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HISTORY AS PORN



"Barber writes history in the carnage-infected prose of a novelist cranking up to the heights of Sade's One Hundred and Twenty days Of Sodom, but without the desolating coldness and boredom of that book."

Richard Marshall reviews Stephen Barber's Annihilation Zones

COPYRIGHT © 2004, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

There are no living people anymore. Our own images have conquered the world. Consumerism has coopted all images. The image becomes isolated. We echo this data's totality and the obstacles which the data contains. There is no longer the stubborn resistence of the real world because we don't know what the term "the real world" refers to. We have obliterated it. The image is completely compliant and submissive. We find in it only what we put into it. Everyone is smiling. Everyone is happy. It is an enchanted domain. There is no future or past. It is the end of history. It is the end of time.

A state of hallucination and dream, the realm of the twilight senses, the Surrealists placing the logic of the visible at the service of the invisible. We get our instructions from street signs, adverts, TV and film, pieces of conversation that drift in and out of mind. The focus is off-focus, unfocused, ad hoc, there is nothing dedicated, nothing more serious than subway dawns, cheap hotels, amusement parks and friends who commit suicide. The human organism is literally consisting of two halves from the beginning, and so word and all human sex is this unsanitary arrangement whereby two entities attempt to occupy the same three dimensional coordinate points giving rise to the sordid latrine brawls which have characterised a planet based on "The Word"… Burroughs is seen walking a red light district with a gun and a cat looking for Venusians…

And like Ballard says, the psychopath never dates. The maximising of sensation and violence, the biological rather than the political basis of ideas, thoughts and personalities where physique, posture, morphology and pigmentation are the beginnings of a transgressive ethic plus uneasy fantasies about bodies and emotions culled from popular newspapers and encyclopedias, this is the territory. Millions of these psychopaths, all of them children of the reference library -- strange inward men reading yet another life of Hitler and tracing the intricate geometries found in Medical Textbooks -- shelves are bulging and millions of men grapple with an information overflow that threatens to drown them: this is this, this is this. Multi channel TV repeats images that work to reveal the irrational and perverse meaning of reality -- the rooms we live in, the movement of our own bodies, the musculatures and curtains all contain possibilities of meaning that are out of control by the time they are sorted by the central nervous system. Inner and outer reality blast holes in everything that secures the realist novel, the realist concept of personality, the unified centralised concept of person.

If pornography is the most political form of fiction because it deals with how we use and exploit each other in the most urgent and ruthless way then a pure, modern politics would also be pornographic. It would contain no mystical smokescreens such as "rights of man" nor would it attempt to place a new perspective on man, nature, history and ultimate destiny. It would be as purely atheistic as an advertising agency, as a beach, as 18-35 package holidays. The outer world, along with Freud's inner, becomes eroticised and quantified, then disappears into a mass communication fantasy. The only struggle left is to struggle to run your own fantasy and not have others run you into theirs. All other angsts are hangovers from a way of life from years ago. The deep, centred nineteenth-century worries about personal integrity are as relevant now as questions about the existence of God.

Barber is writing of three examples of pornorgraphic politics. As such, it is written in a style that intends to dismantle conventional notions of writing about history. There's a conspiracy to stabilise the corner of the world we live in -- writers are part of this -- and Barber understands the power of trauma to smash through these bland conventions other writers collude with. All around us decisions are made to guarantee our safe passage through the world; Barber writes his books to traumatise the reader. He understands that violence per se is not fascist, is not evil, indeed it can be a metaphor for increasing choice, and his prose style makes the book seem as if he accepts the events he is writing about but he wants to re-run them so that they make more sense. There is a truth to be found.

What he writes about is frightening, horrific and repulsive of course, because millions were killed horribly. But Barber conveys a sense in which there was a grand imaginative dream, a morality in progress, in all these situations. The book works like porn in that after a while there's an abstract quality to the orgies he describes and after that, a weariness, image overload if you like, sets in. On the one hand, the author must rid us of cliché reactions to atrocities as part of the overall aim of deciphering the censorship/control process that restricts the imagination (and therefore life) while recoiling from a sensationalist affectless gloss that becomes just another imposed psychological convention. Barber's solution is to write his history in the carnage-infected prose of a novelist cranking up to the heights of Sade's One Hundred and Twenty days Of Sodom without the desolating coldness and boredom of that book.

What Barber writes about are strange hallucinatory processes that for relatively short and intense periods of time -- years rather than decades -- mental and social territories were explored to the extent that all filters and shutters to desire and self knowledge were removed. It was done at the cost of millions of people's lives but it was nevertheless done. The brain colludes with the repressive social mechanisms in order to maintain a sense of unity, both of a self and of reality. Removal of this collusion through extreme experimentation at both biological and social level was what happened in the three examples of psychopathic political pornography Barber writes about.

Unit 731, run by a Dr Ishii set up by the Japanese after they'd invaded Manchuria was a concealed and intense arcade of inner violence. Human beings were taken out of transitional time and reduced to the essence of their own geometries. Scientists worked in the neuronic totem of the Unit, a terrifying structure that connected to the nervous systems of the victims, developing an operating formula for their own passage through time and space. It was a systematic investigation of the human dream: a glassy isolation, a human landscape drained of emotions, sentiment, common usage, a gigantic autistic brain that understood the bizarre landscape of scientific dreaming -- closer and truer than any other -- working on live human flesh they converted into biological weapons.

They flew planes with flies carrying the plague and bombed nearby Chinese cities with them to see how quickly the plague would kill the civilians. Then the scientists would arrive in the cities to collect the dying victims, cutting them up on the spot to find out how they were affected or else taking them back to Unit 731 to carry out more experiments and collect more detail. Everyone perpetrating the atrocities were overstimulated, sexualised, the main locus of this sexuality being the anus. Anal sex would be norm before, during and after death both with prisoners and also colleagues. This sexuality was non-recreational and non-procreational, and although large elements of this behaviour was male on male it would be irrelevant to describe it as in any way a form of homoerotica. The whole of the Japanese army used anal sexuality as a liberation into absolute obedience and bondage to the values of the military.

The insane quantity of anal fucks experienced by the soldiers as part of their military training acted to dampen down the ability of the young people to relate to anyone out there. This totalising of the erotic in order to destroy the capacity for any empathic relationship was one of the startling successes of all three stories. This element only died down through the pangs of hunger when the vast number of Japanese troops unleashed cannibalism onto themselves in its place.

You can't help but notice is the enormous "overkill" of the acts:

"The Japanese troops carefully carved five stars into his back, and then a larger star, together with a hammer-and-sickle emblem of Stalin's regime, into his chest. The lieutenant's feet were set on fire until they turned black, and his fingernails wrenched out with pliers. Bullet cartridges were then hammered into each of the lieutenant's eyes and bones in his wrists and ankles were shattered with rifle butts. His ears were sliced off and his tongue pulled out by the roots. The Japanese then rammed a large anti-tank shell into the lieutenant's anus (finally killing him) and sliced off his penis…".

The number of things done, the number of people it was done to is what matters. It mattered to the people in charge of the experiments, as Barber writes:

"While Stalin's regime was preoccupied in exterminating many millions of its starving, frozen and sexual-slavery subjugated victims in the annihilation zone of Magadan, Hirohito's troops were assiduously mutilating, raping and massacring millions of their Chinese colonial subjects from their base in Manchuria.." (p. 21).

We're talking about millions of people here.

People were frozen alive, the test being to see how cold it had to be before death occurred, and while still alive, limbs were smashed off to see what would happen, organs removed and subjects questioned about how they felt before they died. The Japanese army under the insane Hirohito, their God/King buggered themselves and then went on a killing spree that was aimed at total annihilation of the world and then themselves. The Chinese were the subject of massacre after massacre at the beginning of the Second World War and throughout. The Brits and the French colonialists in the area were useless and scared and were easily destroyed. They too were treated to beheadings, mass rape and torture, ritualised buggery sessions where if you fell out of rhythm you would be beheaded. Balls would be popped, pregnant women bayoneted, prisoners would be buggered, their limbs chopped off, their eyes and ears removed before being beheaded. POWs were taken on long death marches -- like the Nazis did with the Jews even after the war was lost -- and were forced to bury each other alive. The Japanese army started eating human flesh (prisoners were hacked to bits and then eaten after being buggered), soldiers would poke their fingers through the anus holes of the dead from the inside. They didn't realise that eating uncooked human brains is unhealthy and so went mad. The attack on Pearl Harbour which eventually brought the USA into the war was supposed to be the start of the destruction of the world. Once the Americans were in the war they too went on rape and killing sprees as the Japanese perished through hunger and madness. Once the Russians came down to finish them off everyone in Japan was preparing to repulse the invaders using their hands if needs be -- they were going to tear the invaders to pieces. And eat them. Fuck their dead bodies. The Russians came pouring in and not even the plague that the Japanese had deliberately manufactured and spread in the region was able to hurt these invaders. When the two nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Tokyo was firebombed, the sex and death carnage continued but in a different way.

The Emperor and God Hirohito started talking about appeasement and the death lust was gone. Unit 731 was closed down but the Americans took the information Ishii and his scientists had gathered and used them for their own biological weapons industry. Ishii worked for the Americans and died peacefully, his grave somewhere in a cemetery in the suburbs of the sex-and-death city of Tokyo. The Americans gave the information to Saddam Hussein when he was fighting Iran and Saddam sold the info on to others afterwards. It is because of this that Saddam was recently targetted by Bush. The blueprints for the biological weapons Saddam is supposed to have manufactured were gifts from the USA. In 1997, the Japanese Emperor came to England and whilst going down the mall towards Buckingham Palace a group of British POWs turned round. This was a reference to the routine buggery that they had been forced to go through in the camps. There was no grand heroic POW spirit but just awesome Sadean sexuality -- mass beatings, mass buggery, mass torture, mass extermination, mass cannibalism. The gentle films made about this arena of the war was just a cover-up. David Lean: did he know? Americans in the South Pacific were equally caught up in the Surrealist manipulations -- raping and killing the hapless populations of the cities they fought for. John Wayne surely knew. And General MacArthur had his cock sucked by Hirohito.

Barber writes, as I said, as a Surrealist pornographer, and so we are able to read this story as an imaginative enterprise. Stalin too is seen in this way. The way Barber tells it, this psychopath is awake to his own fantasies, dreaming his dream whilst awake as it were. Stalin created Magadan on the isolated far-eastern Pacific coast where he kills thirty million Soviet citizens. 30 million! He fucks Hitler up the arse in a secret meeting between the two. He drinks brandy, sends his wives mad and suicidal through violent butt-fucking episodes. He preferred teenagers of ice-white-blonde looks from Armenia and Georgia, but would have swarthy vicious-tempered women from Turkmenistan and lower Mongolia in monstrous sessions of anal sex too. Magadan, being so far away, shipped in the slaves who were subjected to torture, anal sex attacks that had to be quick because of the sub-zero temperatures which would sometimes congeal copulators together -- the guards would shoot them apart or saw the frozen gentialia off -- and experiments. The decimation of the Soviet population was Stalin's aim: Madagan was the factory delivering the goods. The extreme landscape of Magadan -- with its sub-zero temperatures, ice-storms and darkness -- exacerbated the regime of death imposed by Stalin upon its inhabitants, maintaining and compulsively displaying that regime's lethal traces. Barber writes about it as if its very physical reality was part from the suggestibility of Stalin's whole murderous enterprise, like suicide is a family trait.

"By the beginning of 1953, Magadan had evolved into a terminal city of annihilation that possessed a time and space of its own" (p. 111). The extreme weather destroyed Magadan. Stalin died by "…being adroitly fellated to the point of orgasmic sensory wipeout: his brain's blood vessels lethally split apart with a sound that could be heard in the room, as a series of detonating whip-cracks". Khrushchev buggered the sadistic Beria at the same sex-and-drink party in which Stalin was sucked off to death. It was Beria who took over for a brief moment from Stalin until Khrushchev had him impaled through the arse on a hook, and killed. In Magadan, the news of Stalin's death and Khrushchev's closing down of the project to wipe out the Soviet population in 1953 meant that the thousands of slaves there had to make their way home. Many of them died within days and others months later. They were thousands of miles from anywhere. There was no transport. The last arrived back in Moscow in 1971. 22 years to get home and once there, they were treated like the tramps they were, crazed and broken remnants of the people they had once been.

Barber's third subject is Pol Pot and the killing fields of Cambodia. Pol Pot had Tuol Sleng, Unit S-21. Tuol Sleng means Poison Hill and Unit S-21 was a converted Bauhaus-style college building in the suburbs of Phnom Pheng where in the 60's Pol Pot had lectured on Rimbaud and De Sade. In 1976 it had been converted into a torture and killing centre. Pot wiped out a third of the total population of Cambodia. He wanted to kill slowly, to prolong the tortures for as long as he could. He was inspired by legendary accounts of the great leper-Emperor Jayavarman VII who had devised the most intricate and agonising means of torture ever inflicted which had been meticulously recorded in an entire library. The library had been in one of the abandoned temples of Angkor Wat and had been pillaged, before Pot could get to it, by the colonial French.

The French had used this extensive literature to inform their own torture regimes in North Africa and their torture unit in Paris. In the late 50's, Algerians were routinely tortured and killed by the fascist French secret police in Paris, not far from where Beckett, Burroughs, Trocci et al were all trying to perfect ways of writing about such stuff. Pot had been educated in Paris, a post-modern sexual predator, handsome, debonaire and intellectual. By the time Pot had finished his revolution a third of the total population of Cambodia had been wiped out. Pot fed the revolutionary zeal of his supporters by initiating "sexual storming attacks . . . so that the maximum number of sexual acts (preferably of an incestuous, bestial or deviant form) could be accomplished, in order to whip the entire country up into a sensorially-vertiginous state of revolutionary overkill". Reading, writing, money and images were banned. Intellectuals were microbes that were brutally destroyed. Everyone could be a microbe. He demanded that the amount of shit produced by his remaining, mainly peasant, population was also increased, alongside the sexual activity. "Pot and his associate Son Sen calculated that the quantitative differentials between the production of excrement and sexual fluids needed to be radically adjusted, in order that the population could work all-out on their twin revolutionary duties. Relentless anal sex was one solution, and the sodden fields of Cambodia soon teemed with masses of peasants buggering one another, scanned by the watchful eyes of the gun-toting Khmer Rouge cadres. Under the burning sun of Cambodia, the rural population started to sink beneath great orgasmic expulsions of excrement, semen and skull-encrusted liquefied mud". Barber's scene becomes Ernst's "The Eye Of Silence", a lanscape that is a living façade enclosing our own subliminal consciousness.

When Pot ran out of people to kill and fuck -- he liked to fuck very young people -- he had to wipe out his own youthful soldiers (fifteen and sixteen year olds) in order to keep the revolutionary ardour going. Betrayed by his own fellow revolutionaries, he was kept in a cage in the jungle, had his white hair dyed black and became a sex toy for rich Tai and Japanese businessmen who would pay money to bugger the former psychopathic dictator. He died peacefully in his bed.

Barber has written a great Surrealist history that also has a prophetic, mystical element: ". . . a jet of white-hot flame directed straight at the eye of humanity". It appeared at the same time as Martin Amis's Koba The Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million. The contrast between the two books is instructive. It's the funniest thing. Amis, whose last book was an attack on cliché, has produced the ultimate clichéd response, a mixture of contempt and fear. Amis gets the reviews, but Barber is the writer who will count, because his book is a brave attempt to do more than merely notice that humanity is strange. He has tried to present that strangeness through imaginative reconstruction. It's a harrowing read but what's the point of a book that doesn't change you? Barber's pornography is good. This is probably what the novel has to look like in the future: history as porn.




ABOUT STEPHEN BARBER

Stephen Barber has been hailed as "the most dangerous man in Britain" by The Independent. The Times has called his work "brilliant, profound and provocative". He is the author of fifteen books, including five with Creation Books, and has received awards from the Getty Program, the Japan Foundation, and the Berlin DAAD Artists and Writers' Program. His books have been translated.

Buy Stephen Barber's Annihilation Zones.





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