Two days ago I was on a 2-hour expedition with a very real friend (who displays, however, many of the properties of an imaginary being), C. My friend C and I have covered more than a thousand kilometers of Berlin since we started these walks late last year. She is one of my most intelligent chums: nothing I say goes over her head, and nothing I say is softened or simplified to reach her. She’s had a full, bizarre, busy and cinematic life already, and passes easily, back and forth, between the Exotic and Mainstream worlds that I thread my way between without touching either.
To maintain the ideal balance of Duty and Pleasure in any long, committed marriage, it’s best to keep one’s gritty, sinister or wholly irrational bits to one’s self… to which end, my Wife and I play Sex Games like teenagers but… she doesn’t demand that I hang out with her friends and I don’t force my Literary Exertions in her face. When C came along I was used to sharing that aspect of myself with intellectual avatars, from all over the world, with names like “Sean McNulty” and “Alarming” and “Mishari” and “EC” (yes and my old litblog chum James Marcus, who flew over from NY and took the meandering tour, a while back). Anglophone C (my Wife is a beautiful Teutoniphone) was the first living, breathing image, right there in local space with me, able and willing to read my grittier mindstuff in bulk. Which had a galvanizing effect on my productivity… metric tonnes of it (or mega-joules? Is matter or energy or catshit the best metaphor?) have surged out the factory since C and I started walking last year. The woman has a mutant mind unhindered by material obsessions. If her mind keeps growing at its current rate the world will tremble (happily) one day to whatever instructions she gives it.
My only advantage over C being that I experienced the fleeting peak of Secular Humanism, as it dawned here and there, around the Western world, intermittently, in the late 1970s, before it was bludgeoned and buried with a rusty shovel during the “Reagan (ie Bush) Revolution” of the 1980s. I was there but C can only read and hear about it… I sometimes feel like a surviving citizen of the Lost Continent of Atlantis. C was born two years after I landed, the first time, in Berlin at the age of 31 and she has little idea what it’s like to live in a world in which Stripping wasn’t considered a valid, yes even a feminist, career choice. So one of my jobs is to get it right in describing this lost world to her. In a way (via some genetic twist or childhood experience), C is a natural citizen of 1977, and she only needs the critical spark of a few more trenchant filibusters, from me, to realize her potential as a cultural warrior capable of saving the rest of us from the worst of this era.
Anyway. C and I were having a walk and a talk and we happened by the English-language cinema on Hauptstrasse, the Odeon, where I saw (a weirdly-miscast) The Sheltering Sky, in 1990, when I lived around the corner, on Eisenacherstrasse (where I roomed, briefly, with Frank B, who was giving rather loud and avant garde voice lessons to Gustav Mahler’s great niece Beatrice). The film of The Sheltering Sky was iffy but it led me back to Paul Bowles’ work, and reading PB colored Berlin in the early ’90s for me. As C and I stood in front of the Odeon, I was surprised to see posters for a film adaptation of Tom McCarthy’s Remainder… they’ve made Remainder into a film? I own a few of McCarthy’s books but I hadn’t gotten around to reading any of them (Pynchon’s Against the Day is an overturned beer truck on the highway of my to-read list, with two dozen scowling books in a queue behind it) so, later that day, after my walk with C, I began to read Remainder.
Half-way through Remainder I was driven to stop and check its reviews at mainstream magazines and on respected literary blogs: uniformly positive; quite a few were hyperbolic in praise. Which I found puzzling because I don’t find Remainder to be very good as a literary text… though I can now see how it might turn out to be a better movie. Having gnawed my way through several mountains of pulp sci fi as a kid, I know well the problem (and the sinking sensation of encountering it): intriguing premise undermined by a pedestrian (occasionally rushed) execution. Worse, McCarthy is often cited as some kind of postmodernist, or “experimental” writer but, minus the Kafka-Ballardian premise, Remainder is as workaday as anything written by Kingsley Amis in the mid-1960s, minus KA’s wicked jokes. Once you’ve gotten the premise, your mind can’t help itself in working through the permutations implicit in the premise, just as the author (McCarthy) must do. Sticking with McCarthy as he works his way, laboriously, through the self-imposed limits of a thought-problem of his own making becomes a chore in the absence of stylistic talent. A chore bore. But it’s meant to be a pleasure, isn’t it?
Here’s a good representative of the not unpleasant, yet utterly not pleasurable, chore bore I mean (during which, by the way, Sartre fans among you will begin to suspect that McCarthy has a programmatic, and not-quite-integrated, fondness for Existentialist lit, like his buddy Lee Rourke; or maybe that’s just a stiff reference to the Nouveau Roman‘s obsession with goo, down there) :
One strange thing happened. It might seem trivial to you, but not to me. I remember it very clearly. At Green Park I had to change lines. To do this at Green Park you have to ride the escalator almost to street level and then take another escalator down again. Up in the lobby area, beyond the automatic gates, there were some payphones and a large street map. I was so drawn to these—their overview, their promise of connection—that I’d put my ticket into the gates and walked through towards them before I’d realized that I should have gone back down again instead. To make things worse, my ticket didn’t come back out. I called a guard over and told him what had happened, and that I needed my ticket back.
“It’ll be inside the gate,” he said. “I’ll open it for you.”
He took a key out of his pocket, opened the gate’s ticket-collecting flap and picked up the top ticket. He inspected it.
“This ticket’s only for as far as this station,” he said.
“That’s not mine, then,” I said. “I bought one for Heathrow.”
“If you were the last person to pass through, your ticket should be the top one.”
“I was the last one through,” I told him. “No one came past after me. But that’s not my ticket.”
“If you were the last one through, then this must be your ticket,” he repeated.
It wasn’t my ticket. I started to feel dizzy again.
“Hold on,” the guard said. He reached up into the feeding system on the flap’s top half and pulled another ticket out from where it was wedged between two cogs. “This yours?” he asked.
It was. He gave it back to me, but it had picked up black grease from the cogs when he’d opened the flap, and the grease got on my fingers. I walked back towards the down escalator, but before I got there I noticed all these escalator steps that were being overhauled. You think of an escalator as one object, a looped, moving bracelet, but in fact it’s made of loads of individual, separate steps woven together into one smooth system. Articulated. These ones had been dis-articulated, and were lying messily around a closed-off area of the upper concourse. They looked helpless, like beached fish. I stared at them as I passed them. I was staring at them so intently that I stepped onto the wrong escalator, the up one, and was jolted onto the concourse again. As my hand slipped over the handrail the black grease got onto my sleeve and stained it.
I have, right to this day, a photographically clear memory of standing on the concourse looking at my stained sleeve, at the grease—this messy, irksome matter that had no respect for millions, didn’t know its place. My undoing: matter.
The camp dramatics of that “right to this day” are woefully unearned, whether straight or as a knowing joke, aren’t they? Two hundred pages of this kind of thing is too much. So how to explain the unanimity of praise, out there, for the brown-bag banality of the self-conscious exercise called Remainder? Either the critical establishment is no more objective/trustworthy than the output of any advertizing agency… or people are fucking thick. Well, it seems to be a combination of the two. An Era of Stupidity is bad enough and an Era of Mendacity is worse but an era of Stupid Fucking Relentless Mendacity is a chore to live through. But we manage.
One thing that happens, when familiar people die, is that Religion comes back into focus, temporarily, from the chamber in society’s subconscious where it hides, most of the time (I’m restricting my analysis to the purview of “The West”). Grandma croaks, when you’re a kid, and grown-ups dust off the old legends, or their favorite common-sense evasions, to explain where she went (which is everywhere in the universe but the muddy hole in the ground near a disused railroad track where she actually went). This happens on a massive scale when a celebrity dies, in the form of a thousand near-identical explanations for where the dead celebrity “ascended to”. If he/she was a musician, she/he went on to perform in an eternal jam session in Heaven, which sounds like Hell; no one ever seems to track dead writers to Heavenly Book Signings, however. The celebrity who dies gets his/her Wings… aka, his/her Heavenly Raiments… the flashiest among which is Genius.
Prince died, recently, and it’s a tribute to our gullibility as an audience that initial reports, that drugs had something to do with it, felt impossible. Which is (not to speak ill of the dead) amusing. Prince, whose most impressive skill, in my opinion, was his ability to execute funked-up versions of intricately-choreographed clog-dancing while playing and singing generic funk or rock, became the greatest Genius in the history of Western Music when he died. He only managed to write a handful of halfway-hummable melodies (the rest are all standard blue-note drones or tuneless modal gimmickry, the drawback of his debt to James Brown… go on, hum your way through a dozen Prince tunes and tell me what you find); he was a pretty good programmer of drum-machines… he was reasonably proficient on a few instruments (I’ve seen people cite the figure “45”… this tally includes, of course, the triangle, the tambourine, the king-sized Oriental Harem Gong and the kazoo)… he could do the splits… this is what passes for Genius? What we have here are the ineffably credulous fuddlements of Religion, from which, as long as there are more than a dozen humans on the planet, we will never be entirely free.
It’s not just Dead Prince, who’s a Genius, with a million hysterics in tow. I was watching an Atoms for Peace video, in which Thom Yorke was having fun grooving with Flea and singing in his heartfelt and tuneless and invariable way (don’t get me wrong: I enjoy at least 30% of what Thom creates and am occasionally inspired by it)… and the comment thread was luminous as a candle-lit procession to Lourdes. Maybe our Techno-Media amplifies this state of collective hallucination: the screen shows a pretty straightforward example of normal people doing fun (but far from incredible) things and millions of viewers get big-eyed and weepy and wail. Like watching David Bowie make pancakes: too many people would find the act fundamentally better than watching their own grandmothers do the same thing. When Bowie died, he became a Genius and a Saint and so will Thom Yorke. The music (the means by which our objects of fascination entered the metabolism of Apotheosis, somehow) is just an excuse… as though a spot foretold awaited them each, long before their respective births, and nothing they could do (eg “Never Let Me Down” or “Tin Machine” or “The Glass Spider Tour” or Thom’s bleached mullet) could unearn it for them. It’s Spooky; a Spooky Religion. And the Heaven of this Spooky Religion seems to be reserved for males who touched guitars.
This deserves serious study.
I watched the most blatant piece of propaganda I’ve seen all year, last night.
I was Googling “Michael Palin” (the normal-looking one from Monty Python’s Flying Circus), for reasons I refuse to disclose, and found a YouTube video… a three-hour movie… of the “first dramatic role Palin has undertaken in twenty years” (or something like that). Intriguing already but, even better, I thought: the film is a ghost story, edited into one piece from a three-part series that was shown on British Television in 2014.
Reading the comments under the posting of the film you’d think the film was a masterpiece, but it was a silly bit of corny shit: generic “ghost story” stuff padded with expository and sub-plot longueurs (to stretch the story out to fill three long installments). The “scary” bits might well have scared me when I was ten years old and my scarless imagination was much stronger than my leathery incredulity became. The plot: an old duffer (Palin) had this nanny when he was a pie-faced boy in knee-pants, see. The nanny drowned at some point and decided to haunt Palin jealously, killing anyone too close to him, for all his long life. So far, no propaganda… but here’s the twist designed to accommodate the nauseatingly-blatant Xenophobia: Palin’s character was a child during the last days of the Raj. Eh? But the movie is happening “now”. Which makes Palin’s character (who looks about 70; a good-looking 70)… 110 years old. What? And the ghost-nanny? She’s “Indian” (obviously: this is just nasty blowback from days of the Raj, see?)… her name is “Isha” (why not Isis?) … she’s “terrifying” during her several manifestations because whenever she appears (making witchy/ reptilian sounds and movements) she… she… looks like a dark-skinned Indian lady wearing a Sari!
Whether or not this is conscious and target-specific propaganda, it’s racist as fuck, creature-fying a normal-looking ( or rather beautiful, from what you can make out behind the Muslim-like veil) non-blonde woman, who, among her supernatural terrorist activities, defenestrates a friendly, uncomplicated, busty British blonde nurse.
At roughly the same time (Oct-Dec 2014), the Daily Mail was doing its best to support the shock-horror-darkies narrative with this “story”:
An Asian man whose marriage breakdown allegedly led to the murders of his parents and sister may have split up with his wife because he had a love-child with a secret girlfriend.
Kamar Mahmood separated from his wife Nabeela after being married for nine years.
It is understood that the shame of the couple’s split – and the news that Mr Mahmood had allegedly cheated on his wife with a white, blonde girl – outraged Nabeela’s family so much that they decided to take revenge.
Nabeela’s three brothers and two other men are accused of shooting dead Mr Mahmood’s father Moham-mad Yusaf, 51, his mother Pervaze, 49, and sister Tania, 22, who were in Pakistan for the marriage of their youngest son, Asad, 24.
The victims were sprayed with bullets as they prayed at a relative’s graveside in a village in Gujrat province.
Mr Mahmood, of Nelson, Lancashire, who is unemployed, separated from his wife last year.
The couple have two daughters, aged three and five, who are living with their grandmother. Nabeela is understood to be staying in a women’s refuge.
Relatives of Mr Mahmood in Lancashire and Pakistan said they separated because they ‘just grew apart over the years’. But according to Pakistani police, one of the reasons behind the split was Mr Mahmood’s alleged relationship with a white woman.
A birth certificate obtained from Lancashire County Council offices in Preston shows that he had a baby boy in October 2005 with a young woman who lived only two streets away from the Mahmoods’ marital home at the time. She gave birth to the child at Burnley General Hospital when she was 17.
There’s so much in there: The bloody savagery of tribal overreaction, The Filthy Paki knocking up a BLONDE while he was unemployed and while the BLONDE was 17… does anything good ever come out of that general part of the world?
Between the horror stories of machine guns/ brown erections and Sari-wearing, dark-skinned ghosts (and all the rest… a quick read through back-issues of the DM reveal tons of lurid stories like these), I have to wonder what was going on, in 2014, that required a good stiff poke of the citizens’ Xenophobia button.
Googling “Top Guardian Stories 2014” we find a list including the “Lindt Cafe Siege of Sydney” of December 2014 (“The man behind the Sydney cafe siege is reported to be 49-year-old self-styled ‘Muslim cleric and peace activist’ named Man Haron Monis, who is currently on bail facing dozens of charges of indecent and sexual assault“) and some stuff about Ebola (speaking of which: what’s going on with that darkies-based-plague narrative these days? Did they cure it? What happened? Weren’t we all about to get it, back in 2014?)
Ah, but then there was this, from the summer of 2014:
Heightened tensions following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens led to an exchange of rocket fire, resulting in a formal Israeli offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip called Operation Protective Edge. The rocket fire lasted seven weeks, with Israeli Defense Forces targeting Hamas rocket launchers that the group placed throughout the densely-populated Strip. The United Nations reported that 2,192 people were killed in the Gaza Strip, the majority of whom were civilians, while Israelis reported 72 casualties, only six of whom were civilians. The rest identified as members of the military.
Which ended up being somewhat of a PR disaster, I recall, for the country of anti-Muslimia™, owing to the disproportionate destructiveness of reprisal (imagine the French airforce getting involved if three French teenagers had come to bad ends in Italy). The anti-Muslimian™ image needs burnishing now and again and, you know, it does seem that the frighteningly, blonde-killingly, beardy, burka-based, Sari-based, brown-erection-oriented imagery ramps up a notch until overall empathy for anti-Muslimia™ is restored.
Not that we can prove it, right?