A thank you and something by way of a disclaimer. The thank you is to all the doctors and nurses who have been treating me both as in- and out-patient in cancer care over this past year and more. I’m sure that none of them will be reading this, this semi-automatic scribbling on an otherwise obscure acting website, but, notwithstanding, I simply felt that I had to voice my personal appreciation for their dedication and frequent good humour in what has been and continues to be the most pressing of circumstances.
Now for the disclaimer. I am acutely aware that much of what you read below, if you bother to read at all, may come across as angry in places or, at least, somewhat indifferent to the quite natural focus we tend to give to what might be termed daily human living. All I can say is that cancer alters perspective and where once I might have censored myself or been more concerned to make myself clearly understood, such matters are of far less importance to me. With that in mind, I think I can say without doubt that what I have actually put down here is not so much the tumult of an angry man but of one going through a process whose final destination, psychologically as well as physically, remains as yet in ‘the committee stages.’
I Have Never Been Much Interested In Sex…
For whom am I writing all this? For you? No, not a bit of it. I don’t care if you read it or not. I don’t care if you understand it or not. I write for me in my efforts at understanding. That’s hard enough, task enough. A lot of what I write here, all of it really, is not ‘joined up’. I make no attempt to spoon-feed with thoughts that might seem to give a (false) idea that somehow they are connected. I have forgotten more than I remember and what’s left are gleanings, parings, fragments, the pot-shards from an archaeological excavation. I throw them onto the page.
And yet, although I don’t write for you there is one thing I can promise. I will never lie to you. I am here, presenting myself, disrobing myself, ‘warts and all.’ If you like me, fine. If you hate me, fine. It’s all the same to me. I’m not interested in trying to make you love me. Your freedom is your own response. I leave it with you.
I have never been much interested in sex. Which is probably why there is none, (do inanimate objects count?), in Bad Party. I have never found sex particularly satisfying as a rite of passage but, on the contrary, an effort to be bourne whose intention, perhaps, is primarily to reward some spurious notion of tribal masculinity. For me, sex has always been a grunting, shunting, awkward exercise. And wet. Anything so backbreaking that you need to take a shower afterwards I can do without. Just put the kettle on. Sex, unless there’s a damned good reason for it, is tedious. In 1817 Coleridge described the act of reading novels not as a pass-time but as a kill-time. (Depends on the novel I guess). I certainly feel that way about sex. On the whole, I prefer my penis flaccid, more comfortable that way and fits my clothes better.
I will not help you. I will not help you in any way. Later I’ll talk about some of my work. I do not lie, will not. I am responsible to my own freedom, you yours.
Moments of Cancer, Wide-Ranging, Often Crepusclar.
Oesia Disjuncta (i.e. an enigmatic worm-like animal).
I’ve recently been writing stories. But are they stories? Poems. But are they poems? It doesn’t matter. Maybe no one will read them anyway. That doesn’t matter either. They are chippings, scratchings, cuttings merely. Scourings and scummings. Here is the 22nd of them, (and no, I don’t have lung cancer. It’s a story). And further below, another. I appear to have designated it the first. I’ve no idea why. Both reference mortality.
Day Of The Dead
Cancer lined his lungs. Proliferate. It scratched and pitted, scraped like flint, incising him and flaking away. When he looked in the mirror he could barely recognise himself. Bald fell over protuberant bone, a plucking out, a slow and solemn diminuendo. “It’s inoperable, I’m afraid. We caught it too late. I’m sorry.” “How long, Doctor?” “Not long. Weeks. Months.” He practiced erasure by putting his affairs in order. With extraordinary self-possession he ladled his goodbyes. A short while later he was on a flight to Mexico. “I’m Ambrose Bierce,” he bullshitted to anyone who cared to listen. “I was present at the battle of Tierra Blanca. I am now lost to history.” For the next two months he travelled the country. He was like a man in search of his shadow, each day growing more and more anorectic, eye-blight as bugs in amber, a body gradually reduced to pumice. “As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination.” Every destination is unknown, every terminus a riddle, every stopping place a question mark. On the night of 1st November, as he slept in a shanty room in Ocotepec in the municipality of Cuernavaca, a skeleton, adorned with marigolds and holding a clipboard and pen, woke him and asked his name. “Joseph White,” he wheezed, cancer crushing, etiolated sound. The skeleton nodded. She ticked a box and bade him follow. (This, by the way, had once been Rosita, the town whore. Rosita of the wet lips, abundant breasts and clamping thighs. Curvaceous angel of unholy dreams). On the streets of Ocotepec a carnival procession was winding its way towards the cemetery. Skeletons danced to banda, sang corridos and boleros, drank strong beer and hot punch. They advanced along cobbled streets, raising dust, past savage trees and tumbledown and shacky and barking dogs that pissed on naked spindle-shanks. Two skeletons, entwined like frosted twigs, flew upwards towards a tarot moon. Two more sloped on the awning of a bodega, poking each other in the ribs, laughing hysterically from deep within untenanted cavities. Isomorphs of children gathered together in tight clusters. Carrying flags and banners, they sang a Mass, a Missa Defunctorum for the repose of their own souls and the besmirched of all living. Perplexed, Joseph turned to Rosita, his guide, his rattle bag, who, with firm though gentle encouragement, urged him forward into the extravagances. He hesitated, then, beside himself, in lieu of himself, began to dance. He couldn’t help it. He danced in the street’s dust beneath the ripped curtain of the sky. He danced for the stars that dazzled and the angelic hosts that swirled and eddied like figures illumined on precious parchment. And as he danced he felt a certain sloughing, a steady slippage of meat and marrow. Endings have their beginnings. In the old cemetery of Ocotepec stands a small stone inscribed to the memory of Joe White. It is, we are told, his final resting place. It is not.
In The Day’s Courses
The haruspex stood on the lawn inspecting the entrails of the day. Michael glanced at him from the first floor window overlooking the garden but his mind was elsewhere. Space was opening onto sky. The air had settled and grown still. Fronds of light moved with casual indolence, their unhurried progress reflected in a few melting ripples on rock pool and rockery, peony and hibiscus. A brief lull or momentary suspension in which nothing was clear. Breath held on the cusp of expectancy. Life waiting for tenure. Michael blinked, attempting to accommodate himself to existence, a thickening of shadow and gradual expansion of form. Here, the outline of a hill; there, lineaments of a tree; in the distance, a blue boat in a bay. Then, on the lawn, more figures emerged, becoming recognisable as pattern, amenable to decipherment. Orpheus, his red cloak thrown over one arm, lyre resting on outstretched knee, was singing an epithalamium to Eurydice who reposed at his feet. Hymen, god of marriage, stood close by, smiling, rendering the scene harmonious. Whomsoever the god favours with his attendance at their nuptials are fortunate indeed, their union destined for happiness. But the narrative blurs. Suddenly the smile seems redolent of subtle equivocation whose inference is that present delight must always be married to gnawing anxiety. Michael froze, a splinter from an ancient frieze, listening, painfully alert to the creak of timber. “Three months, six at most.” Doctor Lamming peered at him through orbs whose coffered coins gave nothing away. His professional gaze was a polite expectoration. “But I’m to be married.” The doctor nodded without observance. “You won’t suffer. We’ll try to make it as smooth as possible.” Smooth? Fronds of light trembled across fractured walls, trembled across blood red furniture, trembled across flake and fissure. Rats scurried, found their darkness. “Three months, six at most.” Of course, he’d lost no time in the telling. She’d wept but what was he to expect? A life contracting from banquet to mere confection, a few bitter-sweet moments. The haruspex is on the lawn. In the bay, a blue boat; a column of smoke coils from a passionless citadel; a cloud clips the skyline; fine gradations of pitch and motion conferring the impression that something is happening beyond the mere surface appearances. A few months later, in his final weakness, in the bones of the night, he picked up a notebook and wrote: ‘As a crib is a cradle, so a cradle is a coffin. We start in a cradle. We end in a cradle. I am rushing forward to my beginning.
I’ll write whatever I damn please, whenever I damn please and as I damn please
The sentence above is from the American poet, William Carlos Williams.
What’s actually most troublesome is not in deciding what to write but how to write. An example. The twentieth century Surrealist and Ethnographer, Michel Leiris, penned a number of volumes of autobiography, the first of which, Scratches, quite naturally deals with his childhood memories. In the initial chapter we find him playing with a number of toy soldiers. In fact, at that early age he has no exact knowledge of what he is playing with at all nor does he have more than a rudimentary notion of his immediate surroundings. Leiris wishes to give us an impression of the dislocations of the world of the child, its fragmentary, almost mosaic-like qualities. But he is confronted with an apparently insoluble problem. A literary gloss, the mind of the grown writer, intrudes from the start. We are given a description of childhood but no imminence, nothing to denote that Leiris is truly in it. Instead, he has left it behind in his effort to accommodate it to a work of literature, doubtless hugely entertaining, but not quite true. He knew what to write but did not know how to write it, at least with the kind of honesty that his ambitious enterprise must surely have demanded.
I think of cancer. That’s what it is. It’s what it’s called. I’ve been advised not to say the word out loud or else to employ a hushed tone in speaking of it, or perhaps even a degree of emollience. I won’t do that. Does cancer frighten you? It should. Does the thought of death frighten you? That’s your affair. You were given a ticket the moment you were born. If you haven’t made adequate arrangements for the journey that’s no concern of mine. I’m not here to coddle. I will not be constrained to treat you as infants.
Thou look’st through spectacles; small things seem great
Below. But up onto the watch-tower get
And see all things despoiled of fallacies…
I find it difficult to sleep in any bed but my own, though with the medications I’ve been given that too has become, though temporarily I trust, a stripping from me. Sleep has turned its back. In the hospital, as I struggled with how to write, which gradually revealed itself to be an interrogative, the question of how to be, it left me altogether. Attempting to accommodate the burden of myself, I was forced to look on as night became milky, a no-time between the darkness and the light, a nameless time between the darkness and the light, but one which, (in consequence perhaps), seemed to witness to another place as yet unknown and unexplored. I could not sleep. I watched, more, was moved to listen.
Cries. Mumbles and murmurs, expressed from the moment of our first settling. Orisons externalized out of some zone aphotic by way of the sudden swelling of chthonic springs. In the end, all utterance becomes singular. “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom!…O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33). In reporting the wreck of the Deutschland in 1875, The Times described how a nun, (one of the Franciscans), was heard to call out in her extremity, “My God, my God, make haste, make haste!” This tendency, indeed final reductio, to a singular meaningful expression was remarked upon by the anonymous medieval writer of The Cloud of Unknowing, an observation to which he attended in the thirty-seventh chapter of that work: “A man or a woman, affrighted by any sudden chance of fire, or of a man’s death…is driven…in need to cry or to pray for help…And therefore he bursteth up hideously and with a great spirit, and cryeth but one little word of one syllable: such as is this word Fire or this word Out”.
In the ward, in the night, the little words all seemed to be of this type. “David,” (the name of one of the nurses), “David. David. David.” repeated in a monotone by the man in pain in the bed to my right. And to my left, a whispered, almost tender invocation, “God, help me. God help me.” In blankness, I stared into that time, that milky time, which had no name, and suddenly felt bounded by entreaties whose roots lay too deep for me. Then something from a poem by Paul Celan:
There was earth inside them, and
They dug and they dug, so their day
went by for them, their night…
They dug and heard nothing more…
thought up for themselves no language.
But, yes, I have my freedoms. I can decide when to move, to turn, to scratch my ear. I am undoubtedly, for all my discomfort, a free man. (Sartre, you old hypocrite! You believe-whatever-suits-you-whenever-it-suits-you rabble-rouser, I love you yet! I’ll love you always!).
Lying in bed, pondering the sights I’d seen, (perhaps Dante: ‘…like kindled vapour in a streak of light…’), but more especially sounds heard. They had been, I decided, “the speech of the landscape.” The phrase belongs to George Eliot, (Mary Anne Evans), gleaned from one of her final works, an essay, Looking Backwards in a volume entitled The Impressions of Theophrastus Such. In this, a kind of summing up, she claims to have discovered the speech of the landscape. Perhaps. In Chapter 2 of her first novel, Adam Bede (1859), there’s a lengthy description of a landscape which remains just that, a literary construct purely descriptive of place with the primary intention of influencing the movement of the eye. In this context it might be considered a literary antecedent to Leiris’ account of his earliest childhood. In neither case is the speech of the landscape, that awful ‘inexpressible’ that in the night bubbled up repeatedly as if from Cocytus, river of lamentation, truly revealed. In neither case is the point of essential utterance sufficiently attained to.
It is not for me to teach but for you to learn.
I am a monolingual Englishman but fluent in many tongues. Let the conjunction stand. It bears itself proudly, a hard-won ‘but’ deserving of its place. In sum, (if not in conclusion), I believe I can aver that for all it’s stutterings and stammerings, for all its many distresses, dislocations and divagations, (“Try again, fail again, fail better,” – Beckett), my life, I think, I dare to think, ultimately dare to believe, has been an heroic one. And that in ‘looking backwards’ I too have come to learn some small smattering of the speech of the landscape.
Where Fairyland Begins
And as I lay in bed, got to thinking, (I still possess the freedom to do that too). Time to put my short film, Where Fairyland Begins on the website. I’ve done little with this film, partly due to the circumstances of my health but more particularly because it’s a load of crap. There’s no vision. It’s simply flat and stupid.
The kid we used was nice. So what? I should have made her cry. I should have scared the shit out of her. Such behaviour, whilst naturally revealing me as the monster I am would surely have made me a better director.
What was I thinking? I’m familiar with the work of Tarkovsky, Bergman, Bresson, Godard, Satyajit Ray, Cassavetes et al. And I make Fairyland! Give me a break! And while we’re about it. A not so idle rant: (“I am a sick man. … I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my disease…” – Dostoevsky) A not so idle rant: I rose the other night, 3.30am to be strictly accurate, and watched Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood. I then listened to an interview given by his cinematographer on that film, Vadim Yusov. Yusov was subsequently offered Mirror but there was something about the script he felt was not for him, there were parts of it about which he felt negative. He passed, the right thing to do. I’ve not had that. I show a member of crew or whoever a script and if they are free they say yes. Why? You think I’m so wonderful that you’d wipe my ass for me if I asked you? I want you on board because you believe in the vision. Not because you’ve got a few days spare. I don’t need you. I’ve got cancer. I’m struggling with issues of life and death. You think I care about your opinions, your petty concerns? You think I’m worried about offending you? Either get with the vision or butt out. I’d rather do nothing than pander to your pinched mind-set, the attitude essentially of a fucking accountant. You’re not and never will be important enough to me.
“I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” – Beckett again.
All, all of a piece throughout;
Thy chase had a beast in view;
Thy wars brought nothing about…
‘Tis well an old age is out,
And time to begin anew.
Dance of huntsmen, nymphs, warriors and lovers.
CALMER WATERS? CALMATIVE?
I can’t sleep. “David. David. David.” The speech of the landscape. And me too Lord, me too. “Lord, Lord,” my body displaced by forces beyond my control. Am I going to die? How the Hell should I know? I don’t believe so, at least not for some time. But I proceed in spite of myself, like Nashe’s Unfortunate Traveller, along a seemingly endless road.
Not so calm waters perhaps – though strangely so. When I was a child at school we’d be given ‘corporal punishment’, often for some minor infraction of the rules. I’d return home, hands tingling, and tell my mum. “Well, you must have deserved it!” came the unvarying response. Probably did, most of the time anyway, accepted as a natural consequence of The Fall. (My Catholic upbringing can account for the whole universe of things if necessary, a res publica of existent and non- ). In APortrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce, the boy Stephen Dedalus has just such punishment meted out to him unfairly.
“Stephen closed his eyes and held out in the air his trembling hand with the palm upwards. He felt…the swish of the sleeve of the soutane as the pandybat was lifted to strike. A hot burning tingling blow like the loud crack of a broken stick made his trembling hand crumple…and at the sound and the pain…His whole body was shaking with fright…A cry sprang to his lips…tears scalded..- Other hand! Shouted the prefect of studies.”
Why do I think of this now? The body scalds in the milky anonymous. Miss Kendrick had, I suspect, for reasons obscure, taken against my mother and thus lost no opportunity to inflict pain upon her. Through her children, through her only boy child. The pain of the body.
I have cancer. Yes, dammit, but I know what it is to be harshly used and I tell you, cancer is mild, oh cancer is mild.
We labour to escape the womb. We are exposed. We struggle to breathe. We struggle to swim. We are punished.
Every day, bearing witness.
Three Medlars and a Butterfly. A painting by Adriaen Coorte from 1705. With reference to Market Scene by Pieter Aertsen, 1569
I can’t sleep. I write a short entertainment for myself, to entertain myself, for my own entertainment, for my own self. (nb. research what this might mean).
A subtle tincture of light falls from the right, the slightest trace, barely noticeable, hardly sufficient to penetrate the darkness but apparently there to add a touch of verisimilitude to the painting. After all, the butterfly must have come from somewhere. Nevertheless, there clearly has to be another light source as the image of the insect has been vividly accentuated against the inaccessible background. So too the three medlars positioned at the edge of a table over which the butterfly, of the Cabbage White variety, hovers. This source, coming from the left, creates a diagonal from the bottom left corner to the top right which runs through the first medlar and illuminates the butterfly before being swallowed up by the inkiness beyond. Strangely, there is no sense of movement in this picture. The butterfly, for all its definition, gives the impression of being no more than an emblem, as if the artist has eschewed the depiction of reality in favour of symbolic utterance. It merely hangs, in consideration of the medlars which themselves give little sense of being a faithful representation of fruit but instead appear, along with their unadorned support, as objects in space arranged as if aids to meditation. The symbolism is clear when one reflects upon the general proclivity of the 16th, 17th, and early 18th century schilder. This, whilst often projecting an undeniable earthiness, was simultaneously attuned to deeper, more fundamental questions of life and death. For him, (predominantly ‘him’ though we must not forget Judith Leyster, Rachel Ruysch, Maria van Oosterwijck and other female artists of the day), everything had meaning.
In Market Scene (1569) painted by Pieter Aertsen, for example, a buxom woman bends over an ocean of vegetables. As she lifts a large cabbage she looks at us knowingly, perhaps a little suggestively, from the corner of her eye. Behind her a man holds an equally large carrot. Though not overt, the message is at least implicit. The sexual act in this Garden of Eden leads to fruition and abundance, a fact intimated by the fire in the background which blazes beneath a metal pot. Passion will gradually come to the boil. And yet there is something else being evidenced here. Dutch art of the period was essentially melancholic, a character trait which found expression in numerous tavern scenes, on the faces of laughing peasants and even in the dance at the kermis. To the left of the picture, spied through a window, sit three people, two men and a woman. One of the men holds what looks like a leg of mutton, representative of voluptas carnis or a life lived exclusively through the senses, the other drinks copiously from a large flagon. Whilst we are not treated to anything like the finely executed vulgarity of a Brouwer, the figures are in any case too refined for that, this could well be seen as a pictorial illustration to what Dryden insisted on in his translation of Horace: “Tomorrow do thy worst for I have lived today.” Naturally, tomorrow will do its worst, (the only comfort being in a salvific sensibility which, in Aertsen’s painting, is made manifest by the church spire in the far distance), and the Dutch, just over twenty years after the end of the Thirty Years War, were more aware of it than most. What there is of abundance will inevitably perish, the Fall saw to that, all matter being subject to decay, so that the art of those times frequently acts as an exemplar, teaching us not only how to live spontaneously but how to expect death, indeed come to terms with it, as an obvious consequence. Returning to Coorte’s picture. The butterfly can, of course, be seen as a symbol of change and transformation but it is also, if the hypotheses of multiple meanings in and the inherent melancholy of Dutch painting are accepted, transience personified. Conveying the semblance of life, it simultaneously proclaims life’s brevity and it does so without fuss, as a singularity on the picture plane that invites meditation and the contemplation of things seen ‘through a glass darkly.’ But what of the medlars? In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, (completed by 1595), Mercutio declares:
Now will he sit under a medlar tree,
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars, when they laugh alone.
O Romeo, that she were, O that she were
An open-arse and thou a poperin pear!
The poperin pear was a sexual euphemism for the penis, as the above quotation makes evident, and thus the medlar may certainly be viewed as symbolic of Rabelaisian sexuality. But perhaps more importantly, its emblematic association with death is firmly established in a later play by Shakespeare. As You Like It, (1603), presents us with the following exchange between Rosalind and Touchstone:
Touchstone. This is the very false gallop of verses: why do you infect yourself with them?
Rosalind. Peace! you dull fool: I found them on a tree.
Touchstone. Truly, the tree yields bad fruit.
Rosalind. I’ll graff it with you, and then I shall graff it with a medlar then it will be the earliest fruit i’ the country; for you’ll be rotten ere you be half ripe, and that’s the right virtue of the medlar.
As with the painting by Aertsen where surface appearances do not tell the whole story so too with Coorte, a fact further underscored when we extrapolate from an 18th century description of the medlar in which the two extracts above are conflated in a rather more uninhibited manner: “A fruit, vulgarly called an open arse; of which it is more truly than delicately said, that it is never ripe till it is as rotten as a turd, and then it is not worth a fart.” In the medlar there exists the paired motifs of putrefaction and potential abundance. Within its compass, sex and death clearly co-exist and it is this feature of Three Medlars and a Butterfly that places it squarely in the tradition of the vanitas picture. The butterfly, ephemeral and evanescent, looks down on death, on death masquerading as unimpeachable fruitfulness, and asks us, creatures whose lot it is to be perpetually taking our leave, to do the same.
Can death be sleep, when life is but a dream,
And scenes of bliss pass as a phantom by…?
The Impossibility of Autobiography
Spoiled scrimshaw. Rejected from a novel in progress.
The night before his first cycle of chemotherapy he tried to put his life into some kind of order. Fossils of childhood recorded in a few photographs. Himself, Mother, Dawn, on a beach, building sandcastles, but where was that exactly? A school portrait, careful displacement of lank hair, his spots, that defensive aside. A photograph of him when he was five years old, biting his bottom lip, trying not to cry after having trapped his finger in a door, the nail off. On a promenade, eating chips from a paper bag. Data too scant to be conclusive. His Palaeolithic period. But what of the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic? Gone by now, skedaddled, fucked off. Ozymandias. Pyramids and perished palaces; a great crumbling into dust. Later, scraps and scrips. A sentence written on the back of an envelope, back of a receipt, back of a menu, top of a map, blue paper, green, pink, yellow, white, a flurry of disconnected notes, notations musical, runic rather, cuneiform, Harappan from this perspective. When a person has cancer it’s important to find something, in desperation, in despair, some meaning, to tie it all together. A thousand morsels and oddments. Leftovers, slops, remnants, residue. Somewhere a snatch of song. Somewhere a tone of voice. Somewhere a vacated gesture. He wasn’t even sure if any of it was true. Written down verbatim but maybe not, maybe, after all, rearranged, shaded in, coloured, apothegms, anecdotes, aphorisms. No truth to any of it. Well, never mind, eh? It was all he had, strips of paper, comic strips, stripped back to the bone in the boneyard. It would have to do. On the back of a guarantee for a watch, stopped long ago, at a time when he’d just started to think about art, had nearly fainted at Vermeer’s Milkmaid, was at sixes and sevens over the Revolt of the Netherlands: Perhaps History can’t be written. Perhaps as soon as it’s written it stops being History and becomes fiction. Perhaps that’s what History is. An ossuary for the containment of official fictions. And immediately below, this note: History is a machine for the manufacture of corpses. (It’s likely that he was looking at Brueghel’s ‘The Triumph of Death’ at the time. Or his ‘Massacre of the Innocents’). On the same splinter: History breaks down at the point at which perception gives way to sensation. And on a bus timetable, but where was he thinking of going? And did he go, at last, eventually, hoisting himself up from his lethargy? The tragedy of mankind lies in its perpetually frustrated ambition to be human. In another area of his mind, if memory wasn’t playing tricks, but memory is always playing tricks, (what a way to live!), the words of his Mother. A few curios. To her husband, his father: If you were to forecast a heatwave, I’d build an ark. Or: He’s lived his life avoiding the inconsequences. Or: That man’s so bloody minded he’d evolve into a fish if let. Then, suddenly, a surprising interpolation, sitting in the pub with dad, pint in front of the one, shandy in front of the other: I’ve lived in those places…gulp, wiping froth from a limp mouth…I’ve lived in those stony places where love has seen the triumph of verbiage over inarticulacy. Really? Did dad really say that? To be honest, it would place a doubt in the mind of any competent philologist. Now this is more like it, laughing, expectorating from the tin-pan alley of his lungs: What wind through yonder bum-hole breaks? And also: The bawd blah blah and the bawd taketh away. Blessed be the game of the bawd. Mother’s back to him, where it always was. What little hatreds do you have for me today, my darlin’? Sunk by a whale I’d rather, but to be mined by a minnow! Finally this, on his deathbed, a more accurate memory, well, possibly, at least something like: Do you think, son, that the collective noun for a clutch of failures is a ‘success?’ Fading off then, lung-tied and silent. No definition so no definitions. Fragments of memory, fragments of presence, re-marking an absence. Yesterday, only yesterday, a thought, a kind of coda it was, or thought it was, a conclusion in place of an ending: I will not, if I may so put it, I refuse, so to speak, point blank and unequivocally, to have, how shall I say, to have the bowels of death loosed over me! But maybe he didn’t say anything of the kind.
I am living in the Villa Borghese. There is not a crumb of dirt anywhere, nor a chair misplaced. We are all alone here and we are dead.
Henry Miller (from Tropic of Cancer)
I’ve been listening to the symphonies of Bruckner. I must say I prefer them to the more fashionable Mahler. Mahler’s 1st contains a Funeral March. Apposite. All his life, he never really left the grave and when he tried it was to produce something as risible as the confused 8th. Cowbells! The 6th is wonderful in many ways but, enhanced by the addition of cowbells? Really? Bruckner is too busy attempting to climb higher, relentlessly higher, to ever dream of stooping so low. A much more thoughtful, for being less confessional and certainly less schmaltzy, composer. I always believe, indeed I feel most powerfully, that I can put my faith in Bruckner. In Mahler? He had no faith in himself. Why should he expect any from me?
Seeking. Must never stop, never stop seeking, never stop.
A favourite artist of mine. Jean Degottex. I cannot find a single reference work for him written in English.
Oesia Disjuncta (i.e. an enigmatic worm-like animal)
You drag yourself out of bed and lumber towards a dressing gown that hangs from a hook on the door. You catch sight of yourself in the full-length mirror. Hairy belly; short legs; penis, slovenly and partially screening a blotched scrotum. For some reason, the daily fear being favourite, you think of newsreels you’ve seen of Jews being hurried to the edge of a pit there to be murdered by their Nazi persecutors. You think how terrible it must be to be naked like that in public, to be forced to run naked like that in public. You imagine yourself kneeling at the edge of the pit. The sky’s a leaden grey; horizon skirted by black trees; the air sharp, filling your lungs and bringing tears to your eyes. From close behind, a gentle sssss-susurration of uniforms. With a shiver you put on your dressing gown and close it around you like a veil. You pause in the wake of the night terrors, allowing the laboured breathing to trail-off, letting the drench dry…
From: Leonardo’s Photograph. A novel in progress.
Below, numbered, 13, I believe.
They chased each other round the great belly of the earth. They chased each other skyward, through blue chiffon canopies, and higher still, up and up, beyond sun and moon and lilting stars. They paused on the cusp of the last ever galaxy before falling back again through myriad constellations and crashing with a mighty splash into the depths of a hungry ocean. And still they chased each other, until their legs were tired and they were out of breath, until their tongues were spitless and their throats sore from all the palaver. They’d been on the beach for an hour. Their parents lolled in coruscating sunlight but there was no time for ease. The world was on fire. Pools bubbled. Pebbles dappled and held on tight. Fringing cliffs over-arched, their whiteness making blind. Laughing, all hands, all feet and escapade, they kicked through cool waters. They examined marine life, crab and mollusc, mussel, clam and periwinkle, spongeweed and spiral wrack. Apparitions of difference. Light shot through rock, dancing shimmers disclosing antediluvial veins and the residue of shattered comets. The sun was cruel, like a god whose eye is a burning coal. Stones scorched their feet. They didn’t mind. They raised their arms. They hallooed, circling the earth, navigating apocalypse. Here and there they’d alight on flotsam and jetsam, the cast-off and misbegotten, a treasure trove. Bits of wood, paint flaking, rotten; black bottles deemed irredeemable; rope, sodden and rough to the touch. They became collectors, scientists, visionaries. But they stilled at the bone, they stilled at the bone, the bleached skull of the beast, a cranium punctuating the day. They picked it up, held it in their cushiony hands, hands that were just as bleached, the unrelenting hands of children. Their eyes surveyed the contours. Fingers explored frangible boundaries and jabbed into empty sockets. Hearts beat in exultation. The sun was a corona now, the sea a foaming tumult, glorifying their discovery. The world was made of bone. The planets, the universe, were made of bone, made of the white skull, this up-tipped urn that blazed like a fiery beacon in their hands. History was made of bone. And bone too were they, bone were they too. In quiet, they considered the waves, an obscure horizon, the hiatus on which something flowed. They didn’t know what, couldn’t as yet articulate, but all their lives they would remember. Fragility of the corporeal; reality of absence; the first, nebulous glimpse of extinction.
What time is it? Where are we? There are no signposts. Let us walk on...