September 30, 2003


Emerald Daze further explores the Limehouse hauntology....

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September 29, 2003



Sax's "Limehouse" article was the only clue they had, and not a very good one, since he had very carefully avoided naming the places he visited. But to a man intimately familiar with the dock area, the photographs might mean something. Frank stared thoughtfully at a picture of what seemed to be a restaurant, and glanced at the caption beneath. "Where East is West." He grinned.

There are times, there are places , when everything comes together.

'The first thing to be distributed on the body without organs ar races, cultures and their gods.' - Deleuze-Guattari, Anti-Oedipus

The bamboo music of “Weed Man” especially feels like these guys have somehow penetrated, via intensive exposure to the degraded forms of videogame muzik and martial arts movie soundtracks, deep into some heartcore of Chinese and Japan musics. All tuned percussion pings, sploings, tabla-like wibbles, and musique concrete plashes...

Or have they rediscovered the Chinese ghosts haunting the East End, stumbled, unknowing, into its hauntological nexus? Which is to say: have these East End ghosts discovered - possessed - them ? Have these producers [channelers?] been intoxicated by spirits? Inspired?

Deleuze-Guattari: 'All delirium is racial, which does not necessarily mean racist.'

FICTION LIVES LONGER THAN FACT. At the mere mention of the name "Limehouse," what images spring inevitably to mind? A vista of dark streets, shadowy yellow-faced forms, the brief flash of a knife blade, a scream in the night, a bloated corpse fished up from the murky waters of the Thames.... London's Chinatown has long since vanished. But the legend of Limehouse lives on- due in no small part to the writings of one man: Sax Rohmer.

The legend was not always a legend. Before the First World War, it was a fact that the warren of narrow streets and alleyways in the neighborhood of West India Dock Road, Pennyfields, and Limehouse Causeway formed a no-man's-land which honest citizens hesitated to penetrate after dark. It was a fact that the Metropolitan Police honored the area with double patrols. The precise toll of lives lost in that sombre labyrinth cannot be estimated. The region housed an Asiatic community, firmly entrenched and largely criminal, which lived by laws foreign to and older than the laws of England. This was the secret empire controlled by the fabulous, but fictitious, Dr. Fu Manchu.

Or was he entirely fictitious?

Only Sax Rohmer, his creator, knew the answer.

'Laws older than those of England...' 'An Asiatic community... criminal.' No need, surely, to labour the gauche racism here (still acceptable, in print, in 1972, it would seem). Let's dwell instead on the fascination, on the fear, on the delirium.

The Yellow Peril haunts the city's communication networks: the river, the sewers, and within the individual organism itself, the veins. The outside couldn't be closer. It gets in through the Thames, the city's open wound and lifeline, its periphery. Opium, smuggled into Limehouse docks, then ingested into the city's nervous system. And there are other ways in....

'Cup of tea, Sir Denis?'

Deleuze and Guattari: 'The full body does not represent anything at all. On the contrary, the races and cultures designate regions on this body - that is, zones of intensities, fields of potentials.' Ghosts, like fictions, are potentials; ontologically adrift, temporally displaced (or distemporally placed?).

1977: Dr Who opens up the Chinese box. The Talons of Weng-Chiang is perhaps the best Dr Who story ever: a steampunk tale, dense with fog and cultural reference, a hyper-fictional meditation on London's myths: "Pygmalion ('I'm trying to teach you'), Dracula ('Some slavering gangrenous vampire comes out of the sewers and stalks the city at night'), The Phantom of the Opera (especially the Hammer version). The Face of Fu Manchu, Jack the Ripper, The Good Old Days, The Lost World."

It unravels at a sedate - or should that be sedated - pace, the Doctor and Leela, stumbling through those streets, those myths (is there a difference?), a slow delirium of abductions, disappearances, poisonings, cults, magicians, giant rats, sewers... At the middle of the labyrinth is a time-vampire posing as a Chinese god.... And there, in the heart of Victorian London, the real star of the thing, a steampunk cyborg: the sinister ventriloquist's dummy Mr Sin who is, believe it or not, 'a computerised homonculus with the brain of a pig.' --- uncanny enough for you?

To be continued.

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September 28, 2003



Well, I'm pleased to see that the second episode of Peep Show lived up to the promise of the first. I arrived home slightly the worse for wear, just in time to catch it, so my memory for killer lines and moments of excruciating embarrasment isn't what it might have been.

It's as if Chandler and Joey have been transported from New York to Croydon, and given an unattractiveness makeover on the trip over. David Mitchell's Mark is a less good-looking, even sadder, even more acerbic pre-Monica Chandler to Robert Webb's Joey-without-the-charm Jeremy. Like Chandler, Mark has some nondescript office job; and, like Joey, Jeremy is a between-jobs artist (although a 'musician' rather than an actor). But their relationship is ultimately much more British, more brutish. Unlike Joey and Chandler, Mark and Jeremy have no female friends with whom they feel remotely comfortable. Denied this outlet, their mutual dependence and repressed mutual loathing resembles the desperate Estragon and Vladimir-inertia of Steptoe and Son or Hancock and Sid James. Nothing happens, forever.

In this week's desperate Master-Slave dialectic, Mark, owed three month's rent by Jeremy, 'swings him' an interview for a job as a clerical assistant. Mark's reveries turn to the minor humiliations he will be able to impose on his flatmate if he gets the job. Jeremy, meanwhile, has the difficult task of performing well enough in the interview to convince Mark that he wants the job whilst ensuring that he doesn't get it. Cue acutely painful interview situation - like, what interviews aren't accutely painful? - culminating in Jeremy trying to pull his interviewer into the Pyramid selling scheme he has just been conned into.

Choice moments of horrible revelation:

Listless Jeremy, hunting through Mark's stuff while he is at work, searches for porn --- and, fingering a pile of glossy magazines, he thinks he has 'hit the motherlode', only to find that... they are Fantasy Gaming magazines.

And Mark, still hopelessly pursuing a woman in the office, leaves a message on her answering machine. After rambling ineptly and senselessly for a while, he burbles 'I just called to say I .... like you.'

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September 27, 2003



Pleased to see that both cnwb and troubled diva are celebrating the just-announced return of Dr Who. And I know that Angus will be cheering, too.

Can it be done successfully? The signs are not encouraging. As everyone knows, the series was in decline long before the plug was pulled. It couldn't survive the unforgiving light of the eighties, and sloped off to die in embarrassed solitude. Tempting but misleading to date the effective end as Baker's departure. Baker's last season - culminating in the peerless Logopolis ('there will be no future') - was full of presentiments of doom, deep melancholy and Jerry Cornelius-style riffs on entropy. If you watch the stories from the Davidson era now, though, (and they are currently being rerun on UK Gold) you'll see that they were shadowed by a similarly bleak mood. There was still enough imagination at work to generate stories that were off-kilter quirky and fascinatingly paradoxical. (Davidson's first story 'Castrovalva' was named after an Escher painting, and was a 1982 BBC's attempt to generate a world collapsing [in on itself {in Eschereque} recursion.]) Perhaps recursion and entropy are where all mythos ends up, eventually. The Davidson period was the last time when the series could thematize rather than fall victim to these self-referential vortices. By the time of the arrival of Colin Baker, Dr Who was nothing but a palimpsest of empty signifiers, circling around its own entrails with diminishing returns.


Take the clothes. The brilliance of Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee and Baker's wardbrobes was that - in their different versions of estanged Edwardiana, out-of-place in any place, out-of-time in any time - their eccentricity was plausible. The thing is, you could imagine someone looking like that. In that respect, the rot had already set in with Davidson, whose cricketer's whites too obviously looked like a uniform that only someone dressed by the BBC's wardrobe Dept would wear. Colin Baker's question-mark lapels and two-coloured coat, well, kinder to say nothing....

There was also a problem with looks . The first four doctors had a naturally alien quality. Davidson's problem was his winning, fresh-faced toothsomeness; something intelligently offset by his reading of the character as beset by an ancient melancholia. Colin Baker, on the other hand, looked like a smug office manager in pantomime costume. He had a solid, doughy ordinariness, more deadly to Dr Who than any Cyberman or Dalek.

The point is, Dr Who was, at its best, uncanny, in both Todorov's and Freud's terms. Todorov's typology of the Fantastic famously distinguishes between the Marvellous - the full-on supernatural - and the Uncanny - in which the apparently supernatural is explained away in terms of 'the laws of reason.' (The Fantastic proper has no postive presence, and is defined as the hesitation between these two other modes). The Pertwee period was particularly given to discoursing on the supreme value of scientific enquiry (witness the Doctor's attempts to tutor Jo Grant). Nigel Kneale's Quatermass and the Pit - which attempted to wholesale swallow Horror into SF by tracing a whole slew of ostensibly supernatural phenomena back to scientifically-plausible phenomena - provided the template. The signature Pertwee serial 'The Daemons' - a more-or-less straighforward rewrite of Kneale's story - was only the most blatant Quatermass remix of the Pertwee era. The absorbtion of Horror tropes into SF naturally had an effect on Dr Who's science-fiction - most notably in the period when Philip Hinchcliffe was producer, when Dr Who went through a foggy, gorily Gothic phase, in which Victorian Horror was Burk-and-Hare graverobbed and reanimated.

The series was also uncanny in Freud's sense. The uncanny, that species of dread evoked by the strangely familiar, what is here but which should not be... Pertwee's famous insistence that a 'yeti on a toilet seat in Tooting bec' was more terrifying than an alien on the planet Zarg was borne out by the furore caused by the episodes featuring the Autons. The Autons - very Kraftwerk - possessed showroom dummies and plastic chairs. Children were mortified when these everyday objects - objects which any way evoked a frission of uneasiness - came to life. But more even than any of the monsters, it was the Doctor himself, the familiar stranger, who was unanny.

The 96 revamp with Paul McGann - and oodles of $ - failed because it couldn't muster this sense of the uncanny. Nor, more damagingly, did it appear to realise that this was what the series' strength was. The whole enterprise couldn't escape what it was: an American TV-funded attempt to graft some of the signatures elements of the original series onto the standard format of an MOR American serial. McGann's manic enthusiasm seemed formulaic rather than charismatically alien, the chase scenes and the (eugghhhhh) love interest were perfunctory and unnecessary but worst of all, really, were the sets. Money badly spent. The TARDIS had become anonymously vast, all smoke, sulphur and moody lighting, a blandly portentous sanctum-cum-spaceship straight out of the mediocre dreams of Dungeons and Dragons Fantasy and mainstream SF.

Rusell T. Davies is to produce the new one, eh? Well, last year's 'The Second Coming' was rather brilliant - in addition to the audacity of its 'assisted suicide of God' denoument, it was genuinely, shiveringly disturbing in parts. But what gives most hope is that 'The Second Coming' rendered a sense of the otherworldly numinous in the context of the drably contemporary. The uncanny, exactly. And Christopher Eccleston as a Mancunian Christ was, all at once, intense, self-deprecating, charismatic --- and weird. What price Eccleston for the role of the Doctor?

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September 25, 2003


lazy.jpg I think of snow.

Not only because of Atuishi Fukui's delightful cover painting.

It took barely two listens. Less, maybe. The old flame - changed, though not beyond all recognition - had me again.

I'm burning

Now I've lost count of how many times I've succumbed. (Even though it can't be many. I know that, as yet, it can't be more than four; but I'm already in that aeonic time you fall into when you encounter something loved. Life is now inconceivable without it, so I imagine that is has always been there). You keep putting it on. You lose yourself, easily, lose track of which track you are listening to; no beat to mark out time, no verses, no choruses, only insistently hesitant vocal refrains, unhurried by rock's adrenal urgencies, only words that are dream-disconnected, dream-cryptic, dream-vivid.

In the ice desert, the slightest peturbation produces massive affect....

Recall the trembling stillness that opens Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden ; the feedback shimmer of 'How Soon is Now.' Imagine them denuded of even the attenuated r and r release that they are allowed there; imagine their seemingly infinite protraction .

Sylvian's Blemish , astonishingly, really is every bit as entrancing as Marcello and - the still absent - Penman say it is. Atonishing not because I distrust their judgement - very much to the contrary - but because I feared their wordsorcery had conjured a phantom/ phantasy that no record could live up to.


There's nothing quite like Blemish : nothing in Sylvian's back catalogue, nothing elsewhere. It's been described as 'vocal ambient' , an accurate enough description, technically, but a little too anaemic, not quite seductive enough. The same writer called it 'formless', which is terribly misleading. Far from being chaotically unfocused, Blemish has a glacial poise, a near-absolute tension.

And it is nearly all guitar. Imagine that!

Derek Bailey's scrabbles. Christian Fennesz's glitchescapes. And mostly, the troubled waters, the uneasy flatline of Sylvian's playing.

Undercurrents. 'The Good Son', before Sylvian sings. Bailey scratching away like a deranged music box. Hints of Kubrickian (Ligeti/ Penderecki) atonal dread.

And then the voice....

Don't try to make sense of it.

It falls on me, on my face, and my pulse is so slow now, I'm slowly delirious, barely distinguishable from the landscape, and that's what I love, out here in the white cold the flames are so bright. And it falls, until there's not much of me left. It falls on me and I'm falling into sleep, or deeper....

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September 24, 2003


Well, here it is.

k-punk's new home.

Massive thanks to Abe , not only for his generosity in giving k-punk space on his site, but also for enduring my many incompetent technical requests about Movable Type with apparently endless patience.

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"the periphery is where the future reveals itself"
J.G. Ballard

I also think Wire and the Banshees count as London since Watford and Bromley are in London's orbit.

Part of embracing the future is always rejecting the past; in fact this applies to people who move from the "provinces" to the "centre" as well. I was a bit surprised to see Luka argue that people from the provinces always want to defend the provinces; surely it can work the other way around as well, you can be over-eager to shake the small-town dust off your feet.

Ballard is one of the few poets of the suburbs. The more typical stance is to dismiss them as non-zones, resting places (the phrase 'dormitory town' capturing this perfectly) whose airy, mediocre pleasantness equates with an incurable existential dullness, a fundamental inauthenticity . That, in fact, would have very much captured my own discomfort about suburbia when I was growing up in it: it never felt real . To us dreaming suburbanites, the only Real Place in the country - paradoxically because of its hypermediatization - was London. (This giving a slightly different spin on Luka's claim that 'London is the only real city in England.') And America, America was even more Real. We who lived in the suburbs of towns that were themselves anonymous and mediocre were exiles from the city's Real: insubstantial wraiths, resigned to our status as non-beings.

The City is not the only Real. The Rural - with its, mighty, deep past-indifference to the ephemeral, its enduring Time, in which 'things go on the same, though generations pass' (Hardy) - has its own claim to fundamental reality. As with the city, it is the rural's aestheticization, its capacity for translation into Art, that gives the countryside its impression of the real.

The suburb is neither-nor, the buffer-zones between these two Reals.

When two years ago (in flight from London logjam, in photosynthetic hunger for greenery, in a curve back towards my childhood?) I moved to Bromley, I was self-consciously fleeing the Real. Yet, upon my (sort of) return, the suburban struck me as less unreal than, as Ballard has tirelessly insisted, surreal . Streets that seem like collages brought to life, full of strange incongruities that could only seem natural in the sedatory stillness of the suburb. Appartment complexes that resemble seaside villas, looking out on a busy thoroughfare rather than the ocean, as if they've been dumped there by one of those cosmic collectors from Dr Who that would wrench lifeforms out of context and reassemble them as carnival exhibits . Lawns so precisely manicured that Lewis Carrol's Queen of Hearts could play croquet upon them.

It's all so ex-centric...

Tempting to lapse into a Lynchian depth pyschoanalysis here (a weakness to which Ballard himself is often prone): to shift from the ironic soft-focus idyll of the long-shot into the unforgiving grisly detail of the close-up, to look for the id beneath the suburban superego. More interesting to recognize that the surface is already psychotic, that Nothing lies beneath....

For Ballard, our assumption that cities are the future is an overhang from nineteenth century modernism, a notion as quaintly, endearingly outmoded as the prophecies of Jules Verne. With its concentrational density, its cramped streets, its unplanned sprawl, London is a horsedrawn Victorian relic. To Ballard's delight, and to Iain Sinclair's horror, the future is not the city, but the suburb. Unlike the old population centres - whether the ancient 'Roman shells' or the relatively recent residual slag heaps of industrialism - the suburbs have been built with the car in mind. They thus give rise to the developments which Sinclair abhors but cannot help be fascinated by: ghostless out-of-town retail parks and shopping complexes, non-places accessible only by car, zones whose calculated, franchised anti-locality makes them resemble nothing so much as airports.

Cities recede like 19 C smog in the strip lit, purpose-built hygiene of Bluewater, Kent.

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