Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings
[LINK] “‘Oh, London, You Drama Queen’”
British fiction writer China Miéville‘s New York Times Magazine essay “‘Oh, London, You Drama Queen’” is subtitled on the New York Times website “China Miéville on Apocalyptic London”. It’s very true: Miéville’s essay does hint at the prospect of things changing radically and totally, whether talking about an over-expensive Olympics that’s doing locals in the neighbourhood where it will occur little good, the description of an ever-more-intrusive police, polarization on ethnic lines and religious lines and demographic lines, and the steady pushing-out of Londoners as the high cost of living makes it impossible for London’s non-wealthy to live in their city. The essay’s conclusion is worth quoting.
London is full of ghosts — ghost walks; a city’s worth of cemeteries; ghost-advertising, scabs of paint on brick. The city invoked something, read a grimoire it shouldn’t have. Thatcher’s face recurs at every turn, not in clouds of sulfur but of exhaust, on buses bearing posters advertising Meryl Streep’s celluloid turn as our erstwhile prime minister. Cabinet reports from the aftermath of other riots across the country, 31 years ago, have been released. A policy was mooted, they suggest — the point is disputed — of “managed decline” of the troublesome areas. Leaving them to rot.
Lionel Morrison considers the past. Few people are so well poised to parse this present, of press scandals, claim and counterclaim of racism and police misbehavior, deprivation, urban uprising. A South African radical, facing the death penalty in 1956 for his struggles against apartheid — in his house there is a photograph of him with one of his co-defendants, Nelson Mandela — Morrison got out, came to London in 1960. In 1987, he became the first black president of the National Union of Journalists. In 2000 he was honored by the British government with what is bleakly, amusingly, still called an O.B.E., Order of the British Empire.
We sit in his home, between English oil portraits that must be two centuries old, and carvings and sculptures from the country of his birth. Is Morrison hopeful? An optimist?
“I’ve been thinking about it myself,” he says gravely, his voice still strongly accented after all these years. “In a sense, I’m optimist. But it hits and completely, constantly kicks at this optimism, you understand?” The “it” is everything.
“It’s like a big angry wolf having it over here. And it’s not prepared to move, and sometimes its legs will go, but slow.” He mimes the animal moving, leaving a little space, a little hole, an exit. “And people will say, ‘Ah, we’ve got it!’ And then chop, it goes again.” His hands come down, the wolf’s grasp closes.
Morrison doesn’t sound despairing. But he does sound tired. “Every time you do something and nothing goes any further, it eats at you,” he says. “It starts this bitterness.” It can break people down. Make them hopeless, or worse. When none of their efforts to improve anything work, some, he warns, will stop fighting. They will say, “Let us just wait for things to — for chaos, really, to take place.”
Is Miéville right to suggest that something’s slouching into London, awaiting birth?