Writers: Iain Sinclair

  • Liz Lockhart

    Reading Between the (Cartographic) Lines

    Yellow_star-c09e82bff6cf53398cc23ca904d3855a Yellow_star-c09e82bff6cf53398cc23ca904d3855a Yellow_star-c09e82bff6cf53398cc23ca904d3855a Yellow_star-c09e82bff6cf53398cc23ca904d3855a Empty_star-e60c0e83933eadeb47c8849bb808f2e6

    Next time you find yourself reaching for the A-Z, think on this: 'we have to recognise', asserts Iain Sinclair in defence of _Lights Out for the Territory_'s pursuit of unorthodox means of navigating London, 'the fundamental untrustworthiness of maps'. Far better to cast aside the streetplans and well-thumbed guidebooks in favour of losing (or finding) oneself in the terra incognita, it seems, than to trust documents peddling the 'official' vision of the cityscape. Sinclair stalks the streets of the Capital, staying resolutely off the beaten, touristic track (London's most familiar landmarks are succinctly dismissed as 'over-referenced') and compulsively records his findings to produce a series of nine dark, dense, and occasionally paranoid essays. Observing London from ground level - 'Walking is the best way to explore and exploit the city' - the writer engages with and offers his interpretation of the sights and sounds competing for attention in the concrete jungle. Fascin...Next time you find yourself reaching for the A-Z, think on this: 'we have to recognise', asserts Iain Sinclair in defence of _Lights Out for the Territory_'s pursuit of unorthodox means of navigating London, 'the fundamental untrustworthiness of maps'. Far better to cast aside the streetplans and well-thumbed guidebooks in favour of losing (or finding) oneself in the terra incognita, it seems, than to trust documents peddling the 'official' vision of the cityscape. Sinclair stalks the streets of the Capital, staying resolutely off the beaten, touristic track (London's most familiar landmarks are succinctly dismissed as 'over-referenced') and compulsively records his findings to produce a series of nine dark, dense, and occasionally paranoid essays. Observing London from ground level - 'Walking is the best way to explore and exploit the city' - the writer engages with and offers his interpretation of the sights and sounds competing for attention in the concrete jungle. Fascinated by the secret history of his adopted home, Sinclair treks through disused, ostensibly forgotten areas of London in order to construct his personal cartography of the city based on what he sees as its alternative - and all-too-often overlooked - sources of power: the alleyways, the cemetries, the margins, and so on. The nature of this quest, characterised by the writer's own peculiar brand of psychogeography, perhaps explains _Lights Out_'s fondness for the rhetoric of the occult. In this light, London (or, at least, the areas of the city with which Sinclair concerns himself) can be viewed as a 'theatre of obelisks and pyramids, signs, symbols, prompts, whispers'. Whether or not the writer truly believes in the dark forces of the supernatural or merely wishes to whip the audience up into a frenzy as he performs his part in this 'theatre' (the poet's mystique, characterised by 'occult markings invisible to the naked eye', is discussed by Sinclair in the same breath as twenty-four-hour psychic telephone hotlines, after all) is ultimately less important than his desire to shake off the influence of potent 'high capitalist black magic' by envisaging an alternative London. The writer's disdain for the conventional, the mass-produced, the popular also extends to his taste in literature. Denouncing the prolific P.D. James's urban crime-writing, for example, Sinclair attacks the literary establishment in order to portray himself as one of the relatively small number of (predominately male) occupants of a literary outpost in which publishers' rejection letters are brandished like badges of honour. For Sinclair, only the most uncommercial, unknown, and unpromotable of creative endeavours (his own included, naturally) are worthy of the discerning reader's notice; and his essays are liberally sprinkled with in-jokes pointing to his membership of a little-known creative cult, alongside Oliver Caldecott, Aidan Dun, David Gascoyne, Mike Goldmark, Stewart Home, and Peter Whitehead, among others, all of whom are frequently name-checked in the text. Sinclair mythologises the activities of 'the boys' - poet Dun 'polishes each cerulean fragment before setting it into the mosaic pavement' of his verse - as if to prove his point. Appropriately enough for a collection of essays inspired by its author pounding the city streets, _Lights Out_ coerces the reader into participating in a great deal of intellectual legwork. Like the city on which it is focused, the text yields its meanings gradually. 'Difficulty exists only when you insist upon it' is Sinclair's mantra; the cryptic prose of _Lights Out_ can be unravelled only if the reader engages closely with the work before him. Sinclair invokes difficulty as the 'oldest ally' in the war against cultural atrophy - he 'insist[s] upon' its presence throughout the series of essays - challenging his audience, rather than pandering to them. While _Lights Out_'s frequently obscure frame of reference ('mind control, psychic theft, alchemy, numerology, dragon lines, [and] Arthurian mysticism', anyone?) may alienate some readers, others will seize the opportunity to become acquainted with Sinclair and his colleagues in their literary outpost, no matter how inhospitable the terrain leading towards it. (more)

Average Book Rating

Yellow_star-c09e82bff6cf53398cc23ca904d3855a Yellow_star-c09e82bff6cf53398cc23ca904d3855a Yellow_star-c09e82bff6cf53398cc23ca904d3855a Yellow_star-c09e82bff6cf53398cc23ca904d3855a Empty_star-e60c0e83933eadeb47c8849bb808f2e6