step beyond the narthex of my beauty…

Konstantin Somov, The Lovers.

Konstantin Somov, The Lovers.

“Love…is our fate, [a] twisted thing, tortuous, delicate, eager, insatiable, the best, and worst thing, the junction point between everything and nothing, the oxymoronic knot of all existence, love which makes cattle meat of us.” – Helene Cixous.

* * *

“To love someone is to isolate him from the world, wipe out every trace of him, dispossess him of his shadow, drag him into a murderous future. It is to circle around the other like a dead star and absorb him into a black light. Everything is gambled on an exorbitant demand for the exclusivity of a human being, whoever it may be. This is doubtless what makes it a passion: its object is interiorized as an ideal end, and we know that the only ideal object is a dead one.” – Jean Baudrillard.

“Love is the first lie; wisdom the last.” – Djuna Barnes.

* * *

The uncovering, or stumbling-on of preexisting structures. A young woman finds her boyfriend’s stash of internet porn, discovers that he has desires which do not conform to her own body and their love, but to entirely different kinds of bodies, to entirely different modes of engagement with those bodies, perhaps to a mode of engagement that treats women’s bodies as disposable, as targets for humiliation.* One walks into a structure and finds a discord between it and oneself, realizing anew that the structure (in this case the collective mythology and repertoire of abusive imagery of women) has been around for some time and will stay around for some time longer. You can imagine the beginnings of this as a bar joke: A woman walks into a discourse…

The opposite relationship: one walks into a structure and finds oneself molding into its contours, melting into its crevasses and curves. Its hard edges cut away at parts of you, you become assimilated into the structure deep enough that you forget there is a structure at all, that there was a moment of shock when you first saw its strangeness.

“No one would fall in love if they hadn’t been told what it was.” – Anonymous, variously attributed.

“Erotic acts are instinctive; they fulfill a role in nature. The idea is familiar, but it is one that contains a paradox: there is nothing more natural than sexual desire; there is nothing less natural than the forms in which it is made manifest and satisfied.” – Octavio Paz.

* * *

“True love covers everything

Well, like the shadows lay up under the ground

If you got the kind of love in your heart for me

Lord, you will never, never let me down.” – Lil’ Son Jackson.

* * *

“It is worth speculating whether love is the only discourse still available to us that is capable of salvaging singularity in a late capitalist epoch, or whether it is rather a case that ‘love’ has become (or perhaps always was) a decoy that lures us into a libidinal economy no less indifferent to individual suffering than the macroeconomy overseen by the IMF and the World Bank.” – Dominic Pettman, Love and Other Technologies.  **  

 

“Love is just a lie, made to make you blue.” – Felice and Boudleaux Bryant.

* * *

“Life, go easy on me;

Love, don’t pass me by.” – John Martyn.

 

 

*(This is based off a friend’s summary of a poem by a woman whose name I can’t remember, but will eventually post later, perhaps with a link to her tumblr.)

** The use of “singularity” here has nothing to do with the en vogue conception of a technological singularity.

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two versions of a monster: the pope of the self.

Franz Sedlacek, The Moon Calf, 1936.

Franz Sedlacek, The Moon Calf, 1936.

“The monstrous body is pure culture. A construct and a projection, the monster exists only to be read: the monstrum is etymologically ‘that which reveals,’ ‘that which warns,’ a glyph that seeks a hierophant.” – Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Monster Culture (Seven Theses)

In other words, it’s a fucking metaphor, doofus.*

* * *

1.

The Pope of the Self has been ordered excommunicated, no more to lead its congregation in the thaumaturgy of silence and indifference. The ritual of excommunication is to begin, so that the holy father will know its congregation more intimately and serve it more faithfully than ever from the chair.

The crypt below the church floor: chipped frescoes of early medieval origin gleam with sweat on the ceiling, rendering indistinct the boundaries between knight and dog, human and inhuman. The storm-organ pipes in the thunder concussing the countryside, the notes of the wind ripping through the acoustics of the upper hall. The aether suffers its indigestion noisily, even through the thickset walls.

The crypt opens up, widens out into a common room, still lined with tombs. The congregation sits at a long table laid with onion-shaped candles in brass holders and the dull glamor of silverware. The Pope of the Self is laid on the dinner tray, braised and served with persimmon spice and garlic, the congealed bubbles of fat rising and falling like dough as steaming air escapes. His eyes are in a bowl like olives. His fingers are fried like strips of potato. His jaw is stock in a vat of swamp-colored pea soup.

The congregation must finish eating him before the dawn. If they do not, the spirits of popes past will materialize from the drippings in their tombs and terrify the village until the next pope is elected, a process which can take months. It happened in a neighboring town once, and the spirits possessed the village guards and prevented all from entering or leaving; disappeared stairways as people descended them so that they were thrust down bottomless shafts into the world; inhabited domestic plants and filled them with excess life so that they suffocated the house; threw the skinnier children down the wells.

The congregation inhales the smell of the braised pope. They say a small prayer together, holding hands tenderly. The mouldering sextons fidget in their coffins. Outside, the moon’s taper burns on.

* * *

2.

The pope of the self is a lolling, bearded tongue swathed in a white, urine-stained cassock. It has no real eyes in the sense of fixed visual organs, but instead a free-flowing cascade of ‘eye-slits’ produced from the foam of its ceaseless slobber of saliva. These crack open like periwinkles and glimmer amidst the gnarled drain-gathered hair and greenish sores, then shut abruptly and are washed away by the churn of spittle, only to re-open at other points across its body.

It has no face either, but a free-association of facialities dispersed across its flesh wherever the eye-growths are blooming. The pope of the self has a small drooping vine at its tip, light green colored, tender as the taproot of a baby carrot. This is its genital, and it manipulates it constantly during its many proclamations and encyclicals. It does this with its hairs, which have all the muscular and flexible capacity of arms.

The pope of the self has no real mouth for its speech, but the suggestion of a chestnut-dark hole hidden within its hair gives off a feeble voice encumbered with reverb. The pope of the self smells like compost.

 

 

* (Though obviously no monstrous creation should be chained to any particular interpretation, even within a single cultural moment.)

structureless, tedious.

Nathan Bishop, Paranoiac.

Nathan Bishop, Paranoiac.

The terror of the doppelganger is not that of a shadowy being replacing you and dragging you into the closet with a cloth stuffed in your mouth – it is the realization that the self itself is a doppelganger. That behind the thin scrim of consciousness there is a long dark hallway with a number of rooms, all filled with doppelgangers waiting their turn, and each waking from sleep finds a new replacement, a born again body snatcher yawning into the amniotic sunlight of another impersonation.

Whitman’s song of the self becomes a song to a dead star. It is not a singing really, either, but more of an incantation, structureless, tedious. The flat sound of being dragged into the closet.

Fernando Pessoa’s rejection of “Cogito, ergo sum” led to his horrified thought, “They think, therefore they are.” They being the “many species of people” living inside us, our theater troupe of emotions and temperaments – they are parasitic, they inhabit, possess us; we, the hosts, do not exist, the “I” does not exist but is just an embodied moment continually wrested from control, inhabited by Whitman’s multitudes. The self is then a mirror, with different, unknowable, and alien faces stepping out of the shadows to fill its frame.

* * *

“Capital is a phantasmal body, a monstrous Doppelganger which stalks abroad while its master sleeps, mechanically consuming the pleasures he austerely forgoes. The more the capitalist foreswears his self-delight, devoting his labours instead to the fashioning of his zombie-like alter ego, the more second-hand fulfillments he is able to reap. Both capitalist and capital are images of the living dead, the one inanimate yet anesthetized, the other inanimate yet active.” – Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic.

* * *

It had been months since I checked on the sink; I had forgotten to uncork the drain stopper when I left over a month ago for Belgium.

I looked in the sink and stood transfixed for long moments, looking in at what was inside. A lush green algae had grown on the surface of the water in thick knots, covered in lily pads and reeds. Tiny shapes flitted about under the film of the water, bulbous little things wriggling like dark sperm looking for an egg.

I looked closer and saw that they were tadpoles.

Dirt had been packed on the porcelain of the bottom and the tendrils of the reeds and plants were stuck there. A swimming insect grabbed a tadpole while I stared, and buried its face into its guts, draining out the fluids while the tadpoles nearby slowly grew legs, unaware.

I stuck my hand into the sink to feel the water, and was surprised by how cold it was.

* * *

“Horror is beyond the reach of psychology.” – Theodor Adorno.

on drivel.

When I don’t write for awhile the amount of pure drivel that comes out of me is astonishing. It’s sort of like a child seeing her own blood for the first time – “This was inside me? Christ.” The drivel flows uninterrupted, and the old corpse-words are thrown out onto the dead-wagons, and I start nattering about “stars” and “roses” or whatever.*

These sorts of word usages have been lopped off at the knees from their original meaning, and now tumble down a set of endless stairs winding hellward into an ever-greater meaninglessness. They don’t bring an image, they just exist in their shape and their sound and previous iterations. They forget to bring alcohol to the party, they tell the same jokes which have become so degraded and creaky in the telling that it is no longer apparent whether they were ever even funny.

But they fill the silence. They fill pages and texts and books, they fill the mind’s small thimble of attention for preternaturally useless milliseconds. The cold stars, the rank stars, the spoor of stars, the stain of stars, the glimmering mantle of stars, the pinwheel of roses, the ache of roses, the rosing rosin rigamarole of roses.

The mind lacks pliancy, and reverts to snuffling the same holes like a haggard dog in its yard. When I start expectorating slimy drivel like I was raised in a tedium forest by wild drivel wolves, I get this Throbbing Gristle song in my head:

Discipline! Discipline! I need discipline!

* (these are just stand-ins for any manner of cliched or overused words I tend to use).

a strange anthology.

Just picked up a massive anthology from 1944 (my copy is a reprint from ’47) in an Oakland bookshop. It’s called Pause to Wonder: Stories of the Marvelous, Mysterious, and Strange. It’s always a pleasant surprise when I see a big anthology I’ve never heard of before, particularly one with such an eccentric table of contents. It’s in overall great condition, but I got it for extremely cheap because it is missing two pages – two pages which unfortunately consist of a piece of fiction I’d have liked to read by Sylvia Townsend Warner, called “Nelly Trim.”

The contents appear eclectic, though the overall tone is likely less macabre than I would generally like, and more inclined to lighter fantasy than fictions of terror. But it looks to hold a good deal of the literary strange from the likes of Walter de la Mare and the early folkloric fiction of W.B. Yeats. Like many fantastic anthologies from this period, the author demographics are almost exclusively white and British/American, a fact which becomes monotonous after awhile when dealing with a lot of these collections, though in all fairness is attributed here in the introduction to lack of funding for translations. But still, you have Pliny and Chesterton thrown together, which is always fun and kind of compensates for it.

(Which, incidentally, is another of the many reasons I appreciate Ann and Jeff Vandermeer for their work on The Weird: A Compendium. Besides being incredible and far-reaching in general, it brings together early 20th century fictions from a variety of sources which generally are not lain side by side. Luigi Ugolini so close to Francis Marion Crawford, just a village away from Merce Rodoreda, not so far from Ben Okri? Take my money!)

Have a look.

IMG_20131210_202609_594 IMG_20131210_202623_255 IMG_20131210_202713_872 IMG_20131210_202723_935 IMG_20131210_202734_152

“a future is out there waiting to be written”

A. Paul Weber, Backbone Out!

A. Paul Weber, Backbone Out!

Jonathan McCalmont continues to diagnose the exhaustion and depletion of contemporary science fiction, and touches on something I feel is applicable to contemporary horror as well:

This sense of blockage is everywhere… it’s in the clothes we wear, the music we listen to, the films we watch and the books we read. Terrified of change, we cycle faster and faster through the last five decades, desperately trying to convince ourselves that everything is ‘retro’ and ‘vintage’ rather than merely comforting and familiar. Though interrupted, a future is out there waiting to be written amidst the drone strikes, the cloud storage and the teenagers born into the twisted prisms of social media……It is time to take a literary idiom designed to celebrate the dreams of Victoria and Roosevelt and use it to unpick the nightmare that the 21st Century seems poised to become. Enough with the deconstruction and the nostalgia, the future is out there and we can rebuild it… we have the mythology.

These are issues that face writers of horror and the fantastic too, and it is time that our science fictional present is no longer off limits to the explorations of terror. The omnipresence and omnipotence of surveillance organizations, the prison-industrial complex, shit economies and austerities, the banality of and potential alienation by social media are all topics suitable for exploration in horror; possibly even necessary. Horror in the 50’s responded to the Cold War and the threat of nuclear holocaust; contemporary horror must now face its own set of monsters, and extricate itself from the twin fetters of antiquarian settings and the timeless, no-where settings favored by Ligotti and others. In and of themselves, these modes are fine. Taken as the sole vanguard of horror against the 21st century, they are pathetically inadequate.*

And given that, as has been pointed out many times before, we are living in the science fictional world postulated by our forebears, the 21st century’s oddness is perhaps best explored by an interstitial weird fiction, a limber, lissome kind of fiction capable of straddling the lines of SF and horror, of rigorously and scientifically describing and diagnosing our ills, while also not flinching from the cold sweat induced in us by those ills. And perhaps most important of all, a fiction unafraid to make counter-suggestions to the status quo, to never let the vice-like grip of the present crush the voice of the future’s near infinite potentialities.

*I find myself in the strange position of advocating for entirely different approaches to horror and fantasy. With horror, I think the undernourished approach is one which engages with technological advance and the particular qualities of contemporary alienation and abjection; which follows the approach M.R. James recommended so long ago: to write in one’s own world, to use one’s own setting and all its drab, everyday objects, to re-imbue them with the menace which never really left them.