Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Travellers (more from WIP)

I used to go to that cafe every morning. A small Italian on Berwick Street. A pungent espresso in a thick white cup. I remember the first time I saw the slender man with the long tanned face. He reminded me of Claud Cahun, a sculpted androgyne from an era long gone. His movements were delicate and precise and his eyelashes long and dark; a beige moleskin jacket and open necked shirt completed the picture. And in the early morning light, and viewed in his marmoreal isolation at the corner table, he would be thought beautiful. But then he opened his mouth. He began speaking in a nasal Kiwi accent about his travels. All the vowels trimmed and cut to the same sound. He’d travelled to Thailand, South Africa, Peru. And these places were of course “amazing”. That was pretty much all he had to communicate. His amazement. "the people, the culture.." he stuttered, empty words left floating in the air. Some people, and far too many these days, have to make a 3000 mile trip to have an experience. Their bodies and minds are presumably so numbed that it requires the electric prod of a trip to Thailand, being thrown out of a plane on a sky dive, or pushed off a bridge in the middle of nowhere on the end of elastic rope.. just to have an experience. Whereas, you can sit in a cafe, raise an espresso to your lips, watch as the sun takes the floating dust and turns it into a column of tiny golden insects.  And this moment, not noticed, not snatched by the camera as soon as it’s born, is an experience of dizzying depth and distance. But it requires stillness, it requires slowness. You have to stop. It’s not about crossing the earth so fast that that novelty knocks you down. The endless bungee jumpers, the skydivers, those who’ve had their ankle tattooed by a tripping Tibetan midget.. all they needed to do was sit at the table by the window and the world would unravel itself infront of their eyes.... but no. The slender man with the long oval face comes back from table mountain, comes back from the hillside terraces of Peru, and all he has with him is the word ‘amazing’, and a tick-list dictated by Facebook, and a digital casket of grinning souvenirs.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Celebrity - from a fiction in progress.



Today, some of the students are discussing such and such a celebrity sprouting armpit hair, while simultaneously thousands are bombed and killed in Gaza and many other horrors and injustices are ongoing throughout the world. The rights and wrongs of these injustices and horrors, however, as I raise them, are supposedly only a matter of 'subjective opinion' and therefore not worth debating, while the issue of celebrity armpit hair is debated avidly, and not subject to the same bored disclaimer of "subjective opinion" which is the alibi for their political and ethical abstention and elective passivity. This belief in “subjective opinion” is in fact no belief at all, only the shadow cast by their apathy. Their apathy comes first and its shadow in the realm of 'ideas' is a 'belief' in things being 'subjective', a belief which relieves the students of their worldy duties and frees up their time to discuss celebrity armpit hair, cellulite and clothing, all of which have somehow slipped under the radar of the 'purely subjective' and are continuously discussed with great animation and verve. The armpit hair is “gross” moans one; “NO” protests another, “it’s her choice”; another opines that it’s unhygienic; another decrees that it’s “just WRONG”. But none of them of course make the argument that the desirability or appropriateness of the hair is only a matter of “subjective opinion” and therefore beyond what can reasonably be discussed, for such caveats are reserved for literature and politics and ethics and art, for anything in fact which is the very stuff of life according to the old regime which today lies in ruins. Instead of an opinion on any of these matters, each has a loud and brawly opinion on the matter of hair growing from an armpit, or a wobbling thigh. Each has a different 'Opinion', and each delights in the mere difference of this opinion, giddy with outrage or approbation. But these 'different opinions' are actually the same opinion, or they rest on the same assumptions, one of which is the belief that something is only visible, an issue is only interesting, when it happens to a celebrity. Sex, birth, infidelity, divorce, cancer, violence, death. These things are only noted and discussed when they happen to a celebrity. In bawling their opinions they simply redraw this single opinion and make it more stubbornly stupid.  
I tell them about O'Toole my former landlady, who talked similar bullshit. I mimic her thick Dublin brogue: 'Now then we've got David Beckham wearing a skirt' (O'Toole enthused, after the Beckham man was spotted wearing a sarong,) 'We've never had that before, you know, men feel comfortable expressing their feminine side, you know.. all the relations between the genders it’s all changing, men feel they can wear skirts and it's ok you know. It's all changing." The students all laughed at the accent. But, I retorted, contra O’Toole, it wasn't all changing, not the relations between the genders nor anything else, or at least not there,  because, I told them, this isn't where history happens, in the celebrity spotlight, this isn't where the relations between the genders or the classes or the nations changes, in the celebrity spotlight. History happens elsewhere, I said - in the workplaces, and the homes, and the streets. And if you want to think about Historical change, I said, you need to pass through the necessary detour of reading, and hard work, and not sit gazing at magazines and television screens. The celebrities are just the floorshow to divert the stupid and gullible, I insisted. Likewise people have cancer all the time, I said, it's gaunt and screaming casualties are dropping all around us, but O'Toole only started talking about it when it happened to Jade Goody. It wasn’t visible to her until it happened to a celebrity, so called, as if this made it particularly tragic. People like O'Toole I said, but meaning also the students themselves, are crowded at the foot of a phoney Olympus, pressed against the glass of a plastic Versailles, gazing upward at the cellulite of a Jolie, the arse of a Karsdashian, the armpit of a Diaz, agog and mesmerised that celebrities - each watermarked with an absurd and obscene cash value - actually have bellies and arses like mortals, bellies and arses dutifully highlighted for them by Hello magazine in red pen. This Phoney Olympus, I explained to the students, is in fact, in a very precise sense, a heap of shit, for celebrities today are a kind of surplus or excrement. They represent, firstly, an excess of wealth, an obscene surplus which can only be spent on things which in turn represent wealth, designer clothes worn for a day and then discarded like so much dross. All of this in turn is also ethically repugnant, the stockpile of wasted surplus money, in a giant blingheap, as we might call it, a glittering steaming dungheap of trainers and rings while others starve and children crouch in barred rooms without light breathing dust. And in addition, the celebrities’ fame is surplus to their talent. The purest form of modern celebrity is represented by those who arrive on stage with no discernible talent whatever. Their fame is a pure surplus, an excrecence. The Gaga woman, the Kardashian woman, and so forth. These people are presented to the public as always already famous, a fait accompli which the public accepts without protest. Or else their fame and celebrity flourishes when their talent withers: at one time they may have acted or modelled, they may have had a hit single, but such acting or modelling or singing is now long forgotten and was in any case only the portal through which they landed on the side of the fake mountain. Essentially these Celebrities are no different from the gawkers, but this absence of visible difference only makes the imputed difference more magical, as with the royal family, who are themselves only a category of celebrity, or else the celebrities are an ersatz royalty. Same thing. In any case, everything about celebrities is a kind of revolting surplus - unnecessary and excessive. And what makes this more revolting, I told the students is that you, the gawkers, are attracted precisely to this excremental, pointless quality that the celebrities have. You pretend it’s all a bit of fun and that you enjoy everything ironically, I said, but your behaviour encodes your actual beliefs, which are appalling.
It is necessary to attack the students in this manner, and the students like and appreciate being attacked. This is the only way to galvanise them, to attack them head on in the place where they are at. There is no point, with these students, trying to raise abstruse philosophical questions directly. One must enter their minds through the armpit of a Jolie, the listless gaze of a Beckham, the affected nonchalant pout of his wife etc. One cannot tarry with the glorious past, when people knew how to think and write and speak, but must immerse oneself in the shit of the present and the pornographic insignificance of its obsessions.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Relentless Married Couples (more from a fiction in progress)

I imagine climbing Hellvellyn, the lonely peak, seeking solitude, the world spread out like a map beneath, the winds above blowing freely. I am expecting this, but then, over the crest of the hill, comes a wedding party, with their glasses of prosecco, their canapes and their horse drawn carriages full of smiling elders and excitable children. What are they doing here, I think, what the fuck are they doing striding over the top of Hellvellyn, smiling at snatching cameras? They have no place here, spoiling the view, staining the silence. But come toward me they do, and they never cease. Let me hide behind this rock, in this dip. Let me be shade and shadow. I'll wait till they've gone, but more will appear. Here's a bride to be, with her spreadsheets and table plans, not joyous at all but earnest and stressed, locked in the one-stop compartment full of curses and mirrors that's hurtling towards her wedding day. They never stop coming, these avatars of The Couple, these men and women, all coupled up, with their invitations to the wedding, the dinner party, the Christmas drinks, and me only wanting the depopulated peak of the hill, the patchwork of green and brown lands below, and acres to think, and dry stone walls as far as sight, and tarns like gleaming calm pieces of sky. I imagine them, the wedding party, quietly exploding, a gasp of sudden smoke; a cloud of smoke that drifts down to the lake, Ullswater, made when a glacier melted, a cloud drifting on water, caught by the rays of the setting sun, dispersed in the cold night air.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Babies.. [from Fiction in progress]

They want a baby not a human being, these newly crowned married couples. They envisage only a small wobbling baby, bewidered, and cute. Or at most a cheeky toddler, prising things open to release the genie. . Nobody wants the hateful teenager, a lanky streak of resentment and spots,  least of all an adult with its awkward politics and adverserial intellect. They want tiny defenceless, pathetically vulnerable babies, objects of tearful adoration, . And they want babies because babies are 'theirs', whereas an adult will always escape them and their domestic gulag. And even when they, the babies, become fully grown human beings, the parent insists on seeing only the baby. You're still my baby they opine, you're still my little boy, my little girl. They call it unconditional love but it's love on condition that you never cease being a baby. When they look at you, your parents, they see something that is uniquely theirs, their baby, they see something in you more than yourself, the Baby that you once were. They will always see you as a baby in adult drag and fail to take you seriously. And they will love their grandchildren more than you, seeing therein the reincarnation of the eternal baby. . Why do they have babies...  to continue their DNA, their watermark. It's got your eyes, his nose, my twinkle, they say, as if its an assembalge of parental parts, a monstrous mirror wherein they see themselves. But more than that, in return for having a baby they receive of course a graduation certificate from the Social Order, confirming their status as a fully paid up member. 

So actually they don;t want a baby at all. They don't want the tiny precise machine, one of the many through which Nature's intellect shines and overwhelms us,  they don't want the dazed mammal with its alien eyes, the strawberry heart's loud and scary insistance, the baby lit up with ghosts of joy, with jolts of surprise, that play on its face and vanish, they don't want the siren-baby announcing the destruction of the old regime, the start of an ethical life, the sacrifice of your Couple's evenings infront of the telly, the job in the city, the whole bourgious citadel, announcing the birth of a new world, they don't want this anarchist's bomb made of instinct, breaking you open with screams and glee, hysterical with trauma then wobbling with joy.. they don't want all the riddles of existence newly and snugly curled into a question mark in your arms, they don't want the revolutionary baby; no, they want the cute and complementary baby, the socially ratified baby, the designer baby, the piece in the jigsaw, the baby as social promotion, the baby as object, the baby as sign, as token, as badge and, with it, all the complementary titles of 'being a mum' and 'being a dad'..all the vain honorifics bestowed by the World, the symbolic scaffoldings and supports, something to post on Facebook, a narrative of Success, without which most of us cannot live.  

Many whom I used to call friends are now merely parents and declare this to be their vocation. Parents with a two-a-penny middle class rent-a-baby called Harold or somesuch vintage name, or a predictably outlandish name, like Zeberdee. "Do you want some pesto Zeberdee?" the mother cooes, as Zeberdee looks on bored and indifferent.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Value proposition .. from a fiction in progress


"What's the value proposition?" he demanded, and kept reiterating this phrase throughout the conversation. Of course, I couldn't hear what the interlocutor was saying but suspect it didn't matter. The cretin's mind had been taken over by business jargon and so-called 'business concepts' which are laughably removed from anything that might with dignity be called a concept. Afterwards I looked up this term, 'value proposition,' but found only more vacuous jargon. Each jargon term is glossed only by other jargon terms until we return to the first, a kind of lexical 'circle jerk', as they say. In the popular imagination, jargon is associated with academics, who are thought of as deliberate obscurantists. Well, each tribe, each profession has its terms of art, but as far as jargon goes, the world of business, or so-called business, is the worst offender. And of course business jargon is now colonising academia too, with it's 'end users' and 'learning outcomes', both of which are idiotic misnomers. Jargon is almost always an attempt to dress up some highly partisan or alternatively completely banal behaviour in the appurtenance of science and technology, where these are seen as both neutral and inevitable. Both science are technology are seen as beyond refutation and so too is the world of business, whereas the world of business is shit and its terms are shit also. I will demonstrate this later in less emotive language, so-called. But for now it's suffice to say that business jargon is shit, and the business men who trade and converse in this jargon are also shit, shitheads like this specimen here in the cafe. I'm not talking about industrialists, people who produce things, although I have no especial affinity for them either.. No, these others who convene meets and invent 'concepts' which are nothing of the sort. Such a one was this cretin in the cafe. His life was divided into business and travel, two apparently different worlds which were in fact complementary components of the same system. As I will explain later. For now, only to say that this cretin's mind had been colonised by business jargon to such an extent that he was now an ontological businessman, as I call it. What does it mean, to say that someone is ontologically a businessman? It means that in all spheres, not just the world of business, they see things in business terms and employ business categories, that they see life as a business and 'business' is the virus infecting their whole experience. This cretin, for example, I hear him on the phone. He's arranging a get together for someone's birthday. "I'll reach out to Scott," he intones, "see if he's got a window". Well he can reach out to Scott all he wants, it won't prevent him being kicked in the head.

Pure Ideas .. From a fiction in progress


People think that Ideas are abstract and intellectual, but in fact we knock against Ideas all the time in our day to day experience. When, for example, we say "I saw pure terror in his eyes" we mean that we saw the very Idea of terror, we saw terror itself shining though the particular face and eyes. Similarly, in a baby's face, we might say that we see pure innocence, not his or her innocence, but innocence itself, in its purest definition, peeping out from the face. And when I walk through Soho early in the morning, the summer sun making its first appearance, angling down alleys, slanting through the side windows, gently warming wooden floors; when vendors are assembling their stalls with iron poles and wooden boards in Berwick street, and shop owners disinfect their steps with steaming hot water, then I touch Beginning, the Idea of Begining in its immediate flesh, just as I sense the same Idea, but in a different key,  in early January, when the fresh snow is laid out like a blank page across the field. These moments are the naked and uncorrupted form of the concept of beginning, the actual and non-verbal adumbration of the idea of Beginning, which has no other reality than these various and several moments and things; and the Idea of beginning is constantly enlarged and revised not by lexicographers or linguists or even philosophers, but by the January snow or the Soho vendors, by the morning sun, or, differently, by the ground zero of a catastrophe. This is where we touch the Idea: in faces, gestures, things and constellations of things, which communicate directly with our senses and nerves before the catch up game of words begins, so that language is for most of us only the belated realisation, the faltering translation,of what, in our bodies and in the heart of matter is already known. 

Friday, 4 December 2015

The cripple in the library - from a fiction in progress



What about him, the cripple in Library, is he still alive? He was only my age but sickly, hobbling with a stick, a clump of straw coloured hair. His last years were already furnished and waiting, I thought, all  heavy curtains and evening light, all embers and sherry. He was reading Byron and Keats, brown volumes hauled up from the vaults.  Large mournful eyes, kind eyes. But why does his image surface now, half way down the stairs at Leicester Square tube station? Memory's strategems. Vast shelves, boxes and files of information. Unsuspectingly a file is pulled out and you're shown a photo, a recording, a voice abruptly released from a folded envelope. It's put in front of you like a Tarot card for  your inspection. A face from your Oxford days. The dry smells from the Upper Reading Room, the light through the great leaded windows, the creaking silence, and time as slow as floating dust. And alongside the cripple, another. A bent man in a tattered matriculation gown, with bottle glasses and a greasy combover. They said he was the half brother of Phillip Larkin, but this was perhaps only a metaphor that time and rumour had made flesh. He'd enter by the far door, glancing around like an intruder. He'd pick a book from the reference shelves. He'd sit at a desk, adjusting his gown. He'd light on a random page, perusing it with myopic intensity, then suddenly flick forward, stoping again transfixed. After repeating this ritual a few times he'd scuttle out again. A library bird, picking at fading texts, the limp gown flapping, a curious detail in the corner of our day. The cripple and the madman. Cards dealt by the past. But why now. Why visible now? Memories are also texts to be read.