In the Year of Our Lord 2001, Iain Sinclair walked around the city of London in an attempt to undo a great curse laid upon the city. He walked alongside the M25, the vast London Orbital: sometimes just inside its circumference, sometimes just outside it, very rarely walking on the road itself. The road itself was the curse he sought to remove, along with the politics and philosophy that produce such roads.
Invoking magicians and celebrants of the paranormal, Sinclair imagines London not as an inorganic “place” but as a living body, a body endangered by its mechanistic physicians, above all Margaret Thatcher: “My superstition, sympathetic to Fludd and Paracelsus, persists: the walk around London’s orbital motorway is personal. From Harefield to Purfleet, the rushes, surges of excitement, are connected to an imagined—solar powered?—circulation of blood.” Having noted that many great country houses were built a day’s horseback ride from central London, and that the M25 itself is set just at that distance, he becomes obsessed with concentric circles of spiritual and intellectual force. He sees the poets and sages of London moving to its periphery either to escape or understand: “Blake at Lambeth, [the Elizabethan magician John] Dee at Mortlake, Pope at Twickenham, [the novelist J. G.] Ballard at Shepperton: the great British tradition of expulsion, indifference. The creation of alternative universes that wrap like Russian dolls around a clapped-out core.” The body of London is dying from its heart and being strangled by the great garrotte of the Orbital; Sinclair hopes by walking the ancient lines to make an effectual counterspell, to loosen the malign constriction.
My new essay on Iain Sinclair, a writer more people should be acquainted with.