26 February, 2009

Glebe Place

Glebe Place, off the King's Road, Chelsea: home of artists since the 1880s. Fine old houses, in a variety of styles, although not quite as beautiful as those on Old Church Road and its neighbours north of the high street. Next to the Open Air Nursery School, at the street's elbow, where it curves towards Bramerton Street, and then down to Cheyne Row and Cheyne Walk—number 50, a folly, done up in a patinate Mediterranean baroque:

This picture taken not by me, but by Jamie Barras. Built, as Barras tells us, for Sir Frank Lowe, advertising magus, and completed in 1987. The sheer ridiculousness of the facade! With its plaques, statues, ivies, metalwork, pink and green. And with a date on the gutter hopper, as became popular in the twentieth century, reading. . . 1723! It would not be out of place at Portmeirion.

Nobody is about, except two georgeously posh old mums twittering a few doors up. The light is not much good, even at midday or so. In the entrance-way, just next to the large filigree-worked double doors, on the left hand side, this, most preposterously of all:

Which either is, or very much resembles, a painting of Sir Frank himself, done in a pastiche Flemish-Renaissance style. I mean, isn't it? Heavy lids, generous nose, broad brow, the rest one can put down to a couple of decades and artistic licence. Only the painter has made him crueller and more calculative.

The possibility remains that Lowe simply found an old burgher who resembled him, but I doubt it. There is a delight, after endless walking in the grit and grime of the suburbs northeast of the City, where there are yet pleasures in the efflorescences of penniless artistic statement, and in the fragments of the old ekeing amid the new and broken, in all the undone, there is a delight here, in Chelsea, in the decadent prettiness of it all, the comfort and the devil-may-care, in good money spent idiosyncratically if not well.

17 February, 2009

On Neologism, Part Two

[Part One here.]

The Good Book.

Lily and I—and, indeed, the rest of you, from afar—are approaching the fifth anniversary of our first romantic entanglement. At times like these we enjoy reminiscing about that first date of ours, which culminated, qua date, with us sitting on the bed, me reading to her, in my sonorous English voice, from her favourite Edward Gorey tale, 'The Unstrung Harp'. This was my introduction to Gorey, and I was sufficiently intrigued to read through the rest of his collected stories. One which we enjoy recalling is 'The Beastly Baby'. It is difficult to forget this monstrosity, unable to sleep by virtue of its guilty conscience, and, as we see here, frequently abandoned by its unfortunate parents, in the vain hope of being rid of the thing:

One wonders if Gorey had in mind Stephen Leacock's story, 'The Inexplicable Infant', from Nonsense Novels (1911). He must have known it. Here we have the same idea, delivered in the same deadpan, dry and black:
She had taken the baby and laid it tenderly, gently on a seat in the park. Then she walked rapidly away. A few minutes after a man had chased after Caroline with the little bundle in his arms. "I beg your pardon," he said, panting, "I think you left your baby in the park." Caroline thanked him.

Next she took the baby to the Grand Central Waiting-room, kissed it tenderly, and laid it on a shelf behind the lunch-counter. A few minutes an official, beaming with satisfaction, had brought it back to her. "Yours, I think, madame," he said, as he handed it to her. Caroline thanked him.

Then she had left it at the desk of the Waldorf Astoria, and at the ticket-office of the subway.

It always came back.
This 'nonsense novel' is not best of the collection: for my money, that would be '"Q." A Psychic Pstory of the Psupernatural'. It does, however, contain one brilliant joke. The poor farmer in his rural homestead, all clichés present and correct, is comforted by his wife:
"Ah, John, you'd better be employed in reading the Good Book than in your wild courses. Here take it, father, and read it"--and she handed to him the well-worn black volume from the shelf. Enderby paused a moment and held the volume in his hand. He and his wife had known nothing of religious teaching in the public schools of their day, but the first-class non-sectarian education that the farmer had received had stood him in good stead. "Take the book," she said. "Read, John, in this hour of affliction; it brings comfort."

The farmer took from her hand the well-worn copy of Euclid's Elements, and laying aside his hat with reverence, he read aloud: "The angles at the base of an isoceles triangle are equal, and whosoever shall produce the sides, lo, the same also shall be equal each unto each."
Likewise, at the end of the story, Enderby has learned his lesson: 'Ah, my sons, henceforth let us stick to the narrow path. What is it that the Good Book says: 'A straight line is that which lies evenly between its extreme points.'' The comic potential of the confusing the Book with some other bible is a classic. One of my favourite instances is from an otherwise rather dull short story, by a literary overreacher, fool's gold: Alasdair Gray's 'Logopandocy', from his Unlikely Stories, Mostly (1983). In this dialogue, 'Cromwell's Latin secretary' confronts a pro-Royalist Scottish aristocrat in his gaol-cell at the Tower in 1653, Midsummer's Eve. The secretary, Paradise Lost still but a gleam in his eye, says:
When time is ripe for it, my verse will do far more than illuminate the best essence of Thomas Malory's text, it will translate, clarify and augment the greatest and most truly Original Book in the Universe.
On which the aristocrat—the story's narrator—remarks to himself:
Such is my aim also, and I am thunderstruck to discover in the Puritan camp one who admires the work of Rabelais as greatly as I do.
The Scotsman is, of course, Sir Thomas Urquhart, whose translation of the first two books of Gargantua and Pantagruel was published that very year. Now Urquhart was the literary neologist par excellence of his century. And so, finally, we arrive again at neologism, having faffed and fumbled about for far too long with other matters of relative insignficance.


I doubt Leacock would have cherished Urquhart. In the last of the Nonsense Novels, 'The Man of Asbestos'—unlike the others a story without humour, a sermon on dystopia, more Puteicis—the eponymous Man, a grey creature of the technological future, shows the narrator, to the latter's disgust, one of the scars where his education has been surgically implanted:
Here is the mark where I had my spherical trigonometry let in. That was, I admit, rather painful, but other things, such as English poetry or history, can be inserted absolutely without the least suffering.
To appreciate Urquhart, and not merely to be quaintly amused by him, one has to be the sort of person who values spherical trigonometry over poetry and history. Urquhart's treatise on the subject, the Trissotetras of 1645, must rank as one of the least intelligible mathematical works known to man. In one of the three dedicatory epistles—'An Epaenetick and Doxologetick Expresse, in Commendation of this Book and the Author Thereof, to all Philomathets', written by one 'J. A.' but sounding suspiciously like Urquhart himself—it is claimed that 'the abstrusest difficulties of this science by him [are] so neatly unfolded' that we should rank the author with his hero, the great Scottish mathematician John Napier. We also get a preposterous panegyric to Urquhart's erudition by the well-known Scottish polymath, Alexander Ross: 'Hoc duce, jam Lybicos poteris superare calores, / Atque pati Scythici frigora saeva poli.'

Within the fortress of the text itself, abstruse difficulties are merely manufactured. 'In amblygonosphericalls,' claims Urquhart, 'which admit both of an extrinsecall and intrinsecall demission of the perpendicular, nineteen severall parts are to be considered; viz. the perpendicular, the subtendentall, the subtendentine, two cosubtendents, the basall, the basidion, the chief segment of the base, two cobases, the double verticall, the verticall, the verticaline, two coverticalls, the next cathetopposite, the prime cathetopposite, and the two cocathetopposites.' Almost none of these words, of course, are listed in the OED. Urquhart comments on these 'Greek and Latin terms', which
for the more efficacy of expression I have made use of in this Treatise; in doing whereof, that I might both instruct the Reader and not weary him, I have endeavoured perspicuity with shortnesse; though, I speak it ingenuously, to have been more prolixe therein could have cost but very little labor to me. . .
One will readily believe that additional prolixity would have cost Urquhart very little, as suggested by the ellipsis truncating the above quotation. At any rate, the 'Lexidicion' which follows thereon attempts to explain each of the barbarous coinages found in the work, including, among those not above, obliquangulary, 'of all angles that are not right', poliechyrologie, 'the art of fortifying townes and cities', and my favourite, plusminused, 'said of moods which admit of mensurators, or whose illatitious termes are the never same, but either more or less then the maine quaesitas'. At this point one has the sensation of being suffocated with verbal ivy, a riot of syllabic curlicues, involving the throat.

In addition are the names of trigonometric figures; for these Urquhart deliberately follows his mediaeval forebears in logic (barbara, celarent) and music (gammuth, fa-so-la-ti-do), and coins words artificially stuck together from significant syllables. Thus, dacramfor is composed of da, 'the datas', cra, 'the concurse of a given and required side', m, 'a tangent complement', and for, 'outwardly'. Dacramfor is not in the OED; nor any of its myriad fellows.
The novelty of these words I know will seeme strange to some, and to the eares of illiterate hearers sound like termes of conjuration; yet seeing that since the very infancie of learning, such inventions have beene made use of, and new words coyned, that the knowledge of severall things representatively confined within a narrow compasse, might the more easily be retained in a memory susceptible of their impression. . . I know not why Logick and Musick should be rather fitted with such helps then Trigonometrie.
So many words, words, words! It is a classic seventeenth-century argument, nonetheless, and all the Royal Society fellows would be at it soon after. But why no admittance to the hallowed Dictionary? You will say, I know: these words are only used once! What use could they be? Let them perish at the rockface! And to you I reply, lickety-split:
prostisciutto, n. nonce-wd. [Blend of PROSTITUTE adj. and PROSCIUTTO n.] A female prostitute regarded metaphorically as an item on a menu. Perhaps with allusion to MEAT and related slang metaphors. 1930 S. BECKETT Whoroscope 1, "What's that? A little green fry or a mushroomy one? Two lashed ovaries with prostisciutto?"
A punning portmanteau from Beckett's Joyceolatrous juvenilia, used once in the history of the language, until the carrion scholars descended to feast on Beckett's early poetry, and had to quote him. Well, the OED likes to encourage young authors. How about older words?
scientintically, adv. A burlesque nonce-word, formed by a blending of scientifically and tint. 1761 STERNE Tr. Shandy III. v, "He must have redden'd, pictorically and scientintically speaking, six whole tints and a half. . . above his natural colour."
But come now! Everyone knows and loves Tristram Shandy! Who, by contrast, cares for old Urquhart?
cidentine, a. nonce-wd. (See quot.) 1653 URQUHART Rabelais II. xxxii, "As we have with us the countreys cisalpine and transalpine. . . so have they there the Countreys cidentine and tradentine, that is, behither and beyond the teeth."
A word for describing the location of countries within a giant's mouth, from a particular episode of Pantagruel: an integral part of the English language, no doubt. But stay, this is still somewhat Rabelais, 'tis in his book, even if it is not him as such ('. . . aussi ont-ilz deçà et delà les dentz'). What do you have in the way of pure Urquhart?
disobstetricate, v. Obs. nonce-wd. trans. To reverse the office of a midwife concerning; to retard or hinder from child-birth. 1652 URQUHART Jewel Wks. (1834) 210, "With parturiencie for greater births, if a malevolent time disobstetricate not their enixibility."
Too corny. Anything else?
epassyterotically, adv. [f. Gr. epassúteron, one upon another; cf. chaotically.] 1652 URQUHART Jewel Wks. (1834) 249, "He killed seven of them epassyterotically, that is, one after another."
Yes, that's better, yes. . .
hirquitalliency, n. Obs. nonce-wd. [f. L. hirquitallī-re (of infants) to acquire a strong voice (f. hircus he-goat) + -ENCY.] 1652 URQUHART Jewel 125, "To speak of her hirquitalliency."
Ah-ha! You see, again and again the OED tongues words out of The Jewel, or, to give its more authentic title, as the 2008 draft revision does (s.v. penitissim), Ekskubalauron. There are dozens of these vocables in the dictionary, each with only one citation, and that from The Jewel. None was used earlier, none has been used since. They are, strictly speaking—at least until this very post—Modern English hapax legomena. Or, as the Dictionary's first great editor, James Murray, put it, nonce words. The OED lists nonce word—'a word apparently used only ‘for the nonce’, i.e. on one specific occasion or in one specific text or writer's works'—and, in a delicious mise-en-abyme, quotes itself.

But not a single entry from the Trissotetras. Why is the one work slighted for the other? The one was surely known, as The Jewel is commonly cited from Urquhart's 1834 Works, which includes both treatises. Is it that the OED accepts such words only from 'literary' works, like Whoroscope, Tristram Shandy, Pantagruel, and, let us suppose, The Jewel? This cannot be the case: not only is The Jewel hardly literature in the same category as the others, being, among other things, a treatise on universal languages, and a panegyric to Scotland—but, as we saw in the last instalment, the OED is quite happy citing blas from technical books of the seventeenth century. So why?


Perhaps admittance into Murray's temple, or that of his descendants, is an aesthetic act. Or even an ethical one. Prosticiutto, scientintically, hirquitalliency: fine, bold, strong pieces, vivid, if a little rococo. What etymological fantasias they conjure! How they expand the language, as brooches pinned on the plainer stuff of a good prose or verse. And blas, too: a noble attempt, if ultimately in vain, to affix the vocabulary of a nascent and uncertain science. Into our society, along our finely-ordonnanced colonnades, we allow a hint of wonder, of the clamour of past voices, to prove we are not prudes, not puritans. We encourage diversity. As the people need their carnival or Saturnalia, the release of bottled energy, so the dictionary needs its nonce-words, to throw the makes and thises and perspicuouses into clearer relief, as good, upstanding members of lexical populace.

But— but this, this horror: this Trissotetras. All puffed up with arrogant frankensteins, choked and garbled, a masturbatory mess of syllables. Like that other book— what was it, yes? Finnegan's something? No expansion of the society, of the literature, of the language, just halls of heavy mirrors closed off to the world. We cannot encourage that sort of thing. Pantagruel we allow; The Jewel we allow. But not this Trissotetras. It may not be admitted to the Law. Let us abandon this beastly baby on a doorstep.

Will it be officious of me to observe that the Trissotetras is in danger of being left behind?

I say again, perhaps this doorkeeping is an aesthetic or ethical activity. The descriptivists, God bless them, want a grammar and a dictionary that do not prescribe, but only record. Who can blame them? As one of them recently said, 'how a language is used in the present is much more interesting than how it should be “properly” used'. Dealing with the fringes of the language—the neologisms, the portmanteaux and the nonce-words—we seem to see the necessity of choice. The lexical galaxy gets thinner, dimmer, as we recede from the centre; but it extends, in half-attested substance, to infinity. To admit all stray elements would be to admit typos, half-finished words, proper names, dords, and in all languages. Some words attested only once are accepted; others not. Thus we are forced to observe the rôle of personal judgement, unanswerable to absolute reasoning. The arbiters of the language, when their voice wavers, tell us why they arbitrate; what they would see in the Good Book.

12 February, 2009

High Table

And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves.
Thanks to the internet, we can prove Socrates wrong. Yesterday Hayden White broke a ten-month silence on his own blog, and added the same text as a comment to my last post, taking me to task for taking him to task for his presentation to the Courtauld Institute last week. Naturally I am honoured—and I'm not being ironical—by his presence. And here is my reply:


Many thanks for taking the time to comment on my post; if I had known you would turn up in the audience, I would have minded my manners more. But I didn't, and must live with my own rudeness. Now, it would be disingenuous for me to take back what I have written, and so I will not; but I should observe at least that, in the heat of making a particular argument, one's overall perspective may be obscured. Indeed, a friend of sorts, who enjoys patronising me, has already commented, in light of this very confrontation, that 'Conrad is young and enjoys slashing attacks without much in the way of nuance'.

It is not true that my opinion of your work (or you) is 'totally hostile'. I was critical of your 'speech'—I would not call it a speech, which I think of as a more formal oration—because I thought it lacked substance. It was certainly entertaining, which immediately set it above the vast majority of lectures or papers one hears. I have no problem with garrulity or with America or Americanity, as my wife's response above should make clear. Nor did I expect you to be more, nor would I want you to be more, still less would I want every academic to be, 'donnish' or 'quietly authoritative'. Donnish and adventurous, quiet and aggressive—both have their place, as I myself more mutedly suggested in my comment above, that "there is [a] place for Whites as well as Murrays." And I did like Metahistory: I appreciated its grandeur, and moreover, opined here that 'much of it is convincing'. Suffice to say, it would not be hard to find a less sympathetic, more hostile opinion of your work than mine. If I had found your views uninteresting, I would not have come to hear you at the Courtauld.

I have no idea if the audience liked your speech; it is always difficult to get a measure of these things. One or two people I spoke to, certainly, seemed awed by your breadth of reference. I was also embarrassed—on your behalf—by the vacuous questions you were asked after you'd finished. But such, perhaps, are the inevitable dangers of these events. At any rate, whether the audience liked you or not makes no difference to the quality of your argument.

As for Momigliano, I have no doubt that you are infinitely more familiar with his work than am I; and that he was a perfect gentleman both in person and on the page. What I wrote, however, was that he penned not a 'devastating attack' on you, but a 'rather damning review' of your work, which is surely compatible with a politesse of tone, and even with intellectual respect; furthermore, my expression, unlike yours, does not commit me to agreeing with him. The subject of Momigliano's fascism, while interesting, is not remotely germane to the discussion at hand, nor to your speech. But when you write,
It is true that he believed that "Dov'e la rettorica, non c'e la storia," but if he really believed that he would also have had to deny that the whole of historiography written prior to the 19th century (from Herodotus to Gibbon) was real historiography!
you are merely contradicting yourself. Either he did not believe it, in which case it is not true that he did, or he did believe it, in which case, either he did deny that pre-Rankean historiography was genuine—and I don't believe he did—or he would have rejected your reasoning. Is it not possible to argue that, for a Gibbon—in whom, let us assume, there is both rettorica and storia—the extent to which a particular passage is rettorica is the extent to which it is not storia? In other words, although rhetoric and history may be mixed together in a work, even indistinguishably, like hydrogen and oxygen in water, might they at least be conceptually distinct? Why must we deal in absolutes?
My lecture at the Courtauld was in defense of returning historical research from its pretensions to the status of a "science" back to its service as branch of moral philosophy. . . on the grounds that a purely scientific or objective account of any set of facts can never be of any service to the "present."
This is a laudable intention, and one that Momigliano could only have sympathised with: his own project was described in exactly these terms by Murray and others last week. Murray himself, moreover, defended your philosophy of history as having moral value. But I am surprised that you allow even the possibility of a 'purely scientific or objective account of any set of facts'; and I am not convinced that your own defense adds much to what we have already, for instance from the myriad authorities you yourself quoted, from Nietzsche to Oakeshott. The statement that a set of facts 'can never be of any service to the present' seems little more than a historiographical reiteration of the age-old is-ought problem.

Furthermore, it is pointless to argue that 'The idea of the "practical past" would turn historical inquiry to the service of reformist movements in historical thinking', since it is these very species of historiography—the feminist, post-colonial, and so on—that have dominated academia for the past two decades or more. Who needs a defense of the status quo?

The real problem with the claims you made at the Courtauld is that they were not supported by any serious examination of actual cases. Which is not to say that they could not be so supported: it was a lazy speech because you expected your audience to take your word for it, ballasting your claims not with examples and evidence, but with references to previous philosophers who have said much the same, and devised terminology for the purpose. This is why the following assertion rings hollow:
I am all in favor of leaving professional historians to do their work of excavating facts about specific parts of the past, and giving out information about this past that can never imply anything about how this information might relate to the efforts of present individuals and groups to derive some "knowledge" about human self-making.
The impossibility that you describe is precisely what Murray achieved in his paper on Momigliano. Murray excavated facts about the eighteenth century, and in doing so could produce specific evidence of the flaws in his subject's efforts to comprehend man. Momigliano, he argued, misunderstood the process of history because he denied the intimate connections between 'fiction' and 'history'. Made baldly, this is is an uninteresting, or at least an unpersuasive statement. But made with reference to 'specific parts of the past', it begins to have authority and conviction. For a philosopher so fascinated with rhetoric, you must appreciate the value of winning the assent of your more critical listeners, and this requires not just names but facts, or if you would prefer, fact-like things.

I hope the discussion will not end here.

[Update: Discussion seems to have ended here.]

07 February, 2009

White and Momigliano

Hayden White spoke at the Courtauld on Wednesday night. Ken Clarke Lecture Theatre, a grand old room in pink, with white trim, like the inside of a wedding cake. A ghastly introduction from a fawning ex-student, not redeemed, but rather aggravated, by its kitschy, self-conscious irony. Hayden White is the king of irony. Then we clapped her off stage to make way for the master himself. White spoke for three quarters of an hour, with the utmost geniality, casually sweating references—Wittgenstein, Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Vico, Hugh Blair, Cicero, Dante, Winckelmann, Gombrich, Oakeshott, er, Toni Morrison, and so on, not to mention plenty of Hayden White. At the end of it, none of us was any the wiser. He was supposed to be talking about 'Novelesque Histories', apparently the (rather radical) notion that novels can be history too. I mean, just think of Walter Scott—Hegel thought him a great historian! After an hour he apologised for having no slides: this was, remember, at the Courtauld Institute, and he was lecturing to most of a roomful of art history graduates. Then he remembered he had some, and wheeled out some pictures of webs spun by spiders on drugs: an internet meme over a decade old. Still, it got the laughs. White said it was supposed to be a metaphor for the way literary history works, but it was a better metaphor for his own maundering, barely-coherent presentation. White, it seemed to me, was still trading off Metahistory, a book which had a few worthwhile ideas when he published it in 1973, even if it has been grossly overrated, then and since. Now he is a charming and erudite drunk*, still enjoying a meal of thirty years past, clean out of ideas.


None of which would have been worth writing a post on, if I hadn't attended a lecture today by Oswyn Murray, its subject ostensibly being '[Arnaldo] Momigliano and the Eighteenth Century'. Now, Momigliano wrote a rather damning review of Metahistory in his 1981 article, 'The Rhetoric of History and the History of Rhetoric: on Hayden White's Tropes'. White's basic point had been—and still is, apparently—that historiography is a branch of rhetoric, and that the way one writes history is governed by the same sorts of rhetorical tropes as are found in oratory and fictional literature. Style becomes more important than truth: what could be more postmodern? Momigliano, the old-guard Warburg philologian, objected: what sense can we make of history if we forget that it centres on facts and problems? He wrote:
As the history of historiography is basically a study of individual historians, no student of the history of historiography does his work properly unless he is capable of telling me whether the historian or historians he has studied used the evidence in a satisfactory way.
Amélie Kuhrt, in the discussion after Murray's paper, described Momigliano's response to White as a moral distaste: the aim of historiography should be an ethical engagement with the problems of the past in relation to those of the present, not mere games with words and ideas, as White, the formalist, wanted to give us. Murray himself was more sympathetic to White. His paper, as charmingly delivered as White's, and with ten times the content, wanted to reconfigure Momigliano's map of narrative historiography in the Enlightenment. The old Italian, Murray observed, had paid too much attention to Gibbon, and scorned, to his own detriment, writers of literature: John Gast, for instance, or Walter Scott, who, as Murray pointed out, had been prized as a historian by Hegel and Carlyle. Novelists will tell you what colour trousers people wore, so to speak: and that was most important to the historian sniffing for clues.

What struck me was the contrast between White, American hero of the culture wars, and Murray, donnish, British, quietly authoritative. Both made the same point, or similar, and with the same example: the one rambling and blustering, bursting with comments on the Great Philosophers, the other excavating, methodically, a moment of history, letting the scholarship do its own talking, allowing the little to speak for the big. It has been a week to renew one's faith in the Murrays of the academic world.

* Not literally, of course. He may be, as well—but that is not what I meant.

[Update: Hayden White comments, here and on his own blog. Greg links. Steve sneers. Greg defends my honour. I respond to White. "Verstegan" defends my honour. Steve sneers again, with a dash of sanctimonious hypocrisy: my favourite kind! Thanks to all.]

01 February, 2009

London Belongs To—

(In homage to, via intermittent pastiche of, the long defunct, and the funct, too.)

Woken by a saleswoman of uncertain ethnicity; voice sounds like a machine, Stephen Hawking. Five minutes go by before she tries to sell me something; I hang up. Band-aid has fallen off my thumb in the night, leaving the dried wound. Breadknife accident, after several beers; a flap of skin cut obliquely, in the shape of Osiris' crook, presaging death, gashed thumb as macabre totem of a journey curving back on itself. Today I will cut a gash of my own onto the London map, inscribe a V in footsteps through the city streets, from King's Cross to the Barbican, and up to Stamford Hill. It is lightly snowing as I leave, a scurrilous fag ash at best; no suitable hat; briefly wonder if I should turn back and ascend the stair (with a bald spot in the middle of my hair). But no; I shall not let myself be ruled by the vagaries of season. London belongs to me, among others. Noon.

Euston Road
Gray's Inn Road
Britannia Street
King's Cross Road

Bagnigge House plaque, well-noted by latterday Fleet River pilgrims. Someone, no doubt Thatcher, has thoughtlessly sited a bus shelter immediately in front, obscuring the view. Travelodge, murderer of London roads.

Lloyd Baker Street
Amwell Street
Rosoman Street
Exmouth Market
Pine Street
Catherine Griffiths Court
Northampton Road

Came to see Lubetkin's Health Centre, now that my attention has been adverted to it. Who would ever even notice it? Not as arresting as the sleek, monochrome photographs make it look. More noteworthy is the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering, which seems to operate under the Health Centre's general auspices, and whose name suggests a Python sketch that never was. Not that Palin has or has ever had a stammer; just that he once played a character with one. Slip round the back, into a bit of greenery, and then through a muset in the hedge, into a gated-off area, trying to get some sense of Lubetkin's derrière, but no luck.

Bowling Green Lane

A little swarm of coppers bombinating from two cars, lights flashing, outside the closed and oversize gates of CZWG Architects, housed in an old 1872 warehouse, dirty yellow brick banded with red, replete with free-floating terracotta tympana, and pulley equipment in period red iron. One of them crouches down to look under the gates; sees nothing; the coppers mutter discontentedly to each other and then disappear into their vehicles, the whole a shamanistic exorcism of deserted weekend Clerkenwell, come to nought.

Farringdon Road
Farringdon Lane
Clerkenwell Green
Aylesbury Street
St John Street
Clerkenwell Road
Old Street
Golden Lane
Golden Lane Estate

By this stage the sun has emerged, appropriately, and the old estate, with its saffron and primrose highlights, beams munificently from above. Sudden view into an apartment, with a bright and impressive roomful of books. Mother and daughter in the indoor pool below. Stains on one wall coalesce into a Leonardo phantasmagoria, faces of an older and more ancient London appearing again to haunt the estate's designer tenants.

"The buildings themselves—a very high density housing estate for the City of London—are sometimes fussy and sometimes weather-beaten. But in a way they are unimportant compared with the spaces between them. Every trick in the book is brought in, and not for cleverness's sake, but to create a real place out of statistical units of accommodation. There are half a dozen ways of crossing the site: along corridors, under buildings, down steps and up ramps. And it is all meant to be used." — Ian Nairn, London.

Fann Street
Fortune Street Gardens

"Scuse me mate, can I ask you a civil question?" Old fellow, beard, well wrapped-up, bright eyes. "Er, yes, go on." "Now, I'm not beggin, I'm not a mugger, I'm not a terrorist, I just wanted to ask you, since I'm sleeping rough these days, if you might happen to have any small change on you." So you. . . are begging? "I'm sorry, I haven't got any change." It's the truth, this time. "Ah well, God bless you son." Sun still out.

Errol Street
Dufferin Court
Bunhill Fields

Defoe's big prick. IT REPRESENTS THE UNITED CONTRIBUTIONS OF SEVENTEEN HUNDRED PERSONS. Blake. Bunyan. "Please nominate this park for a £200k grant," or something to that effect. Let it be derelict and overgrown, I say; let our literary heroes be hidden under creeping weeds, unearthable by dérive-ing Sinclairian enthusiasts. Though they probably won't bother with Defoe or Bunyan; what could these dissenters say to tomorrow's visionaries? A Hoxtonite with a big camera, up on the bench, gets a long view of all the graves.

City Road

One of those transitions of which Nairn is so fond, from the bumbling tombs of Bunhill, and before them the back streets of Peabody Estates, onto City Road, with its distant edging of the City's glass and steel. Brief flick round the Wesleyan Chapel, where I have arrived in the nick of time, as the minister, who appears with a spectral suddenness, tells me the Chapel is closing in fifteen minutes. It is a relief to be out of the terrible cold, at least. The interior is pleasant enough, and its ornamental ceilings are especially fine. Traditional old-timey stained glass in the narthex, facing out into the courtyard, flanked by two windows, modern, painted rather than stained, with a sinister, end-of-days feel, as if a new-century channelling of the old Methodist spirit.

The ship or ark, from which huddled masses stream (via parted waters) towards the foreground, reads -OGOS on the keel, which I take to be LOGOS. To the right, an old fellow fructifies the wanderers with a living river, and a kindly gent in spectacles toys with a branch. To the left, the cyclist's messenger-bag reads JESSEE COURIER, and at the rear of the ice-cream van is Angelos. The council-estate mum buying a coke from the ice-cream man has a child in tow, who is holding a palm-leaf. Rich with pregnant images, the cartoon on the glass is trying to tell us something. Back out into the cold, neither snow nor sun.

Cowper Street
Tabernacle Street
Pitfield Street
Old Street
Kingsland Road

I come across at least two hat shops, and consider making a purchase, since my head and ears are now burning. Endless onslaught of pretty girls, Hoxtonites, in outlandish fashions, even pencil-markings on their faces. I peer at the menu of every Vietnamese restaurant I pass, looking for soft-shell crab. An acquaintance informed me of this delicacy last week, and said this was the place to get it; now I am gagging to try it. But this is not the time. I don't want to sit down just for a single dish, nor to eat alone.

Kingsland Road
Geffrye Court
Kingsland Road
Dunston Road

Over the canal; I decide to call in on Butterfingers, who lives in a warehouse with a bunch of gangly artists. Brilled hair, cream jumper, scuffed brown chelsea boots with pointy brogue toes. Stopping by unannounced, or in this case almost so, is a rare opportunity in this diffuse metropolis, and so I take a peculiar pleasure from it, a perfect half-hour caesura from the march. When I arrive he is cooking up a lovely rösti and fried eggs. Orange juice. Haven't eaten all morning, so it goes down a treat. The great communal room is littered with eccentric bits of furniture and half-realised artworks and statements. One of the gang thinks Federer won the tennis, which gives me cheer. The fag-ash blizzard has begun outside again, but this time we can see the sun still shining as a gangrenous spot through the grey, an image of faint triumph. I ask if I can borrow a hat. He rummages around, but turns up nothing. "It's alright," I say, "I've come this far and I can keep going without one."

Kingsland Road
Kingsland High Street
Stoke Newington Road
Stoke Newington High Street
Stamford Hill
Lynmouth Road

After an evening spent reciting and discussing poetry, mine and others', it is still snowing in Stoke Newington. He walks me to the bus-stop, past the marvelous Egyptian entrance to Abney Park, and I reminisce with him of my walk in the San Francisco downpour. The flakes are thickly glazing our coats, and now coat the streets, deliciously. The 67 takes forever to come, but it's fine, we are good to talk for as long as it may be.

When I get back home, Aubrey is mewing with a pitiful vengeance, and he must have freshly laid, for the flat is saturated with an aroma of dung. The thumb is healing nicely; the pale white skin reattaching itself to the trunk, an almost alchemical process. Osiris' regenerative crook has been vindicated; life to death, and death back to life. London itself, with its range and sweep of light, textures, is itself an alchemical, regenerative city; never mere existence. Three in the morning, and the snow is still falling, still settling. Glowing in the dark. This must be the grandest city in all the world.

[Update: Monday. The newspapers are right: snow is general all over England. My soul swoons slowly as I hear the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead. I have the sensation of having walked London for the last time, before it is engulfed in the blizzard