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Teenage Hooker Became a Žižek Machine

By Richard Marshall.

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Katrina Palmer, The Dark Object, Book Works 2010

Wallace Stevens thought that Heidegger was Swiss, mistaking Fribourg for Frieburg, didn’t read anything by him and knew him as a myth rather than as a person. He thought philosophy was mythical, by which he meant something uncomplimentary when he said it, though he was a poet like Holderlin who thought ‘Poetically man dwells on this earth,’ and who in his ‘Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour’ wrote that, ‘… out of the central mind,/ We make a dwelling in the evening air,/ In which being there together is enough.’

I like the idea of an imagined doppleganger-Heidegger so references to Heidegger are to this Swiss version rather than the German Nazi-appointed rector of Frieburg University. Stevens is the great poet of the poetic dwelling time on earth, poised at a pitch between birth and death, as good a poet as Holderlin, and asking the same question as the German: what are times for in times of poverty? As he approached dying he wrote about Pascal as someone who cleaved to imagination as the delusion that might bring ‘ beauty, justice and happiness.’ Getting to the plain real needed analogy and imagination, ‘ his poverty becomes his heart’s strong core’ and what he considered a will to holiness.

Randall Jarrell thought Stevens wrote poems ‘… from the other side of existence, the poems of someone who sees things in steady accustomedness, as we do not, and sees their accustomedness, and them, as about to perish.’ The poet finds the thing seen becoming a thing unseen, and in so doing becomes, in Stevens’ own words, ‘… an intermediary between people and the world in which they live… but not between people and some other world.’ Stevens’ Ulysses is a small town boy returning to ‘… the substance of his region’ where there is a first great river of Conneticut ‘before one comes to the first black cataracts’ of the final one.

I thought of Stevens when reading Palmer’s book because The Dark Object is a kind of speaking the truth that our Swiss/Hartford Heidegger/Stevens unity might write out as ‘… the saying of the unconcealedness of what is,’ where ‘truth’ is chased down to ‘aletheia’ which is ‘unconcealedness.’ Palmer’s book is ‘double plotted’ as the Soviet semiologist Jurij M. Lotman would say. There is the plot that is without anomolies and ‘immanently inherent in the world,’ and there is the ‘primordially opposed’ plot that originates in anecdote, incident, news and excess. The first we might label the mythic and the second the scandalous. Palmer wraps the occult and the obvious together in a curiously episodic text that both tells of the heroine’s story and also the story of that story too. In this respect then it could be prefaced by Henry James who wrote exactly that about his own novel, The Ambassadors.

This links to Stevens who was concerned to dwell in the mysterious occultness of the ordinary, the everyday, the unconcealed, signaling that there was this doubleness, this remarkable atemporal element alongside the temporal, a secret inside a secret hidden in the plainest of plain sights. The Dark Object reminded me of an intense poem that wanted to bring certain things to light, to reveal them so to speak, and as such it reminded me of other several things, but most of all the Kafka parable in The Trial and its troubling, dark intimation to the concealedness inherent in everything. This is the world of ‘dark speeches’, for parable means ‘dark speeches’ in Hebrew, a word riddlingly close to my own name, ‘mashal’, riddlingly close because in terms of scandal and time there is nothing but a coincidence, in terms of myth and magic there lies something of the affrontery of a hidden purpose, a kind of dark, defiling joke. A parable therefore is the opposite of open proclamation; its purpose is to conceal, to retain the secret, to keep people out and in this the Gospel according to Mark is a key text, the one Gospel narrative that has Jesus say that he uses parables to keep the uncircumcised ear from understanding. It is a dark object.

The parable in Kafka is the one about the doorkeeper who won’t let a man in to see the Law. The man waits outside the door for years waiting to be admitted. He tries all kinds of ways of getting past the doorkeeper but fails. He gets close to dying and sees a great light beaming out from the door. As he dies he asks the doorkeeper why no one else tried to see this particular door to get to the Law. And the doorkeeper replies, ‘ this door was intended only for you. Now I am going to shut it.’

The Christian Bible’s Gospel of Mark is a dark speech itself. It is an exact precursor of the Kafkaesque and contains Jesus saying to his twelve disciples after he has told the parable of the sower that the elect know the mystery of the Kingdom but those outside such knowledge need parables ‘… so that they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear but not understand, lest at any time they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them.’ (Mark 4: 11-12) Parables are told to conceal not reveal.

Jesus’s ‘so that’ is translated into the Greek as ‘hina’ and is considered a tough, intolerable thing to say. Matthew thought so and he substitutes ‘hoti’, meaning ‘because’ for ‘hina’, which gives a much more gentle meaning to the episode. Matthew often divines a softer Jesus than Mark although having said that it is Matthew who writes that ‘.. to him who has will more be given … but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’ Matthew’s approach renders us a sense of dismay at Mark’s message.

The glosses on the parables, the interpretations that follow in both Kafka and Mark, seem inept, melancholic, depressing. In Kafka the priest, who tells the story to K in the novel, responds to K’s thought that accepting the doorkeeper as telling the truth involved accepting contradictions by saying : ‘ it is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept it as necessary.’ ‘A melancholy conclusion,’ says K. ‘It turns lying into a universal principle.’

All this reminds us of the double plot idea, the occult and the scandalous, that like serpents within serpents swallow whole the very idea of unconcealedness and make it, at the very least, a job to be done. That’s why we have poets. So Palmer’s The Dark Object really works like a parable, and so it has the same feeling of deep mysteriousness and weirdness of Mark and Kafka, a strange atmosphere that signals that there are occult forces tangled up in the episodic narrative of the trapped Addison Cole.

What is the story? Palmer makes sure we know that there are occult forces by having multiple stories performed within the story, each bafflingly self referential at times but in ways that are closed, difficult to grasp. Like Addison Cole herself, the reader is placed in a Russian Doll sort of text, a story in a story in a story, where the ideal of narrative closure, of interpretive closure, is provocatively questioned. In fact, the inclusion of Hegel and Žižek as names in the stories, both key figures in theories of hermeneutical activity makes clear that nothing is to be clear. The dark object is the novel itself, its own dark speech, endlessly offering itself up for a further story about itself.

Hegel is a name of the historical interpreter, who would ask us to return to the historical origin of texts, and resist any canonical mediation. Hegel’s is the nostalgia for the primitive ground of origins, the pre-text, the voices and people before the text. It links us with the opening words of Adam Bede where a drop of ink ‘… reveal to any chance comer far-reaching views of the past… with this drop of ink at the end of my pen… [she]… will show you the roomy workshop of Mr Jonathan Burge, carpenter and builder, in the village of Hayslope, as it appeared on the eighteenth of June, in the year of our Lord 1799.’ It is an occult desire to reveal the dead, to bring back to life the original voices that existed before the recollection, before the writing it down, to bring back from the dead a Lazarus vernacular .

Žižek is a sign of the canonical interpreter, the Lacanian therapist who seeks out the coherence and self-sufficiency of the text itself. History is fine but only as a prehistory to the text itself, the unified, organic complexity that exists as a world in itself, able to both tell its stories and the story of its own story as well, a ‘collection with parameters’ as Brevard S Childs describes a canon, and as Joyce’s Ulysses is the secular modernist exemplar par excellence. His therapy offers a ‘reading’ to recover a hidden or lost meaning that can do so by attending to the text or person as something closed, but requiring, as all canons do, a shadow of commentary. Kermode writes that ‘…in the Jewish tradition the Torah is always accompanied by its shadow, the commentary that will presumably go on forever; and yet they are thought of together as the Torah, a syzygy of that which is fixed and that which changes with time.’

Palmer’s is a book within a series, edited by an author of another book of the series Stewart Home, and by Gavin Everall, general editor of Bookworks. Palmer’s book is inside the Semina series, with all that that entails, historically linking it with the first Semina series and also with the other books of the present one. Yet it also links itself with contexts that are, at first blush, a long way from bookish matters, in particular issues of feminism and wimmin. A reading requires considerations of both scandalous and occult plots, and too quickly sometimes critics may shift to the occult at the expense of scandalous details. And similarly when accruing contexts as anchors, the obvious scandal is sometimes overlooked for the obviously obscure one, sometimes to the detriment of the reading and sometimes for dishonorable reasons.

So in reading this I was brought to attend some small range of a huge genre of scandalous wimmin stories, culled from the nearly current news like: ‘Studies from Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States show that between 40% and 70% of female murders were carried out by intimate partners … In South-East Asia, burns are the third leading cause of death [for adolescent girls and women of reproductive age]. While many are the result of cooking accidents, some are homicides or suicides, often associated with violence by an intimate partner … Despite the size of the problem, many women do not report their experiences of violence and do not seek help. As a result, violence against women remains a hidden problem with great human and health-care costs.”

“Because they are less likely to be part of the formal labor market, women lack access to job security and the benefits of social protection, including access to health care. Within the formal workforce, women often face challenges related to their lower status, suffer discrimination and sexual harassment, and have to balance the demands of paid work and work at home, giving rise to work-related fatigue, infections, mental ill-health and other problems.”

The men’s world cup football took place in South Africa and Adriana Stuijt reminds us that, ‘A woman is six times more likely to be killed by an intimate partner in South Africa than anywhere else in the world, a conference on Sexual Violence near Johannesburg was told on Wednesday. And most of their murderers were drunk and HIV-positive.

“Twenty-five percent of women in the general population (out of a total of 47-million people) and in 40% to 50% in the targeted studies have been victims of physical intimate partner violence,” Professor Rachel Jewkes of the Sexual Violence Research Initiative said in Benoni, Johannesburg on Wednesday. The conference was aimed at addressing and preventing sexual assault and violence.’

‘Up to 300 people are sacrificed every year in South Africa so that their body parts to be used in traditional “Muti” medicine. Most of these are young children, tortured to death. And more girls than boys are ‘sacrificed’: because of the belief propagated by traditional healers that raping virginal girls cures them of AIDS.

“It’s done while she’s still alive because the more she screams, the more powerful the Muti’s going to be,” explains crime expert Kobus Jonker, gesturing at the picture of a mutilated six year old girl.’

In the light of this scandalous testimony – and this is sadly just the tip of the iceberg – the question about what are the facts, what is real, what is unconcealed, becomes urgent, and the job of the poet the job. The authority and permission to tell these stories is decidedly undecided. Juxtapose the story of football matches and the story of Muti and we have our own version of the Comices scene from Madame Bovary where, while M. Lieuvain and M. Derozeray make eloquent with ideals of freedom, order and duty Emma and Rodolphe have sex whilst the crowd punctuate the sex and the oration with shouts about pigs, manure and sheep.

Authority and repression march and jabber and write hand in hand, and wimmin, like that other troublesome, troubled group, children, are often forced into spaces that refuse them. And even in occult reading a blindspot occurs, reinforcing the refusal, complicit with the whole, so that the interpretation becomes collusion. This is where the scandalous and the occult plots correspond, a determination of ‘ green’s green apogee’, as Stevens puts it in ‘Credences of Summer.’ Such determinations are readings without remainders, finished, complete in themselves, but is something only the Divine divines, and secular readers might avoid in order to avoid the pedagogical and psychological enthusiasms that Carl Gustav Jung suspected of ‘dishonourable intentions’.

This is an issue that Bernhard Schlink’s middlebrow read The Reader of 1998 is impressively perceptive about when discussing children.

The dad is talking to the protagonist Michael about how philosophy forgets children:

‘Don’t you remember how furious you would get as a little boy when Mama knew best what was good for you? Even how far one can act like this with children is a real problem. It is a philosophical problem, but philosophy does not concern itself with children. It leaves them to pedagogy, where they are not in very good hands. Philosophy has forgotten about children.’ He smiled at me. ‘Forgotten them forever, not just sometimes, the way I forget about you.’
‘But. . .’
‘But with adults I unfortunately see no justification for setting other people‟s views of what is good for them above their own ideas of what is good for themselves.’
‘Not even if they themselves would be happy about it later?’
He shook his head. ‘We’re not talking about happiness, we’re talking about dignity and freedom. Even as a little boy, you knew the difference. It was no comfort to you that your mother was always right.’ (pp. 140-1)

Philosophy forgets about wimmin too. This can be a result of a flight from history, from hermeneutical and therapist approaches that makes too much of a total world out of a text without remainder, over oversimplifying the complexity of knowing how to know the truth about a world. Midrash is the Jewish process of commentary, a lasting process reaching to the end of time, a continuation of the process of finishing a text, one that is more like acknowledgement than any statement of the final end, the finishing line. The Dark Object of Palmer is here being read as the dark speech of Mark, the parable or riddle asking for acknowledgment rather than the truth, a request inevitably betrayed by the dishonorable intentions of those wishing to impose a final interpretation but also inevitably aided by such interpretations, to the exact degree of ineptitude and ignorance they show. This the way of showing Hermes, the God of interpretation, the door, but it’s a revolving door that gets you in and out in one fell swoop.

Katrina Palmer winds serpents of narrative within serpents of narrative, mysteriously dark, sinewy, sensual and venom-brainy, not as maps of a territory nor reflection of life lived nor mirrors (of a world) nor perspectives (on life) but just as something indicating an approach to linearity that suggests, hints, gives a glimpse of lines that propose nothing but a wound that ‘.. continues to spread its monstrosity.’ But every storyline is an alternative that may or may not follow from what just happened. Madness, jump starts and stops, weird collusions and collisions breeding hedges, nudges, winks, hooded stories that reveal nothing more than that there may, after all, something behind the mask, but like the legendary Fantomas of Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, not necessarily the same thing each time. Everything reshapes, re-emerges and then disappears again, like Melville’s Confidence Man moving in a fantastical, hysterical, melodramatic zigzag of this and that, defeating the detectives, staying out of the clutches of any law, uninterpreted or multi-interpreted, a demonic narrative of the Gospel of Mark’s Legion swarming in Gerasene down a cliff screaming death and sex, transforming itself into a little apocalypse, like the deliriously insane foetal abattoir line scene from Mam Ki-Woong’s Teenage Hooker Became A Killing Machine movie, a cinematic offering that offers similar poetic delights as Palmer’s ‘fictional construction.’

Alongside therapy is the re-authoring theorisings of post modernity, with its duality search routines, where everything is structured through bipolarities and the weaker element is identified, where the hierarchy is reinterpreted to weaken the pattern of dominance, where the rebel voice denies the dominant voice for the weaker, where the other side of the story is told so the continuous change and disintegration being concealed by any dominant fixed reading is glimpsed, and from where then we role on to deny the plot, turning everything round so that romance becomes tragedy and farce ironical and so on – like the way the first Bruce Willis Die Hard movie rewrites It’s a Wonderful Life as a different version of Christmas in Amerika, and on further to find the exception that takes the story to the extreme, revealing its absurdity, and further on yet to trace what lies between the lines, all those weird gaps in stories, creating subterranean intertexts, like Buñuel’s Belle De Jour, all of Chris Marker, and especially like that intense poetical short film Kanchul, by Teenage Hooker man Mam Ki-Woong, and on again, on again inexhaustively to the story re-authored so that ‘… a new balance of views is attained’, which becomes a story without centres in order to ‘script for new actions’ which leaves everything pulped and smashed, ‘ a repulsive pulpy mass of soft tissue, and still in the process of growing’ as Palmer writes it in the strange inspiration of its final climax, like in nearly every scene of the exceptional Nazi/Zombie film Dead Snow of Tommy Wirkola.

Katrina Palmer is a groove sensation because she gets to the serpent inside all this too, the ‘dishonourable intentions’ that despite everything lead the Po Mo crowd to act like Inspector Juve or Lestrade or any other master who seeks to pull the mask from the face and reveal the final angel of truth. Which is why the disintegrating bones and voice of Hegel is a nasty ghastliness in this cabinet of wonders, a peculiar reminder that even honorable intentions are not always what they seem to be.

So Palmer is writing out of horrors that slither out of a similar type of bad intention, found both in the cults of therapy and of deconstructionism, viz, an intention that seeks a kind of completion, a reading without remainder, a claim to know that is a claim of ownership, the song of the master to the slave, the pimp to the whore. The point of writing is to make things happen. A book is a gun the whore deep-throats the pimp to death with, like in the Teenage Hooker Ki-Woong movie. It’s the loaded gun from between the girl’s nasty thighs that murders the murderer, blasts away her masters.

Narratives and novels have had a tendency to be treated as ways of knowing, the discrete charm of the bourgoisie is its master narrative, (which is also its blood rite, as Stewart Home clarified in his Semina offering) and Palmer is fragmenting her narrative lines, twisting them, breaking them up and looping them into bloody, buckled, torn, shredded episodes and dissociative blocks of writing suggesting a wise resistance to this, blamming out a reading that pushes us to a sense of acknowledging rather than knowing, in a way that poems, a certain kind of cinema and double plotted novels try for.

The idea of the omniscient narrator grew with the development of the novel but Holderlin observed that ‘we are a poem that cannot be read,’ resisting the notion of language as a tool, celebrating instead what the philosopher Paul Standish sees as ‘the opacity of language, its thickness… its recalcitrance.’ Derrida’s idea of the endless deferral of meaning, the unforeseeability and irretrievability of any reading without remainder is the heart of all this and is what the ‘dishonorable intention’ of certain therapy denies – the Z of Žižek standing in for this.

A reading that requires the gentler, more communing, more democratic acknowledgment is one that recognizes that there are no readings without remainder, that there will always be inaccessibles. Deleuze in Difference and Repetition writes this out as a proper recognition of a metaphysics of selfhood, saying that, ‘A Cogito for a dissolved Self: the Self of ‘I think’ includes in its essence a receptivity of intuition in relation to which I is already an other. It matters little that synthetic identity—and, following that, the morality of practical reason—restore the integrity of the self, of the world and of God, thereby preparing the way for post-Kantian syntheses: for a brief moment we enter into that schizophrenia in principle which characterizes the highest power of thought and opens Being directly onto difference, despite all the mediations, all the reconciliations, of the concept.’

Put like that, it sounds a bit masterful, a bit too much like a final word on the matter itself. Stevens is better: a better philosopher than Holderlin and a better poet than Heidegger: ‘The poem is the cry of its occasion,/ Part of the res itself and not about it./ The poet speaks the poem as it is,/ Not as it was: part of the reverberation/ Of a windy night as it is, when the marble statues/ Are like newspapers blown by the wind.’ (from ‘An Ordinary Evening in Newhaven.’)

Deleuze writes about cuts, bands or grooves between meanings in terms of ‘interstice’. He is the philosopher who says ‘ … the question is no longer that of the association or attraction of images. What counts is on the contrary the interstice between images, between two images… Given one image, another image has to be chosen which will induce an interstice between the two. This is not an operation of association, but of differentiation, as mathematicians say, or of disappearance, as physics say; given one potential, another one has to be chosen, not any whatever, but in such a way that a difference of potential is established between the two, which will be productive of a third or something new …’ But in a movie like the aforementioned Dead Snow the interstices are intestinal, and what they produce are zombies, which represent the dead brutal lifelessness of interpretation without remainder, for zombies are without spirit, are Eliot’s Hollow Men, merely facsimiles of the living.

Katrina Palmer faces two images of Žižek: intellectual Elvis and intellectual Nazi Zombie. And a theory that ensures that the distance between the two images is preserved forever, according to Žižek’s own Lacanian thought. The cut repulses and attracts the images, solders them into a psychological reality that seems irresistable. The good Žižek is the magical singer of songs, singing a world of words to the end of it. The other is the one without any song, wanting just to march the stories that are told, the master of the story and of all who listen. In Kafka there is another parable about leopards that break into the temple to drink from the ceremonial bowls. They do so so frequently they become part of the ceremony. This is the Zizek of melancholic zombie horror, the thief and intruder who knows nothing of his significance in relation to the ceremony, being, like the leopards, ignorant of everything except their thirst and an easy source of its quenching. It is a rapacious stupid hooliganism that replaces the singer of songs, which is pretty much how the Bible thinks of David too.

In the novel is a story which starting at its second line begins:

Carole E sits on a chair that can unfurl to form a bed. She thinks about the chair silently withholding its contingent bed-ness, like a secret. She stands, flips the chair open, exposing the bed and she gets into the position Z demands of her. It’s a good chair, she thinks, but once opened up, it’s not such a great bed. She wants to ask Z something, but her mouth is dry and her lips are beginning to crack. Just able to reach her tin of Vaseline, she twists it open, applies the balm and then asks a question into the back of the chair. She wants to know if Z’s looking at her.

This passage is about the gap, the crevice, the interstice, the cut, the groove, the hole, Anne Stevenson’s ditch, the black screen used in the cinema of the Dziga Vertov Group; ‘… black frames were shots we didn’t know how to shoot: shots of bourgeoisie ideology and imperialism and they weren’t even black, they were coloured, like in any James Bond movie….Our problem is to show colours different from those in bourgeois and imperialist films….’ To recut against the groove of the masculine gaze, its double entendre multiplied by Žižek’s own face that becomes the all seeing, all knowing hairy bearded eye planted between her legs drooling over the spooled out intestines of his interpreted wimmin, this is the purpose here.

‘Yes,’ Z says, ‘I am definitely looking at you.’’

And this passage is a response to the opening line of one story in the story, the narrative that unwinds like a mystery of labyrinthine complexity into the completed montage collage text, rooting back according to the startling Pavle Levi’s essay ‘ The crevice and the stitch’ through Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s ‘typophotos’ Dynamics of the Metropolis of 1924-5, El Lissitsky’s Supremacist tales ‘About Two Squares’ of 1922, Max Ernst’s collage books Une semaine de bonte of 1934, Isidore Isou’s Amos of 1952 to Michael Snow’s slide show ‘Sink’ of 1969 and so on.

‘Take your knickers off…’ is the opening line of the story.

This is the strange music of Palmer’s text, the riddling hook that connects the obscenity of Muti to anti-wimmin language and the Žižek as stoopid Zombie trope that runs through the whole novel. In Issue 1 of Maria Fusco’s The Happy Hypocrite, the ‘Linguistic Hardcore’ issue of 2008, an interview with the legendary Cosey Fanni Tutti ends with a shuddering collision with the ‘dishonourable intentions’ of such language. Tutti is discussing the language of skin flick magazines. She says, ‘ The language in some of those magazines was sometimes quite shocking. There was a phrase in a magazine I did some work in ‘The Piccadilly’. So the whole 80 odd pages were framed up in three frames, a real eye-opener, at the end of one of the magazines and it said ‘Does she stink?’ and then there was like an open crutch shot… to see it, ‘Does she stink?’ it was just absolutely horrible…’

This carries with it the weight of a dense and intense occult history alongside the scandalous, and the disturbing horror of this plain talk is what Palmer subtly reveals as a drying up of the beautiful excess required as mishrash, a barreness and deafness that is defied by the stubbornness of the world’s secrets but which, nevertheless results in the horrors of Muti and the deadness of a question and an instruction both: ‘Does she stink?/Take your knickers off’.

‘Does she stink?’ This is the Dark Object that Katrina Palmer writes towards. Tutti’s ‘Does she stink?’ is the objective correlative of the line in her novel, ‘Take your knickers off’ spoken by a fictional Z in a fiction inside the fiction, a circular delirium neither possible nor preposterous but more a side effect of Jaromir Hladik’s dream in an apartment in the Zeltnergasse of Prague on the night of 14 March 1943 reported as ‘The Secret Miracle’ by Jorge Luis Borges and prefaced by a Koranic text, ‘ And God had him die for a hundred years and then revived him and said: ‘How long have you been here?’ ‘A day or a part of a day,’ he answered.’ Which is about having a right to your own opinions and perspectives, even if God contradicts you.

A point colludes with space yet must not contain any space. The Dark Object of Tuti and Palmer recognizes the inevitability of collusion. The spider is trapped in his own web. The finite extension is trapped by the possibility of further analysis. Zizek is used to raise the issue: How do we collude with the dreams of the rapist father to kill him? In the novel Z is Zizek. Zizek fantasises Dennis Hopper as psycho Frank in David Lynch’s film Blue Velvet as Isabella Rossellini’s Dorothy’s fantasy father rapist dream. According to Žižek the woman wants the rape. Z is the bad pervert of The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. Z is an ectoplasmic perve blob in this Semina episode by Katrina Palmer, released from a piece of furniture in the last story in a transformed state.

Žižek thinks that wimmen want what Frank wants them to want. Žižek is a loud-mouthed intellectual on the circuit. He gets called Elvis and is adored. He is a Lacanian psychologist rubbed up with the label Marxism. Yet he thinks that ‘suture’ explains how, in cinema, images run on beyond their closure, that there are things happening in the gaps between images. It is a theory that tries to relate time to image in order to explain how meaning is created out of the flickering montage of light. Jacques-Alain Miller made this approach hip in 1966, taking the Lacanian theory as a kind of weak magic. Yet throughout this there is the bad smell from his mouth, a ‘Does she stink/take your knickers off’ stench.

In the library of Babel Borges believed it likely that there was a total book of the Universe lying on one of its shelves. Its completeness requires the full story of the Dark Object. Perhaps Tuti and Palmer might work on this book and say that this book actually contained only two separate sentences separated by many blank pages: ‘Does she stink?’ and ‘Take your knickers off.’ Borges of course thought that what existed was limited by what was possible. The writers of Star Trek have Captain Kirk at one point asking for all possibilities to be investigated and after that the impossible too, which makes Kirk more sophisticated than Sherlock Holmes and Borges. Blindspots are regarded as impossible. So at risk of disagreeing with Borges, Palmer’s book becomes a curious disclosure of the impossible.

Facts about wimmin are like laws about vacuums. They seem impossible because there is nothing to be a law about. Randomness is absence of law. So a law of randomness is equally paradoxical. Laws of chance and wimmin come under Pascal’s stupefying name ‘The mathematics of chance.’ We stack the dice to see past the blindspot when we look at the numbers. Dice playing and the probabilities of numbers began this. Pausanias mentions a picture painted by Polygnotos in the fifth century which shows dice playing. Palamedo invented dice playing for bored Greek soldiers hanging around in the battle of Troy. Cardano’s treatise on dice De Ludo Aleae was published in 1663 a century after he wrote it. And from this roll all sorts of mysteries.

Laws of chance, probability and so on require solutions that insist that the perception of the problem is taken into account rather than merely the brute problem. And there seems no reason to ban infinities from such calculations. Even the smallest of incremental gains justifies any finite price in an infinite series.

Closure is never total so there’s always more than whatever meets the eye. Z is Palmer’s Žižek. Katrina Palmer is returning his favours by returning his pervert’s stare. It’s an unwavering eye. The prison is the desire for an uninterrupted drift of meaning, one that can accommodate Žižek as he leaps from crack to crack between images, exploding closure into his bossy delectation. All his delectation is the fictional point, the infinite Kabalistic book on the shelf of Borges’s Babel library that uses just two sentences to write the whole damned universe: ‘does she stink?’ and ‘Take your knickers off,’ a book that is larger than itself.

Palmer’s book reminded me of Episode 23 of Season 4 of The Avengers from March 1966, ‘The House That Jack Built’, scripted by the legendary Brian Clemens and directed by droogy Don Leaver. Emma Peel, played by Diana Rigg, is trapped in a house that is a box of psychedelic tricks designed to drive her mad and enter the suicide box. The house design was a black and white druggy labyrinthine design mounted on ingenious mechanicals blended with a computer brain and a stuffed corpse in a glass display. A repetitive thrumming white noise overlaid the repetitive sequences, a rhythm that suggested the occult undertow alongside the obvious sensational trappings of the scandalous plot .

The result was both cranky and quirky. The repetitive violence, confusion, immersion in a wild man’s fantasy is the core to the revolving, endless, murderous revenge of a corpse man. There is an everlasting, infinite, degenerative corruption of imagination at the heart of this version of Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, a world where objects are whatever a person wants them to be. The constant and remorseless repetitiveness undermined to some level the scandal plot. For too long the same thing happens again and again and this creates the murky idea that something is happening beneath the surface. It was an occasion when the occult plot took the upper hand in a popular tv action serial. There are episodes of Kojak where the same thing happens, but that’s for a different occasion.

There was a relentless, remorseless menace in the Avengers story and Katrina Palmer’s novel brilliantly keeps to that same atmosphere throughout, despite the cut-ins and ways, despite all those stories interposed between the Gothic escapades. The book stays slow, intriguing but also self-addicted more obviously than the scandalous plot should have allowed, like a very late Beckett. Addison Cole, like the erstwhile Mrs Peel, is also trapped, this time in a ‘School of Sculpture Without Objects,’ a version of ‘The House That Jack Built’, and is forbidden to create an object or escape. Throughout an atmosphere of unbearable menace follows a dark pool of anxiety that floods up, chokes her, threatens her with drowning and never ebbs.

Sinister grotesques appear and disappear, the book is fleshy and brainy, so sex and wounds occur throughout alongside the creepy expansion of a mind that seems to be part of some unhinged Kafkaesque parable. There’s a great scene where a dead Hegel disintegrates throughout a deadly discussion about the ideas of Slovoj Žižek, rattling his corpse bones like a scene from Jan Svankmajer. It’s also funny in a zany daft way, like episodes from the other cult 60’s tv show about nut-job labyrinths and ingenious escape, The Prisoner are. And as with The Prisoner and The Avengers there is always that thought of something chilling going on too, that the fun and games are eye-candy for deeper stirrings, serpents within serpents, subterranean magic.

By bringing Z into the narrative Palmer is re-appropriating his menacing cultural gigantism that threatens to deliver, in disguise, a complete master narrative and deny the beautiful excesses of Kabbalistic commentary. When it comes to wimmin you hear his creepy stupidity when he says, ‘you do something to a woman but you never know what the reaction will be’ in A Perverts Guide to Cinema.

Žižek’s fantasy spaces reach out like psychotic sex nutters; Palmer is fantasizing back, becoming a disruptive element in the symbolic order of aesthetic writing that Semina itself instantiates. She locks him is a desk drawer and then her pocket and turns him into an ectoplasmic blob. Originally just loose leafed pamphlets, the Semina writings have a gob on them rather than a voice, they talk back into itinerant, displaced, open-necked spaces, outside of galleries, more in the tradition of Mail Art where distances, times, places, objects and people sprawl out like spirit-weirds, so fantasies become unpoliced and their ambiguities and vaguenessness begin to collapse everything. Fantasy space reaches out like spectres, and any idea of there being a safe distance is lost in Duchamp’s urinal.

One thought is that labyrinths trap intellects like webs spiders. Although occasionally flies die in the webs the permanent occupant of the web is its spinner, ceaselessly trapped in its own trap. The thought of freedom is its trap. For the therapist the thought of the freedom of others is their trap. It is the corpse in the glass casement who is trapped in his own trap in ‘The House That Jack Built.’ In Teenage Hooker the murderous raping teacher is caught in his own careerism, and in Dead Snow the chief nazi zombie in his own box of gold coins. In The Dark Object it is Z, caught in his own pervert eye.

Emma Peel in ‘The House That Jack Built’ escapes by penetrating the computer with a radioactive key. As she leaves the audience are given a glimpse of the machines that made the house a trap, revealing the obvious mechanisms of oppression but concealing others. In Teenage Hooker the dead girl is rebuilt and returns to shoot the teacher who raped her in strange hallucinatory images that reminded me of the rape of Dinah by Shechem in Genesis 34:3. The issue there was how to translate the Hebrew word ‘nefesh’ into English so as not to suggest fidelity and honour. The unfulfilled lust of Shechem for Dinah remains even after the rape, and finding an English word that caught all this and all the additional mysteriousness of ‘nefesh’ was exactly the problem for English translators. For the film director of Teenage Hooker, his problem was to ensure that the scandalous plot didn’t obliterate the occult plot, and vice versa. The poetic brilliance of Nam Ki-Woong’s images and sound enables the violence and revenge to translate the nuances of lust in the film to an extent that extended the depth of awareness of the girl’s anger and tragedy.

Both in ‘The House that Jack Built’ and in Teenage Hooker the wimmin release themselves from the grip of an overwhelming master narrative by turning back the male gaze in an explicit phallic symbolism: in one Emma Peel jams a large key into the computer’s hole, in the other the teenage hooker rams her literally phallicised gun into the open mouth of the murderous teacher. In The Dark Object, however, Addison Cole receives a gift, some soft fruit, in her hand which then goes deep inside. This then is a different resolution, one where Cole returns the feminine into herself rather than resorting to the carnivalesque reversal of gender that characterises the other two plots.

She takes within herself soft fruit, clothed by a mutual touching hand, the very other side of the crude question and bullying instruction that Z has been made, on this reading, to partly instantiate. The gift reaches deep inside her that frees her into warmth and away from him. It is a mysterious, occult transaction. ‘Without knowing how it’s happened, I’ve got it deep inside, he’s gone and I’m out.’ It is a miracle of translation, that ‘intensest rendezvous’ that Stevens writes about : ‘ Within a single thing, a single shawl/Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,/A light, a power, the miraculous influence.’ It is an answer to the intense question our (Swiss) Heideggar and Holderlin and Stevens – ‘what are times for in times of poverty?’ Cole rendezvous with Z, their hands enclose and then she is wrapped in a warmth that frees her like ‘a necessary angel of earth’, one who has made ‘a dwelling in the evening air.’

Palmer’s heroine stares back at the assumptions riddling Z’s Lacanian college and detonates each of its insidious ideas with a counter story that substantiates her resistance. Yet The Dark Object remains a parable, a dark speech, retains its mysterious relationship with concealing as well as unconcealing. It winds its many tongues, its many stories, with the other Semina texts, their other stories, forming a Canon within a Canon ‘out of this same mind, out of the central mind’ that knows ‘poetry is the subject of a poem’ and that the dimensions of scandalous and the occult are, as ever, Pascal’s, Kafka’s necessary lies.

richardmarshall

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Marshall is biding his time.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, August 19th, 2010.