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LITERATURE: ESSAY

'MARK MANNING'S BIG BLACK COCK - REVIEW OF 'GET YOUR COCK OUT.' 



“"Manning winds his language out of the living knowy speech of Armley wide-boy sass to get to an observation that's as good as one by Elizabeth Bishop. But what Manning does is combine his quickly represented and precise experience and reflection with a snappy punchline word ­ Œdosserjuice' which picks up on the vernacular joy of pub boy crack. This is how the book gains its momentum ­ no matter that this is a story ostensively about vampire/goth rock bands ­ Buffy the vampire Slayer for the Motorhead crew ­ its actually the joke-spooling insanity of each cummed up sentence that kicks the book forward. It's a physical, deranged act that matches up with his vision for ŒRock'n'roll ­ Œreal blistering, passionate rock Œn' roll [that]always plays better on a diet of poverty and cheap drugs.¹" 
by Richard Marshall

COPYRIGHT © 2001, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The Brotherhood Of Sleeping Car Porters. This has got to be a joke. It is. Was. An actual organisation, led by black civil rights pioneer A. Philip Randolph, it has an honourable bit-part in the Rosa Parks story1. So, it’s a joke in cahoots with the NAACP, the Chicago Defender, the Pittsburgh Courier, Crisis, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, the American Communist Party and Marcus Garvey, where the laughter shot to kill the Alabama racist social setting of the 1960’s and raised Cain. It’s where Martin Luther King, W.E.B. Du Bois and Malcolm X jazzed their anti-racist, jewelled-jive riffs, improvisingly swift put-downs and fast come-backs and come-on’s, answering their bad-assed Klan-virused times with smart, flash vernacular ingenuities and energies. 

You notice this sort of thing too easily in, say, the mainstream stand-up routines of a Richard Prior and an Eddie Murphy because they’re advertised as comics doing their comic routine thang. But its all over the Afro-American show and goes down deep, not just on the overtly comedy circuit, where mockery and swift word-jumps, inverted meanings and playing the wind-up game are commonplace, but also in the music and the writing.

In Louise Bennett’s poem ‘Independance’, as an example of what I’m saying, we get, in the first wry, juicy verse, the lines – ‘Jamaica start grow beard, ah hope/We chin can stan de strain!’[2] and find ourselves listening to a simultaneously comedic and serious routine . The poem is interesting because it is not just about national identity but also about the identity of the poem itself, about how it should be read or heard, about the spirit that should decide that. ‘Independance raising Cain’ is line two, so it’s a poem about the devilish problem of getting free, of finding independence from colonialism, racism and also about getting the freedom to use her own rhythms and cadences, her own language, her own voice, down to even her own spelling – notice that insolent, daring and beautiful ‘a’ in the title word that kisses off the over-surveyed and over-policed world of written language. It’s a tiny gesture with a big impact, like a subversive honey wink that brings nothing but trouble in mind.

It also is a poem saying that it wants the freedom to be funny, crack a laugh and yet still have resonance, be taken seriously, to take its pleasure for pleasure’s sake. It marries the sensuality of its form and tone to its subject and the result is a tone of knowing, erotic, foxy beguiling. It knows what it knows, is sassy, sexy and alive. It’s serious, cracks open a smile and a bottle of rum, gets down and gives it large. When in the sixties and seventies the world held its breath as Mohammed Ali boxed out his fierce drama with a ferocity that reminds us of Bacon’s remark about scholastic philosophy - ‘fierce with dark keeping’, a phrase Hazlitt used where ‘keeping’ ‘… means harmony of tone or composition,’[3]there was the same mixture of crisis, threat and pressure coupled to a life-affirming belligerence and humour that fractured the drag of violence into something closer to ‘…a girl wrestling off her dress.’[4]

And then comes, of course, the ground of such humour, something like the grim true story of Emmett Till where the spry young black lad shows approval of a white woman by whistling as she passes him by – and that whistle, its the same spirit of strutting, joyous life-affirmation that we hear in ‘Independence’, or that winked ‘a’ for ‘e’, but this time its read as a dumb insolence – dumb both as in silence and unspeakability as well as in stupid . The young man is battered to death by white racists and left in a terrible ditch.

So the ground for this humour of resistance holds Till in a ditch, King and X dead by killer’s bullets, swallowing their own blood, Ali brain-damaged through taking too many fights, Prior still slow-dying of Aids – suddenly you get the laughter, you get the depth of it, the power of the joke, its independence and context. And of course all relevant music is sourced in such a humour, in the living, the vernacular pulse of all popular sound, those Blue sorrowful uplifting spiritual rhythms that rise out of slavery and oppression.

Stewart Home is explicitly saying all this this when he writes – ‘The musical form that is dominant today can be described as Afro-American. This term describes forms of music such as soul, jazz and rock which are made by people of many different ethnicities. However, it is a musical form initially created out of black experiences in the Americas. This music is not just about entertainment but also about identity and the ability of those Africans – and those of African descent – who became Americans, to survive the horrors of slavery and white racism…this music is also about being able to play creatively, about the human race as homo-ludens, so this music is about fun (or “entertainment’) as well as more serious matters too. Afro American music is about the seriousness of what is not serious, and the non-seriousness of what is serious. If Afro-American music is about survival then it is also about joy…I think repeated listens to albums like Idris Muhammed’s ‘Black Rhythm Revolution’ would do an awful lot…’[5]

Alongside this approach is that of the Ulster Scot republican Tom Paulin. It is well understood that Paulin’s dissenting project – directed as it is through an impressive jumble of critical writing, TV journalism and poetry writing/performing alongside his role as a teacher and lecturer in first Nottingham University and now Oxford, is to gut and take apart the conservative, hierarchical and monarchical Eliotic tradition that stifles everything juiced up, democratic, egalitarian, vernacular and alive.

Indeed the term ‘vernacular’ for Paulin describes a kind of spiritual dream space, reminding us perhaps of the native Australians in the Werner Herzog film ‘Where The Green Ants Dream’ – a film about the place where the green ants each new day dream the world into existence - it’s a space which has no centre and no edge, no existence save a dependence on ant consciousness, a whole mysterious dream world of constant becoming.

Paulin quotes Eliot writing on the metaphysical poets where this Nobel Prize winning elitist racist High Anglican modernist right wing poet uses a theory he nicked from a Unitarian who loved Milton and Dryden to kick Milton and Dryden out of the English lit canon[6]. This is a key moment in the inauguration of the anti-vernacular canon but the point I want to make here is that Paulin is concerned to attack this right wing stuff using a dissenting tradition that embraces more than the usually narrow protestant response.

Paulin’s work is about expanding the meanings of vernacular and dissent and where he has gone with this project seems to allow him to happily incorporate black – Afro/American and Asian-black as well as Catholic, Celtic and working class energies into that sense of radical experience. Joyce, it seems to me, is his main man in this. So I think this is what ‘vernacular’ means for Paulin.

If you want a picture of it, go and look at Paul Klee’s ‘Pfeil im Garten’ of 1929/97 in the Centre Georges Pompidou, Musee National d’art Moderne, Paris. Here you find that incredible effect Gertrude Stein noted and David Sylvester writes about in an essay for ‘Les Temps Modernes’ in January 1951 – ‘…every point is as crucial as every other, and there is never a point on which the spectator’s eye is allowed to finally rest. Whatever sign it tries to come to rest upon, it is never able to take in the whole picture as a whole. And when it tries to grasp the part of the picture that eluded it, it is deflected towards some other sign and goes through the whole process again. Soon the spectator finds that this movement of his eye from sign to sign is pulling him, in imagination, into the picture. He yields to this magnetic pull, enters the picture at some point and begins to move about within it.’ [7]

What Sylvester describes is the painting equivalent of Afro/American jazz improvisation. What he seems to miss is the humour, the lightness of it all and the reason I specify the particular Klee painting I did is because in that one Klee has slapped a great black arrow in the middle of its maze of colours. Its like a black phallic reminder of love, pleasure, humour, every good thing, and it works like an absurd gesture – it works to the point that there is no point to point to. And the effect of representing that in the form of a pointing black arrow –it’s a joke, a giggle.

Sylvester gets most of the business, even though the humour gets past him, when he writes – ‘…this agglomeration of signs has neither a beginning and end, since it looks as though it could go on beyond the borders of the canvas or paper, nor [has it] an axis, a focal point on which the eye can come to rest so as to see the picture, disposed about the point, as an ordered whole…dazzling as the rotating clubs and balls of a juggler,’ [8]  - and the arrow is funny because although it should act as a focal point functioning as Sylvester suggests the viewer is wanting it to, it doesn’t, won’t, can’t. Its also suggestive to pick up that image of the juggling balls because it reminds us of Paulin’s hero Hazlitt and his essay where the work of the critic and language and life is likened to juggling.

So it strikes me that Tom Paulin’s dissenting project is also an attempt to reconfigure the stuffy old protestant white English radical tradition as well as attack the Eliotic one. Paulin is wanting to remind us that Protestantism, if it can remember its own history, can also embrace and dissolve itself into the black Afro/American dream time.

And the Catholic one. And the Celtic. And the Caribbean and Indian sub-continent one’s too etc. etc. - if it wants to. And it needs to want to. The ‘Field Day’ project of which he is one of the founder members is a republican cultural project where the shorn-off bigot memories of Orangemen and Ian Paisley supporters are mere blank and dreary voids.[9] That black arrow in Klee, which as a joke becomes a black phallus and a symbol of the Afro/American source of resistance and beauty combined, reaching out to all other sources of similar dissent through humour, is what Paulin’s vision of dissenting radicalism wants his Protestantism to become. This is a way of reading his poetry, for example his supple liquidy ‘I Am Nature’ where you find ‘you know I pushed my/soft bap/out her funky vulva/her black thighs/and my first cry/was Scotch-Irish/a scrake/a scratch/a screighulaidh’[10] here the talk is made to invent a moment that goes beyond the B Special language of charred bracken where ‘Paisley’s plain tongue, his cult/of Bunyan and blood/in blind dumps like Doagh and Boardmills -/that’s the enemy…’ [11] runs the crack.

There are suggestive discussions of a non-sectarianism Protestantism  when we read of Protestants embracing Gaelic in the opening section of Fintan O’Tool’s‘s brilliant life of Sheridan[12] and in a TV documentary done by Paulin over a decade ago Paulin reminds us that the first Catholic Church built on the Falls Road in Belfast was built by Protestants. But the thing that should be emphasised here is how funny all this can be, rather like the thought that Wolfe Tone, hero of Catholic republicans, was a Protestant. The dull blunt memories of the dour Bible bashing No Surrender brigade are turned into jokes.

So language needs to jump and skip, jab and throw itself about like Ali in against Liston. And of course Hazlitt likened this glossy, perfectly articulated eroticism of energetic action to a boxer fight. In her book ‘Good To Talk’ top linguist Professor Deborah Cameron is looking at talk in the workplace, schools and private lives and in doing so she writes, in an appendix : ‘The ultimate object of investigation in this case was spoken language; but as I suggested in Chapter 2, the institutional regulation of spoken discourse  is quite strikingly a literate practice, which could not be carried on in the forms this book describes without the aid of writing.’[13] She makes a good case for saying that this regulation is a deeply unlovely thing and is the anti-vernacularism against which the suggestive dream of an Afro/American Celtic catholic Protestant Dissenting tradition positions itself ! There is no sense of absurdity, no sense of humour at all in this regulated language. It is deeply boring stuff, stifling pleasure and its lubricated body-thought.

Part of Mark Manning’s response to this nasty conservative phenomenon has been to put into print the spoken language that resists this codified, standardised and surveyed language of ‘communication’ and verbal hygiene.

‘…I dig old fashioned words, words long out of consciousness much more accurately than do their modern equivalents. Raw visceral words that don’t strip these states of their twisted and sacred glamour. Wonderful, scary words like ‘demonic possession’. What words or phrases better describe the scintillating ecstasy of flinging open your brain-pan to the elemental universe, inviting in for a ride whatever demented supernatural joker happens to be surfing the immediate aether.’[14]

Manning is also known as Zodiac Mindwarp and fronts a mad rock group ‘The Love Reaction’. Already his Afro/American roots are exposed in all this, alongside those of his birthplace of Armley, Leeds, Yorkshire. As anyone would predict, a white lad brought up there and going off to Bradford College Of Art was obviously destined to become a rock God and a black man – or else a BR sandwich maker. He writes like a Robert Johnson bluesman where beneath his ‘… venereal, yellow anecdotes’ there is the kind of knowledge about how things can really be, love and sex and death and all, stuff that in certain pompous moments you might call wisdom. And in its crazy extremes there is a vision that can spread out large enough to give the laughs a mad force. But what really catches the reader is the humour, the enormous life enhancing grin that marks every page of his pulpy trash. 

But there’s a problem writing about humour these days – in trying to catch its wonky curveball there’s a danger that no one sees the joke at all. Stewart Home the black avant-bardist is sometimes viewed as a dangerous young man and even an anarchist even though many of his writings are explicitly against that ideologies’ right wing fascist tendencies.[15] Home, in writing about Kirby Olson’s ‘Comedy After Postmodernism; rereading comedy from Edward Lear to Charles Willeford’,[16] suggestively comments that much critical response to black writing is reproduced within a Marxist canon that sends its reading through the prism of ‘justice’ as an organising principle whereas for Home it belongs to what Olson calls ‘pomo humour’ which directs itself through ‘…fragmentation and

Lopsidedness.’

White critics, in other words, make out that black writing is all deep and serious when what they’re up to is humour. The argument reminds us of the institutional racism of much lit crit and indeed all cultural manifestations. The assumption of a white sensibility and situ is a core of this foul state of affairs.

This reminds us of the need to foreground race as well as class in discussions of the cultural context out of which the Attack! Books  project is coming. Stewart Home again pulls out some vivid examples of the way an assumption of mono-whiteness can distort what might have been intended as an intervention to produce a unified universal vision. In a gauntlet throwing essay[17] first published in ‘Modern Painters’ he critiques fashionable young British artist Mark Wallinger’s joke piece ‘Oxymoron’ and the response to it by critic Kevin Davey.

‘Davey writes excitedly and with approval that Wallinger, by painting the Union Jack in the colours of the Irish tricolor had created something that ‘… at least in the North Of Ireland, had proved it did possess the capacity to shock.’ Home is devil detailed and soon gives it rough to Davey and Wallinger. ‘Gorbals based artist Kenny Murphy-Roud showed a Union Jack transformed by the colours of the Irish tricolour with the title Flag at a number of exhibitions and events in Glasgow during the eighties. Glasgow, like Belfast, is a city marred by Orange Lodges and Protestant bigotry, and so it took a certain amount of front on Murphy-Roud’s part to show it in his home-town. While Wallenger might not have been aware of the precedent for ‘Oxymoron’, his work certainly lacks the political gravity that the context and intent of Murphy-Roud’s ‘Flag’ demonstrated, and not least in the personal risks its creator took. Similarly, Davey’s notion of Brixton’s streets  being impoverished is perverse, and simultaneously overlooks the fact that the gentrification of the area (for which people like Wallinger are responsible) is currently causing the displacement of parts of its less prosperous population. When Davey writes of “ the national flag inverted into the colours of its historic republican opponent” he is unconsciously articulating a form of ethnic and national difference that separates people off from each other and diverts them into social and historical locations that become mutually impermeable and incommensurable.’

Home in the same essay notes a passage from the autobiography of Charles Osborne , a former Director of the Literature Department of the Arts Council where the Great man is quoted as writing ‘… what is wrong with racial prejudice (or rather racial dislike, for prejudice, or prejudging, of anything is clearly unfair)? Races differ from one another, and one cannot be expected to like everything and everyone in the world can one? To say to yourself, ‘I dislike Australians or Jew or Arabs or Boers or Japanese, and therefore have as little to do with them as possible’ is in my view perfectly admissible… I regard the Japanese as a cruel and unusual race and I have no desire to visit the land of the cherry blossom and the Toyota… too many novelists today… expect to be able to write without being able to write… Intention is nothing. Intention I those Irishmen sitting around in Dublin cafes telling each other about the novels they are going to write … Intention is also those nouvelle vague plodders  and their English followers. Achievement is all… In the view of many, the dark person in this interesting literary woodpile is the public library system, which leads me to the question of public lending Rights…’ Home’s point is simple – an assumption of whiteness is the unproblematised starting point for both Young British Artists and mandarin Civil servants. He has many other examples of this tendency, for example in the way punk rock also failed to understand itself as a white phenomenon and instead seemed to think it was speaking to youth’s universal condition, or in his necessary interventions in the ongoing appeal of anarchism to artists based on his well-grounded contention that anarchism is racist.

A recent discussion with Craig Martin, editor of ‘Bookworms’ analysed the connection of art with anarchism, building from his earlier and more thorough look at this issue in ‘Anarchist Integralism: Aesthetics, Politics and the Apres-garde’[18]. The discussion is interesting because there he again makes the point about how unreflective the art world is and how it ends up unconsciously colluding with xenophobic forces . He takes as an example the Bridge project which was a collaboration between the Whitechapel gallery café and the Freedom Press bookshop. Home’s objection was that it served to legitimise the bookshop, an outlet for anarchist texts.

As he puts it, ‘Freedom Press not only sell works by the anti-Semitic propagandists Proudhon and Bakunin, they also have portraits of these anarchist ‘founding fathers’ on the outside wall of their premises. Stewart Edwards, the editor of the selected Writings Of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon remarks: Proudhon’s diaries (Garnets, ed P Haubtmann, Marcel Riviere, Paris 1960 to date) reveal that he had almost paranoid feelings of hatred against the Jews. In 1847 he considered publishing … an article against the Jewish race , which he said he ‘hated’. The proposed article would have ‘Called for the expulsion of the Jews from France. The Jew is the enemy of the human race. This race must be sent back to Asia, or exterminated. H Hein, A Weil and others are simply secret spies. Rothschild, Cremieux, Marx, Fould, evil choleric, envious, bitter men etc etc who hate us’…I assume …. That other than the Freedom Press, none of those involved in the Bridge Project were aware of the specifics of Proudhon and Bakunin’s politics until I alerted Anthony Spira at the Whitechappel gallery to them prior to my talk at the venue…It is also necessary to stress that the problems I have raised  with regard to Bakunin and Proudhon are not restricted to historical anarchism. Freedom Press also sell material by contemporary  anarchist groups and individuals that are just as offensive. For example, even after other London alternative bookshops such as Compendium in Camden refused to sell material by the Green Anarchist network, freedom continued to do so (and despite carrying criticisms of it in their fortnightly newspaper ‘Freedom’) At the end of the day it is irresponsible of the Whitechappel gallery to funnel people into a bookshop selling publications advocating that London tube train commuters should be indiscriminately murdered  in sarin gas  attacks and that neo-Nazi style fertiliser bomb attacks should be carried out against DSS offices to ‘end welfare dependency.’

Home’s whole black Atlantic and European avant garde oeuvre is designed to send out red alert sirens screaming out about the culpability, collusiveness and gullibility of sections of the anti-establishment as well as establishment cultural movements. His European avant bardic celtic black crossover mix is not only interesting because of its engagement with cultural production - his arguments about literature and art as well as his own production of novels and anti-art - but you also sense that it’s a truer picture of what people are living as these days. To get back to the ‘new thing’ that has no outsiders, no centre, no peripheries is consistently the order of his day. But humour is the key to understanding what Home’s up to and too many readings of Home miss this.  Chris Morris’s ‘Jam’ was similarly received by many liberal as well as right wing TV critics where the humour was lost for something supposedly more disturbing and so more deep.

Mark Manning’s Attack! Book ‘Get Your Cock Out’ announces its intentions right from the start. It is his relentless ability to drive his narratives through humour that gives the book a poignant edge missed by those critics who would either disregard the humour – its meant to be funny – and focus on being disgusted or else would condescend the whole thing with the put down – ‘its only a joke, its not serious is it?’

What I think is important, as with all the Attack! Books , is not to oppose the serious with the humorous and say you either have the one or the other but rather to catch the ground of the humour, sniff the serious context of the joke. So, for instance, in a more mainstream place than Attack! Books, it seems clear that ‘Private Eye’ is a fine example of heavyweight journalism, but like Attack! it works its spells through the cunning prism of cutting humour. Similarly, when Stewart Home decided to levitate the Brighton Pavilion to signal an assault on the high art pretensions of the composer Stockhausen[19], the event’s humour is floating, like the levitated pavilion itself, out of serious ground.

But Manning isn’t doing journalism but is rather going at the novel form using language as high intoxication which reminds you of the energies of Sally Belfrage’s ‘The Crack’ – ‘Then one thing led to another and all this caper and carry-on and whenever he stopped at the pub, he hovered up five pints and got pole axed (jarred, puddle, paladic, plucked, blocked, blitzed, snattered, stocious, steamboats, elephantised, arsified, blootered, lockjawed, or merely full). ‘You know what yer mon’s like like.’ – Och aye. Not a titter of wit.’ ‘Did you get the sausingers but?’ – ‘I’m only after goin’ til the shop so.’[20] Its an attack on the idea that words are just flat functional signs – Manning’s language is the direct speech- act of anti-polish giving no orders and receiving no deference as filtered through the coarse grid of Viz’s Profanasaurus[21].

‘Strutter took a deep hit on his Tennants Super, weird, he could afford to drink champagne and single malts now but he still liked the thick treacly taste of the valerium laced dosserjuice.’[22] Here is an example of the way Manning winds his language out of the living knowy speech of Armley wide-boy sass to get to an observation that’s as good as one by Elizabeth Bishop. But what Manning does is combine his quickly represented and precise experience and reflection with a snappy punchline word – ‘dosserjuice’ which picks up on the vernacular joy of pub boy crack. This is how the book gains its momentum – no matter that this is a story ostensively about vampire/goth rock bands – Buffy the vampire Slayer for the Motorhead crew – its actually the joke-spooling insanity of each cummed up sentence that kicks the book forward. It’s a physical, deranged act that matches up with his vision for ‘Rock’n’roll – ‘real blistering, passionate rock ‘n’ roll [that]always plays better on a diet of poverty and cheap drugs.’

In a strange way there’s a deep call for authenticity in his work – ‘Money and fame would have destroyed the Cowboys, transformed them overnight into another corporate, cream cheese, identiband… It’s a simple fact that a band’s first album is always their best – that precious handful of songs crafted on beat up guitars, cracked cymbals and broken amps. Music shaped by a pure asceticism and a belief that the human spirit can conquer all.’[23] This is pure blues, pure edenic vision stuff and it runs through everything he’s doing.

So in a way this book is rather endearing and uplifting – it embraces something in the dissenting imagination that is gloriously hopeful and buoyed up, looking for the good life despite everything – despite even evil vampire cartoon capitalist bandleaders like Darklord.

‘When they were having the wildest sex imaginable – Mincey had even started fucking her in the cunt. They were painting the town all the colours of the rainbow, running through Regents Park laughing like children and drinking heavily, Dandelion laughingly trying to keep up with her beau, matching him drink for drink and then spewing her ring in the backs of cabs. Mincey was so funny when he blew chunks – that Tennants Super lager was strong stuff! And when he shat himself in Wardour Street, how they laughed and laughed! They both knew that Mincey probably needed help for his chronic alcoholism, but there was no rush, she was so proud of his successful attempt at getting off the needle, all he had to do now was kick the methadone and keep going to meetings, her big brave man!’ [24]

In this extract you can see the combination of low life, Irvine Welsh-like landscape coupled with sheer loving exuberance and joy. It’s a weird combination but where other novelists might have been inclined to the grim and despairing self-pitying whine – a tendency that even Welsh sometimes can be accused of – Manning is lighting up the whole crappy situation with self-ridicule born out of self-awareness and lunatic passion. It is this quality that frees him from the conservative ideology that fears that ‘ the centre will not hold’, the angst filled voices that stride in pornographic relish over the relics of a killed past – so to Eliot’s ‘April is the cruellest month’ Manning responds with the uplifting merriment of ‘… kick the methadone and keep going to meetings…’ .

At this point it is interesting to compare Manning with his Leeds compatriot, the top poet Tony Harrison. Harrison in his poem ‘v’ meditates with his old self on the desecration of his parents graves in a Leeds churchyard.

‘I’ve done my bits of mindless aggro too/not half a mile from where we’re standing now.’/Yeah, ah bet yer wrote a poem, yer wanker you!/’No, shut yer gob a while. Ah’ll tell yer ‘ow…’ he writes at one point. He’s trying to answer his young self’s accusation that he’s gone all literary, joined the other side, is writing stuff that’s as boring and irrelevant as the Latin he criticises elsewhere in his poems.

And just because he is aware of the accusation doesn’t mean that he’s answered it. He doesn’t answer it because despite his good liberal intentions all he’s got is despair and a sense of loss at the end. To the accusation  ‘Don’t talk to me of fucking representing/the class yer were born into any more./Yer going to get ‘urt and start resenting/its not poetry we need in this class war./ Ye’ve given yerself toffee, cunt. Who needs/yer fucking poufy words. Ah write mi own…/[25] all Harrison can do is sound sad and deep – ‘Though I’ve a train to catch my step is slow./I walk on the grass and graves with wary tread/over these subsidences, these shifts below/the life of Leeds supported by the dead.’

It’s that self-absorbed tone of defeat that Manning addresses in his sprightly writing, reaching out to the the transnational structures of the black Atlantic world where the response to slavery and dispossession is not the gloomy European tradition of narcissistic individualistic Romanticism but the spontaneous artifice, the contingent loops and fractal trajectories of lyric song.

Hidden in Manning are the rock’n’ roll simplicities of African-American fusion, ‘ a reinvention of the language of the Bible and the dirt road, plantation and medicine show, of the deep South countryside and the city streets, of nineteenth century children’s games, folk tales and family lore and African folk memory: above all the language of the oppressed  community and the individual human heart.’[26]

Of course there’s always the question of who is being authentic here – which is about how convinced we are that Manning’s voice is real to Manning – but this essay is contesting that in writing, as opposed to music for example, where the arguments are familiar and well established,[27]the Eliotic hold still grips the critical ropes and keeps Manning’s book out. It’s also a contention that Manning is authentic because he is still interested, despite all the artifice, in his source materials. Which of course makes him funnier than he would be if he was just doing a shopping-mal forgetfulness laugh routine like millionaire Ben Elton.

And so to that sperm-shooting cock of his. It crows through the whole book, as it did in his autobiographical ‘Crucify me Again.’ It’s as if that black arrow in the Klee painting is now spinning and darting around all over the canvas, poking and prodding itself into every juiced up gash it can find. Manning is so rigorously over the top about this that what in others might have seemed like the mad ravings of a misogynist scumbag comes across as curiously egalitarian, warm, even loving! In his wonderfully mental autobiography ‘Crucify Me Again’ he takes a shot at the top feminist of all time, Germaine Greer because she attacks wanking boys in her book ‘The Whole Woman’.

It’s a great section of Manning’s book because whilst crashing ever onwards in his hilariously dissolute manner he catches a glimpse of himself and all he’s ever done. And it isn’t genius he’s looking at. ‘The porno vid has stopped rolling, spunking and orgasming in German and you catch sight of your revolting self reflected on the blank screen. Pants around ankles, soggy tissue in trembling hand, thin skein of clear cock-snot stretching from bell end to inner thigh. … It’s not even guilt that curdles your guts, just this truly awful feeling of worthlessness and shame… Picking on tuggers Germaine, really. That’s like laughing at spastics, for fuck’s sake.’[28] It’s all wrong, it’s all working at odds with writing – writing that’s worth something isn’t supposed to work like this, use this kind of language – but the humour, the laugh, the tone – it rises over itself into something strong, moving, empathic. The last moments of the book end like this : ‘The sirens from Clerkenwell fire station on Roseberry Avenue still sang as sweetly as they ever did. Those glamorous engines in their vermilion livery hurtled beneath my window in the middle of the night flashing blue hysteria and nonchalant heroism all over my ceiling and walls. Smithfield Market, I was pleased to fin, remained the same. Eldritch and strange, still possessed of its unnerving black perspectives and skewed angles, grand, barbarous and as sinister as a flash of steel and a woman’s screams in the fog.

I sleep well here on the ghostly banks of that forgotten river, the Fleet. I imagine I’ll probably die well here too.’[29] Its an earned, strange and uplifting visionary moment, linking the writing with the contemporary top cult London novelist Iain Sinclair, with Dereck Raymond and the Michael Moorcock of ‘Mother London’ as well as reaching back to Blake.

‘ “Fucking and sucking, Sucking and fucking , my little clamjungle, Clamjungle pie, alright, wooh,” he sang quietly to himself as he got back into bed with dandy. Dandy pretended to be asleep as her romantic lover started fucking her tenderly up her arsehole.’[30] It’s a fine line but where many writers get the tone wrong and then end up with aggression and anti-women sexist rubbish – as in Amis in his woefully sexist ‘London Fields’ where his whole murderee thing was just a poorly judged authoritarian mannerism, Manning keeps his mental register pointing like the priapic fourteen year old boy sex obsessive – the tone is both sad, therefore funny (like Beavis and Butthead’s obsession with women is funny) and works the line that the only good sex is ‘loads’. Its quantity not quality that counts! And the tone, its got to be funny if its going to be anything at all.

The point is that to be able to do this heroic comic routine you have to have the right point of view. The Eurocentric white Romantic egotistical individualism that posits genius and the mad evil of a Hitler and its critical  Heideggerian spokes can’t gift this sort of thing no matter what the ground. What I mean is that even when there’s an understanding and an experience of bad things, if you take the European intellectualist mode of response the tone cannot be light, cannot find the appropriate humour, rhythm, dance or soul.

As an example it is instructive to look at mental actor Klaus Kinski’s autobiography[31] which draws heavily on the white European Romantic tradition even though Kinski is trying to present himself as something of a joker. . Kinski takes his fuck festing ways far too seriously for it to be humorous. Kinski actually thinks he’s a genius. Knowing that he stood on a mountainside with mad film director Werner Herzog trying to make up as many outrageous terms to describe the sex doesn’t save him. He comes across as a rather nasty type of sex-nazi.

‘I fuck her again. On my knees from behind. On my back. She rides me. And again on her back, her legs wide apart and high up. She wants me to move in. But she knows it’s impossible. She keeps wanting to kiss me and she keeps wanting me to give her my seed.’[32] Its self-conscious writing, straining to be literary and portentious – just listen to that ridiculous ‘she keeps wanting me to give her my seed,’ its writing that denies the real lived in experience of the direct speech act. This is egotistical white prick writing. This is someone distancing himself from reality, wearing underwear, this is someone prowling around like a rapist. He’s using the women and he’s using the situation to present himself, always himself, as some sort of Superman. Its ugly, offensive stuff. The fact that Kinski is a working class lad come good, and that he wants to be funny just shows how difficult authentic humour is.

Manning just shows Kinsky that if he was trying to be funny he didn’t pull it off. Manning too is rampaging through the same seedy material as the actor, but his tone is assuredly that of real speech and so his personality as a warm presence comes through on every page, in every scene, no matter how insane it is. Its not literary, not straining towards the airs and graces of genius, and so achieves the serious pleasure of scandalous humour. This is what I mean by black cock writing. It’s the blues, it’s jazz, it’s the fluid boxing of Ali at his peek, it’s the white water flow of the last lines of Paulin’s great poem ‘ Oxford’ which expands from a tight improvised riff on the Punjab, Rome, and Oxford out to the whole ballooning dreamspace vision – ‘...notice again how they’re shaped like kulfi/- like Indian icecream… the take that word camera/ and you’ll find it means room in latin/just as the word kamra in Punjabi/ also means room/ so that from the Land of the Five Rivers/to Ancient Rome/to this three hundred year and more dome/is as short and sweet as a piece of burfi’ – notice that beautiful, clenching and throwaway last line that’s pure inclusivity, a fresh sweet and tasty morsel.

Of course Manning, unlike the Faber poet Paulin, is seen as a bit of rough failing literature’s higher calling. (If he is seen at all). Yet throughout, Manning takes us through this agenda of laddish fucking, drinking and rocking, twisted into the mock-Goth fictional narrative of ‘Get Your Cock Out’ with a charged up black-arrowed cocky self-mockery that means that a one-sided power relation, assumed by the majority of male writers of ‘literature’ just doesn’t hold resulting in that ‘sweet burfi’ loveliness.

Steven Wells, editor in chief of Attack! Books as well as being one of its authors[33], understands this all too well. The book stands as a corrective to those male authors of laddish lust that can’t handle the high octane need that drives them. ‘Roll over Nick Hornby!’ Wells writes on the book’s blurb – signalling that the nerdy obsessive record collecting love lorn geek of that well-received white male novel is yet again a nostalgia trip which meets the depressive and conservative agenda of the English novel. By publishing Manning Wells has recognised that what the literary garden needs is Klee’s black arrowed cock prodding away at it all.  Smeared in Indian ice cream perhaps! So Manning’s will do very nicely thank you! 


1 See e.g. Douglas Brinkley ‘Mine Eyes have seen The Glory: The Life Of Rosa Parks’ Weidenfeld 2001

2 Louise Bennett ‘Independence’ taken from  Tom Paulin ‘The Faber Book of Vernacular verse’ p232

3 See Tom Paulin ‘The Day Star Of Liberty. William Hazlitt’s Radical Style’ Faber and Faber  1998 p 183

4 Derek Walcott ‘From This Far’ in ‘Derek Walcott; Collected Poems’ Faber and Faber 1986 p416. Walcott is another instance of the way humour mediates the business of justice. His vast and brilliant torso of poems are full of flashes of humour and jokes – the fleshy talk of a real sensibility having a laugh at the expense of anything that tries to snuff it, laughter, out

5 Stewart Home ‘’Are You On Drugs? Mass Movement  Interview With StewartHome’ in Jean Baudrillard & The Psychogeography Of Nudism: 25 tall tales Of Sexual Impropriety With seventeen Year Old Girls, Decadent Nuns & Bread Dolls Taken directly From The pages of both spicy…’ 2001 p59

6 Tom Paulin ‘The day Star Of Liberty’ Faber 1999 p57 ‘TS Eliot’s dissociation of sensibility…Comparing Donne and Lord Herbert of Cherbury with Browning and Tennyson, Eliot says that the difference between them is not a simple difference between poets: it is caused by something which happened ‘to the mind of England’ between the two historical periods in which these writers lived.’

7 David Sylvester p 39

8 Sylvester op cit p 38

9 See for example Terence Brown ‘The Whole Protestant Community: the making of a historical myth’ Field Day Theatre company 1985 and also Edward W said ‘Nationalism, Colonialism and literature. Yeats and decolonisation’ Field day Theatre Company 1988 who writes ‘…At the heart of European culture lay what could be called an undeterred, and unrelenting Erocentricism. This accumulated experiences, territories, peoples, histories, it studied them, it classified them, it verified them; but above all, it subordinated them to the culture and indeed to the very idea of white Christian Europe.’ P7

10 Tom Paulin ‘I Am Nature’ in Fivemiletown’ Faber and Faber 1987

11 Tom Paulin ‘And Where Do You Stand On The Irish Question’ in ‘Liberty Tree’ Faber and Faber

12 Fintan O’Tool ‘Traitors Kiss: The Life Of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’ Granta 1997

13 Deborah Cameron ‘Good To talk? Sage publication 2000 p 184

14 Mark Manning ‘Crucify me Again’ p 10

15 Stewart Home -Previously unpublished correspondence 2001

16 Kirby Olson ‘Comedy After Postemodernism; Rereading Comedy From Edward lear To Charles Willeford.’ Texas University Rress 2001

17 Stewart Home ‘A Book In Search Of An Index: English Imaginaries: Six Studies  in Anglo-British Modernity by Kevin Davey’ in ‘Jean Baudrillard and The Psychology Of Nudism’ Sabotage Editions 2001 p 35-39

18 Stewart Home ‘Jean Baudrillard and The Psychology Of Nudism’ p 50-55

19 Stewart hall has written about this in several places , but to read a passing remark about it in a context of fierce argument with the fascist organisation green Anarchy gives you a sense of the urgency of the joke where the ‘something serious’ is the resurgence of nazi organisations. See Luther Blissett and Stewart Home ‘Green Apocalypse’ Unpopular Books p25

20 Sally Belfrage ‘The Crack.’

21 ‘Roger’s Profanisaurus’ ed Chris Donald John Brown Publishing 1998

22 Mark Manning ‘Get Your Cock Out’ Attack! Books 2000 p65

23 Mark Manning op cit p65

24 Mark manning op cit p103-104

25 from Tony Harrison ‘v’

26 Michael Gray ‘Song And Dance Man III The Art Of Bob Dylan’ Cassell 2000 p270

27 See  Paul Gilroy ‘’Sounds Authentic: black music, ethnicity and the challenge of the changing same’1991 now found in his ‘The Black Atlantic.’ 1993

28 Mark Manning ‘Crucify Me Again’ Codex 2000 p36-37

29 Mark manning ‘Crucify Me Again’ Codex 2000 p190

30 Mark manning op cit p105

31 Klaus kinski ‘Kinski Uncut’ Bloomsbury 1996

32 Klaus Kinski op cit p255

33 Steven Wells ‘Tits Out teenage terror Totty’ Attack! Books 1999 and his forthcoming ‘Holy Joe’ Attack! Books 2002


Richard Marshall has written poetry and short stories for CQ. He writes plays as Frank Beat. His latest play, Hedgehogs, was performed at The Man in the Moon (London) last year. His nom de plume as a novelist is Dick Marsh. GM Mutant Baby Plague, Go Fanny Go, 8 Billion Vinnie Jones’s and Dirty Manga Bastards should all be published by Attack! Books (). Richard edits an education magazine called English In Education which he has managed to keep “spinning towards the dissenting point of view.” His ambition is “to keep making scummy noises that one day will bite.”



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