:: Article

Trois Communiqués

By Karen Elliot.

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3 Communiqués, Alun Rowlands, Bookworks, 2007

Dreaming of a text with three mouths I awoke and was confronted by the arrival of this book. The postman, whose head was that of a waning moon in agonised Lorca silver, sped away on a bicycle looking the most perfect prototype of a redundant Spaniard. I made no word of a comment and retreated with the package to my study of grey olive and Sienna red to read the piety inaugurated by its truculent precision.

There is craftsmanship here which makes it worth its cash whatever the final taste of its bagged game. Where others might concoct a kind of prodigious shrimp bisque, here the impressionistic, romantic and snoop-dog-Wagnerian is thrown away with all the rest of the loosely chewed greenery and instead, inspired by who knows which insanely cooked gerund, Rowlands gives a savage distraction whilst investigating the howling reality of the peppered beef. And as it happened, I paid no cash.

In effacing the authenticity of prose in an insane jaunt towards the base humility of mimicry, the insipid formal qualities of each of the three communications work as magical vehicles bringing together a unifying theme. I recall Dali, of course, who, having announced that snails are without taste, went on to reassure gastronomic lovers of snails that ‘they do possess and offer us that extremely rare and quasi-miraculous virtue of ‘transcendent gustative mimicry’, which consists of effacing themselves and providing a meeting ground (because of their own insipidity) for all the flavours contributed by the condiments they are eaten with.’ Dali made off with the further idea that Goya offered the same necromantic non appetite as the gastropodic. It ended in Freud. Such are the toils of digression. And that unifying thematic?

The rum guard of the Utopian Idealists and their consumption in the inescapable maw of rapacious stuff.

So I examined first the pictures – strange mystifying documentary poseurs – then read the words, read them slowly because there was something about the size of each book and the size of the print which insisted on the sheer existence of atmosphere, which insisted in turn on something harder to discern. These were books listening to a mass audience but at a deeper level than the audience knew. One book. Three mouths. Cerberus. At the door jamb to hell.

Idealists have always seemed to be the folk who aren’t frightened of going to hell. So to hell they all go, of course. Robert Crumb’s art is based on a realisation that Moses brought hell to children worshipping the golden calf. Who amongst them – Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G Robinson, Yvonne de Carlo, Debra Paget, John Derek, Nina Foch, Judith Anderson, Martha Scott, Vincent Price – would not be cast down? You have to ask and to ask it you have to feel protected somehow – being a good Catholic boy was Crumb’s defence for a little while, but then he realised that there was no defence – for most there’s a stupidity or arrogance attached to dumb insolence in the face of it. Hell that is.

So these three communications come from those who went to hell – and so had all hell to pay in banality, hypocrisy, futility – their arguments with the straight-faced hedonism of capitalist excess and over-production turning each into Moses, the first avant gardist, yet without either the lamenting accusation of a Jesus to set them free through fulfillment or a Freudian disavowal naming them the equivalent of an Egyptian mal pense.

We are left with three separate unities, stories that revolve around assaults on culture through margins, that end with a hollowed out lithographic ink work somewhere to the north-east of Uxbridge. The cold detonated Bressonianism of its affectless prosody leaves a perfect triple miracle of readership. Each story moves towards a mysterious investigation; of ‘ the significance of a small pamphlet, a strange orange flower, the disappearance of a statue and the productive misreading of theory’. Each of these mini-histories contrast the assiduous ecstasy which each might have revealed with the forlorn yearning they inevitably left behind. Their planned obsolescence marries well with contemporary society’s requirements and is quite simply a marriage of the neoist heaven and hell.

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Over corn flakes and milk I devoured the three books. Afterwards I took a bus to Northolt and in scummy rain fixed my attention on the hole Stanley Green used to live in. I then scarpered before the rain ceased to Gunnersbury Park Museum, happy to be out in such a pelting but wanting to miss the wary gaze of the local peninsularists. There was just confirmation in the museum. On returning I noticed that my copy had been drenched. I had held it out to the elements and read some whilst in the deluge hoping to work some ludic magic and witness the resistance of alternative spiritualities. I attended to it carefully, planting it on the top of a radiator and leaving it there so it would dry whilst reflecting on the absolute failure of any further resonances.

I rendered ‘documentary fiction’ as a psychogeographic tendency. I took out maps and located all three. The map in the final end was started from scratch on blank wallpaper. I sketched it out using different coloured sticks. As always Gavin Everall had done the right job. This was the kind of slog books are for. Books to get inside your ventricles, hobble your blood streams, clog you up a bit. There’s something here to court a demise, where all your instincts for cleansing, cutting, knowing, dissecting emerges in the pure wee scratch of humourless autopsy.

One phone call and there were book-ghouls out spying on Everall. In the menace of the suggestion is the coinage of the threat; here be the obsessionals. By mid-afternoon I called them off, offering them nothing in solace save the promise of further missions down the way. As you can see, this reader leaves nothing too much to chance and few avenues are closed forever. I guess in the end the attempt was the valiant one of trying to get into the spirit of the thing. I was reading against the letter and as such, was rubbing against the grain. Everall in the meantime had got wind of the situation and changed his numbers, his keys, his address book. Rowlands was on a barge near Brentford looking to do some serious damage. Things were getting out of hand. I closed my door for keeps and read the blurb.

Stanley Green, ‘The ‘Protein Man’ is embroiled in an argument. He trawls the city streets campaigning for the suppression of desire through diet. His self-published pamphlet, ‘Eight Passion Proteins with Care’ outline the connections between nutrition, sedentary life and human sexuality. A second constellation recounts the history of a non-conformist group founded on action-analysis and bohemian schedules. Elsewhere, socialist-utopian Charles Fourier forms the basis of a discussion about the occupation of Sealand. His passionate series and visionary designs of the Phalanx rouse the search for an islet of resistance.

3 Communiqués is a documentary fiction charting a journey through the marginal histories of communalism, self-presentation and collective agency. It forges a subjunctive archaeology that renegotiates utopian propositions as a way of both making art and as a tool for progressive… blah blah blah. In a mental fit it was no longer a reading I could make. It was all very well, all very neat, all very tidy. But there’s a deeper trail here, a smarter kind of diligence that takes the trance out of the text and imports the porter stink of dead-eyed ideology. In Stanley Green you can trace all the scary monsters of this and the last century; that glacial certainty and the transcendental mystic light of the dictator, the iconoclast, the innovator and the camp director in a mental emptiness that builds and builds over the crazy nothingness of his maniacal life. Nothing can distract you from the thought that Nazi’s were like this, that Bin Laden, Pol Pot, people for whom life is a kind of project and its ideal is somewhere, something else, were like this. They all live this ascetic, frantic, frigid life. And it is all wrong, a monstrous life that hides from itself and leaves in its wake a trail of the dead.

Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Bin Laden, even Moses. Our great metaphysical artists of dead texts. In the treacherous documents of resistance lie betrayal, heinous nightmares, dreamless states of vengeance where, as Blake reminds us, God forgives the murder of children before vengeance. Another thought containing its own insane loop towards a hurtling downfall.

At the day’s end the book is again being read. Perhaps in a different order. The crisis of desire – Fourier, Reich, the Protein Man – they become a semblance of something else. Eco-doubt surges up. The regressive idiocy of red-topped tabloid hysteria barracks the outlines: Hitler was a veggie etc etc… Mounting pressure to stop reading. Trying to find the beginning of things as desire is ending in fear. We’re here again, wondering about the power of art, of culture, of history, of reading… of the time of origins itself, of the terrifying call of Eden where there might be our own cleansed selves.

There should be a safety warning on this book. Read it. Worry. I creep to the door and check that the locks are secure. Curtains only half cover the windows. Outside this room, books ignite. I can see them burning in the night whilst lonely men dance and jump, pretending to know the primitive language of beginnings, telling those who may still be listening that they know the meaning of the fires. They really don’t.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, November 26th, 2007.