February 29, 2004
A VAST DENFUL OF HORROURS
Just been (re)reading Peter Ackroyd: Hawksmoor and Dan Leno and the Limehous Golem. Hawksmoor was famously inspired by Sinclair's Lud Heat, but is more digestible than Sinclair, if far from transparent. Ackroyd's simulation of sixteenth century prose is masterly (not that I'm in a position to judge, really) and the construction of uncanny correspondences between the twentieth century and the 1700s is managed, appropriately enough, with all the skill of an architect. Yet the book is ultimately impenetrable; one of its key motifs is the convex mirror, and it is as cold and unyielding as the surface of a looking glass. It feels, in fact, that the book is like two mirrors positioned in front of one another, an infinity of reflections with no original. Time itself - the book's chief preoccupation - is just such a system of infernal echoes.
'Truly, Time is a vast Denful of Horrours, round about which a Serpent winds and in the winding bites itself by the Tail. Now, now is the Hour every Hour, every part of an Hour, every Moment, which in its end does begin again and never ceases to end: a beginning continuing, always ending.' (62)
Has anyone else read Hawksmoor? I find it fascinating but feel that I'm missing something....
Dan Leno is much more accessible, a macarbre romp through fogbound Victorian London, thick with the peasouper atmosphere Robin evoked so powerfully in this post , taking in music hall, the reading room at the British Museum (at which Ackroyd places Karl Marx and George Gissing) and Babbage's Analytical Engine. In its hypertextual Victoriana and its stalking through the fogbound streets of Limehouse, k-punk would file it somewhere adjacent to The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
In any case, all of this has revived my interest in the Hawksmoor churches, about which I know very little. I propose a trip around some of them for our next London blogger outing....
Posted by mark at February 29, 2004 10:41 PM
i live beside hawksmoor's st lukes on old street (literally) so s'all can come to tea.
Agree with yr comments on 'Hawksmoor' - good fun, but ultimately that feeling that you're missing s'thing. I wonder if we are. I do find the idea of a London humming with occult energies/ correspondances v. seductive, but in the end I just don't get it. I have an idea there's some sort of 'psychogeog.' freemasonry (Ackroyd, Iain Sinclair, the new Stewart Home I'm just reading). Read the Sinclair/Kevin Jackson interview book (The Verbals) hoping for some meat - nope. So, I wonder is there anything there, or if this Hawksmoor churches/jack the ripper/east-end crime obsession isn't a bit of a Boy's Own secret society. The trappings of a conspiracy...but what's the theory? Are there graspable 'meanings' behind/beyond the arbitrary, dis-connected experience of the city? I understand the desire to re-enchant London, but always those same tropes. Still, great excuse for a urban hike...
Hawksmoor churches are interesting for all the usual reasons. If you want to get a handle on the theory of "what it all means" you're going to have to do some digging, mainly because there's a panoply of theories from which to pick. Certainly there has always been a secret history of London, and of England, which is somewhat weirder than the modernist materialist viewpoint allows for. I'd look at Home's Red London, and Frances Yates' amazing book on the renaissance, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition for the full academic background on the extraordinary high weirdness of Hawksmoor's period. And maybe something like Paul Devereux' Haunted Land or Shamanism and the Mystery Lines for a model of spooky landscape.
But maybe one reason why Hawksmoor seems to slide the readers' gaze away from its subject is because that's what Ackroyd was after. The House of Doctor Dee is a bit more human and comprehensible.
Right --- I think Alan Moore can be added into the London boys' club (just finished reading From Hell, which shares many of Sinclair and Ackroyd's preoccupations).
Thanks for the pointers, Paul.
Can anyone give me a thumbnail sketch of Hawksmoor? Does the fascination with him arise primarily from the fact that his churches look uh sinister?
Thanks for the tips, Paul. Perhaps that's it: I am that Modernist-Materialist. My point, really: why does Sinclair not offer the ways in that you point to? I suspect that there's a fair amount of mystery-for-mystery's-sake exclusion by the initiates - hence my snidey comments. I'm not looking for this-therefore-this-and-this pat answers, btw. Looking for clues. Thanks for yours.
sinclair's fairly good at revealing his sources as it goes. maybe less so in the earlier bits/
i'm not very interested in the kooky stuff so i didn't bother following the leads but it's all there if you feel like it. probably worth pointing out that mushrooms/acid etc is all an influence too.
I've always wondered about Ackroyd and Sinclair's relationship because Sinclair's work regularly contains vaguely sniffy asides about Ackroyd's work, seeming to treat him as some sort of sell-out to the heritage lobby, while Ackroyd in his History of London sneers at 'half-baked psychogeographers' (can't remember his actual words). I imagine them working on mutually repudiating parallel lines, never speaking but aware of each other as each others shadows - but I can't imagine that in actual fact they haven't collaborated in some way...? I find Ackroyd pretty dry. John Fowles is the man for truly amazing, meticulously-researched antiquarian prose!
My uninformative answer to mark's question: the best take on Sinclair might be totally hyperstitional - ie don't ask what the facts behind it are, just enjoy the making of connections that somehow work, from 'nothing' - the process of booting up (literally 'bootstrapping') a new reality from a few crumbs of myth, half-remembered history, faded newsprint, etc. The magic act of writing and the fiction of history.
I do often find myself following up various throwaway Sinclair refs, suddenly spotting things in bookshops that ring a bell...but I still only ever understand about 30% of what he's on about!
I keep meaning to get 'From Hell' but I'm too much of a cheapskate to buy it - I read comics too quickly, they never seem good value unless they're patently rereadable...
Yes, I've seen Sinclair making sniffy remarks about Ackroyd. He seems to think that Ackroyd glosses things up. My take on it would be that Ackroyd is much more accessible. I prefer to see them as part of a rhizome than as opponents.
'From Hell' is definitely worth it --- but Alan Moore's writing always grates on me, and I suspect it would grate on you too. There's something melodramatic and portentous about it. However, in spite of that, 'From Hell' is something that's worth a read.
absolutely agree about moore, and was always doubtful about sinclair's lionisation of 'the northampton mystagogues'. Of course AM's part of the annoying 'adult comics' trend (aka comics made worse by the introduction of marillion-headed psuedofreudianism). I also remember his portentous performance at VF96(7?), candles, jossticks and everything !
'Marillion-headed pseudofreudianism' - now there's a phrase! Sums up what I dislike about Moore, though. Stan Lee was much more self-aware (without being PoMo) than those who lionize Moore and his ilk suggest --- and he was a better psychologist. Moore and Frank Miller substitute 'adult' (for which read 'adolescent') 'darkness' for Lee's intelligence, lightness and effervescence.
It must have been VF95 - we organized 96 remember, and there was no VF97!
Still, all that said, 'From Hell' is worth a read, particularly if you've read Sinclair, especially White Chappell (lots of Sinclair's references are made explicit in 'From Hell'). Get it out of the library!
i happened to walk past a couple of the hawksmoor churches today, st george in the east and st annes limehouse. they're funny old things. christ church is the most impressive looking one. going round all of them, that'd be a long old walk. i read the first chapter of lud heat again when i got home. it is fairly impenetrable. it reads like a notebook more than a novel. unfinished. this bit makes sense though.
'certain features are in common: extravgent design, massive, almost slave built strength - not democratic. A strength that is not connected to notions of 'craftmanship' or 'elegance'. they are not easy on the eye, and do not enforce images of grace. The eye is not led upwards to any starry nest... it shocks you each time you glimpse one of the towers. they are shunned. their strength is hybird, awkward: an admix of engyptian and greek source matter - curiosities discovered in engraved library plates.'
i can deal with the observation bits. the fevered specualtion bits i didn't take to really, but i don't have the background knowledge. i wonder if paul meme enjoyed it.
i go for a walk every sunday. you're more than welcome to join me, everyone is.
oh, i went past st john, horselydown too, forgot about that, three of them, without intending to, hmm, must have been drawn by occult energies!
'st john, horselydown, lies to the south of tower bridge; in the bent elbow of druid street,, across the water from tower hill, burial place of the immortal head of bran. it is destroyed, a rim of old bricks upon which an office-block has been erected. the obelisk has gone, though we can still walk directly out of druid street into crucifix lane and down st thomas street to the preserved surgical tower, known to john keats and sir williaim gull.'
thats from lud heat too.
I spent the last few days visiting London, continuously being drawn back to Christchurch Spitalfields.
"Hawksmoor" is a very impressive book technically, but surely its big flaw is the way it ends so inconclusively? Back in my day books had endings, they didn't just stop.