Egnaro – M. John Harrison

M John Harrison

Oranges aren’t the only fruit

Lucas is a shady, evasive bookshop owner running a tatty second-hand book store on the rundown streets of Deansgate. He begins to overhear fragments, enigmatic gnomic references to the wonders of a fantastical land at the edges of the known world called Egnaro. This leads to an obsession with  Egnaro, as his health, his business and his livelihood suffer.

Lucas deals in collectable, original editions of fantasy paperbacks. The narrator, Lucas’ straight-laced accountant, sees Lucas’s fantasy collection and his personal longing for Egnaro as the same thing – simple escapism, and tells him to focus on the world around him, “perhaps the housing estates are the real undiscovered countries.”

The pragmatic narrator has no time for Lucas’ fantasies, viewing his fantasy books as feeding a longing for the past, the simplicity of childhood, when desires were more easily consummated. Fantasy as merely adolescent desire.

But Lucas’ obsession with Egnaro grows and he becomes frustrated with the conspiracy he perceives to obfuscate its existence. For him the idea of Egnaro begins to assert itself over reality.  Lucas rages against life. His fantasy is superior to grey mundanity of the modern world.

The setting of Deansgate is vividly realised in its rundown, dishevelled state of urban neglect. A transient urban space without anchors. A geography without a culture where only office workers and students pass through the rundown streets on the way to somewhere else. The bitter winter winds blowing through the drab streets sharply contrast with the warm sun-soaked landscapes of Egnaro. Deansgate is a society without a soul. Why wouldn’t you chose the fantasy when reality is this bleak?

So fantasy is a consolation to the quotidian mundanity of life. But it is more than merely escapism. Egnaro is many things, a fantastic realm at the edges of reality, the conspiracy to keep its location hidden, a longing for childhood simplicity, a desire for what is lost. Desire itself. Also and maybe the most obvious, it is orange spelt backwards. Even in the title, Harrison undercuts the romantic with the banal.

M. John Harrison’s prose is elegant and precise. He has a focus on the minutiae of reality, superbly detailing subtle feelings, atmospheres, the play of light. He builds up an intimate portrait of reality, without a trace of romanticism. A realist at war with romanticism, whilst still being fascinated by its effects.

Sugimoto’s Seascapes

Early morning, dawn. Cold clear.

Castle Point, Falmouth, purpose built for easterly seawards observation and the perfect location to record pre-dawn and sunrise. The simplest of pictorial forms: the sky, the sea, separated by the horizon line. It’s hard to view this scene without mediating it through the seascapes of Hiroshi Sugimoto.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Baltic sea, Ruegen, 1996 Gustave Le Grey, Un effet de soleil,1856

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Baltic sea, Ruegen, 1996
Gustave Le Grey, Un effet de soleil,1856

A photographer I met said that Sugimoto’s seascapes couldn’t be improved and that his body of work is the last word in seascape photography. The implication being that Sugimoto’s photographs render all other seascapes redundant. But surely they are just one kind of aesthetic. When his work is compared to the Nineteenth Century photographer, Gustave Le Gray, that aesthetic becomes clear. Superficially their seascapes are similar but Le Gray worked in a completely different tradition to Sugimoto’s. Le Gray is heavily influenced by nineteenth century academy painting, with its onus on a classical realism. His photographs, made of two separate exposures, one for sea and one for sky, whilst lyrical are more descriptive than Sugimoto’s.

Sugimoto’s seascapes are formalist, the sea and the sky separated by the centrally placed horizon line. They are radically minimalist, stripping elements down to their rawest forms, bringing to mind Ad Reinhardt’s work.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Bay of Sagami, Atami, 1997 Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Painting No. 5, 1962

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Bay of Sagami, Atami, 1997
Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Painting No. 5, 1962

But with their sea mists and out of focus impressionism, they reach towards the infinite and in so doing the photographs also reference the Romantic Tradition. They reference the sublime tradition in painting that sprang from the Northern European Protestant practice of finding the spiritual in the natural landscape. This strain of painting is exmplified by Caspar David Friedrich and reaches its summation in the late paintings of Mark Rothko.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Ligurian Sea, saviore, 1993 Caspar David Friedrich, Der Mönch am Meer, 1808-10

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Ligurian Sea, saviore, 1993
Caspar David Friedrich, Der Mönch am Meer, 1808-10

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Boden Sea, Uttwil, 1993 Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1969

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Boden Sea, Uttwil, 1993
Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1969

David Bowie the when and where

Inspired by my current reading of David McCanddless’ Information is Beautiful, this is when and where Bowie recorded his amazing run of 1970s albums.

 

BOWIE 1970s albums infographic

Two things of note. Bowie worked fast, most albums are finished in just two months. & interesting to see that only one album from the so-called Berlin Trilogy is recorded at Hansa Studio, Berlin.

 

King In Yellow T-shirts

I’ve been working on two T-shirt designs based on the 1895 edition of Robert W. Chambers King In Yellow. (The US edition published by F. Tennyson Neely.)

king-in-yellow-first-edition

 

They are available at Cafepress.com / Cafepress.co.uk

T-Shirt-web-KIY-textureMy first The King in Yellow T-shirt design at Cafepress based on the cover image.

T-Shirt-web-KIY-spine

The King In Yellow T-shirt alternative design at Cafepress based on the book spine.

More of my Literary T-shirts