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Laocoön
Laocoön, as grappled into the universal dictionary by Diderot.









































 

 

 


'The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,/
As the night descended, tilting in the air,/
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,/
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,/
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.'
Wallace Stevens, The Idea of Order at Key West

















































































































































































































































































prawn cocktail crisps
shifting image: an emblem of insensate dullness, inept embarrassment, or empathic discretion?
















































































adamo me fecit
adamo me fecit. Actually it reads as follows:

ADAMINUS
DESCO
GEORG
IO. ME
FECI
T

Kenner (in The Pound Era (1971, p.323) notes: 'It was a Luminous Detail, with the capacity to admonish the present. Mind focused here once, it says, a person knew this stone and the stone proclaims the person. (Pride in the work: Ruskin stirs, who had lived until Pound was 14 and had taught Europe to measure the craft by the craftsman's involvement.)'

























































































































































































































Season 2 episode 13, Time Squared.

















































































































































































































































































































































 

footnotes, appendices and apparatus to the anatomy

grouped loosely by subject

 

4. Dialogues and sundry observations of the Civic Elite of Norbiton:
Civ Clarke and Hunter Sidney

 

...Green Man of Norbiton...

Civ Clarke, nicknamed for Lord Clark of Civilisation, is a failed artist of about my own age, or perhaps a few years older.

I think of Clarke as the Green Man, partly because, like a Green Man in his forest, all Norbiton seems to coalesce in him, he inhabits it fully, green manknows everyone, every stone, every stone's history, everything, glides through it all like a Renaissance magus operating with certainty in a cosmos of sympathies and signatures; and partly because there is a potent theatre of being about him: he is a monstrously large, 6'4", ripple-fatted, loose-limbed unjovial colossus who, tending to albinism, flusters passers-by as Moby Dick might fluster a school of sardines.

So partly for these reasons. But mostly I think of him as the Green Man of Norbiton because, a hospital cleaner working odd shifts in Kingston Hospital, you almost always see him in beech-green draw slacks and apple-green button-down tunic and, because of the albinism I suppose, a pair of round reflective chemical-green glasses.

He also favours bright white air-cushioned trainers for his fallen arches and a metallic petrol blue anorak, but it is too little too late: he is the Green Man.

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...hero of the anti-literature...

Hunter Sidney, small, sixtyish, always neatly dressed in tweeds, waistcoats, old-style civil service weekend chic, is a failed writer who has long since given up trying to publish anything and instead moves only within the world of what he calls the anti-literature.

He frequents the sort of website haunted by other failed writers,hunter sidney the sort who might years ago have cluttered their garages with boxes of remainered vanity publications, but who now stalk the talkboards, where they share out their modicum of solace and support; and from these sites he recruits what he regards as the best of them to some subversive project of his own - the anti-literature, a canon, I suppose, of nettled bile and steepling self-regard.

He used to work in some unspecified bureaucratic capacity but took early retirement on a disability pension. An (ex-)bureaucrat, then, gone rogue, like one of those paper-pushers at the Circus in a Smiley novel, methodically channelling neat spools of microfilm to the enemies of the State in clockwork handoffs, humming to himself as he puts even his betrayal in neat and docketed order.

"My aesthetic sense", he once told me, "is underpinned, by clarity. Say, precisely, what you mean, insofar, as you are able, and stop."

His delivery is halting and mechanical, because his disability allowance and pensionable status are predicated on a throat cancer which has stripped out his larynx, and he talks now by means of an electric voicebox. He jokes thinly that this is but one more step on the road to the perfection of a Cyborg, and that in his spider-like presence in the anti-literature is version of his consciousness, uploaded.

I call him an ex-bureaucrat, but in fact he worked for a large oil corporation.

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...henceforth to look like this...

Hunter Sidney, hero of the anti-literature, tells the story of a girlfriend he used to have who once said to him, after an all-day row when she found him morosely listening to the slow movement of a Haydn string quartet, why can’t my life be more like this music?

So when I write that I wanted my life to be more like the CITTÀ IDEALE that hangs in Urbino, I am thinking of Hunter Sidney’s story. My own emotion, or response, has been pulled into the gravity well of someone else’s anecdote.

 

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...torch the whole thing.

Clarke has a more political, more perverse take on jobs than I do.

A job, he maintains, is not the necessary social flesh on the skeleton of real work; it is itself the essential structural unit, both of the company, and of society: society is a jelly of cells, where each cell is a job. The company does not make things, objects, products; it does not devise and provide services. It secretes them. Something must emerge, after all, from all this activity, this busyness. Some by-product, some residuum.

We are not workers, therefore: we are job holders. Job holders, or aspiring job holders. Because a job is a scarce commodity. While you would think that there could be no end of work, given that we are all alive, there are, somehow, never enough jobs to go around.

surplus of activity Jobs, he is forced to conclude, are engineered to produce a surplus of activity, not a proper body of work.

As for my make believe, my play acting at work, he says that the whole economy, at some level, is an exercise in make believe. Our money is electronic; if it is not electronic, it is made of paper. He says he panics sometimes that someone somewhere is still making food. The shops seem to be full of an inexhaustible supply of it, but there is no guarantee that farmers haven’t started spread betting on their produce, shorting their wheat and making a killing, but no wheat.

I can picture him, standing at night staring into the fridge, a green dressing gown hanging around his vast body, gripped by such a panic.

Finally he says that while for most of his life he has been a quitter, he is now a sticker. He says that liberation is a violence; liberty an appropriation, an act of aggression. So in the interests of ideological consistency he is obliged to share our burdens, show up for work, and draw his wage.

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...there was some disagreement...

The disagreement revolved around the reasons for conducting the excavation, and what we hope to find.

Clarke made the point that to cut a random trench across a space was not a scientific procedure but a stochastic one; choosing where to dig a trench was more usually guided by a hypothesis of some sort about what you could reasonable expect to find, and simply digging at hazard was no more archaeology than was spending your weekends scouring a beach with a metal detector.

He also said that he preferred to think of our project as an antiquarian one. We were like renaissance bravi, he said, hunting for the Laocoön. Digging up objects of antiquarian value or interest – marble torsos, or bronze votives – was more in keeping with our general prospectus of life, which, he noted, prized gravitational over card-file organisation, and that this argued the presence of objects of significant mass.

When we countered that there were no objects of antiquarian interest buried under Norbiton, he said, with a triumphant flourish, that this was his point: antiquarianism was the preserve of aristocrats and bishops, the wealthy, the successful. We would fail at it. We would manage only to bring mutilated, rusted, degraded and unidentifiable things, blinking and disorientated, like Calibans of the irrelevant past, into the present.

Hunter Sidney did not answer this directly at first. He said that his first novel (unpublished) had been about archaeologists in Italy and the black market in Etruscan antiquities. He quoted approximately and at length a passage which has permitted me to reproduce here in full, which served, he said, to distinguish antiquarianism from archaeology. It concerning the working practices of a nineteenth century Italian landowner, called Luciano de Cielo:

 

He liked to dig in person. That is, he liked to supervise his digs, working usually with a team of a dozen muscular farm-hands. They would sweat and burrow and turn up objects for his scrutiny. Big objects he kept. Anything with a bit of paint on it. Whatever was dull or small was destroyed. Whatever he decided was of no value, aesthetic or pecuniary. Broken into pieces. No matter what your affinity, you had to keep the market pure, the Collection unsullied.
And so he continued happily for some fifteen years, digging things up and looking at them and smashing them on the ground, or taking them home to polish up and put on display. It gave him a cynical thrill, maybe, a sense of his lordliness, to toss a 3000-year-old pot over his shoulder and hear it smash behind him, not even look round; and he would probably have gone on grinding pots beneath the heel of his black polished boots but for a chance meeting one afternoon with a distinguished English archaeologist - Sir Constantine Laeder - who, wincing at the thickset Italian’s working practice, had himself invited back to dinner to look at the Collection, now dominated somewhat ostentatiously by the finest Etruscan pieces. Sir Constantine could not quibble with the purity of what he saw - even though de Cielo invited him brusquely to do just that - but he sought to impress upon his host the principles of scientific digging, how to make records of provenance, distribution, why you might want to do that, and so on.



Hunter Sidney said then, turning back to our project, that he disagreed with Clarke. It was a question of object or context, and we were most definitely in the business of context. The point about the trench, the archaeology, was not that we would fail at finding something, but that we would triumphantly succeed in finding nothing. We would confirm the nothing at our backs. It would be like looking in the wardrobe for monsters before going to bed – see, no monsters there.

What was important therefore was the document. We did not want a museum of beautiful objects, but rather a monograph, dry, dull, meticulous; an accurate transcript of the emptiness of the past under our feet; a survey of the nothing we have settled on: a map of the nowhere we have blown into. Evidence. Evidence of the traces we have left (none), the roots we have put down (no roots), the difference we have made (to what?).

I neither agreed nor disagreed with any of this. For me it was neither the objects we would (or wouldn’t) find, nor the emptiness they defined (like fishing boats at anchor), but the fact of looking that was important: formalising our curiosity was a way of smoothing out irregular contexts. The contingency of what survived from the past (in memory or in fact) was not neutralised but mitigated by the completeness of the manner in which you examined that rump or remnant. Like completing a rational search of the ocean by mapping grids and marshalling helicopters and destroyers, even after you know in your heart the fishing boat must have sunk with all hands. You discharge your duty, and you sleep at night.

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...picked up accidentally...

Hunter Sidney believes that he developed an aptitude for administration in his tender-minded years of adolescence, simply by applying himself to his school work.

He reasons it thus: an adolescent will spend time learning skills necessary for life. This might at one time have been hunting or fighting. There is some gene expressed in this period that favours repetition, usually physical repetition. If a youth perceives a skill to be desirable or valued he will simply repeat and repeat and repeat the task until the muscle group has recorded the motion and impressed the pattern in the soft and waxy mind. In this way young people learn to play the piano or violin, or a sport (keepy-uppy is popular in this phase of life) – but always skills whose acquisition  is a function of repetitive behaviour patterns.

A more developed or perhaps docile mind, Hunter Sidney goes on, is in danger of falling into the trap of habitual or repeated diligence in solving the Rubik’s cube (over and over again) or chess problems or mathematical conundrums – the path of the academic or engineer; or simply of completing school work on time with the heading underlined twice with a ruler and A.M.D.G stencilled in the top left margin. This is the path of the administrator, the path he fell into.

However, he concludes with a rasping snigger, it might have been considerably worse: Civ Clarke in that age of acquisition learnt how to juggle.

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...Capital.

Clarke is as usual impatient of my analysis, if I can call it that, of double-entry bookkeeping  in terms of Rational Ideas, saying John Locke kicked down that rotten door centuries ago.

Bureaucracy, he notes, quoting Marx, supports the prevailing power system and is frequently the source of the greatest inertia within that system.

Administration slides towards the evil of bureaucracy the more permanent it becomes. Thus far we agree.

Where we start to diverge is the connection he thinks he notices between the codification of double-entry bookkeeping on the one hand, and the inception of the evil cinquecento on the other. He argues that what had been a loose and amenable practice in Florence for centuries became in the age of print a bureaucrat’s weapon.

I concede the possibility – or more frankly I can’t be bothered to argue - that codified double-entry bookkeeping grew out of and started to service the growing size of the capital economy; it provides an informational skeleton for the big capital generating or utilising machines (company, state and so on) which are starting to emerge at about this time.

And it is also true that the quattrocento (city state, Masaccio) is good and the cinquecento (Papacy, Empire, Michelangelo) is evil and corrupt, so he has a (highly rhetorical) point. There is a case to be made, taking shelter for a moment from Clarke’s thundering discourse, that quattrocento Florence is fundamentally a medieval society, and cinquecento Florence, or Italy, is fundamentally a modern one; but that some of the tools of the modern world – Linear Perspective, double-entry bookkeeping, America (just) were available to the quattrocento. What we have in the quattrocento, therefore, or bits of it (Masaccio, Donatello, Brunelleschi) is a peculiarly felicitous point of balance, or set of virtues.

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...in the belly of which...

Shell has its headquarters (or part of them) on the South Bank of the Thames next to Waterloo Station in the Shell Centre. The Shell Centre was designed in the late 50s and built in 1961. There is also a slightly more elegant building on the North Bank of the upstream, downstreamThames called Shell Mex House, dating from 1931, which has nothing to do any more with Shell.

Parts of the Shell Centre are known (or were, in Hunter Sidney’s time) as the upstream and downstream buildings. They were so named according to which side of the Hungerford Bridge they fell on (the distinction was inherited from the Festival of Britain site, on which the Shell Centre was constructed; the Downstream building is no longer part of the complex) but Shell, like all other petroleum companies, uses upstream/downstream to categorise its business, with upstream referring to the drilling and extraction operations, for example, and downstream to, say, marketing and distribution.

Upstream/downstream thus has a mild polyvalency in World of Shell, and Hunter Sidney adds some colour to the metaphor, joking tiredly that most of his career was spent paddling and then drifting in the sludge of the downstream creeks and shallows. Very peaceful, he says. He also, in accordance with the same transformational logic, likens the Shell Centre to a great cormorant colony, a shrieking monument to guano. This analogy has nothing to do with the oil and the pollution, nor with the greed. It has to do with Hunter Sidney’s mild mystification at the human need to aggregate, to create colonies and then fight and shriek for an inch of space. He can understand, he says, why an individual might want to be at the top of the building (where, incidentally, they have or used to have one of those penny-in-the-slot binocular affairs which you could use if you liked in the lunch hour to look at the green fields on the horizon, Hampstead and Barnet and beyond; you can picture Hunter Sidney up there, in the stiff breeze, chewing a cheese and pickle sandwich, thinking of wandering those sunlit green hills, alone); but he cannot understand why you would want to cling shivering to a low corner so you can get shat on.

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...properly understood...

Clarke, who does not properly understand it, regards it as a meretricious trick; he says that there is no mystery to it, it is not a symbolical form (his expression); he does not understand the maths, as I do not, cannot remember his art school arguments, but he is confident they refute it.

To be clear, by linear perspective I understand something done with an Albertian insistence on straight lines. The back end of a horse, no matter how well executed the foreshortening, is not linear perspective.

Thus:

piero uccello

Having said which, it is only fair to point out that some of the lances in the Uccello have fallen at right angles to the picture plane and to each other. A sort of degraded perspective grid is down there somewhere.

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...more brittle, much edgier...

Actually I may be conflating Hunter Sidney’s position with that of Civ Clarke, who has independently volunteered that marriage is a violent or coercive institution. I paraphrase his argument as follows:

In all other contracts, explicit and implicit, the extent of the agreement is limited in scope. We do not contract ourselves into slavery. We agree to do this or that for this or that amount of time; but the agreement extends no further. If we are to identify a virtue in the disposition of contract in total contract space, it is precisely in this limited extent, which allows, among other things, for a flow in the system – as one contract expires, others come into being, and so on.

Marriage on the other hand – the modern Western form of it – demands total surrender. You do not limit the extent of its influence on your life in any way. All behaviours, desires, actions, inactions, hesitancies, inadequacies are provisionally entailed. You can never say about anything in the context of your marriage, this is not relevant. This is relevant only to me. You could argue further - and Clarke does not hesitate to do so - that not even the responsibilities entailed in parenthood, or running a corporation or a country or an army, are of this insane and formless nature. The contract of parenthood, to take one example, is implicitly structured around a series of sub-clauses under which the parent is expected to relinquish responsibility over time. Heads of corporations can delegate, take time off. When they are lying in the bath listening to Mozart drinking gin and recalling dimly the dreams of their youth, they are no longer the President of the Corporation. They are something else. But they are still married. All good will which might subsist between two individuals is necessarily exhausted in the limitless emotional subsections of the marriage contract.

Clarke isn't married but he has a girlfriend, Mandy. I wonder if he reasons to her in this vein.

The universal vigilance of the marriage contract works on us like an emotional panopticon, Clarke assures me. It renders us docile, and as Foucault explained, docility is a condition of control.

I should point out that panopticon, pronounced panoctogon, is also Clarke's nickname for his own towertop flat. Make of that what you will.

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...simple matutinal routines...

The routines were not complex, quite the contrary, but they centred on the fact that this was the only time of the day that he could read anything. Reading was the fulcrum of the routine, allowing him, for a moment, the balm of other voices in his head. He would sit by a window, open depending on the season, drink tea and read his morning book.

The only book he recalls reading in this period was the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the whole interest of which, claims Hunter Sidney, lies in the interplay between on the one hand Lawrence’s manic attempts to goad the (by his account moody, contemplative, volatile) Arab nation into self-determining life, and on the other his own tendency to melancholy reflection, self-recrimination and inaction.

Lawrence claimed that the title of the book had nothing to do with its content, but derived from a juvenile novel concerning seven cities,T.E. Lawrence which he carried over for sentimental reasons. It is taken from the book of Proverbs: (ix. I) ‘Wisdom hath builded a house: she hath hewn out her seven pillars.’

Hunter Sidney, perhaps spurred by his own melancholy restlessness at this time, claims that the title is in fact pertinent. That wisdom might lie neither in action nor in inaction but in some ugly juncture between the two struck him, as he sat at his window, book on his lap, looking out at the world, as by turns a depressing or energising quandary; one which he claims never have resolved to his satisfaction.

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...somewhat embittered and I might say emblematic...

Hunter Sidney made his remarks about emblems not in a spirit of enquiry but in a spirit of angry fist-shaking. He did not actually shake his fists, but that is how he would be represented emblematically – shaking his fists in the face of the world.

Interestingly enough I had angered him, or more precisely, discovered anger in him, by describing to him an emblematical tableaux or scene which I witnessed in Kelley’s garden that afternoon, an account of which can be found here. I am not certain which part of my description prompted Hunter Sidney’s reaction, although I could be moved to speculate. What is significant, however, is the secondary emblematic vision which ensued.

During my account, Clarke, who was sitting with us in the pub, had been cramming prawn cocktail flavoured crisps into his mouth as though blind and deaf with hunger and relish; he was a picture of social oblivion. Then, when Hunter Sidney had had his trembling say about emblems, drunk up his pint, and left, Clarke slowly let me understand that Hunter Sidney’s anger was not unconnected to the fact that the woman for whom he had left his wife, with whom he had been in love, was Kelley’s wife, whom I had figured prominently in my anecdote.

This was surprising to me, in its way. That Hunter Sidney had been living in a state of separation (as I supposed, and as Clarke confirmed) from a woman who lived half a mile away, for something approaching (by my calculation) twenty years, struck me, in fact, as more remarkable than the fact that they knew one another. It seems that while he could stand the sight of Kelley, he could not (or so I speculate) stand the (interior) sight of Kelley and his wife enjoying a moment of tolerable domesticity.

I was however, not so much struck, at that moment, as subdued by the intelligence. I saw, in my mind’s eye, the three of us – me, garrulous, insensate, groping gleefully in my head for a thread of wit; Hunter Sidney, his psychological armature unstrapped and removed by the (for him) emblematic representation of the female he had rising up before him; Clarke, dumb-showing ignorance (or perhaps overwhelming and clumsy discretion) – as I say, I saw the three of us inked out in a woodcut to which the motto would be, not Social Inexpertness, or the Damage of Intimacy, but Norbiton peers into the Gulf of Ignorance or something similar.

I understood, in other words, that citizenship of the Ideal City did not absolve us from the need to learn each other’s symbolic landscape.

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...Hunter Sidney...

At the time of this conversation, I should state, Hunter Sidney did not know that I knew about his involvement with Mrs Isobel Easter, as I call her.

Similarly, while I knew about his involvement I did not know the prominent extent to which gardens, and specifically her garden, figured in his affair. It seems he would generally pass through the same back gate which I now used. The pair spent a good deal of time in the garden, in the summer house, which lay in a state of strategic disrepair. The garden was in fact emblematic of a sort of abandon, since Kelley, if he returned out of time, would return through the front door, and it was possible to make good an escape from the summer house to the back gate invisible to anyone watching from the house.

The break up also took place in the garden, in the summer house, and was precipitated by what I shall call a jealousy event, which Hunter Sidney associated with the garden.

I sometimes wake at night possessed by a luminescent vision of an interior stairway in a Venetian courtyard halved by sunlight and seeming to lead to a hidden door up there in the brickwork. This courtyard and stairway have become an emblem of my lost Venetian love.

venice courtyard stairs

As it happens, the Venetian woman who cast me adrift, or from whom I cast myself adrift, did not live up such a stairway; the stairway was something I caught a glimpse of at about the time I was, if not most in love with, then most deeply enmired in, or by, this woman. My point is, I can understand why Hunter Sidney, puffing for twenty years under the growing weight of his multi-planar object of jealousy, regret, loss, frustration, anger, desire, and love, might instinctively resent my offhand comments about gardens – his garden in particular.

No love is eternal: all love is spatially and temporally located. It belongs to a place. Each failed love, you might say, has its own Paradise Garden from which the participants are eternally banished.

It just so happens that in Hunter Sidney’s case, that Paradise Garden actually was a garden.

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...established in the whole.

I imagine. I have never visited the Tempio, and now probably never will.

Clarke has. He says that he visited the Tempio, once, when he was living in Rome, in the company of Ray Bartley.

For an Italian man Rimini is where you go to get laid by the easy German girls who in common imagination lounge drunk and naked and carefree on the beach, like clubbable seals; but Clarke was looking for an inscription he recalled having read about in Hugh Kenner’s book on Pound; the inscription was hidden somewhere on a pillar and read, he thought, adamo me fecit.

It was only later, having failed to find it, that he was able to remind himself that this particular luminous detail is located somewhere in a church in Verona.

Anyway, he says that for this reason he doesn’t remember a great deal about the Tempio– he remembers the elephants, and the interleaved S and I; and he vaguely confirms my supposition about the the passage from exterior to interior. But he principally remembers the sacristan, or caretaker, ponderous and malevolent, from whom at the instigation of Bartley he several times dodged over the ropes of the roped-off chapels, to continue his inch-by-inch search for the inscription.

He says that on reflection an afternoon of minor transgressions in search of the inexistent was a not inappropriate text for the visit.

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...a moment of non-involvement.

From this it will be clear that I have told Clarke about dell’Aquila’s visits; it will not be clear, as it was not to me at the time, that Clarke in turn told Hunter Sidney, and that Hunter Sidney had accompanied me to dell’Aquila’s garden in the hope of confronting dell’Aquila, perhaps with violence. I merely note that what Clarke refers to as moral involvement or participation, I prefer to think of as prurience.

It could be argued that I should never have told Clarke in the first place. However, there is context. I had been angry, having left Kelley’s garden, that, as I have noted elsewhere, there was a complex moral involvement of many of the inhabitants of the Ideal City and its environs from which I was politely excluded; I realised, standing up that ladder, that Clarke was at the root of this involvement, if only because it was through him that I had come to know so many of the others, including Hunter Sidney, Kelley, Mrs Isobel Easter and dell’Aquila. Clarke was the doorkeeper, the sleepy dragon coiled in the gateway, to a treacherous rocky world that I should have known about because it threatened to wreck, not our Ship of State perhaps, nothing so grand, but say our coracle of civic virtue.

My metaphors are hopelessly mixed. I was, I as say, angry at the situation I found myself in, an anger doubled by the accusation of moral non-participation.

Our argument escalates. Civ Clarke tells me I am immoral, that I lie, not constantly, but structurally. My structure of thought as expressed in the Anatomy of Norbiton has, insofar as he has read it, become something deeply disingenuous. He is not talking about whatever refers to him; or to the people he knows. He is referring to the core aesthetic, if you like; the underlying structural principles. He say, this place, this Ideal City, it has become something in my hands that it was never really intended to be, because I am simply writing it into existence. He recognises the people, the projects; but does not recognise the aesthetic texture.

What I have done, he continues, is to throw up a great competing structure that does nothing except run parallel to, or mimic, my own failed career. This is not escape, nor is it freedom. I am wedded to the object that brought me down here, he says, like a concrete overcoat; even down to its mannerisms, its inflections, its gestures and its garrulous idiocy. Especially its idiocy.

Moreover, he says, descending to detailed criticism, it is not an Anatomy. There is no sense of a structure progressively revealed, of the sinews of power laid bare; nor is it an encyclopaedia, although it imitates the form of one. No, it is a personal narrative, pure and simple, a morose solecism masquerading as an exoskeleton of architecture and spatial structure.

When Clarke half-jokingly suggested that my position up the ladder was one of moral disengagement, I did not expect this reckoning of accounts. It signalled, to look forward a little, the opening of the rift that would carry Clarke away from Norbition: Ideal City, into the elucidation of rival structures of his own. The rift was never wholly complete; but it was significant, and was healed, if that is the word, only with the death some months later of Hunter Sidney, the first intimations of which we received at about this time, in the form of news of a recurrence of his cancer.

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...anaemic white pope or doge...

Clarke and I have drifted a little apart.

He is working on an exhibition or perhaps exhibitions to be held without permission (and only nominally under the auspices of the Ideal City) in the basement of Kingston Hospital, centred on what I have come to think of as Cannoner’s Vidian Man.

The Vidian Man is incomplete, but Clarke thinks that works in its favour. He reminds me that it is not so much a metamorphic as an entropic project, one that will only be complete when all energy is drained from it. The exhibition will be a snapshot of degradation. Quite so.

I recall in this context something I wrote when I first knew Cannoner - that his mosaic project to anatomise the city was doomed to failure because its foundation was static. I wrote, with some hubris:

We learnt, in short, from his mistake – the anatomy which he failed to build was a static anatomy, a diagram complete in its parts. We are not producing a static diagram, but are planning instead a series of expeditions, hunting for that mountain, that lake, the source of that river, the fate of that dead Livingstone.

Ironic that I should now be aware of the hazards of a mobile structure.

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...a gastronomical project that he is mulling...

Emmet Lloyd has visions of opening a chain of what he calls restaurant-eateries (?) supplied with produce from the garden-centre empire to which he is heir. He supposes, he says, that he could produce sufficient vegetables (he doesn't say sufficient vegetables, he says simple vegetables, whatever that means) which could be coupled with pies, say. A pie and mash and appropriate other (simple rather than complex) vegetable eatery experience. He needs, he says, to link up with a meat producer and a pie-maker. Clarke opines that this would all sell with a bottle of real ale. So, says Emmet, improvising a business plan, ten sorts of real ale, two or three types of veg, a dozen sorts of pie, and a solitary mash. You go in, hand over, say, 12.95, or 14.95 depending on the pie, and you walk out with a pie, a beer, some veg and some mash, either in your belly (you could sit at what Emmet Lloyd calls some simple tables), or in a bag.

Not such a terrible idea, although he has to actually grow the vegetables first.

Clarke however proposes some refinements which make it clear that he is intent on appropriating the pie-and-mash eatery idea. He says there should be only one type of pie, one type of veg, and one real ale. Remove choice: this is what the tribe is eating. It should all be sold from secret locations by word of mouth only. Perhaps by invitation. Perhaps by subscription. And not every night. You could combine these ad hoc pie and ale community distribution nodes (as he calls them) with some entertainment, perhaps some music or an exhibition.

tubby issacs

Now it is clear to me. Clarke wants to co-opt Emmet Lloyd to cater the exhibition he is remorselessly organising in the bowels of Kingston Hospital. You will go in, be guided with nods and winks along disinfected corridors, past smiling nurses and lost patients, and then down stairwells or service lifts, through grumbling boiler rooms, past store cupboards and crates of sheets and gloves and more disinfectant, into the forlorn gallery space; where you will be met with a pie and a beer and a prospectus. You are underground, looking at the goreless stumpy limbs of Cannoner’s Vidian man, vaguely hoping you are not raided by the police. Or the caretaker.

I think Civ is imagining roll-neck jumpers, body painting and spliffs, Art as conspiracy, mining the establishment, the scene he never enjoyed. With Pie and mash.

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...constructing a parable...

I do not really know if Clarke – who has so far remained silent while Veronica de Viggiani and I have been arguing about the possible reconciliation of Hunter Sidney and Mrs Isobel Easter – is talking here about Renaissance fortification or my line on Hunter Sidney. Perhaps both. For my own part I have tried – not always successfully, I concede – to keep what I have to say about the history and theory of the Ideal City separate from the ultra-personal and largely irrelevant biography of its individual citizens. It is good civic practice to distinguish, I think, the private, the personal, the social, the public, and so on.

Clarke is not so fastidious; neither does he typically tread with care among my arguments. Hence my uncertainty.

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...any moment of it.

Actually Hunter Sidney goes a bit further than this. He says that, now that he knows that he is dying, his acceleration towards oblivion seems to have crossed some critical threshold of turbulence, and the rattling shivering spacecraft of his body has suddenly sailed out into smooth flight, and all is quiet around him, and he is passing through a more saturated, less reflective version of space-time; as though the gravitational sheer were such that light, here, had been compressed, grown liquid, material; everything he looked at, almost, seemed slowed in an amber distillate of light, a form of chemical thought.

There is an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where the Enterprise is caught over a sort of temporal vortex, from which, some hours earlier, a second, future version of Picard had emerged, prophesying in the mere fact of his crazy presence (supplemented by logs from his shuttle) the imminent destruction of the ship.

The reaction of the crew, as ever, is framed in a series of empirical enquiries. What is this thing? What is its nature? They make reasonable assumptions and act on them.

 

But for once their investigations yield no answers: Picard will only be able to close the temporal loop by counter-intuitively pushing on the stick, as it were, and driving the Enterprise into the vortex.

Hunter Sidney says that, strangely, while his new-found fascination with the material world is also enquiring and inquisitive (or anyway approximates to those modes), he understands that there will be no answer. These objects, phenomena, experiences will only come to rest when they collapse, for him, to a non-dimensional point.

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...proud of the operation...

Later, Clarke disabuses us of our admiration. He has been to Cobham several times, he tells us, and talked to the nurserymen. The computer manifest bears little resemblence to the world it purports to describe.

It seems that the software systems they have in place – what Emmet calls the plantware - are not robust enough to be reliable. When the system says a pallet is ready to ship, some gnarled old nursery hand has to potter out there with a spade over his shoulder and ‘verify’ that the pallet is in fact ready. Typically, however, it isn’t, but some other pallet is, and the nurseryman will just ship that instead without bothering to notify the system. The system itself further corrupts and misplaces even the inputs it does receive. It is always in arrears, a poor shadow of reality.

Emmet and his father (or anyway his father’s old retainers) are running parallel businesses, only one of which is making money.

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...Hunter Sidney with his array of scientific orchids.

Returning from Cobham to Kelley’s garden, and entering there by the back gate with the plants I have bought, I bring Solomon and Hunter Sidney into the garden. We deposit the plants near the back wall in a concealed space which I call the workshop – there are a couple of compost bins, the overgrown greenhouse, a broken down potting shed containing tools.

And there we stand, exposed, where Hunter Sidney is concerned, on the screaming edge of creation, in the garden of his twenty-year-lost love. He is, as he describes it later, suddenly centre-stage in his own world, bathed in the illumination of a thousand arc lamps, exposed, vulnerable, unprepared, exhilarated. But the auditorium is empty. She does not come out. She cannot have the first idea we stood there for two minutes, inside her circle of fire. The auditorium is empty and the script – there is no script – unspoken. As though, he says, he had been a ghost in his own life and had only realised it, there at that minute.

Later, recalling the moment, he wonders if this thicket of emotion and memory is in fact rooted in the originary experience at all. The Ur-emotion, insofar as it can be distinguished, was an approximate, unproportionate chemical activity, a sort of carpet bombing of the soul. The precise weight of a given experience should only be measured rationally, temperately, cognitively, he says; as though each man and woman were historian of his or her own soul. But the memory of our emotion is a corrupt dataset: we cannot recreate the experience from it. We can only generate from it an ever diminishing, qualitatively distinct, cognitive simulacrum with its own, distinct, emotional purpose.

Hunter Sidney is close to death, and far removed from the day to day commerce of the emotions, of the account book of predicaments or the currency of situations, which, insubstantial network though they be, still sufficiently ground our psychic life. But in saying this he alarms me, because he has experienced this night garden, not as a field for taxonomical study, nor certainly as what Solomon calls a library of forms; but as an existential rush of fear and hope.

I note as footnote to this footnote that some years after the end of my relationship with the woman who, it amuses me to think, galloped like a witch through my defenceless life, I met her again. I was still in love with her, she not with me. It was a friendly meeting, but I could not look her in the face, no more than I can stare unblinking at the sun. And some suns, as Hunter Sidney can attest, are black holes in the making.

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...sustained illusion of presence.

The Presence generated by an image is an illusion, but it is a persuasive one.

After I quit my job I sat for months in a room by myself watching Star Trek. Captains Picard and Janeway, Commanders Data and Sisko, these were real to me, present, while I watched. They filled the space in which I was sitting. But when at some point each day I turned off my computer, I found myself sitting alone in a darkened room, and knew that I had been sitting, alone, in a darkened room for hours past. I had at some level strongly registered presence of real people, even though the images I took for real were tiny actors, filmed years ago, centimetres tall. It was a false positive.

 

In the same way, photographs of the dead and the lost seem to return them to us for as long as we look, and conjure a false positive of presence. We are not furnished with psychological parts fit to process such inputs, to distinguish between actual and simulated presence. Where the past used to compost its memories, create from them something useful, we now find the dead turning up with remorseless regularity, perfectly preserved, like peat burials.

Hunter Sidney, who spends long hours together not speaking because of the strain of using his artificial voicebox and more latterly because of the pain of the cancer in his throat, says that he now experiences the same false positive presence when he is actually in the presence of other people. Presence and absence, he says, are useful categories, ones which it would be pointless to empty of meaning, like a bored philosophe; we know, usually, when someone is with us or when they are not. We are not fools. But for a silent man, the presence of others starts to look and feel a lot like their recorded absence; like looking at photographs or television. Like watching Star Trek.

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Bless the Pequod!

Clarke's suggestion. He once shouted this at the old Polish pope on the feast of the immaculatronImmaculate Conception (8th December), when the Pope traditionally performs some pagan rites before a column near Piazza Spagna on which is a statue of the Madonna. No doubt the Madonna works miracles, and demands veneration (proskynesis) in recompense.

The Pope, says Clarke, being driven swiftly back to the Vatican amidst the acclamation (douleia) of the crowd, heard the shout for a blessing and obliged with an approximate waggle of the finger.

The Pequod was a small inflatable rubber dinghy which Clarke had purloined somewhere or other, and used for little trips on lakes around Rome. It pleased him to think, he said, as he paddled up and down, that his vessel was now on an unsinkable mission from a vanished god to whom he had never offered so much as a tittle of worship (latreia).

unsinkable pequod

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...contemplating its destruction...

I should state for the record that Hunter Sidney did not destroy the photograph nor the Etruscan lamp which I learnt later he was carrying in his pocket. In fact when we left that afternoon he set them both on the shelves of the library, like a Mr Benn suphurously returned from the plains of Tartarus. He was never to return or see them again.

messers benn

In the course of the conversation surrounding his purloined photograph, Veronica de Viggiani had persuaded him to allow us – me, in fact – to set up a meeting with its subject, Mrs Isobel Easter. But that was not why he spared the photograph. He spared it because it had been taken shortly before he came to know the woman.

It shows some dignitaries at a football match. Both Tony and Kelley – and Kelley’s wife - are present, so I should say that it was a match between Norbiton FC and Kingstonian, taken towards the end of the 1980s before Tony dell’Aquila’s takeover of NFC and the amalgamation of the two teams.

I would guess, further, that it was taken around the time of the construction of the Palladian North End. The group of dignitaries seem to be standing at the rear of some old concrete stand, and there is evidence of construction work going on in the background – bags of cement, piles of bricks and a yellow cement mixer.

If you were moved to paint a fresco cycle of the building of the Palladian North End (for an account of which see Architectural, here), or of the Life of Mrs Isobel Easter, this would perhaps be one of the narrative moments you would choose to depict.

Hunter Sidney met Kelley's wife after the Palladian North End had been demolished.

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and in the petty detail.

Hunter Sidney has decided against curative treatment for his cancer. He has elected only to moderate the pain, and to stay at home. It is time, he says, to make the necessary preparations, amongst which he numbers extricating himself from The Love Filter, his deepnet multicursal fiction [for an outline of which, see Bureaucratic, or the Glossary]

Extricating himself means, in part, handing over his passwords and connections and stubs to a fellow editor. This he has done. But in part, he says, it involves relinquishing the persistent desire he has had throughout the Love Filter project to develop a technology for closing doors behind readers as they made their progress through the work. It was his wish, he says, to constrain the reader into one reading only, so that each reader's experience would be a unicursal path across a multicursal plane of possibilities.

No such technology was put in place; he relied instead on the general inertia of readers. They surely would not go back on their path once they had properly got in, more than a fork or two anyway. In general they would be propelled down a single path of their own making.

He is now relaxed about the exploratory instinct taking hold. The thing is sufficiently big that no single reader could exhaust all possible narratives. The best they could hope for would be to cut out a broad path rather than a narrow one.

For the twenty years he spent immersed in The Love Filter he felt, he says, like a hunched miner, tinkering on artefacts and stories,picnics and jollity speculating about the goings on up in the sunlight, with only the muffled intermittent sound of picnics and jollity to guide him. Now that he has emerged from that cave he feels nothing but relief. There was no end to the caves down there, no one could know them all. But he knows many of them, more or less how they are laid out.

As I say, he has surrendered his editing duties to a colleague, and given her some stubs of stories he was working on. I learn only later that the colleague in question is Veronica de Viggiani. But I should have guessed it.

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knowing how you are situated.

I learn later - actually, after his death - from Veronica de Viggiani, that Hunter Sidney made a significant discovery that afternoon in the garden, regarding, I suppose, how he was situated.

It seems that Mrs Isobel Easter has been working these last twenty years on The Love Filter, and Hunter Sidney had regular contact with her in her capacity as an anonymous contributor. She had been introduced to The Love Filter by Veronica de Viggiani, who had herself started to participate when she first knew Hunter Sidney.

It is impossible to know, now, how this realisation affected him. It may be that he spent his remaining days – a few weeks, actually – reading back over everything, searching for traces of her in the vast fiction; searching for evidence of her hand. But I do not think he did. As he said, talking of the chess, it is sufficient, in a way, to know how you are situated with regard to the infinite possibilities of life; it is not necessary (still less possible) to explore them all. I gather that it was enough for him to know that these past twenty years there had been life surging on around him, that he had been, so to speak, living in the thick of it; in ignorance perhaps, but in the thick of it. This was enough.

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