EXCELLENT ESSEX In praise of England’s most misunderstood county by Gillian Darley Old Street Publishing, London. 17 Sept 2019
Gillian Darley caught my attention some years ago with her positivity towards that “most overlooked and undersold of counties”; Essex, which she presented without the usual preface of undermining caveats. “Surprisingly, Essex is rather self-effacing”, Darley wrote, its “delight based on anomaly and paradox.” The part of Essex I have come to know intimately; the River Roding, its valley and catchment, which runs through the north west flanks of an exceptionally rich cultural landscape into London’s most vital parts, exemplifies these qualities. Darley’s refreshing words appeared in her review of an updated Pevsner guide in the London Review of Books (2007) which was, it turns out, also the trigger for Excellent Essex itself.
Titles and terms; I’m as troubled by the ‘excellent’ here as I know you are. If it’s a reference to a phrase or shorthand then I don’t get it. In any case, how does Superb Sussex, Brilliant Berkshire or ‘You’re Beautiful’ Yorkshire sound? Then there is the more elemental problem of a book, any book, about a county. Do we still do that? It’s not that a comparative counties schtick would be better or any less old-fashioned; both belong to cultural realms last evidenced half a century ago. Indeed, Darley refers admiringly to the photography of Edwin Smith which appeared in Gerald Scarfe’s Shell Guide to Essex (1968), in the series edited by Johns Betjeman and Piper. All of which feels fustily antique.
In somewhat belaboured contrast, Darley draws her book to an end with A House for Essex, the architectural curio commissioned by Alan de Botton, produced by architectural new-wavers FAT and artist-mascot Grayson Perry, and located in Wrabness. Darley writes; “The more I think about Julie Cope (Perry’s ‘Essex-girl’ name for it) the more she emerges as a figurative Essex.” By this she means the knowing vulgarities and devil-may-careness of it as well as something more profound. Darley’s figured Essex “took a journey out of one Essex into another, towards a wider more generous world.” This is an Essex I recognise; “belonging yet not-belonging, absurd yet admirable … open to ideas and experiment, making it fertile ground for alternative ways of living and favouring the independent-minded”. Qualities of a place worthy of a book, in fact. Continue reading “note_21 Gillian Darley’s Essex; meanderings (in lieu)…”
No Lease on Life/ Lynne Tillman/ Guy Mannes-Abbott The Independent 30 April 1998
While my fellow fruitiers were scattered between Ecuador and Sweden, I was able to visit archival regions unexplored for years. Principally I was in pursuit of a clean manuscript from a similar period as this which I want to restore to its original 78 subtle, molecular, daring fragments and, well, see. It got overrun by the immediate receptivity and success of my e.things to be straightforward about it, and though those grew out of much earlier actual experiments with all short forms, nevertheless I now see they were also directly enabled by the work on this novel manuscript for its tautness and the danger, to misquote a later e.thing, that it lived…
“Tillman is a writer of rare intelligence who knows that in writing a story, “the form of its telling will be part of its meaning”. She wants to challenge complacency, to “unconventionalise”, in the ultimate hope that we can “think beyond our limits”.
So. A short review like this needs to be read and disseminated otherwise it’s pointless. The Independent, may they bathe in saffron waters, were always a bit patchy with their online upping. I didn’t notice for too long, and literally prompted by over generous correspondents for copies, started to pursue now and again. It was tricky for their tech-team to prioritise upping something months or years later, and this attempt failed while one or two others succeeded. Archivists, or writers who write through archives and keep an eye on what the archive is to a writer, keep them too! (I can’t tell you how flattered I’ve been by enquiries about my own archives, for this reason.) I only ever had a photocopy until I found this fondly nibbled single hard copy during the absence of my colleagues.
“Her new book asks the question of how we should articulate the experience of living in one of the world’s major cities at the end of the 20th century.”
Continue reading “note_20 On Lynne Tillman’s No Lease on Life, rearchive fever …”
Trying to locate the original manuscript of my novel of 78 fragments, I came across a lot of things. One of them was this; a nicely calibrated collaboration with my dear friend Simon English for Grant Watson’s Victoria which must have been hand-produced in 1998? Unbound, A3, in editions of 200 it seems, a warm and civil experience all around, and in happy company.
D is Guy Mannes-Abbott, Double and Twist is Simon English (Ph GMA)
D or ‘d’ actually, was a very early e.things text from autumn 1997. The circle of what were the first hundred Continue reading “note_19 D is for danger; live your danger, live dangerous. Victoria Vol. 3”
Gold-tips in Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace Marina (GM-A, 2013).
IMBECILIC CONTINGENT INTRUSION(4)*
Everything we know about ourselves and our various shared and not well-shared histories affirms that systems of hermetic control never work for long, that consolidation hastens collapse. The more autocratic the regime, the messier the collapse. I will leave all of that to time, which will operate unerringly.
Meanwhile, to demonstrate a simple truth, we are going to plant a forest in DXB’s Terminal 3. It’s easy. Those of us who know the place will return from various ports in carefully staged flights that betray no joint venture. We will all be either prevented from getting on a flight, stopped at and detained at DXB, or held in the Deportees Room for some hours. Two of us at least will get in—to the airport, not the country!—and overlap in the Room on ROLEX time. We will take our allotted hour to find food in the Terminal and head up to our Costa rendezvous. We will have seeds of trees with us. We will be carrying gorgeous presentation boxes of fertilised roals or figs, like the kind from Aliya Dates Farm that I recall from a leather-lined yacht in Abu Dhabi’s Palace Marina.
Gifts, you see. Gifts of the Rolla tree, the put-upon-banyans, these potent embodiments of hopes, wishes and dreams for change. Continue reading “note_18 On the work Abu Dhabi banned from Sharjah (Biennial) 2019? #DXB”
Death is Hard Work, Khaled Khalifa
(Trans; Leri Price. Pub/UK; Faber)
By Guy Mannes-Abbott
“Death had become hard work. Just as hard as living, in Bolbol’s view.” Abdel Latif al-Salim’s youngest son has promised, “in a rare moment of courage”, to honour his father’s dying wish to be buried with his sister Layla. The retired teacher and belated rebel died of natural causes in a hospital in Damascus when nothing else is natural in the middle of Syria’s uprising. Bolbol triggers the 400 kilometre drive north into Aleppo’s hinterlands, which takes 3 torturous days and ends with maggots climbing the windows of the family minibus.
Death is Hard Work is a huge novel of just 180 pages and the third of Khaled Khalifa’s to appear in English, courtesy of their translator Leri Price. In Praise of Hatred (2008) and No Knives in the Kitchens of this City (2013) were each short-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, with the latter winning a prestigious Mahfouz Medal, and arrived in English in 2014 and 2016 respectively. They were preceded by two further novels, while their author has also written for television in Damascus, where he lives to this day.
Khalifa captured a freighted immobility in all this which his new novel disperses with ferocious intent.
Continue reading “note_17 On Khaled Khalifa’s Death is Hard Work; ‘Undead, what and who will you defend and nurture as your world drowns?’”
Rivering the Roding started in the mud above; September 2014, as you can see if you scroll to the bottom (this one of many* returns!). These tweets are obviously incidental scraps but they do suggest or ghost if not exactly tell a story (again; bottom up). It’s a story about London, thinking like a river, which requires articulation (#rivering) and for me to show what such ‘thinking’ might be. I am coming in to land (circling back and now very close to the muddy confluence), and yes, you can start to hold your breath. Please 😉 Continue reading “note_16 #Rivering 2014-2019 (scraps, almost there…)”
From the Portuguese original of Llansol’s Geography of Rebels
In lieu of writing critically about Maria Gabriela Llansol’s first ever publication in English; The Geography of Rebels, from Houston’s Deep Vellum, I’m posting this sly reference (below, plus). However, as I said re Mallo, these and some of 2019’s forthcoming books (mostly in translation), call out for serious, passionate, engaged, authoritative responses from writers. I hear the call and am going to be responding again after a long interlude.
Spend a life attempting to capture the resistant poetics of your existence (what/why else?) and you do gain special access to other writing. You’ll see right through most of it, but locate what magic there is, know and observe or instinctively recognise how it is done. It’s all in the writing. If you make original sentences or lines, then you know about each word, each in between, and all their potentialities.
Thus I detect a new Khaled Khalifa (Death is Hard Work: wow!), a forthcoming Vila-Matas, works on Mohamed Makiya or by Yasser Elsheshtawy (temporary cities in an Arabian context), but also intriguing books located more locally by E J Burnett, or Laura Beatty, etc. The call is urgent and easily matched by the urgent response that books pages call a review. Books pages tend to agree on what is important, especially viz work in translation, exceptions are treasured like monsoon rain. I almost always felt differently and it was a significant motivator in paying and generating attention to awkwardness, the resistant or ‘difficult’, complex or subtle, and the ‘foreign’ (work in translation not -generally- otherness filtered in English for the British market -who pull-up at all borders!). No apologies. Continue reading “note_15 On Maria Gabriela Llansol’s The Geography of Rebels in Graz; locating a nonviolent image…”