"Every day sings a little song" (Dieter Roth, 2002)
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
That point in the summer holiday (only a few more days to go) when I find myself drawing up lists of books bought, read, consulted, shelved for future reference as if in some way to make up for what - in retrospect - always seems like days and days of vacant hours, distractions and missed opportunities. Futile, of course, but there you are.
This afternoon, I unearthed this volume that had arrived back in late June, lay on the bed and read it right through (58 pages, so that's no great achievement).
It's a fascinating - if frustratingly short - read. Essentially a transcript of Iain Sinclair's speech given to the Swendenborg Society in 2007, you find yourself wishing to be there in real time, to hear what else was said, to ask your own questions (a brief Q&A section is appended). Driving through France mid-July it was disorienting to hear Sinclair's measured English tones coming out of the car radio: France Culture was doing a week-long series on London in the run-up to The Olympics. What a pleasure, though, to listen to a dissenting voice, a much-needed antidote the hype and jingoism back 'home'.
And so ... the Blake book. Where Ben Watson's Blake in Cambridge* is dogmatic and vitriolic by turns, Sinclair's text is rueful, resigned even, as he acknowledges the damage wreaked upon London and - by extension - the Vision at the heart of Blake's work. Take this passage:
The old London, as you looked at it, was a forest of steeples of churches. It was like looking at the river itself, as it had been full of craft, and you knew the city through these stone fingers, pointing in spiritual affirmation towards the sky. And everyone in London belonged to one of these zones. You were fined, as Shakespeare was, if you failed to attend your nominated local church. So the whole map of energy was different. And acoustically it was different too, each of these churches made particular noises, bells were rung competitively. And the smells would also have located you, the meat, the dung, the sweat. The crafts associated with certain streets and courts. That's gone. We don't have that way of reading things anymore ... (42)
It also sounds in places like a deliberate citing of precursors, an act of homage, even - at times - like an intimation of retirement from The Task -
... Even today I've got a small burden, but the thing is, as you get older, the burden does get less, more and more of it is spilled out, and more and more is passed on to other people, and that's how it ends. (45)
In case anyone could have had any doubts, Sinclair's Project was mapped out from the start: Blake to Ginsberg and on to Olson doubling back to Clare, Bunyan, Defoe ... the deliberate shift work to get local knowledge ... the micro press in Albion Drive (of course!) ... the poetry out of notebook jottings later to become the composition by paragraph mode of the novels. It's an impressive trajectory.
And it's perhaps not coincidental that two books on Blake should arise at this moment. Despite some quite obvious differences, the underlying similarities are of much greater significance. Sinclair's statement that his 1971 paperback of the Collected Works is for him "a personal I Ching ... an almanack of divination" and that Blake himself is "a presence, a guide, an advocate" could be equally true for Ben (at least, so it seems to me). Both writers lamenting the blatant corporate defilement of British society while affirming the immanence of Blake's Vision - of its continuing power to awaken and transform right now if we - you & you & me & you others, too - are prepared (still able?) to read. Or as Robert Duncan might say, a matter of responsibility - the ability to respond.
"Maybe, in the end, we all find what we want in Blake, in the fat red book, it's such a rich loaf" (55)
* Having met up with Ben in West Wycombe on Thursday last, he is keen for me to state that his book is published by Unkant. More info at: email@example.com.
Needless to say, you SHOULD get a copy.