The Term Turns dot dot dot

In Titus Graun, I interrogated issues around the Grauniness, or Guardianisticity, of two keyly committed core components of the counter-cultural community: the semiotician Stewart Home and the æsthetician John Coulthart. Seeking to utilizate their usage-metrics for the core/epicentral Guardianista phrase “in terms of” (i.t.o.), I interrogated their personal websites like this in terms of January 2013:

site:http://www.johncoulthart.com “in terms of”
About 2,180 results

site:http://www.johncoulthart.com “the”
About 8,860 results

site:http://www.johncoulthart.com “and”
About 8,150 results


site:http://www.stewarthomesociety.org “in terms of”
About 123 results

site:http://www.stewarthomesociety.org “the”
About 602 results

site:http://www.stewarthomesociety.org “and”
About 599 results

Noting that Coulthart’s site used “the/and” approximately 14 times more often than Home’s, I adjusted Home’s raw i.t.o.-score accordingly: 123 x 14 = 1722. I concluded that Coulthart, with an i.t.o.-score of 2180, was approximately 26·59% Graunier than Home – exactly as one might have hoped, given that Coulthart is not merely a Guardianista (good), but a gay Guardianista (doubleplusgood). But that was in terms of January. When I re-interrogated their websites in terms of June 2013, I discovered that the semiotic situation had transitioned in a most disturbing and disquieting way:

site:http://www.johncoulthart.com “in terms of”
About 1,080 results

site:http://www.johncoulthart.com “the”
About 8,680 results

site:http://www.johncoulthart.com “and”
About 8,010 results


site:http://www.stewarthomesociety.org “in terms of”
About 119 results

site:http://www.stewarthomesociety.org “the”
About 541 results

site:http://www.stewarthomesociety.org “and”
About 536 results

I was aghast (literally) to see that Coulthart’s i.t.o.-metrics have spiked (in reverse). Other lexicostatistical metrics have transitioned relatively little: his site now seems to use “the/and” approximately 15·5 times more often than Home’s. Home’s raw i.t.o.-score is 119 and 119 x 15·5 = 1844·5. So it is now Home who is approximately 70·78% Graunier than Coulthart.

This can only be described as highly suspicious. What has Coulthart been up to? Has he been spraying his site with verbicide? Has he donned a black Savoy nihilinja-suit™, crept out under cover of darkness and clubbed innocent i.t.o.’s as they lay basking in the feral radiance of Manchester’s Most Maverick Messiahs? If so, this is “‘Pushing the Transgressive Envelope Too Far’ Too Far” too far. Even M.M.M.M. must look askance at behaviour like that. Surely.


Previously pre-posted (please peruse):

Titus Graun
Ex-term-in-ate!
Reds under the Thread

Keeping It Gweel

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.

Original review


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Previously pre-posted:

It’s The Gweel Thing…

Eyes-Cream

Another reprehensible review of this teraticly toxic tomelet:

The Eyes by Jesús Ignacio Aldapuerta

As per the opening kayfabe, The Eyes was written by a deceased madman called Jesús Ignacio Aldapuerta who fashioned sex-toys from the bones of children.

I don’t want to be the guy who says there’s no Santa Claus, but this wouldn’t be the first time someone ghost-wrote an “alternative” book under the name of an imaginary lunatic. The true author of The Eyes is apt to be alive, sane, and well, and has likely done no more than give himself a backrub with the bones of children, if even that.

But that’s neither here nor there. The Eyes is disgusting, unforgettable, hard to read, harder to stop reading. I have read only a few books like it. One of them is Satanskin by James Havoc, another hoax author. He died in 1999… and was so dead that he reappeared in 2009 and started writing books again. Anyway, like Satanskin, The Eyes contains short stories meant to give you an inside view of hell. Some stories offer but a peek. Others give you the grand tour.

Pedophilia, cannibalism, it’s all here. Some stories (“Armful”) are so ugly that a summary would sound hyperbolic no matter what words I use. Generally, the tales in The Eyes provoke one of two reactions. The first is a horrified “WHAT?!” The second is like what you feel immediately after stepping on a nail. You don’t feel much pain, not at first, but there’s the sense that you’ve done yourself severe trauma.

Aldapuerta is one hell of a writer. James Havoc has a tendency to pile on the purple and overwrite beyond the point of self-parody, but The Eyes is lean and to the point. It’s not without a poetic edge. Aldapuerta’s forte is the quickfire mot juste. “Her hot little leaf of a hand.”… “the pale leaping tongues of his semen”…etc. Neat.

“Ikarus” is the most terrible creation in The Eyes, not a story but a black detonation of horror. A man explores the hull of a B-17 bomber, and discovers something that never will be explained, never could be explained, and never should be explained. “Ikarus” is almost a net liability to the book, as the other stories come up short next to it.

As it nears the end (its end, not yours), The Eyes gets increasingly strange. As the nostalgic schoolmaster’s fantasy of “Upright” ends, “The Winnowing” begins, which largely consists of a Czech man filling out a form. The final sentence… what am I supposed to take from that? That he was being sterilised? The book finishes with “Pornoglossia”, a list of words the author has invented for use in your own Marquis-de-Sade ripoff. The verb “Raí”, for example, means using an empty eye-socket as a sexual orifice. These words are in little danger of making their way into Merriam-Websters’ in the near future.

There may not be a hell, but Aldapuerta (or Whitechapel, or whoever wrote this) have proven that it is possible to create one on the page. The Eyes is genuinely amazing. Hopefully some day Aldapuerta will return to life, pick up his child-femur pen, and write a new collection of stories.

Original review


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Homotextuality

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

Alda News (Dat’s Fit to Print)

Some more reviews of The Eyes, with commentary by the esteemed Espanish exponent of extremissimity:

I wasn’t half as impressed with this short-story collection as I hoped to be. It’s too well-written to be called bad and too disturbing to be called boring, but of all the stories, only “Ikarus” approaches greatness. The rest begin as vague and confusing messes until they reach that certain moment of horror and atrocity that seem to wake the author up; then they abruptly end. I couldn’t dismiss the impression that Jesús Ignacio Aldapuerta himself took no interest whatsoever in anything he wrote here but for those few paragraphs of shocking perversity. It’s not enough to make The Eyes worth reading. Except for “Ikarus.” This story is like all the others until a nameless man crashes a rocket-powered interceptor called a Bachem Ba-349 Natter into a B-17 bomber. From there the story evokes a surreal atmosphere of cosmic horror and unknowableness as the pilot explores the strange bomber, walking its huge cathedral-like fuselage while the airplane “floated kilometers high over a black, unending sea. Far, very far below, almost directly under him, the reflection of an almost full moon lay flat and corroded on smooth water.” Then he finds an alien device torturing a woman to death. If it had all been like this, I would be calling The Eyes brilliant, but none of the other stories reached this level of fascination for me.

Original review

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This isn’t a bad book, just an exceedingly oversold one. It’s the first and thus far only English-language collection of stories by the late Jesús Ignacio Aldapuerta, the so-called “Andalusian de Sade” who specialized in scatological excess. In truth this book’s gross-out quotient is about equal to that found in the writing of better-known practitioners of Sadean literature like James Havoc and Simon Whitechapel, even if the back-cover description proclaims that “to read all the stories of Aldapuerta’s infamous THE EYES is, perhaps in fact, to become mad, or worse” and that “Once read, they will be with you always.”

If the introduction by Lucía Teodora is to be believed, Jesús Ignacio Aldapuerta was a petty thief obsessed with pornography who immolated himself (or was murdered) in 1987. THE EYES, originally translated into English by Aldapuerta himself in 1986, is representative of his many unsavory obsessions, and possibly of his actual crimes. The prose, alas, is only intermittently effective, which may have something to do with the translation, or simply the fact that Aldapuerta, who died at age thirty-seven, still had a ways to go before fully hitting his stride as a writer.

The eleven stories collected here all pivot on death and perversion, more often than not in the form of sociopathic individuals who happen upon the aftermath of horrific accidents that inflame those individuals’ psychoses. Particularly representative examples include “Ikarus,” about a Nazi pilot who discovers a woman enclosed in some kind of bizarre torture-machine, “Yin & Yang,” in which a man makes weird patterns with the flesh and organs of some frozen corpses he discovers in a crashed plane, and “Orphea,” featuring a nut who fellates himself with a woman’s severed head.

The most effective of THE EYES’ stories, and the only one that really lives up to the grandiose back-cover claims, is the startling and repellent “Armful.” It’s about an incarcerated pervert who literally devours a little girl he (rather improbably) finds locked up with him. The poetic grotesquerie of the tale is very much in the vein of the aforementioned James Havoc, yet with a verve unique to Mr. Aldapuerta, who was a sick fuck without question but also a (somewhat) talented one.

Original review

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Take De Sade’s “120 Days of Sodom”, add a dash of George Bataille’s “Madame Edwarda”, “Blue of Noon”, “The Dead Man” and garnish with the ‘grand finale’ of André Pieyre de Mandiargues’ “Portrait of an Englishman in his Château” and you have a rough idea of the bloodsport and delights to be found herein. (Don’t forget your “Lobster Bib” and a Big Grin before you dig in!). Positively ‘lip-smacking’!

Original review

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Puro Lojo

Los Ojos

He was haunted by eyes. It had begun quite slowly, quite simply: a feeling that he was being watched whenever he went out, that hostile eyes were staring out at him, down on him, from the windows of the town, tracking his progress, feeding the nectar of data to the honeycombs of brains, for savouring later, when he had passed. He started to find quieter, gloomier streets, to stay indoors on sunny days, to keep his curtains drawn. He felt calmer when he knew he wasn’t overlooked, wasn’t being watched, couldn’t be. But then the calm began to evaporate, for he realized that there were eyes even in his house, even here, where he was cocooned in privacy.

The eyes of his books – indeed, the eyes of “books”, the two o’s, the two little eyes staring out between the “b” and the “k”. There were hundreds of eyes, thousands of them, in every book, ready to stare out at him, to watch him, whenever he opened a book and tried to read. Even “eyes” itself, with the twin e’s, seemed to peer at him, if not to stare. It had half-closed lids, ready to open on him, to glare its full. In Spanish, the word opened fully: ojo. The word reminded him of two eyes with a nose between them, with a bindi over the nose, the mystic dot of Hinduism, symbolizing the third eye. In Hindi, though, the word didn’t threaten him: आँख, ānkh. When he’d first started to worry about his books, about the eyes in his books, he’d gone to the public library and spent an hour searching through the dictionaries, making a list of the eye-words he did find threatening, as though he could trap them, confine them, on a single piece of paper.

The “oog” of Dutch. The “öga” of Swedish. The “øje” and “øye” of Danish and Norwegian, which reminded him of the razor-blade slicing the eye in Un Chien Andalou. The “oko” of Czech, Polish, and Russian. The “ojo” of Spanish, the “olho” of Portuguese, the “occhio” of Italian, all from the “oculus” of Latin (“oculo” in the ablative and dative). Then there was the “göz” of Turkish, entirely unrelated, but staring out at him like a cyclops. And what about the “ojú” of Yoruba? It was unrelated to Spanish, but disturbingly similar. Disturbing in a different way was the οφθαλμος, the “ophthalmos”, of ancient Greek. It was such a juicy, gelatinous word, like the juice and jelly of an eye itself, like a mechanism of chemicals and flesh from which the two o’s stared out at him, watching him, judging him, storing data about him for use in his trial, the secret trial that was being prepared for him.

He felt relieved, at first, that modern Greek had a less threatening μάτι, “mati”. But then he discovered that Malay had a word that was very similar, “mata”, though he knew that Malay and Greek were entirely unrelated. He felt his skin prickle as the first hint of a conspiracy trickled into his brain. The lower-case a’s of “matia”, the Greek plural, like the lower-case e’s of “eyes”, were like peering eyes, as though the words were beginning to take on the same form as “ojo” and “oko”, as though they would open fully one day too. He wondered if, one day, all the world’s languages would have eyes in their words for “eye”, would have twin o’s gazing out, glaring out at the reader. The biter bit. The reader read. Or what about a script, a font, a language, that was entirely ocular, entirely based on o’s, that read its readers as they read it? You could do that, could create one. There were enough forms of “o” in the alphabet, or the alphabets, the Latin and French and Czech and Yoruba and Vietnamese.

It was then he realized that he hadn’t looked at the Vietnamese dictionary, having missed it near the end of the shelf. He went to look at it, carrying his eye-list with him. He took the dictionary off the shelf and flicked to the right page. He nearly dropped the book when he saw the word staring up at him: mắt. Like Greek, like Malay. He would discover later, after more research, that the Vietnamese and Malay words probably had a common origin, something he’d half-suspected, after that moment of shock. The language families were spoken in neighbouring regions, after all. But for that moment of shock it had seemed a confirmation of something at work, something beneath the surface, or beneath the lid, peering out, ready to be fully exposed, fully opened, ready to stare its full, to drink his soul.

After his visit to the library, he found it more and more difficult to read English and Spanish, both with eye-like eye-words, both full of o’s. He was haunted by a line from Lovecraft, from “The Shadow over Innsmouth”: “I could not escape the sensation of being watched from ambush on every hand by sly, staring eyes that never shut.” But in English, in Spanish, they were not in ambush. They were there openly, eagerly, greedily. He sought refuge in French and German, whose eye-words were asymmetric, un-eye-like, and where “o” was blessedly far down the list of letter-frequencies. English ran e-t-a-o. All those to’s and of’s and not’s. Spanish was even worse: e-a-o. All those masculine endings, those past tenses, those no’s and lo’s. But French ran e-a-s-i-t-n-r-u-l-o. German was even better: e-n-i-s-t-r-a-d-h-u-g-m-c-l-b-o. He began to sellotape his English and Spanish books shut, as though each were an eye that he was closing by force, blinding so that its myriad inner eyes could not watch him. He felt much calmer reading French and German, much better able to cope when he came across a reference to eyes, and he even laughed aloud when, returning to À Rebours, he read of how the ancestral portraits of des Esseintes alarmaient avec leurs yeux fixes, “startled one with their fixed gaze”.

The disaster, when it came, came without warning. He picked up a French guide to butterflies one afternoon, meaning to browse through it before lunch, and almost at once came across a slip of paper handwritten on both sides. The writing was neat but small and he had to concentrate to read it. It was all part of the trap, he realized too late, to make him focus, to bite more deeply on the poison bait that had been dangled before him. Ice began to form around his viscera as he read, but he could not stop himself until he had finished:

Die einzelnen Worte schwammen um mich; sie gerannen zu Augen die mich anstarrten und in die ich wieder hineinstarren muß: Wirbel sind sie, in die hinabzusehen mich schwindelt, die sich unaufhaltsam drehen und durch die hindurch man ins Leere kommt.

With sick horror, he noted that the passage contained exactly two o’s, near the beginning and near the end, like the grotesque eyes of a distorted, teratomorphic face. Then he turned the slip over and found that the other side contained a translation in English, full of o’s, full of eyes, staring at him, eager to drink the emotion in his face, the realization that he had been trapped. Again, he could not prevent himself from reading to the end:

Single words floated round me; they congealed into eyes that stared at me and that I was forced to stare back into – whirlpools that gave me vertigo and, reeling ceaselessly, led into the void.

He let out an involuntary cry. Where had the slip come from? Who was the author of the German? Who had translated it? Who had written the two languages down, hidden the slip in the book? He looked again and realized that it was his own writing, slow, careful, half-disguised, but unmistakable, now that he looked. There was a conspiracy, yes, there was, and he was the author of it, spinning a web for himself, plotting his own destruction, with hidden motives, hidden hatred. He moaned. Things were moving in his head. The slip was a linguistic key, turning a lock in his subconscious, releasing a phrase that he himself had hidden there. Esse Est Percipi. Berkeley’s great dictum. “To Be Is To Be Perceived”. He knew the truth now. He could not escape, could find no refuge, draw no curtain, close no door, find no darkness to hide in. The universe itself was an eye all around him and he was its eternal focus, naked always, visible always, pierced through and through by a torturer’s gaze that created its own object of torture.

Vermilion Glands

Front cover of The Inner Man The Life of J.G. Ballard by John BaxterReaders’ Advisory: Contains Self-abuse and reference to Mancas.

The Inner Man: The Life of J.G. Ballard, John Baxter (W&N 2011)

“B” is for Bataille, Burroughs, and Ballard. I’ve never read Bataille, I can’t stand Burroughs, I used to love Ballard. Nowadays I have strong doubts about him. Vermilion Sands, yes. Crash, no. Vermilion Sands is surreal, haunting, funny, endlessly inventive, and extravagantly intelligent. Crash, by contrast, is silly and sordid. The last time I tried to read it I quickly gave up. I couldn’t take it seriously any more. It’s a book for pretentious, wanna-be-intellectual adolescents of all ages who like Dark’n’Dangerous Sex’n’Violence. A book for Guardian-readers, in short – the sort of people who continually use and hear the phrase “in terms of”, who believe passionately in Equality, Justice, and the Fight against Hate, and who desperately, desperately, wished they’d been able to stimulate the largest erogenous zone in their bodies by voting for Barack Obama in 2008.

What is that erogenous zone? Well, though not all liberals are Guardianistas, all Guardianistas are liberals, so the largest erogenous zone in a Guardianista’s body is his-or-her narcissism. Guardianistas are also, alas, the sort of people who write biographies of J.G. Ballard. John Baxter is most definitely a committed component of the core community. As a big admirer of Mike Moorcock, Britain’s biggest bearded Burroughsian lit-twat, how could he not be? This is part of why I now have doubts about Ballard. I don’t like liking things that Guardianistas like and I don’t like the fact that Moorcock was mates (on and off) with Ballard. On the other hand, I do like the fact that Moorcock and the Guardian boosted Burroughs big-time back in the day and that the Guardian now bigs up Cormac McCarthy and his Dark’n’Dangerous Sex’n’Violence. Good, I think: they all deserve each other. Perhaps one day, in some drug-stoked, depravity-soaked über-orgy of trans-transgressive hyper-homoeroticism, they’ll all manage to climb up each other’s arseholes and disappear from history.

But Guardianistas don’t just like Burroughs and McCarthy: they like Ballard too. They write books about him. Fortunately, The Inner Man isn’t a good book. That would have been disturbing, believe me. The dedication is by far the best thing in it: “To the insane. I owe them everything.” And guess whose lines those are? After that, it’s mostly Baxter and mostly dull. When it’s not, you’ll usually have Ballard to thank:

Novels sent to him in hope of endorsement got short shrift. He enjoyed describing the satisfying thump of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children as it hit the bottom of the dustbin. (pg. 47) In September 1995, the Observer, for a piece about odd bequests, invited him to answer the question, “What would you leave to whom, and why?” Jim said, “I would leave Andrea Dworkin my testicles. She could have testicules flambés.” Anti-pornography campaigner Dworkin was a close friend of Mike and Linda Moorcock but a bête noire of Ballard’s. (pg. 308)

I think Ballard was right in his cod-bequest for Dworkin and bum’s-rush for Rushdie. And if Baxter had the same sense of humour and mischief, The Inner Man would have been a much better book. Okay, it’s not that bad, because I managed to finish it, but that was disappointing in its own way. I’d almost have preferred a boldly, flamboyantly pretentious Ballard bio full of solecisms and mixed metaphors to a plodding, mediocre one like this. I like sneering at and feeling sniffily superior to Guardianistas. And all I’ve got to go on here are occasional lines like these:

Like another diligent civil servant, he [Ballard] was Agent 00∞: licensed to chill… (pg. 3) But in surrealism, as in most things, Jim was drawn to the extremity, the dangerous edge, the abyss which, as H.G. Wells warned, will, if you stare into it long enough, stare back at you. (pg. 36)

It’s puzzling that Baxter misattributes such a famous quote and that his editors didn’t spot the misattribution. It’s also puzzling that Baxter doesn’t seem to like Ballard much, to be very interested in Ballard’s life, or to be very enthusiastic about Ballard’s writing. Born in Shanghai, incarcerated (and half-starved) under the Japanese during the war, trained as a doctor: Ballard had an unusual early life for a writer and one can only admire Baxter’s ability to keep the interest out of it. Baxter devotes much more attention to Ballard’s time in advertising and life in suburbia. Yes, the contrast between this apparently staid existence and the wildness of Ballard’s veridically visceral visions is interesting, but it’s obviously related to his early experiences in China. Baxter has got those out of the way within the first 26 pages of a 377-page book. When he himself takes visionary flight, he doesn’t do so to Ballard’s advantage. Why did Ballard turn down the chance to be published in “a series of de luxe limited editions of fantasy classics” by Manchester’s most maverick messiahs, “the radical publishing enterprise of Savoy Books”? Baxter conducts an interview with his own imagination and reports back with this:

He may have felt that involvement with Savoy and [David] Britton – who had already served two prison terms under the Obscene Publications and Dangerous Dogs Acts – risked once again placing him in hazard, as had been the case with “Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan”. (pg. 321)

Eh? Yes, he “may”, but simpler explanations are to hand. Either way, Baxter says the rejection meant that “a sense of grievance” now “permeated his relationship with” the messianic Mancas. Again: Eh? The grievance would have been one-sided, there was never much of a relationship, and although Savoy “put a lot of effort” into persuading Fenella Fielding to record extracts from one of Ballard’s books (no prizes for guessing which), they put in the effort without first asking Ballard if he was interested. When the recordings were made and they did ask, he “refused to cooperate”. It was now that grievance began to permeate the relationship.

Reading about this important episode in Ballard’s career, I felt another feeling begin to permeate me. A familiar feeling. Yes, “S” is for Savoy (B), Sontag (S), and Self (W). All three turn up in this biography, variously offering to publish Ballard, heaping praise on him, and having dinner with him. All three are part of the Guardianista demographic in one way or another: Self nails his colours firmly to the gasbag when he speaks of a “scintilla” of an “affectation” that forms an “armature” (pg. 341). All three add to my doubts about Ballard. If people like that like him, should I like him too, like? I think if Ballard had been born ten or twenty years later, the question wouldn’t arise. A younger Ballard would have been sucked fully into the macroverse of Guardianista subversion, radicalism, and counter-cultural twattishness and I’d never have liked him at all. As it was, he was too big to entirely fit. Crash got sucked and does suck. Vermilion Sands didn’t and doesn’t.

And this biography? Well, it could have been much worse. Yes, it’s dull but that may be partly because Ballard himself is such an interesting and memorable writer. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, the danger in literary biographies is that the biographee is likely to be a better writer than the biographer. The implicit comparison will always be there and Ballard’s autobiography, Miracles of Life (2008), is likely to remain better, and briefer, than anything a biographer ever turns out. But Baxter tells you about things that Ballard doesn’t, possibly because they’re not true. Like the air of menace Ballard could project and his occasional violence towards his girlfriend Claire Walsh, who “appeared at parties with facial bruises, usually hidden between sunglasses” (pg. 187).

And “girlfriend” is the word: Baxter reports that Ballard “always” and “anachronistically” used it of Walsh (pg. 171), rather than (he implies) the smarmy Guardianista “partner”. Good for Ballard. But bad for Ballard in terms of engagement with issues around the bruises, if true. As George Orwell said:

If Shakespeare returned to the earth to-morrow, and if it were found that his favourite recreation was raping little girls in railway carriages, we should not tell him to go ahead with it on the ground that he might write another King Lear. (“Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dalí”, 1944)

It would have been better that Ballard hadn’t punched his girlfriend, just as it would have been better that Caravaggio hadn’t been a murderer. But if they hadn’t been violent men, with more than a touch of psychosis, they might not have produced such interesting art. I don’t think Ballard is as significant a figure in European art as Caravaggio, and even if he is, he and his art won’t have as much time to be significant in. One way or another, Europe is now entering its final days. We are about to reap the whirlwinds so diligently sown for us by the Guardianistas and their continental cousins. And science is busy measuring mankind for its coffin. Ballard saw and wrote about parts of this future, but I now prefer his surreal side to his sinister and his dreams to his depravity. It’s bad, v. bad, that Will Self hails Ballard as “My single most important mentor and influence.” But Self (thank Bog) didn’t write this biography. He didn’t write Vermilion Sands either. He couldn’t. Ballard could and did. He could and did write other good stuff. I don’t love him any more, but, despite the Guardian and the Guardianistas, I will continue to read him. Lucky Jim, eh?

Pearly Riser

Pearls & Pyramids / Temples & Torments, Simon Whitechapel
 
Nice covers, shame about the text. As if the polysyllabic vocab and convoluted (not to say strangulated) syntax of the first two stories in Pearls & Pyramids weren’t bad enough, along come the blatant racism and misogyny of the third, in which members of the Black community are showered with the kind of vilely bigoted slavery-era clichés that even the reddest neck in the deepest south might think twice about using nowadays. Yes, more sensitive members of the anti-racist community won’t even make it past the first line of “The Pearls of Ngaháksha”, which introduces its anti-heroine as a “corpulent black (sic) cannibal witch”. Count the racist discourses at work there, cultural theoreticians! Then read on, if your stomach’s strong enough, and see how they’re repulsively developed and expanded.
 
Whitechapel’s racist and misogynistic agenda isn’t so foully evident everywhere else, but it is evident from the epigraphs in pretentiously untranslated Italian, Latin and French that he fancies himself as some kind of rogue literary scholar. Real literary scholars won’t be taken in for a moment: if you’re going to pretend that you read Horace in the original, it helps not to make errors as egregious as “vas inferior…naturalis” in the story that follows. But Whitechapel can’t avoid egregious errors in English either: get your laughing gear around “all those whom (sic) his spies discovered had slain…”, for example. Not having a pair of rubber gloves to hand, I’m not going to probe the psychology of the story that’s taken from (“The Similitude of Anina-Casor”), but there are enough philias, phobias, and fetishes on display to keep a team of psychiatrists at work for weeks. Throw in the other stories and you’ve got a feast of mental pathologies that even the Marquis de Sade might have found too rich for one sitting – if the prose and plots were ten times better.
 
But okay, I admit that Pearls & Pyramids did get me thinking hard, and Temples & Torments thinking even harder. I thought: What did Clark Ashton Smith do to deserve a “disciple” as despicable as this? Did he set fire to an orphanage or something? Well, probably not: it’s just an example of how the miserable luck that dogged CAS in life has extended beyond the grave. I’d rather not know how Whitechapel bribed or blackmailed an otherwise admirable small press like Rainfall Books into publishing this garbage, but they should be ashamed of themselves.

Los Ojos Os Miran…

[Slightly edited from the original review at Savage Word, author unknown.]

Contemporary Surrealist Classic no. 1

Jesús Ignacio Aldapuerta: The Eyes

Right, roll up your sleeves. This is going to get very messy.

You may recall how, when I started this little blog, I made reference to the fact it would contain material of a contentious nature. That I would be going up to my elbows in stuff that dealt with the more extreme ends of human experience, real and imagined. Well, the raw matter I’m about to discuss hails from that area. It’s Serious Drugs. I present the following to you, not as a dare, not as some kind of macho pissing competition, but because I believe that, in the end, it’s worthwhile. (Warning! WOOT! WOOT! Whacking great portions of the following will be N.S.F.W.)

Try this…

“We stopped the ambulance and carried her out of sight of the road, one or two of us sampling her roast flesh, pulling strips of her from her breasts, even before we had laid her to a suitably flat surface. I, uninterested in her as meat, was allowed a minute or two to sample her vagina with my penis. I scalded myself doing it: even internally she was boilingly hot. The congealed fat in my pubes I wouldn’t be entirely free of for more than a day.”

And this…

“I examined her now, laying her slack exhausted frame upon the floor of the cell and running my fingers over her for a place to begin anew. The gaping orifice of anus or vagina seemed a likely point, but my probing fingers could gain no sufficient purchase to begin the tearing out of her flesh. The piece of cement I had used in the breaking-open of her skull was roughly blade shaped. I worked out an edge for it, singing a little to myself to the rhythm of its reiterated rasp against the floor, and used it to begin cutting fillets from her pudenda.”

The first excerpt is from a story called “À La Japonaise”, concerning the paedophilic and necrophiliac exploits of a party of sex-tourist libertines posing as ambulance men in a heavily bombed city. The second comes from “Armful”, in which a paedophile, arrested and imprisoned with the scandalising object of his obsession, rapes, kills and eats her to dispose of the evidence. Both short stories come from a collection called The Eyes, by Jesús Ignacio Aldapuerta. It’s not nice, I’m not even sure I recommend it, but it’s lodged itself in my cranium, refuses to leave and I’m interested in why.

Here’s a portion of the back blurb:

“A woman’s severed head renders obscene sexual service beyond death to a blazing, petrol-soaked visionary.
A Nazi rocket-plane rises from the Götterdämmerung of the Third Reich to enter an hyper-oneiric world of sadistic delirium.
An asphyxiated prostitute serves as an embodiment of an entire nation for an insane, necrophiliac American soldier.”

Now bear in mind, I’ve read a lot of stuff not too dissimilar to the above. Like many a pale and interesting young boy I read Burroughs at thirteen and progressed through the tried and tested route: De Sade, Genet, Guyotat, Artaud. Literary descriptions of extreme behaviour are nothing new to me. Like a horror fan whose palate has become jaded after watching one too many exploding heads, I consider myself to be pretty much unshockable, artistically speaking anyway. But there is something about The Eyes, something about its blank-eyed, uncaring malevolence, that scares me shitless. And I think it might be because I recognise something in it. Something scared and sad and not a hundred miles away from human.

From the biography at the beginning of the book, written by its translator, Lucía Teodora, we can glean that Jesús Ignacio Aldapuerta was born in Seville in 1950 and died, burned to death, in 1987. The introduction sets out the facts of a life full of perversion and petty criminality. Prison sentences, prostitution, rumours of AIDS and a fascination with human remains and sex tourism are all there. His fatal immolation is rumoured to have been the work of drug dealers; he stole a foreskin from a medical ward and later ate it; he owned a sex aid which he claimed was made from the femur of a child. He sounds like a complete twat, to be honest. A grubby, snickering tosser, but I digress.

He is hinted to be something of a liar, who liked to embolden his stories with outrageous detail. Something he refers to directly in “Armful”:

“That is if I, we, assume that this is not a sexual fantasy having no other existence than in my own imagination, in which case logic need not apply. But assume that it is not a fantasy. You will enjoy it more, assuming thus.”

This strikes me as someone attempting to have his cake and eat it. One can imagine Aldapuerta (if he even existed: to be honest I have my doubts) recounting some horrific tale before justifying himself with a sly “Or did I?” Whatever, it’s a pretty impressive way to implicate your audience, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer-style.

The book is subtitled “Emetic fables from the Andalusian De Sade”, which doesn’t really do it justice. Undoubtedly De Sade is an influence — you can’t deal with sexually deviant libertinage without invoking the old gasbag it seems — but trying to compare it to other De Sade-influenced books is a waste of time. The Eyes is thoroughly modern, having little in common with all those wankathons set in châteaus that regularly squirt out of the underground, like steady drips from a flaccid cock. (I’m not naming any names. Apart from that tedious tosser Jeremy Reed. Do give up, Jezza. There’s a good chap.)

No, there’s none of that God-awful “By-Christ-my-prick-is-hard-I’m-hot-for-this-wench’s-arse-and-no-mistake” dialogue, no swishings of the cat-o’-nine-tails, no tedious pontificating on the nature of morality and, crucially, no stories over twelve pages long. What The Eyes has to say it says quickly. Like a story printed in Penthouse or a scene in a porn film, it does the job and gets the fuck out.

Now, I can tell you that The Eyes reads like pornography (something that I’m sure wasn’t far from Aldapuerta’s mind when he wrote it), but whether it works as pornography I’m afraid I don’t know. You’ll no doubt be pleased to hear that I don’t share any of its characters’ sexual proclivities. I prefer my partners still breathing and above the legal age limit, thanks very much. So if The Eyes is basically the necrophile equivalent of that “Roy Orbison wrapped in cling film” book, why am I drawn to it? Why am I spending a sunny day writing about it and not sipping Chablis on the roof-garden?

Good point. Let’s you and me go further.

In the second story in the collection, “Ikarus”, a WWII pilot flies a Nazi rocket-plane into the hull of a passing B-17 (military accuracy not being the first thing on Aldapuerta’s mind when he wrote it, I’m sure). Inside the bomber he witnesses the evisceration of a young woman strapped into a vividly described torture-device:

“It was a sculpture, a crucifix of broken and jagged spears and sheets of iron and steel and copper stretched between the floor and roof and walls of the fuselage into which had been set — nailed, clamped, impaled, pincered — the body of a woman.”

So far so vile, and when it comes to the description of the woman’s body being torn limb from limb we aren’t spared any details. This is sexually powered transgressive fiction of a particularly nasty stripe. However, if it’s simply meant to function as pornography, then what are the final paragraphs all about?

“Cradling her [head] in two hands, he walked over to the flak hole in the fuselage wall. The moon rode beneath him, a negative pupil in a giant eye of water. He sat down on the edge of the hole, legs dangling over kilometres of emptiness, and waited, dandling the head in his lap like a child, for the impulse to come to push himself and her out and down into the black, unending sea.”

Unlike your average piece of pornography this sustains itself after the moment of orgasm, carrying on to a point of desolation. Whatever the author’s intention, as an image that’s up there with any piece of literary surrealism I can think of. Possessing an authenticity and clarity of vision to rival Magritte or Ernst.

Similarly vivid and surreal images appear at points throughout the book, and it’s those moments that serve to elevate it above mere torture porn. An arctic scavenger rearranges the internal organs of plane-crash victims into occult patterns on the ice flow; a nameless man drives across a nameless desert for a rendezvous with a celebrity car-wreck; a survivor huddles under the wings of a crashed plane, waiting “for wings to sweep out black wounds in the star-cankered flesh of the heavens above him.”

It’s these images, and others, that serve to give The Eyes its sense of timeless melancholy. The aftermath of the sexual acts described nearly always end in isolation, as if the nameless protagonists suddenly become acutely aware of their distance from any kind of society, any kind of love. The emptiness after the orgasm.

In the story “B.V.M.” a torturer recounts his philosophy of pain:

“Even if I were a woman, and could string orgasm on orgasm like beads upon a necklace, in time I should sicken of it. Do you think Messalina, in that competition of hers with a courtesan, knew pleasure as much on the first occasion as the last? Impossible.
“Yet consider.
“Consider pain.
“Give me a cubic centimetre of your flesh and I could give you pain that would swallow you as an ocean swallows a grain of salt. And you would always be ripe for it, from before the time of your birth to the moment of your death. We are always in season for the embrace of pain…”

“Consider,” I said.
“Consider the ways in which we may gain pleasure.
“Consider.
“Consider the ways in which we may be given pain.
“The one is to the other as the moon is to the sun.”

Aldapuerta elevates the acts of agony to a religious level (“I seek only to sacrifice minds. There is no surer way than pain”). The employment of his dry, dispassionate style increases the reader’s revulsion. The prose rings with authenticity. It feels real, experienced. It is this combination of clinical, Ballardian prose with some of the most vivid surrealist imagery I’ve read that keeps me coming back to this book. The carnage depicted seems merely an adjunct, a twisted carnival distraction on the road to nowhere. It’s this feeling of emptiness and futility that serves to give the grotesque erotica its sting.

The Eyes is not a book without antecedents. At various points it reads like Ballard, De Sade, Burroughs, or a combination of all three. Yet I have never read anything quite like it for foul, lingering impression. A hell is being evoked, one all the more scorching because of its prescience. The debauched libertines (or fucked-up perverts, if you prefer) of Aldapuerta’s fictions are all the more believable because rather than being disgraced aristocrats or night-haunting dandies, they are modern men — pilots, emigrés, professionals — wandering through sexual hells of their own jaded designs. Doomed, after that ultimate orgasm, that final detonating fuck, not to follow their victims into oblivion, but to be trapped in lonely wastelands, forever searching for ways to escape. When you finally shut the book you can’t help but feel that it’s the least they deserve.

I hesitate to recommend The Eyes. This kind of book demands more than a simple “Like that? Try this!” However, I will say that in strength of imagery, surrealistic clarity and visionary brutality it’s up there with the best post-second-world-war underground fiction, worthy of comparisons with Ballard, Burroughs and David Britton. Praise doesn’t come much higher, nor has it ever come with more provisos. Those with strong stomachs, by all means take a swig. Just don’t blame me if you end up being sick over yourselves.

[Slightly edited from the original review at Savage Word, author unknown.]


Towards a New Surrealism

Recently, while gazing from the roof terrace of my London bachelor pad, I’ve been giving some thought to the idea of canons. No, not the aggressively noisy things that men in spangly suits and crash helmets are occasionally fired from, but rather those boring lists of books, films and what-have-you that get trotted out semi-regularly in an attempt to uncover what really are the best, most exemplary, seminal (urgh) works in a particular field. Now everyone hates it when the usual Oxbridge tossers are asked for theirs and we end up with the usual round of Miltons, Blakes, Orwells and Shakespeares, but it struck me that we dwellers in the dank passes have our canon as well. It goes a little like this: Burroughs, Ballard, Bataille, Artaud, Dick, Bukowski, Genet, etc. All good stuff, undoubtedly but a little tired now, especially when such good work is still continuing on the margins.

Now all this talk of canons made me think of the Surrealists. In an issue of one of their periodicals, André Breton listed a series of books that were crucial influences on the movement. It included Lautréamont, Jarry, Roussell and a host of others that had provided the initial spark that began the great revolution. As someone who thinks that a vital new strand of Surrealism is long overdue in today’s culture I thought it might be fun to begin to compile a similar list. You can see the first fruits of this search for new beginnings above. I will add more as and when they reveal themselves to me. Hope you enjoy.

[The post that preceded the Aldapuerta review at Savage Word, author unknown.]

It’s The Gweel Thing…

Gweel & Other Alterities, Simon Whitechapel (Ideophasis Books, 2011)

Oh no. Say it ain’t so, Shmoe. I thought we’d heard the last of this vile piece-a-shit after his richly deserved execution for hate-crimes – inter alia, he’d claimed that maverick underground editor Dave Kerekes was a M*n *td f*n, that über-maverick gay aesthetician John Coulthart was a G**rd**n-r**d*r, and that post-über-maverick cultural titan Alan Moore had a *ea**. He might, just might, have got away with double-life for those first two crimes against humanity… but fortunately one of the last acts of the righteous New Labour government in Britain had been to pass a law mandating death for any and all forms of pogonophobia. Accordingly, Whitechapel’s attempted genocide against Alan M. earnt him the electric Blair (don’t ask, or you might feel a twinge of sympathy even for a depraved speech-criminal like Whitechapel).

Anyhows, that SHOULDA been the last we’d ever hear of him. No such luck. Either some deluded disciple’s been on the ouija board or the astral, or Whitechapel left material to some deluded disciple for posthumous publication, like a final fetid fart from a putrefying, maggot-infested corpse. It’s difficult to know where to begin hinting at how hateful’n’horrible this book is – “hint” is all I’m gonna do, because I’ve got something Whitechapel obviously never came within a million miles of acquiring, namely, a social conscience. Did you ever read anything and then feel as though you needed to take a looooong shower? Me too. More’n once. But it’s never been as bad as this. I felt as though I needed a shower after the first word of the first sentence of the first story in Gweel. That’s how reprehensible’n’repulsive this book is in terms of issues around feralness’n’fetidity. I’ve read Sade, I’ve read Guyotat, I’ve read Archer – I have never read anything that made me despair of life and humanity the way Gweel did. And still does. I’ll lay it on the line: I am completely and uncompromisingly in favor of absolute and unconditional freedom of speech – except for racists, sexists, and homophobes, natch – but I would gladly see Gweel burned and its ashes ground to powder before being encased in concrete and blasted off for a rendezvous with the all-cleansing fusional furnace of Father Sol himself.

Why? Well, I’m not gonna tell you the worst of what’s within – I’m not even sure I know the worst, given that I couldn’t get some pages unstuck after I threw up on the book halfway thru the second paragraph of that first story – but how’d’ya like these little green apples?:

The suggestion that prime numbers like 17, 31, and 89 could be used as hallucinogenic drugs (as made in the story “Tutu-3”)? Or the suggestion that the digits of √2 somehow encode a Lovecraftian pastiche about two archaeomysteriologists descending to the bottom of the Atlantic in a bathysphere, drinking “whisky-laced coffee” as they go (as in “Kopfwurmkundalini”)? Or how’s about the über-esoteric hidden channel that some prisoner discovers on an old TV and that, left playing overnight, coats his cell in gold-and-scarlet lichen (as in, er, “Lichen”)? And I don’t even like to recall, let alone mention, the microscopic red mite in “Acariasis” and the Martian musings it prompts in another “banged-up” protagonist. As for “Beating the Meat” and “Santa Ana City Jail” – let’s leave it at the titles, shall we? You don’t wanna go there. I have, and I wish to God I hadn’t.

Yeah, I also wish Whitechapel could be brought back to life… and sentenced to death all over again for what he’s done to H.P. Lovecraft, M.R. James, and Ramsey Campbell. As a committed fan of all three, I can’t tell you how horrified and disgusted I was to see their influence all over Gweel. It was like sipping and savoring a glass of fine wine, then discovering that someone had been washing his syphilitic dick in it. And then some. If you try reading this, Jesus will sob on Mary’s shoulder and Satan will high-five Mephistopheles. Trust me. If you possibly can, get the full width of the planet between yourself and any copy of Gweel that survives the sweep that will begin as soon as I’ve dialled my local hate-crime hotline. (Reviewed by Peter Sotos.)