The drift


Interview in The White Review with writer and filmmaker Chris Petit.

There was a new interest in space and place with your generation of writers, with Iain Sinclair, Patrick Wright, Patrick Keiller and others.

In a way Ackroyd started it. Because of that, this network in which Sinclair was dominant did grow up. I have very little connection with the literary scene, but on the other hand, Iain and I have collaborated. I think it was quite clear that the collaboration came out of the fact that we have common ground. There were crossovers. There was the shadowy figure of Keith Griffiths: my producer for Radio On. He never told me he was producing a film called Robinson, (Keiller’s), yet he knew very well that I was writing a book called Robinson. Keiller’s Robinson was Kafka.

And your Robinson is after Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night.

Yes, the errant son of the original. In the Céline, whenever the narrator turns up anywhere, he finds that Robinson is already there, always ahead. Journey to the End of the Night was the first book I felt I was swimming downhill through – in comparison to the standard English Lit texts. There were very few English authors I liked. I struggled with Dickens, I’d always liked Conrad, but I found him slightly hard going. I liked Conan Doyle, for the sort of typewriter feeling behind it. With Wuthering Heights, I thought, I can really read this. But the psychology of the English novel is not something that I ever connected to.

I bought the Céline on the basis of the Penguin cover, a Delvaux painting of a train leaving a station. I’d been brought up as an army brat, and we were always moving all over the place, British Army Occupation on the Rhine, Hong Kong… so the combination of the journey, the derangement and the mad ending of the novel made complete sense. Céline was a very marginal man.