33 Trapped Chilean Miners
One of the less conventional records of 2012 – but perhaps one of the more suitable (for that very reason) – has to be 33 Trapped Chilean Miners by the Ceramic Hobs. Anthemic, avant-garde, funny and disquieting, it was a creation that promised some rewarding discussion. I wasn’t disappointed, and discovered founding Hobs(ian) Simon Morris to be a very engaging chap indeed.
The Guest
For many millennia, heterosexual men on the prowl laboured under the misconception that, in order to convince heterosexual women to sleep with them, it would be necessary to somehow please them.
Watching Shoah at Easter
With the Crucifixion serendipitously falling on Passover and all, and thus carrying sinister echoes of both the ‘blood libel’ and the ‘angel of death’, I could think of no better way to spend the recent Easter weekend than watching Shoah, the nine hour long Holocaust documentary available on Youtube in fifty-nine ten-minute segments... Wow.
Box Of Changes
Thomas considers morphology and modern television.
This is not a hotdog
The Celtic Rebel is an American conspiracy blogger whose scatological analysis of contemporary popular culture is acquiring large amounts of devotion and ridicule in the Conspiracy community.
The Secret History Of Rock'n'Roll
In Humboldt’s Gift, Saul Bellow’s narrator Charles Citrine has an enthusiasm for reading an encyclopaedia of religion, claiming that his contemporary America was rife with recurrent types found therein. The indications are that Citrine is thinking especially of the counterculture.
What Is It?
Two views of Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show Part 1 and screenings of What Is It? and IT IS FINE! Everything is fine. at the Phoenix cinema, London, in 2011.
Foreword & Preface
I have maybe, at this late stage in the game, stood on too many grassy knolls and listened too long to the seductively mendacious counterclaims and crossfire of disinformation. I may now need a map to tell me where I’ve been.
A Pocket Guide To The Apocalypse
I discovered that all the discounted wine had been reduced to a striking £6.66. Whose idea was that?
9/11 Films
Flipbook extract from Conspiracy Cinema by David Ray Carter. 9/11 chapter.
Top Five 9/11 Freudian Slips
In case you didn't notice, it was very recently the tenth anniversary of 9/11, meaning that wives across the world have had to endure the resuscitated rants of their conspiratorially inclined husbands.
What's the difference between a Nazi and a Satanist?
The Anthology of Rap
Yale University Press’s assemblage of an Anthology of Rap is the latest milestone in literature’s lethargic admittance of hip hop into its fusty purlieus.
Trembling! Trotsky
I've always been fascinated by the Russian Revolution. Trotsky, however, despite his significant cameos in the various histories and biographies I'd read on the topic, was still a vague character in my mind up until about ten days ago...
A blog about history, magic and hangovers, by Thomas McGrath
Suede - Dog Man Star
Arriving in Brighton was strange, as I had lived in that distinctive seaside town for three eventful years, but hadn't laid eyes on it since 2003.
The Hellhound Sample Launch Party
THE HELLHOUND SAMPLE BOOK LAUNCH Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at the Boogaloo, London Photos: David Kerekes
The Hellhound Sample Press
Press for The Hellhound Sample, the debut novel by Charles Shaar Murray, published by Headpress, 2011.
The Pregnant Widow
In a recent article concerning his terminally ill Best Friend Forever Christopher Hitchens, Martin Amis paraphrased King Lear, saying that every author knows how much "sharper than a serpent's tooth it is" to have "thankless readers."
Angles - The Strokes
God knows how many google pages an ardent royalist would have to trawl through before finally getting to worldheadpress.com in a search for the royal wedding.
Bright Eyes
Due perhaps to their practising at once the easiest and hardest of art forms (who doesn't know a handful of chords? and a bunch of words?), great poetic songwriters tend to be fidgety sorts.
Am I alone in wanting to be disappointed by an almost-universally acclaimed 'masterpiece'?
The Slap
Christos Tsiolkas' The Slap is a literary novel so viscerally compelling that it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.
God's Assassins
My sixteen year old brother recently attained the dubious distinction of being the first member of my family (for the last three generations, at least) to be booted out of secondary school.
Fear & Trembling
"We don't yet know if there's a God - and you want to eat!" An episodic examination of the modern soul by Thomas McGrath, who spent two months in 2009 looking for it.
Fear & Trembling #1

"We don't yet know if there's a God - and you want to eat!"

An episodic examination of the modern soul by THOMAS McGRATH who spent two months in 2009 looking for it.

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I'VE CRIBBED the above quotation from Henry Miller, though I believe he in turn lifted it from the lips of some long dead Russian, a Russian that no doubt lived in the midst of that nation's 'Religious Renaissance' of the nineteenth century. Dostoevsky described this period in his diaries and novels, how everybody continuously participated in an ongoing debate about the Big Questions, in markets, street corners and bars, trying to guess at the existence of God and the mystery of suffering. But hasn't the debate been settled, here in the secular Western Europe of the 21st Century? Apparently not - even my bus has joined the debate. The other week it was swaggering around like a teenager boasting that there "probably isn't a God", yet only a few days ago it had experienced an abrupt change of heart and declared conversely that there "definitely is a God". What insecurities must have bristled in that 'probably' - I didn't even know that the number 67 ran all the way to Damascus…

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 Image cover god delusion

And what about the common reading matter observed on public transport over the last few years? What books have the passengers been scrutinising? One of only two titles, according to my count (excluding that Pope bothering kid's book): The God Delusion and The Da Vinci Code. Bless it, the British public isn't the best read bunch, but these two titles arguably indicate a burgeoning preconception with metaphysical matters.

Were it not for the Romance novels, Bond pastiches, and the ubiquitous Jeremy Clarkson triptych (our national philosophe), in many cases The Da Vinci Code would stand alone on the book shelf of its millions of owners. Numerous friends and acquaintances, not usually disposed to discuss fiction or theology (yet knowing my predilection for both), have approached me with pregnant intent to comment on the thriller's esoteric subtext.

My girlfriend's mother, knowing that my family are Catholic (and assuming that my very haemoglobin sported little papist caps), interrupted my reading one afternoon during a visit to her Tenerife holiday home.

"I've read The Da Vinci Code," she declared, with a Lutheran twinkle visible beneath her blue-tinted contacts.

"Good show Linda. Well done," I responded over the brim of Anna Karenina, wondering why one of her eyebrows seemed to be violently twitching…

"… I believe it!" she finally declared.

"How do you mean mother-in-law - you don't think it's a work of fiction?"

Linda seemed momentarily inconvenienced by my unexpected though innocent enough retort.

"No. I mean what it says about the Church," she continued, shaking off my Jesuitical casuistry, "I believe it."

This is indicative of the general gist of its readers' responses. The book offers them new ways to believe, and reasons for the conspicuous absence of religion in their inner lives. A pity it's gash!

Then there is that other bona fide publishing phenomena of recent times (again excluding children's books): The God Delusion. In a nation that has for many decades treated churches as little more than picturesque and whimsical venues for weddings, the success of Dawkins' polemic (the best-selling work of non-fiction since the Bible, or something), is arguably a bit of a mystery. Atheists wouldn't flock to Waterstones in order to scoop a hardback copy of The Toothfairy Delusion, and as far as I can see the only explanation for the enormous success of Dawkins' tract is that it serves as a palliative to its reader's latent fear and trembling, the atavistic nervousness over the fate of the immortal soul, a trepidation that possibly announced itself only upon a confrontation with the book's bold title. Yet it would seem that the book has done more to irritate those buried nerves than soothe them - according to Amazon, The God Delusion is the cause of a 50% growth in sales on religious and spiritual books, and a 120% increase in sales on the Bible! Atheism never had a more vocal and fervent following than in Holy Russia itself, and so long as it is not silently assumptive, atheism constitutes a vital ingredient in any spiritually introspective culture. For these very reasons I adore Richard Dawkins. He is Nietzsche's fool in the marketplace imploring the peasants that God is Dead. This is a man that believes that humanity can be reinvigorated morally, politically and even artistically if we can return to the apparently abandoned Enlightenment agenda - Halleluiah!

Between our suicide bombers, conspiracy theorists, Rastafarians, Scientologists, militant atheists et al, it can be argued that the contemporary UK is a much richer religious ferment that Dostoevsky's Russia, and far more riven with spiritual conflict than in its own hectic period of Reformation. And I, comfortably savage, terrified by the sky, believing in everything, wish here to comment upon, document, and encourage our English Religious Renaissance.

01-Aug-2010 Thomas McGrath
Fear & Trembling #2

"We don't yet know if there's a God - and you want to eat!"

An episodic examination of the modern soul by THOMAS McGRATH who spent two months in 2009 looking for it.

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FURTHER NECESSARY features in any religious revival are a steady succession of self-appointed messiahs, suspected Anti-Christs and apparent charlatans. Happily enough, I have recently discovered that within my own London town there resides a person or being that furiously divides increasing numbers of people as to which of the three categories he should properly be consigned. For those of you that don’t know (and how out of the loop can you possibly be) I am speaking of the Maitreya.

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Maitreya and Brick Lane today

The full, public emergence of this Maitreya has been anticipated by his followers for a few decades now. Anyone that has already heard of him has probably done so through his spokesperson Benjamin Creme, a wealthy Scottish painter that travels the world imparting messages psychically communicated by the Maitreya himself. These tend on the side of Michael Jackson morality, an ethical key that runs through Creme’s Maitreya-fervid organisation Share International. One apparently mad but wealthy Scottish modernist may not impress anyone, but the funny thing is that this supposed Christ-cum-Buddha-cum-Mohammed etc (Creme claims that his boy is the second coming anticipated by all the major religions) apparently actually exists, which is to say that there is an actual person (or whatnot) making actual appearances as the Maitreya. You can go on the Share International website to observe photos from one broadly publicised performance at a large Kenyan evangelical congregation, the accounts of which wondrously depict crutch-twirling cripples miraculously healed on sight, mass recognition of this white-clad, Arabic looking fellow as Jesus incarnate, and other messianic hallmarks.

Once one investigates this bizarre and I think quite unique phenomenon, even the most rational conclusions look distinctly original. We could suppose, for instance, that this Creme figure is participating in some unprecedented global hoax. Of course religious demagogues are hardly unusual, but Creme doesn’t appear to be wielding his for the usual reason of immediate wealth and power. According to his numerous talks and appearances this has been and is still all in anticipation of the Maitreya’s ‘Day of Declaration’: on this day, explains Creme, “The Christ will come on the world's television channels, linked together by satellite. All those with access to television will see... [His face]. He will establish a telepathic rapport with all humanity simultaneously." This would definitely top the end of year television highlights! Creme talks of the new era of harmony and spiritual wisdom that this Maitreya will inaugurate, by the way, so on the surface this promised spectacular heralds good news for one and all. However, a growing number of evangelical Christians are increasingly convinced that this Maitreya is none other than the anti-Christ himself, and cite alleged connections between Share International and the UN (with whom Creme does indeed appear to have a ready audience) as evidence of a global Luciferean plot. We may assume that Richard Dawkins thinks absolutely everyone involved is off their rocker.

Now I had been aware of this information for some time, but I was unaware that the Maitreya was currently apparently residing in a suburb of Brick Lane. This shows an appalling disregard for fashionable mores, and if there are any pilgrimages going on in North London it is the warm river of fashionistas travelling away from the Shoreditch Axis towards Dalston, which has officially inherited the crown of cool so long held by its Eastern neighbour. Hipsters will no doubt be concerned that no number of miracles could lead them to worship at an alter presided over by a messiah so intransigently passé.

An odd recollection. A few months ago an English friend of Pakistani descent spotted former Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf at a Brick Lane curry house. Please drop me a line if any other odd figures have been spotted sampling the delights of that area’s free bottles of house white wine and poppadoms…

Well, I can hardly hope to write about the English Religious Renaissance and not visit its arguable Galilee can I? Perhaps I’ll bump into the Pope having a coffee with Tony Blair, waiting for an audience with the anti-Christ.

But Christ or Anti-Christ, I assume the Maitreya is tucked away somewhere pretty inconspicuous. My initial idea was of offering waiters generous tips for information (I don’t know, 25%). But one Indian meal usually leaves me horribly stuffed, and a succession would also leave me damn short of pocket. There is another rather prosaic reason for my reluctance to embark on this journalistic pilgrimage: good old fashioned English timidity, the ready blush that makes us such poor zealots.

“Excuse me mate,” I can see myself asking a local, with the usual cringe-worthy roughening of my middle-England vowels, “don’t suppose you know where I could find the, eh…” and here my voice will drop to a conspiratorial whisper, “….Maitreya do ya?”

“What’s that mate, a restaurant?” a second generation cockney voice will respond.

“No, eh, the Messiah…”

Or perhaps, in the style of a spy film…

“I’m looking for the Maitreya… Hey come back! Please.”

Or maybe another response still…

“No mate, and you’re the fifth person that’s asked me that today. Just ’cos I’m wearing a turban…”

01-Aug-2010 Thomas McGrath
Fear & Trembling #3

"We don't yet know if there's a God - and you want to eat!"

An episodic examination of the modern soul by THOMAS McGRATH who spent two months in 2009 looking for it.

Image fear & trembling lion

SO WHAT type of rough beast might we expect to have been born in Brick Lane? Under the impression that the Emperor's New Postcode (momentarily disregarding Dalston's recent usurpation) was in fact only a fatuous cloak for some apocalyptic prelude, I travelled down there last Wednesday evening. I was looking for a fissure in its diabolical disguise - some pentagram, caduceus or purposeful goat - but beside the bursting pink and white blossom that decorated the surrounding suburbs, the area (at least beneath its modern patina of 'fashionability') was in fact uniquely bereft of spiritual or magical vitality. I could only dimly speculate that evil festers and thrives in the dead zones where the modern heart beats weakest. Bewildered, I staggered about for the best part of an hour without any indication that it was anything but the most consummate of disguises - or perhaps an elaborate, meaningful joke. As I neared the area I did begin to come across a graffiti motif, a thoughtful looking fellow with long hair, stencilled in spotted silver paint and accompanied with pseudo-spiritual slogans such as GODLOVE. These thickened around Brick Lane itself - could they be the handiwork of a subterranean hipster Maitreya cult? I feared that I was clutching at straws. My expedition was looking hopeless.

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Russell Brand & Pascal (could have been such great friends)

Eventually I stopped for a coffee. As I sipped it outside a café on a grim patch of E1 pavement, a bus serendipitously passed by; although there was no Maitreya visible on the top deck, bent in thoughtful perusal of that day's London Lite, the bus itself boasted the latest theist retort to the Atheist Society's humanist propaganda campaign (discussed in my first post). This one came courtesy of the Russian Orthodox Church: "There is God", it declared, "Don't worry. Enjoy life". The unfortunate resemblance of this message to the preceding Christian response (the peppy little "There definitely is a God - so enjoy your life and join the Christian party") certainly ranks as one of the smaller historical consequences of the Great Schism, but the potential benefits of greater communication were easy to discern. Unless the quintessentially Russian omission of the definite article was intentional - perhaps as an obscure allusion to the Ontological Argument - it would appear that the Eastern Church has fallen into the common trap of putting excessive faith in the appropriately named Babelfish (last year I came upon a Tenerife menu offering English-speaking patrons the delicious delicacy: 'Turkey gizzard and fun spaghetti' - at least I presume this was lost in translation, though perhaps they were just trying to lighten up the turkey gizzard).

Grateful as I am to the Orthodox Church for pitching in - especially as it gives my blog the dizzying flavour of mediocre prophecy - what is it with all this "don't worry" business? What kinds of tipples are served at the seemingly oxymoronic "Christian party"? One need not be Pascal to find the blithe tone somewhat incongruous. In the Twelfth Century an infinitely sterner theological tradition begat a frightening little volume called entitled Hortus Deliciarum, a book that ranks the supposedly benign joys of gardening as a danger to soul only marginally milder than classics like fornication (incidentally, I am currently trying to rehabilitate this underused word, as it could potentially give things a novel ring, 'Fornication and the City', for instance, sounds wonderful). The Atheist Society might like to consider an amusing and unanswerable retaliation to its two opponents by plastering some more buses with the ironical slogan: "There is a hell - now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

The English Religious Renaissance requires a tautening of the soul's bow; not further reckless relaxation. I think that in this age of enduring (if precarious) wealth, only a dose of mediaeval severity is capable of curing the English of their endemic fatuousness, and the concomitant self-disgust that suffocates its possibility of noble or poetic existence. Will my generation really offer history no more than its current dismal little platter of indie bands and graphic designers? If so, then - irregardless of its slight though tantalising possibility of veracity - the purported residence of a demonic avatar in an area currently renowned for its 'creative' hairdressers is a powerful and apt symbol. "It is a monstrous thing to see," writes Pascal, "in the same heart and at the same time, this concern for the most trivial of matters and this lack of concern for the greatest. It is an incomprehensible form of bewitchment and a supernatural torpor which is a proof of an all-powerful force that causes it."

I walked home with my empty hands disconsolately wedged in my pockets, and again passed one of those stencils. I scrutinised it again. Could it be the Maitreya? I tilted my head. It certainly resembled somebody, though perhaps not the man whose photograph accompanied my last post. I looked hard into the thoughtful expression, the piercing eyes, the guru-long hair… Russell Brand. It looked a lot like Russell Brand. Could he in fact be the "rough beast", an anti-Christ propagating peace, vegetarianism and free love? Or the alleged reincarnation of Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna - residing in fashionable East London? It all makes ominous sense…

01-Aug-2010 Thomas McGrath
Fear & Trembling #4

"We don't yet know if there's a God - and you want to eat!"

An episodic examination of the modern soul by THOMAS McGRATH who spent two months in 2009 looking for it.

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[This interview took place in 2009]

ON TUESDAY I interviewed Iain Sinclair, Hackney's resident White Wizard. I was, to say the least, somewhat nervous about it. After all, this is a writer whose London Orbital is adorned with a quotation from the late JG Ballard, in which the seer of Shepperton asserts that Sinclair's book (a fabulous document of his counterclockwise hike around the M25), will "still be read in fifty years time"! That's fifty years of Ballard time - a pretty rough passage, you feel, for the internet, let alone English prose. London Orbital thoroughly deserved the voluminous praise heaped upon it, a work in which Sinclair shook reality so hard that it alchemically transformed itself into fantastical fiction, revealing a territory both proximate and alien, and delivered in exhilarating prose that frequently attains the preternatural shimmer of truly great writing. This Saturday, at London festival Occulture, Sinclair will be introducing the accompanying film with which he documented that inspired expedition, and I seized the opportunity to meet him.

My introductory email would be my first notable obstacle to achieving that end, however. Almost every word (including some of the commonest little monosyllables) found itself cut, pasted and plunged into an online dictionary; distinguishing between there, their and they're unveiled itself as a Derridean riddle: my English had become a panic tongue, a fourth language hastily acquired by the tourist-victim of a Mexican miscarriage of justice. Eventually, the bland little missive was ready, and I dispatched it with a tentative tap (or spasm) of the mouse. Within seconds a response was embedded in my own inbox - Sinclair breezily accepting my agonised invitation to lunch. Beneath his reply was the initial invite, which I fruitlessly checked over one last time. It began: "Dear Ian" (sic).  I clamped a knuckle between my teeth and prepared for the worst…

I met Iain at a Turkish café in his adopted Hackney, the London borough in which he has lived for over four decades but only recently colonised in prose with the latest contribution to his weighty oeuvre, the surprisingly voluptuous Hackney, that Rose Red Empire. His imminent appearance at Occulture gave me the wonderful excuse to ask him all about his association with esotericism and the occult; along with authors like Yeats and Burroughs, Sinclair is part of a tradition of celebrated modern writers for whom the supernatural is a fact (albeit a complicated one). It was interesting to learn that, as with both Yeats and Burroughs, Sinclair also identifies childhood experiences as responsible for demarcating a reality broader than the narrow box most inherit.

In person, Sinclair, like his prose, exudes benevolent mischief, little resembling the languid intellectual captured in footage and photograph. He spoke about topics ranging from the occult to the Olympics, and even addressed (with pleasing spontaneity) some of issues touched upon in this very blog.

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Iain Sinclair

(ME) JG Ballard appears in the film and book of London Orbital. He was a very vocal exponent of your work, and I was wondering what he made of the esoteric motifs that run through it…

(SINCLAIR): I imagine he ignored them. His take on the world was his take on the world and other people's worlds were interesting in as much as they were kind of refractions of things he was interested in himself. He certainly responded to the whole notion of the landscape of the edge lands of London as revealed in the film because that was exactly his whole territory - although this was coming from a very different angle. And the madness of my walking through it, which is something he would never have contemplated, interested him because one of his great themes was the obsessive and satanic nature of Moby Dick. Moby Dick was one of his great markers. That book, and this sort of Ahab- like tramping around this orbital landscape, was really appealing to him, so it was sort of like a combination of Moby Dick and Ballard.

How do you think he interpreted obsession, from a Freudian perspective?

Yes I think largely he did. His whole work in a sense was about psychosis. It was about early fractures in his own life, the  breakdown he saw of the English version of colonialism that he'd grown up in, and then the England he arrived back in, which he always said was like coming from a colour movie and into a black and white newsreel, and feeling estranged from it and having to come up with devices that could energise a world of boredom and greyness. And the subversive strategies he adopted were obviously incredibly effective

Do you think he would have interpreted your esoteric motifs as examples of 'subversive strategies'?

I think he read me with a sense of difference, along with a sense of its parallel, sympathetic nature to what he was doing himself. He didn't want to engage with the inner city at all. He didn't like the inner city, didn't like the old buildings, he didn't want to be part of that. So someone doing that was interesting as a sort of alien species. And the way I wrote was so different to the way he wrote, that stripped forensic style, that again he was interested in it for its difference. But then when we got to know each other best I would sort of move into his territory and discuss things within his sphere of interest.

Did you ever try to discuss things from your own territory?

No. I mean I found him strangely like a version of Sir Les Patterson; very, very genial, very civilised, very friendly and generous in all his dealings. In a sense you felt he was like a being from another time or another world. I was just very happy to listen to him and gather up little fragments from his memory banks.

I was curious, because another writer he was very interested in was William Burroughs, with whom he must also have been confronted by many beliefs he would have had to completely 'ignore'.

I think Michael Moorcock introduced him to Burroughs very early on. He saw Burroughs very much as a kind of version of what he did himself. But they couldn't really get on in personal terms because they were both so strange. His writing was much closer to the way Burroughs writes than to the way I write. When I first knew his work I felt him very much to be a sort of English Burroughs, in that he was dealing with a kind of deep-in-the-bone satire and misogyny and darkness, but then as time went on I think he moved away from that and they became quite separate. But they both had that stoic humour; they both trained as doctors and gave up on it. Ballard by the end was sort of making his own mental prognosis of a culture - and Burroughs had become this Zen outlaw figure, stepped away from the word and into image, dream and ritual practise.

You met Burroughs, did you find him as taciturn as he was purported to be?

Well I  had dealings with him from very early on, and corresponded with him  when I was a teenager, then published him in Ireland, and was going to do a film with him, so I knew him a bit in that period. But then he went into Scientology and I lost touch with him. I didn't meet him again until he was pretty old and living in Kansas, and by that time he was totally detached, we didn't have a conversation where I felt he was present at all. It was fascinating to see him, to be with him, but he wasn't there. But Ballard was there and was somebody you could have a friendly relationship with in a way you never could with Burroughs. If you fell within his circle of disciples you could have a kind of relationship of power with Burroughs, but otherwise not. Whereas a lot of people had good friendly relations with Ballard as long as it was on his terms.

You mentioned Burroughs going over to Scientology. What did you make of that?

I though it was an interesting process for him, and provoked metaphor for lots of stuff in his writing. For me it was completely deranged and extreme, but I could see why he'd want to do it, and I had a lot of sympathy with him going there, even though it was completely inconvenient because we were trying to start a film at that point and he just completely lost interest.

Scientology's very interesting. This pseudo-scientific mask covering an esoteric system…

Yes with L Ron Hubbard as this sort of science fiction writer, super-galactic conman character with the boat and the slaves and this notion of the occult. The cult aspect of the occult.

Do you see the connection between demagoguery and magic as intrinsic?

I think it is, from my experience of the nature of the practitioners. Apart from, say, someone like Alan Moore, who is not at all a demagogue, but is a pretty full-blown magical practitioner, and that's one of the most important elements of his work. I just got yesterday morning The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, this comic he's doing, in which a fictional character, an alter-ego of mine called Norton, appears, drawn to look like me - or sort of a mad Nazi dentist or something - spouting this occult loaded madness in a comic strip! Like a parody of aspects of my writing. But Alan's engagement with magic doesn't seem to be in any way about personal power. In a sense it's more to do with some deep engagement with Northampton.

That's the distinction between white and black magic, the former you don't practise for the sake of personal gain…

Well Alan Moore sounds quite dark, to do with summoning particular demons and entities, but it can also seem really quite white in its nature, to do with natural forces and place and the nature of place; it's not to do with making magical entities work for him in other worlds.

Did you become interested in the occult through the Beats?

Well, occult is such a blanket term, it has aspects I was interested in through my family in Wales:  my mother's side of the family were very interested in things that sound almost shamanic or magical you know, in terms of superstitions and the sense of the dead being ever-present and all those things, and rituals to do with horses' heads being dug up. All of that stuff was very familiar, all of that theatrical canopy was part of my childhood, so it seemed a natural thing rather than anything else. But this is to do with white magic, earth magic, and the druidic aspect, all of that stuff. And then looking into London and what was the nature and cultural make-up of London and its mythology you inevitably move into those areas, in terms of the nineteenth century of the Golden Dawn, Crowley… (recording indecipherable)

Then in the 60s and 70s, around that era, combined with a lot of the stuff that came out of the counterculture, earth magic and Carlos Castaneda, you know a lot of that was floating about. And then the whole thing cycles round to come back in a very different form in the aspect of politics. I began to see Thatcherite politics as a kind of black magic. But this is a metaphor as much as anything. I don't mean she actually sat around looking at a skull, although metaphorically she did, and then I think it became a battle in that sense, a battle for the city, for the soul of the city.

Do you see politics broadly as an esoteric realm?

No I see it as a profound unreality and one that's falling apart in front of our eyes. A projection that had no basis in reality, it was a mind game that involved a lot of symbols and mind control in terms of advertising and brain washing; all kinds of techniques that were essentially occult were used. But it fell apart - it wasn't real, it wasn't genuine, it wasn't about anything, there was no content. And it's quite interesting how it just dissolved and disintegrated in front of our eyes. The other thing is that a lot of the magical practises we're talking about are covert, esoteric, secret. You don't necessarily have to know these aspects in Yeats or something, but there it is, he's doing it and it only emerges later that it's the source of his poetry. Whereas in the political world it has to be totally visible, in theory, so there's a real schizophrenic bite there. They are calculating ways to hypnotise the masses, and at the same time they have to appear to not be doing any of the things that they are doing.

What do you make of the recent popularity of books regarding atheism and this whole debate?

Yeah, the adverts on the busses about God and all that; I thought, 'why are you fighting this campaign in this particular forum'. It's like a version of reality TV, it seems an argument in the wrong place. And then the other aspect are these enormously successful things like Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, and all of this which are a Xerox of the real material, so far down the line from their sources that they become massively successful. That's the process in the world where you copy something, and copy it again, and copy it again and it loses its bite, but achieves a kind of formulaic, simple-minded version which appeals massively. People are interested in the underlying things, but they're getting them through the pre-chewed, pre-masticated form. And it works gigantically, you look at any of these massively successful things and then you go back always four steps to get to something where it's originally from.

But the success of all these books - The God Delusion, The Da Vinci Code - reflects people's underlying interest in these topics….

Yeah. It's clearly a deep thirst for an advance into new territory. But it comes from study and practise and a lot of other things which are done by yourself. You can't sort of dip into some easy guide and have it all done for you.

Did the composition of your last book entwine you more with Hackney or did you finally extricate yourself from the area?

In the short term it entwined me much more, because I got very much drawn into taking part in all the stuff that's going on here. Four nights a week, solidly, from February to now, I've just been doing stuff locally. Dozens and dozens of people have come with the projects they're doing and wanted me to see them or contribute to them. So in a sense it ultimately involved me more in the area. But in other senses I feel I would now like to disappear into the landscape and keep well clear of it.

But you can't now…

I mean, we're not going to win. Whatever it is I'm writing about will be comprehensively wiped out by what's happening. The whole of Dalston Lane is going to disappear into this kind of Barratt monolith, and around Morning Lane around Ridley Road. So I think people will become much more fragmented, and the lines of energy which I talk a lot about will be broken up. I think the whole psychology of Dalston is going to become much more neurotic, nervous and dangerous.

I live there…

Good! Good! That makes it interesting.

Do you think the Olympic Committee is it a malevolent force?

I think so.  Big time. I think they were so mendacious that a level of malignancy has been embedded into the system. In the same way that now the whole kind of nonsense with the MPs and their swine-like behaviour that's supposedly minor- 'it's all within the body of the law' blah blah blah - but unveils a system of double standards, greed, madness …and with the Olympics it's is the same thing but on a vast, vast scale. And at a time of financial meltdown it's economic insanity for a kind of folly of a project that involves huge expulsion of so much which is of value, and the destruction of the whole kind of environment, to present something that is totally unreal and only for a very short space of time. And all that's left behind is what? A sort of monstrous shopping mall, like Westfield in Shepherd's Bush.

Have you taken much interest in the aftermath of the Beijing Olympics?

Yeah I have. I haven't been there but I've talked to a few Chinese people. It's moderately grim and in places like Athens it's very grim, a total disaster. They've got these huge stadiums totally unused and just rotting, rotting away. They can't afford to keep them up and there's no use for them. They're going to be paying them off for the next fifty years, and the break up in Greek society, with young people taking to the streets and feeling really, really disaffected, is all  very much to do with what happened with the Olympics, and all the debts that have been incurred to push through with this grand project that only revealed this moral bankruptcy and left  this catalogue of ruins. The only way it works is if you incorporate the games into structures that are already there, which can be done and to some extent if they had gone to France that would have happened.

Where does the motivation come from?

That's interesting. It's in part the hubristic sense that you still have it, you're the equal of China, you're still a player in the majors, when in fact you're not - you're a kind of offshore airstrip for the Americans. Politicians love these ceremonies, if you go back to Berlin in 1936 - that's really what it's about, the occult business of carrying the Olympic torch. You want something occult that's it, that's a kind of major public occult ceremony.

I liked your description of Thatcher's immediate deterioration upon leaving office as indicating that she had been sort of unhooked from some black magical power source…

We created her as much as she was psychically tapping on our  bad will. All the bad will around was focussed on her, a sort of Metropolis robot creation, the ugliest thoughts and aspirations of the whole country, which gave her that dynamic and insane energy. And as you say, when she's unhooked she kind of crumbles away like an old mummy.

What do you make of Blair's recent bouncing good health, he seems very well?

He looks like a vampire; he was always a freakish, cartoon creation that was always grinning and bouncing, but again with zero content. Then he buys into the Catholic Church, he's like a Dan Brown character.

And what would be his esoteric archetype?

I'm not sure which one, but he definitely is from that territory. Much less powerful than Thatcher, but maybe he was just in the spirit of his own times. He's a chip, a kind of virtual fragment; he doesn't really exist at all, there's so little there. And he also had the sense to get off screen before it all really hit the fan, leaving this sort of lumbering, material creature - Brown - to pick up the flack for him.

It looks now a bit as if Blair was some sort of protective shield around the government, and in his sudden absence they're completely exposed.

Well he does confirm this idea that politics is a totally occult practise. You jumble all the elements together, create this shining, sort of hermaphroditic figure who just carries it all and then you remove him and everything's wiped out and you start again. All these other figures like Cameron and Clegg are just clones of Blair, they're the same thing, but it doesn't quite work yet because they've got almost too much content. But [Blair] began to look quite ill towards the end...

I thought that Iain might be interested in the Maitreya saga I discussed in my second and third posts. After the interview was over I switched off the recorder and (with a flick of the nose and my best off the record voice) began to tell him about Share International, Benjamin Crème and the Brick Lane messiah. By the time I was finished the mild curiosity in his eyes was completely extinguished; it was as if I'd just 'broken the news' that Princess Dianna was dead.

"Yes, I've written about that story," he explained.

"Oh. Where?"

"I think it was in White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings."

"Ah. I haven't read that one. And you know that he supposedly lives  in Brick Lane?"

"Yes of course - the entire book's about the area."

Naturally! So I recommend readers interested in further information and analysis of the Maitreya phenomenon look to the aforementioned title.

Sinclair disappeared with the same speed with which he arrived, departing with such haste that I forgot to ask him to scribble in some of the titles I had crammed into my rucksack, which then may as well have been full of bricks so far as my walk home was concerned - my stroll back to the 'neurotic, nervous and dangerous' (if impeccably fashionable) Dalston.  

23-May-2011 Thomas McGrath

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