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Sam Berkson on Mark Fisher

Knowing Sam and Mark had spent some time together and exchanged ideas in the past, news of Mark Fisher's death caused us to ask Sam to write a personal piece about Fisher and his work. Below is Sam's response.  

In 2011, I had a poem selected for Acquired for Development By, an anthology of writing about the London borough of Hackney, published by the newly-established Influx Press. That they put out these alternative, insider-narratives just as the outsider-media story was starting of a regenerating, newly trendy place-to-be (i.e. to buy property) shows that they had a sharp instinct for the zeitgeist. In making my book, Life in Transit, their second publication, they also showed that they were not solely concerned with commercial success.

The book, a collection gleaned from a decade of notebook scraps and new writing set on or about travel and transport, was sent for review. After it was published, Ambit, once an avant-garde literary magazine, found the genre-crossing blend of poetry, short-fiction and reportage too wacky for them. Their reviewer was pleased that a ‘modern performance poet’ had put down his oral poetry in printed form but (rightly) found it in places “a bit preachy maybe”.

Before it was published, however, Kit sent a PDF to Mark Fisher, who was genuinely excited about it. In his review, he compared it to Burial and Laura Oldfield Ford. He said it was “attuned to the peculiar loneliness of life in neoliberal Britain”. Kit arranged for me to meet Mark and for Tim Burroughs, whose story in Acquired For… about the (redeveloped) Four Aces club in Dalston I had loved, to write up the conversation for Dazed and Confused magazine.

I had no more heard of Mark Fisher than I had of Burial or Oldfield Ford, although I knew that the latter’s artwork was on Acquired For…’s front cover. I had not realised that I was writing about loneliness or of hauntological relics of public space and lost futures in early-Austerity Britain. In fact I did not know what hauntology meant until I read Mark’s Ghosts of My Life in 2014. This does not mean that he was wrong, though.

We met in Shoreditch, found a bland bar that has, like so many others, turned into another bland bar, and we talked excitedly about a number of topics. For reasons I have never really understood, the transcript of that meeting did not see the light of day until The Quietus published it last week, a week after Mark took his own life.

Mark was an incredibly generous and kind person. Reading again, with some trepidation, Tim’s transcript of our first meeting five years ago, I remembered how quickly we had connected. I felt able to speak freely with him, despite his nervousness and manic energy. His thought was much more advanced than mine. His analysis is prescient, prophetic almost. He calls Boris Johnson, who was at the time lurking ominously as a very plausible and pathetically popular ‘next Prime Minister’, “the person who mocks the place of power while occupying it”. Comparing him to Franco Beradi’s description of Silvio Berlusconi, he says Johnson is “weirdly popular around young people in a depressing way because he doesn’t take politics seriously or doesn’t seem to. Of course, what he does take extremely seriously is that of advancing his own position and own class. This form of faux bonhomie and cynical dismissal is an extremely dangerous problem by which class power naturalises itself.” In the intervening years, politicians such as these have proliferated almost as rapidly as the rise in Hackney property prices.

I was still confused in my political views, particularly as regards the role of the state. Like many on the left, I was neurotic about anything resembling Stalinist state control while at the same time complaining about privatisation and the dismantling of public space. Generously, he still considered what I was doing worth engaging with. After the Tories won again in 2015, I wrote a blog article disgusted at Labour’s cowardly tactics. He wrote to me, approving of my analysis, but told me that it was too early to give up on Labour, saying that he thought that change within the party was possible. He had said the same when I first met him. “If a few of us went in with a strong agenda,” he suggested, “you could drive it in a certain direction.” Of course he was right about that too.

His point was that there are many terrains on which to engage. Before the Olympics came to town, the organisation of which Mark saw as a massive (and unsustainable) effort in crushing social protest and opposition, we had the student protests, Occupy and the riots. But Occupy, as Mark pointed out, though global and democratic, fetishised horizontality and anti-parliamentarianism. We could not ignore the mainstream terrains of traditional media and parliamentary politics because if we did, and spoke to each other only through the corporate-mediated social platforms and in our closed little activist circles, the Right would happily seize those spaces from which we had withdrawn.

Capitalist Realism changed the game for many of us. Just as I met Mark and immediately felt like a friend, as the cliché goes, when I read his book, I found that it said the things I had been feeling but not able to articulate. It outlined a certain totalitarian strain in current discourse that denies there is such a thing as an alternative. Instead of trying to defend the system (“Leaders of the free world” would fool few people now), the state seems to be in the business of making the famous Winston Churchill quip, “that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”, a hardened truth. Capitalism may be a bad system, the ‘realist’ logic goes, but as there is no other way of organising society, we are compelled to carry on. Mark’s book, he told me, came out of his experiences “deep in capitalist realism” at Further Education college. The book, he explained was about Blairism, whose party “secured the hegemonic victory of neoliberalism.” It attempts to answer Slavoj Žižek’s question: ‘why is it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism?’

Mark thought, with Gilles Deleuze, that we have moved beyond Michel Foucault’s ‘discipline society’ based around the factory, school, prison and hospital, which all resemble each other, and into a ‘control society’ where capital has captured and manipulates our desires. The resultant descriptions were caricatures but disturbingly attuned to something real: 6th form students slumped over desks, snacking and talking continuously, addicted to video games and mobile phones, surrounded by constant stimulation, locked in “systems of perpetual consumption”, living a state of “depressive hedonia”, “too wired to concentrate.” The disturbing insight of his work was that capitalism is not just an economic system in which we take part, but something that is part of us: “As production and distribution are restructured, so are nervous systems.” We are the ‘nerves’ of the ‘system’. Thus, much of the source for our anxieties, depression and our maladjusted functioning can be found in the structures around us:

“capitalism is itself fundamentally and irreducibly bi-polar, periodically lurching between hyped-up mania (the irrational exuberance of 'bubble thinking') and depressive come-down. (The term 'economic depression' is no accident, of course). To a degree unprecedented in any other social system, capitalism both feeds on and reproduces the moods of populations. Without delirium and confidence, capital could not function.”

But amidst this terrifying picture, what he offered us, was long-term, strategic thinking. Don’t neglect the mainstream; engage on all terrains, including parliamentary politics; expose the contradictions inherent in the current mode of exploitation; reject Soviet-style acquiescence to obvious official dissimulations, however comforting they may seem: “This strategy - of accepting the incommensurable and the senseless without question - has always been the exemplary technique of sanity as such, but it has a special role to play in late capitalism”.

He articulated for us how, with its endemic increase of bureaucracy, rise in mental illness and destruction of the environment, Capitalist ‘democracy’ was not the best that intelligent human beings could do, and he gave us means to deconstruct their arguments.

I felt like it was one of only two books I had heard of that seriously explained the current moment. The only other one my friend Michael told me about: a huge, expensive hardback book, brilliantly using radical anthropology to dismantle the whole discipline of economics, and I waited an age for it to come out in cheaper paperback. It became a deserved best seller; its author, also a Goldsmiths academic, like a striker from a lower-league team who scores a FA cup hat-trick against a big Premiership side, was picked up and signed by LSE. He and Fisher were, in a certain world (strange as this may seem to outsiders and contradictory to our own professed morality) celebrities. They moved among us at protests, bookfairs, meetings and parties, but only one of them became a friend and comrade. I once heard the other one, in rock-star’s leather jacket say in loud, sniggering tones, “the amazing thing about writing a popular book is that people outside of academia actually read all of it cover-to-cover, even the footnotes.” This was exactly what I had done and I felt a little ashamed. I thought that was how you were supposed to read books.

Fisher on the other hand, open about his family and private life, would sit with whoever and talk with them, eager to hear what you knew from your experience, rapidly analysing how it fitted into the current time. Capitalist Realism was a devastating critique of our contemporary culture, so uncompromisingly negative that we felt a new wind blowing away the inanities and sweeping in something revolutionary. Sadly, when he took this approach to a critique of Twitter culture, the gale blew back in his face. Mark suffered from anxiety and depression. His persona was fast-paced, stuttering, nervous energy. What he said in ‘Exiting the Vampire’s Castle’ was that criticism should happen within a spirit of comradeship and solidarity and that criticism of working-class ‘celebrities’ like Russell Brand, often amounted to moralising class condescension. He complained that people could be excoriated on the basis of an ill-judged remark by "vampire-priests of the castle of identitarian politics".

The tone was ill-advised, however, given the sensitivities of the subject. Part of the liberatory experience of reading Capitalist Realism was that we felt just enough chastised personally for our part in the system while in complete accord with Mark’s rage at its functioning, that we wanted to change it, and change ourselves. The Vampire’s Castle article, although in my opinion more subtle than his critics realised, was read as another racist, sexist, heteronormative, tiresome socialist “it’s all about class and not about race” rant. He fell victim to some of his own logic. The very isolating networks of social media – the echo chamber – meant that we (outside of academia) did not really know who exactly his target was, and it felt to many people, (even myself as a white, male friend), too much aimed at us. By not naming or quoting the kind of tweeters he was criticizing and hiding the identity of his opponents in the metaphor of ‘vampires’, perhaps he avoided also indulging in personal abuse, but it left interpretation open to the winds. Sadly of course, those winds blew as he said they would, and the vampires (or whoever felt they had been labelled as such) flew at him in the same vicious way his article predicted. Perhaps he was mistaken but I guess those who posted comments wishing him dead may reflect on that again.

Generally, though, Mark was brilliant. How we need his strategic thinking now! I went to his lectures, which he made open to the public and were often rammed out in stifling theatres, and I heard words like “affect”, “libidinal”, “oneiric”. He talked about Fredric Jameson, Wendy Brown and Stuart Hall, who at the time I thought was the paedophile Radio 5 football commentator from It’s A Knockout. So I learned things. An auto-didact himself, he repeatedly wrote about the anxieties of being unmasked as a (working) class fraud. Like Hall (the Jamaican-born, British cultural theorist), Mark wanted to use his position and his education to popularise learning. He analysed popular culture as serious works deserving of study. He advised myself, Zena Edwards and Mark Gwynne Jones on our attempts to write poetry around mental illness; frank and honest about his own struggles with depression and history of abuse.

******

Suicide, he wrote, talking of Ian Curtis and Joy Division, “has the power to transfigure life, with all its quotidian mess, its conflicts, its ambivalences, its disappointments, its unfinished business, its ‘wastes and fever and heat” into a cold myth, as solid, seamless and permanent as the ‘marble and stone’.” I am thankful that I do not fully understand those words. However, when he writes of how “the depressive experiences himself as walled off from the lifeworld, so that his own frozen inner life – or inner death – overwhelms everything”, I’m sure that description resonates painfully with many of us. We know, all too well, how, “for the depressive, the habits of the former lifeworld now seem to be … a series of pantomime gestures … which they are no longer capable of performing and which they no longer wish to perform”.

We are encouraged to think of suicides as failures. When George Smith spoke against systematic sexual abuse in Prince Charles’s household, the media were told he was a "sad, sick man with a series of alcohol and stress-related health problems.”[1] The establishment uses mental ill-health as proof of their critics’ delusion. Smith’s premature death confirmed their hypothesis. Mark tried to show that mental ill-health was part of the functioning of capitalism, not just the malfunctioning of individuals.

Mark’s suicide is proof of nothing, but we know that we failed him. We failed to build a world in which Mark could be Mark and be comfortable in himself. He loved teaching but he found work to be mired in Kafka-esque bureaucracy. He was depressed by a generation of digital addicts who suffer from “twitchy, agitated interpassivity, an inability to concentrate or focus”, yet he was striving for a way out of a control society that “registers as something other than dejected apathy”[2]

On a personal level he did much for me. He reviewed my book in glowing terms, he came on my radio show, introduced me personally to people he wrote about, like Oldfield Ford, he set my thinking straight on a lot of things, and was a friend. He was also, like me, part of Plan C. Justin has written of how we learned a way of being that “is not about making life liveable under unliveable conditions, [but] about figuring out how to produce genuinely liveable conditions at any cost”. Mark sent a message to us a while back, apologising that depression had kept him away from our meetings. We all said we would go and visit him in Suffolk. We never did. The times he and I spent together were too often snatched moments after a talk, lunchtimes at conferences, meetings with purposes. There were projects we talked about doing together which never materialised. As is true of so many of my relationships, we rarely found that truly radical time of just being friends, without ulterior (business) motives.

If only we had found a way to keep Mark with us. I know no one else in Britain who could explain the way out of the “control programme” as he did. Mark, your ghost is with me in these words. You left us with a means of analysis and a way to approach the contradictions of this time. How sad that the only ‘way out’ you found for yourself was the one you did.

 

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1446252/Prince-Charles-set-to-sue-Palace-aide-over-scandal.html

[2] Capitalist Realism; p30.

Open letter objecting to the invitation of Milo Yiannopolous to speak at Simon Langton

The far right-wing activist, Milo Yiannopoulos, is in the news again, concerning his invitation to speak at the Simon Langton Grammar School For Boys in Canterbury, Kent – like ourselves, he is a former pupil at the school. We remember Yiannopoulos as a young man and have seen his public profile grow as adults. We share educational roots, but finally have felt compelled to make a statement on the subject.

Milo Yiannopoulos is not the “alt-right”; he is a twisted new incarnation of the far-right. His harassment and bullying of women, particularly black women, online is well documented, resulting in  him being permanently banned from Twitter for his actions. His invective is hate speech. A man who states 'feminism is cancer' is not interested in debate or nuance.

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The Anti-Canon: Douglas Hall's In Miserable Slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica, 1750-86, by Yvvette Edwards

I seem to have always had an interest in the slave trade. I find the subject mind-bogglingly vast, involving so many people from so many countries for so many centuries, that to have an expert understanding is probably beyond a lifetime’s work. Perhaps because of the author in me, my interest over the last few years has evolved into a passion for first-hand accounts of slavery, a desire to understand something of the experience of being a slave on an emotional and psychological level, to read authentic and realistic accounts of what a slave’s life was truly like. 

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The Anti-Canon: Rant and Reflection by Jarred McGinnis

The Anti-Canon: Rant and Reflection by Jarred McGinnis

Lots of Johnsons and Willies, both Big and Blind.

Canon. What a silly idea and in so many ways. Such a backward-looking reactionary way to approach art. Swathes of kids each generation lost to the faith of words because they are taught to think a book has to look like something dead white guys made in mahogany lined libraries between attacks of gout. Two centuries of posh folk with emotional constipation is plenty. Silly also because ‘Canon’ smacks of someone telling you a book is important rather than giving a person the tools and time to figure it out for themselves.

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The Anti-Canon: María Angélica Bosco by Ben Bollig

The Anti-Canon: María Angélica Bosco by Ben Bollig

 

The Argentine novelist and critic Carlos Gamerro once wrote that the ‘whodunit’ is doomed to struggle in his country. There is a simple reason for this. In Argentina, if there is an unsolved murder, everyone assumes, or maybe knows, that the police or the military did it. In his novel An Open Secret he explores the role of the police during the Proceso, the dictatorship of the late 1970s. Police forces carried out disappearances, torture and repression far from the big cities, where there was no significant military presence and, it’s worth mentioning, there were very few of the alleged ‘subversives’ whom the junta claimed they were targeting.

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Call for Submissions: Novels

[Submission window: 1st December 2015 – 1st March 2016]

 

In 2017 Influx Press would like to publish two novels. We wish to receive completed manuscripts or proposals. We welcome work from emerging writers and established authors alike.

We want work that investigates and interrogates culture and life under-represented in mainstream literary output - like all of our previous, non-novel publications.

We are particularly interested in submissions from BAME writers and those from low income or marginalised backgrounds.

We want exciting, original stories of characters and places that make us see things in a new light, see things from a different perspective, encourage us to think in other ways.

If you would like to send a proposal please email Kit on kit@influxpress.com. You must already have some work published so we can assess your writing as well as your ideas.

If you would like to send a manuscript submission please send a synopsis and the first 30 pages of your book to submissions@influxpress.com, marked ‘Novel Submission’.

We welcome submissions through agents and writers without agents.

We look forward to reading your work!

Kit and Gary, Influx Press

Kermit
Kermit

The Battle of Kingsland Road - by Paul Case

[This is a story from our first book, Acquired for Development By. In light of the Fuckparade protest thing and everyone getting their knickers in a twist about gentrification and the battle for space in the city, we thought we'd post Paul Case's now rather prescient satire on this sort of thing.]

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Influx Press Summer Reads Recommendations 2015

Here is a list of books editors Gary Budden and Kit Caless, authors Eley Williams, Clare Fisher and Darran Anderson are looking forward to reading this summer. They're not necessarily new, but we're certain they're all banging.

 

Darran Anderson (Author of Imaginary Cities)

 

Athanasius Kircher's Theatre of the World - edited by Joscelyn Godwin

Long before there was the internet, there was Athanasius Kircher. This book is a source of endless wonders.

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, 18th edition

Another cabinet of curiosities in book form. I read this as a teenager and it has sent me off in a thousand different directions. I've started writing a mythological travel guide involving real places so now seems like a good time to return to it.

Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon

I've made a good stab at reading all of the superb SF Masterworks series of books and the one I'm inclined to return to most is this curious and mesmerising exploration of the universe. A book for the oddballs among us who like night-walks and staring up at the cosmos while the rational world sleeps.

     

 

 

 

Clare Sita Fisher (author of the forthcoming How the Light Gets In, 2016)

 

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

This novel focuses on the relationship between the narrator and her perpetually suicidal sister. It’s perceptive and moving and, believe it or not, hilarious. It asks the old ‘what’s the point?’ question from new and satisfyingly oblique angles, and definitely comes out on the side of life.

Don't Try This At Home by Angela Readman

Try this at the beach, on the train, by the pool, on the balcony, at the park… You get the idea. I’m hardly magic realism’s No.1 fan but Readman’s existential take on the genre took my breath away; there are things you can only say through a character’s transformation from mother and employee of a chippy to, erm, Elvis.

Can't and Won't by Lydia Davis

If you’ve read Davis’ Collected Stories, don’t be fooled into thinking you’ve seen everything she can do with a sentence; you haven’t seen s**t. If you’ve never read Davis then what are you doing still sitting here, reading this? Go out and dose up on a totally unique interpretation of the short story form – her latest collection is as good a place to start as any.

 

Eley Williams (author of future Influx short story collection in 2016)

 

Shklovsky’s Zoo by Joanna Walsh

The 10th of July sees the launch of Joanna Walsh’s Shklovsky’s Zoo from Pieces of Paper Press, and you BETTER GET YOUR SNAFFLE-HOUNDS THITHER because this fascinating chapbook has a limited run of 150 copies. Limitation and constraint are crucial to this piece, which sees Walsh trouble and disrupt the concept of autobiography, literary lineage and what it is to occupy a page.

A writer of [seemingly endless] energy and innovation, Walsh’s work is a consistent delight, always witty and yearning and completely artful: Shklovsky’s Zoo looks like it will be a neat, nigglesome trick-shot of writing. There is nothing better.

It is small enough to fit in a pocket. You have a pocket, and you should put this in it. A taster for the forthcoming memoir Hotel (Bloomsbury, 2015) and novel Vertigo (Dorothy, 2015).

     

 

 

 

(O) by Sophie Mayer

I’m really looking forward to falling and falling and falling into Sophie Mayer’s new collection (O), available this summer from Arc Press. In the past, educator and activist Mayer has described her work as ekphrastic and adaptive – I’d add intricate, beguiling and just so bloody clever. As a poet who frequently packs more into a single, cool seethe of a sentence than many writers manage in an entire essay, add that the book’s blurb promises ‘[s]pirited, politicised, contemporary and Classical, these poems bring a poetic voice to the women that have lived in the cracks of history’, this an instant addition to my summer bookshelf. I find I’m forever returning to Her Various Scalpels (Shearsman, 2009) and The Private Parts of Girls (Salt, 2011) because of the way Mayer makes language and ideas buckle and blister. Her writing is a finger at a wineglass, making the air ring. In short, the idea of a new book makes me mix metaphors with giddiness. I can’t wait to be snagged in (O)’s orbit.

Kumkum Malhotra by Preti Taneja

Fresh from winning Gatehouse Press’s New Fictions prize, Kumkum Malhotra is the new novella from Preti Taneja. I’ve the pleasure of hearing extracts of the work in the past, and so I am completely unsurprised to see Taneja’s spare prose – lyrical but incisive, elegant in its precision – earning her a legion of new fans (‘beautifully sculpted surfaces and terrifying depths’ says Maureen Freely, with Deborah Levy adding 'Preti Taneja is a writer to watch, no doubt about it'). Set in the Nizamudin area of contemporary New Delhi, Kumkum Malhotra is a story centred upon crisis, loss and unearthing: with an eye for the taut and uncanny, this is a writer who regularly, utterly transfixes. Get it while it’s hot.

Gary Budden (Editor, landscape punk)

 

Francis Plug – How to be a Public Author - by Paul Ewen

The funniest book I have read in years, about deluded alcoholic gardener Francis Plug (also an aspiring writer, of course) and his one-man mission to get as many Booker prize winning novels signed by their authors. Highlighting the ridiculousness and over-seriousness of live literature events, this book is a must for anyone who’s ever been to a book launch and had too much free wine.

My favourite parts were where Francis decides to quote Hilary Mantel dialogue at a bunch of bankers, calling one of them a ‘leek eating c**t’, and when he meets V.S. Naipaul at the Hay Festival , claiming AS Byatt is the wind and trying to blow the tent over in reaction to Naipaul’s comments about female writers.

Common Ground- by Rob Cowen

This is a perfect example of when the ‘New Nature Writing’ works; Rob Cowen’s account of his fascination with an unloved patch of edgeland near his new home in Harrogate merges autobiography, social history and extraordinary passages of fiction to great effect. Common Ground is also pleasingly politicised, veering away from the twee wistfulness that can blight this kind of writing. There is a sustained piece of charged imaginative writing early on in the book, charting the final day of an elderly male fox, which will stay with me for a very long time. This is how to write about to place.

Hellgoing- by Lynn Coady

Not exactly new, but new to me, Canadian author Lynn Coady’s collection is one of the finest examples of short-fiction I’ve had the pleasure to read. Sharp, insightful, dropping the reader into the middle of the characters’ complicated (and often unusual) lives and getting out before any solid conclusions can be made, Coady’s writing is exemplary of the form.

     

 

 

 

Kit Caless (Editor, highest batting score this season 83*)

 

Hotel Arcadia - by Sunny Singh

I met Sunny at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival and was immediately taken with her articulate, knowledgeable, warm personality. She spoke on a panel we helped organise fluently and with great wisdom. Since following her on Twitter I seem to have learned more in the last two months than I did at secondary school. Hotel Arcadia is her newest novel, and I’m really looking forward to reading it. A thriller set during a terrorist attack on a hotel, with what seems like a John McLean style photographer not wishing to die hard, it’s sounds right up my street!

     

 

 

 

Best of British Short Stories 2015 – edited by Nicholas Royle

Each year Salt produce a wonderful collection of short stories from our rainy island, published in various organs over the year. This year looks as vintage as ever with stories from Hilary Mantel, Helen Simpson, Alison Moore and Matthew Sperling. Nicholas Royle has an excellent eye for the short story and has edited some of my favourite novels in the past so I know the book is in safe hands.

 

At Hawthorn Time - by Melissa Harrison

Unfortunately, Gary’s influence seems to be rubbing off on me and I’m looking forward to reading a book set in the, wait for it… the countryside (gasp!). Melissa’s writing is excellent – I really enjoyed Clay and there’s a central character called Kitty (close enough for me – last year I chose Nikesh Shukla’s Meat Space which had a character called Kitab in it, so this is proving somewhat of a tradition) in her second novel. It’s been praised to the high heavens by plenty of people who like great books. I can’t wait to read it while sitting in Hackney Downs pretending I’m in a meadow or something.

An evening with Jacaranda Books at Pages of Hackney

On Monday 6th July, 7:30pm - 9:30pm at Pages of Hackney, we present Jacaranda Books for an evening of readings and discussion.

Jacaranda publish exciting new fiction from the UK and around the world. Following on from Africa Writes Festival, Jacaranda are bringing two great novelists, Francis Mensah Williams and Pede Hollist to Pages of Hackney for readings and discussion with Valerie Brandes, originally from Hackney and the founder of Jacaranda.

Please come down, support the event and listen to some excellent authors and what will prove to be a very interesting discussion!

It's free, of course.

jacarandaflyer

The Anti-Canon: Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo – by Irenosen Okojie

The Anti-Canon: Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo – by Irenosen Okojie

 

I first picked up Ishmael Reed’s inventive satirical thriller Mumbo Jumbo in college, on a sticky summer day. I found it beneath a turnstile on my way to the computer lab, as though it had emerged through a rabbit hole and landed at my feet. Published in 1972, Reed’s seminal novel set in New Orleans, New York and Haiti introduces us to a central character called PaPa LaBas, a private dick operating from Mumbo Jumbo headquarters with a sign on the door that reads ‘PAPA LABAS MUMBO JUMBO KATHEDRAL FITS FOR YOUR HEAD.’ At the beginning of the novel, we encounter an American south in peril, the psychic epidemic Jes Grew is tearing through the land with cases reported of people in a state of uncontrollable frenzy, doing stupid sensual things, wriggling like fish, dancing the ‘Eagle Rock’, the ‘Sassy Bump’, ‘lusting after relevance’ with the only successful anesthetizer being sleep. Jes Grew’s symptoms include seeing Nkulu Kulu of the Zulu, a locomotive with a red green and black python entwined in its face. And feeling like ‘the gut heart and lungs of Africa’s interior.’ It is an anti-plague even, characterised by ebullience and ecstasy that defies race, class and consciousness.

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Poem of the Month: April

Each month Influx Press is featuring a contemporary poet you might not know but definitely should.

This month we chose Keston Sutherland said by The New Statesman to be 'at the forefront of the experimental movement in contemporary poetry'. Sutherland’s radical poetics confront social and political issues. The Odes infiltrate the conventions of prose poetry combining a highly sexualised language with the jargon of capitalism, computers and the products of our rampant consumer culture.

Excepts from The Odes to TL61P

by Keston Sutherland

(NB.

In order to keep Keston's poetry as true to how it was published as possible we've had to create a image of it in order to get the line breaks and justified text correct)

Keston Sutherland is the author of The Odes to TL61P, The Stats on Infinity, Stress Position, Hot White Andy, Neocosis, Antifreeze and other books of poetry, and of Stupefaction, a book of essays about Marx and poetry. Lots of his essays on poetry, art, politics and Marxism are available online. He is the co-editor with Andrea Brady of Barque Press. He lives in Brighton and works at the University of Sussex.

These excerpts are taken from The Odes to TL61P (Enitharmon Press, April 2013) His collected works Poems 1999-2015 will be published in May 2015 by Enitharmon Press.

Influx Press at Stoke Newington Literary Festival

Last year, the year before that, and the year before that we have had the pleasure of holding events at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival.

In 2013 we collaborated with 3AM Magazine, Galley Beggar and the Lonely Coot Press. It was at the Mascara Bar and those who came will always remember it as, 'that time I saw Eimear McBride read from A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing before it was even published'. Probably.

In 2014 we did a late night, booze sodden, literary salon with Galley Beggar and 3AM again. This time the night would be less well remembered due to the amount of alcohol consumed, but with fuzzy recall you would definitely remember Nikesh Shukla reading from Meatspace before that lamb chop got on in the pages of the Broadsheets. You'd have also been captivated by the inimitable Jack Cheshire performing a cover of 'Killing Moon' by Echo and the Bunnymen.

This year, on June 6th the festival have given us a full day to programme whatever we want. This is a great opportunity for us to share the platform, or hand over our platform to other presses and organisations we believe are producing important and interesting work exploring Britain and London. We are grateful to Liz from Stoke Newington Lit Fest for giving us this space and we've put together a diverse and fascinating day.

All events will take place in the charming upstairs room at the White Hart on Stoke Newington High Street. Dangerous, you may think, given our fondness for the sauce, but rest assured, we shall maintain a professionalism right up until we don't have to.

The programme is as follows. The details aren't fleshed out, but this should provide a taster of who we've invited and who might be reading.

1-2pm: Test Centre

Test Centre is an independent publishing house and record label with an interest in the spoken and written word. Based in Hackney, East London, it was established in 2011 by Will Shutes and Jess Chandler. Test Centre's authors include Tom Chivers, SJ Fowler and Stewart Home.

"Test Centre…have returned Hackney to a state of readiness and experimental action. - Iain Sinclair

3-4pm: Unofficial Britain

Unofficial Britain is a celebration of the uncelebrated. A champion of the overlooked. A history of the forgotten. Unofficial Britain is a hub for unusual perspectives on the landscape of the British Isles, exploring the urban, the rural and those spaces in between.

5-6pm: Media Diversified

Media Diversified is a young and growing non-profit organisation which seeks to cultivate and promote skilled writers of colour. Media Diversified has provided a much needed life-line and vibrant forum for the exchange of ideas and experiences. It’s a mothership of affirmation and nurturing for writers, building resilience for the future and supporting people to take risks in tackling controversial topics and subjects that others aren’t.  It also articulates how racism works in so many areas of life, be it from colourism to the fashion industry to the recent moral panics. More positively/subversively, it considers whether having more writers of colour in the media undermines racism.

7-8pm: Squatting London: Total Shambles and Place/Waste/Dissent

Total Shambles by George F. and Place/Waste/Dissent by Paul Hawkins are both books that explore squatting culture, self-housing and the occupation of buildings for political, social and economic reasons. This event sees George and Paul discuss squatting and space in London - its history, social effects and its future.

9-11pm: Influx vs Galley Beggar: The Late Night Literary Salon

Similar to last year's salon, we have invited old pals and collaborators, Galley Beggar to join us in the evening for a book party like no other. Rounding off the day with drinks, music and readings from Influx Press and Galley Beggar authors, this is the only place to be on Saturday evening of the festival. Expect laughs, profundity and entertainment in full measure. Who knows, you might be watching the next big thing before anyone else. Or just watching Kit make worse and worse jokes as he introduces each writer into the sweet hopped heat of the night.

Poem of the Month: February


Each month Influx Press is featuring a contemporary poet you might not know but definitely should.

This month we chose Sarer Scotthorne. Sarer's poetry is a visceral descent into the psycho-sexual. In this poem Sarer interrupts the domestic and the urban scene with words which ooze with the pulse of an ebullient female sexuality.

The Blood House
by Sarer Scotthorne

The stairs creak voices - ketamine thuds bleed through
a single skin of brick; floorboards leak every secret.

The clock reverses - intermittent Gabba - radar moon. Cats scream,
I scream, howl my longings into cotton sheets. I scratch at the floor,

draw words in the mist of breath on pane; look through letters
lit orange by the light of the city night, at my beloved street below.

Bodies crawl, fumbling for keys - staring into shadows.
My hand-printed curtains float, lifting up as the city's sweat billows into my room.

The shouts of children climb through my windows like burglars,
angry mother’s scream and drag them back out.

This house breathes for me - joists splintering with love,
the beat of slamming doors hides the sound of the past

that is buried alive in the red brick cellar below.

Sarer Scotthorne is a feminist, poet and martial artist who plays with film and teaches Kung Fu and Creative Writing. This poem is from her first published collection The Blood House (Hesterglock Press, 2015). She co-edits the poetry/flash fiction pamphlet Boscombe Revolution and Westside HERstory. She has a website here: https://thebloodhouse.wordpress.com/

Poem of the Month: January

Each month Influx Press is featuring a contemporary poet you might not know but definitely should. This month we chose Alex MacDonald's poem to complement the release of Dan Duggan's Influx book Luxury of the Dispossessed.

Reasons for Asylum Admissions

by Alex MacDonald

Alex MacDonald lives and works in London. He has poems published in Poetry London, 3:AM, The Quietus and Clinic. He hosted a series of readings at the V&A Museum on independent poetry publishers and was recently the Digital Poet in Residence for the Poetry School. Reasons for Asylum Admissions was compiled from a list of real and imagined reasons people were admitted to an American sanatorium in the 1800s.

Books of 2014 - discussed by Influx Writers

 

We asked ourselves and our authors to tell us what they've been reading this year (not necessarily released in 2014). This post would be ludicrously long if we included pictures of the book sleeves, so you'll just have to imagine them there!

Also, the length of recommendation varies wildly.

Gareth E Rees (author of Marshland: dreams and nightmares on the edge of London)

Light by M. John Harrison
-head-mangling quantum space travel epic.

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer by Philip K. Dick
- in which a bishop questions the origin of Christ

One Three One by Julian Cope
- a narcotic Neolithic time-slip romp.

The Village that Died for England by Patrick Wright
- a multi-angled history of the lost Dorset village of Tyneham, swallowed up by the MOD’s tank range.

Springfield Road by Salena Godden
- a moving evocation of 1970s childhood

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
- a series of shifting poetic perspectives on loss and landscape.

On Walking by Phil Smith - a mythogeographic journey in Sebald’s footsteps.

In the Dark Room by James Knight
- an abstract and nightmarish short story combined with artwork

Hard Shoulder  by Baron Mordant and Zeke Clough
- a highly surreal comic strip road-trip.

 

Sam Berkson (author of Life in Transit)

Hold Your Own by Kate Tempest

Regardless of the hype, Kate is a good poet. She is also remarkably prolific, having put out two music albums, three theatre plays, two poetry collections and is working on a novel. She turns 30 next year. Hold Your Own is a Picador publication and starting with an 25 page retelling of the Tiresias story which becomes the coda for the collection, Kate reflects on her life changes from tom-boy to teenage woman to gay adult (using the sex-shifting blind prophet as its archetype) to successful truth-teller, exploring issues of gender and sexuality. Its edited by big cheese page poet Don Paterson and his influence is evident. It's more like proper poetry. She even uses line breaks this time. Some of that's good. At times maybe we lose a little of her distinctiveness but then again some of her 'this is how the world is', rhyming streams of consciousness stuff doesn't work as well on the page as it does in highly emotive live performance. "You've only yourself to blame when someone half as talented as you ends up achieving twice as much" is one piece of didactism which doesn't sit too comfortably with me. The gatekeepers have certainly welcomed her but then again she is five times as good as most of the Kate Tempest lookalikes pulling their tee-shirts and screaming out bad platitudes meant to be grand truths at poetry nights all across the country.

Springfield Road by Salena Godden

Long awaited childhood memoir, the result of many years of struggle - both internally and with fickle publishers. It is a brilliant book. She recreates the 70s and 80s of her East Midlands childhood, growing up with a single Jamaican mum as a mixed race girl in a white area., the family trying to come to terms with the disappearance of her dad. Issues are there but it's not an 'issue book', there are some achingly sad moments but it's not a 'misery memoir'. Its brilliance comes from the way she gets into the world of children and to recreate in detail what it is to be a child, her ability to empathise so perfectly with children in contrast with those adults in her life who (like her stepdad) clearly cannot. Memory, you realise, is an act of imagination. We recreate a plausible fiction from what we know of the characters and events, the test of its truth not being a measure against some absolute reality but the consistency and plausibility of what we describe. Her cuts between scenes keep the book moving, the decade she describes and the experiences of her childhood a common experience but one much under-represented in literature. Get it!

 

Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures by Mark Fisher

Capitalist Realism was to my mind, the best political book written by a British person so far this decade. It was one of those that said all the things you had been thinking but hadn't managed to find the words for. Ghosts of My Life is a different kind of book. It's a collection of his blogposts and essays, a lot of it about music and TV that I don't know. Although he is very good at music journalism, I always find that stuff hard-going: reading descriptions of the sounds of tracks I don't really know. I leant it to my muso mate and he loved it. However, the central idea is an interesting one: he is not nostalgic for the 70s and 80s, he is nostalgic for the imagined futures that people were seriously hoping for in the 70s and 80s - the dream of a better world that got lost as the world didn't really get any better and popular culture got less and less interesting.

 

Kit Caless, Influx Editor

Meatspace by Nikesh Shukla.

A very funny novel about social media, writing and family. Now famous for sending a Tayyabs lambchop into space.

 

The Way Inn - Will Wiles.

A wry, insightful and surreal look at the world of mid-budget hotel chains. I've not looked at a hotel the same way since reading it.

 

Sapiens: A brief history of mankind - Yuval Noah Harari.

A page turning anthropology book. Who'd have thought it?

 

Darkmans - Nicola Barker.

I know it came out in 2007 but I read it this year. An astonishing book. A crackling energy charges page and its brilliant characters.

 

Eat Your Heart Out by Zoe Pilger

I recommended this for Summer Reads. And it's definitely one of my favourite books of this year. Very, very funny.

 

PUSH Anthology

Collection of the best stories and poetry from PUSH magazine. Writing that's as raw and upfront as possible. Featuring Adelle Stripe, Ford Dagenham, Melissa Mann, Michael Keenaghan and an introduction from John King

 

Linda Mannheim (author of Above Sugar Hill)

Go Well, Stay Well, by Hannah StantonOne of my favourite books in 2014 was published over 50 years ago. Picked up in a second hand bookstore some time back, this memoir about South Africa during the 1960 State of Emergency  revealed things about that time and place that I have not seen anywhere else, and believe me – I’ve gone swimming in an archive of writing about the period.  Stanton writes from the perspective of an insider/outsider  -- passionately and without illusion, and never taking herself too seriously.

 

Handbook for an Unpredictable Life by Rosie Perez was a revelation. Yes, that Rosie Perez – star of thegame changing Do the Right Thing and early ‘90s Hip Hop choreographer. I kept waiting for the usual disingenuousness that laces through celebrity memoirs to appear, but in this book, there was none. Perez’s voice is as distinctive on the page as it is in the cinema, and here she writes about her childhood in a Catholic children’s home and unexpected success in Hollywood with brutal honesty and buoyant humour.

 

Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem

Despite having grown up in the United States, I don’t often recognise the territory described in novels that are supposed to be about America, but I know the place that Jonathan Lethem is writing about in Dissident Gardens. It’s my home turf.  Lethem’s story about three generations of New York Communists was so familiar to me that I was almost spooked. And, unlike many of those books that are supposed to be about America, there is no author’s ego hovering in each scene. There’s instead a chaotic, playful, and magical narrative and revisiting the streets that I knew through it shook me up, left me moved.

 

Gary Budden, Influx Editor

The Dig by Cynan Jones

This was my knockout novel of 2014. Short, to the point, like a kind of condensed fusion of the best work of Niall Griffiths and those tight-lipped masculine American writers (yes, such as Cormac McCarthy). Rural fiction with not a drop of sentimentality, addressing head on the grisly issue of badger baiting in west Wales. I liked this so much I immediately went and read and Cynan Jones’ other three novels. Highly recommended.

 

The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth

First novel from activist Paul Kingsnorth, The Wake is a timely reminder of the bloody roots of the current system of land ownership in Britain, charting the fates of a bunch of ‘grene men’ Anglo-Saxon guerrillas fighting the Normans post-1066. Written in an Old English ‘shadow tongue’ this really is something special.

 

Beastings by Ben Myers

Another novel that takes tropes and possibly also its style from those aforementioned US writers, but transforming into something utterly British, timeless and also quite unpleasant. At times I had images of Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter wandering through the Lake District. Another brilliant addition to a growing canon of what I’d call ‘anti-pastoral’ writing. I then went and read Myers’ 2012 novel, Pig Iron, which was also really quite good.(Also Ben Myers turned me on to the joys of English landscape death-metal and we must commend him for that at the very least.)

 

Vulgar Things by Lee Rourke

A Guardian review said this novel was repetitive, claustrophobic, and ‘too aimless to inspire’. That, of course, was the point. Dr. Feelgood, Southend, Canvey Island, quite a lot of alcohol and a disturbing look at the male gaze, Vulgar Things brilliantly captures the strange atmosphere of the Thames estuary. A breath of fresh air, and inspirational in terms of what you can do with a modern British novel.

 

Gorse Journal

I really recommend, if you don’t know about it already, Gorse Journal from Dublin. Edited by Susan Tomaselli, the essays alone in the current issue (#2) are worth the price of entry. Favourites were pieces by Claire-Louise Bennett, Simon Reynolds (‘This Was Tomorrow’ is a very powerful piece looking hard at our current obsession with the past, and how our dreams of a future have died), and best of all, Brian Dillon (mainly because he was discussing Canterbury and Powell & Pressburger). In addition to this, it’s a real thing of beauty on your bookshelf that makes you look clever. Check them out: www.gorse.ie

 

Feral by George Monbiot

I read an article criticising Monbiot’s talk of invasive and ‘non-native’ species upsetting ecosystems in Britain, somehow comparing basic science with views akin to supporting the EDL and hating immigrants. Animals, of course, are not people, and thinking Japanese knotweed is a problem is not the same as voting for UKIP.This book is a passionate and eloquent call for the process of ‘rewilding’ to begin; not an attempt go back to some mythical pristine wilderness, but to give nature a bit of a nudge up and then let it get on with things. To put a little bit more diversity and enchantment back in the world before it’s all too late. The first book to give me any sense of hope for the future in a long time.

 

Stories from The Weird

The backbreaking anthology, The Weird (edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer), is something I have the feeling I’ll be dipping into for the rest of my life. At over 750,000 words, I doubt I’ll ever ‘finish’ it.Inside is an entire novella by the Finnish writer Leena Krohn. That novella is called Tainaron: Mail From Another City and is, in all senses of the word, fantastic. Conjuring up echoes of writers such as Calvino, Borges and Bruno Schulz, the novella is presented as a series of letters from the narrator to an unknown recipient, charting her times spent in the titular city, a place that shifts geographically and appears to be inhabited by giant sentient insects with fluid identities. Essential stuff.

 

Another stand out short-story was A Redress for Andromeda  by Caitlin R. Kiernan, horrifying, mind-bending and guaranteed to give you nightmares about marine biology and anything will gills or a carapace.Apiece of weird fiction about bird-watching is in many ways a dream come true for me, so discovering The Hide by Liz Williams was a real joy. An unclassifiable and eerie story, reminiscent at times of some of M John Harrison’s short fiction, it mixes the banality of British bird-watching with intimations of some ancient pre-Christian force in the landscape expertly, and like all the best weird fiction, doesn’t really explain what happened.

 

Finally, reading Kathe Koja’s Angels in Love made me feel quite ill and upset, therefore was a resounding success, so I went and bought her collection Extremities, and you should too.