online: 22 may 2004
modified: 22 may 2004

(designed to be read with the window set to two-thirds of the screen width)

21 may 2004 new culture

15:33 Slept or dozed after lunch to 15:00 or so and then, hearing the end of Wordsworth's 'Michael'* on BBC Radio 4, I read the original - feeling that I know Wordsworth a little better now.

What marvellous books there are about me here - and only partly read. But the parts I have read ... have indeed made life for me... more than I could imagine without them. I feel now as if, while reading, I left this room and circumstance to inhabit the world of Michael: the shepherd, his wife, their son who went away, and the sheepfold that he was building in old age but never finished. A story of simplicity and sadness in an ordinary life, seen as heroic.

17:20 Station:
Leaving an urgent problem unsolved I felt like a bad boy out of school. But, as soon as I entered the (very mild) street life here (between flat and station) I became re-energised and began to think again of restart... I recalled it's leading idea: to omit the imposed fiction of social reality as it is and instead to link the sublime directly to the concrete...

And then I asked myself if utopian fictions make this connection while omitting the social reality, so called? I saw immediately that William Morris's News from Nowhere** does not. It is not a new vision of industrial life - it's a humane but economically impossible version. And then I asked myself if Yevgeny Zamyatin's We*** is a new vision of life as we know it? I realised that it too (and perhaps all such fantasies) are impossible versions of things as they are or were - they are not social inventions. They do not question or rethink the social form itself, the rigidity of hierarchy and specialisation and all that, the daftness of the wheel and its inhuman consequences. These famous utopias and dystopias (I thought to myself) are just silly extensions or extrapolations of life as it is, they are not serious attempts to improve it.

Encouraged by this designerly thought I asked myself if the fiction I seek to write isa serious attempt and, yes, I think it is (ifI can write it).

In the train:
This seems to me a powerful thought. I look out at the vast new development of the King's Cross railway interchange , still in progress, and at earlier generations of social housing that we passed soon after. What of these, the social reality as it most certainly is, or was? To me they seem to be social fantasies made real by economic and legislative force... but not rethinkings or liberations.

Yes, this is a critical moment in what I am about.

18:37 At the end of my walk:
I saw 6 baby swans in pond 1 with the female. The male has disappeared for the moment. How many will survive? Last year 6 were hatched and 3 survive even now in pond 2. Their life seems very hazardous here, with dogs, fishermen, and a rival flock of geese contending for the same niche... And perhaps our own lives are now in greater danger than we think?

My thoughts return to social fantasies. I suppose the whole of so-called social reality of industrially organised human life (outside the life of tribal people) is 'silly' also - in that, if I knew all the factors that have formed it, I would reshape it very differently (assuming that I am able to interpret social influences and technical forces free of the economic and social self-interest that I think distorts them?).

As I returned to pond 1 there were two boys imitating ancient warriors with sticks for spears which they threw towards the pond with 'terrible shouts' while the woman who was with them smiled at what they were doing. 'Boys!' I said as I passed her - and she laughed... Further on a man and a woman were fooling about, mock fighting, as if they too were imitating something... No, I think they were just interacting, physically, in a way that is slightly outside the social norm but is clearly harmless - and affectionate!

* 'Michael' in The Oxford Authors, William Wordsworth, edited by Stephen Gill, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, 1990, pages 224 to 236. ISBN 0-19-281333-1. Originally published in Lyrical Ballads, and a few other poems, Bristol 1798.

** William Morris, News from Nowhere, or an epoch of rest, being some chapters from a utopian romance, edited by James Redmond, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London and Boston (Mass.) 1970.

*** Yevgeny Zamyatin, We, Translated by Guilbert Guerney, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1972.

what's new


digital diary archive

© 2002, 2003 john chris jones

You may transmit this text to anyone for any non-commercial purpose if you include the copyright line and this notice and if you respect the copyright of quotations.

If you wish to reproduce any of this text commercially please send a copyright permission request to jcj at