Day 12:01 am

  • Christopher Priest’s A Dream of Wessex – Twentieth Century Slipstream Echoes: Chapter 14 Book Images

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    “Christopher Priest’s 1977 novel A Dream of Wessex came to this author’s consciousness via a trail of cultural breadcrumbs dropped by Rob Young in his book Electric Eden (2010), which explores interconnected and underlying lines of folk and rural orientated British music and culture and how it has been handed down and transformed by successive generations.

    It is featured in the later “Toward the Unknown Region” section of the book wherein the lines through an otherly Britain he has drawn and explored wander towards an almost maelstrom gathering of the more hauntological concerns and hidden landscapes of the likes of exploratory record labels/projects such as Ghost Box Records and English Heretic, public information films that have gathered layers of uncanniness over the years, Oliver Postgate’s gently off-centre animations, the unsettled televisual pastoralism of Penda’s Fen (1974), The Stone Tape (1972) and Children of the Stones (1977) and related folk horror-esque work.”

    Including A Dream of Wessex in amongst such work seems particularly apt as though it was written before the term or concept had been created, at points it reads like part of a manifesto from or description of a release by a hauntologically-inclined record label; the text talks of spectral versions of oneself, time being deposited like layers of sedimentary rock which could be excavated via imagination and the muddy remains of the twentieth century being scattered like shipwrecks across the landscape.”

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    “…one of the main strands of the book involves time-travelling ability developed by participants whose minds have been electronically pooled but which is nearer to a visualisation via technological dream projection equipment.

    In such ways, A Dream of Wessex connects with a hauntological sense of spectral, misremembered and reinterpreted histories and culture and the related creation and exploration of parallel worlds…

    …essentially A Dream of Wessex narrates a mass dream or hallucination, which makes its inclusion in Rob Young’s book at the Ghost Box/hauntological juncture all the more fitting; such activities form part of what he has called experiments in consensual hallucination, whereby the participants willingly allow themselves to become immersed or even subsumed in the dream like atmospheres, phantasms and worlds that particular cultural activity can at times create…

    Within hauntological-related work there is also often a deliberate misremembering of the past, filtering it through your own personal vision, reimagining it in your own form – which is mirrored by the researchers in A Dream of Wessex creating and shaping their own version of the future in their mass projection.”

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    “The cover artwork of the earlier printed editions of A Dream of Wessex further reflect and forebear that Ghost Box/hauntological world and intertwining.

    The original hardback cover from 1977 published by Faber & Faber is quite a traditional landscape painting by Paul Nash but knowledge of the plot of the book and its appearance in the “Toward the Unknown Region” section of Electric Eden seem to infer a subtle sense of otherliness to it.

    The original softback cover from 1978 released by Pan Books features a depiction of a happy couple ensconced amongst the idyll of a rural landscape but then wanders off to more Sapphire & Steel-esque hauntological territory; they are sitting on an incongruous maroon fabric stool that would be more fitting in a gentrified parlour, their outlines glow and their featureless faces reflect only a further imagined idyll, while far off in the distance behind them a red sun hangs over what appears to be some kind of futuristic, scientific building.

    In this sense the cover’s layering of the known, even comforting with elements of the unknown and unsettling atmospheres could be seen as a prescient reflection of some of the defining aspects of what would later come to be thought of as hauntological work.”

     

    Online images to accompany Chapter 14 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:

    Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.

     

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