Sunday, August 13, 2006


Chapters VIII and IX of Drift are now online. To whet your appetite, I will briefly explain how Drift was written, at least up to this point.

The first several chapters, perhaps up until Chapter VI, tell the story of how a prophetess called Joanna becomes pregnant through an immaculate conception and then gives birth to a bubble which rolls through the English countryside and swallows up everything in its path.

All of this was intended as a short story of no more than three or four thousand words. I had an idea of how the story could end with a kind of apocalyptic reverse Big Bang, but I couldn’t quite put this into words. So I left the story unfinished for a couple of months, fell in love for a short while, and the decided I would read Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces: a secret history of the Twentieth Century, a book which had been untouched on my bookcase for a year or so.

Lipstick Traces has a picture of a sneering John Lydon on the front, surrounded by various Dadaist and Lettrist motifs. It describes the passage from Dada > Lettrist International > Situationist International > punk. Peter Bergman’s blurb on the back cover reads: “We are living in hell, and this book makes me proud to be alive in hell – to be a good citizen of hell.”

What links these various art movements (and it is dubious whether the SI should be considered artistic), Marcus says, is their desire to change the world. “The desire begins with the demand to live not as an object but as a subject of history – to live as if something actually depended on one’s actions. Damning God and the state, work and leisure, home and family, sex and play, the audience and itself, [it was] possible to experience all of those things as if they were not natural facts but ideological constructs: things than had been made and therefore could be altered, or done away with altogether.”

The book utterly changed my life, far more than any other book or CD or film I have ever consumed. True, it was my entry-point into theory, specifically that of a Marxist persuasion: this is life-changing enough (without Lipstick Traces there would be no Homo Ludens, and how much poorer the world would be as a result!). But listening to the Pistols or the Gang of Four or Wire, or reading the articles of the Situationists, the poetry of Tristan Tzara, or Debord and Jorn’s Memoires, a sandpaper-bound book of newspaper cuttings and bloody paint-splashes intended to finish off literature once and for all convinced me that I could write a novel which would change the world.

Debord and the Situationists would have considered such a project hopelessly bourgeois. Don’t write your life, they defied me beyond the grave, live it! But I am not the sort of person who can expose myself in the middle of Oxford Street and piss on the legs of suited businessmen, so I knew I had to content myself with writing.

Chapters VIII and IX bear the first traces of my attempt to turn a short story into an experimental novel. Chapter VIII is a rip-off of a Situationist poster about peaceful demonstrations (“Our tactics are those to which the greatest number can conform with the least difficulty. They require no more than your presence and a minimum of participation.”); chapter IX echoes Isidore Isou’s desire to become god “without renouncing the pleasures of suspicion and scepticism.”

The early chapters of Drift are as straightforward as any story about a Devonshire woman giving birth to a bubble can possibly be. Chapter VIII is where it really gets interesting…


Blogger Snowball said...

Intriguing. When (the year, roughly) did you read the aforementioned book which changed your life?

4:50 PM  
Blogger paddington said...

It was around Easter 2004 that I read Lipstick Traces. The first seven chapters or so of Drift were written in Suffolk Christmas 03/04, and Book Three (which, at this rate, I should be posting in a couple of months or so) was written in the very same chair a year later. The rest of the book was written sometime in between.

7:21 PM  
Blogger Snowball said...

Oh, ok. So I can't really take too much credit for your intellectual degeneration into Marxist theory. Oh well.

3:48 PM  
Blogger paddington said...

Snowball, you have always been an inspiration to me (ever since we learned Pythagoras in 1993). It was only a matter of time until your left-wingery rubbed off on me.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Snowball said...

That is a relief. Did we really learn Pythagoras? Oh well I have forgotten it now. Something to do with triangles perhaps.

3:37 PM  

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