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Being an Archive of the Obscure Neural Firings Burning Down the Jelly-Pink Cobwebbed Library of Doom that is The Mind of Quentin S. Crisp

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Trees are the View

The Hawk cults, blue eyes harsh and pitiless as the sun; the Owl cults, with huge yellow night eyes and wrenching needle talons; flying weasels and reptiles...

But the One God has time and weight. Heavy as the pyramids, immeasurably impacted, the One God can wait. The Many Gods may have no more time than the butterfly, fragile and sad as a boat of dead leaves, or the transparent bats who emerge once every seven years to fill the air with impossible riots of perfume.

At the sight of the Black Lemur, with round eyes and a little red tongue protruding, the writer experiences a delight that is almost painful... the silky hair, the shiny black nose, the blazing innocence. Bush Babies with huge round yellow eyes, fingers and toes equipped with little sucker pads... a Wolverine with thick, black fur, body flat on the ground, head tilted up to show its teeth in a smirk of vicious depravity. (He marks his food with a musk that no other animal can tolerate.) The beautiful Ring-Tailed Lemur, that hops along through the forest as if riding a pogo stick, the Gliding Lemur with two curious folds in his brain. The Aye-aye, one of the rarest of animals, cat-size, with a long, bushy tail, round orange eyes and thin bony fingers, each tipped with a long needle claw. So many creatures, and he loves them all.

So who made all the beautiful creatures, the cats and lemurs and minks, the tiny delicate antelopes, the deadly blue krait, the trees and lakes, the seas and mountains? Those who can create. No scientist could think it up. They have turned their backs on creation.

Since Friday I have been in Devon, where I was born and grew up. I have come here directly from Wales and notice some differences. My current Welsh location is very much 'the countryside', as is the area in Devon where I grew up. But Devon, it seems to me, is a lighter place, where it is easier to breathe, perhaps because the shadow of industry has never fallen across its soul.

There are certain delights to be had in revisiting one's old home that I do not intend to describe at length. Anyone who has read my short story 'Decay' might have some idea of them. Perhaps I can sum those delights up as the perfume of mildewed books. Since coming here I have, quite naturally, looked to my old sagging bookshelves, to remember what has been gathering dust, and I have pulled a few volumes off the shelves to take back with me to Wales, and I have inhaled the musty spores of exquisite decay that rise from their pages.

One of the volumes that I have been looking at is William Burroughs's The Western Lands. I have long wished to unearth a favourite passage from this book, which I have not found excerpted on the Internet. After trawling through the book for some time, I have discovered that the favourite passage is, in fact, not one passage, but a number of scattered passages on a related theme. I have put together such of those scattered parts as I found at the top of this entry, to recreate the passage as I remembered it, or almost, in my own little cut-up. The parts that are missing deal with Burroughs's idea of a Creator who existed before the Christian god, and whose Creation the Christian god stole. They also deal with the idea of mass-production setting in not only in human society, but as a kind of evolutionary spirit or trend, blocking the further creation of such beautiful, delicate one-offs as the aye-aye. Responsible for this ugly mass-production are both Christianity and science.

Since coming back to Devon this time, I have also had cause to ponder another passage from the work of William Burroughs, this time from (I believe) My Education: A Book of Dreams. In it he bemoans the destruction of the natural environment by human beings, mentioning the argument often given that the human beings in question - poachers, for instance - are just trying to survive. He dismisses this argument, saying something like, "So what? I don't care about these people. There are too many humans, anyway." I admire the forthright expression of his feelings here. Usually only children are uncorrupted enough to say such things. I know that I felt exactly the same way as a child, and reading this I had to wonder why in adult life I tend to soften my views. Why do I wish to make myself agreeable to people when I know very well that people are stupid and disgusting?

Soon after my arrival here, discussion that took place was naturally about what has changed and what remains the same since my last visit. The house is located down a dead-end little dirt track opposite hills and fields. Apparently, someone down this road started a petition in order to gain permission from the local council to cut down the trees along the hedge on the other side of the track, because they were 'blocking the view'. It seems enough residents of this road signed the petition for their will to prevail, and I don't suppose any local council anywhere has ever been averse to chopping down trees, anyway, since the prime delight of all who serve on such councils seems to be to vandalise all that is beautiful in the world and replace it with all that is petty and mundane. Trees spoiling the view? What sort of education, in what sort of culture, have these people had? The trees are the view. Naturally, I heaved a sigh, and quietly wished unpleasant death to visit all those who had signed the petition, as soon as possible. And, perhaps not as naturally, but with myself, at least, quite expectedly, I also felt guilty for wishing such a thing.

Later, walking by myself on the hill near the house, which overlooks the sea, I realised again that the closest I come to well-being is when I am among trees. I feel that I am myself again, and nothing of that other world - the human world - matters. It came to me also, as I walked the hill in the green and grey cool of dove-boughed avenues, that it is only proper that I should despise the mass of humanity; the mass of humanity is despicable. There is nothing wrong with my anger, and if I felt as naturally myself at all times as I do when walking among the trees I have known since childhood, then I would be quite calm about my anger, and there would be no malice in it. Even if I wished death upon some idiot - (isn't that line from the Bowie song, "I could spit in the eyes of fools", actually, absolutely right? - it would be wished without malice. It would be of the moment, and the next moment, purified, I would forget it.

I hear also that developers have plans - so far thwarted - for the currently wild slope from the edge of this dirt track to the valley below. I hereby wish unpleasant death to come speedily upon any would-be developers, and call upon the gods of the Owl cults, with their wrenching needle talons, to shred the developers's hearts, that they might die shrieking like little girls while blood pours in gouts from mouth, ears and eyes.

I write that quite without malice, of course.

This brings me to Dare Wright, who has a place of honour in my temple - an altar of her own. It was quite natural that, coming back to Devon this time, and ferreting among my old books, I should in particular wish to find the works of Dare Wright, which were known to me as a child, but which in adult life have only ever been a memory. They were easily found. There were two of them (there may have been another, which has disappeared), The Lonely Doll and The Little One. The former appears to be a second edition, and the latter a first. They are musty in a way that complements the pictures and the stories wonderfully. I have not read these books since childhood, so it was quite possible that, adult in years now, I would be disappointed by what I read. But I was not.

It seems to me that Dare Wright is a true original, and has done what originals do. Not only has she expressed something original, but her means of expression has been original, too, and it is perhaps this latter half of creative originality that so often baffles people, though the two halves are hard to separate. In any case, I feel that Dare Wright is someone who created with love, and it is no wonder, therefore, that so many in the world - dull-witted newspaper columnists and others who may as well sit on the local council and plan which trees they are next to murder - think that her work was kitsch, or that she was a crank, or, as Houellebecq wrote of "moralists" in connection to Lovecraft's hatred of adult life, "utter vague opprobrious grumblings while waiting for a chance to strike with their obscene intimations". The obscene intimations of the dull and dull-witted defenders of adulthood in this case are, predictably, to do with Dare Wright's sex life, or her lack of one, over which they hold a prurient clinic in the arrogant manner of psychiatrists, sure that they have more insight into Dare Wright's 'problems' than she had.

To pass one's life in the twentieth century (perhaps in any age), without submitting to the obligatory sexual relations of social belonging that are, in fact, as dull as commerce in the adult sensibleness of the assumptions they represent, seems to me a wonderful acheivement, and is one that I straightforwardly admire, however many psychologists, amateur or otherwise, buzz around the matter like poisonous flies, "waiting for a chance to strike with their obscene intimations".

M.G. Lord, reviewing a biography of Wright for The New York Times, claims to find the biographer more interesting than her subject. His/her insinuations begin in the opening paragraph:

MANY distinguished children's writers haven't had children of their own -- or, for that matter, conventional family lives. Lewis Carroll, a lifelong bachelor, enjoyed a famously eyebrow-raising attachment to the little girl who inspired ''Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.'' George Selden, the unmarried author of ''The Cricket in Times Square,'' also wrote ''The Story of Harold,'' a pseudonymous, semi-autobiographical adult novel that dealt with bisexuality and sadomasochism.

Oozing through the text we find the vile but all-too-common distrust of those who have not bred, of those who have not added to the population of this dull and commerce-led world. It doesn't take long for the insinuations to become outright slurs on Wright's character:

In real life, however, Wright was a mess: a frigid, miserable woman locked in a suffocating relationship with her monstrous mother, with whom she slept, nestling ''like spoons,'' until the older woman finally died in 1975.

Frigid? Isn't that the word that self-satisfied cads use to describe women who won't sleep with them, or other women use in battles of sexual competitiveness? M.G. Lord goes on to describe Wright's art as "accidental and campy", and compares her unfavourably with Henry James, who, of course, represents all things adult and realistic. "Grow up!" s/he seems to be saying to Wright. "Grow up and get a man and have children of your own!" And cut down more trees in the grove of childhood and bring the developers in to build your new home. Such is M.G. Lord, such are the "moralists".

When I read such reviews, written about those few human beings who have managed to touch me, by one of the dull majority who disgust me, I tend to think of the lines from Reel Around the Fountain, by The Smiths:

Fifteen minutes with you
Well, I wouldn't say no
Oh, people said that you were virtually dead
And they were so wrong

What has M.G. Lord given me? S/he has offered a slice of deadening criticism. What has Dare Wright given me? Oh, I can tell you, she is so much more alive than M.G. Lord that you would not believe. It also seems significant to me that the first lines in Reel Around the Fountain are, "It's time the tale were told/Of how you took a child/And you made him old". This is simply what the amassed ranks of sensible society, arms crossed, lips pursed, shaking their heads, do to children - they make us old. They cut down more trees in our grove. But when we recognise another child-spirit like our own, we find some way to escape from those gathered ranks of sensible adult humans. We find the cool of the sacred grove, where no one else goes, and there, well, there we find a fountain to reel around.

To me, though I never met her, Dare Wright is undoubtedly one of the beautiful people. In her book The Little One, she tells the story - and shows it, too, with her own wonderful photographs - of a doll called Persis, who for some time has been gathering dust on a bookshelf in an abandoned house. A turtle comes to the house one day, finds her, and liberates her. Hot in the wild summer grasses, she comes upon a butterfly, who advises her she would be more comfortable without her clothes. Liberated, once again, as she divests herself of her clothes, she falls asleep beneath a "baby tree". There she is found by two bears, one of whom is happy and one of whom is grumpy. They wake her, and immediately she springs up with arms outstretched and says, "I like you". She lives then, with the bears, in the woods, where she wears skirts of leaves and ferns, there in the sacred monochrome cool of damp earth and sylvan shade. She rides upon Turtle's back, with a saddle of moss, like Lady Godiva, and bathes at the edges of waterfalls. This is what is done in the sacred grove. Eventually, she climbs a great tree in search of honey to appease the Cross Bear, who she thinks does not love her. When she falls from that tree, Cross Bear takes her in his arms, and she discovers that he does love her.

It is hard to describe exactly what this story means to me, because so much of it relies on the photographs, which are far too wonderful, eerie, expansive and mysterious to be "accidental" as M.G. Lord seems to think them. But I know when I read this that Wright was someone who was ready to meet you there - in her books at least - away from the dull developers of the adult world, in that shady grove. And that, not the adult commerce of sex, is love. And now I am reminded of that strange and wonderful contrast between the songs Pretty Girls Make Graves and The Hand that Rocks the Cradle on the first Smiths album. The first song shows the despair that attends the workings of lust and competitive sexuality in human society ("I lost my faith in womanhood"), and the second, which follows immediately, shows something purer and deeper - the love of, or for, a child: "Please don't cry/For the ghost and the storm outside/Will not invade this sacred shrine/Or infiltrate your mind/My life down I shall lie/If the bogeyman should try/To play tricks on your sacred mind/To tease, torment or tantalise."

Also from The New York Times, this time by one David Colman, we have another article on Dare Wright. M.G. Lord was amongst the camp that try to dismiss with an authoritative sniff, using words such as "campy". David Colman still ranks in that dull majority, but his word of choice is "unsettling". This is only slightly preferable. He seems to invite Wright in for a while, but ultimately there is rejection here. He wants to appear to be considering opening the door before he slams it. This is how the article begins:

YOU might think that Kim Gordon, the bass player and singer of the eternally hip downtown band Sonic Youth, would not have much in common with mothers of a more conventional stripe. But a few years ago she had an experience many women her age could relate to. She rediscovered a favorite series of childhood books, ''The Lonely Doll,'' and thought about reading them to her 7-year-old daughter, Coco. Then she thought better of it.

So, why did the eternally hip Kim Gordon think better of it? She found it "too depressing", and she was concerned about the spanking scene. It might be "sadistic". Kim Gordon, who describes the work as both "creepy" and "compelling", ultimately wants to keep it away from her child. A similar attitude is expressed by Elizabeth Karlsen, who may be producing the film of Wright's life. It is interesting that so many people fascinated by Wright should treat her more like a case study than a human being, perhaps in the way that well-to-do Victorians would pay for a nice day out at the lunatic asylum before retiring to their respectable homes. Karlsen wonders if The Lonely Doll really fits in with the standards of today's world. Yes, "today's standards". That's what she's worried about. The same standards by which Kim Gordon also judges the book. How very hip. I mean, that really is very hip, isn't it - worrying about today's standards. That's what being hip means. I wrote recently that it's a good thing to realise that literature is better than rock'n'roll, and this is what I was talking about. Rock'n'roll (I don't know if Sonic Youth is generally thought of as such, but that's what it is, basically, a form of music made by young people that is designed to be rebellious) is, in the end, a form of social climbing. There are dreams of literature, and there are dreams of rock'n'roll, and there's certainly some crossover, but the dreams of the latter are more likely to be those kind synonymous with ambition and worldly success. Rock'n'roll has a greater reputation for rebellion than do the sometimes, er... bookish types who tend to represent literature. But it seems to me that you are more likely to find a true outsider in literature than in rock'n'roll, and the story of Kim Gordon and Dare Wright is a case in point. Kim Gordon is unsettled by Dare Wright - by Dare Wright, the cosy old writer of children's stories. Kim Gordon is hip and is therefore susceptible to hip - and essentially bourgeious - social influences like political correctness. What outsider ever cared about political correctness? Tell me. The answer is that none ever have.

Rock'n'roll rebels are unlikely to be true outsiders. The chances are that in their hearts they are middle-class social climbers. They are interested in social reform and other such cosmetic things. They discover the symbols left to the world by true outsiders - the ones that rarely got the fame and the money - and they wear them as fashion statements. But they take those outfits off again later, when they are relaxing at home, with their own children. They are outsiders only in externals. They have simply discovered outsiderness. And this is why their music gets worse and worse as they get older. They don't have their own direct contact with the sacred grove of the outsider that is the source of imagination and creativity. Rock'n'roll, in the orthodoxy of its rebellion, is unable to address death, unless it is the death of the young, when rock'n'roll comes into its own. Otherwise, it simply becomes more and more ridiculous as its purveyors age, while the creators of literature, familiar with death from the shadows in the grove of the outsider, come more and more into their own with age. Rock'n'rollers never really wanted to be outsiders - they wanted to succeed... by appearing to be outsiders. The true outsiders might or might not succeed, but they will always be outsiders. M.G. Lord may be right about Dare Wright's art being "accidental" in one sense - the outsider cannot help being the outsider. And in that sense, all great art is accidental. It's not the business-plan of the developers and the rock'n'rollers.

On Saturday, I watched the film Miss Potter, about another writer of children's stories, the famous Beatrix Potter. I'm not going to critique the film beyond saying I thought it was made simple for wide public consumption. (By co-incidence I notice that it has just been Beatrix Potter's birthday.) Beatrix Potter also seemed to dwell, as outsiders do, in her private imagination. And for her, as for myself, that imagination was linked to nature. She had her sacred grove in the Lake District. Happily, she was one outsider who also knew success. With the money she made from her books - which was considerable - she bought up thousands of acres of land in the Lake District to save it from the developers for the benefit of future generations. I wonder how many rich rock'n'rollers have the imagination even to do that much with their money.

I have probably written too much. The world saddens me. There are one or two beautiful ones that I can meet in that shady grove. As to the rest, I curse humanity. I curse a humanity that doesn't notice or care when the writer Thomas Disch, threatened with eviction in his old age, resorts to suicide. I curse a world that favours Jane Austen over Arthur Machen. I curse a society in which people think that trees block the view. I curse you, and I do the only thing that I can do, and retreat to that grove, while it still stands.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Robert's Your Mother's Brother

A while back whilst discussing in a reckless manner the relative merits of atheism and theism (was I doing that?), I said something to the effect that I myself didn't have any definite solution to propose (to the philosophic/metaphysical/social stalemate and conundrum). Well, now I have.

I'm sure I have at times sounded hostile towards the idea of atheism, but there's at least one situation in which I very much approve of it. And that is, within the clergy. There is no doubt in my mind that the church is the proper place for the atheist. It is the perfect venue for the fetishism of stained-glass windows, of ecclesiastical vestments, of ritual, tradition, incense, liturgy, hymn and prayer, without all the fuss of having to 'believe' in 'God'.

I myself have at times longed to wear a dog collar.

I understand the call of the cloth. When one is pulling one's surplice over one's cassock in the vestry, rehearsing one's sermon, the feel of ancient and solemn stone all around, the worn slabs beneath the feet, the anticipated tossing of censers in the air, what need is there for that superfluity known as belief? God, they say, is in the details, and when you have as many details as these, you can find that he is mercifully lost in them, as in the folds of your frock and the flocking of your flock.

Who better to understand the subtleties of Nietzsche or Schopenhauer than your local vicar? Who is more strategically placed to fathom the depths of the Ligottian cosmic nightmare than a member of the Holy See?

Not only do I think that it is a good thing for priests of all denominations under the Cross of our Lord to be atheist, I think it should be mandatory. Although, I suppose there is some room for agnosticism, for instance, amongst wacky heterosexual priests and so on.

By the same token, it should be obligatory under international law, for all scientists, of whatever field, to be devoutly religious, and, so as there are no shirkers, let's be specific and say that they should be.... Quakers. It'll work something like this. A group of scientifically minded Friends will seat themselves together in a modest laboratory, bare of equipment, in complete silence. After some minutes, perhaps, at the moving of the Inner Light, one of them will rise to his feet and say:

"Friends, I have something I wish to share with you. Energy can neither be created, nor destroyed. Thus within any closed system, the level of energy, and by extension, also of mass, must remain constant."

"Thank you, Friend, we hear you." (Comes the chorus of response.)

The Friend seats himself once more, and again, some minutes pass in silence until, by the promptings of the Inner Light, another Friend stands and says:

"Friends, I feel that I, too, have something to say, and that a voice within me is asking me to pass on that no physical theory of local hidden variables can ever reproduce all of the predictions of quantum mechanics."

And so on.

However, since, Quakerism, is, obviously, slightly too congruous with atheism and with science as it stands, perhaps it would be best to go a little further, and from there to legislate that all scientists, must, by law, become yogis. They will then, therefore, sit in their laboratories (or stand etc.) in various forms of yogic practice, such as suspending lead weights from their testicles by string, balancing on the top of a broomstick, and so on. Experimentation is definitely to be encouraged. The Hindu cosmology should be on a scale sufficient to accomodate the needs of science (unlike parochial old atheistic Christianity), and yogic practice should both stimulate and temper the mind to the most blessed and fertile invention.

In such a world, viola! Bob is, literally, your uncle.

I imagine the following discussions taking place between men of science and men of the cloth in our coming world:

Father Coombes: But you see, my dear man, the true function of religion is to lead us on the path of renunciation - the renunciation of belief. At last to feel the air on one's naked defences is quite a relief.

Professor Guessit: You priests are so nihilistic. In your focus on the paraphernalia of celebration, you forget the creative principle.

Father Coombes: I'm afraid that setting your eyebrows on fire and wishful thinking are not enough to protect us from the divine and terrible non-existence of God, that comes upon us, in the end, like a trembling thunder of sunlight on a mid-afternoon tea party in June.

Professor Guessit: Can't you see the chauvinism implicit in such rational gnosticism? With our tongue-nailing practice we've already achieved great things, and there's no reason why we should not achieve more. Just the other day we made a huge leap in our development of teleportation. Admittedly, the development was actually to take a huge leap. But we're getting there.


Any form of teleportation developed through tongue-nailing meditation is a teleportation for which I would be willing to volunteer as a guinea pig.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

I have a dream

Insomnia strikes again. So, in that sense I don't actually have a dream. Or not tonight. Josephine.

However, as Robert Plant once said (almost):

I have a crazy dream, in which turquoise, yellow, black, white, copper and brown are all united, as one, in tearing their leaders limb from limb.

I'm finding David Korten's The Great Turning to be increasingly stimulating reading, and, as the slogan goes, don't just take my word for it. Here's an excerpt:

The public version of the Grand Area strategy, which was intended to rally the support of those who would be the imperial subjects, called for the creation of a free and equal community of nations and gave birth to the United Nations.

The real intention of the United States was articulated in U.S. State Department Policy Planning Study 23, a top-secret document written in 1948 by George Kennan, a leading architect of the post-World War II world:

"We have about 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population... In this situation we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity... To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our intention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives... We should cease to talk about vague... unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better."

This was the real agenda, and the agencies of its implementation would be the Bretton Woods institutions: the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). In 1995, the World Trade Organization (WTO) replaced the less powerful GATT.

Here's another:

In 1823, even as the westward expansion was still in progress, President James Monroe enunciated the Monroe Doctrine as a cornerstone of U.S. policy. The publicly expressed intent was to protect independent Latin American and Caribbean nations from efforts by European powers to recolonize them; the implicit message was that the United States claimed hegemony over the Western Hemisphere.

Theodore Roosevelt took the Monroe doctrine a step further during his presidency (1901-9), announcing that the United States claimed the right to intervene in the internal affairs of any nation that engaged in "flagrant and chronic wrongdoing." Future U.S. administrations defined this to mean any nation that transgressed against a U.S trade or investment interest. A 1962 U.S. State Department report to the Congress listed 103 U.S. military interventions in the affairs of other countries between 1798 and 1895, including interventions in Argentina, Japan, Uruguay, China, Angola, Hawaii, and Nicaragua. The reasons were often obscure but usually related to the investments of one or more U.S. corporations.

I've written a little about racism in recent months. Perhaps I'm slow on the uptake, but I am coming more and more to see racism as something deliberately engineered by our leaders to divide us. I hope that we, the deceived and exploited, shall soon reverse this situation by dividing them. With machetes.

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Making the world feel less English since 2004

First of all, apologies are in order to just about everyone for just about everything.

Secondly, I'd like you all to think of England.

I know I do, frequently.

It is actually a scientific fact that it's ridiculous of me to be critical of England, unto which Stevie Smith likened happiness, however, I live only to be ridiculous in the eyes and bosoms of all those who behold me, and so, let me proceed.

First of all, I've linked to this before, but I do think it's an excellent essay and expresses a lot of what I also would like to express. I differ from the opinions of Momus management here and there. For instance, it looks like I'm not a real man, since I don't really like gadgets (apart from my digital camera). But that's not really a surprise to anyone, now, is it? Errr... Am I referring to the same essay? Haven't got time to re-read it. To continue...

Oh yes, so there's not much left to say after that, but I shall say it, anyway.

The other day, lamenting the existence of my blog to a friend whilst soaking a whole boxful of mansize tissues, I found myself confronted with the following reply:

I like your blog. I think you should carry on writing it. It makes the world feel less English.

(Before I go further, let me point out I'm not treating England and Britain as interchangable, even though they are... No, I'm just joking.)

A couple of days later I came across the following collection of British adverts on Youtube:

Now, I do actually have a sense of humour somewhere, if I could only find it, BUT, just how many layers of 'brilliant' English/British irony (everyone wants some if it's irony we're talking about) are there in these adverts? What finally comes out on top? The beer is being sold as 'no nonsense'. That's what comes out on top. I'm not having a go at Peter Kay. He's talented and funny enough not to need my permission to exist. But let's analyse in a very (un)English way, the first of these adverts {actually the last one is not bad, and perhaps shows the genuinely good side to British (but not English) 'no nonsense'}. Okay, I'm not well up on sports, but some kind of international sporting event. Some foreign Johnny types do some fancy twirly things off the diving board. Then it's 'good old' John Smith from 'Great Britain'. "What can he do?" we're asked, almost as if it's a rhetorical question. Because we're crap, aren't we? (Is the subtext.) And what he does is 'a running bomb'. The foetal version of a bellyflop, or perhaps the Dambusters version, eh? Anyway, needless to say he wins. That's the spirit! And, the advertising slogan for this horrible beer that tastes like Fairy Liquid is 'No nonsense'. Really? I think there's quite a lot of nonsense in there. However. 'No nonsense' is what the British, and specifically the English, pride ... I want to say 'ourselves', to be inclusive, but I can't, because I don't share these sentiments... is what they pride themselves on. What does 'no nonsense' really mean? Not trying. Being crap. Hating other people for being better than you. Hating to see your mates do well. Etcetera. He hasn't been in the pub since Tuesday, his new girlfriend really has him under the thumb etcetera etcetera. (Oh yeah, the one about the old people's home is particularly horrible. Funny? Didn't raise a titter.)

Sorry, but I don't find it funny. Even as a joke, it's lazy. How ironic can a pint of beer be?

I do enjoy a drink, but... there is more to life than beer and 'a running bomb'. There really is. Open your eyes, if you don't believe me. There is... Well, let's start with Momus. There's Momus, criminally underrated Scottish musician and blogger. There's.... Justin Isis, Mark Samuels (ha ha, no I'm not going to just list all my friends, sorry), Bruno Schulz, Juana Molina, Chinese landscape painting, flying gliders, entomology, Arthur Machen, that really grim Polish artist who was knifed whose name I can never spell and I'm probably embarrassing myself and getting the country wrong, too, Maruo Suehiro, C.G. Jung, Stanislav Grof, Gurdjieff, Kate Bush, Sifow, Maeda Ken, Zhongguo Wawa, Jorge Luis Borges, Jeremy Reed, The Tindersticks, some people that I have unforgivably not kept in touch with (sorry again), Nagai Kafu, Tanizaki Jun'ichiro, Naruse Mikio, Takahashi Rumiko, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ivor Cutler, William Blake, Yang Lian, Wang Wei, Li Bai, tai chi, Six Feet Under, the Peter Harris Experience, Andre Gide, Immanuel Kant, Fucking Amal, Thomas Ligotti, Kierkegaard, Ann Kavan, tree frogs, duckweed, two-tone, wolf-children, Marcus Aurelius and Norman Lovett in my living room alone. And that's still a very, very biased list, it has to be said. (Oh, and Kahlil Gibran, he quipped.)

And some of them are even English.

And some of them are even British.

Errr. I think that's all I really needed to say. I'll leave the last word to Kit Wright, a poet. I know nothing about Kit Wright except that he or she wrote the following poem. (If there are any copyright problems, will Kit Wright please get in touch with me, and I promise that the John Smiths will be on me for the evening):

Everyone Hates the English

Everyone hates the English,
Including the English, they sneer
At each other for being so English,
So what are they doing here,
The English? It's thick with the English,
All over the country. Why?
Everyone ever born English
Should shut up, or fuck off, or die.

Anyone ever born English
Should hold their extraction in scorn
And apologise all over England
For ever at all being born,
For that's how it is, being English;
Fodder for any old scoff
That England might be a nice country
If only the English fucked off!

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Interview with Rroland

When I write, as part of the ritual necessary to putting me in the right frame of mind, as well as making myself a pot of tea, I tend to put on some music. This is usually instrumental (with one or two exceptions). For instance, favourites include the soundtrack the from film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters by Philip Glass and (currently) Mum's Finally We Are No one. Another disc that has graced my player during the ritual of writing, and at various other times, is Reflections on a Past Life as Played on the Roland Synthesiser, by Rroland. Rroland's music is, to offer a very general description, instrumental, electronic and ambient. However, I'm not sure I could really give and idea of genre here, and even the word 'ambient' seems misleading. Sometimes, when I'm writing, I find that the music refuses to be background music. Some of the pieces are too structured to really be 'ambient', seeming to build themselves in cyclopean blocks before the mind's eye, and even those that have a drifting quality are only really misty - if at all - at the edges. If this is drifting, then it is drifting as experienced by Walter Gilman in H.P. Lovecraft's 'The Dreams in the Witch House', who finds himself nocturnally travelling in dream through regions that "lie beyond the three dimensions we know" in "plunges through limitless abysses of inexplicably coloured twilight and bafflingly disordered sound; abysses whose material and gravitational properties, and whose relation to his own entity, he could not even begin to explain."

In the case of Reflections on a Past Life, however, there is some explanation, and that explanation is in the title. The fifteen tracks on the disc are a musical representation of a past-life re-lived, and, I must say, they do rather feel that way, like a therapeutic session, perhaps, with the likes of R.D, Laing, whose aim is to re-experience and thus to exorcise buried trauma. The reviews I have read of the disc use phrases such as "Candyland-on-crack", but my own experience is not of 'electronic popsicles'. To give an example, The Road up to Hell sounds to me like a cryogenically frozen soul watching paralysed as bits of karmic space debris burn up in the atmosphere of its aura.

Just the other day, Momus invited the readers of his blog to interview each other in his comments section. I wrote down an impromptu list of questions, and a number of people were generous enough to answer these (and all of them interestingly). Among these people there was Rroland, who has kindly given me permission to reproduce the interview here:

Q: What was the last book (s) that you read?

R: Street of Crocodiles Bruno Schultz

Q: How was it?

R: Funny, sad, inspiring made me want to compose new stuff

Q: Do you have any pets?

R: no, a mouse once lived with me but my landlord killed it

Q: What's your favourite non-alcholic drink?

R: Trader Joe's Bedtime tea

Q: What would be the preferred manner of your death?

R: in the backcountry while hiking, or with my head on my keyboard playing an endless distorted note

Q: What is the oldest article of clothing that you still wear?

R: that's a long answer, i wear everything until it falls apart

Q: What is your favourite kind of weather?

R: thick fog

Q: What is the least touristy place you have ever been?

R: San Diego, CA

Q: What place names make you laugh?

R: San Diego

Q: Have you ever been personally involved with someone born on an island smaller than Taiwan?

R: No

Q: Do you prefer to use chopsticks, knife and fork, or hands?

R: Chopsticks when possible

Q: Have you ever walked out on a film in the cinema, and if so, what was it?

R: 'I'm not There', The Heath Ledger parts were pissing me off

Q: What's your least favourite cartoon and why?

R: He-Man, because i am a mis-anthropist

Q: Who is the world's funniest comedian?

R: Franz Kafka

Q: What do you want to do next week?

R: Yoga

Q: Have you ever admired someone for political reasons?

R: yes, Momus

Q: What is the most psychologically formative event of your life before the age of nine?

R: when I burned my dad's porn collection and started a field on fire and got in trouble with the fire department

Q: Where did you last go for a daytrip and why?

R: I walked about 10 miles across the GG Bridge from my house in SF and took the ferry back from Sausalito

Thanks for interview Quentin!

You may listen to some of Rroland's music at his Myspace page, here.

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Kirino Natsuo seems to be something of a phenomenon.

She is a Japanese author of, to my knowledge, what might be described as thrillers or crime novels. I know enough to understand that crime is big at the moment. For many horror and supernatural writers, for instance, it's the 'new horror'. I hear murmurings that the crime genre is considered pretty cutting edge right now, and I'm sure there are readers who will corroborate.

Justin Isis turned me onto Kirino Natsuo, describing her as an example of 'obasan rage'. 'Obasan' is Japanese for 'aunt', but is also used to refer generally to middle-aged women.

In London recently, I popped into a bookshop, saw a copy of Grotesque and bought it on impulse. I started reading it that day, and soon found it addictive. Here's what some of the blurbs say:

'Cool, angry and stylish,' The Times.

'Delves so deep beyond its own shock horror premise that much contemporary crime fiction appears cheap and exploitative by comparison...' Metro.

There are more, but I'll leave it at that.

After a couple of days of reading it, I met up with Mr. Wu in London (for those who are new to this blog, Mr. Wu is a pseudonym), and spoke to him about it, even then thinking I'd like to write a review of it.

"It's a Japan I recognise," I said.

"In what way?"

"Well, lots of people made utterly dull and spiteful by conformity."

"Hmmmm. It's funny you should say that. That's exactly, word for word, how I would describe Britain."

(If you're using this blog post for any kind of sociological study, well, I'm afraid that's about as incisive as my social observation is going to get.)

Anyway, the other day I finally finished the book, and now I'd like to write a little about it. I'll try not to give too many spoilers, though I'll have to discuss some aspects of plot. Basically, as explained on the back cover, the story is that of two women educated at the same elite school for girls, who both go on to become prostitutes, and who both are murdered. The story is largely told in the voice of the older sister of one of these women. Ironically, I don't think I can remember the older sister's name now. Damn, that's terrible, and I'll tell you why - because no one really seems to remember her name at all (maybe the author omits it on purpose, but I'm not sure). She lives in the shadow of her younger sister, Yuriko, who is extraordinarily beautiful. People think of her simply as 'Yuriko's (ugly) older sister'. Other parts of the story are told by Yuriko, the second woman, Sato Kazue, and the apparent murderer.

The sister tells us early on that if she had to describe Yuriko in one word, that word would be 'monster'. This seems a startling claim, but she makes good on it as the story unfolds. And the reason her sister is a monster? Not because she was born with an evil soul or any such thing, but merely because of her beauty. Beauty is monstrous because it is the focus of desire, and specifically male desire. This is a book that could be summed up as an unfavourable review of the male sex through the eyes of those most qualified to know them - prostitutes. Kirino Natsuo seems to have arrived on the scene like a brilliant party pooper at an office party, the razor sharp obasan casting a withering eye on the other office girls flattering their bosses and on the bosses simpering in return.

This is a book of unapologetic extremes, successfully pulled off. Just as Yuriko is described straightforwardly as a monster, so society is depicted in more or less absolute terms as a bullying hierarchy, and characters are divided starkly into 'insiders' and 'outsiders', 'sluts' and 'virgins' and so on. Although this could result in a dull simplicity if not skilfully handled, such polarisation is effective here for a number of reasons. The extreme views give a certain incisive power, like the stabs of a sharpened blade. Also, because the story is told from the viewpoints of different characters, and the characters not only reveal different sides of the same events, but different aspects of themselves over time, the narrative blade that Kirino Natsuo uses is not only sharp, but could also be described as double-edged. There's something else, too. Early on in the story, during the section set in the school for girls, where pupils are naturally divided into the 'insiders' who were at the school from the beginning, and the 'outsiders' who enrolled later, there is the following dialogue between the older sister and her best friend:

Best friend: "I didn't think there could ever be such a student here."

Older sister: "Even among the outsiders?"

Best friend: "Outsiders? Damn, you're like an alien, you know. No one laughs at you or tries to bother you. You just go about your business without a care in the world!"

As soon as I read this, and other similar descriptions pertaining to the older sister character, I had a strong feeling that they also applied to Kirino Natsuo as an author. She is 'not even an outsider', and this gives her angle a complexity that belies the seeming simplicity of 'outsider/insider', 'virgin/slut' and so on. It also leads me to imagine the office party that I mentioned earlier as a metaphor for the literary world, full of complacency and mutual back-slapping. I would like to think, and can well imagine, that the presence of Kirino Natsuo makes a lot of the old phoneys in the world of writing and publishing rather nervous. She might just spoil the easy game for everyone, and show up what cheats and slackers they all are.

Although none of the characters in Grotesque are exactly sympathetic, and certainly not admirable, it's definitely men who come off worst:

I can't think of any creature more disgusting than a man, with his hard muscles and bones, his sweaty skin, all that hair on his body, and his knobbly knees. I hate men with deep voices and bodies that smell like animal fat, men who act like bullies and never comb their hair. Oh, yes, there is no end to the nasty things I can say about men. I'm just lucky to have a job at a ward office so I don't have to commute to work every day on the crowded trains. I don't think I could stand riding jammed in a car with a bunch of smelly salary men.

Being a member of the male sex myself, you might imagine I would find this offensive, but I don't. Not in the least. I'm not sure why that should be except that it simply seems honest to me. It's not some sly political statement, not some part of the power struggle. The main narrator (and perhaps the author) is smart enough to disown any ideology such as feminism. Her hatred is personal, and that's something I can respect completely. In fact, I very much appreciate the opportunity to see the world in such a way, and hope that this is a vista that many men (and women) will find themselves subjected to unwittingly. Even if the picture painted in this book of the male sex is not the 'whole truth', I see no reason to give counter-arguments, which have been given for so long now, anyway, that they resemble excuses. For now, let us bathe in the pure hatred. The hour of obasan rage is upon us!

Yes, indeed, Kirino Natsuo is smart. Her style seems to me like that of someone so sharp she doesn't have to try too hard to prove anything, who can let things drop almost off-handedly here and there. For instance, I love this kind of thing:

Yes, I can well believe you don't want to hear any more about my grandfather and Mitsuru's mother and their disgusting love story.

What fascinates me is how Kirino Natsuo has taken an angle that is almost the opposite of cool - for instance, the obscure life of the frumpy, middle-aged woman who is the main narrator here - and turned it around to create something that is, to quote The Times once more, "cool, angry and stylish", and how she has done so seemingly without compromise. A work that concentrates solely on hatred, violence and ugliness could be accused of being shallow, and I suppose such a criticism is possible, and yet I feel that there is something in the sharpness and smartness of what Kirino Natsuo has acheived here that is not shallow. Its depth lies in the depth of suffering and the depth of hatred, the care with which the sharp blade of the narrative has been honed, and in all that has been left unsaid.

And, if you want pathos, how about the pathos revealed in small details, such as an aging and 'grotesque' prostitute, of good educational background, putting her finger to her chin as a deliberate expression of little girl cuteness in order to try and win some kind of sympathy from the man who is her oblivious customer?

Not that I would say this is a perfect novel by any means. I did not find, for instance, the narrative voice of the murderer as compelling as that of the older sister. Also, I understand that the author is influenced by Stephen King, and here and there I felt the prose (whether due to poor translation or not, I don't know), lapsed from sharpness into the kind of passable, plodding, action-driven prose characteristic of King. My overall verdict, however, is that I want to read more.

I looked up a little on Kirino Natsuo after I started reading the book. There were two points of interest for me. Perhaps three. I was surprised to find that she is a married mother. I shouldn't have been really. As a writer myself, I know very well that one should not necessarily take fiction at face value or look for a literal correspondence between the work and the author. However, I do admit that I was surprised - but not disappointed. I like the seeming disparity here. I like the fact that she is able so convincingly to project a persona that bears no resemblance to her outward circumstances. Yes, I still believe her work to be honest. Honesty in fiction is something very different to mere autobiography.

Secondly, I noted that although she has written thirteen full-length novels and a number of other books since 1993, only two of her books have been translated into English. This is utterly shameful. I don't know anymore whether to blame the publishers or the reading public for this kind of thing, but it does make me angry nonetheless. The proportion of novels being translated from English to other languages is much greater than the proportion being translated from other languages to English. Why? English literature is so dull and self-satisfied, and so is the English-speaking world. It seems like the only Japanese literature that most people can ever claim to have read (if they can claim any at all) is Murakami Haruki, in whose books, with their offensively coffee-table hip covers, we are currently drowning.

Did I say there was a third thing? Well, just that I looked up some images of Kirino Natsuo, too, and I find she has a rather wonderful face, as you can see above.

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Monday, March 31, 2008


I've just noticed that the cover of Shrike has now been completed. This is good.

I know people have pre-ordered copies, too. Well, it's coming. You know, there's more in the pipeline, after Shrike, too. Much, much more, even if I have to jolly-well publish it myself, or even if someone lifts the memory stick of all my work off my corpse after I've been beaten to death outside the offices of Penguin Books for looking a bit like Doctor Who.

Well, the artist, Vincent Chong, has done a nice job. I like his work.

But now, I'm very tired. I think that Mr. Newton has had enough. Yes, I rather think he has.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

David Blunkett's Hands

I wonder just how manipulated I am. For instance, I find Heather Mills's face quite offensive, but I'm sure this response has been carefully engineered by the media, in the photographs chosen and so on. But why are they doing this? Or is this a silly question?

I've heard people say how brilliant Brasseye was at deconstructing supposedly objective television, such as news and current affairs programmes, and I would agree.

I'm pondering this partly because I'm reading Grotesque by Kirino Natsuo, which I hope to review once I've finished.

No worse fate can befall a man, says Burroughs, than to be surrounded by traitor souls. Indeed. Which soul do you trust?

I remember a conversation about Brasseye and the way the media creates images. He had watched, my interlocutor told me, a current affairs programme in which David Blunkett was being interviewed. And, at the conclusion of the interview, there was a moment where the camera focused on David Blunkett's hands. Why?

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Tale of Two Teapots

I want to talk to you about teapots.

When I went to London last weekend I bought a new teapot. When I came back, I took some photographs of it. You will see the photographs below. I call them, 'My New Teapot 1', 'My New Teapot 2' and 'My New Teapot 3'.

Teapots are good things to take photographs of.

In fact, I have a whole new album of six pictures, all of them of teapots. I call this new album, 'Teapots'.

My new teapot was bought in the place where I lived just before moving to Wales, on the outskirts of London, in Zone 5, I believe. I was walking along the highstreet, looking in the windows of the shops, when there, in one of the gloomier, grimier windows, I saw something that made me stop in my tracks. It was a teapot.

You will probably notice from the photographs that this was not a common-or-garden teapot, or, at least, not a common-or-garden British teapot. Oh no. It was a common-or-garden Japanese teapot. Although my interest extends to embrace teapots in general, I especially like ones that come from Japan and ones that come from China. The latter are usually a little more delicate and showy and the former more rustic and 'minimalist'. That is, of course, a generalisation. You may also notice that the handle is not where it would be on a British teapot. No. This is positioned much more sensibly, so as not to break your wrist, above the lid of the teapot. Also, it is made of wicker.

As much as anything, it was this handle that attracted me. There's a story behind this. I shall tell it to you. My favourite teapot even is one that I bought in Japan. I will post a picture of it below. I bought it when I moved into my room in Ohbaku, part of Uji, near Kyoto. The city of Uji is the tea capital of Japan. Although I did not have much to do with human beings while I was resident in and around Kyoto, because of Uji, I had a lot to do with tea and all its appurtenances.

My favourite teapot was not expensive. It was cheap and mass-produced, but it was just right, in my eyes, and very kawaii. I also like, perhaps erroneously, to think of it as fuuryuu. For me, drinking tea is very much an aesthetic experience. I don't believe, either, that 'aesthetic' has to mean 'expensive'. No, no. On the contrary, it is very often (perhaps most often) the other way round. This is why the Japanese tea masters of old spurned the ostentatious Chinese tea utensils for use in the tea ceremony, preferring those that were plainer and more rustic.

During my time in Japan, I looked at enough ceramics closely enough to get a general idea of what is better craftsmanship, what is more expensive and so on. But good taste is not dictated by market value. Everything depends on context.

Last year, the wicker handle of my favourite teapot broke. There is not only misfortune in my life. If you look at the photograph of my favourite teapot carefully, you will see sellotape about the bottom parts of the handle. This was before it broke completely. I knew the day would come, and I dreaded it. However, the day it broke, it was just after I had filled it with hot water to brew some tea and was about to set it on the floor in my room. Perhaps half a centimeter before it touched the floor, the handle broke. If it had been seconds earlier, the entire teapot would have shattered, spilling boiling tea everywhere.

The teapot was saved. I only needed a new handle. This, however, was not so easy to come by. I could not find one anywhere in London. Even last weekend, looking at the Japan Centre along Piccadilly, I could not find any.

I have been using a stand-in for my favourite ever since the handle broke.

When I saw this new teapot in the shop window, not only did I like the simple black-and-cream design, I also noted the handle! If I did not want to use the teapot itself, I could remove the handle and transfer it to my favourite teapot. The shop was closed. I determined to come back early the next day.

I came back early the next day. The shop in question was a charity shop. I think it was Roumanian Relief Fund or something. I can't quite remember. To be honest, I was more interested in that teapot! It cost three pounds and fifty pence. The lady at the counter wrapped it in newspaper for me and put it in an estate agent's bag.

At last I brought it back to Wales. I noted, again, the layer of gunge that had collected on its upper surface from long neglect. I decided to try and wash this off, but it was thicker than I had thought. Eventually, I tried nail varnish remover and a cotton wad on the glazed black area. This seemed to work. Then I rinsed this off with boiling water. As I did so I remembered fondly a teapot I had once bought in America from a Chinese lady. She had instructed me in a particular ritual to perform with all new teapots to make them unbreakable. However, I couldn't remember whether or not that ritual only related to unglazed pots. I won't say what that ritual is. Apparently it's something done traditionally in China, so there must be only a few hundred million people in the world who know what it is, and I'd like to keep the knowledge exclusive and esoteric. I lost that particular teapot. Well, when I say I lost it, what I mean is that, very sadly, we parted ways.

There have been and still are many teapots in my life. I won't tell you all their stories now, if I ever do.

My new teapot is still sitting by the fireplace. It's not of genuine Japanese origin. I can tell that much. Despite the attractiveness of the design, I can also tell it's very cheap. The end of the spout is not formed well, and it doesn't pour as smoothly as it should. I'm wondering whether to decide if this means that it is beautiful in its imperfection, or whether it just means it's a dud; if it is the latter then I can transfer the handle to my old, favourite teapot. I have not brewed tea with the new one yet. After I've given it another good wash, I shall do so. And after I have done so, perhaps I shall make my decision.

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