Saturday, 11 March 2017

On the baptismal destiny of the unevangelised

My name is Heraclitus. I've quit my job at the intellectual property office. I am walking across the town square. I feel good. It's a nice morning. On the other side of the square, I see the new witch outside the witch dwelling. There is a high turnover in witches. They quit, get fired, disappear or die, but any way you look at it, life is precarious caught in the knot of other people's desires. By way of introducing myself, I do what I always do when there is a new witch in town. I go to the witch's well and I throw myself in. I do it as a sort of challenge to their abilities. This time, I throw myself into the well but I do not hit the water. I am falling, and still falling. It is not dark, it is not green. I look closely at the stones in the wall of the well as I pass them. It is like the wall of a mountain, or a great fortress. I fall so far that I am no longer moving. I feel the embrace of a clear abyss. The light is icy, the air is sharp. This is not Ephesus. I am falling into the wintry stillness of the far North. I do not feel the urge to breathe, but the air is so cool and beautiful that I want to take it in. I inhale a deep draft of it. The air is not air, it is water. I am choking. I see the witch's arm plunging down towards me. It catches hold of me by the nape of my neck and I feel myself hauled upwards. I am thrown out of the well onto the banks of the world, like a newborn, or a gasping fish.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Bad Parable

We sent a second search party after we'd lost contact with the first. When that too disappeared, we sent a third, but only to look for evidence of the second. A fourth was later sent to find the lost third. We sent many search parties, each instructed to look only for news of the one preceding it. We desired to meticulously reconstruct in our understanding the calamity that was befalling our community. Just as the entire body of an object has to pass through a point for it to have truly left that point behind, so we desired that the entire story of our endeavour should return to us, in the order it set out. Didn't the tail that was Telemachus continue the search for the head that was Odysseus even after he had returned home? Doesn't the ouroboros have to swallow all of its body before it may return again from its own maw? But as time passed, we began to consider whether the searchers' failure may not have been located in the first part of their task. Perhaps some, or indeed all, had made contact with their predecessors and only subsequent to this encounter did they somehow become lost to us. Then we were anxious before a different question: what if the problem was not so much that they did not find but that they had found and then did not report? Even as the numbers of our community dwindled, we resolved to follow after every successive broken link as if it were the first. And by this method, we sought to know everything about ourselves, from the nearest edge to the now distant centre.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Parable of the quarter pound

‪As a small boy I went to school with cotton wool plugs in my ears, a mother's boy-ridding measure against infection. And in the icy playground I met with other small boys also sporting such white ear tufts. And standing in the fog and damp that seeped into the soles of our shoes we responded from our noses with an oozing, permanent glacier-slow snot that crusted but never dried, a pearly mucus which retained a sort of waxing and waning quality keeping time with our mouth breathing. And it came to pass that the one amongst us with the most purulent of snots, a pouring luxury caramel snot, should also be the most generous and good hearted of our number. In a dilemma of the type that would be repeated in always more subtle forms across the decades of our maturation, we asked ourselves could we, should we, overcome our hesitancy before his prodigious suppurations, and take from his proffered, and ever-open but dirty, crumpled paper bag that contained a precisely measured sweetshop quarter pound? Should we accept just one more of his powdery but mud hard mix of chocolate and strawberry bonbons? He was boy whom we were ready to play out with, the boy to be encountered outside but not invited in. But in those days we were still prepared, like jays and magpies, to pluck the offered gift and then, in cruel revenge, giving full rein to both our disgust and our weakness, we would harry and laughingly swoop down upon him, pecking at him and mobbing. 

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

A chef

Sometimes I desire the return to punk rock as it was, as I participated in it. And by that I do not mean 'punk rock' as an episode in pop music. That I can live without. What I am referring to is a small gathering of youngsters sitting on the chilly floor of some provincial town's Bash Street youth club observing a punk rock 'chef' in a red and black jumper who is supposed to be putting on a cookery demonstration but says, 'I can't do this', smashes two eggs on the ground and repeatedly declares, 'it's not happening'. It was one of those things about which peple say 'it just doesn't happen', and it didn't happen anyway, or it was 'not meant to be' but all this doesn't, didn't, and was not meant to be also constitutes an occurrence in its own right. What didn't go ahead as a cookery demonstration was part of what we were about, or more than part of it. Maybe it was all of it. It was the sort of thing that became definitively 'what couldn't be'. For us, it was more the thing than the thing we had attended for in the first place. It was the thing to which everything else attached. A trauma, a misadventure, a failure. The flyers leading up to it. The correspondence. The bus timetables. The vague mutual acknowledgement of certain semi familiar faces. The early arrival of those coming from the mining villages. The introduction by the organisers. The old zines on the papering table. The gaze wandering over surroundings. Where am I? What am I doing here? I now consider that we really were a kind of gathering, a congregation of sorts, of all-sorts, but we also wanted to sit facing in the direction of an identifiably stage shaped space nevermind how rudimentary or improvised. We did not want to engage one another too much, we didn't have a lot to say for ourselves. We were useless and we were produced. We thought it was important to explore the historical dimension of this uselessness, even if we didn't set it out in those terms. Why were we so damaged in relation to those who had gone before? Or rather, why was our existential damage so qualitatively distinct from that of the generations that had gone before us? We wanted to flock together, like little birds at the airport, overcoming territorial instincts in exchange for 24 hour light and an extra degree of warmth. We gathered but we also desired to look in the direction of a comedian, a poet, an agitator. We were an audience, we wanted to react, we didn't want to be the act. Certainly, a desultory air hung over everything we turned up for, but for all that, this failure of the event was still more compelling than any conceivable realised content - if it had gone ahead, like some miracle, then so what? Our defeat, or generalised defeat, defined us. What didn't happen, the concrete non-event, was more 'us' than anything we might have seen through to completion which would only have been let down by the impoverished scale of its success. At the end of her or his non-performance, the chef recognised me as a non-regular and asked if I would like to buy a zine. I didn't but didn't say so. I understood implicitly that within the milieu a transaction was the major indicator of participation, just browsing would signal  outgroup proclivities. I asked her or him when the last issue had come out. She or he said 1997. I felt the stirrings of contempt. What interest could an old fanzine about punk nosh, maybe with a title like 'rabid recipes', hold for me? What had this so-called chef been doing in the intervening years when she or he was not serving up subsequent issues? It was only then that I realised that from the standpoint of this, our momentous non-event in the youth club, 1997 was still some time in the future - acid house hadn't happened yet. I took out some money to buy a copy of the fanzine only, like a conjuror holding my hands out (sleeves slipping back), to slowly unfold a red 50 I did not know I had from the crumpled blue five I thought was my only cash. The collective cry resounded, 'chips', and I knew I had just then become the next performance. All of a sudden, these people were expecting me to provide a slap-up feed down the chip shop. I felt an immediate and unfamiliar pang of regret at the prospect of others spending my new found good fortune before I had even adjusted to holding it in my hand. Even if I didn't know how it had got in my pocket, wasn't this money mine? For the moment, I couldn't come up with a believable excuse but it would have been difficult for me to deny in that moment that I didn't want to play my part. Just as much as they wished to be my friends, I now desired to give them the slip. 

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Oh Calais

'If you happen to catch the eye of the deserving poor, as you are passing it by, as it gazes upon you with one of those unforgettable looks that would cause a throne to fall, do not delay in raising your walking cane against it. Lay into it immediately. Ferociously exert the last of your outrage upon it.'

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The man who planted trees incorrectly

Trees planted by human hand are blown down more often by strong winds than those that grow according to their own method. Humanity clings to the cultural ideal of deep roots, a metaphor that it has derived from its travails with land clearance - and trees would seem to have deep roots if you had to dig them out so as to make way for the plough to come. The deep root as a point of orientation has found analogies throughout human experience, and in critical moments it is readily called upon as a decisive image. However, when it is applied back to its original source, and to the practical task of re-planting the forests, the ideal of the deep root is found to be based on a mistaken perception. Wild trees resist strong winds by shedding stress over a wide surface area: they plant themselves shallowly from where their root system develops outwards rather than downwards. By contrast, plantation trees are grown close together, and their rootstock, although buried deeply, are also narrowly contained - strong winds blow them over like skittles. I sometimes like to picture to myself, as an example of countervailing force, flocks of jays inadvertantly drawing out the thread of oaks through the cold lines of silver birch, as if they are garlanding the end of the ice age. Next!


On reading Under the Volcano for the third time (a fiction)

The less real, the more true encapsulates fiction's strategic gambit as a flight from systems of information. Upon adopting it as the motto of their approach to the world, fiction's readers assume an advantage of the form that is not completely reducible to artifice, escape or deception (although these are integral to its operation), an advantage which is more suitable to the particularities of their circumstance than theoretical or empirical discursive modalities. The moment a reader makes the perceptual adjustment, 'this is fiction', error's domain is suspended. Nothing is wrong in fiction, all is as it should be. Where information-based discourses function as the necessary repository for human mistakes, and where all literalisms perform their inevitable slippage towards the self evidences of journalism (in which fact checking, balance, counter-hypothesising, rebuttals are deployed as the very weapons of mystification), fiction preserves strategies of the not-real as an antenna, a feeler, for that in the world which otherwise evades perception. Fiction is specifically charged by the reader with the task of finding whatever could not be brought to attention by other means. Here we note how mescal is the final form taken by fate - the protagonist freely chooses it and yet, bound by narrative, he also could not have chosen otherwise.