Sunday in Shanghai

Before this I was in Beijing. Perhaps, without crippling jet lag, it might have been fine. But with this, and the dust storm, it was pretty dreadful.

Shockingly, I only have good things to say about Shanghai. It is clean and modern without being antiseptic. Behind East Nanjing Road (pictured below) there are still smaller, older streets without the hysteria of consumerism. As posters on every surface tell us: only 4o days till EXPO! This is a huge international gathering of ideas about architecture and design- the stills look very promising.

Next stop: Huizhou, about which I know nothing other than that my old colleauge Mr Ma (who used to be a spy) is now teaching there.

Horrible news

Barry Hannah, a writer who could make a sentence twist and kick and still make sense, has died aged 67. It would be incorrect to say that his books have influenced me greatly- it is something they still, and will, continue to do. High Lonesome is as good as any place to start. I hope that some of the stories’ titles put a hook in you:

‘Ned Maxy, He watching you.’

‘Snerd and Niggero’

‘Through Sunset into the Racoon Night’

‘Taste like a sword’

‘Get some young’

He had this to say about his writing:

“There’s a ghost in every story. Something haunts the story and you’re turning those pages to find out what it is. And it better be good. I’d better be good, or just shut up.”

An old interview with Hannah, from 1993: Barry Hannah Interview with Don Swaim

Inherent Vice, Chapter 20

PLOT- Doc’s parents try to score weed off him… Sauncho and Doc go to watch the Golden Fang being repossessed… Coy is finally freed of his obligations.


While gazing at photos Doc sees their details become little blobs of colour.

It was as if whatever had happened had reached some kind of limit. It was like finding the gateway to the past unguarded, unforbidden because it didn’t have to be. Built into the act of return finally was this glittering mosaic of doubt. Something like what Sauncho’s colleagues in marine insurance liked to call inherent vice.

“Is that like original sin?” Doc wondered.

“It’s what you can’t avoid.”

This is about the problem of knowing the past (history), and with the added spin being what seems to underline last chapter’s conclusion- it really is what you can’t avoid. But maybe this is a step sideways from the karmic equation- there isn’t the suggestion of wrongdoing.


Doc’s parents complain that after smoking weed the soap they watch becomes hard to understand- identities and faces shift, either because they are befuddled, or because some veil has been stripped away.

p. 354

I think there’s a joke in the fact that Doc is still only wearing one shoe here, long after his escape from Prussia’s place. I’d like it to be suggesting that he’s waiting for the other shoe to drop- which would tie in nicely with the whole this-is-a-mystery-but-everyone’s-avoiding-answers theme.

p. 355

Doc imagines, then perhaps shifts to remembering, Bigfoot when he first came to Gordita.

“This place has been cursed from the jump” he told anybody who’d listen. “Indians lived here long ago. they had a drug cult, smoked tolache which is jimsonweed, gave themselves hallucinations, deluded themselves they were visiting other realities- why come to think of it, not unlike the hippie freaks of our present day. Their graveyards were sacred portals of access to the spirit world, not to be misued. And Gordita beach is built right on top of one.”

The jump seems part of the record/groove image set- and Bigfoot is of course missing the point. There’s no need to make a supernatural explanation up- the reality of disposession is bad enough.

They were hard to see and hard to catch hold of, these Indian spirits. You plodded along in pursuit, maybe only wanting to apologize, and they flew like the wind, and waited their moment…

“What’re you looking at?” Saunco said.

“Where I live.”

There is a sense of complicity in Doc’s reply.


At the end of the chapter, when Coy is thanking Doc, what should be a happy moment instead has a sour tone.

“Yeah, yeah, some hippie made that up.” These people, man. Don’t know nothin.

It is as if, after all Doc has seen and heard, he can no longer count himself among the ranks of the happily unenlightened. This is an old theme, that of the hero-becoming-an-exile-from-the-community-he-has-fought-to-protect. Like John Wayne in The Searchers (1956).

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