The Guardian on Saturday had a piece headlined “Iain Sinclair’s Farewell to London,” an extract from his book The Last London. I assume Sinclair had no input on that headline and it doesn’t really fit the article below it. A sub headline reads “after 50 years Iain Sinclair has lost his compulsion to write about the city.” But of course, even saying that you no longer feel compiled to write about a place may be a form of writing about a city, and this is pretty much what he does.
Sinclair has always been a world-class complainer and that certainly hasn’t stopped. Here he describes the anti-attractions of London: “Metropolitan hustlers, the monad of scurrying, dawn athletes coming out of their pristine, new-build, railside apartments, hitting the street like a treadmill, do not see the benched Buddhas. They are inoculated against empathy. Outpourings of public emotion are reserved for horrible media catastrophes: outrages on London bridges, underfunded and irresponsibly provided tower blocks that become crematorium chimneys, stealing the lives of the unregistered who live alongside stuccoed ghost terraces occupied by rumours of remote speculators.”
Seems to me like he’s writing about London, whether he’s “compelled to” or not.
Those who are interested in these things have known for a long time that he has a place in Hastings, and in the piece he describes an encounter he has there with a homeless man who mistakes Sinclair for one of his own tribe: “I was on the street. Was it the clothes, the tilt in my walk? Another grizzled prospector for small brown coins gummed to tarmac. Did he sense that I had lost my project? That I was rambling without purpose, burdened with too many convenience-store bags?” No point asking I suppose.
Sinclair quotes a very nice line from William Burroughs, “A long time ago but not too far to walk.” This sent me digging around in Last Words, The Final Journals of William S Burroughs in which this appears, along with one or two other mentions of walking: “I carry a .38 snubbie on my premises, at my belt at all times. I leave the door open. Someone walks in with something in mind, he won’t walk away.”
The stuff of good noir fiction, right? And how very different Bill’s life had been if he’d kept his taste for gunplay inside the covers of a book.
And I did I find the above photograph of Burroughs walking with Kurt Cobain - I bet there was some sparkling conversation that day – perhaps some talk of guns. For what it’s worth, I think the Burroughs/Cobain collaboration The “Priest” They Called Him - Burroughs reads, Cobain makes glorious guitar noise - is about as good as “spoken word with music” ever gets.
Returning to Sinclair’s piece there’s another very fine phrase that I know is going to stick with me, he talks of “professional entropy tourists.” I suspect we’re all entropy tourists these days, though some of us are more amateur than others.