We are cursed by the cult of miserablism

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The Independent Culture
NOTHING SELLS like contempt. The state of not liking is so much easier to write about well, than the state of liking. If I can only discover in myself a fine loathing for something or somebody, how much better that will be than a qualified approval, or - worst of all - an empathy. So: sod the Government, string up the management, bugger the chairman of my ailing football club - all of them useless, all of them risible. If only someone had renamed Angel Delight Angel Disgust, I think I might have gone on eating it.

Me and Iain Sinclair, author of Sorry Meniscus (or Excursions to the Millennium Dome), a terrifying 90-page "diatribe" on the subject of the great millennial tent, published this week. Sinclair, a prize-winning novelist, took two excursions to the site of the Dome, on behalf of the London Review of Books. As far as I can tell (for the writing is magnificent), he didn't like it.

It was, variously (and the words that follow are Sinclair's own): a genetically modified mollusc; the millennium scam; a fraudulent and boastful folly, meaningless and magnificent, a blob of congealed correction fluid, a flick of Tipp-Ex to revise the mistakes of 19th-century industrialists; a shabby field of dreams; a poached egg designed by vegans; the Teflon hedgehog, and - best of all - "A junkie's time-killing table sculpture from a greasy caff, a heap of icing sugar with 12 match-ends stuck in it."

Sinclair is poetically obsessed by the fact that the Dome is sited on a former bit of bogland (Bugsby's Marshes, apparently) which was then poisoned by various riverside factories. The repackaging of the authentic, however nasty, by the artificial seems to be Sinclair's main theme. His is, therefore, an assault on virtually everything to do with modern Britain and, especially, on New Labour. The Dome is "the first major misjudgement by the New Labour conceptualists", and is visited by, "the posing reservoir dogs of the Labour front bench". Who are, of course, in hock to "BT, Manpower, M&S, Sky, Tesco, McDonald's and anybody else prepared to chip in the odd pounds 12m". Meanwhile hacks, previously downbeat about the Dome, are treated to a party where they change their minds after "compulsively rehydrating on middle-range plonk". (This becomes "superior plonk" by page 81.)

He takes on the inflated claims of the Dome's publicists. "Reference to architectural gems such as the dome of St Paul's were horribly misplaced," he chides, after some blurb or other has compared the size of the two domes. "Architectural gems", you notice, is one of Sinclair's few poor phrases, proving my point about contempt.

Sinclair is a conservative of sorts (sorry, but that word existed long before the People's PM got to it). The past is always better than the present. It's not just that I can imagine some Saxon-age version of Sinclair complaining in verse- form about how Westminster Abbey is being constructed all over Wulf the Shit-gatherer's cesspits. But I can also see that these wonderful cathedrals were every bit as much the product of vanity and ego as is the Dome. Whose is always the effigy next to the altar? The bishop's what built it, that's whose. If you go to Malta's sister island, Gozo, you will come across tiny, poor villages with vast marble churches, all with great domes. That's how Gozitans compete. It's how most memorable buildings got to be there. Edward the Confessor, Bishop Remagius, Jorge from Gharb, Herbert Morrison, Peter Mandelson - dome- builders, all.

Sinclair also complains that the millennium is not millennial enough. It should be "nothing to do with bemused civilians, badgered into celebration and rehearsed spontaneity, being shepherded through zones sponsored by multinational pirates", he states. "The millennium is fire and terror, the rising of the dead, judgment before revelation." Fine, but this is from a man who regards a half-hour wait for a bus as a "brutal obstacle course", and complains when the ticket machines aren't working. Perhaps some rough beast, its hour come round at last, had fallen on the line at Willesden Junction.

Finally, what massive work of contempt would be complete without the obligatory nod in the direction of the poor, the sick, the lame and other people whom the author occasionally meets on his travels? "This folly would soak up funds that would otherwise be wasted on keeping electoral promises, restoring schools and hospitals," says Sinclair. Restoring them to what? The way they were in 1966, say? Or 1066? Why doesn't he send the value of his next pint to Oxfam? And the one after that?

All of 90 pages, then, to tell the world that the author is a miserable old git. And he joins a growing legion of miserable old gits who write and moan. They're the ones who felt disgust at the rest of us in 1997, when poor old Diana died. We didn't know her, so we must have been victims of some media-induced delusion. Others among them give up cocaine, would you believe, because too many people are taking it. One of them is a journalist neo-millionaire Communist who has never so much as delivered a leaflet, let alone parked her orange-box outside Dagenham and offered the afternoon shift the benefit of her advice about proletarian internationalism.

They proclaim that the literacy hour is killing off that cheerful spontaneity and love of literature that characterised the inner-city schools they've rarely if ever visited. The evidence tells them the opposite of what our lives tell us, that women are indeed better off than once they were. They tip iced water on John Prescott. There, doesn't that make them feel better? It's only a shame that it wasn't Tony Blair, the man who, according to one newspaper cartoonist, literally pisses on the poor.

And what do they all want instead? The top 100 monopolies nationalised? Who does Iain Sinclair like? JG Ballard, of course, with all that sex, dystopia, car crashes and fine writing. He also approves of the author Bill Drummond, who accompanies him "carrying, and quoting from, a copy of the Unabomber Manifesto". Drummond later appears at the Barbican, with a Jimmy Cauty "and their massed proletarian choruses", the souvenir of which is a Fuck The Millennium T-shirt. This is one T-shirt you can buy, it seems, without becoming a New Labour zombie.

New miserablism has nothing to propose. Given that barricades are, regrettably, out of the question, and that one never did woodwork at the Ladies' College, rebellious behaviour cannot go much further than snorting with the aristos - which has got to be so much better than consorting with focus groupies from the suburbs.

The motto of the new miserablists is: "Any age but now. Any thing but this. Any one but those who now surround us." They'd rather be ruled by Attila the Hun (who, at least, was organic and chaotic) than this pragmatic, moralising, de-ideologised, smiling bunch of bastards we've got now, who remind them so much of their parents.

I say calm down. Have a child. Join us. Up the wheel, round the Dome, out for the fireworks. Me and the kids. Looking forward to the turn of the millennium, like the mugs we are.

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