An occasional blog about walking in the edgelands of North East London and various other places

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River Roding: Leg 9 - To the Source ...

River Roding: Leg 8 - The Roding Villages

Across to Two Tree Island

River Roding: Leg 7 - Through Fyfield

River Roding: Leg 6 - Upstream to Ongar

The Land Art of Theydon Bois

What Is It With All This Walking and Writing?

The Heights of Epping Forest

River Roding: Leg 5 - Out of London

River Roding: Leg 4 - Through the Leafy Suburbs

River Roding: Leg 3 - Ilford up to Woodford

The Lost Lido of Leytonstone

River Roding: Leg 2 - the Barking Barrage to Ilford

River Roding: Leg 1 - Thames to the Barking Barrage


16 August 2015

Something different, between walks, featuring a video clip of Iain Sinclair, Michael Moorcock and Alan Moore …

Iain Sinclair is well-known for books such as London Orbital and Edge of the Orison, in which he brings back into the light forgotten memories and facts about the areas in which he walks. Now one of the things that I initially found perplexing about Sinclair was the mutual admiration between himself and fellow-author J. G. Ballard; as the architecture critic Owen Hatherley once noted, "someone like Iain Sinclair passes as ‘Ballardian’ despite an antiquarian instinct that represents exactly the traces Ballard would have joyously erased". This comment by Hatherley expressed my own sense of puzzlement: after all, Ballard’s London - unlike Sinclair’s - is not choked with memories, but resides in the anonymity of retail parks, the concrete of motorway flyovers, the dreams and obsessions of suburbia.

In fact, I only really understood what connected Sinclair and Ballard when I attended a three-way discussion between Sinclair, Michael Moorcock and Alan Moore in 2009. I was particularly struck by their comments in answer to a question from a member of the audience who wondered whether conscious mythologising by an author isn’t a form of decadence. That discussion was filmed for Moorcock’s Miscellany, and here’s a short snippet of Messrs Moorcock, Moore and Sinclair responding to that question:

Moorcock, Moore and Sinclair are asked whether conscious mythologizing isn’t a form of decadence.

After listening to that discussion, I came to appreciate that what underlay the enthusiasm of Sinclair and Ballard for each other’s writings was that they were both mythologisers, creators of narratives of location and space. Ballard filled a location with meaning through the power of the human imagination and the strength of his obsessions; whereas Sinclair does so by rummaging around in the location’s past.

I was reminded of this recently when I read Mark Fisher’s introduction to Laura Oldfield Ford’s Savage Messiah, in which he quotes Ford as saying “I think a lot of what is called psychogeography now is just middle-class men acting like colonial explorers, showing us their discoveries and guarding their plot” - a comment that appears to take aim at the likes of Sinclair and Will Self.

However, if one were to interpret this as some sort of criticism of Sinclair, rather than as Ford emphasising her very different perspective on London, then one would be missing an important aspect of Sinclair’s writings. In a later video - filmed in connection with an event which gathered together a diverse group of artists such as the singer Shirley Collins, the ubiquitous Alan Moore, and the industrial musician F.M. Einheit - Sinclair notes that when “very disparate people with very different interests and inspirations end up in one place”, then the magic that they might come across is “the magic of the place itself, and how it will affect them. The preconceived notions they come with are going to be changed, and what they're uncovering isn't a hidden England, but it's a hidden part of themselves, inspired by parts of England."

The curious thing about this is that it depends upon a re-mythologising - i.e. on something that is precisely not already part of a common culture, but is something that each has to discover for themselves. This uncovering of meaning cannot therefore simply be a matter of finding and recording. That is why it is important for Sinclair - just as it was for Ballard - that we harness the powers of our imagination; and if we do not, then we risk being devoured by someone else’s - such as the consumerist imagination of the corporate realm, or the fantasy of some self-delusional politician.

And one straightforward way of harnessing your own imagination is to put your boots on, step out of the door, and walk - then see if you can write something about what you have seen.