Should you ever find yourself on a month-long research trip-slash-wild goose chase in the Midwest in pursuit of a forty-years dead writer from whom your critical distance has lapsed to such an extent that you are convinced that, like Oedipa Maas, you are being subjected to an elaborate web of posthumous booby traps, wherein you remain in almost total isolation for four weeks, attempt to read 47 novels (mostly all at the same time), become addicted to the Food Network whilst eating mainly stale taco shells and wasabi peas and spend much of your time tramping up and down freeways since that’s what you like to do when you are in America, and you find that Glenn Branca plus Fox News does not rouse you sufficiently enough to take it all out on the gym’s elliptical machine, then I recommend silencing the rattling inside your head by listening to Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson which, like alchemy, will soundtrack the up-lit marble atria, limestone and Frank Lloyd Wright-lite of your temporary home into a tense Soderbergh corporate thriller of your very own creation.

Then you’ll be like Catherine Zeta Jones or something rather than this hot, mildly-coddled woman who has her photocopies, her 27 new polyester thrift-store scores, her sunburn and far more esoteric paperbacks than will ever fit in her tiny broken suitcase, and would like to bugger off home and scoff a whole block of mature cheddar and enjoy some actual human company as soon as possible, please. Ta.


Typical. Cards of Identity* is, quite lidderally, disintegrating between my very fingers.

*Some excellent British post-war weirdness from the back bedroom of the house of fiction, to be filed alongside Rex Warner, William Sansom, Rayner Heppenstall and those lads. Available, I am duty-bound to add, in full and pristine condition at Dalkey Archive Press.


So, I’m doing that thing again where I go to the Midwest and gawp at things for a bit. It’s a bit like academic orienteering, or, well, Challenge Anneka. I’m here to dig through the archives of publishers Calder and Boyars, and, you know, seek inner peace in near-total monastic isolation, probably/most likely polish off the 70,000 remaining words of my PhD thesis, concoct half-baked cultural generalisations, complain about the food and the rest. Items in my “America is So Weird” dossier thus far include Deepak Chopra on the Fox News breakfast programme, advising viewers that the best defence against the global financial crisis is to ask oneself: “What makes me a unique human being?”. Yesterday morning I was roused gently from my slumber by a television infomercial for the Brazilian Butt Lift fitness DVD, comprising the “Bum Bum” and the special bonus disc of the “Bum Bum Rapido”. You can imagine the effect the tagline Higher! Tighter! Rounder! Perkier! had on my delicate hypnagogic state.

Spent Easter Sunday like a crochety toddler in flip flops, chewing my editor’s red pen and squirming in my seat. Making a yah-boo-sucks face at Microsoft Word, letting the Chicago Manual of Style “have a rest” in the microwave (I’m a really excellent editor, though. Honestly. Employ me!). Wondering, idly, will this ever end-slash-will this ever start. And, as usual, now it’s past eleven and I’m macro-photographing my extremely picturesque (if, like me, you’re an incorrigible perv for a well-lit staircase) towel rail and thinking, yes, I could probably-definitely re-read the entire oeuvre of Jim Crace before bed. More as it comes in…


Fred Inglis on Raymond Williams:

Williams’ prose, as the last pages of The Fight for Manod bring out, registers the deep difficulty of knowing what to do: of keeping your being and your culture, your feelings and your history in sufficient union, for you to be able to shake off sheer fatigue and bitter frustration, and know what your purposes are. Williams’ power is to bring out the real meanings of that experience without glossing its obscurity, indeed at times insisting with a rare and moving honesty that it is the obscurity of experience which has to be lived with, in your body and soul, and sorted out, a bit at a time and as best you can, in terms of everyday life and work and encounter. The grappling with obscurity in his work is always brave and sustained, even if what he takes for granted as the clarities and certainties look a lot less convincing to others than he takes them to be. But it is far more than expressing the self-importance of the over-theoretic and powerless intellectual in the still comfortable West to say that Williams is one of the trio of men whose attention to the possibilities of understanding and action made imaginable by Marxist Socialism, with its tense claims to the status of science and redemptive doctrine, allied to their living a real, visible life in the polity, who mark the spot at which thought becomes valid and valuable action – that sequence of moments Marxists themselves call praxis. 

And a reminder:

…the idea of the university is powerless without the material realities of membership and friendship, as well as the rather harder and more wintry virtues of solitary independence, resistance, doggedness, and the absolute resolution to get on with the task in hand and are not to be bought out by the cosy privileges and soft snobberies which are still amply available to bright young-to-middle-aged academics.