel syndrome. I switched to reading out the longhand version into tapes, which I then sent off to be typed up. (Startlingly expensive, by the way.)

Reading the book out loud, I’d hear all sorts of things that I wanted to change, so I’d end up with a second draft just through that process. The finished typescript would come back within days. Then I’d leave it in a drawer until I felt ready to do the editing and revising. Editing is more fun than writing because you know you have a whole book there, you just have to chisel it out of the ice. I followed that process for my first four books.

Capital was different because I knew it was going to be longer and have multiple narrative strands, and I needed to be able to see the whole thing from a top-down, aerial perspective. I used the word processing program Scrivener and it was very helpful in juggling a novel of that sort.

Once I’d finished a draft, that was when the next big difference kicked in. I need a few months after finishing a novel before I can see it sufficiently clearly to assess it, think about structural changes, and begin the process of revision. I’d always had fantasies that I would use those few months constructively: learn German, train for a charity 10k, take up tai chi. Instead what I usually did was look out of the window and then realise with a jolt that three months had gone past.

With Capital, I finally did act on the intention. I started writing the book in early 2006 on the assumption that some form of crash was about to happen. When the crash did happen, it was much bigger and more systemic than anything I’d expected. I was following the story in real time, and by the time I finished the novel, in early 2009, I knew quite a lot about the credit crunch.

I was worried that when I went back to revise the book, I would end up including too much of that knowledge and wreck the story. You can do a lot in fiction, but you can’t explain complex subjects at length without killing the narrative. “As Nigel looked towards the lights of Canary Wharf in the distance, he struggled to remember the definition of a collateralised debt obligation.” I decided to take three months or so and write a nonfiction account of the credit crunch as a way of quarantining what I knew about the financial crisis. That book was Whoops!

I wrote that pretty quickly, but the publication process was all-consuming, and it was about 18 months before I got back to Capital. It was like reading someone else’s book, and I’ve never had such a clear sense of perspective when revising – at the start I was worried that I was so distant from it that I wouldn’t be able to finish it. I was absolutely certain I’d got the timing wrong and nobody would want to read it.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 24 November 2020 12:35 (yesterday) link

With my previous novels I wrote the first draft in longhand, on index cards.

'debt to pleasure' = would maybe have like to have been nabokov when it grew up[...]

― desperado, rough rider (thomp), Thursday, March 1, 2012 12:23 AM bookmarkflaglink

nailed it

difficult listening hour, Tuesday, 24 November 2020 13:43 (yesterday) link

I used the word processing program Scrivener and it was very helpful

lol i started an "oh no" joek here (bcz i also use scrivener and oh no) and then i spotted the better joek nested inside this quote viz "the word processing program scrivener"

i mean a sub editor might have injected those four explanatory words or DID THEY NOT NEED TO

mark s, Tuesday, 24 November 2020 13:54 (yesterday) link

I agree that that's very amusing, especially in light of this 8-year-old thread title.

(Though I actually think it's appropriate to include such information, in an article.)

the pinefox, Tuesday, 24 November 2020 15:27 (yesterday) link


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