George Orwell’s House is an AirB&B

September has been a weird month and it is getting weirder.

I’m still preoccupied with Egress and so the blog will remain on the back burner for a little while longer. Whilst it is “finished”, it’s had a few rounds of editing to go through, during which I’ve discovered a whole smorgasbord of writer’s tics I didn’t know that I had. Mixed-up tenses, overuse of the word “likewise”, overuse of the word “would”, sparse use of commas… I could, unfortunately, go on and on and on.

Let me take this opportunity to apologise to my readers here who have undoubtedly had to plough their way through much worse.

When it comes to blogging, I am far from a perfectionist but I’ve discovered a side to myself that I didn’t know I had throughout this finishing process. It is a side that is neurotic and obsessive and isolationist. I’ve been very aware of just how anti-social I’ve been, but I’ve been incapable of dragging myself away from it.

I’m only glad I’m not a total prima donna control freak, inflicting the fallout from my own ego on anyone around me, but internally the struggle has been real. I’ve been chastising myself and having crises of confidence on just about every other page. As proud as I am of it, it’s hard not to hate something you’ve spent so much time with.

Thankfully, just before sending the manuscript back, I had come to terms with the fact that if I add anything else to it at all now, I’ll ruin it. The book is done. I need to focus on tidying it up rather than tweaking or adding to it any further.

In the midst of all this literary pedantry, I started a new project at work, somewhat outside of my primary job description, which I can’t talk or post about, but which has had me driving back and forth along the M4 at ungodly hours over the last two weeks, working from sunrise to sunset.

It’s a photography project that has taken me from barren fields to neglected suburbs, occasionally navigating dog patrols and security fencing. I went into Eton College and even inadvertently trespassed on the Crown Estate. We’ve got security clearance but you wouldn’t think it on sight. I don’t think, I’m the face of things, I look like someone who should ever be given security clearance for anything. Good thing they haven’t found the blog.

Suffice it to say, getting guns pointed at us has been a regular expectation. It’s been stressful.

In the process, I’ve discovered a part of the country I never knew existed before, where obnoxious wealth and latent power are more visible than I had ever previously thought possible.

Windsor, in particular, is very weird. The geographic closeness between social housing and fairytale wealth was worse there than in the London boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea. And that’s saying something.

On top of all that, the frequency of government-sponsored “Get ready for Brexit” billboards, peppered along the route, have only helped to unnerve me further. They’re ominously banal PSAs.

I feel like our boring dystopia is about to enter level 2 of Boring and Dystopian.

Burnt out from working so many hours and trying to sign off book edits when I get home, I didn’t get the chance to fully appreciate a quick return to Suffolk that we did last weekend. I spent most of it working, even sitting with a borrowed laptop right on the beach at Dunwich.

My brother-in-law and his girlfriend came back from a long trip and so we took them to our temporary Suffolk hideaway to show them the walks we did on our previous escape.

I discovered I no longer fear spiders, for whatever reason. They were out in force as the summer starts to ebb away and I found myself feeling quite affectionate towards them. We walked through the marshes tickling their webs hello.

We also spent a rainy day in Southwold, where I went to find George Orwell’s former family home.

In the local bookshop, where I’d previously picked up Lucy Ellman’s Ducks, Newburyport when we were last here, I heard someone inquire to the owner about his presence.

“Some people are still alive who remember him walking around the town,” she said. “Although they knew him as Eric then.”

In a window on the ground floor there is a sticker that says you can rent it as a holiday home if you so wish. Perhaps because I still had Brexit on the brain, I felt like there was something banally Orwellian about that too, with the price no doubt hiked up because of its providence, serving the town’s transient seaside tourism.

There is little else of note in Southwold besides a big brewery. But no matter, escape Brexit in the house that birthed 1984 and drink yourself into oblivion.

Down by the sea, I passed the Sailers’ Reading Room, W.G. Sebald’s favourite haunt in The Rings of Saturn — an alcohol-free zone for fishermen to pass the time in, and a good place for him to write up his notes.

Apparently it is full of seafaring records and scraps of history, recalling many events out at sea that have been witnessed from the Southwold promenade.

Unfortunately it was closed when we walked by.

On Saturday night, we took a more Ballardian excursion, lighting a fire on which we failed to roast smores, instead lying on our backs on the pitch black beach at Sizewell, staring up at the stars, the nuclear power station pulsating behind us.

I drove us home a while afterwards to Kode9 and the Spaceape — back on heavy rotation as my go-to night-driving soundtrack at the moment — and it felt very special.

Nerve Ganglion of Capital

Sat navs do not like Felixstowe. It has taken us three attempts to get here.

The first attempt, tried some months ago, was done by sight alone as we made a slight detour to Felixstowe on our way back to London. After driving around back streets and turning down too many roads we were evidently not meant to go down, we gave up and said “next time.”

This time, putting the official “viewing point” into Google Maps, we were still taken directly into the Port of Felixstowe. Messaging a friend who works on ships and has spent a lot of time there, we were informed that we were indeed lost — not that we needed that confirming — circling around “Berths 8 & 9”.

He told us that, in fact, we shouldn’t have been able to get that far without a security check. Nevertheless, we found all the lorry drivers very courteous as we fumbled our way around stacks of shipping containers and disintegrating office blocks…

We eventually made our way to the appropriate viewing spot, looking out over that major “nerve ganglion of capital” as Mark Fisher and Justin Barton refer to the Port in On Vanishing Land. It was strange being quite so close and yet so far away from it. Standing on the stunted beach, it felt more like a shoreline of undeveloped land rather than beach by the sea. It was like spatial polarities had been reversed.

From this strange vantage point, the Port’s main offloading point was a literal stone’s throw away, and yet nothing looked to scale. It’s difficult to wrap your head around — the sheer size of the operation perpetually unfolding and the labour hours and wealth of commodities being moved back and forth through this city and around the world and the rest of the country.

As if to drive all this home with a healthy dose of eerie, I picked up a flyer as we left the viewing point cafe — they did a good mushroom soup — that was advertising a children’s Hallowe’en event at Landguard Fort, right next to the Port viewing point.

I was half-convinced the event it was advertising was real. Before finding the ad we had just been discussing the eerie nature of these huge and anonymous containers. What is inside them? Do they ever get lost? The flyer read:

A strange artefact known as the Mask of the Dead that was unearthed at the G’harne excavation site in Africa — and then mysteriously stolen — has been found in a container at the Port during a customs check. As a security measure the artefact has temporarily been moved to Landguard Fort for safekeeping before been taken to the British Museum in London.

The mask was reputed to have legendary powers. The wearer could raise an army of the dead, and his enemies would grow weak and die just looking at it. The mask disappeared centuries ago until its recent discovery.

Due to the interest it has generated, for one night only, you are invited to attend a special Open Evening at Landguard Fort on Saturday 26 October — where the mask will be revealed and an expert archaeologist will be present to answer questions.

I thought, in my cultured ways, that the G’harne excavation actually sounded familiar. It turned out this was not my latent knowledge of the African continent, however, but an echo from the Cthulhu mythos.

How wonderfully appropriate to finish our Suffolk trip here, with capitalist and Cthulhic tendrils entangling with one another before the drive back to London.

We’ll be coming back later for another weekend away in a few weeks. Immediately the return to London has brought back the constant anxious hum and chest-tightness that defines every day in this city. We’re so grateful to have friends that will allow us to escape and visit whenever we like. They are a lifeline.

I need to get out of London permanently soon, I think. I’d rather face Cthulhic horrors and natural emptiness than the perpetual buzz of this city for much longer. I’m at a risk of starting to sound like Lovecraft himself, although it’s the landlords and bad drivers that I hate, not some racialised cult of subalterns…

Walberswick

A few days ago we stopped off in Blythburgh and (unwittingly) walked halfway to Walberswick. (The names round here just get weirder and weirder.) Today we tried to do the walk the other way.

The main reason for our return was that, although we ended up in a lovely forest, that wasn’t really what we came to see originally. We wanted to see more of the marshes and the strange dead forests and whatever else. We came back for the emptiness.

And, according to the maps we’d seen, there was supposedly a path we’d missed.

We certainly found more marshes but no path through them. What I thought was a path was likely just a badger trail or vague marking made by grazing animals. Miraculously though, after fighting through various obstacles, we eventually ended up precisely where we’d decided to turn back the other night. I’m not entirely sure how…

Below are a bunch of photographs from our adventure which involved some paths, some cornfields, a bit of forest, marshes and bogs and bridleways and a burnt-out cottage. (Not forgetting the dramatic marshland shot above that the girlfriend took. Thanks, hun.)

Dunwich Thoughts II

I took the September issue of The Wire to the beach today — it’s the best one in a while I reckon — and enjoyed the serendipity of reading Rob Turner’s review of On Vanishing Land on the vanishing land at Dunwich.

Turner even points to Mark’s distaste for Sebald which I’d only heard about but never read first hand — and which I’ve come to agree with having spent the last week here.

Turner writes of Mark and his hauntological partner-in-crime Justin Barton:

The pair’s wonky tour guide, shifting from nerdy digressions on Brian Eno to enthusiastic riffs on TV horror shows, is a reply to WG Sebald’s celebrated study of the same coastline The Rings of Saturn. In a 2011 essay for Sight & Sound, Fisher described that book as a trudge through Suffolk that entirely failed to look at the place, offering instead “mittel-brow miserabilism, a stock disdain, in which the human settlements are routinely dismissed as shabby”. Here, in apparent solidarity with the humans trapped in this realm, the narrator is gripped by the features of the landscape, reading lost poems of late capitalism in the stacked iron containers of Felixstowe terminal.

It’s a great review and does well to situate this purposefully disembodied work amongst Mark’s music writings (although, as ever, much more needs to be made of Justin’s contribution here — I’d wager his Hidden Valleys is a far richer hauntological text than Mark’s Ghosts of my Life, for what it’s worth.) The main thing I found intriguing here, though, of course, was the mention of the Sight & Sound review of Patience (After Sebald).

I’d urge anyone passing through here to read it now if you haven’t before. It’s not just a film review but an extensive account of Mark’s wrestling with Sebald through the festivities thrown around the film’s premiere in Aldeburgh (which is no more than ten minutes from where I am right now in fact) and how he struggles with Sebald’s “belittling” of the landscape he knows and loves and calls home, but also the strange feeling he has that he’s missing something.

It seems that, for Mark, Sebald was that sort of cultural figure who all of your peers rate and like and who, on paper, you think you should rate and like too, but it just doesn’t connect as it should. (Joy Division were this for me for a long time although I eventually saw the light.) I particularly like the conclusion where Mark writes:

Instead of staining the landscape with his passions — as Thomas Hardy did with Wessex or the Brontës with Yorkshire or, more recently, as the musician Richard Skelton has done with the Lancashire moorland — Sebald used Suffolk as a kind of Rorschach blot, a trigger for associative processes that take flight from the landscape rather than take root in it. In any case, [nature writer Richard] Mabey [appearing on a panel at the premiere] wanted a confrontation with nature in all its inhuman exteriority. He sounded like a Deleuzean philosopher when he talked of the “nested heterogeneity” and “autonomous poetry” of micro-ecosytems to be found in a cow’s hoof print. […]

Patience (After Sebald) could appeal to a Sebald sceptic like me because — in spite of Sebald — it reaches the wilds of Suffolk. At the same time, Gee’s quietly powerful film caused me to doubt my own scepticism, sending me back to Sebald’s books in search of what others had found in them.

It’s interesting to read this now because Mark captures perfectly what is so great and so unfortunate about Sebald. I think the joy of his book for those who don’t live in Suffolk or have never visited it is precisely that the landscape itself needn’t exist in any real sense. It’s a plateau on which his mind wanders further than his body. As a result, it is immediately mythic and what I have always loved about the book more than its tenuous claim to be a particularly innovative travelogue is that I really like getting lost in Sebald’s head. I like being passenger to “a librarian’s listless daydream”, as Mark calls it. And yet, at the same time, Mark makes a good point when he writes that Sebald does not “engage with previous literary encounters” with the landscape, “with the Suffolk where Henry James went on a walking tour, or where his namesake M.R. James set two of his most atmospheric ghost stories.”

Or does he? Wasn’t Henry James’ favourite subject matter the American lost in Europe, bewildered and beguiled just as he was? The perpetual adolescence of the American psyche caught up in the deep time of European lands? Sebald seems to cast himself precisely as a perversion of the Jamesian character (that is, of both Henry and M.R.): the demented (in a literal sense) German caught up in English forgetfulness, haunted inescapably by the recent and not so recent histories of Europe that Britain likes to detach itself from and float above, disparately related unless cast as the hero and saviour of the day. He’s also, like M.R. James, a classist university professor seeing nothing but terror and curses everywhere he looks.

The Rings of Saturn is not an autobiographical text, after all. Much of it is fictionalised. The Sebald in the text is a shadow of the Sebald who wrote the book, but isn’t he also a shadow of those who have come before him in this sense? Treating Suffolk as so many have treated less identifiable landscapes? Wuthering Heights, after all, abstracts the moors on which it takes place, echoing but never naming its real-life counterparts. Perhaps it is in this way that they are able to stain the landscape. The self of Sebald, instead, sinks into the stains of others and comes out tarnished. As soon as he situated himself, he never stood a chance. But I’m left wondering, despite this: is he really so different?

The answer to that question is perhaps a post for another time…

Sutton Hoo Eerie

Sutton Hoo is an eerie place but not like I was expecting. It’s eerie in a strangely material sense.

Its failures of presence and failures of absence define everything about it. Myths and legends, loans and leases, geologically and archaeologically.

At first, it’s all a bit tragic.

The greatest archaeological find in British history was discovered on this site in the late 1930s. The Sutton Hoo ship burial. Echoing the plot of an Indiana Jones film, the final resting place of the Anglo-Saxon King Rædwald of East Anglia was uncovered on the eve of war in 1939. He was buried along with his ship and a host of treasures, much of which remained perfectly intact and undisturbed. (Everything inorganic at least.)

The find was so significant it was later gifted to the British Museum, where it remains. At Sutton Hoo itself, you’ll only find — nonetheless ornate — replicas of King Rædwald’s glittering stash. The museum seems to have undergone a huge recent refurbishment recently and, having worked in museums, I reckon the redevelopment has been done to such a high standard with the eventual goal being to return the treasures to their home. (Loaning anything from the country’s biggest institutions is almost impossible unless you’re able to match their own conservation standards, creating something of a catch-22 for less well-funded sites.)

So the treasures were here but they’re not here now. You can see their heavily documented traces but we’d need to go back to London to see the real thing. It’s a shame, and also not really a big deal, but it feels like the tip of an eerie iceberg as far as faltering presences are concerned.

Inside one of the site’s buildings, displays are given over to the context in which the ship burial was first discovered, with comments from curators and archaeologists past and present, commenting on the history of the place and the fascination it still provokes within various archaeological fields.

On one display panel there is a quote taken from testimony given by Mercie Lack, a photographer who documented the initial excavation process. She explains:

The impression of the ship, alas, was of a fleeting nature, a kind of ghost-ship, revealed for a short time during which it was possible to make records, photographs and sketches and then the original was gone for ever.

At first, I didn’t think much of this, but later, going on a guided tour, we were informed by our guide that the ground around Sutton Hoo is highly acidic. Anything organic buried here is dissolved completely — well, almost completely….

Corpses buried create “sand bodies” — imprints of matter which preserve the shape of an previously present organic object but which crumble and dissolve like old sandcastles at the slightest encouragement. Bone or bark: it leaves only a trace. Having been used as a spot for executions a few hundred years after the death of King Rædwald, there were plenty of sand bodies at Sutton Hoo, but what can you learn from sand? It turns out a lot but, to the layperson such as I, it seems like chasing smoke.

In this sense, what the fortuitously-named Lack was documenting was precisely a succession of ghosts. Her description is far less poetic and analogous than it sounds. There was no corpse of the King and no wood from his ship. Just geological echoes, hastily copied and documented before the inevitable.

This elusiveness is everywhere. Out by the burial mounds, even these have been partly reconstructed, with their prior stature eroded by the weather. A multi-storey viewing platform was being constructed whilst we were there — the mounds appear far more pronounced when seen from above, we’re told — but, to the untrained eye, you’re in a lumpy field. This is only unusual relative to the absolute flatness of the majority of the Suffolk landscape. Intriguingly, surrounded by such emptiness, even traces and echoes are deliriously enticing, something M.R. James demonstrated well in its Suffolk ghost stories.

Sutton Hoo is beautiful and mysterious and the story of its discovery is like an adventure, with curses and deaths and drama and war and uncertainty and tragedy. None of the above is a critique of its management. I loved it all the more for its sand-through-our-fingers futility. Like at Dunwich and in Sebald, this county’s accelerated sense of the inevitable feels particularly important to the Suffolk mindset.

I think I’m coming to understand this place more as each day goes by.

Dunwich Thoughts

We spent the day at Dunwich (again). No exploring this time — just reading on the beach. I’ve been popping into every second-hand bookshop in Suffolk this week, trying to scratch an itch, but I think the real itch is — now that Egress is finished — I’m having serious thoughts about book #2.

I’m thinking it’ll just be called “Xenogothic” — a proper statement about why I think the only way to be Goth in the 21st century is to plunder the outsides of the Gothic’s tired old boundaries.

I’m not sure how I’m going to structure things yet but I’m still thinking a lot about the American West and the playful but more socially realist multiplicity of the American Gothic (relative to its UK Jekyll-and-Hyde counterpart).

There’s a chapter on the West in Egress already but I still have so much to say about it, so today I’ve been reading the collected short stories of Tennessee Williams and I even dipped into a bit of Mark Twain. I need to get this out my system and then get back to what I love about UK Goths.


Other thoughts had in Dunwich: why would you build two nuclear power stations — and propose a third — that are visible from a stretch of coast most famous for the fact a whole city was quickly destroyed by the sea there?

Tempting fate a bit, surely… The energy industry’s death drive writ large!

Blythburgh

After our day in Lowestoft, we stopped off for an evening stroll around the village of Blythburgh. Much like Lowestoft, Sebald didn’t seem to like the river Blyth so much:

At best one might see a sailing boat or two moored in the lower reaches, admist an assortment of rotting barges. To landward, there is nothing but grey water, mudflats and emptiness.

Finding ourselves driving landward nonetheless, we encountered a lot more than that.

Pulling up alongside a row of very posh houses — one with the most garish 10-foot dolphin fountain I’ve ever seen — why do the rich always have such poor taste? — we wandered along a path through the nature reserve and through various hedgerow portals into another world.

On entering the reserve, I was amused by a warning from the council, informing visitors that this area used to be a military training ground and so if any strange objects were found in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Scientific Interest, best just inform the authorities ASAP please and thank you.

It felt like some dystopian twist on an M.R. James story — that’s no cursed emblem from Saxon antiquity: that’s a land mine!

Along the way we came to a bird-watching shed, nestled down a rickety planked path deep in the marshes, offering uninterrupted views of the river and its population of avocets.

Inside, we found a strange chalkboard that was given over to recent bird sightings and teenage graffiti. Both were allowed to exist alongside each other without much tension, it seemed.

This was a communal shed — both twitching binoculars and drunk sex welcome. Never has a shed had an atmosphere so debauched and wholesome in equal measure.

As we continued along our walk, the fight between marshland and forest became more and more apparent. The boggy shores were increasingly littered with drowned trees and evidence of whole swathes of dead forest, resembling some sort of prehistoric quagmire. In truth, the area was purposefully flooded by the British military in the 1940s so that the marshlands could be used as a training ground for anti-invasion preparations.

We soon entered the woods — those still standing, that is — on the south bank. The atmosphere here changed immediately. Whilst it was early enough in the day to avoid the clouds of riverside midgies, the tall canopy of trees was home to swarms of buzzing flies. We couldn’t quite see them in the low light but you could hear them. They followed us for miles — a constant sonic accompaniment. It was the sort of tumultuous buzz I associate with a high concentration of rotting flesh. I felt like a walking corpse being shepherded under their airborne blanket.

The wood was dense and towering but a path had been carved into the forest floor, some five feet deep. It felt like a trench, left over from the anti-invasion preparations. Perhaps it was. Now, it became a pinecone trough, with everything that fell from the trees above rolling down into the centre, making for an eerie sort of breadcrumb trail left by gravity.

We turned back before it got too dark. I met two goats in the beer garden of The White Hart Inn where we had a drink in the pink light before driving back to the house.

I tend to get very excited when I see a goat these days — my blogospheric spirit animal. This one was less excited to see me. Extending a hand to tickle his face, I was greeted instead by a stern headbutt to my knuckles. The shockwave from that horn tap made my arm ache for hours, having jarred everything from my wrist to my shoulder.

I guess goats don’t give a shit what your Twitter avatar is.

Lowestoft

I’d never realised quite how mean-spirited W.G. Sebald’s description of Lowestoft is in The Rings of Saturn, probably because I’d never set foot there myself before today.

He writes, in one of his trademark elongated Germanic passages:

The last time I had been in Lowestoft was perhaps fifteen years ago, on a June day that I spent on the beach with two children, and I thought I remembered a town that had become something of a backwater but was nonetheless very pleasant; so now, as I walked into Lowestoft, it seemed incomprehensible to me that in such a relatively short period of time the place could have become so run down. Of course I was aware that this decline had been irreversible ever since the economic crises and depressions of the Thirties; but around 1975, when they were constructing the rigs for the North Sea, there were hopes that things might change for the better, hopes that were steadily inflated during the hardline capitalist years of Baroness Thatcher, till in due course they collapse in a fever of speculation. The damage spread slowly at first, smouldering underground, and then caught like wildfire. The wharves and factories closed down one after the other, until all that might be said for Lowestoft was that it occupied the easternmost point in the British Isles. Nowadays, in some of the streets almost every other house is up for sale; factory owners, shopkeepers and private individuals are sliding ever deeper into debt; week in, week out, some bankrupt or unemployed person hangs himself; nearly a quarter of the population is now practically illiterate; and there is no sign of an end to the encroaching misery. Although I knew all of this, I was unprepared for the feeling of wretchedness that instantly seize hold of me in Lowestoft, for it is one thing to read about unemployment blackspots in the newspapers and quite another to walk, on a cheerless evening, past rows of run-down houses with mean little front gardens; and, having reached the town centre, to find nothing but amusement arcades, bingo halls, betting shops, video stores, pubs that emit a sour reek of beer from their dark doorways, cheap markets, and seedy bed-and-breakfast establishments with names like Ocean Dawn, Beachcomber, Balmoral, or Layla Lorraine.

He’s not wrong exactly. Walking down the high street, I’ve never seen so many mobility scooters and children smoking before (and I’m from Hull, lest we forget). In many ways Lowestoft seems to have gotten worse than it was when Sebald described it, but it must be said that Lowestoft is not remarkable in its decline; it is not as singular in its hellishness as the man himself makes out.

Reading the book now, I’m reminded of Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida — a book whose author likewise struggles to pass comment on life under the influence of his own melancholy. That book was written by Barthes under the shadow of the death of his mother, seemingly with little self-awareness for how far this shadow has spread into his own analyses. With Sebald’s novel beginning with the writer in a hospital bed in Norfolk, waxing lyrical about death and anatomical procedures, I find it hard not to read an anger at his own encroaching decrepitness being projected onto the faltering seaside city. Not that this is much of an insight — the symbolism is hardly subtle throughout.

This is most apparent in Sebald’s Lowestoft when he walks past Lowestoft Central station, “which had not been refurbished since it was built in the nineteenth century”. He notes “a black hearse decked out with wreaths” passing him by. The chapter also ends with a photo of the hearse in question. My vision of Lowestoft Central was somewhat different — there was far much more life in it.

I was further reminded of the comments made in the film Patience (After Sebald) in which one of the film’s Sebald fans — who has done what I’m doing this week, haphazardly following Sebald’s footsteps — comments that when they arrived at Lowestoft they half-hoped to find squalor and misery under overcast clouds but instead found children playing in the fountain by the pier and felt that they were all having too much fun. It’s almost as if patience was precisely what Sebald was lacking — too melancholic to stop and see the life in what is around him; too trapped inside his own depressive perspective.


It must be said that, today, Lowestoft seems like two towns attached at the hip. Pulling into the both oddly and aptly named car park, Battery Green, we walked the length of the high street on a bright but chilly day, dropping into charity shops and a Gregg’s and a Waterstone’s before we eventually crossed the port estuary onto the rather lovely promenade. The high street was evidently the town’s major artery but we seemed to be the only tourists to wander that far to the town’s north.

I didn’t mind any of it. It was all very familiar. In fact, I was reminded quite explicitly of Sunderland as we walked Lowestoft’s streets, where I spent a lot of time as a child, heading from its toughened bowels to the quaintness of its seafront. This tale-of-two-cities vibe is common to a lot of east coast towns and cities in the UK, with generations of new money and old industry warring uncomfortably against each other and the towns themselves becoming patchwork places of stark inequality. There’s none of that in Sebald. For all its “realism”, there’s no social realism to speak of. It’s all too trapped inside his own head.

After Mark Fisher died, I remember The Rings of Saturn coming up in conversation with Kodwo Eshun who said Mark hated it. I can see why now. It is less a book of Sebald being impacted by the landscape around him, letting the Outside in, but rather pulling himself out across it, his melancholic continental sensibility being a grotesque skin stretched across the coast, and he beats himself like a drum along its shores. I still like the horror of his adventure but clearly it is a mistake to go looking for Sebald’s Suffolk. It doesn’t exist beyond the pages of his book.

For what it’s worth, my favourite thing about the town was the local Wetherspoon’s, busy for a Monday, named The Joseph Conrad. Opposite Lowestoft Central, I thought about Sebald starting his journey here. As far as he is concerned, it seems that his is a journey out of the heart of darkness, into the bourgeois tranquility of the Suffolk countryside, albeit stalked by death wherever he goes.

I’m still hoping for such a journey myself, in the direction originally intended, finding some non-Euclidean environ at the end of the river Blyth. As much as I have failed to find Sebald’s Suffolk so far this week, I’m yet to find Mark Fisher’s either. I should instead be trying to describe a new kind of Xenogothic eerie perhaps: something that emerges from the failure of Sebald’s absence and the failure of Mark’s presence…