Iain Sinclair on Objects of Obscure Desire

Iain Sinclair has kindly sent us a short, tongue-in-cheek piece about the puzzling mystery which lies behind the (non)publication of Objects of Obscure Desire. Follow the link below to read it.



Whispers reached me, at irregular intervals over the last six or seven years, of a book published under my name. Dealers in out of the way places – Paraguay, Stromboli, the Aleutian Islands, Rutland – offered inscribed or sumptuously bound copies for sale. But put in a firm order and it’s always too late. The item in question has gone, sold to a bibliographer in New Jersey, reserved for a private library specialising in small-press English ephemerals (1965 – 1979). The legendary dealer Martin Stone, charming his way into a villa in the foothills above Menton, reported sighting a copy in Spanish translation, with drawings, obviously faked, by Dali.

There is a sensational book about the smuggling of falcons’ eggs, a ring of conspirators captured in a CIA sting operation, that suffers the same fate: every time it surfaces in cyberspace, bells ring, buzzers sound: ‘Sorry, not available. Withdrawn.’ The English spook (drug dealer, pornographer, teller of tales) featured in this dubious journalistic exposure always gets there first. He owns more than a hundred copies.

The story goes back to London, City of Disappearances; a substantial (even overloaded) collection of anecdotes, histories, urban myths, published by Hamish Hamilton in 2006. I edited this book and I’m proud to own a copy inscribed by many of the contributors, including JG Ballard, Michael Moorcock, James Sallis, Alan Moore, Will Self, Jonathan Meades, Stewart Home, Nicholas Royle, Andrew Kötting, Chris Petit, Rachel Lichtenstein, Sarah Wise, Brian Catling. The customised version is unique, 1/1, but it’s less elusive than this other title, its slender twin; the one we keep hearing about but never see. The phantom volume with a cover design taken from an exploded library (looking very much like my workroom).

Mike Goldmark, the extraordinary dealer and enabler with the picture-and-print gallery in Uppingham, accidental publisher of my first novel, offered to take on a collaboration I was plotting with the Oxford-based artist Sarah Simblet. He boasted: ‘I can turn it around a couple of weeks.’ Fine printing at the speed of the next-day postal service. Bubble-wrapped collectable delivered in hours: like a hot pizza. Wonderful. Too good to be true (as indeed it proved). The book was called – if I remember correctly – Objects of Obscure Desire. An obvious play on Buñuel, that master of the fetishisation of unholy relics.

My text was written in the stipulated two weeks, but there was a hold-up with Sarah’s drawings. Undiagnosed health problems. Passages of delirious energy and attack, followed by unnerving collapse. Sarah examined the objects I set before her, but barely found the strength to lift a pencil. A walk to the river, on a bitter day, finished with emergency brandies in The Prospect of Whitby and a taxi home.

Was the book ever completed? I heard no more about it. Weeks passed, years passed. Somebody told me that there was a film floating about on the internet: Objects had been released. I had given, so it was reported, an interview all about it. The book that was intended as the covert double of City of Disappearances, the shadow version, lived up to its proud boast: it disappeared entirely. I wanted to make a catalogue of objects from which an unreliable autobiography could be assembled. But when these relics were listed and described, the author was himself erased and deleted, along with the random curation of bones, shards and photographs. Objects could have slipstreamed the fat public book at the numerous promotional events that surrounded publication. But Mr Goldmark was never a person to surf anybody else’s wave. It was his stated conviction that the world must beat a path to his door: this small provincial town, this gallery. Where he waited, smiling, rocking gently in Buddha-T-shirt contemplation. ‘Would you like a coffee?’ In a handthrown cup small enough to require regular replenishment

After six years, I mentioned the fact that an independent press, here in London, was keen to take the thing on. There were ways that I fancied revising my script, rescuing my room and my memories from the fix of publication. ‘It’ll be in your hands on May Day,’ Mike said. ‘How does that sound?’ The canny magus of Uppingham didn’t specify which year.

Then, when all hope was extinguished, a proof copy arrived. A proof of its own non-existence. I have it here, right on my desk. The final confirmation of my gullibility. And of Goldmark’s Zen games of reality and metafiction, manifestation and disappearance. Now you see it, now you don’t: the proof made the book an unrequired extra. My feeling was that Mike, in his cave, had decided that one copy had as much value as a thousand. (More when the dealers and collectors circled in hungry expectation.) The only thing I’d learnt in my years in the used-book game was that you only need a single customer. And you can never ask too high a price.

Leaves fell from the trees. Snow clamped the city. Tight buds detonated. Foxes moved in for the spring, burrowing under our shed. The seasons dissolved like an Orson Welles montage. A bibliographer came to my house, having escaped relatively lightly and in a daze of wonder, from Uppingham. He brought with him, as a gift, a published copy of Objects of Obscure Desire. I think it may be the only one in existence. Perhaps the idea is that I loan it out, should it be ordered, like a library book. Who knows? I haven’t signed anything or set eyes on the promised holograph specials. I haven’t been in Rutland for years. Is it still there? What I do know is that publication is the surest form of disappearance. And rumour, Chinese whispers, the best way to stoke interest in an obscure object. In the world of the CGI multiple, the eBook, the download, here is the ultimate print-on-demand solo. Are you the secret buyer? Have you heard anything that I’ve missed? Come back in another seven years for the next chapter. ‘In the negative space between contraries, we learn to venture.’ That’s what the book said in 2006. And it is saying it again.

 — Iain Sinclair

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