Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Football Injuries

Despite the fact I've been playing on Astroturf for over ten years now, it wasn't until last night that I experienced my first astroburn. Ow. I compounded this a few moments later by attempting to drag the ball back underneath my feet, missing said ball entirely, and kicking myself in the calf leaving an unsightly bruise. On top of this, I have a big mark on my forearm from some overenthusiastic guitar playing at the weekend.

Tonight, Nicholas Royle (who wrote The Uncanny) is coming to the faculty to give a paper entitled 'Fear of Freud' in the research seminar I co-organise. It should be exciting.

Also, Teknikov are playing what is both our first gig for some time and possibly our last for even more. We have new songs (3, in theory). We have rehearsed more than once. It will be fun. If you would like to partake in this exciting event, you can catch us at the Queen Charlotte, Dereham Road, Norwich on the night of Saturday 26th April.


Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Abstract for...

...the most deranged paper I ever gave and, for that matter, ever will give. This was from a conference at Sheffield Hallam a couple of years ago, and it was my first (speaking) conference outing away from UEA. I still maintain that there is something very interesting in it, but to say that the paper itself was, well, over-ambitious would be a bit of an understatement.

Reason for posting this? Well, I was just browsing through old saved work and I thought I'd like to share it. Incidentally, if anyone reading this is organising a conference on ghost stories, genre in the Thirties, landscape art, allegory, English Surrealism, 'psychoanalytic and phenomenological critiques of perception', Rex Warner, Edward Upward, writing and political commitment...(list continues for another twenty-five minutes)...psychogeography or the quest theme in 20th century fiction, just leave me a comment and I'll get back to you!


“I rather imagine we’re meant to see the whole thing”:
Inherited Supernatural Landscapes in Allegorical Fiction and Surrealist Painting

The ghost stories of M.R. James have usually been classified as an aside to the development of the English literary modernism with which they coincided. A closer study of the flat, expansive landscapes employed by James, however, will reveal a kind of space that is familiar to students of both English Surrealist painting and 1930s fiction. It is my intention to show how these unsettling spaces shift from the sequestered realm of the supernatural tale into the painting of Paul Nash and Tristram Hillier and the supposedly “allegorical” fiction of Rex Warner via the juvenilia of Edward Upward and Christopher Isherwood. In so doing, I hope to raise questions about the usefulness of a classificatory agenda that insists on both a very narrow reading of Warner’s novels The Wild Goose Chase and The Aerodrome and a limited conception of precisely what being an “English Surrealist” entailed.

The composition of James’ landscapes conveys a sense of the visual sinister: in the stories, a strong emphasis is placed on perspective and acts of looking. Invariably, these empty scene are penetrated by an overdetermined, monstrous object:

The light was obscure, conveying an impression of gathering storm […] On this bleak stage at first no actor was visible. Then, in the distance, a bobbing black object appeared: a moment more, and it was a man running.[1]

Isherwood and Upward’s “Mortmere” tales (written in the 1920s, but manifestly “Thirties” in their outlook) also concern themselves with the anxiety that exposed spaces can instigate. The foreboding atmospheres that one encounters in them have a Jamesian tone, but eventually lead back to a corporeal explanation. In their lambasting of the English squirearchy, the stories have often been dismissed- unfairly- as jejune travesties or, at best, short political allegories. This paper contends that they are texts on the threshold of Surrealism “proper” and are, as such, matched in spirit by the early landscapes of Nash and Hillier. In their description of glum marshland scenes they also anticipate the desolate heaths and meadows encountered in Warner’s novels. The visual relationships proposed by all of these works imply near-identical anxious subjectivities. Using psychoanalytic and phenomenological critiques of perception I intend to demonstrate how it is possible to read unbounded spaces in order to contest received “generic” understandings of Thirties texts.

[1] M.R. James, “Oh Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”, Ghost Stories (London: Penguin, 1994), pp82-83.


The best thing is that, by reviving this for a blog, I've realised the critical instrument- Todorov's theory of the Fantastic- that might actually have made this paper cohere. Double d'oh.

Finished for the day... here's another post. This isn't really thesis material as such- I need to edit it down, and it's descriptive rather than analytical- but here's a plot summary of Concluding, the novel I'm currently trying to nail.


On a misty morning, shortly before sunrise, an old man draws back the shutters of his window and, peering out through fog at his small and dissimilar menagerie, predicts that it will be ‘a fine day in the end'. The man is Rock, a retired scientist who has, in the dimly remembered past, elaborated a great and influential theory: the novel leaves the finer points of this discovery unclear, but it seems to be connected to the treatment of disease in pigs. Rock is domiciled in a cottage tithed to a ‘State’ educational institute- England has submitted to a bureaucratic coup-d’etat- run by Misses Edge and Baker, whose slight aspirations towards the draconian are softened by their almost all-encompassing obliviousness to the various intrigues which take place almost underneath their noses. The school is attended by several hundred girls, all of whose names unaccountably begin with the letter ‘M’. On this particular day, an evening dance is to be held at the school in commemoration of the institute’s, or the state’s, founders. However, as Edge and Baker take breakfast in preparation for a short trip to London, where they are regularly summoned to attend State meetings, it is discovered that Mary and Merode, two of the students, have absconded. Strange, echoing voices ring out in the woods surrounding the school.

Meanwhile, more details about Rock’s situation are revealed. Edge and Baker covet his cottage, which he shares with his granddaughter Elizabeth, who is recovering from a nervous breakdown. The mistresses hope to transfer it to a new char or caretaker. Rock, who is due to be acknowledged by an elite scientific academy- an accolade which would entitle him, but not Elizabeth, to a new home- is resistant to the ‘Byzantine’ machinations Edge and Baker make to oust him.

Rumours also circulate about the sexual proclivities of some of the adult males at the school: George Adams, the woodsman; Sebastian Birt, an economics tutor with whom Elizabeth Rock is romantically entangled; and Rock himself. It is implied that one of the three may have played a part in the disappearances. Then Elizabeth and Birt chance upon the fallen and injured Merode whilst enjoying a tryst in the wood and take her to Rock’s cottage. Although pressed, both here and back at the school, Merode refuses to reveal the motive for her actions or the whereabouts of Mary.

The hour of the dance approaches and Elizabeth and Rock equivocate over whether or not they should attend. A policeman continues the searching of the grounds, including, ominously, the vicinity of the lake. Mary, however, does not reappear and the girls, who speculate amongst themselves about her fate, stubbornly resist aiding the inquiry. Night draws in, and the dance begins. Edge waltzes with the girls, and Rock is twice led by a girl called Moira into a disused cellar beneath the school in which a secret society of the senior girls meets. Eventually, he is drawn into Edge’s sanctum for a curiously amiable conversation in which Edge seems to offer him her hand in marriage. This hitherto unrevealed good-naturedness means that Rock has won the battle, if not the war, and returns to the cottage, with Elizabeth as his escort, as the voices of those seeking Mary echo across the darkened campus.


By way of a warm-up before I begin my day at the Green coalface...

A couple of weeks ago I went down to London to see the exhibition of Derek Jarman paintings/ films at the Serpentine gallery and to watch Darlington who, the previous weekend, had depressed me in pouring rain with a 3-1 capitulation to Bradford at the Arena. There seemed to be something incongruous about these activities: Jarman, probably wisely, would almost certainly have had very little time for moribund right-wing twittering that often characterises 'football culture' (nailed here rather succinctly by Stewart Lee.) Where football in this country is often interpreted as a political opiate, and the seat of a tendentially aggressive anti-intellectualism (one needs only look at the treatment of Graeme le Saux or, to a slightly lesser extent, Pat Nevin), Jarman militated in favour of the rigorous questionings of orthodoxies and the celebration of the very differences that factions within the sport attempt to ignore or persecute. That said, Jarman's recurrent themes, his 'significant addictions' if you will- Englishness, apocalypticism, rebellion, youth culture, the covert association between violence and the formation of sexual identities- read almost like a list of the issues that are simultaneously encoded within and ignored by the (rightly) maligned genre of the 'football hooligan film'. I've long thought that hooliganism, an event within culture that was occurring on a scale of unacknowledged vastness (the logistics of the temporary migration of thousands of young males to fight across the length and breadth of England every winter Saturday are hard to comprehend), needs a serious treatment that goes beyond the lad-porn of films like ID, The Football Factory and Green Street. I think that the closest we're going to get to an intellectual cinematic treatment of the way football becomes a sublimation of the deeper, darker currents which flow beneath English life will be the forthcoming adaptation of David Peace's The Damned United, which will hopefully eschew the overly-familiar nostalgia of programs like Life on Mars in favour of brooding industrial menace and a Ballardian take on Berney Inns. That said, The Damned United is about those within the games rather than the fans/ troublemakers, who occupy a menacing background role (in the novel, Brian Clough's car radio is used to create a 'barbarians at the gate' effect as it recounts ever more worrying tales of trouble on the terraces.)

Anyway, although it didn't include Jarman's lost take on British Rail-based mayhem, the exhibition was very interesting. It included his Francis Bacon-like tar paintings, which I thought had an almost shocking 'thereness', as if the religious iconography collaged into the works had, in their misattribution, manifested a traumatic vacuity or absence within thought. There were also lightboxes showing scenes from Jarman's famous gardens in Dungeness (the scene, in one of my favourite crossings of incongruous lines of imaginative force, of a rather poignant moment in Eastenders a couple of years ago). There was also a screening of the experimental film Blue, and a 'life of the artist' film narrated by Tilda Swinton. Surprisingly, given the bleakness of the subject matter, I left feeling rather lifted by the assurance that Jarman's work tended to afford the notion of art itself, which is to say that both the paintings and the films rail against the easy cynicism of soft postmodernism with the energy and exuberance of an only just excusably late romanticism. Art is regarded as the catalyst for the release of political and personal potential in his work, perhaps even as the activity- not, one hopes, the institution- which harnesses and reveals the elan vital- if you'll excuse my rather flabby attempts to co-opt Henri Bergson into my attempts to bring this paragraph to closure.

Afterwards, I went for a pint in Waterloo Station and made notes- which I've since lost- which would have made this post sound slightly more authoritative. Then it was onto London Bridge to meet Thom and head up the Northern Line to Barnet which is, alongside Macclesfield, the most twee town to have a club in the football league. We went to a real ale pub on Barnet High Street and then wandered down through the Metrolandish suburbs to the ground. Kick-off was delayed by half an hour due to floodlight failure, which created a nervy atmosphere amongst the travelling supporters who were already desperate for points. The game itself was a bit nothing-y, a 0-0 draw marked by its paucity of scoring opportunities. At least we got to go on the DLR, which I still experience as a massive novelty, on the way back to Greenwich.

The next day I strolled down by the Cutty Sark, had a quick explore of Canary Wharf (as you do) and had by bi-annual peruse of the Tate Modern, an activity that nearly always gives me 'art vertigo' and, inexplicably, leaves me with a head-cold.

I'd best do some writing now...


Wednesday, 16 April 2008


The text wouldn't appear beneath the photo of the fish. It was meant to say:

This week, my thesis is almost making sense. I've chosen to celebrate the fact with a picture of the ugliest fish I ever saw outside the fishmonger's slab. In other news, Darlington are setting a new world record attempt for snatching defeat from the jaw's of victory, and Teknikov are playing the weekend after next.

Sorry, he cannat come to the phone right now...

...he's working.

This week, my thesis is almost making sense. I've chosen to celebrate this fact with a picture of the ugliest fish I ever saw outside the fishmonger's slab. In other news, Darlington are setting a new world record attempt for grasping defeat from the jaws of victory (other nominees: Darlington 99/00, Darlington 95/96, Newcastle 95/96). There remains the possibility of an end-of-season visit to Wembley though, which might be a laugh. Also, Teknikov are playing the weekend after the one coming up.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Akin to the way in which Cristiano Ronaldo...

...has surely already tied up the PFA Player of the Year Award this year, Glasgow's Sons and Daughters have run away with the 'Joe's middle-ranking indie band single of the year' award with 'This Gift'. There's no video for it on Youtube yet, but you can hear it on their Myspace player. The album's pretty good as well, but the single- I can't even begin. Further to what I was saying about Prolapse a few weeks ago, this is what indie guitar music should sound like, not just some twattish schoolboys wearing skinny jeans and affecting cockney accents to sing yet another half=arsed ditty about going to moderately sleazy discos. Full marks for sounding like a countrified Stereolab too, and a pleasing hint of MBV in there. In fact, this is, for my money, the best middle-ranking indie band single since The Duke Spirit's 'Love is an Unfamiliar Name' a few years back. Champion, like.