9 June 2009

Sinclair (1997) 'Lights Out For The Territory': A review, or perhaps a mauling

So Iain Sinclair's Lights Out For The Territory is "Quite simply one of the finest books about London ever written", says the Spectator; "A book about London, in other words, a book about everything" (Peter Ackroyd in The Times).


There are no people there, not in his writing. The city is empty, inhabited only by poets and booksellers: educated, broke but certainly not poor; white or maybe a bit Jewish, and monolithically middle aged and male. What ghost town is this? I wouldn't want to go there. Sinclair walks, he says, but his words are so terribly disembodied for such a project; there he goes, the anti-phenomenologist mimbling off into history, always the past, as though he hasn't found any there there at all. In seeing a palimpsest beneath the city, he loses sight of what's in front of his eyes; oh, Sinclair obsesses over graffito scrawls as though they are authorless, solipsistically taking them all as signs for him to read, to interpret. Hermetic fucking arcana - what about the unknown? What about the proposition that the city is chaotic, is vast, is unknowable? No, let's be afraid of that and search for Dan Brown hidden traces, let's go chasing castles in the sky, this airy semiotic fantasy and forget that the real links, the real connections - the real goddamn mystery - is in the people, the messy illiterate gorgeous mass of people from whom Mr Sinclair is running walking away.

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