A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs. If you haven’t already subscribed, you can do so here.
How are you all doing? Since my last newsletter, I’ve mostly been hanging out with Puppet William Blake.
The idea of Puppet William Blake is, of course, very very wrong. Blake was absolutely noboddy’s puppet. But at the same time, the existing representations we have of Blake – such as his portrait, the Epstein bust and his death mask – are all static, and this is equally wrong. Blake needs to be thought of as active, for as he said, “energy is eternal delight”.
Puppet William Blake was designed as an older version of Blake, and he looks not unlike Statler or Waldorf from the Muppets. This was because older Blake would, I suspect, have been delighted to become a puppet. Middle-aged Blake, perhaps not so much.
Puppet William Blake was created by Myra Stuart, and Myra will be performing with him at the Blame Blake event in Sheffield on 30 August. Come along and see him in action. He likes taking selfies with people, so don’t be shy. The event also features me, David Bramwell, and a whole load of Hove Space Programme, Sheffield Arts Lab and Teesside Arts Lab folk. A most celebratory day is guaranteed.
Huge thanks to Nick Tucker for coming over to Brighton and taking these photos. He at least had one model to work with who sat still and didn’t give him any grief.
One of the things I’ve most enjoyed doing recently was going on the Backlisted podcast to discuss the brain-melting work of Steve Aylett, and in particular his book Heart Of The Original. This talk took us to some strange places – I recall I spent some time discussing how someone could be as worried as “a shaved lion in a rental car”. I heartily recommend that you have a listen.
If that podcast hooks you, know that Steve Aylett has a new project out after a five year silence – the presumably incomprehensible comic Hyperthick.
Something else to look out for is David Keenan’s cathedral-like new novel Monument Maker. This 800+ page novel was ten years in the writing and it scares the bejesus out of all my other books, which refuse to sit next to it on my shelves. I shall be diving in soon and, if I make it back out again, will report back.
I’m part of the line-up of folk celebrating its release at The Social in London on 23 August – this could well be one of those events that people in the future pretend they were at, so why not give in to the inevitable and come along? Tickets are available here.
Meanwhile, Tom Jackson at RAWIllumination.net asked why Robert Anton Wilson is still relevant, and I think his answer is spot on. Have a read.
Like a good multiple-model agnostic, I make a point of reading both a left-wing and right-wing newspaper. In doing so I’ve been repeatedly struck this year about how the British right appear to be having a nervous breakdown. This is strange, because with their man in power, an 80-seat majority and the hardest of Brexits, you’d think they would be triumphant – or even happy.
On the contrary, they are writing endless columns attempting to start – or complain about – a ‘culture war’ taking place mainly inside their own social circles. In a few short months they’ve gone from agonising over non-gendered Potato Head toys to attacking dangerous subversives like the National Trust and the RNLI for doing what they exist to do. Disturbingly, they seem convinced that the wider country gives a shit about these things. People even funded GB News in the belief that there would be an audience for it.
This is what made that brief moment of clarity at the end of the Euro 2020s so interesting. Suddenly, for a few days at least, Tory MPs who refused to watch the games because the English team took the knee saw how out of touch they were from the rest of the country.
What happened was that for the first time, the voices of the young had weight. The English team had to be listened to and, because of their achievements, they couldn’t be patronised or dismissed. And it is amazing how young that team is – Saka is still 19, for example. He was born within a week of the attack on the Twin Towers in New York.
As I’ve discussed elsewhere, I see a fundamental shift in the worldviews of those raised by television in the twentieth century and those raised online in the twenty-first. This comes from people now understanding themselves as fundamentaly connected to others, rather than as isolated individuals. It makes sense therefore that the current squad see themselves as a team, rather than a collection of stars focused on their individual careers. As Southgate said when people attempted to blame individuals after the penalty shoot-out, they win as a team and they lose as a team.
When members of the team are attacked or racially abused, there’s no question that they come together in support of each other. That they take the knee to protest about the continued presence of racism in football is a no-brainer to members of their generation.
That the great majority of the country supported them was what shocked the British right. Suddenly, they had a glimpse at the Britain that was coming, which simple demographic shift makes inevitable. No wonder they are cracking up. It was a glimpse not just of where we are going but, crucially, how they would be remembered. And that can be a hard thing to live with.
OH GO ON THEN, YET MORE BLAKE STUFF
I am hopefully emerging from Blake promotion world soon, but we’re not out yet.
If your interest in William Blake has been ignited by my book and you were wondering where to go next, I heartily recommend the coming series of London Blake walks led by Niall McDevitt. Niall is a poet with the gift of bringing both the man and his work to light and if anyone can help you see London as Jerusalem, it is him. The first walk – on Blake and Thomas Paine – is today, but if you’ve missed that one they take place every Sunday in August.
The Art Newspaper ran an extract from William Blake Vs The World, concerning Blake’s one solo exhibition. That’s online here.
I’ve been talking about the book on various podcasts, and two that I particularly enjoyed were with the How To Academy, and also with Aug Stone – it’s always fun to talk to Aug.
I spoke to Mental Health Today about Blake, here’s what they had to say.
Great to see that being dead hasn’t stopped Alexander McQueen. Here’s his William Blake-inspired 2022 collection. Certain members of my family are unconvinced that I could pull off the flouncy man-dress, which is hurtful, but I reckon I would look dapper in the white Divine Comedy suit.
Hyper-productive poet David Erdos has an album coming out called Between Bright Worlds, which includes his ‘Overseer (for William Blake)’ – have a listen to that here.
All this Blake book promotion began with the online British Library launch, which featured me, Robin Ince, Salena Godden, Kae Tempest, Neil Gaiman and Blake’s own notebook. If you missed it, the British Library has now put it online for all to see. Of particular note is Kae Tempest’s scorching reading of the lyrics to Jerusalem in their original context, which brings out the radical and revolutionary nature of those words. That’s at this point here – if you only watch one Blake related thing, make sure it is this.
But enough about William Blake Vs The World – for now, at least. It can’t be too much longer before I start to talk about my next book, can it? We shall find out soon enough…