In the latest issue:

The American Virus

Eliot Weinberger

The Home Life of Inspector Maigret

John Lanchester

Story: ‘Have a Seat in the Big Black Chair’

Diane Williams

The Last Whale

Colin Burrow

In Beijing

Long Ling

Princess Margaret and Lady Anne

Rosemary Hill

At the Movies: ‘Arkansas’

Michael Wood

Ruin it your own way

Susan Pedersen

At Home

Jane Miller

The Ottoman Conundrum

Helen Pfeifer

Poem: ‘Muntjac’

Blake Morrison

Piketty’s Revolution

Geoff Mann

Short Cuts: In Tripoli

Jérôme Tubiana

Coetzee Makes a Leap

Christopher Tayler

At Auckland Castle: Francisco de Zurbarán

Nicola Jennings

Drain the Swamps

Steven Shapin

Diary: In the Isolation Room

Nicholas Spice

AphorismsDon Paterson

Imagining the worst is no talisman against it.


My time here has afforded me no enlightenment; though my night-vision has improved enormously. In fact it seems to have evolved as if it were certain of its future indispensability.


Ego-surfing again, four months since I last dared: the hit-count tripled, nearly all of them namechecks by brand-new enemies, or new recruits to the army of doppelgängers: champion disco-dancers, Alaskan Romanticists, men who teach juggling, fuck donkeys, or put miniature combine harvesters in bottles . . . of whom I would have known nothing, if vanity hadn’t tricked me into putting my head round this mirrored corridor of hell again. Good that at least one of our sins now carries its immediate terrestrial punishment.


At bay, always pay a compliment. Even your mugger or torturer is not immune to flattery, and still capable of being a little disarmed by a word of congratulation on their choice of footwear or superior technique.


He was obsessed with his infallibility, and I cared not a jot for mine. This, together with my gift for instant recantation, put me at a terrifically unfair advantage.


As a native Damascene, all my revelations came on the road to elsewhere; and all were eclipses, the skies falling silent.


In hell, the postmoderns are punished by awarding them a huge, sensitive and critically informed general readership. I wish them sales, I wish them the book group . . .


Our love poems are mostly the work of madmen. I laid them at her feet, proudly, as a cat would a half-eaten rat.


I can see exactly what not to do at the moment. No doubt through the usual process of elimination I’ll arrive at my favourite strategy of total paralysis.


If only there were an equivalent in poetry of that great sleeve-note instruction play twice before listening . . .


With friends and strangers I can be no one; more and more I confine myself to their company. Then one day I enter a room full of acquaintances, and fly into a blind panic: I cannot remember for the life of me who these people think I am . . .


He always whispered the bad news in your left ear, always made sure his slanders were printed verso . . . For years he escaped our attention. We knew, vaguely, that evil seemed to accompany him, but thought the two no more connected than the wind that shook the tree. Then one day we realised there was no wind; nothing but his own black whistling, his own five-and-a-half feet of chaos.


Experiments in attachment. My friend has just had his PC wired for broadband. I meet him in the cafe; he looks terrible – his face puffy and pale, his eyes black-ringed and bloodshot: he tells me he is now detained, night and day, in downloading every album he ever owned and lost, desired, or was casually intrigued by; he has now even stopped even listening to them, and spends his time sleeplessly monitoring a progress bar . . . He says it’s like all my birthdays have come at once – by which I can see he means, precisely, that at any second now he feels he is going to die.


I tried for a while to keep a diary, making one entry at dawn and another on the facing page before I fell asleep. The total irreconcilability of the two personalities was soon apparent, and I stopped after a few weeks. The dumb hope of one and the disillusionment of the other, a motif repeated without interruption, depressed me beyond words. I went back to bookending the days, as one should, with caffeine and alcohol, the newspaper and lovemaking. There are no meridian diaries. Anyone able-bodied and under the age of seventy who has the time to write one is beneath contempt.


Every new poem leaves the last a little exposed, embarrassed, smacking somehow of juvenilia.


The aphorism: written in the dregs of the day when we could produce nothing else . . . perhaps we should trust them a little more. What other form comes so heavily watermarked with the indifference of its own author?

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