Homage to the master
"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." ~ William Gibson, opening sentence of Neuromancer, published in 1984
"The sky was the colour of a dead laptop display, silver-gray and full of rain." ~ Charles Stross, opening sentence of The Bloodline Feud, originally published in 2004
Printcrime by Cory Doctorow
The coppers smashed my father's printer when I was eight. I remember the hot, cling-film-in-a-microwave smell of it, and Da's look of ferocious concentration as he filled it with fresh goop, and the warm, fresh-baked feel of the objects that came out of it.
The coppers came through the door with truncheons swinging, one of them reciting the terms of the warrant through a bullhorn. One of Da's customers had shopped him. The ipolice paid in high-grade pharmaceuticals -- performance enhancers, memory supplements, metabolic boosters. The kind of things that cost a fortune over the counter; the kind of things you could print at home, if you didn't mind the risk of having your kitchen filled with a sudden crush of big, beefy bodies, hard truncheons whistling through the air, smashing anyone and anything that got in the way.
They destroyed grandma's trunk, the one she'd brought from the old country. They smashed our little refrigerator and the purifier unit over the window. My tweetybird escaped death by hiding in a corner of his cage as a big, booted foot crushed most of it into a sad tangle of printer-wire.
Da. What they did to him. When he was done, he looked like he'd been brawling with an entire rugby side. They brought him out the door and let the newsies get a good look at him as they tossed him in the car. All the while a spokesman told the world that my Da's organized-crime bootlegging operation had been responsible for at least 20 million in contraband, and that my Da, the desperate villain, had resisted arrest.
I saw it all from my phone, in the remains of the sitting room, watching it on the screen and wondering how, just how anyone could look at our little flat and our terrible, manky estate and mistake it for the home of an organized crime kingpin. They took the printer away, of course, and displayed it like a trophy for the newsies. Its little shrine in the kitchenette seemed horribly empty. When I roused myself and picked up the flat and rescued my poor peeping tweetybird, I put a blender there. It was made out of printed parts, so it would only last a month before I'd need to print new bearings and other moving parts. Back then, I could take apart and reassemble anything that could be printed.
By the time I turned 18, they were ready to let Da out of prison. I'd visited him three times -- on my tenth birthday, on his fiftieth, and when Ma died. It had been two years since I'd last seen him and he was in bad shape. A prison fight had left him with a limp, and he looked over his shoulder so often it was like he had a tic. I was embarrassed when the minicab dropped us off in front of the estate, and tried to keep my distance from this ruined, limping skeleton as we went inside and up the stairs.
"Lanie," he said, as he sat me down. "You're a smart girl, I know that. You wouldn't know where your old Da could get a printer and some goop?"
I squeezed my hands into fists so tight my fingernails cut into my palms. I closed my eyes. "You've been in prison for ten years, Da. Ten. Years. You're going to risk another ten years to print out more blenders and pharma, more laptops and designer hats?"
He grinned. "I'm not stupid, Lanie. I've learned my lesson. There's no hat or laptop that's worth going to jail for. I'm not going to print none of that rubbish, never again." He had a cup of tea, and he drank it now like it was whisky, a sip and then a long, satisfied exhalation. He closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair.
"Come here, Lanie, let me whisper in your ear. Let me tell you the thing that I decided while I spent ten years in lockup. Come here and listen to your stupid Da."
I felt a guilty pang about ticking him off. He was off his rocker, that much was clear. God knew what he went through in prison. "What, Da?" I said, leaning in close.
"Lanie, I'm going to print more printers. Lots more printers. One for everyone. That's worth going to jail for. That's worth anything."
Who would have thought a book about a math conundrum could be so utterly charming and compelling? Recommended.
Lou Reed's rendition of Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven.
To my shame I hadn't read any Beckett before last night when I dipped into a book of his early novellas. Beckett often gets mentioned in the same breath as Joyce so I was a bit worried but my concern was completely unfounded. The stories I read reminded me more of Knut Hamsun, whom I greatly admire. I will read more.
A Perfect Day for Bananafish by J.D. Salinger
There were ninety-seven New York advertising men in the hotel, and, the way they were monopolizing the long-distance lines, the girl in 507 had to wait from noon till almost two-thirty to get her call through. She used the time, though. She read an article in a women's pocket-size magazine, called "Sex Is Fun-or Hell." She washed her comb and brush. She took the spot out of the skirt of her beige suit. She moved the button on her Saks blouse. She tweezed out two freshly surfaced hairs in her mole. When the operator finally rang her room, she was sitting on the window seat and had almost finished putting lacquer on the nails of her left hand. She was a girl who for a ringing phone dropped exactly nothing. She looked as if her phone had been ringing continually ever since she had reached puberty. With her little lacquer brush, while the phone was ringing, she went over the nail of her little finger, accentuating the line of the moon. She then replaced the cap on the bottle of lacquer and, standing up, passed her left--the wet--hand back and forth through the air. With her dry hand, she picked up a congested ashtray from the window seat and carried it with her over to the night table, on which the phone stood. She sat down on one of the made-up twin beds and--it was the fifth or sixth ring--picked up the phone. "Hello," she said, keeping the fingers of her left hand outstretched and away from her white silk dressing gown, which was all that she was wearing, except mules--her rings were in the bathroom. "I have your call to New York now, Mrs. Glass," the operator said. "Thank you," said the girl, and made room on the night table for the ashtray. A woman's voice came through. "Muriel? Is that you?" The girl turned the receiver slightly away from her ear. "Yes, Mother. How are you?" she said. "I've been worried to death about you. Why haven't you phoned? Are you all right?" "I tried to get you last night and the night before. The phone here's been--" "Are you all right, Muriel?" The girl increased the angle between the receiver and her ear. "I'm fine. I'm hot. This is the hottest day they've had in Florida in--" "Why haven't you called me? I've been worried to--" "Mother, darling, don't yell at me. I can hear you beautifully," said the girl. "I called you twice last night. Once just after--" "I told your father you'd probably call last night. But, no, he had to-Are you all right, Muriel? Tell me the truth." "I'm fine. Stop asking me that, please." "When did you get there?" "I don't know. Wednesday morning, early." "Who drove?" "He did," said the girl. "And don't get excited. He drove very nicely. I was amazed." "He drove? Muriel, you gave me your word of--" "Mother," the girl interrupted, "I just told you. He drove very nicely. Under fifty the whole way, as a matter of fact." "Did he try any of that funny business with the trees?" "I said he drove very nicely, Mother. Now, please. I asked him to stay close to the white line, and all, and he knew what I meant, and he did. He was even trying not to look at the trees-you could tell. Did Daddy get the car fixed, incidentally?" "Not yet. They want four hundred dollars, just to--" "Mother, Seymour told Daddy that he'd pay for it. There's no reason for--" "Well, we'll see. How did he behave--in the car and all?" "All right," said the girl. "Did he keep calling you that awful--" "No. He has something new now." "What?" "Oh, what's the difference, Mother?" "Muriel, I want to know. Your father--" "All right, all right. He calls me Miss Spiritual Tramp of 1948," the girl said, and giggled. "It isn't funny, Muriel. It isn't funny at all. It's horrible. It's sad, actually. When I think how--" "Mother," the girl interrupted, "listen to me. You remember that book he sent me from Germany? You know--those German poems. What'd I do with it? I've been racking my--" "You have it." "Are you sure?" said the girl. "Certainly. That is, I have it. It's in Freddy's room. You left it here and I didn't have room for it in the--Why? Does he want it?" "No. Only, he asked me about it, when we were driving down. He wanted to know if I'd read it." "It was in German!" "Yes, dear. That doesn't make any difference," said the girl, crossing her legs. "He said that the poems happen to be written by the only great poet of the century. He said I should've bought a translation or something. Or learned the language, if you please." "Awful. Awful. It's sad, actually, is what it is. Your father said last night--" "Just a second, Mother," the girl said. She went over to the window seat for her cigarettes, lit one, and returned to her seat on the bed. "Mother?" she said, exhaling smoke. "Muriel. Now, listen to me." "I'm listening." "Your father talked to Dr. Sivetski." "Oh?" said the girl. "He told him everything. At least, he said he did--you know your father. The trees. That business with the window. Those horrible things he said to Granny about her plans for passing away. What he did with all those lovely pictures from Bermuda--everything." "Well?" said the girl. "Well. In the first place, he said it was a perfect crime the Army released him from the hospital--my word of honor. He very definitely told your father there's a chance--a very great chance, he said--that Seymour may completely lose control of himself. My word of honor." "There's a psychiatrist here at the hotel," said the girl. "Who? What's his name?" "I don't know. Rieser or something. He's supposed to be very good." "Never heard of him." "Well, he's supposed to be very good, anyway." "Muriel, don't be fresh, please. We're very worried about you. Your father wanted to wire you last night to come home, as a matter of f--" "I'm not coming home right now, Mother. So relax." "Muriel. My word of honor. Dr. Sivetski said Seymour may completely lose contr--" "I just got here, Mother. This is the first vacation I've had in years, and I'm not going to just pack everything and come home," said the girl. "I couldn't travel now anyway. I'm so sunburned I can hardly move." "You're badly sunburned? Didn't you use that jar of Bronze I put in your bag? I put it right--" "I used it. I'm burned anyway." "That's terrible. Where are you burned?" "All over, dear, all over." "That's terrible." "I'll live." "Tell me, did you talk to this psychiatrist?" "Well, sort of," said the girl. "What'd he say? Where was Seymour when you talked to him?" "In the Ocean Room, playing the piano. He's played the piano both nights we've been here." "Well, what'd he say?" "Oh, nothing much. He spoke to me first. I was sitting next to him at Bingo last night, and he asked me if that wasn't my husband playing the piano in the other room. I said yes, it was, and he asked me if Seymour's been sick or something. So I said--" "Why'd he ask that?" "I don't know, Mother. I guess because he's so pale and all," said the girl. "Anyway, after Bingo he and his wife asked me if I wouldn't like to join them for a drink. So I did. His wife was horrible. You remember that awful dinner dress we saw in Bonwit's window? The one you said you'd have to have a tiny, tiny--" "The green?" "She had it on. And all hips. She kept asking me if Seymour's related to that Suzanne Glass that has that place on Madison Avenue--the millinery." "What'd he say, though? The doctor." "Oh. Well, nothing much, really. I mean we were in the bar and all. It was terribly noisy." "Yes, but did--did you tell him what he tried to do with Granny's chair?" "No, Mother. I didn't go into details very much," said the girl. "I'll probably get a chance to talk to him again. He's in the bar all day long." "Did he say he thought there was a chance he might get--you know--funny or anything? Do something to you!" "Not exactly," said the girl. "He had to have more facts, Mother. They have to know about your childhood--all that stuff. I told you, we could hardly talk, it was so noisy in there." "Well. How's your blue coat?" "All right. I had some of the padding taken out." "How are the clothes this year?" "Terrible. But out of this world. You see sequins--everything," said the girl. "How's your room?" "All right. Just all right, though. We couldn't get the room we had before the war," said the girl. "The people are awful this year. You should see what sits next to us in the dining room. At the next table. They look as if they drove down in a truck." "Well, it's that way all over. How's your ballerina?" "It's too long. I told you it was too long." "Muriel, I'm only going to ask you once more--are you really all right?" "Yes, Mother," said the girl. "For the ninetieth time." "And you don't want to come home?" "No, Mother." "Your father said last night that he'd be more than willing to pay for it if you'd go away someplace by yourself and think things over. You could take a lovely cruise. We both thought--" "No, thanks," said the girl, and uncrossed her legs. "Mother, this call is costing a for--" "When I think of how you waited for that boy all through the war-I mean when you think of all those crazy little wives who--" "Mother," said the girl, "we'd better hang up. Seymour may come in any minute." "Where is he?" "On the beach." "On the beach? By himself? Does he behave himself on the beach?" "Mother," said the girl, "you talk about him as though he were a raving maniac--" "I said nothing of the kind, Muriel." "Well, you sound that way. I mean all he does is lie there. He won't take his bathrobe off." "He won't take his bathrobe off? Why not?" "I don't know. I guess because he's so pale." "My goodness, he needs the sun. Can't you make him? "You know Seymour," said the girl, and crossed her legs again. "He says he doesn't want a lot of fools looking at his tattoo." "He doesn't have any tattoo! Did he get one in the Army?" "No, Mother. No, dear," said the girl, and stood up. "Listen, I'll call you tomorrow, maybe." "Muriel. Now, listen to me." "Yes, Mother," said the girl, putting her weight on her right leg. "Call me the instant he does, or says, anything at all funny--you know what I mean. Do you hear me?" "Mother, I'm not afraid of Seymour." "Muriel, I want you to promise me." "All right, I promise. Goodbye, Mother," said the girl. "My love to Daddy." She hung up. "See more glass," said Sybil Carpenter, who was staying at the hotel with her mother. "Did you see more glass?" "Pussycat, stop saying that. It's driving Mommy absolutely crazy. Hold still, please." Mrs. Carpenter was putting sun-tan oil on Sybil's shoulders, spreading it down over the delicate, winglike blades of her back. Sybil was sitting insecurely on a huge, inflated beach ball, facing the ocean. She was wearing a canary-yellow two-piece bathing suit, one piece of which she would not actually be needing for another nine or ten years. "It was really just an ordinary silk handkerchief--you could see when you got up close," said the woman in the beach chair beside Mrs. Carpenter's. "I wish I knew how she tied it. It was really darling." "It sounds darling," Mrs. Carpenter agreed. "Sybil, hold still, pussy." "Did you see more glass?" said Sybil. Mrs. Carpenter sighed. "All right," she said. She replaced the cap on the sun-tan oil bottle. "Now run and play, pussy. Mommy's going up to the hotel and have a Martini with Mrs. Hubbel. I'll bring you the olive." Set loose, Sybil immediately ran down to the flat part of the beach and began to walk in the direction of Fisherman's Pavilion. Stopping only to sink a foot in a soggy, collapsed castle, she was soon out of the area reserved for guests of the hotel. She walked for about a quarter of a mile and then suddenly broke into an oblique run up the soft part of the beach. She stopped short when she reached the place where a young man was lying on his back. "Are you going in the water, see more glass?" she said. The young man started, his right hand going to the lapels of his terry-cloth robe. He turned over on his stomach, letting a sausaged towel fall away from his eyes, and squinted up at Sybil. "Hey. Hello, Sybil." "Are you going in the water?" "I was waiting for you," said the young man. "What's new?" "What?" said Sybil. "What's new? What's on the program?" "My daddy's coming tomorrow on a nairiplane," Sybil said, kicking sand. "Not in my face, baby," the young man said, putting his hand on Sybil's ankle. "Well, it's about time he got here, your daddy. I've been expecting him hourly. Hourly." "Where's the lady?" Sybil said. "The lady?" the young man brushed some sand out of his thin hair. "That's hard to say, Sybil. She may be in any one of a thousand places. At the hairdresser's. Having her hair dyed mink. Or making dolls for poor children, in her room." Lying prone now, he made two fists, set one on top of the other, and rested his chin on the top one. "Ask me something else, Sybil," he said. "That's a fine bathing suit you have on. If there's one thing I like, it's a blue bathing suit." Sybil stared at him, then looked down at her protruding stomach. "This is a yellow," she said. "This is a yellow." "It is? Come a little closer." Sybil took a step forward. "You're absolutely right. What a fool I am." "Are you going in the water?" Sybil said. "I'm seriously considering it. I'm giving it plenty of thought, Sybil, you'll be glad to know." Sybil prodded the rubber float that the young man sometimes used as a head-rest. "It needs air," she said. "You're right. It needs more air than I'm willing to admit." He took away his fists and let his chin rest on the sand. "Sybil," he said, "you're looking fine. It's good to see you. Tell me about yourself." He reached in front of him and took both of Sybil's ankles in his hands. "I'm Capricorn," he said. "What are you?" "Sharon Lipschutz said you let her sit on the piano seat with you," Sybil said. "Sharon Lipschutz said that?" Sybil nodded vigorously. He let go of her ankles, drew in his hands, and laid the side of his face on his right forearm. "Well," he said, "you know how those things happen, Sybil. I was sitting there, playing. And you were nowhere in sight. And Sharon Lipschutz came over and sat down next to me. I couldn't push her off, could I?" "Yes." "Oh, no. No. I couldn't do that," said the young man. "I'll tell you what I did do, though." "What?" "I pretended she was you." Sybil immediately stooped and began to dig in the sand. "Let's go in the water," she said. "All right," said the young man. "I think I can work it in." "Next time, push her off," Sybil said. "Push who off?" "Sharon Lipschutz." "Ah, Sharon Lipschutz," said the young man. "How that name comes up. Mixing memory and desire." He suddenly got to his feet. He looked at the ocean. "Sybil," he said, "I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll see if we can catch a bananafish." "A what?" "A bananafish," he said, and undid the belt of his robe. He took off the robe. His shoulders were white and narrow, and his trunks were royal blue. He folded the robe, first lengthwise, then in thirds. He unrolled the towel he had used over his eyes, spread it out on the sand, and then laid the folded robe on top of it. He bent over, picked up the float, and secured it under his right arm. Then, with his left hand, he took Sybil's hand. The two started to walk down to the ocean. "I imagine you've seen quite a few bananafish in your day," the young man said. Sybil shook her head. "You haven't? Where do you live, anyway?" "I don't know," said Sybil. "Sure you know. You must know. Sharon Lipschutz knows where she lives and she's only three and a half." Sybil stopped walking and yanked her hand away from him. She picked up an ordinary beach shell and looked at it with elaborate interest. She threw it down. "Whirly Wood, Connecticut," she said, and resumed walking, stomach foremost. "Whirly Wood, Connecticut," said the young man. "Is that anywhere near Whirly Wood, Connecticut, by any chance?" Sybil looked at him. "That's where I live," she said impatiently. "I live in Whirly Wood, Connecticut." She ran a few steps ahead of him, caught up her left foot in her left hand, and hopped two or three times. "You have no idea how clear that makes everything," the young man said. Sybil released her foot. "Did you read `Little Black Sambo'?" she said. "It's very funny you ask me that," he said. "It so happens I just finished reading it last night." He reached down and took back Sybil's hand. "What did you think of it?" he asked her. "Did the tigers run all around that tree?" "I thought they'd never stop. I never saw so many tigers." "There were only six," Sybil said. "Only six!" said the young man. "Do you call that only?" "Do you like wax?" Sybil asked. "Do I like what?" asked the young man. "Wax." "Very much. Don't you?" Sybil nodded. "Do you like olives?" she asked. "Olives--yes. Olives and wax. I never go anyplace without 'em." "Do you like Sharon Lipschutz?" Sybil asked. "Yes. Yes, I do," said the young man. "What I like particularly about her is that she never does anything mean to little dogs in the lobby of the hotel. That little toy bull that belongs to that lady from Canada, for instance. You probably won't believe this, but some little girls like to poke that little dog with balloon sticks. Sharon doesn't. She's never mean or unkind. That's why I like her so much." Sybil was silent. "I like to chew candles," she said finally. "Who doesn't?" said the young man, getting his feet wet. "Wow! It's cold." He dropped the rubber float on its back. "No, wait just a second, Sybil. Wait'll we get out a little bit." They waded out till the water was up to Sybil's waist. Then the young man picked her up and laid her down on her stomach on the float. "Don't you ever wear a bathing cap or anything?" he asked. "Don't let go," Sybil ordered. "You hold me, now." "Miss Carpenter. Please. I know my business," the young man said. "You just keep your eyes open for any bananafish. This is a perfect day for bananafish." "I don't see any," Sybil said. "That's understandable. Their habits are very peculiar." He kept pushing the float. The water was not quite up to his chest. "They lead a very tragic life," he said. "You know what they do, Sybil?" She shook her head. "Well, they swim into a hole where there's a lot of bananas. They're very ordinary-looking fish when they swim in. But once they get in, they behave like pigs. Why, I've known some bananafish to swim into a banana hole and eat as many as seventy-eight bananas." He edged the float and its passenger a foot closer to the horizon. "Naturally, after that they're so fat they can't get out of the hole again. Can't fit through the door." "Not too far out," Sybil said. "What happens to them?" "What happens to who?" "The bananafish." "Oh, you mean after they eat so many bananas they can't get out of the banana hole?" "Yes," said Sybil. "Well, I hate to tell you, Sybil. They die." "Why?" asked Sybil. "Well, they get banana fever. It's a terrible disease." "Here comes a wave," Sybil said nervously. "We'll ignore it. We'll snub it," said the young man. "Two snobs." He took Sybil's ankles in his hands and pressed down and forward. The float nosed over the top of the wave. The water soaked Sybil's blond hair, but her scream was full of pleasure. With her hand, when the float was level again, she wiped away a flat, wet band of hair from her eyes, and reported, "I just saw one." "Saw what, my love?" "A bananafish." "My God, no!" said the young man. "Did he have any bananas in his mouth?" "Yes," said Sybil. "Six." The young man suddenly picked up one of Sybil's wet feet, which were drooping over the end of the float, and kissed the arch. "Hey!" said the owner of the foot, turning around. "Hey, yourself We're going in now. You had enough?" "No!" "Sorry," he said, and pushed the float toward shore until Sybil got off it. He carried it the rest of the way. "Goodbye," said Sybil, and ran without regret in the direction of the hotel. The young man put on his robe, closed the lapels tight, and jammed his towel into his pocket. He picked up the slimy wet, cumbersome float and put it under his arm. He plodded alone through the soft, hot sand toward the hotel. On the sub-main floor of the hotel, which the management directed bathers to use, a woman with zinc salve on her nose got into the elevator with the young man. "I see you're looking at my feet," he said to her when the car was in motion. "I beg your pardon?" said the woman. "I said I see you're looking at my feet." "I beg your pardon. I happened to be looking at the floor," said the woman, and faced the doors of the car. "If you want to look at my feet, say so," said the young man. "But don't be a God-damned sneak about it." "Let me out here, please," the woman said quickly to the girl operating the car. The car doors opened and the woman got out without looking back. "I have two normal feet and I can't see the slightest God-damned reason why anybody should stare at them," said the young man. "Five, please." He took his room key out of his robe pocket. He got off at the fifth floor, walked down the hall, and let himself into 507. The room smelled of new calfskin luggage and nail-lacquer remover. He glanced at the girl lying asleep on one of the twin beds. Then he went over to one of the pieces of luggage, opened it, and from under a pile of shorts and undershirts he took out an Ortgies calibre 7.65 automatic. He released the magazine, looked at it, then reinserted it. He cocked the piece. Then he went over and sat down on the unoccupied twin bed, looked at the girl, aimed the pistol, and fired a bullet through his right temple.
Read Ernie Cline's Ready Player One this weekend. Hugely enjoyable geeky fun!
What I Believe by J. G. Ballard
I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world, to release the truth within us, to hold back the night, to transcend death, to charm motorways, to ingratiate ourselves with birds, to enlist the confidences of madmen.
I believe in my own obsessions, in the beauty of the car crash, in the peace of the submerged forest, in the excitements of the deserted holiday beach, in the elegance of automobile graveyards, in the mystery of multi-storey car parks, in the poetry of abandoned hotels.
I believe in the forgotten runways of Wake Island, pointing towards the Pacifics of our imaginations.
I believe in the mysterious beauty of Margaret Thatcher, in the arch of her nostrils and the sheen on her lower lip; in the melancholy of wounded Argentine conscripts; in the haunted smiles of filling station personnel; in my dream of Margaret Thatcher caressed by that young Argentine soldier in a forgotten motel watched by a tubercular filling station attendant.
I believe in the beauty of all women, in the treachery of their imaginations, so close to my heart; in the junction of their disenchanted bodies with the enchanted chromium rails of supermarket counters; in their warm tolerance of my perversions.
I believe in the death of tomorrow, in the exhaustion of time, in our search for a new time within the smiles of auto-route waitresses and the tired eyes of air-traffic controllers at out-of-season airports.
I believe in the genital organs of great men and women, in the body postures of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Princess Di, in the sweet odors emanating from their lips as they regard the cameras of the entire world.
I believe in madness, in the truth of the inexplicable, in the common sense of stones, in the lunacy of flowers, in the disease stored up for the human race by the Apollo astronauts.
I believe in nothing.
I believe in Max Ernst, Delvaux, Dali, Titian, Goya, Leonardo, Vermeer, Chirico, Magritte, Redon, Duerer, Tanguy, the Facteur Cheval, the Watts Towers, Boecklin, Francis Bacon, and all the invisible artists within the psychiatric institutions of the planet.
I believe in the impossibility of existence, in the humour of mountains, in the absurdity of electromagnetism, in the farce of geometry, in the cruelty of arithmetic, in the murderous intent of logic.
I believe in adolescent women, in their corruption by their own leg stances, in the purity of their disheveled bodies, in the traces of their pudenda left in the bathrooms of shabby motels.
I believe in flight, in the beauty of the wing, and in the beauty of everything that has ever flown, in the stone thrown by a small child that carries with it the wisdom of statesmen and midwives.
I believe in the gentleness of the surgeon’s knife, in the limitless geometry of the cinema screen, in the hidden universe within supermarkets, in the loneliness of the sun, in the garrulousness of planets, in the repetitiveness or ourselves, in the inexistence of the universe and the boredom of the atom.
I believe in the light cast by video-recorders in department store windows, in the messianic insights of the radiator grilles of showroom automobiles, in the elegance of the oil stains on the engine nacelles of 747s parked on airport tarmacs.
I believe in the non-existence of the past, in the death of the future, and the infinite possibilities of the present.
I believe in the derangement of the senses: in Rimbaud, William Burroughs, Huysmans, Genet, Celine, Swift, Defoe, Carroll, Coleridge, Kafka.
I believe in the designers of the Pyramids, the Empire State Building, the Berlin Fuehrerbunker, the Wake Island runways.
I believe in the body odors of Princess Di.
I believe in the next five minutes.
I believe in the history of my feet.
I believe in migraines, the boredom of afternoons, the fear of calendars, the treachery of clocks.
I believe in anxiety, psychosis and despair.
I believe in the perversions, in the infatuations with trees, princesses, prime ministers, derelict filling stations (more beautiful than the Taj Mahal), clouds and birds.
I believe in the death of the emotions and the triumph of the imagination.
I believe in Tokyo, Benidorm, La Grande Motte, Wake Island, Eniwetok, Dealey Plaza.
I believe in alcoholism, venereal disease, fever and exhaustion.
I believe in pain.
I believe in despair.
I believe in all children.
I believe in maps, diagrams, codes, chess-games, puzzles, airline timetables, airport indicator signs.
I believe all excuses.
I believe all reasons.
I believe all hallucinations.
I believe all anger.
I believe all mythologies, memories, lies, fantasies, evasions.
I believe in the mystery and melancholy of a hand, in the kindness of trees, in the wisdom of light.
Another literary obsession. Having read all his other novels I am now reading Houellebecq's The Map and the Territory. Here is a review. I don't mind that his plots are always a bit tenuous, it's his always controversial ideas and jaundiced philosophy that keep drawing me back time and again. On a side note I wonder if Barbara Kruger designed the English paperback cover?
One of my literary obsessions. I don't understand why Magnus Mill isn't huge as he is surely one of the most unique and distinctive voices in contemporary fiction. Every single one of his books is worthy. The only reason I don't own Screwtop Thompson, yet, is that I heard most of the stories appear in his other two, out of print, collections (which are available for ridiculously low prices on Amazon's 2nd hand store). Recommended.
The Imp Of The Perverse by Edgar Allan Poe
In the consideration of the faculties and impulses – of the prima mobilia of the human soul, the phrenologists have failed to make room for a propensity which, although obviously existing as a radical, primitive, irreducible sentiment, has been equally overlooked by all the moralists who have preceded them. In the pure arrogance of the reason, we have all overlooked it. We have suffered its existence to escape our senses solely through want of belief – of faith; – whether it be faith in Revelation, or faith in the Kabbala. The idea of it has never occurred to us, simply because of its seeming supererogation. We saw no need of the impulse – for the propensity. We could not perceive its necessity. We could not understand, that is to say, we could not have understood, had the notion of this primum mobile ever obtruded itself; – we could not have understood in what manner it might be made to further the objects of humanity, either temporal or eternal. It cannot be denied that phrenology, and in great measure, all metaphysicianism, have been concocted à priori. The intellectual or logical man, rather than the understanding or observant man, set himself to imagine designs – to dictate purposes to God. Having thus fathomed to his satisfaction, the intentions of Jehovah, out of these intentions he built his innumerable systems of mind. In the matter of phrenology, for example, we first determined, naturally enough, that it was the design of the Deity that man should eat. We then assigned to man an organ of alimentiveness, and this organ is the scourge with which the Deity compels man, will-I nill-I, into eating. Secondly, having settled it to be God's will that man should continue his species, we discovered an organ of amativeness, forthwith. And so with combativeness, with ideality, with causality, with constructiveness, – so, in short, with every organ, whether representing a propensity, a moral sentiment, or a faculty of the pure intellect. And in these arrangements of the principia of human action, the Spurzheimites, whether right or wrong, in part, or upon the whole, have but followed, in principle, the footsteps of their predecessors; deducing and establishing everything from the preconceived destiny of man, and upon the ground of the objects of this Creator.
It would have been wiser, it would have been safer to classify, (if classify we must,) upon the basis of what man usually or occasionally did, and was always occasionally doing, rather than upon the basis of what we took it for granted the Deity intended him to do. If we cannot comprehend God in his visible works, how then in his inconceivable thoughts, that call the works into being? If we cannot understand him in his objective creatures, how then in his substantive moods and phases of creation?
Induction, à posteriori, would have brought phrenology to admit, as an innate and primitive principle of human action, a paradoxical something, which we may call perverseness, for want of a more characteristic term. In the sense I intend, it is, in fact, a mobile without motive, a motive not motivirt. Through its promptings we act without comprehensible object; or, if this shall be understood as a contradiction in terms, we may so far modify the proposition as to say, that through its promptings we act, for the reason that we should not. In theory, no reason can be more unreasonable; but, in fact, there is none more strong. With certain minds, under certain conditions, it becomes absolutely irresistible. I am not more certain that I breathe, than that the assurance of the wrong or error of any action is often the one unconquerable force which impels us, and alone impels us to its prosecution. Nor will this overwhelming tendency to do wrong for the wrong's sake, admit of analysis, or resolution into ulterior elements. It is a radical, a primitive impulse – elementary. It will be said, I am aware, that when we persist in acts because we feel we should not persist in them, our conduct is but a modification of that which ordinarily springs from the combativeness of phrenology. But a glance will show the fallacy of this idea. The phrenological combativeness has for its essence, the necessity of self-defence. It is our safeguard against injury. Its principle regards our well-being; and thus the desire to be well, is excited simultaneously with its development. It follows, that the desire to be well must be excited simultaneously with any principle which shall be merely a modification of combativeness, but in the case of that something which I term perverseness, the desire to be well is not only not aroused, but a strongly antagonistical sentiment exists.
An appeal to one's own heart is, after all, the best reply to the sophistry just noticed. No one who trustingly consults and thoroughly questions his own soul, will be disposed to deny the entire radicalness of the propensity in question. It is not more incomprehensible than distinctive. There lives no man who at some period, has not been tormented, for example, by an earnest desire to tantalize a listener by circumlocution. The speaker is aware that he displeases; he has every intention to please; he is usually curt, precise, and clear; the most laconic and luminous language is struggling for utterance upon his tongue; it is only with difficulty that he restrains himself from giving it flow; he dreads and deprecates the anger of him whom he addresses; yet, the thought strikes him, that by certain involutions and parentheses, this anger may be engendered. That single thought is enough. The impulse increases to a wish, the wish to a desire, the desire to an uncontrollable longing, and the longing (to the deep regret and mortification of the speaker, and in defiance of all consequences,) is indulged.
We have a task before us which must be speedily performed. We know that it will be ruinous to make delay. The most important crisis of our life calls, trumpet-tongued, for immediate energy and action. We glow, we are consumed with eagerness to commence the work, with the anticipation of whose glorious result our whole souls are on fire. It must, it shall be undertaken to-day, and yet we put it off until to-morrow; and why? There is no answer, except that we feel perverse, using the word with no comprehension of the principle. To-morrow arrives, and with it a more impatient anxiety to do our duty, but with this very increase of anxiety arrives, also, a nameless, a positively fearful, because unfathomable, craving for delay. This craving gathers strength as the moments fly. The last hour for action is at hand. We tremble with the violence of the conflict within us, – of the definite with the indefinite – of the substance with the shadow. But, if the contest has proceeded thus far, it is the shadow which prevails, – we struggle in vain. The clock strikes, and is the knell of our welfare. At the same time, it is the chanticleer-note to the ghost that has so long over-awed us. It flies – it disappears – we are free. The old energy returns. We will labour now. Alas, it is too late!
We stand upon the brink of a precipice. We peer into the abyss – we grow sick and dizzy. Our first impulse is to shrink from the danger. Unaccountably we remain. By slow degrees our sickness, and dizziness, and horror, become merged in a cloud of unnameable feeling. By gradations, still more imperceptible, this cloud assumes shape, as did the vapor from the bottle out of which arose the genius in the Arabian Nights. But out of this our cloud upon the precipice's edge, there grows into palpability, a shape, far more terrible than any genius, or any demon of a tale, and yet it is but a thought, although a fearful one, and one which chills the very marrow of our bones with the fierceness of the delight of its horror. It is merely the idea of what would be our sensations during the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height. And this fall – this rushing annihilation – for the very reason that it involves that one most ghastly and loathsome of all the most ghastly and loathsome images of death and suffering which have ever presented themselves to our imagination – for this very cause do we now the most vividly desire it. And because our reason violently deters us from the brink, therefore, do we the more impetuously approach it. There is no passion in nature so demoniacally impatient, as that of him, who shuddering upon the edge of a precipice, thus meditates a plunge. To indulge for a moment, in any attempt at thought, is to be inevitably lost; for reflection but urges us to forbear, and therefore it is, I say, that we cannot. If there be no friendly arm to check us, or if we fail in a sudden effort to prostrate ourselves backward from the abyss, we plunge, and are destroyed.
Examine these and similar actions as we will, we shall find them resulting solely from the spirit of the Perverse. We perpetrate them merely because we feel that we should not. Beyond or behind this, there is no intelligible principle. And we might, indeed, deem this perverseness a direct instigation of the Arch-Fiend, were it not occasionally known to operate in furtherance of good.
I have said thus much, that in some measure I may answer your question, that I may explain to you why I am here, that I may assign to you something that shall have at least the faint aspect of a cause for my wearing these fetters, and for my tenanting this cell of the condemned. Had I not been thus prolix, you might either have misunderstood me altogether; or with the rabble, you might have fancied me mad. As it is, you will easily perceive that I am one of the many uncounted victims of the Imp of the Perverse.
It is impossible that any deed could have been wrought with a more thorough deliberation. For weeks, for months, I pondered upon the means of the murder. I rejected a thousand schemes, because their accomplishment involved a chance of detection. At length, in reading some French Memoirs, I found an account of a nearly fatal illness that occurred to Madame Pilau, through the agency of a candle accidentally poisoned. The idea struck my fancy at once. I knew my victim's habit of reading in bed. I knew, too, that his apartment was narrow and ill ventilated. But I need not vex you with impertinent details. I need not describe the easy artifices by which I substituted, in his bed-room candlestand, a wax-light of my own making, for the one which I there found. The next morning he was discovered dead in his bed, and the Coroner's verdict was, ‘Death by the visitation of God’.
Having inherited his estate, all went well with me for years. The idea of detection never once entered my brain. Of the remains of the fatal taper, I had myself carefully disposed. I had left no shadow of a clue by which it would be possible to convict, or even to suspect me of the crime. It is inconceivable how rich a sentiment of satisfaction arose in my bosom as I reflected upon my absolute security. For a very long period of time, I was accustomed to revel in this sentiment. It afforded me more real delight than all the mere worldly advantages accruing from my sin. But there arrived at length an epoch, from which the pleasurable feeling grew, by scarcely perceptible gradations, into a haunting and harassing thought. It harassed because it haunted. I could scarcely get rid of it for an instant. It is quite a common thing to be thus annoyed with the ringing in our ears, or rather in our memories, of the burthen of some ordinary song, or some unimpressive snatches from an opera. Nor will we be the less tormented if the song in itself be good, or the opera air meritorious. In this manner, at last, I would perpetually catch myself pondering upon my security, and repeating, in a low, undertone, the phrase, “I am safe.”
One day, whilst sauntering along the streets, I arrested myself in the act of murmuring, half aloud, these customary syllables. In a fit of petulance, I remodelled them thus: – “I am safe – I am safe – yes – if I be not fool enough to make open confession!”
No sooner had I spoken these words, than I felt an icy chill creep to my heart. I had had some experience in these fits of perversity, whose nature I have been at some trouble to explain, and I remembered well, that in no instance, I had successfully resisted their attacks. And now my own casual self-suggestion, that I might possibly be fool enough to confess the murder of which I had been guilty, confronted me, as if the very ghost of him whom I had murdered – and beckoned me on to death.
At first, I made an effort to shake off this nightmare of the soul. I walked vigorously – faster – still faster – at length I ran. I felt a maddening desire to shriek aloud. Every succeeding wave of thought overwhelmed me with new terror, for, alas! I well, too well understood that, to think, in my situation, was to be lost. I still quickened my pace. I bounded like a madman through the crowded thoroughfares. At length, the populace took the alarm, and pursued me. I felt then the consummation of my fate. Could I have torn out my tongue, I would have done it, but a rough voice resounded in my ears – a rougher grasp seized me by the shoulder. I turned – I gasped for breath. For a moment, I experienced all the pangs of suffocation; I became blind, and deaf, and giddy; and then, some invisible fiend, I thought, struck me with his broad palm upon the back. The longimprisoned secret burst forth from my soul.
They say that I spoke with a distinct enunciation, but with marked emphasis, and passionate hurry, as if in dread of interruption before concluding the brief, but pregnant sentences that consigned me to the hangman, and to hell.
Having related all that was necessary for the fullest judicial conviction, I fell prostrate in a swoon.
But why shall I say more? To-day I wear these chains, and am here! To-morrow I shall be fetterless! – but where?
Currently reading J. G. Ballard's first novel The Wind From Nowhere. He disowned the novel and it's currently out of print but it seems a heavy handed decision as, from what I have read so far, there was nothing to be embarrassed about. The book's cover design was done by legendary Penguin Art Director David Pelham. Some of his other famous covers are below.
I love the novels of Richmond Fontaine singer Willy Vlautin. They remind me of both John Steinbeck and S. E. Hinton which is high praise. The Richmond Fontaine song embedded below pretty much sums up the sentiment expressed in his written work. Worthy.
The Most Beautiful Woman in Town by Bukowski
Cass was the youngest and most beautiful of 5 sisters. Cass was the most beautiful girl in town. 1/2 Indian with a supple and strange body, a snake-like and fiery body with eyes to go with it. Cass was fluid moving fire. She was like a spirit stuck into a form that would not hold her. Her hair was black and long and silken and whirled about as did her body. Her spirit was either very high or very low. There was no in between for Cass. Some said she was crazy. The dull ones said that. The dull ones would never understand Cass. To the men she was simply a sex machine and they didn't care whether she was crazy or not. And Cass danced and flirted, kissed the men, but except for an instance or two, when it came time to make it with Cass, Cass had somehow slipped away, eluded the men. Her sisters accused her of misusing her beauty, of not using her mind enough, but Cass had mind and spirit; she painted, she danced, she sang, she made things of clay, and when people were hurt either in the spirit or the flesh, Cass felt a deep grieving for them. Her mind was simply different; her mind was simply not practical. Her sisters were jealous of her because she attracted their men, and they were angry because they felt she didn't make the best use of them. She had a habit of being kind to the uglier ones; the so-called handsome men revolted her- "No guts," she said, "no zap. They are riding on their perfect little earlobes and well- shaped nostrils...all surface and no insides..." She had a temper that came close to insanity, she had a temper that some call insanity. Her father had died of alcohol and her mother had run off leaving the girls alone. The girls went to a relative who placed them in a convent. The convent had been an unhappy place, more for Cass than the sisters. The girls were jealous of Cass and Cass fought most of them. She had razor marks all along her left arm from defending herself in two fights. There was also a permanent scar along the left cheek but the scar rather than lessening her beauty only seemed to highlight it. I met her at the West End Bar several nights after her release from the convent. Being youngest, she was the last of the sisters to be released. She simply came in and sat next to me. I was probably the ugliest man in town and this might have had something to do with it. "Drink?" I asked. "Sure, why not?" I don't suppose there was anything unusual in our conversation that night, it was simply in the feeling Cass gave. She had chosen me and it was as simple as that. No pressure. She liked her drinks and had a great number of them. She didn't seem quite of age but they served he anyhow. Perhaps she had forged i.d., I don't know. Anyhow, each time she came back from the restroom and sat down next to me, I did feel some pride. She was not only the most beautiful woman in town but also one of the most beautiful I had ever seen. I placed my arm about her waist and kissed her once. "Do you think I'm pretty?" she asked. "Yes, of course, but there's something else... there's more than your looks..." "People are always accusing me of being pretty. Do you really think I'm pretty?" "Pretty isn't the word, it hardly does you fair." Cass reached into her handbag. I thought she was reaching for her handkerchief. She came out with a long hatpin. Before I could stop her she had run this long hatpin through her nose, sideways, just above the nostrils. I felt disgust and horror. She looked at me and laughed, "Now do you think me pretty? What do you think now, man?" I pulled the hatpin out and held my handkerchief over the bleeding. Several people, including the bartender, had seen the act. The bartender came down: "Look," he said to Cass, "you act up again and you're out. We don't need your dramatics here." "Oh, fuck you, man!" she said. "Better keep her straight," the bartender said to me. "She'll be all right," I said. "It's my nose, I can do what I want with my nose." "No," I said, "it hurts me." "You mean it hurts you when I stick a pin in my nose?" "Yes, it does, I mean it." "All right, I won't do it again. Cheer up." She kissed me, rather grinning through the kiss and holding the handkerchief to her nose. We left for my place at closing time. I had some beer and we sat there talking. It was then that I got the perception of her as a person full of kindness and caring. She gave herself away without knowing it. At the same time she would leap back into areas of wildness and incoherence. Schitzi. A beautiful and spiritual schitzi. Perhaps some man, something, would ruin her forever. I hoped that it wouldn't be me. We went to bed and after I turned out the lights Cass asked me, "When do you want it? Now or in the morning?" "In the morning," I said and turned my back. In the morning I got up and made a couple of coffees, brought her one in bed. She laughed. "You're the first man who has turned it down at night." "It's o.k.," I said, "we needn't do it at all." "No, wait, I want to now. Let me freshen up a bit." Cass went into the bathroom. She came out shortly, looking quite wonderful, her long black hair glistening, her eyes and lips glistening, her glistening... She displayed her body calmly, as a good thing. She got under the sheet. "Come on, lover man." I got in. She kissed with abandon but without haste. I let my hands run over her body, through her hair. I mounted. It was hot, and tight. I began to stroke slowly, wanting to make it last. Her eyes looked directly into mine. "What's your name?" I asked. "What the hell difference does it make?" she asked. I laughed and went on ahead. Afterwards she dressed and I drove her back to the bar but she was difficult to forget. I wasn't working and I slept until 2 p.m. then got up and read the paper. I was in the bathtub when she came in with a large leaf- an elephant ear. "I knew you'd be in the bathtub," she said, "so I brought you something to cover that thing with, nature boy." She threw the elephant leaf down on me in the bathtub. "How did you know I'd be in the tub?" "I knew." Almost every day Cass arrived when I was in the tub. The times were different but she seldom missed, and there was the elephant leaf. And then we'd make love. One or two nights she phoned and I had to bail her out of jail for drunkenness and fighting. "These sons of bitches," she said, "just because they buy you a few drinks they think they can get into your pants." "Once you accept a drink you create your own trouble." "I thought they were interested in me, not just my body." "I'm interested in you and your body. I doubt, though, that most men can see beyond your body." I left town for 6 months, bummed around, came back. I had never forgotten Cass, but we'd had some type of argument and I felt like moving anyhow, and when I got back i figured she'd be gone, but I had been sitting in the West End Bar about 30 minutes when she walked in and sat down next to me. "Well, bastard, I see you've come back." I ordered her a drink. Then I looked at her. She had on a high- necked dress. I had never seen her in one of those. And under each eye, driven in, were 2 pins with glass heads. All you could see were the heads of the pins, but the pins were driven down into her face. "God damn you, still trying to destroy your beauty, eh?" "No, it's the fad, you fool." "You're crazy." "I've missed you," she said. "Is there anybody else?" "No there isn't anybody else. Just you. But I'm hustling. It costs ten bucks. But you get it free." "Pull those pins out." "No, it's the fad." "It's making me very unhappy." "Are you sure?" "Hell yes, I'm sure." Cass slowly pulled the pins out and put them back in her purse. "Why do you haggle your beauty?" I asked. "Why don't you just live with it?" "Because people think it's all I have. Beauty is nothing, beauty won't stay. You don't know how lucky you are to be ugly, because if people like you you know it's for something else." "O.k.," I said, "I'm lucky." "I don't mean you're ugly. People just think you're ugly. You have a fascinating face." "Thanks." We had another drink. "What are you doing?" she asked. "Nothing. I can't get on to anything. No interest." "Me neither. If you were a woman you could hustle." "I don't think I could ever make contact with that many strangers, it's wearing." "You're right, it's wearing, everything is wearing." We left together. People still stared at Cass on the streets. She was a beautiful woman, perhaps more beautiful than ever. We made it to my place and I opened a bottle of wine and we talked. With Cass and I, it always came easy. She talked a while and I would listen and then i would talk. Our conversation simply went along without strain. We seemed to discover secrets together. When we discovered a good one Cass would laugh that laugh- only the way she could. It was like joy out of fire. Through the talking we kissed and moved closer together. We became quite heated and decided to go to bed. It was then that Cass took off her high -necked dress and I saw it- the ugly jagged scar across her throat. It was large and thick. "God damn you, woman," I said from the bed, "god damn you, what have you done? "I tried it with a broken bottle one night. Don't you like me any more? Am I still beautiful?" I pulled her down on the bed and kissed her. She pushed away and laughed, "Some men pay me ten and I undress and they don't want to do it. I keep the ten. It's very funny." "Yes," I said, "I can't stop laughing... Cass, bitch, I love you...stop destroying yourself; you're the most alive woman I've ever met." We kissed again. Cass was crying without sound. I could feel the tears. The long black hair lay beside me like a flag of death. We enjoined and made slow and somber and wonderful love. In the morning Cass was up making breakfast. She seemed quite calm and happy. She was singing. I stayed in bed and enjoyed her happiness. Finally she came over and shook me, "Up, bastard! Throw some cold water on your face and pecker and come enjoy the feast!" I drove her to the beach that day. It was a weekday and not yet summer so things were splendidly deserted. Beach bums in rags slept on the lawns above the sand. Others sat on stone benches sharing a lone bottle. The gulls whirled about, mindless yet distracted. Old ladies in their 70's and 80's sat on the benches and discussed selling real estate left behind by husbands long ago killed by the pace and stupidity of survival. For it all, there was peace in the air and we walked about and stretched on the lawns and didn't say much. It simply felt good being together. I bought a couple of sandwiches, some chips and drinks and we sat on the sand eating. Then I held Cass and we slept together about an hour. It was somehow better than lovemaking. There was flowing together without tension. When we awakened we drove back to my place and I cooked a dinner. After dinner I suggested to Cass that we shack together. She waited a long time, looking at me, then she slowly said, "No." I drove her back to the bar, bought her a drink and walked out. I found a job as a parker in a factory the next day and the rest of the week went to working. I was too tired to get about much but that Friday night I did get to the West End Bar. I sat and waited for Cass. Hours went by . After I was fairly drunk the bartender said to me, "I'm sorry about your girlfriend." "What is it?" I asked. "I'm sorry, didn't you know?" "No." "Suicide. She was buried yesterday." "Buried?" I asked. It seemed as though she would walk through the doorway at any moment. How could she be gone? "Her sisters buried her." "A suicide? Mind telling me how?" "She cut her throat." "I see. Give me another drink." I drank until closing time. Cass was the most beautiful of 5 sisters, the most beautiful in town. I managed to drive to my place and I kept thinking, I should have insisted she stay with me instead of accepting that "no." Everything about her had indicated that she had cared. I simply had been too offhand about it, lazy, too unconcerned. I deserved my death and hers. I was a dog. No, why blame the dogs? I got up and found a bottle of wine and drank from it heavily. Cass the most beautiful girl in town was dead at 20. Outside somebody honked their automobile horn. They were very loud and persistent. I sat the bottle down and screamed out: "GOD DAMN YOU, YOU SON OF A BITCH ,SHUT UP!" The night kept coming and there was nothing I could do.