Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Sign Language of Ghosts

When I heard my father had cancer I caught the train from London to my parents’ home in the country. During the journey a friend of mine called whose father had recently died. As I was talking to her, the train stopped and I noticed a young fox had stopped in its tracks on the siding and was looking at me. I mentioned it to my friend and then thought no more of it.
    A few weeks later (my father fast forwarded through cancer: he always liked to do things promptly) there was a phone call at five in the morning from the hospice. It was believed my father was “slipping away”. My mother told me she didn’t want to see him die. We therefore sat down at the kitchen table and ate some breakfast. There was a strange clarity to material objects. I was more aware of the boundary between one thing and another.
     As we were driving to the hospice I noticed a fox in a field. I turned my head to keep it in sight for as long as possible. The sun was coming up over the fields of grain and the fox was a luminous otherworldly gold colour. 
     When we reached the hospice we were told my father had passed away peacefully ten minutes ago. My mother broke down. She told me she didn’t want to see his corpse. I thus entered the room alone. Nothing quite prepares you for the sight of your dead father. Father love is ancient and elemental, like mountains. It’s difficult to accept the sudden disappearance of a mountain. His mouth was wide open. His eyes were open too. My father had passed through the moment of absolute terror. He had faced it with his eyes open. It’s said that people die in their sleep – but how is it possible to sleep through something as clamorous as the arrival of one’s own death? I put my hand on his forehead. It was still warm. I had never seen death before. Oddly I found I felt a sense of exhilarating calm. I had no desire to leave the room.
     We later had to wait for a doctor to arrive. I sat down in the sitting room and opened an old edition of Tatler which was lying on the table. I opened it at random and found myself looking at a photo of the friend who had called me on the train. She had been photographed wearing a fox mask at some ball. There had now been a trinity of foxes.
    These bizarre coincidences, these uncanny sequences of correlated images occur to everyone but what do they mean? What sustenance can we take from them? The poetry in synchronicities is a mystical and probably unknowable secret. It’s like the sign language of ghosts.  

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Work in Progress (3)

     “I’m not going to hit you with this,” Evie said and laid the sleek, strangely compelling instrument down on the bed.
    Hugh looked up at her with sly calculation from his doggie position on the bare stone floor. Evie responded with a frown. She didn’t like saying no to people. She wanted flattery from life – to give and receive it both. There were raw red blotches all over Hugh’s back and they began to make her feel a bit sick.
     “I won’t do it,” she said. “And if you don’t let me out, I’m going to call out to your mum.”
     Hugh smirked and wriggled again. Then Evie’s phone began ringing, Just as she had taken it from her bag and was about to answer, Hugh snatched it from her in another of his surprisingly fleet flurries of activity, marched with it to the window, which he opened, and hurled it out into the night.
     “Oh no. Hugh has been very naughty again,” he said. He fell down on all fours. “Naughty naughty Hugh deserves to be punished.”
      Evie walked over to the open window and looked down at her phone glowing in the long black grass. Her body heated and glowed with the stoppered energy of a caged animal. She turned round to face Hugh who was still wiggling absurdly on the floor. She felt a clotted surge of contempt for his flabby white body; it rose up in her like mercury in a thermometer. She picked up the whip and hit him with it. It felt good so she hit him again. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Who Needs Ashley Cole?

Imagine how much righteous indignation, how much radioactive sludge would be generated amongst the moral majority were this a current news item –
 Poet leaves his pregnant wife and child to elope with a seventeen year-old girl. He has a carriage waiting outside her door at four in the morning. Except he’s not only abducting one young girl, he’s taking her half sister too, who is sixteen. And their father is his friend. They race to Dover where they get passage in an undecked boat. There’s a storm. The boat almost sinks. He’s forgotten to bring much money with him. They have to walk to Switzerland with a half lame donkey. When he arrives in Switzerland he sends a letter to his wife telling her how happy he is, how much he values her friendship and invites her to come and live with him and his two new nymphs. There isn’t a smidgen of irony in his letter. You’ve got to hand it to Shelley. Were he alive now The Daily Mail and The News of the World would be baying for his blood on a daily basis. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Can You Imagine?

“The name of your medicine is… Each 5 ml contains 10 mg of Morphine Sulphate as the active…The solution also contains the following inactive ingredients: sucrose, corn syrup, methyl parahydroxybenzoate (E218), propyl parahydroxybenzoate (E216), ethanol and purified water.”
     To my knowledge my father had never read Shakespeare. He didn’t like reading. I remember wondering if he had read all the literature about his last-gasp medication. There were sheets and sheets of it, all kept neatly inside a pink plastic folder. It seemed to me a further cruelty that one’s last reading matter might consist of horrorshow jargon like this. How do words like propyl parahydroxybenzoate (E216) come into existence? Does someone sit around thinking them up? Or are they just lots of bits of words sellotaped together? And why the secret code business afterwards? Aren’t the words complicated enough already? First of all you have to get out the thirty-three syllable combination of letters and then you have to remember a numerical code. Why not throw in some Hebrew script while you’re at it? Just to say the thing is as riddled with risk as robbing a post office – except at least you can wear a balaclava over your face while doing that: you can’t wear a balaclava while trying to pronouncing propyl parahydroxybenzoate (E216); the perplexity, the fear of failure on your features is there for everyone to see. We all know scientists are clever but do they have to show off about it all the time? It’s a good job scientists don’t name buses or supermarkets. No one would use them. Can you imagine if the number 14 bus was called methyl parahydroxybenzoate (E218)? Who the fuck would ever get on that? There’s something humiliating about words you can’t pronounce. They can make you feel like shit. And isn’t cancer already humiliating and shit enough without having your tongue twisted and nailed to the roof of your mouth by the name of the medicine you’re having to take?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lady Lydia Wentworth

    Jake could not meet his aunt’s gaze for long. The thick slapdash smudges beneath her cucumber green eyes, pencilled in as if with charcoal, had the effect of widening them into an expression of avid attention. There was a mineral hardness, a pinioning relentlessness about their staring quality.
   “Such morbidity in a young man isn’t natural either, especially in the summer,” she said. “Perhaps you should seek psychiatric help? There have been quite a few loose screws in our family, you know. Poor Cynthia springs to mind.”
    “Actually I was rather hoping you might reconsider loaning my friend Ivan that diary of hers you spoke about. He says he could have it back to you within twenty four hours.”
     “That’s very considerate of him. Is he though, as a rule, as good as his word? Not that I care. You see, I don’t feel it’s up to me. It’s something Cynthia would have to decide.”
     ”She’s been dead for what, two hundred years?”
     “Has he given any thought to contacting a medium? Cynthia, by all accounts, thrived on attention. She might react kindly to being awakened from her long sleep. I remember as a young girl I once participated in a séance.”
       Lady Lydia finished her glass of gin and tonic and poured herself a new one.
      “Someone, I recall, moved a glass about on some kind of board while we all closed our eyes and concentrated on an idea of infinity. Of course I had no idea of what infinity was in those days. And I didn’t like being told what to do either.” She stabbed her cigarette into the remains of the chicken wing where it continued to burn and ferment an eye-watering stink as the filter and fatty deposits of the dead bird smouldered. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Female Orgasm

        For me, I remember, my body was all rippling inward motion – thrusting in, splashing around, drawing out, wave after wave. It was like an elusive tail was flickering about in my bloodstream. Then, just when I thought I’d lost it, this swelling and subsiding snake sensation brushing up against my inner skin, it would come forth unexpectedly again as if from some vast shadowed hiding place and dissolve me in a phosphorescence of elation. At first it was an incredibly physical sensation which every atom partook in. My body ached and yearned in the place where pleasure and pain are fused. And then something other took over completely from inside - so strong that there no longer seemed to be a boundary to my body. As if one star had suddenly burst into hundreds of fiery and icy scattering stars. All the aching was transformed into another element - fluid and dark, a waterfall at the heart of darkness. Or like a water hose that you put your finger over so the water sprays, bursts, erupts out in all directions uncontrollably. And then the skin came back on my body and time returned. The desire still swirled inside like a deep heartbeat. It was carnal and spiritual together, of the day and of the night. It contained the seed of all that's transfiguring and triumphant but also of all that’s terrifying - panic, terror, rage, annihilation, jealousy, madness, death. All these light and dark forces swirled about, were set in motion and what one is left with can easily assail one as a terrifying exultant emptiness."
          “Phosphorescence of elation?”
          “Okay, so I got a bit carried away.”

Monday, October 25, 2010

Work in Progress (2)

     In the garden Ivan and Felix had grown bored waiting for Jake. They had seen him press his nose to the glass and had debated for a while what this unclassified signal might mean. Not long afterwards Felix tripped over a strange mound of freshly turned earth at the back of the garden. A graphic image of Isabella’s decomposing corpse, swarming with microbes and parasites, flashed into his field of vision. He shuddered and jumped back. He looked pointedly at Ivan.
     “It was Hugh and he’s buried her here in the bloody garden,” he said.
     They discussed this possibility for a while. Then they spotted an open upstairs window and, below, a trellis over which spumed an orgasm of wisteria.
     When the back door opened and a blaze of light violated the composed shadow patterns of the garden, Felix was about six feet up the fragile wooden scaffolding while Ivan stood below, smoking. Felix, alarmed by the sudden uproarious glare of publicity, lost his footing and tumbled back down to earth.
     “It’s only a game,” Ivan explained in Italian to the two watching carabinieri.  

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Work in progress

Magnus was working on Jake’s penis. He rolled a dollop of clay between his palms into a sausage shape, a brusque businesslike performance, and then welded it with a close-fisted stabbing motion to the figurine’s pelvic region. He sat on a little wooden stool to do this. His touch now became gentle and caressing as he kneaded the base of the phallus into the basin of the groin and smoothed its contours. Satisfied it was firmly attached and Jake was no longer a eunuch, he thought better of remarking to his model how vulnerable the male genital organ was in the architectural design of the male anatomy and instead stepped back to assess his handiwork in relation to the whole shape. He held a small mirror close to his cheek, squinting his bloodshot eyes into what appeared an expression of disconsolate fury. The new appendage had assumed a semi-erect status though it was infinitesimally wilting, pulled earthwards by its own weight.  Magnus began splicing away at its length with a delicate wooden tool. Little shavings of clay cascaded to the ground which he later trod into the flagstones. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My father

   My father was too young to die. Every other patient in the hospice I saw had long since had stripped from them every last vestige of humanity. They were folded back into brittle foetus shapes or wired up to silent generators, like old-fashioned electrical appliances which still worked but no longer had any function. There was something almost shameful in the way these wizened husks clung to life. It made them somehow hateful. One sensed the life force in them consisted almost exclusively of fear. One wants the old to at least impart an accomplishment of wisdom. If terror is all they have to offer at the end of their days why even bother listening to them? I admired my dad for his obvious desire to get this thing over and done with quickly. Fear did not seem to be his predominant emotion.
     Earlier my mother had told him not to hang on, to just let go. I wasn’t sure that would be what I wanted to hear from my wife on my deathbed. He nodded weakly. I remembered how avidly he had always liked to throw things away. It had been a kind of obsessive satisfaction for him to see something else consumed, something else consigned to a crematorium. The newspaper was often in the recycling bin before lunchtime. And after a meal he would often say, another dinner over and done with, with the satisfaction of someone completing a crossword puzzle. He liked to get things over and done with. In fact I suspect that was his chief motivation for doing what little he did do. I sometimes think that is another thing we have in common. Except he consigned things to the past so as not to have to look at them any more, whereas I consign things to the past so as to become more intimate with them.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Donatello's David: Renaissance Florence's relationship with nature

    It could be argued that David was the first erotic representation of personality in the history of art. The classical Greek studies of the male nude are idealised archetypes but they don’t have personal charm. You can’t imagine them talking on the phone or reading a book. They are forever frozen into their one platonic gesture. David though is alive. Almost we can imagine how he would dance, how he would skip down stairs to answer a front door.
But one has to wonder if Donatello was having a laugh at someone’s expense. Surely there was a spry gleam of mischief in his eye when he envisioned the unveiling of his David to the Florentine patriarchs. He wants us to believe his David was capable of bringing down a giant? Yeah, right. With his handbag? Or was it the fey sticky pout, the limp wrist and coy strut of hip that struck fear into the heart of the giant? 
The answer perhaps lies with the nature of the giant. What if the giant Donatello’s David defeated was regenerative Mother Nature – the most implacable and barbaric giant of all? Homoeroticism is an affront to the most fundamental function of nature: the procreative principle. The boastful swagger of Donatello’s David is like a declaration of war to Mother Earth. He seems to be saying, “You won’t be getting any of my seed, love.”

  Florence doesn’t really care for nature. It has a river running through it, a volatile emissary of the earth mother, and it has decorous hills surrounding it. But you won’t see much greenery in the centre. It’s as if anything with shoots or pollen, anything doomed to decay has been surgically removed, like moles or warts. The Renaissance was a kind of war declared on nature. Where’s the nature in Botticelli’s Venus or Flora? They look like manifestations of imagination, stunning silicon androids or angels with no messy interiority. Michelangelo produced an army of virile masculine giants as if for him nature was women who were thus to be avoided at all costs. The one attractive female in his CV presides over her limp lifeless son with a serene look of satisfaction as if it was she herself who sucked all the blood from his neck. Michelangelo is offering us a warning. Nature is a vampire. The artistic sensibility of Renaissance Florence understood this and used art as the apotropaic wooden cross. The only major artist of the Renaissance who didn’t quite elude nature’s vampirism was Leonardo whose pictures often have an ominous looming landscape in the background.  His sfumato style pays homage to nature’s proliferating murk, its blurred withering edges and liquid erosions. It’s as if Leonardo alone was gradually subsumed by nature and as a result produced very little art.  

Cyber sex in Second Life: mistress and slave

     I had no desire whatsoever to keep Anjar as my slave. I was trying to picture his (or her) owner at his keyboard. How much playful irony, I wondered, was there in his urgent requests for more humiliation. Granted absolute anonymity, as most of these people were, it was somewhat disconcerting to realise how salient was the desire to rape, to be raped, to torture, to be tortured.  Is modern real life that boring? As a consolation for her intention to abandon him to his fate Bysshe, with her usual generosity, decided to titillate his fetish.  
     Bysshe Artaud pushes the boy to the ground and lets her toes rest on his mouth. “You may clean my feet with your tongue boy”
     Anjar Zimmer: I must?
    Bysshe Artaud pushes her foot harder against his face, bending back his nose
     Bysshe Artaud: Lick boy
     Anjar Zimmer: it's smell
     Bysshe Artaud rubs her foot in some mud and offal on the ground and then presses it to his mouth
     Anjar Zimmer start slow licking Mistress foot
     Anjar Zimmer: first big toe
                 IM: Anjar Zimmer: I like sweaty feet from boots but everythig depends on you
     Anjar Zimmer licking between toes

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A fry of fornication at the door

There was finally something fun to do here last night – a big dinner party. As usual with these big parties there was a sense of there being “a fry of fornication at the door” (as Shakespeare puts it) and also as usual it ended with me having a fight with myself. After dinner a rather feisty deep throated English girl sat down next to me and within five minutes made it clear that if I was up for it she was up for it too and there didn’t have to be consequences because she was only here for the weekend. When one’s young it’s as easy to accept those kind of invitations as it is to light a cigarette. Nowadays I’ve got this kind of chaste grandpa persona in me that at the first sign of mischief clears his throat and bursts into sermon. But the young ravenous urchin is still there too, and they always end up having a fight. When as a male you say no to sex on a platter you always end up feeling like you’ve just said no to life itself. You’re left with such a barren sterile sense of yourself somehow. You feel like yesterday’s washing up, smeared with desiccated fats and sauces. Nevertheless I very politely made excuses and feeling like some 18th century rector went home alone. That was when the ravenous urchin and principled grandpa began wrestling on the kitchen table.
     I’m beginning to worry about the male in me. I recently behaved badly with a girl I met on Facebook. We had never met in the flesh but began writing messages to each other. Writing is often how I get drunk. It’s so easy for me to get carried away and blot out completely the actual person to whom I’m writing. My emails to her were like ladders up to her bedroom window which I would scale, half pirate, half clown, and shout my head off. In fact I did such an extravagant job of misrepresenting myself to her that I ended up feeling about six inches tall – as if I could take a bath in a garden puddle and afterwards wrap myself up in a leaf as a bathrobe. I suspect the secret scope behind all my behaviour with females these days is to avoid having sex ever again but without having to admit this might be the aim. Sex, like illness, is where we are stripped naked by nature and forced to play her game.  Sex is nature’s heart of darkness. And the haunted house where all our ghosts are awakened.  

Friday, October 15, 2010

Football hooliganism and Hemingway

Whenever they talk about the football hooliganism problem here in Italy they use us in England as an exemplary example of reform. What of course they don’t take into account is that nowadays one might be reasonably safe in an English football stadium but it’s not completely out of the question that you won’t be knifed in a library or given a good seeing to in a museum. In fact football stadiums are one of the very few places in England nowadays where one is relatively safe. Conversely, in Italy, that kind of violence only seems to happen in and around stadiums.
    Apart from Lolita and For Whom the Bell Tolls, the former menacingly exuberant, the latter occasionally errant in its sideshows and pompous in its overwriting but essentially brilliant, I’m reading It Happened in Boston? (Of course one sometimes secretly enjoys the ordinary books more than the good ones (especially if they've had good reviews) because it's no bad thing to take one's vanity out for the odd walk. Anyway, It Happened in Boston trundles merrily on its way in a thoroughly undistinguished but competent fashion until, on page thirty or so, the murder is announced. Has bung in a murder before page thirty now replaced show don’t tell as the First Commandment? So common is it in modern literature that you’d think murder was now an everyday occurrence in people’s lives, as if you’d hardly bat an eyelid at dinner were your girlfriend to tell you her boss had been stabbed today with a pair of garden shears while checking his emails.  

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Thomas Pynchon

Thomas Pynchon is like someone who talks to himself far too much and always in blustering major chords. As such he is rather exhausting. On the other hand about half of what he says is enthralling so at the end of the day he is worth the effort. There are dozens of radiant and exhilarating vignettes in Gravity’s Rainbow. I’ve just done the English sweets scene which was splendid though there’s the obligatory slipshod lack of editing: “his tongue a hopeless holocaust” – is that “hopeless” funny or just absurd? I think maybe it’s his vision which is his problem. For starters this, like the other book of his I’ve read, is rife with paranoia. There’s always this omnipresent ominous THEY out there – and as a result we have the feeling we’re being sold the bargain bin dualities of a Jehovah’s Witness. I think another problem is, he sets out by asking us to believe that this might be one of the greatest books ever written – which it patently isn’t. Once though one has recycled these misgivings there’s masses of excitement to be derived from his writing. He’s wonderfully like a motorist who takes no notice of the roads – and what fun it is to see him ploughing in reverse gear, with the windows rolled down, through people’s Sunday afternoon flower arrangements.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Proust, Joyce and Damien Hirst

That we live in a culture of stupidity is of immense artistic interest and is the subject of most great contemporary fiction. Were they alive now Joyce and Proust would have to change their tune - in our time, both have become more old fashioned than Austen.  But of course they wouldn’t be able to change their tune because both as artists are mummified inside their respective personality. Joyce and Proust are inferior entertainers because they both obsessively look inward – which is not, in itself, an entertaining trait. They both have an element of the mechanic, fitting back all the parts they’ve taken apart. They lack what Shakespeare had in abundance – self-deprecation, the joyful mischief that predates mature adulthood. They were both too grown up for us to love them without reservation. On one level Joyce’s last two books are absurdly complex crossword puzzles, written with all the smugness of someone who has all the answers. Proust when he’s on is a wonder but heavens what a tiresome trail of self-indulgent fluff one has to wade through to get to the visionary bits.
 For more than a hundred years, during the romantic period, Raphael was universally lauded as the greatest painter of all time; now he’d be lucky to make it into the hot one hundred. The aesthetic ideal of classical Greece was the naked pre-pubescent boy – an image one can now be arrested for gloating over. I would therefore argue that Proust and Joyce haven’t yet stood the test of time. Not saying they won’t but what irritates me is the snobbishness they give rise to. They’re like some designer badge people wear to vaunt their superiority. They’re used like a detergent to kill all the known germs of anyone attempting to write a novel now. The artist most similar to Joyce is probably Damien Hirst – the self-aggrandising trickster sending up all notions of form. At the end of Finnegan’s wake Joyce with a rueful snigger sends us back to the beginning; isn’t that what Hirst does with his smirking conceptualisations of death?  Hirst tries to kill off visual art the same way Joyce tried to kill off the novel. But what a barren tawdry world it would be without visual art and the novel.