Posts Tagged ‘books’

o darkness! darkness! ever must i roam

March 1, 2011

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of screaming imbeciles.

I have of late, — but wherefore I know not, — lost all my mirth, all my mirth for everything that I have tried so happily and so indiscriminately, so unashamedly, to embrace — or at the very least tolerate amiably — to see all socialising, all culture, as meritorious in some vague but edifying way (even if the edifying nature presents itself more like  a sanskrit haiku of Finnegans Wake than that of the crystal-glassed Psalms).
But, allow me if you will, to take an advance on my mid-life crisis; because, I think, an identity crisis has something to do with it, but only in the sense that I feel I have too long been trying to squeeze into that sociable corset that so obviously doesn’t suit me; let me pull myself back out from the wardrobe; unbury those mortified remains, that spiritless cadaver, those offensive perishables.

So, what prompted this?

Following what can only be described as the total fulfillment of all hopes a misanthrope could have regarding his level of social commitments, I have, since my move to Bristol, attempted to become one of those well-adjusted socialfrights that we always see and envy on a Saturday night; not a party-animal, but party-tolerant — although I still won’t dance. Having then nurtured this sliver of hope for humanity in quiet, careful, isolation — in one of those bubbles that allows it to see everything, but prevents everything from coming into real contact with it — I fear it has all but died when I wasn’t looking. I was looking at something entirely different; I was looking at a picture of one of the characters (stars? counterfeits? some form of sentiain’t being) from titanic reality-show Jersey Shore (titanic in that I hope they all end up in Tartarus, or at the bottom of the sea). This was shortly followed by the realisation that ‘this is culture. this is actually it.’

And the bright sun was extinguished, and the stars did wander darkling in the eternal space. Rayless. Pathless.

It is also worth stating that I’ve recently started to watch Daria again — you know, that show from after MTV realised we needed more than Beavis and Butthead, but before they decided we didn’t deserve it — and her Orphic sarcasm, her Dionysian disdain awoke ancient feelings — my fake gods of society wept, fled, and Molière, Swift, Sartre, Holmes and Rintrah returned! Oh, of the Devil’s party without knowing it.

So let me correct that opening assertion: I have of late, but wherefore I know DO, lost all my mirth.

Okay, now let me backtrack enough to cast a fog of justification over this. And let me assert now, much of what I have to say is relevant primarily to the mainstream, to that culture we most readily encounter day-to-day. The reason is twofold: one, that because it must be easily marketable, it is most susceptible to a drop in quality; and two, that the underground will generally take care of itself, it is fairly self-sufficient in this manner, and will readily purge any elements it feels have become tired, usually through an association they may have gained with the mainstream.

It would be entirely unfair to suggest that I am normally, even at my most sneerful, one to ignorantly dismiss whole swathes of people, movements or social mediums — tempting it may be. I will not dislike you for what you are; I will dislike you for who are. If you are a hipster, if that is what you are, you might look a bit of a twit, but I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt, as you rightly deserve, because you’re probably a nice person; but if you aren’t, if you’re a dick, if that’s who you are, then I will call you ‘that dickhead hipster’; not all hipsters are dickheads, but you are; being a dickhead is not cool.
My mind is a very open mind, and my (anti-)tastes reflect this: stylistically speaking, there is no cinematic trash too trashy, there is no obscene literature too obscene, there is no modern art too modern, there is no mindless pop music too mindless pop. My bookshelf, record collection, my cinematograph athenaeum, my vocabulary, are all brilliantly — it would appear almost recalcitrantly — inclusive in their execution. A universal studio. Which all serve to give to my recent fall (what is it, 9 days now?) that little bit more despondency — I really thought I’d cracked it this time.

What are they, then, these fears that I may cease to be convivial. There are several reason for fear: over-saturation; a meritorious wasteland; laziness and posteuring. And, of course, I have arguments that reduce my contentions to childish tantrums because things aren’t like they used to be. Let me address these in a meandering sort of order.

Laziness, by which I mean laziness in imagination, laziness in execution, laziness in judgement, is probably the most heinous of all in my list — and, to an extent, the motivating factor behind all other problems. I do not want to despair over the creative impotency of our current times, I do not want to be a whiner, I do not want to be the one saying ‘oh, The Beatles, they’re just a fad’. I am certain (we have to be, don’t we?), I am certain that there is PLENTY OF CULTURAL VALUE; nobody can say of me that I am just an old git, pining for the fjords of past excellencies. Oh, digressions. Laziness in literature and laziness in publishing. These are my most immediate concerns. I was told today of a novel recently published by Snooki, a star of that Jersey Shore show — and it is not with her I wish to pick a fight, but it is indicative of my point — which, on all accounts, is an utter apocalypse of the English language, of all that we must hold sacred because we may soon lose those temples we visit, devout as readers. Even ghost-written, it is still appalling. Without wishing to invoke Godwin, and be some literary fascist, it is disgraceful that this book should ever see the light of day whilst other writers, fameless and without pre-assured success, struggle to find acceptance with our historic publishing institutions. Faber! you, of all people, so conservative now! you, who brought us Eliot, Plath, Berryman, Cummings, Heaney, Ginsberg, Greer! get off your fucking laurels before they wilt; and where are the radicals now? — defecting, I hope, to Bloodaxe.
Yes, I realise money, especially at this moment in history, is a major factor for this reluctance. And everyone, as we are so keen to inanely vomit, has a book in them, and everyone should be allowed the opportunity to excrete it. But fame (viz. this deluge of ridiculous autobiographies) is no prerequisite of quality — and fame now is so easy to obtain — so we must have standards: across this line you do not cross! Or the natural result will be a market saturated with so much flab, that our true creative instruments will be invisible to us. Are we happy to let the powers that be spoon-feed us this sub-par literature — so without solid that it’s not even worth predigesting it? Valuable literature is being produced, let’s not let it go unnoticed.
But it isn’t only publishers that are responsible for this, you are at fault too, by which I mean, we are at fault too. That old birthday-time question, one I have encountered with alarming frequency lately: ‘oh, he isn’t really much of a reader, he isn’t much of a reader, but I want to get him a book’ but I don’t want to get him much of a book. Right, you people, listen. Stop reading reviews of Clarkson’s squillioneth collection of farticles (oh, the veritable belle-lettres of our age), and listen. Stop book-shopping in Tesco, and listen. The way we as a culture have decided to tackle this problem is with an almost farcical display of resignation. If he isn’t much of a reader, don’t get him a book. Don’t get him a book, if all you will get instead is Clarkson. And do not get him Clarkson, it will not make him much of a reader. I imagine a great number of the sales of the books of these kind are as presents for people who aren’t much of a reader. Obviously, this only encourages the continued production of these books. This is ‘the Clarkson-book problem’ — and my solution is so overwhelmingly simple that jaws the world around will be dropping.
Namely, when somebody asks you what they should buy for their teenage illiterati, suggest something of recognised literary value. Eschew the lazy approach of buying another book of humorous house numbers, it is an insult to their intelligence, buy them something enriching; and it doesn’t have to be Joyce, it doesn’t have to be Proust, there are a million writers out there, all praised for their culture contributions, who write accessible prose. If they’re young, get them Dahl; if they’re old, get them Homer.

Jeremy Clarkson is never going to inspire a generation with the beauty of writing, but Salinger just might — and for that reason alone, isn’t it worth giving it a try?

From laziness, we soon find ourselves giving smug, knowing birth to posteuring. Accompanying this excess of autobiography, of disposable literature, is a widespread resurgence across all creative mediums of older forms of mass-produced ‘counter-culture’. It is part of a latent will to retro that is always present, but of late has become almost oppressive in the circles I move in; and I fear my gutter-culture has overflowed.
I will take, for clarity’s sake, film as the best means of expressing this particular fear. The origins are to be found in the self-aware, referential, collage cinema of, amongst others, Tarantino, the Coens, Jarmusch, Lynch — all favourite directors of mine — and it is unfortunate that they are the parents of something horrific. Fast-forward through Tarantino’s career to the release of Grindhouse, made in partnership with Rodriguez. This well-made tribute to 70s low-budget horror and exploitation has opened up a whole new can of worms and myriad unpleasant slimy things. Before this film, even then, I was a fan of old 50s b-movies, charming in their own hubcabbed-UFO kind of way, all the way through to 80s slasher — there is a comfort in the warm-grained flicker and fluorescent blood; the effects are both of their time and budget, their joy in their youthful, exuberant desire to shock and to push boundaries. And Grindhouse has revived an interest, gloriously, in watching these films, and fatally in remaking these films.
Grindhouse was a novel experiment, enjoyable in all ways (NB: especially in its precision of execution: Tarantino knows what he’s doing) — and you expect, as you did in the 50s, a few quick cash-ins on its modest success — but its novelty has worn thin and  cash-ins have gone on too long, and I have borne them too well up till now. A small but devoted market to this cinema, coupled with the increasing technological ease with which amateurs are able to make passable feature films, has flooded us with this grindhouse revival. They aspire, but too many things have changed for them to be anything much like the rundown celluloid atrocities from 1950-80. At best, they simply fail to shock us because it has all been done before; why remake I Spit on Your Grave when the original’s notoriety, its only redeeming feature, is impossible to recreate in these more liberal days. At worst, they are soulless, money-making ventures, that fail to truly interest us, and thus, also to make money.
But this is not the time to put forth my aesthetics of effective horror cinema, and so I will illustrate its detrimental effects on contemporary culture. Aside from anything, by looking to the past like this, it becomes impossible to move forwards. Worse, still, I believe is the way it has become okay to glorify this kind of knowing irony — as if all that a movie needs to be considered worthy is a few sly winks to the audience, as if to say ‘look, look at the obscure cinema I’m referencing in this scene’. That isn’t good enough, not on such a wide scale. Not without substance. Tarantino succeeds where many fail because he is such a devotee of cinema, he knows that no matter witty a reference, it will never be a substitute for well-constructed dialogue; and when he does reference, which, granted, is often, it is not without context; the reference cannot survive on its own. The audience is not an idiot, don’t treat it like one.
This referential culture just breeds more referential culture — as a movie makes a reference to a past movie’s reference, it becomes impossible to see where exactly they’re taking us; how many leads do we have to follow to understand what they’re trying to say; do they even know what they’re trying to say; do they know the significance of this reference. Quick case in point: Scary Movie. Scary Movie parodied Scream, when Scream was already a parody. Scream was excellent and intelligent, because whilst deconstructing horror movies, it was also in itself a very effective horror — it fulfilled all of Freud’s notions of the Uncanny — whereas Scary Movie does not have the same depth of knowledge to back up its comedy, and it does not urge any kind of intelligent recognition of its achievements.
I am aware that this is a very small sub-genre of a largely underground aspect of cinema, and that its effects are not as widespread as I may have suggested. And I am also aware that cinema is not only referential cinema at the moment, I am aware that there is plenty of original, rich and rewarding (to draw on all the cliches) cinema being created; but I urge again, to consider the way it effects the mainstream. There are two very obvious examples to produce at this point, and I am going to draw on the one closest to my heart — although this will leave the second demographic very disappointed in their hopes for sustenance — and I am going to draw on zombies, ill-advised as that may sound.

Zombies have almost always been an icon of horror. How far do you want to go back? ’68, Night of the Living Dead; ’32, White Zombie; ’29, the novel, The Magic Island; and what are the fiends Jason and Odysseus encounter in their supernatural wanderings if not a sort of zombie? Suffice it to say that as long as there has been an audience to scare, zombies have shambolically shuffled to the stage.
I will not pretend authority by stating when exactly our current obsession with this particular incarnation of the undead began — they have pretty much lingered constantly in the background somewhere since ’68. But what I can state, though with heavy heart, is that there is finally too much zombie; to the extent now that they are not only making fools of themselves, but infecting the brrrains of the general public. Everyone knows that zombies are prone to wander aimlessly, and this is precisely what it feels like we’ve let them do. When Pride and Prejudice and Zombies came out it was an amusing idea, and a pretty good joke, but it was followed by Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters; Dawn of the Dreadfuls; Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter; Jane Slayre; Mr Darcy, Vampire. Stop it, that joke isn’t funny anymore. Adding zombies does not automatically make something better, funnier, or more original. You’re ruining zombies and you’re ruining Jane Austen & co. I’m sorry if this sounds po-faced and party-pooping, but I love horror too much to see it inbreeding in this way.
My friends, the zombie holocaust has already arrived; and it was so inconsequential, we barely noticed.
I am — again! — aware that there are plenty of good zombie productions at the moment; The Walking Dead is perhaps the best piece of zombie cinema we have yet had; and if it weren’t for our current obsession, would we have the new adaptation of Frankenstein at The National? But The Walking Dead, in Britain at least, did not penetrate the mainstream, and I never thought, not in a million years, when the flesh is falling from my skull as I search desperately in the world for something resembling a brain, I never thought I’d have to actually sift through piles of mediocre corpses to find just one good zombie horror movie. In the grand scheme of things, zombies have a very limited appeal, and by forcing them so recklessly on the public, they are ruined for the people who actually enjoy them — selfish as that may sound, the few converts we infect will not in any way compensate for the diminished terror they will then possess.
When the mainstream eventually tires of them, as it will, and zombies limp back into the familiar claws of horror, it will be in a diluted form.

And these are not just the jealous tantrums of someone unwilling to share his toys. The proliferation of zombies/grindhouse/whatever in the mainstream comes at such a cost to the aesthetics of those cultural objets d’art, that the mainstream also suffers — by accepting and promoting the shadow of an idea, it gives in to its own low standards, which themselves propagate unchecked.

We must avoid becoming a society of novelty, because without high-seriousness, without anything to imitate or mock, the novelty is meaningless. Gutter culture is perfectly valid when it is adequately counterbalanced. The same rule applies to high culture — a society of high culture alone would become tiresome very quickly; and although we do our best to project notions of grandeur back onto classical civilisation, no society has ever been truly elite or totally base.

Will it be Freud again? And will this also resolve all my own fears? We idealise the past, because the present is inadequate, and the future will prove a return to a better state. Daydreams and apathy! Let us work on the present before we find ourselves in a disappointing future.

Any fears over my own place in this culture, I must work out myself, as we all must — I am not here, generally, to self-eulogise. And let it no appear as though I give the public — you — us — no credit; I hope I have frequently made clear, I do not, as some may, see the public as an inherently stupid entity; rather, because of its vastness and myriad concerns, at its heart, it is prone to complacency, where ideally we would hope for movement. Movements, notoriously, are only perceived once one has drawn to a close, or been in existence long enough to produce counter-movements by which the original may be distinguished. Maybe the marked increase in youthful activism across the world is the political manifestation of this counter-movement.

Whatever this counter-movement may be, do inform me as soon as you know; and if anyone says cybergoth, I will strangle you with your own neon-hair spaghetti.


post-script: allow me, if you will, my wink. I am not ignorant of the fact that my own work is hopelessly littered with allusions, but not, I hope, without the necessary substance to justify it.

attacking the typescript

November 16, 2010

mon semblable, for the interest of analysts and orthographers. The nullius filius of a brief encounter with T.S. Eliot & The Waste Land –  decipher if you dare, ‘The Burial of the Dead’ – the lead-scratchings of my hand from the head-scratchings of my mind.




post-script: there is literally nothing more to write.