“In a very real sense, the Holocaust, as the ultimate moral and aesthetic obscenity, was also the ultimate drum-solo.” — Simon Whitechapel, 31i18
It’s said that, if you hear “in terms of” 23 times in 23 hours on the 23rd of the month, the ghost of William Burroughs will appear and offer you a heroin enema.
I don’t know whether this is true.
I came across the writings of Simon Whitechapel a year ago after picking up the first twenty or so issues of Headpress, a 1990s ’zine that dealt with the relentlessly grim, the esoteric and prurient. His style was fascinating, coming across as intelligent and well-read and — at least from first reading — subtly ironic.
In fact he must have impressed some other people during this time too as Headpress’ Critical Vision imprint spun his collected articles together for publication under the title Intense Device: A Journey Through Lust, Murder and the Fires of Hell — they have all the typical interests that run through Whitechapel’s work — there is an obsession with numerology, with Whitehouse-style distortion music, with Hitler and de Sade. There are also articles on farting, on Jack Chick and novelisations of TV shows. They are fascinating, written in a scholarly way with footnotes aplenty but never difficult to understand. He also wrote two non-fiction works during the late 1990s and early 2000s that centred around sadism and the murder of women in South America. They are dark.
There are also the works of fiction. To say that Whitechapel is transgressive is an understatement. His writing bleeds. The ‘official’ work The Slaughter King is filled with the detailed descriptions of sadistic murder, beginning with a serial killer murdering a gay prostitute whilst listening to distortion-atrocity music. The plot is schlocky but serviceable, jumping around inconsistently but the images it creates are terrifying. A bourgeois dinner party straight out of Buñuel and Pasolini’s nightmares where guests are served poisons as if they were the finest consommés: they eat bees until their faces swell, dropping dead at the table, finishing with a trifle “made from the berries of the several varieties of belladonna, of cuckoo-pint, and of the flowers of monkshood”. It’s a sinister book, but nothing compared to his second work.
Whitechapel wrote The Eyes. This is clear just from a simple comparison between his texts, the fascination with language, with sadism, with de Sade. The thing is, The Eyes is supposedly written by some guy called Aldapuerta, Spanish apparently. ‘Aldapuerta’ can be written Alda Puerta — ‘at the gate’, a telling description of these short stories, which go past this point many, many times. The tale of ‘Aldapuerta’ himself is too exact to be believed: a young boy with an interest in de Sade, corrupted by the local pornographer, medical-school training that honed his knowledge, then a mysterious death (echoing shades of Pasolini’s own) and finishing with the “and he might be baaaack” closer. But this point isn’t really an issue and it’s understandable that Whitechapel would want to keep his name away from this work. It is also surrealistically brilliant at times: amongst the brutality, the images it creates are unforgettable.
Of course, Whitechapel is a fake name, redolent of Jack the Ripper, and even Simon was taken from elsewhere — a colleague perhaps? He disappeared during the 2000s, no longer writing for Headpress, a few self-published chapbooks pastiching Clark Ashton Smith… where did he go? There are the rumours of prison time — they are convincing to my mind, as they too revolve around different identities, around extremity and anonymity. I wonder though, if true, just how much this individual actually believed in them. His most recent writings, at his tricksy blog, hint at this, as well as make his ‘relationship’ with Aldapuerta clearer but it’s not in my ability to directly connect the personas.
If you want to be fascinated and repulsed, then the non-author Simon Whitechapel is for you.
• It’s The Gweel Thing… — Gweel & Other Alterities, Simon Whitechapel (Ideophasis Books, 2011)
I would be disturbed and dismayed if Will Self ever wrote an essay on Evelyn Waugh or Clark Ashton Smith. In fact, I hope he has never even heard of CAS. But I’m happy to see Self writing in the Guardian on William Burroughs. It’s a perfect setting for a perfect pairing. And Self, like Christopher Hitchens, raises a very interesting question. What is his mother-tongue? Quechua? Tagalog? Sumerian? Whatever it is, it’s not even remotely related to English.
William Burroughs — the original Junkie — Will Self, The Guardian, 1/ii/2014.
Entitled Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict and authored pseudonymously by “William Lee” (Burroughs’ mother’s maiden name – he didn’t look too far for a nom de plume) …
[Self missed his chance there: nom de guerre would have been much better.]
The two-books-in-one format was not uncommon in 1950s America …
Despite its subhead, Wyn did think the book had a redemptive capability …
Both Junkie and Narcotic Agent have covers of beautiful garishness, featuring 1950s damsels in distress. On the cover of Junkie a craggy-browed man is grabbing a blond lovely from behind; one of his arms is around her neck, while the other grasps her hand, within which is a paper package. The table beside them has been knocked in the fray, propelling a spoon, a hypodermic, and even a gas ring, into inner space.
This cover illustration is, in fact, just that: an illustration of a scene described by Burroughs in the book. “When my wife saw I was getting the habit again, she did something she had never done before. I was cooking up a shot two days after I’d connected with Old Ike. My wife grabbed the spoon and threw the junk on the floor. I slapped her twice across the face and she threw herself on the bed, sobbing …” That this uncredited and now forgotten hack artist should have chosen one of the few episodes featuring the protagonist’s wife to use for the cover illustration represents one of those nastily serendipitous ironies that Burroughs himself almost always chose to view as evidence of the magical universe. …
… if you turn to his glossary of junk lingo and jive talk – you will see how many arcane drug terms have metastasised into the vigorous language. …
Burroughs viewed the postwar era as a Götterdämmerung and a convulsive re-evaluation of values. …
An open homosexual and a drug addict, his quintessentially Midwestern libertarianism led him to eschew any command economy of ethics …
For Burroughs, the re-evaluation was both discount and markup …
… and perhaps it was this that made him such a great avatar of the emergent counterculture. …
Janus-faced, and like some terminally cadaverous butler, Burroughs ushers in the new society of kicks for insight as well as kicks’ sake. …
Let’s return to that cover illustration with its portrayal of “William Lee” as Rock Hudson and his common-law wife, Joan Vollmer, as Kim Novak.
When I say Burroughs himself must have regarded the illustration – if he thought of it at all – as evidence of the magical universe he conceived of as underpinning and interpenetrating our own …
Much has been written and even more conjectured about the killing. Burroughs himself described it as “the accidental shooting death”; and although he jumped bail, he was only convicted – in absentia by the Mexican court – of homicide. …
When Burroughs was off heroin he was a bad, blackout drunk (for evidence you need look no further than his own confirmation in Junky). …
By the time Burroughs was living in Tangier in the late 1950s, his sense of being little more than a cipher, or a fictional construct, had become so plangent …
Burroughs was the perfect incarnation of late 20th-century western angst precisely because he was an addict. Self-deluding, vain, narcissistic, self-obsessed, and yet curiously perceptive about the sickness of the world if not his own malaise, Burroughs both offered up and was compelled to provide his psyche as a form of Petri dish, within which were cultured the obsessive and compulsive viruses of modernity. …
In a thin-as-a-rake’s progress …
… a deceptively thin, Pandora’s portfolio of an idea …
It is Burroughs’ own denial of the nature of his addiction that makes this book capable of being read as a fiendish parable of modern alienation. …
For, in describing addiction as “a way of life”, Burroughs makes of the hypodermic a microscope, through which he can examine the soul of man under late 20th-century capitalism.
William Burroughs – the original Junkie, The Guardian, 1/ii/2014.
The big disappointment is that he didn’t use in terms of.
Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:
Brought to Book – A Book of English Essays, selected by W.E. Williams (Pelican 1942)
Glamourdämmerung – Treasures of Nirvana, Gillian G. Gaar (Carlton 2011)
Highway to Hell – The Road, Cormac McCarthy (2006)
Solids and Shadows – An Adventure in Multidimensional Space: The Art and Geometry of Polygons, Polyhedra, and Polytopes, Koji Miyazaki (Wiley-Interscience 1987) (posted @ Overlord of the Über-Feral)
Magna Mater Marina – The Illustrated World Encyclopedia of Marine Fish and Sea Creatures, Amy-Jane Beer and Derek Hall (Lorenz Books 2007) (@ O.o.t.Ü.-F.)
Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR
Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:
Scheming Demon – The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis (1942)
Ai Wei to Hell – How to Read Contemporary Art, Michael Wilson (Thames & Hudson, 2013)
Toxic Twosome – Doll, Peter Sotos and James Havoc (TransVisceral Books, 2013)
Know Your Limaçons – The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Geometry, David Wells (1991) (posted @ Overlord of the Über-Feral)
Pestilent, Pustulent and Pox-Pocked – various books by Dr Miriam B. Stimbers (@ O.o.t.Ü.-F.)
Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR
This is a guest post by Norman Foreman, B.A.
Mediaeval Catholic philosophers wrote about both praying and braying. The braying came from Buridan’s ass, a thought-experiment about choice and free will. Imagine a hungry ass set between two piles of hay that are identical in every way: size, shape, colour, tastiness and so on. Some philosophers argued that, if it had no reason to prefer one pile of hay to the other, the ass would be unable to choose and would therefore starve to death.
I don’t agree: inter alia, nervous systems don’t work symmetrically and we don’t experience objects as fully identical when they’re in different parts of our visual field. However, in a literary sense, I understand what it feels like to be Buridan’s ass. To assify myself, I start by imagining this:
• I’m offered £1000 to read a book by the transgressive author Will Self.
Would I accept? Yes. It would be distasteful, but I’d do it for £1000. Self’s writing is so bad that I might give the money back rather than finish the book, but I’d have a go. Now change the situation:
• I’m offered £1000 to read a book by the transgressive author Stewart Home.
Would I still accept? Yes. Again, it would be distasteful, but I’d do it for the money. Or I’d try, at least. The next step turns me into Buridan’s ass. I imagine this:
• I’m offered £1000 to read a book by either Will Self or Stewart Home (not both). And I have to make the choice for myself.
Now I’m on the horns of a dilemma. I would want the £1000, but I can’t decide which transgressive author I’d rather NOT read. Home is a downmarket version of Self, Self is an upmarket version of Home. It’s Self-as-chav vs Home-as-Oxbridge-grad. And/or vice versâ. They’re both keyly committed components of the Guardianista community, with all that that implies in terms of issues around bad English, mixed metaphors and “in terms of”. I’m happy to say I’ve never read a book by either of them. So if I were offered £1000 to do so and had to choose either Self or Home, I couldn’t do it. Not unassisted. I’d have to toss a coin. Best of three. Or best of five dot dot dot
Previously pre-posted (please peruse):
Gweel & Other Alterities, Simon Whitechapel (Ideophasis Press, 2011)
This review is a useless waste of time. I can tell you very little about Gweel. It’s a book, if that helps. It’s made of paper. It has pages. Lots of little words on the pages.
What I can’t do is classify Gweel into a genre, not because none of them fit, but because the concept of a genre doesn’t seem to apply to Gweel. It stands alone, without classification. Calling Gweel “experimental” or “avant garde” would be like stamping a barcode on a moon rock.
It may have been written for an audience of one: author Simon Whitechapel. If we make the very reasonable assumption that he owns a copy of his own book, he may have attained 100% market saturation. However, there could be a valuable peripheral market: people who want to read a book that is very different from anything they’ve read before.
It is a collection of short pieces of writing, similar in tone but not in form, exploring “dread, death, and doom.” “Kopfwurmkundalini” and “Beating the Meat” resemble horror stories, and manage to be frightening yet strangely fantastic. The first one is about a man – paralysed in a motorbike accident, able to communicate only by eye-blinks – and his induction into a strange new reality. It contains a rather thrilling story-within-a-story called “MS Found in a Steel Bottle”, about two men journeying to the bottom of the ocean in a bathysphere. “Kopfwurmkundalini”’s final pages are written in a made-up language, but the author has encluded a glossary so that you can finish the story.
Those two/three stories make up about half of Gweel’s length. The remainder mostly consists of shorter work that seems to be more about creating an atmosphere or evoking an emotion. “Night Shift” is about a prison for planets (Venus, we learn, is serving a 10^3.2 year sentence for sex-trafficking), and a theme of prisons and planets runs through a fair few of the other stories here, although usually in a less surreal context. “Acariasis” is a vignette about a convict who sees a dust-mite crawling on his cell wall, and imagines it’s a grain of sand from Mars. The image is vivid and the piece has a powerful effect. “Primessence” is The Shawshank Redemption on peyote (and math). A prisoner believes that because his cell is a prime number, he will soon be snatched from it by some mathematical daemon (the story ends with the prisoner’s fate unknown). “The Whisper” is a ghost story of sorts, short and achingly sad.
No doubt my impression of Gweel differs from the one the author intended. But maybe his intention was that I have that different impression than him. Maybe Gweel reveals different secrets to each reader.
I can’t analyse it much, but Gweel struck me as an experience like Fellini’s Amarcord… lots of little story-threads, none of them terribly meaningful on their own. Experienced together, however, those threads will weave themselves into a tapestry in the hall of your mind, a tapestry that’s entirely unique… and your own.
Jesús say: I… S….. R… U… B… B… I… S…. H…. B… O… O… K…. | W… H… A…. N… K… C…. H… A… P… L…. E…. I… S…. H… I… J… O…. D… E…. P… U…. T… A…..
(This is a guest-review by Norman Foreman, B.A.)
Yr Wylan Ddu, Simon Whitechapel (Papyrocentric Press, ?)
If, like me, you froth at the mouth and roll on the floor biting the carpet when you hear the phrase “Pre-order now”, then relief is at hand. You might have thought that “pre-ordering now” was as logical as “ordering pre-now”. You were wrong. Here is a book that really can be pre-ordered now, because it doesn’t exist yet. If it ever does exist, it will cease to be pre-orderable now. In the meantime, you’re pre-ordering it whether you know it or not. In fact, the less you know, the more you’re pre-ordering it. All life-forms in the Universe, actual and otherwise, are pre-ordering it at this very moment, from the humblest virus to the mightiest hive-mind.
There’s no escape, in other words. And no more review, you might think, given that the book doesn’t exist yet. True, but I can review the title. It’s Welsh, it means “The Black Gull”, and it’s pronounced something like “Ear Will An Thee”. It was also originally the title of an album in 2003 by the Exeter electronistas Slow Exploding Gulls. Whether S.E.G. will object to the appropriation remains to be seen. If they do, it can be pointed out that Dirgelwch Yr Wylan Ddu, or Secret of the Black Gull, was the title of a children’s book by Idwal Jones (1890-1964) published in 1978.
There is nothing corresponding to “of” in the original title of that book, but then Welsh grammar doesn’t work like that. Yr Wylan Ddu contains some good examples of how it does work. It’s an active, almost clockwork or organic, phrase compared to its static English equivalent. In isolation, the Welsh words for “the”, “black” and “gull” would be y, du, and gwylan, pronounced something like “ee”, “dee” and “goo-ill-an” in southern Welsh. But put them together and they mutate in more ways than one: Yr Wylan Ddu (adjectives generally follow the noun in Welsh). The similarity between gwylan and “gull” isn’t a coincidence: the English word is borrowed from Celtic.
However, it is unlikely that Yr Wylan Ddu will actually be written in Welsh or any other Celtic language. First, Whitechapel doubtless feels that this would reduce his already small audience. Second, he doesn’t speak Welsh. Or write it. So the book will probably follow past trends and be written in English. It’s also safe to predict that it will refer to at least one black gull. So: pre-order now. And please carry on doing so until further notice.
In terms of the highest levels of the United Kingdom’s counter-cultural community, it seems to be compulsory for non-conformists, mavericks, free-thinkers et al to be committed readers of The Guardian (which was nicknamed The Grauniad by Private Eye in honour of the misspellings once common there). Naturally enough, committed Guardian-readers use the special dialect of English known as Guardianese (which is also found in The Times Literary Supplement, The London Review of Books, etc). And there are a lot of such Guardianistas in the counter-cultural community, trust me. So the obvious question arises:
Myriads, myriads, off the wall,
Who is the Grauniest of them all?
Continue reading Homotextuality…