This book is a comprehensive critical introduction to one of the most original contemporary British writers, providing an overview of all of Iain Sinclair's major works and an analysis of his vision of modern London. It places Sinclair in a range of contexts, including: the late 1960s counter-culture and the British Poetry Revival; London's underground histories; the rise and fall of Thatcherism; and Sinclair's writing about Britain under New Labour and Sinclair's connection to other writers and artists, such as J.G. Ballard, Michael Moorcock and Marc Atkins. The book contributes to the growing scholarship surrounding Sinclair's work, covering in detail his poetry, fiction, non-fiction (including his book on John Clare, Edge of the Orison), and his film work. Using a generally chronological structure, it traces the on-going themes in Sinclair's writing, such as the uncovering of lost histories of London, the influence of visionary writings, and the importance of walking in the city, and more recent developments in his texts, such as the focus on spaces outside of London and his filmic collaborations with Chris Petit. The book provides a critically informed discussion of Sinclair's work using a variety of approaches.
Of course, we don’t only find ourselves in situations, we also make situations. (Raymond Williams) 1
IainSinclair was born in Cardiff in 1943, and was raised in Maesteg, in Wales. He was, as the jacket blurb tells us, the ‘son of a doctor’, and his paternal forebears (father and grandfather were doctors) moved to South Wales from Scotland. He attended Cheltenham College, a public school, then Trinity College, Dublin, during the early 1960s. He then moved to London where he
I like frontiers. (IainSinclair) 1
In this final chapter, I will discuss Sinclair’s three novels, Radon Daughters (1994), Landor’s Tower (2001) and Dining on Stones (2004). All share structural similarities (as they do also with White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings and Downriver ); there is a recurrence of motifs to do with journeys and roads; all place the significance of narration (and the narrator) centrally in the concerns of the text; and all manifest an increasingly conscious appreciation of issues
As we have seen throughout this study, IainSinclair’s work places a great investment in the figure of the outsider. In his ‘Introduction’ to the poetry collection Conductors of Chaos , which concentrates on ‘Neo-Modernist’ British and American poets, whose work appears largely outside the mainstream even of poetry publication, he writes that:
the work I value is that which seems most remote, alienated, fractured. I don’t claim to ‘understand’ it but I like having it around. The darker it grows outside the
IainSinclair begins London Orbital: A Walk Around the M25 (2002) with the following: ‘It started with the Dome, the Millennium Dome’. 1 In 1999, Sinclair had published Sorry Meniscus , a small text which outlines two visits Sinclair made to the Dome in the years preceding its opening, in 1997 and 1999. Sinclair’s publications (not least in the London Review of Books , who arranged the visits), on London spaces and literatures, seemed to make him an apt choice to assess the impact of the Dome. He could hardly have been expected to
It is impossible to outrage the baroque realism of the dying century. Imagine the worse, then double it. (IainSinclair) 1
Introduction: the last of England
In the Introduction to this book, I argued that Sinclair’s poetic and political trajectory in the late 1960s and the early 1970s can be understood, in part, through what Fredric Jameson has called a ‘rupture’ in the post-war socio-political landscape which took place between 1967 and 1973. This rupture inaugurates postmodernity: the
Was a marriage of convenience between literature and cinema possible? (IainSinclair) 1
Although I have written previously in this book about mapping the city, in Sinclair’s texts actual maps are rare. Rather, Sinclair narrates space through the structure of the walk. As I suggested in Chapter 1 , Sinclair’s texts tend towards spatial organisation. His poetry is intensely imagistic, his prose paratactic. Significations pile up in layers, words cancel the previous one or meanings are accreted. Sinclair’s prose
2 IainSinclair, White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings (London: Paladin, 1988), p. 112.
3 Sinclair, White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings , p. 112.
4 IainSinclair, Lud Heat and Suicide Bridge (London: Granta, 1995), p. 148.
5 Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology , trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (London and Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), p. 36.
6 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ‘Translator’s Preface’, in J. Derrida, Of Grammatology , trans. Gayatri
IainSinclair’s major works of poetry, Lud Heat: A Book of Dead Hamlets (1975) and Suicide Bridge: A Book of the Furies, A Mythology of South and East (1979) (both subsequently collected in a 1995 Granta edition I will use here), represent Sinclair’s engagement with what was described and promoted by Eric Mottram (professor at King’s College, London) as a ‘British poetry revival’ (or alternately ‘renaissance’) from the mid-1960s to the end of the 1970s. The ‘poetry revival’ was organised around three bookshops in London, which
On the back of the elephant:
riding with Charles Olson
I have a theory by which I try, but fail, to live: which is that at this
stage in life I don’t want to go anywhere I can’t walk.1 This presented
problems when I was exploring America, which I’ve been doing for a
book I’ve been working on, and which I’ll be drawing into this discourse;
a book called American Smoke: Journeys to the End of the Light. What
it’s about is the fact that when I began, when I was firing up my first
enthusiasms in the early 1960s, I was captured by the figure of