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iain sinclair interview
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Unreal city.“It’s used a lot by Satanists,” says Iain Sinclair, London’s foremost psychogeographer, as we approach a menacingly derelict church. “Stoke Newington’s an epic centre of black magic. You can see the symbol of the eye in the triangle on the wall there. A lot of bodies have been dug out of graves; it’s a fake Gothic church that’s been overwhelmed by a gothic reality.” Spend time with Sinclair, either in book form or in person, as we’re doing one overcast afternoon in an overgrown Victorian cemetery, and your surroundings rapidly become richer than you suspected them to be. It’s such investigations of the cityscape, both physical and emotional, that make up London: City Of Disappearances, a compellingly immersive new literary compendium edited by Sinclair.
Sinclair’s vision of London, and that of the 50-odd other writers and artists – including Will Self, Marina Warner, Alan Moore, Stewart Home and JG Ballard - who have contributed pieces to the book, is inimical to chainstore homogeneity, willfully at odds with the “City Hall version of London” and the airbrushed projections of the Olympic Committee. “The reason for doing the book in the end was a sense of threat, a sense that there is a mendacious, top-led voice that gives descriptions of London that I can’t recognise at all. You look at the River Lea and at the moment it’s just a carpet of green algae filled with dead fish and dead dogs. All the Olympic building work is on top of toxic sites – glue factories, piles of maggoty bones – and you can’t clear all that overnight, which is what’s constantly attempted and never works, so you end up with some freakish compromise that looks like JG Ballard’s science fiction.”
Not that such developer-led attacks on London are a cause for despair. “I think more than any other city, London absorbs whatever horrors are enacted upon it,” Sinclair insists. “We can swallow Millennium Wheels, Domes, all of these things. Whatever’s put up is absorbed into the story and narrative of London.” It’s the work of curators as discerning and dedicated as Sinclair, and testaments as involving as those he has collected here, that enable the city’s sprawling narrative to continue to resonate.
London: City of Disappearances, edited by Iain Sinclair, out now published by Hamish Hamilton.
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