Reading: Immanuel by Matthew Mcnaught

“It feels right to recount the history of Immanuel using ‘we’. But soon in the story, the pronoun starts to break up.”

Immanuel is about two churches: one in Winchester entangled to the other in Lagos. It’s the story of the traces left by those churches in Matthew Mcnaught’s life, and in the lives of his old friends.

While I was reading the book, NASA released the first set of images taken by the James Webb telescope, a set which included this image, entitled Deep Field: SMACS 0723. As they say, it is a long exposure of a patch of sky which is about the size of that covered by a grain of sand when held at arm’s length* from the eye. In it we ‘see the light from’ galaxies which are billions of light years away. That is, we see them in the same way we might see a cloud of dandelion seeds as captured by a smartphone camera, except, because of conceptual changes forced upon us by concrete experience of the world, the act of seeing changes in quality. We are seeing light paths, some of which have been bestowed curves due to the distortions of space around incredibly massive objects, other light paths whose time of origin was consistently 4.6 billion years ago. They bear a constant relation to us of appearing-4.6-billion-years-ago, because they are 4.6 billion light years away from us (though getting further). They remain in the sky, yet we know that many of them have long since dimmed, and maybe died – we are seeing their trace. These are facts of a quality that goes beyond our life. Time and space, tangled together in an Einstein knot, more fiendish than a Gordian knot, because although an emperor could cut the latter, the Einstein knot cannot be cut, even by an empire as powerful as that of the United States.

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Reading: The Naked Don’t Fear the Water by Matthieu Aikins

What is the constellation of forces that makes a text dystopian? Weirder, what makes one want to create a dystopia? Consider this –

An owl is watching from a skeleton tree, as people board the buses. The vehicles are old, but not in a quaint way, and some are dented. They seem scratch built from the leftovers of an imperial past, and people pack onto them, carrying bags, battered laptops, and cracked smartphones. The convoy wakes, the sound of engines soon lost over the city scrub, but the owl doesn’t seem disturbed. Its eyes blindly stare as the trucks disappear into the outskirts, picking up speed past the towns, the haunted tanks from lost armies, and abandoned imperial outposts, and goes on into the desert. The landscape isn’t safe, and speed is essential – rising dust from the column mixes with heat and fumes, and as night falls some buses split off and pass into the mountains. Onboard one of the rattling carriages an empire-adjacent storyteller has escaped the core and dedicated his life to following one of the occupied, Omar.

“The drivers did the fifteen-to-twenty-hour trip in one shift, often with the help of hashish or amphetamines”

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