Strangenesses

December 10, 2012

Today, a CyberChimp interpellated me into new familial, perceptual and behavioural collectivities.

BioIllo4

I’ll be sore tomorrow.

Machine memory

November 21, 2012

Among some juvenilia arduously recovered using an ancient laptop from even more ancient 3.5” floppy disks:

– Novels about the sole survivors of a valley dwelling fantasy race and an orphan who survives the murder of his foster-parents to discover his true heritage.
– A short story in which the killer turns out to be, unknowingly, the detective.
– Lyrics to songs from my stint as singer in a band with my mates.
– Character creation programmes coded in BASIC.
– Plot outlines for the zeitgeisty comic Y2K.

Perhaps entropy knows best after all.

Issue 76 of New Formations is now out, a themed issue on “The Animals Turn” edited by Wendy Wheeler and Linda Williams.

Among work on life and love, ethics and practice, the Renaissance and modernity, Darwin, Derrida, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, it contains my essay “Animals in Biopolitical Theory: Between Agamben and Negri.”

Environmental Humanities

November 15, 2012

Last night we launched the inaugural issue of Environmental Humanities, a new international, interdisciplinary, open-access journal. Its editors are Deborah Rose, vivifier of morals, and Thom van Dooren, avian entangler. I help make the coffee (and drink the wine). This first issue has essays on Oedipus, agriculture, parasites, burrs, management, seasons, flus, books, and mushrooms.

The website also features two series of interviews with editorial board members. I conducted the first lot about the anthropocene, decentring, and interdisciplinarity. Take a look; things get feisty.

Edit: Cary Wolfe and Tim Morton on the perversity of the environmental humanities:

Animal Studies Journal

October 11, 2012

The first issue of the new Animal Studies Journal is now online, featuring diasporic giraffes, pest kangaroos, vanishing tigers, and sundry other global and performing animals. ASJ1

“… and he became the instrument, the messenger, the angel come to rescue you… from what? From your sleep, in the end.”

Of course, eventually even the parrhesia of situationist interventions (21:28–32:38) will be resolved in terms of mechanics and products.

“The Jews, a prime example of nomadism, showed the world the productivity of a wandering culture. … And yet in their search for origins, these decidedly intransigent people who imagine themselves to be the absolute originals … are the Jews not eternal crusaders fighting tooth and nail now more than ever to remain the one and only group of settlers in the Holy Land, their land, which nevertheless also belongs to Muslims and Christians? It’s not the same thing at all, you snap back: they’re just getting back the land that was taken from them and building a secure place for themselves after the horrors of the Shoah. OK, but the Palestinian kamikazes make exactly the same claim about exactly the same land and base it on their own origin story, know what I mean?”

Julia Kristeva, Murder in Byzantium (2006, p. 96).

“a short explanation, scientific in tone, horrifying in its details. The Jews were creatures of an alien race. They needed blood—the baptised blood of innocent Christian children—to sanctify their pagan rituals. Their rabbis would defile the blessed Host, stolen for the occasion, then eat the sodden mess to perpetuate their own sort in orgies of unthinkable brutality. They were animals, human in appearance only. How long would the Jews go unpunished for their crimes?”

Michael Gregorio, Days of Atonement (2007, p. 150).

“Who was left? The Jews, for heaven’s sake! Deep down I thought it was only my grandfather who had been so obsessed, but after listening to Toussenel I realised there was an anti-Jewish market not just among all the descendants of Abbé Barruel (and there were quite a few of them) but also among revolutionaries, republicans and socialists. The Jews were the enemy of the altar, but also of the ordinary people, whose blood they sucked. And they were also the enemy of the throne, depending on who governed. I had to work on the Jews.”

Umberto Eco, The Prague Cemetery (2011, pp. 188-9).

Thusly does Fritz Eichenberg introduce his collection of “Fables with a Twist”, the text and intricate woodcuts of which the zoöeschatological disputants pore over with rapt imagination. In the titular tale a meeting of the animals fumes over human oppression and envisions the placement of Homo sapiens on their coat-of-arms. The fall is rewitnessed, the Ark is regretted, power plays out, man is mourned, apocalypses are left behind, the peaceable kingdom is yearned for and mocked, and olden fables are given modern twists which don’t avoid but intensify their morals. “Headlines proclaim: Exploded populations—oceans polluted—wars and genocide—animal kingdom threatened with extinction. … The Lord made a mistake!” (Endangered Species, p. 96) Let us rehabilitate the fabular.

Things fell into line for this gambit with an undeniable sense of providence. There were sacrifices, of course, but none that can’t be resurrected. I pushed on past the insecure start, doubled down on anxieties and learned to bear exposure. What kept lulls and doubts from becoming terminal was the continual challenges: to write automatic scrawl and graffiti; to tack back again, compose lucid and deliberate sentences; to swap pen for metal keys, those for brush and scissors; to let the void have its way. That and the manic impulsion of the band who endured me poaching in their slipstream. A minor satellite, I observed and absorbed the dialectic of discipline and madness, as frenzies of organisation unleashed frenzies of creation.

As an experiment in technique, it gave the charged occasion to test methods and materials foreign to the desk and laptop routine. I played surrealist games, mocked them and myself, then forged on again in earnest intensity. Writing was driven by concepts and form, by circumstance and materials. I worked with my hands on obstinate fabrics and mashed theories of perception with my short-circuiting brain. Images emerging from others’ paintwork sent shivers through surfacing words. Fuses were lit among myselves, scales tipped and triggers pulled. There were degrees of sobriety equipping various postures. I practiced a risky ascetics, emptied myself of certain expectations while gambling myself in pursuit of others.

I constructed a phantastic colour organ in which every key is black.

Now comes the difficult follow through, moving from method to results. There is enough material and ideas to sustain the project, an ergodic novel of collated documents and testimonies. The Black Paintings will confront synesthesia, aesthetics and disorders of sensation, destimulation and sensory deprivation. The book will document the trauma of the black paintings; decipher the hand of the black painter; remember the carnival of The Black Paintings.

Thanks for their hospitality to Trash, Mitch, Andy, Bear, Emma, Imogen, Adele, Jeremy, Dallas, Ezza, Clint, Chloe, Mace and all the other painters.

Paul Haines, 1970-2012

March 5, 2012

I saw him last at Swancon almost a year ago, where we talked and drank and ate and schmoozed like classy carefree gents. This is what I wrote for the collection he launched there.

***

People say that Paul Haines has bad taste. Try telling that to those he cooks for. Try telling it to the beneficiaries of his music collection culls. Try telling that to Paul Haines, the cannibal gastronome of his “Slice of Life” story suite, who knows just the right cuts and how they’re best served. In the thick of the muck, Paul’s fiction explores highbrow themes like the mystery of conception, the unreliability of perception, and the violence of redemption. Paul is a principled aesthete and a candid man of honour.

Paul is the guy who, at the first Clarion South in early 2004, kept my broke arse supplied with booze. As us ferals partied after six weeks of reprogramming, he bought two beers at a time as if my thirst was his own. This was a sincere morality adapted from the macho drinking culture of his uni days. He couldn’t let an orifice go dry, not when he was in a position to lubricate. And he refused my indebtedness: I owed not him but future poor lads in need of a drink. Pay it forward, with a twist. Of lemon.

This decent bloke is of course the same warped creature who makes readers squirm and cringe with his surrealist black humour, his confused, cruel, hungry, horny, unhinged characters and their equally fucked-up worlds. His exposed backpackers wander through the disorienting East or the degenerate West or somewhere else entirely, preyed upon by the powers-that-be or their own shadowy natures. Many of these characters go by the name of Paul Haines. I have often seen people recoil in his presence as a result of his work—and he’s quivered with satisfaction in response.

To read his fiction is to question the character of Paul Haines. His stories are plenty unsettling even without those infamous self-tuckerisations. His dystopia “Wives” with its brutal misogyny is simply the latest and finest in a long, disquieting stream. But when he does decide to give his protagonist his name, the disturbance multiplies.

It is a venerable technique that the likes of Chaucer and Dante up to Dick, Ellis, and Kaufman have experimented with, and Haines self-inserts with the best of them. Uncareful readers will confuse the protagonist with the author or perceive a monstrous ego at play in this literary autofellatio. All the better for Haines.

Paul Haines is not a wish-fulfilling Mary Sue; he is a fully developed, viscerally scarred character. Paul Haines is not a didactic author surrogate; he preaches nothing but the wages of existence. This is no cameo, no proxy, no Narcissus. By projecting himself into his narratives, he becomes the willing victim of his readers’ own projections. He wallows in the viral dispersal of his proper name.

Paul expects academic wankery of me, so how’s this for a dubious homonymy: there is a Greek verb phainesthai which means “to appear”; it is the root of phenomenon and phantasm and incorporates the sense of both pretense and manifestation. Phainesthai is to appear in a form undecidable between truth and falsehood, fiction and reality. It’s what Paul does. Against vivid exotic backgrounds, the character of Paul Haines dissimulates with a fierce honesty.

The SuperNOVA addendum to the Turkey City Lexicon will include phainesthai, or perhaps simply haines, to refer to self-insertion as literary extreme sport. This is how it will be used in the crit circle upbraiding of wannabe writers: “If you’re gonna to try to haines it, newbie, then don’t shy away from the verdict. You gotta put it all on the line.”

Haines puts it all on the line. The man has travelled, has lusted, has feared, has hurted in unimaginable ways. He laughs and cries as life bends him over and drives its toxic probe up his arse. He tells us all about it. He shames common delusion with his clarity of observation and frankness of expression. He gives the finger to death, to our decomposing bodies, to our poisonous world in exemplary fashion. He has struggled, and he has fought to flourish, too. He creates and fathers and loves.

Today there are no more vulgar drinking sessions. Paul’s colonoscopy punctured that blokey utopia. It forced him to vegetables and administered chemicals, forced him and others to a painful knowledge of the world as it is: singular bodies, each desiring and broken in its own way. The world according to Haines.

He and his character deserve the sweetest of revenge.

Having taken it this far, I could hardly say no, so I palmed off commitments and hopped a last minute red eye east for the BDO. We overcame heat and ditzy navigation to locate the venue, where we multiplied passes like Jesus did fishes. Once again, the Hare Krishnas rescued us from the alimentary (if not spiritual) poverty of this declining festival. War-painted and alert, I paired milk crate with smoke machine and tucked myself behind the string section for the last march of the Adler Junior 12.

Its key seriality barred fist mash poetry and demanded that thinking be sequenced and lucid. Nooked together, we accumulated black holes of egoism and nihilism, consumption and extinction, of eyes and gullets and guts. I tied a bracelet of apologies to the page, proceeded with an apophatic calligramme. Watching from behind a canvas being painted prompted a meditation on art as nonknowledge. Forget reciprocal visibility—here now there is only a shadow painter conjuring viewers’ abjection.

The show was brief and furious, a finale awash with triumphant relief. Dual drummers modulated dangerous tempos. Impromptu set changes syncopated energies. Diminishing worlds were enlarged by operatic heroics. Cosmic static amplified temperaments as hordes without and within clamoured for brain time. We wet machines responded as we could. The last spectral setlist included “The Truancy Collector”, “Riotmantic (The Suburban Adventures of the Bristol Zoo Lion)”, “Opera Man vs Bedlam” and “Capitalingus.”

Glad of the opportunity for conclusion, I farewelled the typewriter, its owner and his kind, and an idle superhero chauffeured me to the border in easy quietude.

I spent this serendipitous home town gig winding down with my oldest friend and brief bandmate over a few pints under the vigilant and sexually aggressive eye of security. We talked music and old times and therapy fodder, about getting back into instruments and the lot of vocally deficient lyricists. By now having characters, themes and an ergodic format, I spent what I thought was my final show documenting images and auras when I wasn’t simply enjoying immersion. The band shredded through oppressive heat and Trash in drag sang through injured ribs. There was interactive audience foldback drumming and a “Hong Kong” pause you could smoke a cigarette in. Eventually rain rescued the hiply sweltering mob, and we were wistfully ejected from the venue and taxied home to pike like old men.

I arrived in the capital at a commandeered church for the opening song and its scornful apology. The keen all-ages audience slamdanced in the front row pews. There were readings from the Gospels according to Cave and Molko, and a fiery sermon preached on the pocketwatch pericope from the Book of Alice. We interpreted the signs of the times and invoked the Holy Ghost. Comfortable now with my objectives for each gig, I penned notes in tranquil sobriety: on perceptual isolation and the Ganzfeld effect, on a virtuosic practice of spontaneous cheironomy, on the noise of life since the end of history. After an energy drink communion, the moon led me home, and when I got there, a cracker down the oval was setting off fireworks.

Pre-show, I party-listened to the album, The Revolution is Never Coming. Under wind-dragged leaves and airliners with no sense of occasion, the participants (among them an OGTRP cog-sci professor) listened and painted and broke into spontaneous grins. Long in the making and finally forthcoming, this is a genuine work, of life and art, about change and stasis, refusal and creation, invoking technological mythologies and delirious experiences. It had me thinking about redemption; their uncostumed soundcheck layered that messianic aesthetics with a vulgar burlesque flourish, before the ideas that remained were Shanghaied by a maniacal mashup.

The show hit hard with blows to the ear and eyeball. I defended with reflex writing. Lone instruments braved silence before the relief of accompaniment. Unhelped by smokeless lasers, a barrage of notes and colours fought for spacing between primal deprivation and sensory overload. Ticking clock picking synchronised motion and horizons of perception. The reverb speakers received radio transmission. Crystal structures formed and thought walked synapse tightropes. I dreamt of cosmonautical adventures as canvases danced and aliens “versed” ninjas. All the while I struggled to make out the muffled screaming of a protagonist drowning under tides of perspective and editorial paraphernalia. Yes I had been drinking, and on an empty stomach. Fossils and meat were painted. The phantom set took in:

  • Syllogism Defended
  • Cheer Up, Emo Kid’s Mum!
  • Birthed Death
  • The Aging Process
  • Turn the Page
  • Come, Ragnarok, Come
  • Whorls
  • Mad Whorls
  • Chinese Century
  • Looking Glass Shards in my Eye
  • Diluvian Pneumatology
  • CO2
  • March of the Warmachines
  • Covering Make-up with Bruises

Tonight, I painted. Ebonised and alien-attired, I emerged during “Dead Adults” to take on an empty black canvas, wary of nearby deadly brushstrokes. Well aware of my limitations, I went for minimalist mixed media collage, keeping to simple symbols and typewritten text. While my (un)read painting was ultimately botched (or, more politely, unfinished) I did manage to draft the first few propositions of the Tractatus Synestheticus. And the experience was singular, an attunement of textual themes to contextual tunes in an intensification of pressure and focus.

On the train home, with my painted face ice breaker, I buffered teenagers performing a visceral reading of the Art Ninja’s painting from a bloke near the end of a three day bender. The acrylic took some scrubbing. After, there was no sleep, just a back porch come down vantage on scrounging possums and circling bats, note taking until the kookaburras laughed in the dawn.

Things were looking up. Brisbane promised to finally deliver a real show, and the awesome zinester Jeremy lent me a typewriter on which to document its aura like a Byron Bay new ager. The drive back up had allowed more ideas to filter, so when the band emerged from behind a curtain (having elsewhere set up in the theatrical depravity of full visibility) there were more trails than I had brains to follow them with. The Adler Junior 12 demanded I focus; aided by the music, I set about transcribing smuggled security footage. Meanwhile, a “Hong Kong” pause broke clocks, and Opera Man cut sicker than pestilence. The ghost band setlist included the crowd favourites “Measuring Yourself for a Casket” and “Dancing through a Maze with No Exits,” as well as the “Judgement Daze” cover. We alternated driving through the night, and by the time we arrived home a work had emerged with a coherent set of questions: What are the black paintings? Who was the black painter? Who were The Black Paintings?

For those thinking, you don’t need to drive 10 hours to watch a band in order to write a story, well, sure. You can instead then drive just 2 hours and do it. Though it turns out, you don’t need the gig either. On this particular day almost a year out from the floods, after an afternoon’s elaborate set up and encostuming, the skies opened up and drowned the stage. Not even the phantom band picked up pick, bow or stick. This left me plenty of time to question what I am doing in less obsessive circumstances: seeking situational perceptions; broadening and refining technique; exploring the interplay of sensory and artistic modalities. Our night above the pub amid heavy storms and paint leavings was as fruitful as any performance. By the end, I had two scenes, and had fixated on synesthesic transcendentalism and the primordiality of blackness as themes.

Paranoia consists in irrational connections. For some, like Dick, it’s organic or chemical, while others, like Dali, cultivated it through self-imposed method. Here, the cluster of circumstances (this being the first go at an admittedly crazy activity; not having reintroduced myself prior to the performance; my location squashed in a couch by the stage, with crew constantly climbing over me to fix a string of equipment problems; the numerous technical issues plaguing the set, such that it was almost abandoned after three songs) produced a paranoid state—am I getting in the way? do they even want me here?—which my own impulsive attempts to cultivate (sneakily believing this attempt at control would quell them) in fact only intensified—really, the paranoiac-critical method? What sort of wanker are you? This ain’t the thirties any more… What the fuck are you doing? Or maybe it was just the $3 vodkas. In any case, despite not quite achieving a delirium of interpretation, pen on paper amid this systematised confusion produced a number of absurd and irreal images and crystallised the project’s central problematic: how might writing relate to music and visual art? The forged Black Paintings setlist left behind included “Seventh Generation Sinner,” “Coming Second on Sale of the Century,” “Hospital Incinerator” and “When Death Died.”

Our sleep was comforted by the flashing blue and red lit balcony window, as stories below Surfer’s performed its nightly ceremonial dance of cop cars, ambulance and tow trucks around a crashed car and its committed onlookers.

The Red Paintings are currently touring their SF and Dada influenced orchestral art rock. Amid the music, their heavily visual shows feature artists painting both regular and human canvases. The themes of this tour—The Black Paintings—are the black holes of the universe, world and self. I am participating as a fiction writer in seven shows, hunting percepts, experimenting with technique, and intensifying compulsion.

As a tribute to the retiring biblical gigantology blog Remnant of Giants, I offer this passage from pp. 13-14 of Henry Howorth’s The Mammoth and the Flood: … after which he indeed goes on to collect, in his confessedly compilationist manner, the references to giants in Pliny, Plutarch, Philostratus, and other Greeks and Romans, as well as Augustine, and more modern sources such Kircher, Cuvier, and Figuier, by way of introduction to his “survey of the gradually increasing knowledge by which the true character of these remains was eventually determined.” (27)