WEIRD SOUP VIII: "THE DEATH OF THE AUTHOR"
"She asks to meet me, quite promptly, in the cathedral's Council-approved toilet facilities. Being in need of a brand new instant sacred muse, I agree. We briefly discuss Russian Constructivism in a toilet cubicle, a subject the mysterious lady in black perplexingly seems to know everything about. She looks so full of cocaine, so fetching in her t-shirt. (Has anybody filled the dimensions of a t-shirt quite so fetchingly before? I wonder.) Eventually she allows me to have sex with her seven times. In that short space of time, she introduces me to new areas of extreme bondage, positions I never expected to find myself in. Who knew a funeral could prove so edifying an experience? Who knew!"
by HP Tinker
COPYRIGHT © 2003, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
(*Superficially, at least, the title "The Death of the Author" might resemble that of < http://we.got.net/~tuttle/> Roland Barthes' seminal essay "Death of the Author" in as much as it employs many of the same words. However, the similarity is illusory. This is not "Death of the Author" by Roland Barthes, this is "The Death of the Author" by HP Tinker. The two are, in actual fact, quite different. There is also in existence a 1992 novel by Gilbert Adair called The Death of the Author, but this only complicates matters and should not be thought about too much.)
About the (Death of the) Author
What do we really know about the death of the author?
That on the evening of his death, around 7:15pm or so, the author summoned his closest companions to his bedside where he shook them by the hand, violently, for several minutes? That (after thanking them for 35 years of increasingly sycophantic service) he inquired if he may have their left kidneys removed by an authorised BUPA physician, who happened to be present? That his companions, knowing that the whims of authors must be pandered to, agreed at once, almost without hesitation? That later, the author dined upon these kidneys, lightly braised in Hollandaise sauce, sipping a small Meade? And that then, after reclining for the final time, the author bid farewell (incoherently) to his companions and passed away peacefully, humming a jaunty tune, possibly "The Marseillaise"?
Well, no, in actual fact, we know nothing of the sort.
The preceding anecdote is apocryphal and therefore very likely not to be true.
So, what do we really know about the death of the author?
We can only say one thing for certain: the author is dead.
Short Period of Mourning
Following the death of any author, like many other prominent citizens in society, a short period of mourning begins.
As a sign of respect, all supermarkets are closed for about two minutes. At precisely the same moment, a squad of Battle of Britain aircraft flies over the author's home, in prominent triangular formation -- an event that has nothing to do with the death of the author, of course, but is a nice coincidence nevertheless.
After this, the short period of mourning comes to an end.
A Funeral Is Arranged
A funeral, often customary in these circumstances, is then arranged.
Mid-evening at Westminster.
The body of the author is being transported by Ford Capri to the doorstep of the nearest cathedral, followed by a 32-piece kettle drum procession. Along the way people throw fruit and coins, possibly as a kind of tribute. This unexpected outpouring of public emotion, similar to grief or bile, is the biggest outpouring of such grief or bile for an author since the suicide of < http://www.grapefruit-web.co.uk/clients/bsjohnson/> BS Johnson, some 30 years previously. Thousands have gathered to line the route, after the < http://news.bbc.co.uk/> BBC rashly promises a "unique" event -- a statement they later retract somewhat nervously. Unions Jacks are pinned everywhere, in unlikely locations, like flags. (Anything remotely resembling American, Canadian, Belgian or Portuguese flags are routinely incinerated.) Many mourners bring picnic baskets and alcohol to the occasion. Others prefer hard drugs, like hallucinogenics and amphetamines.
Some amongst the throng can detect a "carnival" atmosphere.
Several mothers and wives and Gulf veterans are seen weeping.
A Loud Bell
A loud bell tolls in rapid succession 2,984 times (once for every word in the short story you are currently reading) causing a quite unintelligible cacophony and considerable confusion, chiefly amongst red-eyed former < http://www.nme.com/> NME journalists who fall briefly silent.
Immediately behind the coffin strides Tim Robbins, grief scrawled across his face like professional graffiti, almost as neatly and professionally groomed as Susan Saranden, who follows him. Charlie Sheen is dressed in full military uniform while pallbearers Simon (and Garfunkel) look impeccably turned out, representing the world of American Show Business in smart red tunics and spotless black boots, heads bowed. The doors of the cathedral open like the arms of a glamorous, yet bored whore. All 1372 guests slowly filter inside: politicians, peers, actors, members of various Royal families and pop groups, Tony Blair, Baroness Thatcher, Lord Callaghan, the "Australian Prime Minister", Leonard Bernstein, Bruce Willis, Marianne Faithful, Saul Bellow, Kevin Keegan, JD Salinger, Ms Dynamite, Roger Daltrey and Hanz Klammer, none of whom, it has to be admitted, actually knew the author. There are representatives from The Church of England, The Salvation Army and The Rossendale Union of Boot and Shoe Polish Mongers present too. Some of the numerous dead surrealists in attendance include Giorgio De Chirico, Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, Man Ray, Victor Brauner, Alberto Giacometti, Andre Masson and Yves Tanguy. Many authors sit near the back muttering, wondering, is it going to be me, am I the next to die?... Will Self, Graham Swift, Vikram Seth, Iain Banks, Iain M. Banks. Even http://www.altx.com/int2/sukenick.html Ronald Sukenick, wearing the familiar revolving bow-tie that still appeals to children of all ages.
Heidi Klum cannot attend, but sends her condolences on a piece of card.
The First Lesson/Frida Kahlo
Following a rousing rendition of Manfred Mann's Earthband's "Blinded By The Light", led by a bizarrely emotional Martin Esslin, the first lesson (a précis of Kenneth Anger's Unauthorised Biography, Chapters 4-7) is read by Eddie Murphy, augmented at several junctures by compelling recollections of Frida Kahlo in swimwear: "At times, she was extraordinarily beautiful, at others tiny, timid, big-butted and staggeringly ordinary looking".
The Second Lesson/"Too Oblique"
The second lesson, taken liberally from the historical yarns of Jean Cocteau, is read by Stella McCartney in a loud voice.
Many find this reading "too oblique".
Four Stories By The Author
Next up, Quincy Jones reads four unpublished stories by the author:
The first story, "How To Disappear Almost Completely", is set in a Columbian coffee plantation where the main character, a female motivational fitness speaker, encounters a kindly old benefactor in a hat. A reoccurring motif in the story seems to be that of a spider's web. (The story is really about disguise.)
The second story, "FR Leavis Saved My Life", is about sexuality, possibly. The main character is a female movie double who marries a vampire. A reoccurring motif in this story seems to be a mysterious photograph no one can quite fathom. The story is set in Kent, some time in the near future.
The third story, "Holding God To Ransom In An Airport Waiting Lounge", is about a male bungie jumper who strikes a deal with the Prince of Darkness, or Satan as he prefers to be known. A reoccurring motif in the story is that of a magical toothbrush from the time of the Roman Empire. (The story seems to be about mystery and/or evolution.)
The fourth story, "I Lost My Heart To A Chiropractor", features a genital-less Saint searching for a teapot. The story is set in a sewer where another main character, a female radio disc jockey, is looking aimlessly for her mislaid husband. The story is about serenity, sentimentality, senility, amongst many other things.
Salma Hayek Reads A Short Poem
At this point in the proceedings, Salma Hayek reads a short poem.
53 seconds later, a man instantly recognisable as Thomas Pynchon takes to the plinth to deliver the main eulogy.
It is Thomas Pynchon.
Behind the plinth, Thomas Pynchon -- tall, blue eyes, dramatically untanned -- makes for an unlikely-looking author in his early fifties. (Many people comment on his uncanny similarity to the actor Robin Williams.) Eschewing the formality of a morning suit or tuxedo for a 1970s-style blue corduroy suit (which, he jokes, he has just picked up from his local Help The Aged shop) his greying hair affords him the aura of an ageing member of Genesis. Thomas Pynchon speaks kindly of this "most gratuitous of authors" (meaning "gracious"?) Employing a succession of barely recognisable comedy voices, from Tony Bennett to Jackie Mason to Larry Eisenberg, he pays a compelling tribute to a "great old institution which, like the branches of an oak tree, has touched the lives of many people, including my own former work colleagues and certain relations..."
There is silence in the cathedral while he speaks.
At certain times you can hear a pin drop.
(Eventually, the young woman dropping the pin is identified and physically ejected from the cathedral.)
Who Was The Author?
At some point into his eulogy Pynchon adopts the unmistakable mannerisms of Lord Alfred Tennyson and, cribbing heavily from AS Byatt's Intermediate Guide To Surviving Canadian Literature it has to be acknowledged, declares impassionedly: "Like the sun an author bathes us in a warm glow, before turning considerably colder later on. Any author's defining strength, like so many within the artistic community, is their ability to make all social encounters, however fleeting, seem overly staged and slightly awkward... leaving you feeling not a little underdressed for the occasion..."
There is slight unrest building in the audience.
(Who was the author? Some guests are beginning to ask. What was he actually the author of? What do we know of the author? others mutter. That the author frequented casinos disguised as a woman? Suffered throughout his final years from the paralysis of analysis? Thought of himself as tall and handsome when, in actual fact, he was small and quite plain? So, what do we know of the author? Do we really know anything at all?)
There follows a short discussion on whether the Surrealist movement's emergence from the nihilism of Dada truly marked the dawn of a new political consciousness within its ranks. ("There is a stream, a succession of states, or waves or fields of knowledge, of feeling, of desire, of deliberation that constantly pass and reappear, and that constitute our inner life," says Thomas Pynchon, winking wryly.) Many wisely seize this opportunity as an appropriate moment to sample the cathedral's Council-approved toilet facilities. The lady next to me, dressed all in black, smiles, then rests her hand on my leg. Thinking this is accidental, an aberration, I move it away. The hand then returns seconds later and does not move again for quite some time. She asks to meet me, quite promptly, in the cathedral's Council-approved toilet facilities. Being in need of a brand new instant sacred muse, I agree. We briefly discuss Russian Constructivism in a toilet cubicle, a subject the mysterious lady in black perplexingly seems to know everything about. She looks so full of cocaine, so fetching in her t-shirt. (Has anybody filled the dimensions of a t-shirt quite so fetchingly before? I wonder.) Eventually she allows me to have sex with her seven times. In that short space of time, she introduces me to new areas of extreme bondage, positions I never expected to find myself in. Who knew a funeral could prove so edifying an experience? Who knew!
The Solution of Life's Fundamental Problems
"Could not dreams be applied to the solution of life's fundamental problems?" Thomas Pynchon is pondering at the plinth, almost to himself, on my return. Death hangs in the air like an enormous light bulb. The general feeling amongst the congregation seems to be that Thomas Pynchon has now "outstayed his welcome".
An Unusual Chain of Events
For the finale tribute, John Cale performs "Last Christmas" moustached at the viola, inadvertently triggering an unusual chain of events which leads to the overthrow of the entire Haitian government only hours later. Outside the cathedral, row after row of plasma screens relay the moment to all of those who have taken the afternoon off work and/or have nothing better to do. Thousands of faces seem briefly frozen in time. (In actual fact, however, they are able to move quite freely.)
When the wild applause settles, the body of the author is conveyed back outside by Ian McEwan, Christian Lacriox, and all the surviving able-bodied Drifters. The remaining guests weeping almost visibly can barely make it to the complimentary trays of warm curry and crudités where The Moody Blues, reformed especially for the occasion, are already some way into a (deliberately muted, Jacque Brel-tinged) reading of Labi Siffre's "It Must Be Love". The body of the author is taken (this time by long-haired motorcycle courier) along Whitehall, past the Cenotaph, down the Mall past Clarence House and Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park Corner and Queen's Gate, then reversed along the A4, through Hammersmith, Chiswick, Heathrow and onto a parallel universe.
Comment Attributed To < http://membres.lycos.fr/farabi/> Jacques Derrida In Retrospect:
"The service was beautiful and faintly disturbing at the same time. Strikingly similar in timbre to the sad final blow of losing a close relative. There was not a palpable sense of tragedy as such. Rather it felt more like the passing of a very elderly system which had done its best in the circumstances and now didn't quite work properly and so needed to be thoroughly rethought and replaced. Although virtually impossible not to be moved by the size or the spectacle or the emotion of the occasion, somehow I managed not to be. But the day was about more than the author and the death of the author. It was about bringing people together. Even Julian Barnes and Jeanette Winterson are now on speaking terms. They‚re planning to meet up and discuss their differences at Selfridges over potted shrimps, Dover sole and rhubarb tart..." (© Jacques Derrida, 2003).
The < http://www.pearlysociety.co.uk/> Pearly King of London
NOTE. The Pearly King of London, dressed in full Pearly King of London regalia, was trapped in some revolving doors for the entire service, and therefore not available for comment.
Although the author is now dead, his apartment lives on. Preserved by his widow, all the author's priceless clutter is intact, from unfinished manuscripts in his own child-like scrawl, to a near-definitive collection of Ossie Clarke codpieces, vintage miniature Indian cave paintings by Paul Nash, and hundreds of erotic doodles of Anais Nin, sparking (on topical late night Arts programmes at least) an impassioned debate about the nature of culture, history, identity, and who will now receive the author's royalty cheques. The death of an author isn't such a new thing, however. In fact, it's actually quite common. It happens all the time. Michael Dibdin died just last week. Ian Rankin could be next. Authors are dying at quite an alarming rate. (In the words of Michel Houellebecq, "Ils tombent comme des mouches.) So, what happens to these authors when they die? Where do they go? Do they simply disappear? Or are they transported to a better place, like Bloomsbury or Camden? (Or do they manage to venture further, beyond London even?) And what happens then? Who takes their place when they are gone? And why are these authors nearly always male? Until quite recently, being an author was a fairly unproblematic matter, it has to be said. He/she just wrote a book and that was it. It's become a bit more complicated since then. Now, an author is not simply a "person" but a socially and historically constituted object as well. An author does not even exist before his/her writing is produced either; it is the writing that makes him/her an author. To complicate things a little further, an author is never an original, always a literary impressionist. His only power is to mix various writings into a kind of literary potage. So, these days, an author cannot even claim any authority over his/her text because, in some ways, he/she did not write it. That is not to say that someone named Alex Garland did not spend many hours and days and months toiling away on a book called The Beach, although many may, with hindsight, wish he had not done so. However, there still remains one problem. With the death of so many authors, how are we ever going to replace them with new ones? How?
Sir Paul Nurse!
Sir Paul Nurse!
Yes, Sir Paul Nurse will give up curing Cancer to take charge of the pressing task of creating a new crop of authors. (Sir Paul Nurse first cured Cancer when he was 17. Six years later, then aged 23, he cured it all over again.) Apparently, his interest in the world of Science was sparked whilst at school, studying Leprosy, when he was just 8 years old. Only 12 months later, he had completed his first University degree in under 3 minutes. "I battle against the secret nature of life on a daily basis," he boasts, not idly either. Given his famous interest in genetic engineering (recently he produced a litter of fashionable little catwalk bitches with fluorescent snouts), the death of an author may not prove to be such a big deal in future. "These new authors will be genetically modified, and slightly improved," Sir Paul Nurse announces, from his Highgate offices. Although the gender of the first author has yet to be confirmed: "the breasts of Sophia Loren are being flown in for a thorough examination," he beams.
Shortly after the completion of this story, fuelled by brandy and too many rich cigars, I fell to the pavement and grazed my left knee, quite badly. Early reports of my condition are contradictory, so the full impact on the literary world cannot yet be calculated. I can, however, confirm that at time of writing I am still alive, merely injured, not yet dead at all. And in my debatable capacity as the "author" of this work, I am pleased to announce that if you have been left disappointed by the size and sheer spectacle of this fiction (which promised so much in the beginning, seemed to really be going somewhere in the middle, but then sagged a little toward the end, and ultimately delivered nothing very remarkable or profound at all) you can contact me directly and your travelling expenses will be refunded.