Strange Attractor Journal Four


Just briefly, Strange Attractor Journal Four is out. It is a very enjoyable collection of essays, edited by the tireless Mark Pilkington.

Anyone who has met me in recent years will probably have me heard me muttering that I am working on ‘something about the jesuits a sort of essay I suppose i dunno maybe essay no i haven’t published the novel’. It is in this journal, right next to Alan Moore’s John Dee opera.

I am playing it cool about this, not excited to be sitting right next to Alan Moore in a book at all omg panting panic etc.

ok so no

some ppl seem think my Facebook wall is now the comments box for The Midnight Bell, and that is not so bcz I know for a fact that it will make everything written on this site copyright to Zuckerberg, (and also your book on International Relations Restitution or whatever, yes, you, I think you know who you are that I’m talking to.) So don’t.


I don’t think Amelia is in print. Does anyone else think that’s weird? I think that’s a bit weird. It’s weird isn’t it?

No, come on, it is a bit weird that Amelia isn’t in print. I can go into any shop in the land and buy a copy of Evelina or Pamela or Belinda or Roxana or even Cecilia. But if I asked for Amelia I’d be laughed from here to Timbuktu, which is in Mali.

A bit weird is all.

Maybe like Keymer is on it.

Give me an… what letter were we on five years ago? El?

Yes. It would be el.

I think… I think we might end up going the long way round to nowhere here. Let’s see.

I like Hazlitt. You should probably stop staring at this screen now and go read some Hazlitt: he’s a better writer than me in most regards, and in fact it’s only really in lives of Napoleon where I’m really confident I have the edge, and that’s only because the sexy stuff I threw in between Boney and Ney gave a lift to some dull bangbangbang it’s-war sections.

Anyhow, being a Hazlitt liker, I was glad to see this article on ReadySteadyBook. But it’s a bit confused; this idea of ‘neglect’ is a little odd, esp w/r/t Hazlitt.

Let’s start with the little practical things:

A fairly flimsy copy of his Collected Essays by Oxford World Classics is the only book readily available on Amazon, itself dating from 1991.

The only book by Hazlitt? The Tom Paulin selected and the OUP selected are both readily available; that Paulin selection is 650pp. Also I don’t know what this ‘Collected Essays’ would be. If it’s 1991, it’s the OUP Selected, 450 pages or so. I think you’d have been stuck with the Ronald Blythe Penguin before that came out; and there was no Amazon or Abe to help you dig up cheap copies of Winterslow or Table Talk.

Three studies by Tom Paulin, Duncan Wu and AC Grayling made a bold stand in favour of his recognition in the past two decades, but are themselves not exactly bestsellers.

rly, the author should give up on the ‘neglected’ hook here: 3 books, all pushed v heavily for a literary subject. They weren’t bestsellers because almost no books like that are: The Day Star of Liberty got plenty of publicity, and did alright, from what I remember, and they all got a fair bit of space, because leftish thinking journalists love Hazlitt, or the idea of Hazlitt. He had a column in the Guardian in about 2001! They organised a whip-round to get him a new headstone!

Basically, Hazlitt’s had a good 20 years: he’s been talked about, a lot, and he’s back as the central figure in Romantic prose (speaking of which, NOTES ON SOME CONTEMPORARIES: I don’t think there’s a really representative selection for De Quincey available; Leigh Hunt only gets a little attention (he is quite boring tbf); Landor is truly neglected. Going a bit later, Pater’s also missing a decent selection. Discursive prose got buried sometime in the 20th.)

I can nit-pick, but really the essay picks up in the second half; sympathetic politics, a heartening call-to-arms.

(By the way, worst essay I’ve ever read on Hazlitt was the long middle by Paul Johnson that the TLS published last year. Thoughtless critical clichés from the 1940s school that scolds Hazlitt for the embarrassment of Liber Amoris. I know the TLS leans Tory, but that’s no reason to host outright fucking divviness.)

It’s just this idea of ‘neglect’ I don’t trust: same as ‘underrated’ – ‘by whom?’ is the question that follows, and I just don’t know who’s neglecting Hazlitt, or why we should mind if the answer is ‘the books pages’. But even that seems untrue: the canons of the 19th and 20th centuries have lost their authority and I think I’ve seen more articles on Hazlitt in the last 10 years than I have on Pope, on Browning, on Spenser (ooh. Hadn’t seen this. In fact can’t see all of it. But Fenton playing the ‘neglected’ card with a bit more style and fit hesitancy there.)

But to step back further, it’s not how things are now: everything is available and the gatekeepers – journalism and academia – look frail. So there’s no need to say Hazlitt is neglected; it looks like a cheap rhetorical position to me; it’s enough to argue that we should read him.


By the way, did I mention I was going to Ireland for a few weeks and wouldn’t be posting? No? That’s because you might be a thief and break into my flat while I’m away.

Anyway, I’m back again now. I’ll try to post more on The Pregnant Widow soon. Summary: woeful in places, bearable in others.

Oh! Been meaning to say – glad to see John Self on board w/ the Jocelyn Brooke Apprctn Society. It’s a shame that plans for proper republication went nowhere; Faber Finds has managed to get itself a piss poor rep over the last few years, & it just feels a bit sad to see a book confined there, like the look of them already generates the same ‘not interested’ vibe as a 5-for-a-pound pile of Pelicans and Penguin Modern Poets in a provincial second-hand bookshop.

Ok, harsh on Pelicans.

Amis Week: fine, it’s going fine

Going pretty slowly with The Pregnant Widow, read another chunk of Diarmaid MacCullough’s history of the Reformation instead. Now there’s a real book.

I don’t feel bad about this. You’re not paying me. And you know what? If you did offer to pay me, I’d refuse. It would compromise my independence. I get my loving on the run.

All I’ll say for now is that Amis has mentioned Islam in The Pregnant Widow for the first time. But you know what? I am absolutely certain that he will not mention it again, nor make any ill-informed generalisations about the religion of 1.5bn people, nor introduce any two-dimensional characters just to show us HOW IT IS with Islam and allow other characters to pontificate on HOW IT IS with Islam.

100% confident. Won’t hear another peep.

and then he gets out of the bed, which is symbolic of resurrection, which adds profoundity to the scene

Thought this was kind of interesting.

Yeah, lying. You got me. It’s an article on the Guardian Books Blog, of course it ain’t interesting (apols to Billy Mills, he’s alright). Journalistic, ploddy, doesn’t really know its stuff (eg “Flannery O’Connor, the only Catholic writer acclaimed by American critics in the 20th Century”. Gotcha game’s too easy with a survey article but I think Walker Percy would break that claim) Was, however, thinking about some of this shit myself, so let’s pretend.

I find it completely strange that the operation of grace – and I mean that in a pretty limited Christian Catholic sense – in a secular world is a major theme of maybe the top three midcentury British novelists. I dig Spark and Waugh a lot, Greene not so much; but it’s odd, and frankly unhealthy, that being taken seriously in mid-century Britain did seem bound up with adopting an extreme, rigorous and kitschy form of a fading religion.

Also feel that any religious-with-a-dash-of-doubt poet automatically got taken quite seriously; fair in some cases, overestimated worth in others. CH Sisson, RS Thomas, etc. This might have happened anyway, but the Eliotic climate must’ve made it fester.

Increasingly thinking that Empson was right when he was banging on about neo-Christians – which takes in ostensibly secular authors and critics iirc– running the show and kicking hard against them. Just coz yr themes are suffering, redemption, sacrifice, doubt, doesn’t automatically make you profound or serious. You just end up puzzling and silly if there’s no gift backing it up & the reader’s going ‘jeez don’t sweat it you aren’t really going to hell’.

Is this what The Movement was for? Maybe I’ve underestimated them a little.

This might not be news to anyone. Just me wondering why swathes of the lit of mid-century Britain are so not all that.

Amis week: Open goals, Mart, Open goals

I’m trying to help you here, Mr Amis. We’re creating buzz! Everyone’s talking about me talking about you! (I have no evidence to back that up). You look all cool and onliney, like Johnny Mnemonic, because I’m writing about you.

I really do like your work. The Pregnant Widow opens strongly; your style’s still good. But ok look, when you decide it’s time to spice up conversation with a Science Fact, even if it’s a light and jolly one, you’ve got to be careful.

‘I read something the other day,’ said Whittaker, ‘that made me warm to breasts. It made me see them in a different light. In evolutionary terms, this guy says, the breasts are there to imitate the arse.’
‘The arse?’
‘The breasts ape the arse. As an inducement to having sex face to face[…]’

It’s not your fault, since I imagine you don’t watch much TV, but it’s a really bad sign when your character’s talking points are the same as, well, 1:20 in this: