Here’s an interview I did at the fabulous Worlding SF conference in Graz last December:
“You must know that the houses of Constantinople were built by mixed teams of workers. The reason is clear to see. Turkish carpenters are very good at working and sawing wood, but they can’t carve stone. And a house without a stone foundation is an unstable house. That’s why we turn to Armenian, Greek, and Arab stonecutters. So some of the people dig the foundation: the others build the upper stories and the roof. … Of course, you know the Bible story of the Tower of Babel. Well, many people think the Lord scattered the tongues of men to punish them, but it’s exactly the opposite. He saw that uniformity made them proud, dedicated to enterprises as excessive as they were useless. Then he realized that humanity needed a corrective ad he made us the gift of differences. So the masons, of different customs and faiths, have to find a modus vivendi that allows them to conclude their construction of the building. And for that you need not a conceded, flaunted tolerance, like the tolerance of the powerful, but an experienced tolerance, lived out every day, lived with the awareness that if it is lost, the house will fall down and you will be left without shelter.”
from Wu Ming, Altai (London: Verso, 2103), p.73.
and so anyway it turns out that the best thing about The Girl with All the Gifts (2016) is not the absence of Sean Pertwee in a scenery-chewing Sean Pertwee role, because if there is one thing this movie needs it is Sean Pertwee in a scenery-chewing Sean Pertwee role, no, the best thing about this movie is one or other of these two slowly dawning realisations: either a) that Gemma Arterton is gradually transmuting into Mads Mikkelsen, who, by the way, was fabulous in his unexpected turns as Tamara Drewe and Gemma Bovery; or b) that what people actually mean when they say that The Girl with All the Gifts is unlike any other zombie movie is that The Girl with All the Gifts is, more than any other zombie movie, almost precisely identical to an underdeveloped, poorly plotted, British ‘not actually sf’ sf drama mini-series…
My essay ‘Dulltopia’ from the ‘Global Dystopias’ issue of Boston Review is now available online – it questions the claims made by Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Zizek about how boring contemporary dystopias are, then imagines these luminaries are right about how boring contemporary dystopias are, and then turns to slow cinema and the examples of Peter B. Hutton’s At Sea (2007) and Mauro Herce’s Dead Slow Ahead (2015), the latter of which I adore.
The essay ends with an allusion to Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus, every Marxist’s favourite angel thanks to Walter Benjamin, but in this context dismisses it in favour of an angel every bit as cool from Albrecht Durer’s Melencolia 1 – she is soooooooo bored and really pissed off and her dog is kinda funny looking.
So there I was rereading Jameson’s The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act for the first time in twenty-odd years to help me firm up my theorisation of the Anthropocene unconscious, and Fred only blooming goes and quotes, albeit for different reasons, this passage from Conrad’s Lord Jim, which I have not read in thirty years:
Above the mass of sleepers, a faint and patient sigh at times floated, the exhalation of a troubled dream; and short metallic clangs bursting out suddenly in the depths of the ship, the harsh scrape of a shovel, the violent slam of a furnace-door, exploded brutally, as if the men handling the mysterious things below had their breasts full of fierce anger: while the slim high hull of the steamer went on evenly ahead, without a sway of her bare masts, cleaving continuously the great calm of the waters under the inaccessible serenity of the sky.
Next up, if I can sort out the clips, the Anthropocene unconscious of Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe. (No, I am not joking.)
It has always been there, always been part of my love of Lowry, but only now has it become clear. Our context summons it, gives it voice.
The world that is being made over into a mire, a midden, clogged with the filth unleashed by capital’s emancipation of sunlight captured long ago, its unleashing of carbon compressed and incarcerated far beneath the surface.
(In passing, I love the tiny splash of red, the bus coming down the hill; I also love the outrage of several Salford councillors when the city spent 54 guineas on the first of the seascapes below because there was nothing in the picture, not even a boat.)
But Lowry, for all his matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs, also painted the world without us. A world desired, a world restored, in which we are a memory at most – a mark on the land, a residual trace of that which has passed, as in this impish female nude called ‘The Landmark’.
Such towers outlast us, move off into abstraction as we recede from being.
And beneath them, sometimes, there is the sea.
Lowry often spoke of the sea in relation to loneliness, but his seascapes move beyond that particular personal psychological sensibility. They are images of the world in which human categories, our separations of it all into distinct things, no longer hold.
Our spectrality, our deathliness, always there in the portraits and figures, attenuates, fades, disperses.
The tide rises.
We are gone.