Deep Assignment #6

I’m sat in a Starbucks in Bristol city centre right now. I have a few hours to wait before I catch my bus back to London and I’m doing everything I can to preserve the energy of the past week within myself.

On our early — early — morning drive out of Cornwall, continuing to channel the psychedelic folk horror that has erupted from our discussions of Mark’s work, and particularly The Weird and the Eerie, we listened to the Incredible String Band’s third and most famous album, 1968’s The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter.

When “Mercy I Cry City” came on, Robin joked: “This’ll be you in a few hours.”

I was already feeling it.

“Oh, I can see and touch you / But you don’t owe reality much”

It’s funny that before arriving in Cornwall, I’d been haunted by a childhood memory of the place which I couldn’t locate in actual space. Acquiring fragmented and inchoate bearings over the course of the last seven days, I’ve begun to remember more and more of my time in Cornwall as a child. I had all these vague half memories and feelings and now, sat here perusing Google Maps and retracing our Kurtz-gradient, it has all begun to slot into place.

I once spent two weeks in Portmellon and it rained the entire time we were there. My parents had preempted this and, hoping to ward off my only-child utter boredom in the inhospitable weather, I was allowed to bring my PS1 with us as a rainy day emergency measure.

I remember the house was freezing and the wind blew straight through it. It had a dusty TV in an alcove in the tiny front room we watched the Graham Norton Show on one evening. The only other time it was used was to plug in the PS1. With it, I played a demo of Alone in the Dark: A New Nightmare, making up my own narrative variations as I role-played my way through the game’s first 20 minutes over and over and over again.

I also listened to a lot of Limp Bizkit on that holiday…

Watching the above Let’s Play, in true 21st century Proustian fashion, I’ve also come to remember the days out we had on that holiday.

We went to the then-recently-opened Eden Project, of course, and also did a tour of locations associated with Daphne du Maurier such as the Jamaica Inn and the particularly memorable Menabilly estate, near Fowey, reportedly the inspiration for “Manderley”, the primary location in her novel Rebecca.

Looking at pictures of Menabilly today, it is very different to what I remember and, as I continue to explore Google Maps, I think that what I have done is conflate my memory of Menabilly with an image of Manderley from a very Gothic stage adaptation of du Maurier’s book I saw once at Hull New Theatre and also the nearby St. Catherine’s Castle, a 16th-century ruin.

Undoubtedly, it was a very Gothic and very formative staycation.

I think I’ll be revisiting Du Maurier’s books soon, as a surefire way to hold on to some of the energy of the past week as we consider what this “unnamed project” actually is or might be.

It’s actually quite astounding how many influential stories she wrote, so many adaptations of which remain some of the best horror films around: Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now” being two particular examples highlighted by Mark in The Weird and the Eerie. 

I need to think more on these two stories anyway, particularly “Don’t Look Now”, which has already emerged as being exemplary of one of the most knotted facets of Mark’s analysis, in which the eerie and the weird orbit and spiral around each other, tied to the powers of fate, via which the typically spatial encounters of the weird and the eerie are entangled with “an intensity upstream of time”, as Robin called it.

Robin writes in our notes: “The question of fate is eerie because its also a question of agency — who, outside of time, weaves the pattern that we are a part of, inside time.”

As I sit here surfing on a swell of memories, echoing down the years, close to twenty years later, I can’t help but feel this agency on my shoulder.

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