:: Article

Grave Desire

By Richard Marshall.

Steve Finbow, Grave Desire, Zero Books, 2014

For so long a sort of psychic morphology has been fusing with our social morphology so that torture chambers, concentration camps, modern forms of slavery, emotional trauma and social tyranny run together. Genuine politics is hallucinatory and a twisting compilation of body-machines, molecular structures and floating planets with eerie landscapes rising up inside the strange spaces of war, isolation wards and bank vaults. It’s as if a crystallizing process of mutilated social and psychic realities has begun to throw out glassy spores where humans become abstracted, traumatized and cephalapodic anatomies, dumb creatures laughing under the knife.

This is an uncanny space where displacement, dismemberment and erotic metamorphism cast imprisoning shadows in rooms beneath rooms, roads beneath roads, skins beneath skins. There’s an alchemical rune in this, a script and image of warning and power, one that multiplies and names the names with a greasy-looking demon attached. It is a cavernous lascivious intra-uterine space where thanatos and eros are ineffaceable within twinned gore chambers of spell and anti-spell. Everything seems to be working in that ‘vague chance between objects’ that French surrealist Victor Brauner writes about. Bauner’s ‘Object of Counter-Bewitchment’ of 1943 uses cabalistic signs and texts but the body, such as it can be recognized, is all twisted up, a head of wax, clay, lead and paper, a bound male body of more clay set in a wooden box-frame. There’s a sensational self-recognition that slowly rises when looking at it, hope and despair strapped together, and the message: ‘I evoke your power in this ambiance that weaves the correspondences in your strength ’ scares the bejeesus out of us. It’s a giant small thing emerging out of the well of our atrocious, dread-gorged minds.

Meret Oppenheim’s ‘Cannibal Feast’ of 1959, where a live woman model painted in gold lay stretched out in a velvet-lined room whilst three men feasted off her naked body, was an erotic finale to an exhibition echoed soon after in popular cinema by James Bond’s Goldfinger where the necro signature is only just below the shining tuxedo of the cinematic surfaces. Sean Connery’s lascivious detours into the extreme edge of bondage death taboos are hidden in plain sight. Simone de Beauvoir in ‘Force of Circumstance’ of 1963 writes of a night with Sartre, Bost, and Giacometti at the Golfe Restaurant where the sculpturer of Godot’s tree told the story of Sergeant Bertrand the nineteenth-century necrophiliac. The rest of the evening was spent addressing the issue of how one judges obscene unprecedented crimes. Finbow’s great book is an open invitation to join that essential conversation. Why essential? The world has become an inventory of such obscene unprecedented crimes. What Finbow makes us wonder is why we’ve stopped the conversation. This astonishing silence is our putrid wound.

Jean Benoit on the opening night of the ‘Absolute Deviation’ exhibition in Paris in 1965 dressed as the Necrophiliac. The harder edges of the surrealist provocations have been morphed and buffed since then of course but even now it’s a chilly performance. Finbow layers into his litany of strangeness a Luke-cool recognition that there’s a vibrating violence, disorder and dialectical unliveability in our systems of global markets and the authoritarian structures of world capital. A hyper-consciousness exists now in a version of Jake Chapman’s ‘Meatphysics’ as; ‘the permanent register of the extinct, cased and glazed… while an ontologically rigid institutional taxonomy exorcises the abysmal sub-world of volatile flesh-formations skulking beneath the photon-washed plane, necrotizing agents inspiring stasis towards metastasis, shivering the intensifying meridian toward polar petit mort… where the sun … fixed, pin-pricked fossil light deranging daylight into black monoxide disease, where primordial anoxic vampires thrive and human transcendence expires…’. Finbow takes stock of this intensity with the steady panache of someone well-versed in the ice style of JG Ballard and the nerveless gaze of Stephen Barber. Finbow doesn’t blink.

He works to audit his toxic territory, daring to map out the landscape, a feline guide in the stinking grease of hellish desire, remaining narrow-eyed and even-handed as he writes into its uncanny anti-zen spaces. This is an encounter with the forces that are shaping our dystopia via the biographies of those who took the deforming logic of their day and space (and ours) and elaborated its texts to the effect that said: ‘You will become me.’ He skillfully tracks the forces that snake into our social synapses and the inevitable few who succumbed to the general messages that come flooding from the violence and turbulence of these modern days. He writes to get behind fashion and economics and shows our dismal self-sustaining mechanisms with a terse briskness that gives urgency to the diminished purpose of calling any of this marginal. That he ends reflecting on Jimmy Savile should ensure that no one thinks thinking about this is optional. For Brits the realization that this necro pedophile had become a populist emblem of the culture shows how cruel and squalid Britain’s modernity has become and how little that modernity understands itself.

Finbow’s book analyses the necrophile in all guises and makes serious and challenging connections between it and the social conditions that embed it. No one wishing to anatomise our current state can afford not to understand the importance of Finbow’s material. He joins other contemporaries mining such unforgiving territories such as, for example, the awesome Stephen Barber and Lisa Downing. Downing herself has written explicitly about the importance of the death drive in modern culture and has moved ‘… towards interrogating the epistemological and political conditions under which such questions are asked…’ and where ‘… The death drive remains… a metaphorical model for something … crucial.’ Downing thinks this drive ‘… thematizes that counterintuitive pull against the positive/ positivistic.’ She goes on to explain: ‘ I suppose what I gained from working on the death drive for three years has been imported directly into my later work on anti-social queer and what Halberstam calls “shadow feminism”. The concept of death drive in psychoanalysis and the antisocial turn in queer theory are two models of – or names for – resistance to normativity, particularly normative ideologies of productivity, production, and reproduction.’ Finbow is speaking into these and other conceptualizations.

Finbow works like a razor inside a filing cabinet, zipping open envelopes of pain, revulsion and a sort of biological homeless despair. He finds the strata that are already written in the dark sky: here’s Jorg Buttgereit’s ‘Nekromatik’ linked by dreamed scenes from Polanski’s “Repulsion’ and David Lynch’s ‘Eraserhead’; Wallace Steven’s ‘Paisant Chronicle’ where ‘What it seems/It is and in such seeming all things are’; Meret Oppenheim’s ‘Object’ depicting a fur covered saucer, cup and teaspoon that is narco dust and sex emptiness at the end of a syringe; Ballard rewriting the ‘Second Futurist Manifesto’; Heidegger writing of ‘that which shows itself in itself. The manifest,’ whilst Berlin’s whorehouses, night joints and gambling joints freeze full of ugly wooden faces. Each page of the book is a door where everything is permitted but also a warning about going through any of them twice.

‘The manifest.’ Finbow asks this: when does the human body reify to being an object without remainder? Which is like a shot of morphine setting us down across a threshold. It’s a riff off Heidegger but better than its origin. Hans Bellmer’s ‘Die Puppe’ sequences mutilated dolls. Belmer is the anti-Nazi hero who worked like a hospital administrator. Of the constructions he writes: ‘They must not be opposed determinations of the same entity, nor the differentiations of a single being, such as masculine and the feminine in the human sex, but different or really-distinct things … distinct ‘beings’, as found in the dispersion of the nonhuman sex, the clover and the bee.’ Lynch names his bees. But prefers stink bugs.

Finbow writes to make interchanges recognizable in the composite thing he is forming. He uses references like platforms, ladders or, perhaps more appropriate this, catwalks. So the sexual perversions of Richard Krafft-Ebings ‘Psychopathis Sexualis’ are easily linked with surrealism and Duchamp’s ‘Why Not Sneeze Rose Selavy’, Victor Brauner’s ‘The Wolf Table’, Man Ray’s ‘L’enigma s’ Isidore Ducasse,’ Jean Benoit’s costumes for ‘Execution Du Testement du Marquis De Sade’, and Zizek on the crap movie ‘The Village’. I can’t help being slightly sarcastic when quoting Zizek because his approach is just the higher order plagiarism of a happy man running old news on a robbed platform: ‘ We have two universes: the modern open ‘risk society’ versus the safety of the old secluded universe of Meaning – but the price of Meaning is a finite, closed space guarded by unnameable monsters. Evil is not simply excluded in this closed utopian space – it is transformed into a mythic threat with which the community establishes a temporary truce and against which it has to maintain a permanent state of emergency.’

Finbow is unsettling because the maze he’s constructing is somewhere one can honestly say: ‘I go here.’ Writers from Homer to the Marquis de Sade, Edgar Allen Poe, Oscar Wilde, Poppy Z Brite, Chuck Palahniuk, Joyce Carol Oates, the films ‘Re-Animator’, ‘Corpse Bride,’ ‘Clerks’, Weekend at Bernie’s’, ‘Visitor Q’, the tv series ‘True Blood’, ‘Family Guy’, ‘Two and a Half Men’… and then the party guys in the loft – Freud, Bataille, Heidegger, Lacan, Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari, Zizek , all of them there in a strange open faced enmity, all here saying, along with Ballard: ‘ the sexual imagination is unlimited in scope and metaphoric power, and can never be successfully repressed’ driving at ninety miles an hour down a winding road…. Except that Finbow drives over the cliff to see what happens when someone really crashes this stuff. And then we’re smelling fear in a dark room and all the people look almost the same, but that ‘almost ‘is like saying a machete is almost a nail file.

Finbow shows how friends might go and never return. And then what you’re reading is about carnivores. He cites Freud on castration: ‘ When now I announce that the fetish is a substitute for the penis, I shall certainly create disappointment; so I hasten to add that it is not a substitute for any chance penis, but for a quite special penis that had been extremely important in early child-hood but had later been lost. That is to say, it should normally have been given up, but the fetish is precisely designed to preserve it from extinction. To put it more plainly; the fetish is a substitute for the woman’s (the mother’s) penis that the little boy once believed in and – for reasons familiar to us – does not want to give up.’ This is Kardashianic ass territory where desire is for ‘a haunch that seemed to live its own life…’ and Freud’s thought that ‘… Whenever the beauty of the female becomes irresistible, it is traceable to a single quality.’ We’re not far from Gogol’s ‘The Nose‘. And as you read it’s as if someone mixed the drinks and you’re suddenly too much for the field.

Reading Finbow reminds you of the first time you read ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ and ‘Crash’, tripping out on ‘… the automobile, and in particular the automobile crash, provides a focus for the conceptualizing of a wide range of impulses involving the elements of psychopathology, sexuality and self-sacrifice.’ We’re eating with chemical aliens. ‘ The head, even the human head, is not necessarily a face. The face is produced only when the head ceases to be a part of the body, when it ceases to be coded by the body, when it ceases to have a multidimensional, polyvocal corporeal code – when the body, head included, has been coded and has been overcoded by something we shall call the Face…. Hand, breast, stomach, penis and vagina, thigh, leg and foot, all come to be facialised. Fetishism and erotomania , etc, are inseperable from these processes of facialisation… Everything remains sexual; there is no sublimation, but there are new coordinates.’ It’s like the memory of the first time you saw a remote-controlled colour tv or whatever piece of technology is now junk. Finbow is restoring the sense of urgency to everything, catching the fish at high tide again as the past rots rather than dies, and everything becomes a corpse in waiting.

‘This is why Oedipus gathers up everything, everything is found again in Oedipus, which is indeed the result of universal history, but in the singular sense in which capital is already the result. Fetishes, idols, images, and simulacra – here we have the whole series: territorial fetishes, despotic idols or symbols, the everyting is recapitulated in the images of capitalism, which shapes and reduces them to the Oedipal simulacrum.’ There’s an image of Thatcher at a crucial moment orchestrating the desolation. Finbow insists that this is all political.

Is necrophilia a fetish or a mania? asks Finbow. There are distinctions, some fine grained, others broader. One answer begins: it all depends who you want to have dead. Others have follow up questions: is it just role play it? Or is it about those who move out of their tarpaulin fantasy to play darkly in graveyards? Or who touches what? Or who mutilates what? Finbow works at the details. It’s a male thing. 95% necrophiles were men, 50% go for same sex, 60% are single. It’s these stats that Finbow turns over in his hand, leaving us crushed flat by the pressure of incoming time, flesh that was once smooth as alabaster but is soon grey and flaking away like a frothy shitty tide. There’s always time to be the critic: I note Finbow notes that ‘Nekromantik 2’ has a woman necrophile & I make the prissy note: the rareness of women necrophiles makes the film suspect.

Finbow gives us the history caged in wire so all the ghosts don’t seem to be of our Earth. Circa 440 Heredotus warned about embalmers having sex with corpses. Empodocles kept a woman for thirty days without breath or pulse.
David Foster Wallace is cited; ‘ The unpleasant is perfectly ok, just so long as it rivets.’ Van Cosel’s real life bride was a corpse. Josephus on Herod: ‘ His love for Marianne seemed to seize him in such a peculiar manner, as looked like Divine vengeance upon him for the taking away her life; for he would frequently call for her, and frequent lament for her in a most indecent manner.’ Finbow picks at the figures and each message left behind is now a strident menacing hum.

With dexterous hints he pushes at the thin shell of meanings that suddenly seem to be excrement. The metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan’s twin brother Thomas hints at dark occult necro practice. George Herbert joins in: ‘That dumbe enclosure maketh love.’ Kenneth Rexroth argued that Vaughan was into Tantric sex and the neo-Platonic Cabbalism of Ted Hughes’ Shagspeare is fired and glazed. Congreve’s mistress had a life size model of him made and slept with it with his death mask over the head. Finbow goes where the underworld is a single bulb in a bedsit room. Thatcher’s voice rises: ‘There is no such thing as society.’ Finbow’s with the flies reading De Sade’s ‘Justine’ and ‘The 120 Days of Sodom’ of course and that ‘ unlimited right of all-powerful monstrosity’ as Foucault summarises it. For Blanchot de Sade resides ‘ in the anonymous tomb of his renown’ but Finbow pushes on with the unshakeable necessary imagination of the dangerous and the sleazy. Albertopolis becomes in his hands a steam punk Gigerism ‘on its way to sexual congress with its mammarian/vulval partner the Royal Albert Hall… an arena of death and desire, a hallucinated topology of lack, absence and death….’ Finbow is brilliant and punishing.

All this and then out to the symbolic necrophilia of Dali and Bunuel and Jake and Dinos Chapman’s ‘Death’. Does the sexual possession of a corpse disinherit or own the death drive?’ Asks Finbow. Stewart Home and his necrocards introduces a lopsided comedy to this carnival before Finbow leaps down the rabbit hole to meet the ugly neighbors.

The signature guy is necronaut Sargeant Betrand, born in 1822 who took himself through the open door into the dead flesh where ‘… something from which the subject, in order to constitute itself, has separated itself off as organ…’ Was it the result of the violence in French and European culture at the time? Asks Finbow.

He tells of the vampire of Düsseldorf, Peter Kurten. Finbow hints darkly of socio-historical causes for necroGermania and links Musil, Kurten, Kafka, Hitler, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Heartfield, Benjamin, Grosz in a dark necklace of influences and weird affinities. He suggests that; ‘the social and economic privations after the first world war, the German Revolution of 1918, and the Weimer republic caused an explosion of avant-garde art, literature, and film, and a commensurate increase in sex killing and cannibalism…’

In writing about Necrocinema he links prohibition, inhibition and exhibition. Here we have reflections on ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,’ ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ and a link to Fred West. Finbow takes a controlling thesis; ‘Things themselves are actants – not signfieds, phenomena, or tools for human praxis … once things are reduced to nothing, they beg you to be conscious of them and to colonize them. Their life hangs by nothing more than a thread, the thread of your attention…’ and runs out the spool. It’s dark with a slight glassiness so we are allowed to ask of it: ‘Is it alive?’

In the chapter ‘NecroAmerica’ he says of Ed Gein: ‘His own ideal ego is imaginary.’ NecroBritannia ruminates on Christie houses with their ‘uncanny and hidden rooms and bodies’ which seems increasingly like a tory party political broadcast. In ‘Necrosuperstar’ Finbow looks at Ted Bundy looking for notoriety and fame. And throughout Finbow makes choice cuts from the authors that matter. Here’s Bataille: ‘Sexual activity, whether perverted or not; the behaviour of one sex before the other; defacation; urination; death and the cult of cadavers (above all; insofar as it involves the stinking decomposition of bodies); the different taboos; ritual cannibalism; the sacrifice of animal-gods; omophagia; the laughter of exclusion; sobbing (which in general has death as its object); religious ecstasy; the identical attitude towards shit, gods, and cadavers,; the terror that so often accompanies involuntary defecation; the custom of making women both brilliant and lubricious with makeup and gems and gleaming jewels; gambling, heedless expenditure, and certain fanciful uses of money, etc, each together present a common character in that the object of the activity (excrement, shameful parts, cadavers etc) is found each time treated as a foreign body…;in other words, it can just as well be expelled following a brutal rupture as reabsorbed through the desire to pul one’s body and mind entirely in a more or less violent state of expulsion (or projection). .. a half- decomposed cadaver fleeing through the night in a luminous shroud …’ Bataille’s father was abandoned, blind and wheelchair bound as the Nazis took over Paris. This figure haunted Beckett. In ‘Endgame’ he was re-imagined as Hamm. Bataille knows that eventually, ‘physical eroticism has … a heavy, sinister quality.’ We first see Hamm covered by a shroud.

Finbow turns to ‘Necrobanality’ and treats the Son of Sam via Arendt; ‘ The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.’ Dahmer, Gacy and Nilsen get this deflationary treatment.

In ‘NecroPosthuman’ Finbow looks at those born the wrong gender according to their mothers, those who left the planet or never arrived. Sad little crazy spacemen. There’s a great discussion of the fetish of shoes via Bunuel’s ‘The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz’ and the luminous Susana Medina’s ‘Bunuel’s Philosophical Toys’ where she writes about: ‘High heels with their emphasis on gravity and minimal contact with the earth. High-heels are over-determined objects in terms of thought translated into matter.’ Finbow continues: ‘In her novel of the same name, Medina analyses what it is like to be a pervert, a shoe-fetishist, and in what varying degrees can that turn one – as in the case of Bunuel’s Archibaldo de la Cruz – into a murderer.’ This takes the shape of bounty hunting.

Elliott Vanskike tells us that: ‘The Doll that Bellmer constructed in the early 1930s was a female mannequin, outfitted with a wig and articulated by means of ball joints so that the arms and legs could be manipulated. Bellmer varied the settings for the photographs of his doll – beds, staircases, the forest. And he varied the arrangement of the mannequin. But whether it was clothed in a chemise and child’s patent leather shoes, or assembled with arms or legs missing or grotesquely rearranged, the doll was always posed to suggest a certain degraded innocence, an unsettling juxtaposition of childish naivety and adult depravity.’ Finbow takes this and places it with Bataille: ‘…we are faced with the paradox of an object which implies the abolition of all objects, of an erotic object.’ Everything is coming to a head.

In ‘NecroCalculus’ Finbow asks the dollar question: why and how could these people have sex with corpses? Again, Finbow is astute and subtle. Is what the necrophile does immoral or just disgusting? In the Necroclusion – Finbow says: ‘In researching this book I have come to the conclusion that pseudonecrophilia is the domain of the fantasists and occultists, people interested in morbid pornography, gothic art, horror films and novel. So-called regular necrophiles are rare and the majority of them are drawn to the act through proximity, availability and curiosity; very few practice necrophilia exclusively…’ It’s an ending of earned prosaic.

But like a dark coda he writes about Stephen Barber in England’s Darkness linking Jimmy Savile with Peter Sutcliffe. He buys this and works it into a terrain we recognize as home. Finbow has written to something which hints at the uncanny strangeness of our world. It’s a small place but lived on several levels. Even if its something we once knew, we’ve worked hard not to remember. Finbow brings it all back from the basement with the sewer running through it.

Richard Marshall is still biding his time.

Buy his book here to keep him biding!

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, December 6th, 2014.