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50°59’51.9”N 4°31’44.1”W

What remains of this Folly is little more than a set of ribs. They jut from the soil just away from the cliff edge, upon which this place clings. Salt-stripped, cracked and misshapen, all that is left amounts to a spindly frame: a single archway, a second wall partially collapsed – broken into a cloven U – a mute slab wall, a final absent side. Here decay has become total, irreversible. A ruin which no longer heaves and sags, or teeters towards the soil, being far beyond that. It is in a deeper state of dereliction than any structure still-standing could plausibly maintain, and yet this place has stepped beyond the expectancy of collapse into the realm of the reliquiae: calcified, alien – distilled into a kind of oblique finality which it could only arrive at through the unflagging pressure of half a thousand years, their weight. This long age of abrasion, from salt and rain, hail and squall or wind blasted sand, has flayed any identifiable features from its surfaces: corroded and half-digested, they can no longer offer up any trace of their making to the eye of a witness. Sought out from a distance, the diminutive form stands less for something-which-used-to-be-a-building and more like a smudge, a cursive scrawl. A flick of the wrist with the blunt nub of a pencil etched lazily on the horizon; an afterimage which retains all the qualities of an accident. Beneath that blurred streak, a kinetic smear which indicates only febrile attention to something else, something just outside the frame, we find only a sculptural armature about which clay has never been gibbeted – a structure caught somewhere between conception and realisation. As if, in attempting to be built and striving to become a place, it’s architect overshot somehow, or was smuggled off by the reek of a fresh distraction, to leave behind a not-place, something dulled and indistinct which never quite got started, and in the rush of that amended focus its construction was disturbed, or set off-kilter somehow, so that, half-finished and barely begun, this place became strange, and was never fully akin to the world.


Our first lesson of entropy, as a child, is the spiral donation box. They stand just past the supermarket tills, caustic green, rotund and stuffed with coins. They call the eye but remain oddly distant because they encase a separate world.

Spiral donation box
Barnardos donation box, author, date and location unknown

The furtive spiral ecology of the box is sealed by the plastic biome of its lid. Its see-through surface is, invariably, heavily scratched. Others have been here before, and in a reprise of that same evergreen ritual the smallest possible change is handed to you: your eyes become fixed upon the slotted indentation where the coin is to be placed – it is shaped like the trigger casing of a gun. The coin is released, and as it is drawn inexorably closer to the yawning mouth of the flume, the garish curls of the spiral urge it downwards. The whole structure vibrates with its encircling descent. You are dragged away even as the clatter of the coin at the mouth of the well is resounding in your ears.


I have written about this place before.

I wrote

Along the alleged linearity of a life ongoing, this Folly hangs like a pendant. It is cast with a cold weight, dully gleaming like black iron, and so the timeline bows, yanked inevitably towards a point of complete density. In order to sustain the weight of its presence, that line must become a loop, a chain; hung from the neck, rattling close, jostling between waxing days. But in orbiting something there is not a loss of forward movement, and in pendulous return we find no friction.

A loop is an end that has swallowed itself.

By bending an end backwards to meet a beginning, or at least the first instant it became impossible to ignore that something was beginning, or had in fact begun, both beginning and end are scrubbed of specificity and each is anonymised as simply another degree on the radial of time. This closed-circuit ensures that those same lines will be retraced, eroding slowly, deepening and widening, until – scuffed by the footfall of innumerable returns – the line is obscured altogether, bloats, and sags into a hollow of incoherent scree.

There are other shapes here, in concert:

The work is the pure circle where, even as they write the work, the author dangerously exposes themselves to, but also protects themselves against, the pressure which demands that they write. [1]

This circle is a demarcation. Inside the circle is the I of the author, and it is closely defended by the unbroken border of the circle’s hard edge. Beyond that, the featureless world and the blank page stretch out into the distance, infinite and barren. But insisting that the work must be protected, that it remains coherent only inside the mind at the moment of being written and that the world beyond the limits of the page threatens it, reinforces both the timidity of the work and the violence of the world.


The spiral is a spiritualised circle. In the spiral form, the circle, uncoiled, unwound, has ceased to be vicious; it has been set free. [2]

What was once a closely guarded perimeter has now unfurled, and in disentangling itself from the merciless symmetry of the circle this line has begun to turn itself inwards. Resistant to nothing, it is free to knot up in the base inertia of being. And so the diminutive I and the violent world, no longer separated, rush in to meet – only to discover they were never supposed to be estranged. The circle’s severed tail wags in the current, softly pulled apart by its own momentum. Within that winding dance the whorls of the spiral gesture toward an absolute centre which never arrives, because this labour is borne along by tendrilous return, and fulfilment is found in that refrain.

The dependable entropy of the spiral’s form suggests a degree of restraint or legibility. We might assume that if a piece of writing takes this shape, it will remain measured and symmetrical, predictable even as it uncoils. ‘The dizzying spiral yearns for the assurance of geometry. One wants to retreat into the cool rooms of reason’. [3] But if the spiral is a kind of constrained chaos, it carries within it the germ of the abject – an embodied and gory root.

I closed my eyes, and the sun burned crimson through the lids. I opened them and the great Salt Lake was bleeding scarlet streaks […] Between heat lightning and heat exhaustion the spiral curled into vaporisation. I had the red heaves, while the sun vomited its corpuscular radiations. […] Surely, the storm clouds massing would turn into a rain of blood. Once, when I was flying over the lake, its surface seemed to hold all the properties of an unbroken field of raw meat with gristle (foam); no doubt it was due to some freak wind action. [4]

In the throes of this fever-dream – a vision which mimics the lurching aerial camera shots from the accompanying film of the same name – Robert Smithson’s seminal Spiral Jetty is reframed as a corporeal hellscape. Gone is the Antediluvian grace of the earthwork; the cool whites and purple-blues of the salt crystals, the lake. The setting sun has hit its surface, rippling it with crimson, and now the spiral appears as a foetid stomach tract, a waxy blood-filled cochlea, a gristly sphincter or a knotted umbilical cord. What Nabokov saw at the centre of that clear bright marble, a coiling pattern caught momentarily by the sun, Smithson witnessed instead as a heaving knot bloomed by a blinding, excretory light.

The spiral may be the notional form of a life, a text, but it also has a gore-streaked precedent, a body of its own. To repeat and return again and again, perhaps obsessively so, is to wind ever-deeper inside. In the surety of that return both the writer and the writing will blindly tunnel into one another.

Rock pool on Welcombe Mouth Beach, personal collection (2014)

Rebecca Schneider:

If “to remain” means to endure or even to stay behind, to “remain before” is to endure as both ahead of and prior to – a phrase that clearly tangles or crosses temporal registers. In this sense, before and behind cannot be plotted in a straight line, and so memory remains a future act: not yet recalled, if also never forgotten. [5]

In her studio, E asked me what I thought this quote meant: I tried and gave up. All I know is that I cannot recall the Folly, not yet at least, and I cannot forget it. Forgetting the Folly is impossible because whatever material presence it attests to – as an object from a false-past, or later, as the locus of another more recent history, earnestly my own – has been overexposed by a feverish overlay of barely-glimpses, fabricated half-memories, and the meagre cramps of nostalgia: each of which endure as potential falsehoods, and together remain a series of future acts.

The Folly is both ahead of and prior to my body. In my mind’s eye I see it first always from a distance, bolted onto the horizon, a site I am always straining towards. It, too, tangles and crosses temporal registers and in doing so transgresses the border between the body – my body – and the world. It is also always behind me, prior; because it has persisted long before me and still persists as part of the landscape of my childhood and of where I was born. It precedes me, it remains before me and my body and in later years what I chose to do to that body, and yet it feels inextricably linked, twinned, in a way that I cannot explain, but which I also can’t dismiss only as the coagulated residue of the attention I have lavished upon it.


born here > bluebells bespeckled where rot gives way > sloughing towards the sea > snow-slumped stag who watches a while; a small brass medallion embossed in kind, clasped by a thin black ribbon in a green felt case > my mum’s isolation > the red-faced fervour of invasive knotweed > sun smeared bottles of vinegar with dead flies cresting at the surface > coarse-cobbled staircase leading to nowhere, beset by spongy grass > a forgotten well with iron bars, earmarked for a beheaded saint, strapped down by ivy and the tenebrosity of the wood > what else do I need to learn? what else do you need from me–

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Postcard unintentionally included in eBay purchase of R. Pearse Chope, Book of Hartland, personal collection (Torquay: The Devonshire Press, 1940)

Wes Knowler (he/him) is a writer living in London. His essays and prose poems have snuck their way into/onto Montez Radio, Sticky Fingers Publishing, DAISYWORLD ✿ MAGAZINE, Worms Magazine and others.


The body, proximity, and place can be far-reaching and boundless—this series intends to question these complex questions through different experiments with language, art, cultural phenomena, and writing as practice, and is led by editor-in-residence Hatty Nestor.


[1] Maurice Blanchot, The Work’s Space and its Demand, in The Space of Literature, pp. 52.

[2] Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory, pp. 209.

[3] Robert Smithson, The Spiral Jetty (1972), in The Collected Writings pp. 148.

[4] Ibid. pp. 148.

[5] Rebecca Schneider, Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment, (London: Routledge, 2011), pp. 22.