Unsecured By Landscape
By Darran Anderson.
New Cross-Fucked Musings on a Manic Reality, ed Tom Bradley, Dog Horn Publishing, 2010
“We’re not here to answer cuntish questions.” It’s 1961. The Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. Guy Debord, head Situationist, is taking questions from members of the public. “What is Situationism?” some poor sod has asked. Debord responds with customary disgust and storms out. He’s last seen heading in the direction of the bar.
While Monsieur Debord is drowning his sorrows and cursing the innate stupidity of man, let us consider the possibility that they were asking for it, these Situationists and anyone else deranged enough to try to create a movement and have the nerve to name it. Like most truly rewarding cultural endeavours, this is, at the same time, a supremely ridiculous thing to do. There’s the obvious benefits of camaraderie and friendly rivalry of course, the intensifying of focus, the free exchange of ideas and encouragement. Groups can be bound by geography and shared sentiment (the Bloomsbury Set or the New England Transcendalists), age (the Lost Generation), dissolute friendship (the Beats), common fascinations (the Cubists with space, the Futurists with motion) and more often common hatreds, a singular purpose or just safety in numbers. Sometimes they’re bound by the fact that none of the members can stand anyone else. Sometimes by the fact they can’t stand one another; keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
For the individual, signing up to an artistic movement can be perilous. There’s a reason why Groucho Marx wouldn’t join a club that would have the likes of him as a member. For one, there’s the distinct possibility of having to deal with a temperamental egomaniac, like Breton, Marinetti or the aforementioned Debord, being at the helm. Another concern is that to name such a group, and publish manifestos and the like, is to instantly invite ridicule. This is half the intention. Setting up a clique is as much about keeping undesirables out as reining kindred spirits in. Provided the movement is successful enough (and given that critics are shrivelled embittered eunuch-like creatures – present narrator excluded), biblical plagues of cuntish questions will surely follow, as night follows day.
Everything about New Cross-Fucked Musings on a Manic Reality suggests it’s doomed. There’s the title for a start. And the subtitle Nonfiction of the Enigmatic Polygeneration. And the prospective movement within the subtitle – the ‘Enigmatic Polygeneration’. There are however two ways that such audacity succeeds. To come out fighting from the off and, crucially, to be as talented as it claims to be. And somehow, this disparate international just about manages to do both.
It helps immeasurably that the project has been put together by a writer with as gloriously skewed and multitudinous a vision as Tom Bradley. In his introduction, the editor theorises, “Once space has been erased by the miracle of email, so has time, in terms of its effects on the human frame.” The “hermetic medium” of the internet has freed us not just from the constraints of geography but also the respective disharmonies and tyrannies of youth and age. Instead a group of like-minded writers, who’ve never met in three dimensions, who probably don’t even know what each other look like, can exist. The only concern is what they write. And to his question ‘Who are the Enigmatic Polygeneration?’ The answer’s in the writing. What have all the participants in common? Well… nothing, other than, at their best, they write compelling inventive prose with a sharpness, imagination and surreal edge that is sadly all too lacking in most mainstream literature.
The stories in New Cross-Fucked Musings… exist less in some disputed demilitarized zone between fact and fiction than the much more interesting hinterland between fact, drunken fabrications, sideshow myths, misspent childhood reminiscence, fantastical speculations, psychological imbalances and outright lies. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story and good stories these largely are. They’re nonfiction in the sense your dreams and nightmares are nonfiction, made up of fragments and contortions of actual experiences and emotions. Not so much the cracked looking glass approach as the hall of mirrors.
I’ve no idea if there ever really was such a person as the diabolical puppeteer Ricki Hilliard, his defecating marionette or such an environment as the “world of XXX-rated ventriloquism… a black hole of human taboo” where “nothing radiates out” but the story as told by John-Ivan Palmer is enthralling, amusing and delightfully twisted. Similarly, I’ve no idea if Mickey Z’s father really did step on John Gotti’s shoes and live to tell the tale or “stare down the barrel of a gun that miraculously jammed” or if the term ‘mafia’ really does come from cave-dwelling guerrillas in the days the Saracens ruled Sicily or the even more bloodthirsty explanation offered here. For all I know Kevin Sweeney’s hypothesis that Bram Stoker was the Whitechapel Murderer could be the truth (albeit delivered in razor-sharp satire, mercilessly dealing with the leering voyeurism and sensationalism of self-appointed ‘Ripperologists’).
It doesn’t matter. Truth isn’t the point here. The story and it’s telling are everything. Maurice Stoker’s conspiratorial interview with a US intelligence operative makes for fascinating reading whether you subscribe to its assertions (some of which are more convincing and insightful than others) or regard it as several steps short of men in tin-foil hats talking about reptilian humanoids in high places.
In ‘What Do You Do on Sundays?’ the sadly now-departed Hugh Fox recollects a Chicago upbringing that’s evocative, instantly recognizable and which illustrates that strange exoticism in childhood when you look close enough. Just as familiar but more perturbing is Jonathan Penton’s ‘Seen,’ an account of alienation in a garret in El Paso; drinking, not going outside for days, unable to recognise his own reflection. 3:AM’s Andrew Gallix contributes a bruising but graceful play on language, violence and cocksmanship in ‘Dr Martens’ Bouncing Souls’ while Robert Levin’s hilarious tale of sexual disaster and delusion (“identical triplets… invited Leonard Cohen to a cluster fuck and wound up breaking two of my ribs”) revolves around a woman named Roger and a man who steals the identity of Al Pacino.
The collection’s not perfect by any means. Some of the more political pieces misfire. Whereas wilful incoherence in the right hands can work in stories or poems, in essays it’s an impossible task and the result is muddled and inconclusive, admirably branching off in a dozen directions (it’s hard for example to fault an essay that begins “Gilbert Ryle nailed Cartesian dualism by killing the ghost in the machine”) but never really arriving anywhere. You can’t fault the fact that they’re coming from different angles though, Pig Bodine‘s suggestions for immigration and education are nothing if not novel and, with their own crazed logic, illustrate how deeply mired in the shit things have really got.
Harold Jaffe’s montage of Charles Manson quotes is riveting but nothing new to anyone who’s read Nuel Emmons’ study Manson In His Own Words or viewed any of Manson’s psychopathic new-age guru shtick on youtube. It’s transfixing and the subtitles (‘First Rape’, ‘Just like Hitler’) add a disconcerting light-heartedness to the accounts but when you consider something like cutups you wonder if the exercise could’ve been taken further, what configurations and contexts rearranging the maniac’s words may have thrown up. Some of the more deliberately transgressive pieces in the book do come across as swaggering and immature it has to be said, masturbatory in a metaphorical and literal sense (the scatological bookends of the collection have at least the benefits of twisted humour). Wedded to a political or philosophical purpose (Octave Mirbeau’s The Torture Garden or De Sade) or just enjoyed for it’s own sake, perversity has a certain power. When used as shock for shock’s sake, it only really highlights a kind of ineffectuality. Outside of the real world, nothing’s shocking any more. In terms of impact, visuals in the recordable age will always outdo their written equivalent. Where tabloids have snuff photos of dictators being lynched on their front covers, imaginary extremes pale into kitsch. Do we need the fever-dreams of a Burroughs or even a Goya when we’re all a few clicks away from graphic horrors on Live Leak or narcoblogs like Borderland Beat? This stuff isn’t just in our books or our heads any more, it got out. And if you start looking you’ll find it everywhere.
The finest of all the stories in New Cross-Fucked Musings… is Carlos Amantea’s ‘Cousin Hans’, a brilliantly-written tale of juvenile misadventure featuring sermons on the menace of communism, Alice in Wonderland, horrendously unjust, incomprehensible abuse and futile attempts at retribution (“One day Buddy and I decide to burn the house down…”). It demonstrates that a story can really move and unsettle the reader not through artificial outrage but by mixing the bleakest humour and heart-rending cruelty in a setting that is utterly horribly normal.
Ultimately given it’s fragmentary format, New Cross-Fucked Musings on a Manic Reality is more tantalising than truly satisfying. You get glimpses, a primer to the main works, impressive enough in many cases to set you off in search of the writers’ other work. The fact that you’d want to do so in so many cases bodes well for contemporary writing (and there are intriguing suggestions within for where literature might go in future in the form of Adam Lowe‘s ‘Digitise This’ and Quimby Melton‘s ‘Ghidorah Attacks!’). Whether it’s a movement at all, even an unconventional amorphous one, is debatable but this ambiguity fits in with the underlying sleight of hand of the stories. You come away feeling you’ve spent time with some very odd, enigmatic, sometimes not entirely pleasant but nevertheless unique characters. Just be careful which one you take home. I’d suggest meeting in a public place, well lit. Bring tear gas or a taser, just in case.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Darran Anderson writes things. You know those strange noises you hear coming from your attic at night? That’s him.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, October 27th, 2011.