Award winning writer Iain Sinclair gives a guest lecture at Lancaster University

With white hair, a tailored jacket and not a tremor of nerves, the award-winning British author Iain Sinclair met  Dr Brian Baker to discuss Sinclair’s work. Here are just a few fragments from the event at Lancaster University, October 2009.

Iain Sinclair: speaking on psychogeography and narrative in the noughties

Sinclair began by talking about the way his life developed after gaining critical acclaim with his novels and poetry, such as Lud Heat and the 1992 Encore award winner Downriver.

He said: “I once thought of my travels to universities as research for the books I was writing, now I see my research going towards the travelling. I’ve had only two days at home to write in over a year.

“One tries to get a sense of this time spent travelling up and down the country in a way that’s not altogether unlike travel writing – engaging on a series of trips, detouring and writing a story and making up elements. Each of the places in my book becomes a kind of novella. Each place is precious.

“I think we have gone beyond the idea of pure fiction and pure documentation. My writing is not quite a novel and not quite a kind of documentary. What it’s about is creating a personal system. It suggests if you don’t create your own system you’re living by the system of somebody else.

“I want to work in a different way to traditional authors. I will keep my notes. Sometimes I will write a one piece poem when I’m walking, including particular details and specifics of place. Sometimes it will be something longer.”

He then gave an explanation of one of Sinclair’s recent travels: “One of the suggested stops I visited was Milton Keynes. They have got lots of money for a new arts centre. There’s a massive place built for the arts but no content to go with it. The person with me was showing a film he had made by driving to Rugby. Rugby has become this huge retail park and distribution centre. He just fixed a camera on the side of the lorry and drove there. There were three people at his screening – one of them was the organiser, one was someone asking if I would come and give a lecture and the third was a runner who would run up the motorway until he was arrested. He had just taken a detour to find out what all the fuss was about.

“My book … is a kind of debate between critique and personal memory set inside a detective story. There was even a detective element to writing it. I know that there will always be books that have written what I want to write better than me. So I began my book by taking another that I admired and blacking out parts of the text to leave key phrases. This, although it worked a little like a conspiracy, revealed to me the framework and themes that I was trying to create in my own stories.

“I believe that often what matters is what writers don’t say and what’s created there – that’s how books inspire us. Pull down a story and out come the perfect images – you get the impression of secret message beneath. But by taking another story as a base point for writing my own came risks and I had to be careful the stories did not double the worst elements of each other.

“My overriding theory is this – a culture xerox: Take anything successful and you can trace it back eight steps and find its routes spread in the architecture of the cultural and physical landscape. We have had this idea re-popularised for us recently in Dan Brown’s books – this idea that there is not sort of deep cultural memory which nobody remembers and it’s there – in the walls.”

Sinclair then spoke on the idea of walking as an art and the politics of walking. “Actively knowing a place before I begin a walk allows me to walk as a form of supping up a narrative. It allows time for a story and a shape to occur without the distraction of navigation. Often by walking the same journey you recognise and remember people – and a pattern and story evolves through this repetition.

“The idea of the politics of walking is an interesting one because it challenges a culture that’s often quite static. There are several jokes about the concept – for example, me and a friend said we should walk through Paris using a map of Venice.

“The is a difference between urban and rural walking for narrative purposes. Urban is always a kind of exorcism because we have to block stuff out because there are so many things happening in a city. It’s like warrior walking to get from one side to the other without being carried away on the tide.

“John Clare’s landscape was completely bereft of human inhabitants – nothing like the places I choose. You have to build your way out if you want abstraction from more industrial climates.”


One Response to “Award winning writer Iain Sinclair gives a guest lecture at Lancaster University”

  1. I passed on the link to Brian.

    What a marvellous thing is this shorthand (T-Line 120wpm).

    C xx

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