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Death Cults of East Anglia
The following piece first appeared in print in Salvage #7: Toward the Proletarocene. Issue 7 is available to buy individually here. Our poetry, fiction and art remains exclusive to the print edition, and our subscribers have exclusive access to some online content, including all audio content. New subscriptions can be taken out here, and start with the next issue.
There were church ruins beyond a brutally hot field of dust. The two of you took your pilgrimage route past exhausted pigs, on a hollow way to the North Sea*.
Once there were chambers hidden underground. As the shoreline erodes they’re uncovered to jut from the cliffs. Every time you’re here there are changes to the seaside rubble, concrete rooms tumbled wrong-way up onto the beach. This time a brick wall lay slanting down in the surf. You sat on it in the sun and the waves slapped it.
You drank the last of your water in desiccated arable land. The map was clear but the world so flat and arid, woodland so distant, your progress so slow you grew confused. You were specks in a stretched-out agribusiness sublime. There were no wrong turnings to take but you rechecked anyway. You grew thirstier and uneasy and wherever you were, it was a long walk back to where you’d started. Something was wrong with the landscape.
July 2018. It’s as hot in Britain as anyone remembers. The temperature peaks in Suffolk.
Heat unmoors. You feel vivid and smeared like a smudge of ink. Tethers deliquesce between things and their thingness: ‘[i]n the heat,’ L.P. Hartley had it of another remorseless East Anglian summer, ‘the commonest objects changed their nature.’ The air vibrates on the thresholds of horse-exits in the Roman walls at Burgh. In these parts they said horses could see ghosts.
The rags of other heatwaves cling: as well as 2018 you’re in 2006, 2003. And 1976, of course. Keeling et al put out their minatory ‘Atmospheric carbon dioxide variation at Mauna Loa observatory’: you’re almost four years old and waiting for the water truck in a plague of ladybirds. Bishybarnybees, in local dialect, named for a heretic-hunting priest.
Now Malibu burns again. In Algeria, in Canada, in Japan, in South Korea, the heat kills. The jet stream’s drifting north, and weak. There are all-time highs across the world. The arctic’s in flames. ‘This is the moment’, says Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, an author of ‘Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene’, ‘when people start to realise that global warming is not a problem for future generations, but for us now’. Nearly half of Americans feel they have personal experience of climate change, a Yale study shows. 75 per cent that it will harm future generations.
It’s too hot to sleep. The new nostrum is that this is the year we wake up. The phrase reverberates in reports of forest fires, mass extinctions, tipping points and climate cascade, of ice-melt, warming seas, frost no-longer perma. A lifetime ago, Aldo Leopold wrote that ‘[o]ne of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds’. Now millions of us labour toward such education, to live among the wounds. And we’re still lonely.
The questions are not whether but how badly temperatures will rise, and what, if anything, ‘we’ – that feint again – can do about it, and for how long. They come with a toll. More than 70 per cent of Americans are worried, uncertain of their agency: more than half are ‘disgusted’ and/or ‘helpless’. In 2017, the American Psychological Association warned not only of ‘acute consequences of psychological well-being’ given inevitable weather-pattern disasters, but a longer-term existential impact, that the longue durée of climate change ‘will cause some of the most resounding chronic psychological consequences’: depression, trauma, identity-loss, violence, helplessness, suicide.
Cautious data-crunching in a 2018 Yale/George Mason University study, ‘Climate Change in the American Mind’, becomes a poetry of necessary imprecision: one chart is titled ‘A Majority of Americans Who Think Global Warming is Happening Feel A Range of Emotions’. Global warming is the paradigmatic exemplar of what Timothy Morton calls a hyperobject, a diffuse thing of such enormous temporo-spatial scale that it evades traditional thingness, can be studied and considered but is, he writes, ‘something you cannot see or touch’. It is ‘something on the tips of our tongues’.
Language in and of this heat is evasive. ‘[T]here are hardly any intimate words’ for what is happening, writes Zadie Smith in ‘Elegy for a Country’s Seasons’. This epoch is of the groping for words. What terms we coin for the sense of lamentation can only gesture at it – ‘ecoanxiety’, Glenn Albrecht’s ‘solastalgia’, Renee Lertzmann’s ‘environmental melancholia’, Ashlee Cunsolo and Neville Ellis’s ‘ecological grief’, Deborah Bird Rose’s ‘Anthropocene Noir’. In December 2018, Le Monde reports that climatologists have ‘le blues’.
Whatever we call them, however much of them we can’t articulate, these blues are real, growing, unfinished. ‘There is’, as Cunsolo and Ellis put it, ‘much grief work to be done, and much of it will be hard.’
Too hard for some. In the pages of the Sun – nomen est omen – Rod Liddle, a thuggish jester-bully of the British commentariat, works anxiously to undermine such intuition and grief.
‘I remember the last few summers we’ve had — rainy and cool — and the climate change monkeys saying THAT was a consequence of global warming, too. You can’t have it both ways.’ It’s impossible to say how much of this is performance, whether Liddle is genuinely a fool. Weather systems are ultra-complex, stochastically inflected, overdetermined. No scientist thinks of them in monocausal or certain terms. The point, rather, as in the work of Friederike Otto, is to discern trends and the vastly increasing likelihoods of extreme events. On which basis one can, of course, have it both ways, the same systemic cascades being key determinants of contrasting phenomena.
‘[T]his summer — a proper summer, at last — is something to be enjoyed, cherished and remembered’, Liddle bangs on. His insistence is a cruel optimism of the Right. It exists not despite but because of those growing blues. Hence his deployment, alongside negation blatant enough to embarrass the most vulgar Freudian, of that standard reactionary trope, the demand for complicity. ‘[T]his hasn’t been bad, has it?’
Has it? Has it?
Liddle, en passant, claims not to be a climate-change denier. Insofar as a coherent position beyond spite can be imputed to him, this is likely true, and symptomatic. Outright denialism remains a baleful force, but for all the blare and bluster of its faithful, its season – its usefulness to the ruling class – is drawing slowly to a close. Now ‘residual doubts over global warming evaporate’, the Financial Times reports. A Monmouth University poll tracks an increase in the number of Americans who ‘believe in’ climate change of almost 10 per cent in three years, to nearly eight in ten, including close to two thirds of Republicans, and 62 per cent, Yale has it, see warming as mostly caused by human activity.
The Met Office ‘UK Climate Projections 2018’ wargames temperature rises from one to five degrees for this, already the driest part of the country. East Anglian summers will see more droughts. The region, says Charles Beardall of the Environmental Agency, is on the ‘front line of managing the impacts of climate change in the UK’.
‘Managing’ is a verb with a lot of work to do.
As the ideological efficacy of denial decreases, climate hustlers try out other options. ‘Like any disruptive force,’ writes Dimitris Tsitsiragos for the World Bank, ‘climate change is creating opportunities for companies willing to innovate.’ This might range from Promethean geo-dreamwork of utopian technofix to more quotidian opportunism, a slavering at exciting markets of carbon capture and so on. Sustainability is a ‘popular field that emerged to teach business how to become a force for ecological preservation’, write Alan Bradshaw and Detlev Zwick, in ‘The Field of Business Sustainability and the Death Drive: A Radical Intervention’ – and, they blithely add, it is ‘… a project that comes with its own guarantee of failure’.
And what Naomi Klein has called the ‘monstrousness’ of a certain supremacist anti-denialism, a gloating that climate change is real, and will disproportionately affect the wretched of the earth, still largely subtextual in polite society, will grow. After all, mediated through the sociopathy of ‘entrepreneurialism’, profiteering not only from supposed solutions to catastrophe but from catastrophe itself, is already celebrated.
‘Take advantage of climate change business opportunities’, enthuses nibusinessinfo.co.uk. ‘Climate change may increase demand for certain goods and services, such as water management products and equipment and clothing for extreme weather conditions.’ This is true, and wicked. With disaster does indeed come terrible need. These are not the sub-Ayn Randian ramblings of a marginal libertarian sadist, but official business guidance channel for Northern Ireland. In 2011, floods in Thailand killed hundreds, and affected over 13 million others. The country scrambled to develop flood management systems – which the British Government’s ‘national adaptation plan’ two years later described as ‘a high-value business opportunity’, preening that it ‘promotes and supports UK companies to access these opportunities’.
‘Your whole society’, wrote Mike Davis in the voice of Plague, a decade and a half ago, ‘is suffering from acute apocalypse denial’. Now both denial and its denial are commodified.
The stark heat seems magnified in this crumbling-edged landscape of clay and Pleistocene sand. A few cirrus do their best, as do dead trees and the eyelessly gazing watertowers. But there’s a drought of shadows too. The sunlight picks out roadside signs and rubble.
With effort and luck you might make anywhere do and mean anything, but there are prevailing semiotic tides, and their undertows (this Anglian moment is not uncorrelated with the place of Cambridge, UEA and the Norwich Centre for Writing in the business of BritLit). This windblown place is dense with artistic glowerings, of Ruth Rendell, the Jameses P.D. and M.R., Sarah Perry, all the others. Its big sky looms above a certain existential crime noir; the recondite mooching of edgeland psychogeography; in spectral culture above all, ghosts, and the newly-fashionable bucolic uncanny of ‘Folk Horror’.
Quis este site qui venit. Who is this who is coming?
Eerieness is fast catching up with its co-constitutive other, the weird, as an aesthetic to be noted. Robert MacFarlane has been a crucial skald, and the deeply mourned Mark Fisher its seminal ruminator, his The Weird and the Eerie a fecund entry-point to the phenomenon.
For Fisher, the eerie ‘is constituted by a failure of absence or by a failure of presence’. Where the weird is a function of ‘the presence of that which does not belong’, the eerie arises where, and insofar as, ‘something [is] present where there should be nothing’ – his example is of a bird’s cry behind which is a sense of something beyond the animal – ‘or there is nothing present where there should be something’ – a ruin, say, a place made strange by time, emptied of people. Which means ‘the central enigma’ of the eerie ‘is the problem of agency’: for the failure of absence, whether there is agency at all; for the failure of presence, what the nature is of that missing agency of which we feel a trace?
Unlike the radically unknowable of the Weird, the eerie is ‘merely’ unknown – but constitutively so. Should it ever come to pass that the conundrum of agency be solved, ‘when knowledge is achieved’, Fisher writes, ‘the eerie disappears’.
There is to the Norfolk Broads ‘which lie in the midst of wide level marshes and tracts of sedgy fen’, William Dutt writes in his 1906 book on the waterways, a ‘primeval, isolate beauty’. Like the eco-anguish, it cannot quite be expressed: ‘I had almost written sublimity’. Almost but not quite: if the weird is the bad sublime, the eerie is sublime-proximate. For Thomas Hardy the ‘sublimity of a moor’ was ‘chastened’: in the flatland specificity of the broad we can perhaps discern a sublimity not chastened but withheld.
Fisher loved this eerie East Anglian landscape, this haunting land-sky configuration, just like you. His walks here were generative of his theories, political phenomenology. His strange heuristics of strangeness read aesthetics and their politics and the world that extrudes them. ‘Since the eerie turns crucially on the problem of agency, it is about the forces that govern our lives and the world’, he wrote. ‘It should be especially clear to those of us in a globally tele-connected capitalist world that those forces are not fully available to our sensory apprehension.’ No wonder then that for him, ‘Capital is at every level an eerie entity’.
Thus analysis, radical understanding. And what of the strategic lessons? What, to quote Matt Colquhoun (aka Xenogoth), in one example of the focus among many, are the ‘emancipatory potentials found within the other-wordly’?
Colquhoun, with the ‘latent act of exit’ from putative normality that Fisher terms ‘egress’ in mind, the weird and eerie ‘resemble aesthetic tools for the creation of passageways between capitalism and its outside’. He notes too, however, that ‘the political implications of egress, the weird and the eerie are not made as explicit as one might expect within the book itself’.
What if those implications are not so much occult as absent, not even eerily so, and our hankering to discern their presence a political problem?
The Left’s fervid eagerness to derive politics and techniques from various fleeting and fleetingly succulent cultural morsels, from the stuff we like, is symptomatic of our terrible weakness.
Allow that not everything we enjoy or in which we find affective resonance can be effectively, politically, strategically, tactically, applied. Test everything that gets you up in the morning for whatever contingent inspiration you can find. But know that it comes from you, and traction for you is not traction tout court, still less some political Real. We’re predisposed to such Procrustean activity, but we are not alone in that.
In capitalism all signs are reversible. There are Gothic Fascisms as well as Gothic Marxisms, and Weird Fascisms too, and if the Left decides it will ‘learn the lessons’ of the Eerie, so too can our enemies. And it is not more eeriness that will defeat them, nor any placeness of the places in which we find it.
The admirable hate of #folkloreagainstfascism, of those invested in certain music and landscape, fables and hedge-magic – here Yallery Brown, say, the Woolpit Green Children, Black Shuck – and who are aghast that they are snaffled by the far Right for its murderous national kitsch, is righteous. Fascists should not, indeed, be allowed to own what they claim to own. What cannot follow though for such contested scobs is a Red essentialism – something something subversive spirits of the land something something radical Albion.
Yes, complicate and enrich what David Southwell calls the ‘ghost soil’ with counterhistory and creative reading. Unwhite it: learn, say, from Wedaeli Chibelushi’s ‘A Brief History of Blackness in East Anglia’, of Thomas Parker, the ‘certayne dark mayne’ of sixteenth century Essex, Maria Sambo two centuries later, Allan Glaisyer Minns of Thetford, in 1904 the first black mayor in Britain. Commemorate local histories of insurrection – Bury St Edmunds risings in 1264 and 1381, Kett’s Rebellion of 1549, the riots of 1822, the Burston Rebellion of 1914. Keep them in mind, because they matter, wherever they take place, and because you love this place, but not to find in them some ineffable intransigence intrinsic to this local earth. There is none, except to the extent that it is everywhere. In her celebration of ‘this uncanny land’, Sarah Perry has it that ‘[t]he character of the East Anglian woman is radical, literate, rebellious, courageous, mystic and astute’. Yes, but only to the extent that also No. This is no more au fond the nature of ‘the’ East Anglian woman than is the nature of Aldeburgh locals, per George Crabbe’s 1783 The Village, that of ‘a wild amphibious race, / With sullen wo display’d in every face’. There are and were thoroughly mammalian and cheerful Aldeburghians, and actually-existing East Anglian women, and men, include the reactionary, unread, conformist, cowardly, earthbound and dim in usual proportions.
Is this too ungenerous and reductionist? Perry herself describe East Anglia as ‘ripe with myth’. As where is not? Perhaps what such ruminations could perhaps call up, create, sustain is precisely a kind of myth. It will be a political myth, as all myths are, as the far Right knows so well.
Still, that literalist caution remains necessary: too many such invocations fail to distinguish essentialist truth-claims – a political ontology of place – and mythopoeitic intervention. Adequately or at all. Which elision, whatever the intention and however conscious or not, always serves reaction. And myth itself may be inevitable, but it is always ambiguous and polyvalent, never more so than when naturalised. A key danger of mythopoeisis of place is that it cleaves so very well with the right.
This is clear and troublesome to practitioners of art and thought within the melancholy field of ‘landscape punk’ (Gary Budden), of ‘re-enchantment as resistance’ (David Southwell). John Harrigan of the FoolishPeople collective, for example, insists ‘it’s vital we don’t permit racists/fascists to pervert the landscape of Britain’. But here is that essentialism, of a genius loci, a ‘truth’ of place that has been ‘perverted’. The artist Paul Watson, in his own heartfelt straining to salvage landscape from the Right, calls ‘the oldest past version of a myth … the kernel, the most primal incarnation’ ‘Deep Myth’. He is honest that he finds ‘[t]he desire to glimpse the deep myth … a strong one’, and for him ‘in that glimpse of the primal comes a re-enchantment’ – resistance. But Watson himself is clear of such ‘deep myth that ‘[i]n realistic terms it’s unknowable’ – and, we should add, untrustworthy, if there was ever any such single kernel at all. No matter how antique or otherwise are the lovingly deployed stories and tropes of locale, this is precisely poiesis, political myth-making, on one side or another. It is not spiritual archaeology of some ur-truth.
We may feel that ‘deep myth’ can, as Watson avers, be ‘glimpsed as a partial reflection in the contemporary version’ of the myth. But, crucially, we cannot know what, if anything, it is that we actually glimpse, nor whence it comes, and what capacities we have for enchantment, radical and otherwise, inhere not in what we glimpse but that we yearn to glimpse it, and in the sense that glimpse we can.
These cautions must be explicit.
But there is a distinct and more productive conception of myth imbricated in Watson’s image of uncovering, in his mode of access to the putatively ancient: ‘\[s]omewhere in the metaphorically dense language of the contemporary myth are echoes of the primal deep one.’ But any such echoes are not only relatively but absolutely autonomous of any originary sound. These echoes are not ‘within’ but are in fact those very metaphors of which he speaks, drawing on Adrienne Rich on the ‘metaphoric density’ of language – and, we can add, of any system of signs. There is no lonely hour of the last instance, no grundnorm of meaning at the metaphors’ base.
‘At the molten heart of things everything resembles everything else’, writes Edward St Aubyn of metaphor and its annealing. That insight might be a source of gladness, rather than his protagonist’s anguish. In metaphor everything does not so much resemble everything else in the fire of the mind, perhaps, as admix with it, or become it. Even as it pours off soot and the slag of meaning, too, semiotic runoff, that sets in fantastic opacities. It is by metaphors that we might, not recover, but construct, political myth. Mindful of political ambivalences, what we forge from place may – may – even be that radically inflected ‘denotative myth’ of which the Marxist Bible scholar Roland Boer cautiously approves.
Our fidelity is not to primality, to any imagined deep-time depth. Landscape must be something that we do, in fidelity to liberation.
The Island, they once called it, though it is not an island but a long strip of shingle and sand off the coast. The military had a secret base there. This place is notorious for bygone death rays and radar towers and UFOs, the mouldering knoll-sided pagodas of an industry and statecraft of speculative apocalypse. Orford Ness is a litter of battle rubbish, engines and struts like the discards of invasion, now sculptures of themselves in rust. The holed and deserted shacks are overrun, wind, grass, birds. You pay a ferryman to cross the water, of course, to trudge like a mendicant in Hell.
The laboratories fall apart under the sun years ago. ‘[T]he closer I came to these ruins’, W.G. Sebald wrote of his own, then-illicit, approach, ‘the more any notion of a mysterious isle of the dead receded, and the more I imagined myself amidst the ruins of our own civilisation after its extinction in some future catastrophe’. As if that’s a contradiction. The catastrophe is here, and these, like those of that church up the coast, are ruins by design. The policy is called ‘managed decline’. A nationally sanctioned becoming-eerie.
In 19th-century Brazil, Mike Davis notes with cataclysm empathy, ‘millenarianism in the sertão was also a practical social framework for coping with environmental instability … sermonising apocalypse but practicing energetic self-help’. Why not? There are far worse strategies. Change that last conjunction from ‘but’ to ‘and’ or ‘so’, there being no contradiction at all, the sermons inextricable from the struggle. For a new chiliasm of the Left. We could make sacred masks out of the military trash in the sand, if it helps, masks like those ‘burning at our gate’ in the eleventh and harshest verse of Jini Fiennes’ ‘Suffolk Song Cycle’, masks that ‘glare’ and that ‘[w]ith sightless sense interrupt’.
Interruption could hardly be more urgent.
Lines of dead trees, lichened concrete in the bird sanctuary, drowned houses off the coast, everything means what it means and more than it means. Today everything is a metaphor for the end, for hope, and for hopelessness. On the other side of the world, bats are falling cooked alive out of the sky, and we don’t pretend that doesn’t matter or that everything will be alright. Against the yaysayers, undefeated despair is militancy. Richard Seymour: ‘it is the catastrophists, the doom-mongers who believe in the future.’
For the Catholic leftist Herbert McCabe, in the triumph of liberation, the post-ruptural Kingdom of God, so close to communism, ‘there will be no more Eucharist, no more sacramental religion, no more faith or hope’. To hope against hope is not merely to contest all the dreg-like hope unearned: it is prefiguration. To live with an eye on the horizon where hope is no longer needed. In this baking flood-prone place the horizon is very clear.
Amid the stochastic specimens of collapse are more curated objects. They ‘do not come more chilling’, writes Paddy Heazel in his history of Orford Ness, than the casing a WE177 freefall bomb. Pride of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, ten times more powerful than the destroyers of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There lies its husk.
This is a landscape of relics. Mummied roadkill hares. The local saints – Julian, Pega, Guthlac, Witburga, Tova. ‘[O]f St Gilbert two pieces,’ runs one meticulous list of sanctified dead parts from a Norwich church in 1234, ‘of St. Euphemia the like, of the innocents the like, of St. Stephen four pieces, of St. Wulstan one piece, of St. Leger one piece,’ and so, grimly and lengthily, on.
It took strenuous propaganda by the 12th-century monk Thomas of Monmouth for the cult of Saint William of Norwich to flourish. The ‘poor ragged little lad’, he repeated, was tortured and murdered by Norwich Jews, in mockery of Christ’s passion. The story was obfuscation, defence of a down-at-heel knight for the murder of the banker to whom he owed money, by posthumously claiming his victim was ringleader of William’s killers. For the historian E.M. Rose, in indicting a whole community, the story was a key text of the blood-libel, ushering in generations of anti-Semitic murder with a libel of the dead, in the name of the honour of a dead child, pornographically-depicting his death-mocking death.
Monmouth’s tract was lost for years. The repressed returns, of course. The man who unearthed it in ‘a small dank building in the churchyard’ in 1890, who translated and introduced it, was the progenitor of the modern ghost story, that key eeritician, M.R. James himself.
‘For James, who was both a horror writer and a conservative Christian,’ writes Fisher, ‘the fascination for the outside is always fateful’.
If a Norfolk raven croaks above a house it portends death. As does a dog howling at night below a sickroom window. Bees swarming on a dead tree are death. Four crows in the road, an unmelted wick in a guttering candle, a candle burning at all in a shuttered room, the sound of a cuckoo heard from bed, a snake in the house, all mean death.
A cadaver that is not relic enough, that is too slow to enter rigor, is another presentiment of mortality to come. Here, death itself can be a sign for death. Death inadequately enacted invoking metadeath.
In 2013, the vicar Tony Higton – officiating chaplain for RAF Marham, erstwhile director of the Church’s Ministry amongst Jewish People (CMJ), once called ‘Mary Whitehouse in a dog collar’ for his traditionalist fervour during the Church’s sexuality fights in the 1980s – started a new project. The ‘high-profile West Norfolk clergyman’, one Christian website enthused, inaugurated ‘a web campaign calling Christians to take Eschatology (the doctrine of the End Times) seriously’. It is still regularly updated, an assiduous sign-parsing of impending armageddon.
‘You’re living in a nihilistic death cult’, writes Richard Seymour of the fetishised machinery of the border. That is not the cult’s only mystery. It’s not long since Corbyn’s cordial refusal to pledge that he would enact pointless nuclear mass-murder, like that commemorated with the dead bomb, was a political scandal. Capitalism oscillates between disavowal and death-avowal in these Higtonian end times. In the 2007 council climate-change strategy, ‘Tomorrow’s Norfolk, Today’s Challenge’, the crises to come are itemised as if by some bureaucrat St John – floods, destruction, sickness and death, the ruination of heritage, crop-failure, pestilence. Then, immediately, come those familiar commercial opportunities.
‘[H]otter, drier summers will help make Norfolk more favourable as a tourism destination’.
Welcome to terminal beach.
Like those crows in the road, the guttering candles, like the unstraight sowing of seed in an East Anglian field, they say, #EFDS is a harbinger of death. ‘EcoFascist Death Squads’, a dream of the online Deep Green right.
The overt avowed hecatomb logic of genocide will increase in volume with the temperature. ‘Long live death!’ goes the fascist slogan – death of the enemy, the untermenchen, the unclean and rootless, the weak and feminine, the snake in the garden, and of the world, and ultimately, even, perhaps, of the self. There will come some supremacist suicide cults, embracing all doom, including their own. Already, Pentti Linkola, lugubrious doyen of fascist green thanatology, is clear: ‘[i]f there were a button I could press, I would sacrifice myself without hesitating, if it meant millions of people would die.’
It’s not hard to imagine the semiotic bric-a-brac of these annihilationist myths to come. Such hothouse-Earth fascisms will festoon themselves of course in their pitiful solar symbols, maunder about Evola and solar civilisation, the sun wheel, the sun cross, the black sun, the sol invictus. They will be entranced by Albert Speer, the theory of ‘Ruin Value’, of the central importance of bequeathing deep time suitable reich memorabilia, monumental and impressive ruins. They will pine, that is, as fascisms always have, to be a supremacist eerie. A crust like dried-up spittle. An absence proclaiming the triumph of death.
East Anglia is eroded by the sea. Out of ‘le blues’, with fury and without surrender, must come a contestation, to bring to this moment of disaster capitalism and fascist eerie a ruin communism, hope against hope.
In the converted chapel at Westleton, among the piled-up books for sale a tattered old volume fell open in your hands. The ancient adverts in the back were for more lost volumes: An Experiment with Time; and Nothing Dies. You fanned yourself with the pages.
They call it Silly Suffolk, sometimes, then quickly stress that the adjective is mutation of the old word ‘seely’. That it means ‘holy’, for all that hallowed ground.
But seely has many meanings. ‘Pious’ and ‘good’ and ‘blessed’, ‘holy’, yes, ‘happy’ and ‘lucky’. But ‘deserving of sympathy’, too, and ‘pitiable’, the OED informs. ‘Worn-out’ and ‘crazy’.
‘Observant of due season’. ‘In danger of divine judgement’.
East Anglia is in its due season, facing vastation.
They executed the ungodly so often in Norwich that one old map marks out ‘Ye place where ye Heretickes are custumably burned’. In 1589, they put Francis Kett – grandson of he of the rebellion forty years before – to flame for denying the divinity of Jesus. One scandalised critic glossed his moving democratic theology of mortal flesh: ‘Christ Jesus is not God, but a good man, as others be’. But as Dewey D. Wallace points out of Kett’s heresies, ‘eschatological motifs are far more prominent than denial of the Trinity’, and ‘[c]entral to his eschatology would seem to be the notion that redemption is future and imminent’. Only when he ushers in the Kingdom will the son of man become God.
McCabe’s beyond-hope draws near, in the hands of a self-actualising humanity. Kett could hardly more clearly be, as Wallace says, a ‘link in that strange connection between bizarre religious notions and incipient rationalism’, nor ‘further confirmation of the significance of the passage from specifically eschatological eccentricities to radicalism’. Amen. Even his enemies marked his piety. At the stake, one allowed with grudging admiration, Kett ‘went leaping and dauncing … clapping his handes, he cried nothing, but blessed be God, blessed be God, blessed be God’. There are new way to die, to move, to be in the body.
In the broads, in the corridors of reeds, a shimmering split the surface and made it gleam. A snake swimming. Another strange, alternate animal motion. It crossed right before your prow, the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. It thrust its head up out of the water as it went. It glared skyward, just as if it was staring down the sun.
China Miéville is a founding editor of Salvage. He is the author of various works of fiction and non-fiction, including This Census-Taker and October: The Story of the Russian Revolution.
* A version of this photo-essay is published in Between Catastrophe and Revolution: Essays in Honor of Mike Davis.