Friday, March 31, 2006

"Painted in Absinthe": Toulouse Lautrec and the Radical Aesthetic Sublime

I've been thinking a lot lately about the interaction of art and politics, and the fact that whilst people can discuss that dichotomy in general, politics is generally absent from the study of artists, of art and art history on a more detailed, academic basis. Also the importance of aesthetic ideology to radical culture. This rather flowery response to the Lautrec folio I've been looking through recently is the result. Perhaps I'm on to something here, or perhaps this is just me trying to justify my latest volition to stay on for an interdisciplinary Art History-Romanticism Mstud. Whatever. Enjoy!

[To all writers: 1. Anything more than 1,000 words in an HTML document on [rhexisFEATURE] with a weblog summary post linking to it, please. 2. It is OK to proof-read your articles. No, really. -Subed.]


Paris in the 1890s. The Bohemian revolution is sweeping Montmartre, and somewhere amongst its sleepless, twisting alleyways, a sleepless, twisted artist is creating a new radical sublime. Henri de Toulouse Lautrec creted a manifesto of sumblimity in the first radical underground society of the post-industrial age, with his garish, obsessively figurative art that a contemporary critic declared to have been painted "mostly in absinthe".

Linky-linky.

This drunken, vice-ridden, syphilitic, flat-nosed dwarf understood keenly the limitations of beauty, of convention, of conventional beauty. A practical non-sleeper, he spent his career wandering, drunk and dreadful, through the cobbled rises, the brothels and music-halls of Bohemian Paris, creating amongst the gloomy subusols [Not a word. Please advise. -Subed.] of the Chatnoir and the Rue des Moulins, a figurative art that re-defined beauty for the Bohemian age. His obsessive line traces the intimacies of the lives and bodies of the street-walkers and music hall girls upon whom his figure-studies are focused. His fixation is as a backlash against the bland landscapes of the Impressionist movement upon the figurative:

"Only the human figure exists; landscape is, and should be, no more than an accessory; the painter exclusively of landscape is nothing but a bore. The sole function of landscape is to heighten the intelligibility of the character of the figure. Corot's greatness is revealed in his figures, likewise that of Millet, Renoir, and of Whistler; when a figure painter executes a landscape he treats it as if it were a face; Degas' landscapes are unparalleled because they are visionary landscapes. Monet's work would have been even greater if he had not abandoned figure-painting."

He rejects, moreover, the concept of the physical and aesthetic ideal:

"I have tried to depict the true and not the ideal. It is a defect, perhaps, for warts do not find favor in my eyes, and I like to embellish them with playful fur, to round them, and to put a shining end on them. I do not know if you bridle your pen, but when my pencil moves, it is necessary to let it go, or - crash! ...nothing more."

Lautrec's art is radical because it rejects the bland aesthetic idealism of previous generations, the wan and draped beauties of the Pre-Raphaelites, the Impressionists' heady bucolism. ["Bucolism" means "rusticism". I had to figure that one out by looking in three dictionaries for "bucolic". Thought I'd save you the trouble. Will stop butting in now. -Subed.] Unlike the latter, he streaks his bodies with brilliant, deliberately unworldly colours that etch in the contours of human beings offset by, and not in easy accord with, their environs; unlike the former, he depicts heavy, sharply contoured, real-unreal bodies, flesh twisted in but not obscured by drapery, returning to the nightmarish Gothic figuratism of Blake, Fuseli, and the Romantic school.

The later Victorian schools, apparently utterly alien to one another in aesthetic terms, were nonetheless both working within and as expressions of the socio-cultural and political mores of Victorian and Early Modernist convention; not only this, but both focus, crucially, on the search for beauty in visual art. Lautrec's art is radical in that it rejects convention, just as its well-born creator wilfully disappeared into the Parisian underworld; necessary in that it subverts this ideal of beauty that has been perpetuated in Western medie since the mid-1800s.

But surely beauty is the highest function of art? Not so - at least, only so within the confines of the limited and limiting auto-critique of established Western aesthetic standards of the Nineteenth, Twentieth and, now, Twentyfirst Centuries. Previously, art in Europe had attempted somehing far more ambitious: what Kant identified and Edmund Burke advocated as the sublime:

"In aesthetics, the sublime (from the Latin sublimis (exalted)) is the quality of transcendent greatness, whether physical, moral, intellectual or artistic. The term especially references a greatness with which nothing else can be compared and which is beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation. Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant both investigated the subject (compare Burke’s Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful, 1756, and Kant's Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, 1764). Both men distinguished the sublime from the beautiful." (Wikipedia)

The tragedy of modern art-ideology in the West is that it diverts, as it has since the Victorian age, the attention of the young and visceral away from the necessary terrors of sublimity. As Western cultural structures become increasingly centred around commercialism and callous meritocracy, our assessment-centred, acheivement-obsessed school-and-workplace superstructures conspire with increasingly anodyne, politically sterile, idealised mass media to create an aesthetic culture which depends on the banal limitations of beauty assessments under the assorted value-judgements of the material perfectionism that has been cultivated by the expansion of global markets as a supra-political oligarchy.

Result: we are losing, not only on an individual and emotional, but also on a wider cultural level, our grip on the sublime
.
On an individual scale, our young people are taught to shun ugliness, to disinfect their shower-nozzles, learn to fear dirt, imprefection and sub-excellence, to despise their own bodies and to pine for a perfection in daily life that is as unimaginative as it is unattainable.

More ominously, this cultural rejection of aesthetic sublimity extends to global politics, in the gradual aesthetic and philosophical self-immuration of Western culture: instead of embracing the sublimity, the dreadful beauties of existential self-awareness and acceptance of the notion of unsafety and ugliness, instead of finding, like Burke in the Alps, a sense of freedom in apprehension of the universal sublime, we swathe ourselves in social discourses and superstructures of self-protection and self-removal, refusing to accept a given degree of ugliness, discomfort and danger as part of the real beauty of existence, and focusing childishly on the defence of the individual above all principles. We learn, in short, to fear our own darkness and to live in terror of "Terror".

This is where the anodyne culture of the anti-sublime, of the myth of life's potential to be only beautiful and safe as perpetuated by global consumerism, becomes a dangerous fantasy.

Of course, in the Post-Romantic world the aesthetic and philosophically sublime has always been preserved, usually in subversive communities and dissident sub-cultures: the Montmartre of Bohemian Paris in which Lautrec was working embraces the dark, the dangerous and the differently beautiful in life; even as Lautrec's art celebrates and makes beautiful - more so, makes sublime - the daily realities of the lives of the women of Montmartre, replete with horrific glamour, with dazzle and drudgery, impoverished, joyful, desperate and short. One of his most emotive studies (see link above) is an aesthetically refined series of the washerwoman collecting the soiled sheets from the Rue Des Moulins brothel; Lautrec's glamour is far removed from the willowy, unreal, imagined feminine fantasies of turn-of-century Victoriana; his glamour is the aesthetic sensibility that would later be seized upon by the Punk, New Romantic and Neo-Goth cultural movements: disturbing, highly individuated, decadently imperfect; a sublimity in glamour that finds aesthetic power in the ugly and the terrifying.

In Twentyfirst Century Britain it can be seen how the sublime still forms a crucial part of the aesthetic ideology of certain enlightened subcultures, of the Goth movements and the cult surrounding the revival of the subversive theatrical traditions of Burlesque and Vaudeville.

But everywhere in our aesthetic cultural discourses - our music, our literature, our media - the safe, the bland, and the sterilely pretty continue to re-establish themselves as the aesthetic manifesto, accelarated by the consumer culture within which they are embedded; amongst countless examples: plastic popstars, whinging vanilla singer-songwriters, and slick electronica gradually replace the raw sublimity of the punk, metal and jazz movements of the Mid-Twentieth Century, the quietly emotive imperfections of folk music, at least in the world of the consumerist majority; defunct theory treatises and bland booker-prize selections get the press coverage, the prize-money and the subsequent self-fulfilling commercial success denied to more subversive, challenging, and visceral literature - the Houellebecqs and Palahniuks of our generation.

To reclaim our cultural ideology from the reductive anti-sublimity of Western consumer culture, a new focus upon and manifesto for the aesthetic sublime is required; not only the perpetuation of sublimity in aesthetic ideology within enlightened sub-cultures, but the extention of these radical cultural and aesthetic memes into the conscious and commercial sphere of the mass media: an engagement with the reductive ideology of the exponents of commercial globalisation on their own terms.

This is why the Internet is vital as a tool of dissemination; the art and writing of the champions of the Twentyfirst century sublime create, through their online prescence, a network of subcultural media engagement which global consumerism cannot afford to ignore. The art of Dave Mckean and Ian Miller, the graphic narratives of Grant Morrisson and Warren Ellis, the fiction of Miéville, Palahniuk, Ian M. Banks and the neo-Peakites are kept alive and current through their web prescence and dissemination; the 'anarch-e-texts' (subpol 2006) of Barbelith, the Electronic Disturbance Theatre (EDT) and subpol, as well as myriad blogs and dissident journals, perpetuate this aesthetic dissidence, making it accessible to the moiety of the world's populace with network access.

The dissemination of these sublime aesthetic sub-cultures brings home the fundamental activist truth that aesthetic dissidence is equally vital as political or sexual transgression in fighting the battles for cultural enlightenment in the Twentyfirst century: perhaps, indeed, it is more so, because more than anything else the aesthetic ideology of a sub-culture sustains the visceral sublimity of its existence and draws together its adherence through art, music, theatre, literature and poetry. In just this way, the Bohemian revolution of turn-of-the-century Paris would have been nothing without the music of Offenbach, the glamour of the chahut (cancan), or, indeed, the art of Toulouse Lautrec.

This is why we are poet-warriors: because our art, our poetry, our music, our radical aesthetic sublime is as subversive and as powerful as our politics will ever be; without our radical aesthetic, our politics would die. Lautrec did not have the luxury of living in a digital age: we have a duty as thinking creatures to perpetuate the power of the radical aesthetic sublime, not only within our own gloriously imperfect lives, but in our writing, in our art and our music and our dissemination of all three: a challenge to all that is banal, all that is sterile and pretty and vacuous and stringent and safe in the frightening globalized consumer society into which we were born.

Let's spit sublimity across the ether. Let's paint our lives in absinthe.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Hayleigh and the Meritocracy

Well, let's get [rhexisFEATURE] properly up and running, shall we? We already have the letters written by ~x~ and myself.

Please find here my latest short story, Hayleigh and the Meritocracy, as alluded to by Mr. Wintergreen.

Have some excerpts...

...born in beige. Beige, the colour(lessness) of equality. Institutional, impersonal, universal. Product of two small factors: ineptitude is expected, but not necessarily implied...

...hello, Hayleigh. Aren’t you small and perfect. Logic dictates that the brightest be able to make use of you before you can be ruined. Some of them (not very many) like that. What’s that, Hayleigh? You don’t know, but it feels interesting. In a very short while, it would make you cry. Now, it is just a release for the A men who like this. It is for the best. You will not remember, and the A men will be sated and sane to decide their decrees.

Good luck, Hayleigh. Not that luck has anything to do with it...

...Sophie was born without luck. She has never passed a Social Advancement test in her short, dank, hairy life. She entered her comprehensive nursery, like all children, as an undetermined assumed C. But when the nice B men came and walked her across the coarse but comfortable carpet, coloured darkly to preclude complaint, to take her first Determination, she smiled sweetly and failed miserably. Her life then became progressively unbrighter. She did not particularly notice; although, she always felt there was something missing...

...seesawing back and forth on her compacted, fog-coloured mattress, Hayleigh smiles blankly into the tip of a syringe snapped off in her artery, dripping purple blood and verdant methadone.

White walls? Padding? It feels so soft when the needle has been broken off, it looks so white, it—(unconsciousness. back to black and cold.)...

...“Do you LIKE pepper, THING?”...


Now go.

/SXV

Friday, March 24, 2006

Dear Sir

Please find enclosed a dozen or so angry letters written to various persons in order that they or their respective organisations might be set aright.

Written by S. Veins and ~x~.

Oh, yes.

Also: Human Chariot Racing!

/SXV

My ethics are bigger than YOUR ethics.

Much merriment and smugness has been evident on the part of the officials in charge of the King's College London Student Union recently about their recently granted status as a "fair trade university" by whoever it is grants that sort of thing. As far as I know none of the other London universities have been granted that accolade, so justifiably the people in charge of KCL are feeling mighty superior. The results of this is that "unethical" produce has been increased in price and large banners extolling how wholesome and ethical the union is have been draped everywhere, not to mention an upturn in third rate Coldplay/Smiths/Radiohead clone bands being dragged in to play in the club at the top of the building. Meh. It's survivable.

Or is it.

Part of me can't help but wonder if Matt Pusey (pronounced like the icky greenish colour puce but with a y on the end, not like a slang term for a female genital) and his fellow popularity contest winners who became "Student Officers 2005-6" actually believe in the whole fair trade malarky or if they just decided to push it more just so they could score radical brownie points off SOAS and UCL and all the other colleges. My vote's with the latter on this, to be fair.

You see, fair trade and whatnot is all very admirable, even though it's a bit of a scam really, since you have no way of knowing that it is, in fact, from raw materials for which the manufacturers paid a fair price to, and it's a little bit radical in that it revolves around throwing out an older modus operandi for the industries in question and replacing it, but it's nice and safe. It doesn't need any images of kids who, unable to acquire clean water, have shite running down their legs from chronic dysentery. It doesn't have any tangible effect on people's lives over here other than their preference to pay over the odds for stuff. And it gives them a nice warm, fuzzy feeling that they're doing something goodly. Thus it's a perfect candidate for seeming ethical and conspicuously compassionate while, in actuality, not having to do anything at all, so many of those who tout it and eulogise about how great it is that Luis from Venezuela isn't living in abject poverty so much as mild impecuniousness nowadays can happily alternate between ranting about how mass consumerism is, like, so evil and begging for sips of their mate's frappucino.

I've no problem if you want to go in for fair trade produce, it's your choice, and if you want to pay 65p for a gritty chocolate bar which tastes of rust then it's your choice. However, I have infintely more respect for those who do it because they believe it's the right thing to do and are willing to get their hands dirty, so to speak, with going out there and helping the less well off in today's world directly rather than just posing with the officially sanctioned brand of coffee and holding forth about why they're so great and why Costa or Starbucks whoever is the devil incarnate.

Alas, I fear the KCLSU mob are of the latter category.

On the Reappropriation of Words

I noticed that Withiel took issue with kedazzle’s use of the word ‘chav’ in her article on Rocky Horror [perhaps edited out now]. The word’s etymology is the Romany for ‘person’, more specifically ‘child’. Obviously in using the word as a derogatory term for ‘poor person’ or as an acronym for ‘council housed and violent’, it is being used in a similar way to the word ‘gippo’ or ‘gypsy’ to define the poor. I shall leave it to Mr Black to elaborate on this.

My immediate concern is instead with the reappropriation of symbols. Perhaps the most potent symbol of evil in the last century was the Nazi Swastika. Its design, however, was taken from a symbol which Hitler saw in a Catholic church as a youth, and before that it was a Buddhist symbol of peace. It is unsurprising that the symbol is representative of the Nazis in today’s world rather than Buddhists or Catholics, and that it will probably never be used again for any other purpose. Does the symbol no longer belong to the Catholics or the Buddhists? Unfortunately, the extent of the atrocities of the Second World War saw to it that the symbol would remain with the Nazis. I recently saw that the gay community had done the same thing with a symbol which originated with the Nazis. The pink triangle is now a symbol of gay culture, but its origins are far darker. It was originally a label for people sent to concentration camps who practiced homosexuality worn in the same way as the Jewish Star of David. It is, of course, all very well for the Jewish community to ‘reclaim’ their emblem as it existed for centuries before the war, but it strikes me as slightly disrespectful to continue and even embrace a symbol which was specifically intended to mark men out for death. The motives of those who first reappropriated the symbol were undoubtedly good. They probably wanted to try to reverse the meaning of the original symbol, but I find it hard to believe that every person who celebrates and embraces the symbol is aware of its shadowy past. I take issue with the idea that the symbol is being used unwittingly, not giving due accord and respect to those whose suffering is deeply connected with it, and even the fact that a symbol originated by the Nazis is dignified with continuation.

I welcome any comments/additions to the argument.

A Lighter Shade of Black… and not quite as bright as kedazzle

I will try to deal with each of your replies in turn.


I must take issue with Mr Black’s language. His idiolect is too polarised to do justice to more subtle political writings (for examples see my previous article).

‘However, if I make a piece of Art that constantly reaffirms traditional family structures and uses this as a strong theme I am... invisible

Does every work of art which does not ‘claim that the nuclear family is a tool for the oppression of women, and queer people, and state so as a strong theme’ necessarily ‘constantly reaffirm traditional family structures’? Mr Black seems to fail to see that these more subtle works still carry their message, all be it less visibly (note: not invisibly) than his own. Furthermore, by aligning himself as ‘contrary’ does he not imply that these ‘invisible’ works and indeed myself (‘Contra-Wintergreen’) have (in contrast) aligned ourselves with tradition/state/etc.? It is inaccuracy to define his own works as other to those that are essentially arguing the same point. If kedazzle (and feminism) has taught us anything it is that this kind of ‘self-criticism’ can only weaken our stance. (I know that I appear to be just as guilty here and so I shall respond to kedazzle in time.)

If indeed his polarising tone was only adopted for strength of argument then I am sure that he will agree the ‘visibility’ of a work is more determinate on his skill as a writer and his audience’s skill as ‘readers’. Nonetheless, he still seems to be intent on underestimating his audience. Surely they are capable of more than just being force-fed his message? When his audience grows to include people incapable of little more than force-feeding then he will have some justification for cramming his message down their throats. Currently, however, his audience is comprised of critically minded individuals with similar opinions to his own.

I am particularly interested in Mr Veins’s identification of strong polemic to a like-minded audience as a ‘war-cry’. This is perhaps justified in times of political unrest, for example, in contrast to Blair’s own war-cry. I am personally more in favour of subversion. If a message appears to be subtle, but is subtextually blatant and powerful, I would have thought it more effective to sneak it into a reader’s mind without them knowing. Then they will think that their change of opinions arose out of their own minds. I always find that things that I learn for myself are always better remembered than things I have been taught by others. The problem I find with art which is too blatantly political is that people often raise their defences and don’t allow it to influence them. I see this as a problem with overtly political art. It is alright to lead people with a war-cry, but not everyone wants to be led. I am not convinced that fighting these people is the best option either. This is where subconscious conversion comes in.

Response to Kedazzle:

‘If Mr Wintergreen is trying to argue that to undercut with bullish polemic the first aesthetic principle of art - the essential meaninglessness of beauty that seperates us fro unthinking, unfeeling beings - is to lessen even the most politically urgent of works, then I concur wholeheartedly.’

The idea of purely aesthetic art was running through my mind whilst writing the original post. I am convinced that Mr Black could write considerably better music without limiting himself to polemic. Part of my reason for writing the article was to encourage him to elucidate his reasons for moving away from the idea of pure art. However, I do not believe that he is much interested in creating art for purely aesthetic reasons anyway, which is quite understandable. I disagree with Mr Black in his assertion that ‘The reason you can't separate Art from Politics [note: big P] (or indeed vice versa) is that they are parts of a whole.’ A large proportion of music that is written has no Political motivation. In the canon of Western Classical music, the only works that immediately come to mind which have a direct Political link are religious works of music, Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ (originally his ‘Napoleon Symphony’) and several works by Shostakovich (Symphony no. 5 and Lady Macbeth of Mzensk to name but two). Therefore, that leaves a lot of Art which has no Political motivation. They are of course grounded in the politics of the cultures which produced them but this is very different from saying that they support these cultures, as Mr Black asserts.

‘The dangers of such an approach, whilst intellectually laudable, are very real: this sort of self-referential, subtly self-undermining polemic is precisely what caused the feminist movement to implode under the weight of its own self-criticism.’

My criticism is not intended to completely tear apart the work of polemicists like Mr Black, rather to encourage its evolution. In addressing problems such as the communication of Political ideas on sites like the Rhexis among others, I hope that polemicists will be encouraged to improve their approaches. As to purpose of the Rhexis, I think Mr Veins has already hinted at it.

We're a wild and untamed thing!

Tonight, if I were home – or, at least, within three miles of the room where I plug in my laptop and vibrator, which is the nearest approximation – I would be going to see the Rocky Horror Show at the New Theatre in Oxford. What I’m going to be missing is standing around in my undies for an hour on a a freezing cold street filled with strangely and scantily-clad young men and women, all daubed with glitter and goth-make-up, wearing suspenders and brightly-coloured wigs. Alright, yes, I’m pining already. But it gets me thinking.

What, exactly, is it about Rocky Horror that makes it one of the most successful musicals of all time – certainly the most successful on a small-scale? The songs are good, but they’re not that good – not on the scale of, say, West Side Story, or Les Mis. You could never stage it in a secondary school. The sets and costumes are concertedly tacky, designed to shock and to amuse rather than to dazzle and divert. The story is incomprehensible at first, and preposterous after the two or three sober viewings it takes the average student audience to digest O’Brien’s diagetic. And that’s if you’re NOT watching it with a roomful of the converted, who will no doubt be shouting callbacks over the dialogue, making it impossible to follow what’s going on. What’s more, thirty years on, it must surely be beginning to date somewhat, mustn’t it?

So why does it continue to turn seemingly well-adjusted young people into lip-licking, toast-throwing, callback-yelling, over-made-up, under-dressed mini-maenads?

Because Rocky Horror is not just a musical. It’s a phenomenon in the most prodigious sense of the term; a classic example of the power of transgressive pop art in Western culture. Richard O’Brien was a visionary, who wanted to make a musical that would have people singing and dancing about social transgression, sexual deviance and the subversion of Western moral standards. O’Brien wanted to create something totally new; something so irreverent, both in and transcending its time, that people would have no choice but to align themselves for and against his musical. And the truly stunning thing?

It worked. It worked more perfectly than its creator could possibly have envisaged, with students and secretaries and shop-workers who weren’t born when the stage-show opened on broadway, parents and children, introverts and extroverts all over the Western world cross-dressing, letting their hair down and getting into the more transgressive side of kink.

And what’s more, unlike so many contemporary, transgressive political memes, it’s FUN. We see the Transylvanians gyrating on stage, and we want to join them. Rocky Horror offers us the chance to forget ourselves and our moral standards for one night; to strip down to our slinkiest smalls and daub ourselves like whores and gothic rentboys and celebrate deviance and hetero-abnormality. What’s more, O’Brien’s songs are addictive; they make collusion in his political message easy and desirable, to those with even the subtlest streak of sympathy.
What is perhaps most remarkable about Rocky is its agelessness. Thirty years on, the show is still not in the least dated; there are more floorshow-casts and touring performances of the musical at the turn of the 21st century than ever before, and the special-edition DVD has sold in millions. Why is this?
Perhaps because The Rocky Horror Show fulfils some sort of basal and irreprehensible human need, a need identifiable in civilised societies since the Maenads of Ancient Greece, the Attic cults and Bacchinaliae of Rome; the need to loosen our moral boundaries in a ritual manner, accompanied by superficially meaningless quasi-religious ceremonies ( such as, for example, the throwing of rice and toast, the wearing of outlandish underwear) – the need of all civilised creatures to become, within an enclosed and physically removed setting, for one night, a wild and untamed thing.

But there is another, more important reason why the Rocky Horror Show is not yet dated: its message is very much still current. Yes, in our progressive, post-feminist, post-modernist, liberal-conservative era, we still need Rocky Horror. Thirty years on, Frank’n’furter with his outré drag and wanton, gender-transgressive sexual amorality, is still a shocking character concept. As Western politics in the aftermath years of the World Trade Centre attacks (and yes, I KNOW it’s easier to write ‘9/11’, but it’s lazy and dangerously over-mystifies an essentially human tragedy) align themselves increasingly with lack-lustre, comsumer-centric liberal conservatism and with the religious right, sex may be everywhere, but the Western stance on sexual transgression, genuine liberation of personal pleasure and personal power, and social deviance, is becoming more, and not less stringent. In a world where several American states are poised to repeal their abortion laws, O’Brien’s message is still current. It’s still so difficult, having a good time. We still need the Rocky Horror show.

Almost five months ago, I stood on stage in a crowded club in Oxford – three doors down the Road from where the stage show opens tonight, wearing a top hat, tails and suspenders, and not much else. I screamed into the microphone, trying to make myself heard over the chanting of the drunken townies at the back, trying to egg on my bewildered, under-dressed cast to ignore the rioting on the floor and carry on, somehow, with the show. But in the middle of ‘hot patootie,’ they started throwing bottles.

As the transylvanians desperately dived for safety, I exchanged frantic gestures with my producer, and tried to keep the crowd back whilst a valiant techie started to dismantle the expensively-hired projector, dodging the missiles. As the army surged onto the stage, I saw hate in their eyes.

There is a fine, fine line between sneering derision and violence, and I saw it that night. Walking home in the dark and my suspenders, it took a while to consolidate what it was that I realised when the townie mob invaded and trashed our show. It’s not as simple, nor as teenage as ‘they’re still out to get us’ (although they are.) And it can’t be reduced to ‘we still need to stand up for our right to be freaks and have fun’ (although we do). It’s simply that the of sexually and politically transgressive manifesto remains just that – transgressive – and whilst it does, we still need to stand up and sing and dance and celebrate it. Until we can walk through town glammed-up and dragged-up as sweet transvestites and Transylvanians and not nurse a glimmer of the kind of fear we all felt that night, we will still need these rituals. We will still need Rocky Horror.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Editorial Notice

I have disabled the letter verification safeguard in the Comments function, because I found that the word image had jammed on "smerina", whilst the characters expected had clearly moved on. I suggest we leave this situation unaltered until such time as another Commentbot shits on us.

/SXV

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Contra-Wintergreen

"...not every work of art is Politically* motivated, i.e. they do not all have an intentional Political stance..."

"It is all very well to have a surprising and amusing line such as ‘I can detonate Nuns with the force of my mind’, but I find that it is weakened in juxtaposition with the all too explicit ‘Counterculture’s coming to get you’."


Some remarks about the visibility of bias in Art. To assert that it is a work of, at times, unsubtle and quasi-absurd polemic is indeed a valid assessment of my album Goblin Logic. However, this is because of the position which the work is attempting to present (disregarding arguments about character, voice, narrative intention and what makes a good line for the moment). If I, in a piece of Art, claim that the nuclear family is a tool for the oppression of women, and queer people, and state so as a strong theme, I am "unsubtle" and "polemical". However, if I make a piece of Art that constantly reaffirms traditional family structures and uses this as a strong theme I am... what?

I am invisible.

You see my polemic becase it is contrary. It is obvious I have an agenda, because I don't share an agenda with the State or the Majority of people, and so I, and it, tend to stand out. However, the State, or Society, or, if you prefer, They, also have an agenda, which is too big to see. What you think is neutrality, what you think is a level playing field, is a system of discussion skewed towards a very specific ideology.

It is invisible.

On subtle political meaning and subversion: there is Art and there is Politics. Apparently. "It is difficult to completely separate politics from art* as any work focussing on human relationships and/or social constructs is political".

One: why would you want to?

Two: why construct a dichotomous frame of reference here? The reason you can't separate Art from Politics (or indeed vice versa) is that they are parts of a whole. All art is political - that is to say, all possible personal stances have vital and immediate political resonance, and Politics is an art. It is a dangerous reactionary lie to claim that there is such a thing as an objectivity, and it is by this means that ideology of State becomes invisible and therefore normal. You do not need me to tell you that this is a Bad Thing. There is a place in the field of Good Art (whatever that may be) for subtle hints at a specifically political stance - that is to say, one with relevance to the current political arena - and also for Art that screams its allegiance from the rooftops and writes its messages in blood and spunk on the doors of the mighty. In my mind, one of these is a better tool in the hands of the artist for social change than the other. I'll give you three guesses.

Devastating though Woolf's criticism of Anti-Parnellite feeling might be, it does not, and never will, carry equal political weight to a work that says something that will be condemmned by the State. It's a question of scale. Although whispering "Fuck the Queen" in front of Buckingham Palace may be very pretty and artistic, it does not carry equal political weight to writing the same sentiment across the sky in letters of fire.

Finally, where Mr. Wintergreen asserts that the place for subtlety is in works of Art, and the place for the explicit is in activism (in my case, at least), I would disagree entirely. Art can be activism and activism can be Art, because they're all politics.

Political vs. Poetical

It is difficult to completely separate politics from art1 as any work focussing on human relationships and/or social constructs is political2. However, not every work of art is Politically3 motivated, i.e. they do not all have an intentional Political stance. The reason I’m raising this issue is to challenge the view of the functionality of art that some members of The Rhexis seem to hold. For example, the recent writings and music of Mr Black, which may I say I rate very highly, do seem to be (dare I use the word) obsessed with Politically re-educating his audience. From what I have read, Mr. Veins also seems to have a strong political stance in his writing (I am thinking about that remarkable piece, currently absent from The Rhexis, with chapters titled (a), (b), (c), etc.). My problem is not actually with the fact that works of art have a political message. It is, of course, important in a society with so many disparate opinions to have literature and music which is polemical. I am instead concerned with the explicitness of the polemic. If memory serves me correctly, Mr. Veins piece is disguised as a manifesto and therefore through its form, it justifies its somewhat unsubtle content. I am sorry to say, however, that I find that some of Mr. Black’s pieces of music suffer as a result of their lack of subtly. It is all very well to have a surprising and amusing line such as "I can detonate Nuns with the force of my mind", but I find that it is weakened in juxtaposition with the all too explicit "Counter culture’s coming to get you"4. [Music file here for reference - Ed.]

Moving away from this potentially devastating critique of The Rhexis editorship, I’ll try to show how other writers have conveyed a political message effectively, without being unsubtle and overtly explicit. Virginia Woolf’s The Years is set apart from the political arena but shows its support for Irish Nationalism by exposing the narrow viewpoint of a character who delights in Charles Stewart Parnell’s death. In another Woolf novel, Mrs Dalloway, Lady Bruton, a woman who believes that man, "but no woman", holds a "mysterious accord... to the laws of the universe", is subtly ridiculed. It is only through this subtle ridicule that the novel suggests Lady Bruton’s opinions to be similarly ridiculous, and Parnell is only briefly mentioned in The Years. To a careful reader, Woolf’s novels carry an equivalent political weight (at least for the time they were written) to many more explicit polemics. I personally find this technique more effective in exposing flaws in society. Is an ambitious political statement really more effective than a subtle one? "To a careful reader" – I presume the retort will make something of the issue of audience. In order to make an audience fully understand a political issue, does one really need to hit them in the face with it? Does Mr. Black’s intended audience really deserve this lack of subtlety? Surely his intended audience have similar perceptive abilities to Woolf’s "careful readers". If not, then perhaps his attentions would be better directed at activism rather than the creation of esoteric music

There are, of course, some works which are explicit and effective both as art and polemic: Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, for example. However, Moore’s graphic novel is far more subtle than this reading would give him credit. Whilst it is true that the graphic novel seems to sympathise with the anarchic actions of its protagonist, it never explicitly condones them. Moore instead allows his readers to decide for themselves.

The use of comedy as a Political tool in contrast to an obvious and explicit message is frequently more effective as its audience is generally wider and less suspicious. Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show delivers a powerful anti-Republican message which is not impeded by unsubtlety, where as The Clash’s Know Your Rights delivers a much stronger message, but in order to do so is considerably less subtle: "Murder...is a crime. Unless it was done by a/Policeman or aristocrat". The Clash’s audience are mostly people that want to listen to the music, people who probably share the political views of the musicians. I am actually being a little harsh on The Clash here, as the song is delivered with much humour in an appropriately ironic tone. In contrast to Mr Black, however, The Clash were not writing for quite as esoteric an audience and so by making their lyrics less subtle they are more easily understood by the masses.

There is also the issue of context, i.e. when the works were written. Moore and The Clash were writing in opposition to Thatcherism, where as Mr Black is writing in a time of Thatcher - oh, wait! Maybe his unsubtlety is justified after all...

I await with anticipation the responses on the merits of subtle and unsubtle polemic. Perhaps you could also elucidate the merits of political writing over aesthetic writing, or vice versa. Also, quite a big topic here, how effective is art as a means of conveying a political message as opposed to just activism?

Apologies to Mr Black for some the above comments. I do not necessarily agree with all of them. My purpose in directly questioning his works was to get a response from the horse’s mouth (not that he actually looks much like a horse). [Bastard lovechild of Wilde and Bowie is the standard estimation - Subed.] You will have also noticed, attentive reader, that my argument does not always follow through on the claims which it makes. This could be one of two things, that the argument is wrong, or that I am too lazy to complete it... *also I want to apologise for the number of notes below.

1Read as an umbrella term for literature, fine art, music, etc.
2See the last chapter of Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory – An Introduction.
3I use a capital "P" to denote the difference between socio-cultural politics, and issues surrounding what might be described as organisational or governmental Politics. (I hope this makes sense. ‘Politic’ has multitudinous denotative meanings and I have only selected two in order to make my argument more workable. In any case, my two meanings overlap heavily.)
4I know this is an old song and Mr. Black’s style may have changed by now, but I am afraid that I cannot remember any of the lyrics to his new songs. It should also be noted that not all of the songs are like this.

Monday, March 20, 2006

From Faerie...

...With Love.




















The only entertainment I've had this afternoon has been my pet Russian managing to burn dried pasta in a pot of water. We aren't sure how he accomplished this as nothing had time to cook, let alone burn. He's probably just talented.
This was an attempt to remove some boredom and it worked. Apart from I can't be arsed to do any more to it and it's only 5 o'clock. Ach weil. Hope you enjoy...

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YOUR METHODS OF COMMUNICATion are confusing and primitive we[I]we are having difficulty in viewing your alphabet the right way round and transMISSION is pathetically outdated

thissuitisclunkyandbadly organisedyet itseemstobetheonlywaytoope rate your """"""""""machines"""

however i[WE]i am no longer having to DROP scatteredfragmentsof INFORMation between nodes progress has been MADE.

CONTACTHASBEENESTABLISHEDDONOTBREAKTHELINKORTHEREWILLBECONSEQUENCES

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Friday, March 17, 2006

Let's bite religion


Hello, boys and girls! *slaps thigh*. For your diversion, for your delectation, one thousand words of wank based on a page in the Orange notebook, which is not a pro-Ulster pamphlet. Enjoy x


'One of the most useful things about religion is that it gives you a backbone for moral discussion.' -Barbelith thread, 17th March. What's that I smell?

When George Dubya bypasses another piece of vital human rights legislation in the name of Jesus, it's easy for the liberal left to point and snicker and gingerly dismiss the entire ostensible basis for American foreign policy as fundamentalist nonsense. This, of course, is a dangerous self-indulgence. But the British spiritual self-justification of its international human rights record - polite, amorphous, tentative - has its own quiet terrors.

In last week's Parkinson, Mr Blair stated his opinion that 'God would judge' his actions in Iraq: view the interview here.

Of course, the broadsheets are in uproar. A British Prime Minister, bringing religion into politics? How very...tasteless. How very nineteenth century. The hysterics of the former colonies can be politely indulged for as long as jihad doesn't interrupt the cricket, but really, well, it's all a bit too much, isn't it? Pass the bread basket.

The Guardian and the Independent were, of course, the first to decry this lapse in Blair's previously golden record in keeping religion separate from political discourse, hinting at a Republicanesque political evangelism which, of course, any Guardian reader would no more condone than buy sub-quality foccacia, Not only are the columnists providing the left with pitifully superfluous self-referential moral wank-fodder, they are missing the point. Horrendously, and on two counts.

British politics is terrified of religion; to decry the muddying of the moral waters even in this small degree is certainly nothing new. Unlike our bonkers Stateside cousins, we've seen our country ripped apart by religion, brother fighting brother; there is an unspoken recognition of the human potential to take dangerous and dynamic religious fundamentalism way, way too far, which explains why, despite the varied efforts of the Jesus Army, British evangelism remains tepid and squishy; it explains why the established Anglican church in all its various manifestations is content to lack the visceral mysteries of the Catholic dioceses, the hyperbolic self-promotion of the American protestant denominations; it explains why, to get anywhere in British politics, one can profess only to token religious principles.

And that's the really, really scary part.

What the columnist have missed, of course, is that Blair's appearance on Parkinson was remarkable not the religious moral claims it did make, but for those it didn't. When asked if he prayed to God for guidance on matters of state, Blair quickly claimed that he 'wouldn't like to go into something like that;' even more gobsmacking is Blair's remark that while religious beliefs might colour his politics, "it's best not to take it too far". In the British governing dirigisme, the Christian meme has become the most dangerous form of tokenism; a meme by whose justification our leaders can abdicate measure of socio-political responsibility - if 'God will judge' Blair's decisions over Iraq, he certainly needn't bother judging himself- a meme whose discourses shape and are encoded in our legislation, our social and political policy making. It may be more subtle than American political bible-bashing, but at least the American left has something to shoot at, should it by some miracle so choose.

The British left and much of the American thinking classes are shameless spiritual cowards. A cringing, casual agnosticism has become the dopamine of the moneyed middle classes.
You hear it every time an educated person says that 'whilst they have problems with some bits of the bible, they agree in principle with the moral basis of Jesus' message.' Complacent, self-indulgent, apathetic acrid bullshit; every time Blair, Brown, your headteacher, your company director, gets down on his or her knees to pay token homage to a crustified Anglican after-image in which they have little or no spiritual interest, they are giving Jesus of Nazareth a juicy blow-job, not to mention failing to subvert any number of tempting paradigms.

This cringing religious tokenism is a neutering of the superego; the sentiment that 'God will Judge' absolves us from a degree of responsibility not only for our own actions, but, perhaps more vitally, of responsibility collectively and individually for our reaction and response to the actions of the society in which we cannot but invest some fraction of our being. In a Western culture in the process of affecting its own, tragic, blundering 'atomisation' (to bastardise Houellebecq), in a world with so much potential to gruesomely self-destruct, we cannot afford to undermine the cultural superego with the blunt blade of middle-class moral masturbation.

Is there an alternative ? Of course there bloody well is. Surprise, surprise, chaps, Western spiritual adventurism did not die with Timothy Leary. Our parents' generation may have abandoned Psychadelia, Eastern pantheism, New-Age magick and the searing self-scrutinies of Buddhism in favour of a complacent, sold-out, casual agnosticism or, worse, a grudging, flabby atheism, and these dangerous memes are precisely what we need to shatter. And we can do that simply by refusing to be complacent; by keeping our own spiritual juices bubbling by whatever means necessary; by refusing not to think.

We've got Zazen, we've got Set Theory, we've got Chaos Magick. We are a generation of brilliant, broken creatures with easy access to our own conceptions of justice and humanity and we have a duty to ourselves and to each other not to be complacent, not to sell out. By abandoning religious tokenism, abandoning the polite political agnosticism of our parents, we are abandoning ourselves to the chaos of moral self-determinism, of belief as distinct from the judgements of approved organised religion. And yes, it can and should be fucking terrifying, because once we've accepted - as any intelligent, irrational creature must - that there is no religious precedent keeping our darker sides in check, governing our actions and judging us as a society, we assume the full weight of moral and spiritual self-determinism. And it's going to be tiring, and terrifying, and need constant energy input, because it's power; it's raw political energy; it's the right to reject the complacencies of our parents, our teachers, our leaders, its the right to create our own spiritual and moral universes with their own gruesome beauty, their own risks and rules. It's freedom.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Richard Swift and the Small Dog

In the corner of a dark and dingy room there was large pile of bed sheets. Of course, the viewer could be forgiven for mistaking them for, say, a dangerously large bacterial culture given the dark nature of the room, the utter filthiness of the sheets, and the truly awful pattern that adorned them.

It was midmorning, and the light of the sun was still valiantly attempting to break through the grime on the room's single window. Having already had its progress severely impeded by the healthy smog outside, it wasn't doing all that well. At one point, a particularly plucky ray broke through just long enough to illuminate an arm as it shuffled out from under the sheets. The arm was that of Richard Swift, private detective, gentleman explorer and narcotics enthusiast. The arm ceased its shuffling, and somewhere under the disgusting sheets, another arm clutched at a head. The head had just reached full consciousness and was attempting a scream, but achieved little more than a hoarse whisper and a few short sobs.

After another hour, Swift emerged from under the sheets and stood up, wobbling quite a lot. The figure vaguely silhouetted by the almost-light of the window was that of a tall man with quite broad shoulders and a slightly sparse but muscular frame. His skin was pale and his hair was jet black, longish, and slicked back over his head. He was completely naked except for a single glove safety-pinned to his right thigh. His legs quickly gave way, and Swift tumbled to the ground in a shower of flailing limbs, dislodging the glove and producing quite a lot of blood in the process. He groaned. Somewhere in his room, an ancient sound system came to life and began to play Clair de Lune from Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque.

"All the sounds are... too bright," he mumbled, "need nic'tine now." He crawled across his room in search of cigarettes. He found one lodged in a pizza that looked at least a week old, fished a lighter out of a half-empty wine glass and sparked up.

The coughing went on for some time.

“Best smoke of the day, I’d say,” said Richard, wiping away the tears.

He got slowly to his feet and hobbled around the flat, collecting his clothes (a shirt of indeterminate colour, black slacks, blackish shoes and a very weather-beaten trench coat) and put them on, eventually doing it in the right order. Suddenly the phone rang. The noise felt to Swift like he was being beaten over the head with a large pigeon, and instead of answering the phone, he made his way over to the bathroom to nurse his hangover and do some more sobbing.

"Aspirin, that's the ticket!" He stopped hugging the toilet and tore open the bathroom cabinet. He grabbed a packet of pills and gulped down five of them in one go and then shoved his head under the running tap as sparks started going off behind his eyes. What he'd failed to notice was the label on the packet, which read simply "KickBrain."

KickBrain was a stimulant, similar to Speed, but where Speed was a small puddle, KickBrain was a roaring ocean. It was banned as a weapon of war in most Cities, and had been likened by users to dipping one's head in a lake of electricity and then running very fast at the nearest wall. A single pill would keep most people awake for over a week (or until they got arrested for kicking priests and small children and tranquilised in a jail cell). Richard Swift was not most people; however he had taken five, and the effects tended to multiply exponentially.

After a hearty twitching session, Swift decided that the best thing to do now was to have breakfast. His favourite diner, the Greasy Spoon, was just on the other side of the Shafts, and he’d be able to beat up on the Charity Robots on the way there, which was always a laugh, especially if you were hopped up on enough stimulants to keep an entire army fighting for several days. He went in search of his hat, and was deeply frustrated to find it wasn’t anywhere in the flat.

“WHERE’S MY FUCKING HAT!?” bellowed Swift. “I can’t go out without it! It completes my fucking IMAGE!” The phone began to ring again and, screaming with rage, he hurled it clean through the partition wall. There was a string of expletives from next door, and the phone burst back through the wall and clocked Swift squarely between the eyes. Barely registering the phone, Swift noticed that a note had been tucked under the door. He picked it up and, swaying, read it.

“swift – you now owe me two months back rent. pleaz pay as soon as poss. or we will have a repeet of what happend with the ferrit. –jeff (landlord)”

“Shiteyes! My fat landlord wants the rent and he’s holding my fucking hat hostage until he gets it! Well I’ll show that rat bastard wankstain!”

Swift ran to his desk and pulled out a box of tacky-looking roman candles and a pocket-sized cattle prod, with which he stuffed his pockets. He then located a crate of cheap psychedelics – now half empty – that he had purchased the night before. Using one of the fireworks, he set fire to the whole thing and held his head in the smoke and breathed deeply. Ten minutes later he was running down the stairs screaming and brandishing a violently combusting firework.

When he reached the door to the Landlord’s office, he stopped, kicked it down and then rolled to the side. He lit three of the roman candles and lobbed them into the room, along with the one he was already holding. Suddenly a confusion of light and some very shrill screaming erupted from the room, and Swift leapt through the doorway, clearing the desk and landing right on the terrified Landlord’s chest.

“Where’s my fucking hat, you tubby bastard?” roared Swift, brandishing the first thing to hand, which happened to be a computer keyboard. All around them, the fireworks continued to sputter out their colourful flames.

“What?” shrieked the Landlord.

Swift walloped him in the side of the head with the keyboard, snapping it in twain. “You fucking heard me you waste of atoms! What have you done with it?”

The Landlord wrestled his arm free and punched Swift in the chest, sending him flying backwards into what was left of the door.

“I ain’t got yer hat you nutjob! And if you don’t get me the rent by the end of the week, and a bit extra to pay for what you just did to my damned office, you won’t have an apartment! Or thumbs!”

Swift cursed and stood up. He threw his last firework at the Landlord’s crotch and then dashed from the office and out of the building. He could now no longer ignore his hunger and he had to go to the diner, hat or no hat.

On the way over, a Charity Robot approached him and asked him if he would be interested in donating to the Religious Foundation for Sexual Repression. Swift stood there for a moment, staring off into space, and then suddenly he tore the robot’s legs off. He picked up the shrieking automaton and used it as a club to assail every Charity Robot he could find (and the occasional pedestrian) until he reached the Greasy Spoon. By now both sets of drugs had completely set in and the effects seemed to be combining. His hallucinations were happening at five times faster than real time and he and the diner appeared to be rocketing into the stratosphere. Shaking slightly and looking a little paler than normal, he sauntered into the diner and sat down.

“Mmmffmffmf!” said the man he had just sat down on.

“Oh, sorry!” said Richard. “Don’t worry, I’m sure those tomato stains will come out.” He climbed over the top of the booth and fell into an empty one.

“Capital!” he exclaimed.

Just as he looked up to find a serving robot to shout at, he saw a man come in through the door. There was something about him, apart from the fact that he clearly didn’t belong in a dive like this, that held Swift’s attention. The man was wearing a very fine and well-cut suit, polished shoes and a black hat. Swift couldn’t quite work out what was strange… the hat! That was Swift’s hat! It was totally identical! The flash bastard had to be from the Special Accountancy Corps. They were probably after him after he set off that glitter bomb in their building last week. The wanker had nicked his hat and had now come to finish the job!

Richard Swift, private investigator and professional bastard, was buggered if he was going to let that happen. He leapt up onto the table and dove straight at the Suit.

“Take this, Scumarse!” he cried, and applied the pocket cattle-prod he’d stored in his pocket to the man’s nose. The man shrieked and dropped to the ground, convulsing. Chuckling, he pulled out the man’s wallet and extracted five crisp hundred dollar bills. This would tide over his bastard Landlord for a while, he thought to himself. Then he picked up the hat and inspected it.

“Gods be damned!” he shouted. “This isn’t my fucking hat! It’s too clean! And where’s the bloodstain on the lining? Shit!”

Swift decided that he’d better get out of there quick-sharp, having nearly killed an ordinary civilian, and left the diner via the nearest window. Despondently, he trudged home, taking only a small amount of pleasure in the robot parts strewn across the walkways and the remaining Charity Robots cowering in crawlspaces and behind ducts. He made his way back to his room, lit a cigarette and collapsed on the couch.

Just then, the phone rang again. Swift looked at it and noticed there were 15 missed calls registered on the display. He sighed and thumbed the “receive call” button.

“Richard Swift, private eye and erotic adventurer, how may I help you? This better be good, else I’m going to come to your place of residence and cut you.”

“Ah, Mister Swift!” said the timid voice on the other end of the line. “We’ve been trying all day to reach you! This is the Mayor’s Aide speaking. I’m just calling to let you know that we’ve now extracted your hat from the Mayor’s Yorkshire terrier, Waggles, and we’d appreciate it if you could come down to City Hall so that we can discuss the bill.”

Suddenly, the memory of the previous night came flooding back. Richard Swift had a lot of explaining to do.

---

Apologies for the length of this one. If it's too long I'll talk to Withiel and get some webspace to host most of it and just put a few paragraphs on the main page.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

EVERYTHING MAKES ME ANGRY

That is all.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Briefly On Perverse Symbiotism and Concealed Memetic Intent in the Prologue to China Miéville's "Perdido Street Station"

Wrote this in a moment of orgasmic purblindness after reading the prologue mentioned above. Shoved it on my spanking-new Live Journal as part of a test post. Withiel slapped me and told me to post it here. Enjoy.


In the syncretic skullspace where author's intent meets auditor's interpretation, narrator and reader become one as they simultaneously discover with disgust the writer's putrid portrayal of a city "like a slab of carrion thronging with maggots". Although the joint revulsion of this simile is denigrating to locale and denizen alike, it can be claimed to subtextually subvert the apparent "conspiracy of industry and violence" that constitutes New Crobuzon, since the creation of life from death that is maggots eating dead flesh is procedurally beautiful, if aesthetically repugnant. Similarly, "the hovels that encrust the river's edge like mushrooms" is misleadingly pejorative: since fungus feeds from descaying organic matter, Miéville has reproduced the semiotic ambiguity of an ugly image that describes an admirable process.

However, from these two descriptions a confusion arises as to who is eating whom: presumably, maggot-citizens are eating the carrion-city, but are the mushroom-hovels consuming the land or their inhabitants? Since New Crobuzon is a "vast pollutant", perhaps the land? But the constant, recurring suggestion of retching implies that it is the residents being eaten, as though this "sprawling monster" of a city were some venomous predator. Nearing their destination, the bargeman "hawks foully into the water" onomatopoeically suggesting that a retch is incorporated into this near-vomit. At their destination, the narrator is "nauseous with claustrophobia and foreboding". The monosyllabic brevity of (particularly the early) sections of the text reads like panic, like shortness of breath, like the inevitable, strugglingly repressed, antiperistaltic waves that several times puke forth as a gush of longer, polysyllabic portrayals of disease (a "psoriatic" Old City) and oozing (New Crobuzon seems almost drowned in "mucus"). The longest regurgitation occurs for most of the penultimate paragraph, just before the narrator closes the prologue by spitting the hitherto kept-down name of "New Crobuzon", a name which also sounds like a rather nasty encounter with the toilet telephone.

As well as depicting a perversely balanced symbiotism whereby the citizens and city are mutually destructive, thereby reinforcing the textual suggestion and reinterpreting the subtextual suggestion of Miéville's food-chain similes, this emissive evocation falls in line with the idea of Perdido Street Station's prologue as a cryptic mission-statement of memetism. Just as the maggots devour the carrion, and logically would then go forth and make more maggots, and the mushroom will produce spores from decay, just as Miéville's chunder-conjuring inspires nausea and demonstrates violent, exponential, virulent, involuntary propagation, just so will the reader (it is implied) spread - this sickness of perception? a polemic message? book sales? - to others.

In the syncretic skullspace, Miéville has prepared and cryptically revealed a meme.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Words...

The neologism, Quaalude, has been added to Wikipedia. This marks the first step (second step if we count Mr. Black's article, 'What is the relationship between a person within a literary text and a person outside of it?', as the first) to getting the new meaning recognised by the OED (Oxford English Dictionary).
Increasing the number of words we have to describe things seems to be a good idea to me. Treading away from the Orwellian dictum of 'Newspeak' where by the number of words is decreased can only be a good thing. Rather than restricting thought by limiting our vocabulary*, increasing the number of words will enable us to think more accurately and more completely.
As a result, we will be able to better understand ourselves and others.
In the paragons of prejudice that are right-wing newspapers (namely The Daily Mail) the vocabulary used by columnists is notably limited. The effect this has is to create generic groups of people (Asylum Seekers, Blacks, Queers, etc.) against which the readers can form prejudices. Inaccuracy in defining people is unacceptable if it leads to this.
Whilst I appreciate that ‘Quaalude’ is hardly a term which increases our understand of ‘ourselves and others’, it is still a positive first step. More of this please…

*Iris Murdoch (actually Judi Dench in the Richard Eyre film 'Iris')- 'If one doesn't have words, how does one think?'

I’m anticipating my argument being ripped apart and the article being edited (probably by Mr. Veins, Mr. Black will just give me (verbal) abuse). DO YOU'RE WURST!