3QuarksDaily posts about “demented magus of the sentence,” Iain Sinclair.
I republish my own review of London Orbital:
Iain Sinclair’s writing seems to give us sudden access to details. His paragraphs burst open like stomped anthills, ideas milling about all over the place:
“In my mythology, the M25 is born of the Thames: conceived at Runnymeade (by Staines), dying at Dartford. In bloody twilight. Echoes of Eliot: ‘Burning burning burning burning.’ Misbegotten in an upriver canoe. Expiring in oil slicks. Grey to grey: the immense skies of the Thames Estuary. Liquid to light: an Aegyptian temple beneath Runnymeade Bridge (with its golden bars, its smoky shadows). Out of these mysteries comes a metalled ribbon of consciousness, that saga of simultaneity: a tidal motorway carrying the psychic freight of all the landmass it contains.”
The fact that it’s taken me over a year to write something about this, a book that has had more impact on me than any other in that period of time, is in some way a consequence of the delicious density of ideas that London Orbital exhibits. I simply haven’t been able to digest these multitudes to any satisfactory way. After each application of this medicinal text I come away cured of something, some negativity, and desperate to write about the world as I find it. I want my review to simply be a swathe of text from the book. Look at this, I want to say, pointing and beckoning others over.
Despite all the traffic that London Orbital has diverted into my choked and congested brain, this isn’t some abstract work of weird thinking, but rather the story of the author’s walk around a circuit of the London Orbital motorway, the M25. Taken at face value that sounds dull, if a little eccentric, but quite the opposite is true: this is a high-bandwidth work of cascading description, deep historical unearthing, and enthralling psychogeographic study.
Each page is crammed with ideas (perhaps engineered, Tardis-like). Reading is always an act of decompression, but here the words and concepts expand to formidable size and depth as you traverse the sentences. These might be references to prose, poetry or television, or simply delicate descriptions of the pedestrian landscape – each revealing the mixture of ancient, prosaic and ultra modern that makes up the M25 corridor. Meditations on road-side cafÃ©s collapse into historical remembrances. Each new turn demonstrates Sinclair’s seemingly bottomless capacity for researching factoids, themes and ephemera from all ages of the countryside he walks through. His mind plays host to the psychic resonances of the monstrous circular highway, just as its passage plays host to him and his travelling companions. Sinclair has spent years indulging this bizarre and beautiful project and that investment has paid off in an astonishment of intellectual riches.
Every passage is carefully noted. Hundreds of anecdotes, meetings, conversations, roadsigns, meals, and blisters make up the tapestry of a unique account of a deliberate ramble across time and space. This vast journey feels like The English Road Trip – slow and quotidian, but possessed of a determined inevitability and surprising scale. It is a perambulation of an absurd order, in which the walkers engage in acts of strange catharsis, taking care to appreciate the scenery and to analyse its diverse histories as their minds are restructured by the massive input/output equation of a long and arduous trek.
Sinclair’s writing is murky, slow and clogged with psychic nutrient. Elegiac and acutely self-aware, I can scarcely imagine a more intelligent book. I’m quite happy, on just the evidence of this five hundred page tome, to acclaim him as one of the masters of the English language. A travelogue like no other, I’m sure it’ll be marked down as a masterpiece, and nothing less.
I should say, that having read more Sinclair, I can understand that he has quite an esoteric appeal. There’s something distancing, perhaps even confusing, about his writing. On reading his work I feel that I’m brushing against something far greater and more profound than I could ever hope to be. For other readers, it doesn’t get processed like that: he’s alienating, fragmentary, troublesome.
For me though, Sinclair’s work consists in those moments, when faced with great works of culture, where I’m forced to think something along the lines of: ‘that’s what I would have said and done, if only I were as intelligent, and as dilligent’. Other people, I can understand, just feel a bit bemused. They don’t get that feeling. It’s not what they might have said, or might have wanted to say. Sinclair isn’t talking to them, though. He’s part of quite a different conversation.