:: Article


By Lee Rourke.


Black and blue.

Lee Rourke does for black what William Gass, Rebecca Solnit or Maggie Nelson did for blue.

Back to black.

Orpheus loses Eurydice when he tries to look at her in the darkness of the underworld. As the philosopher Simon Critchley highlights, ‘Orpheus does not want to make the invisible visible, but rather (and impossibly) to see the invisible as invisible’.

Vantablack is so black that you can barely see it. Anish Kapoor lost Eurydice — his claim to be an artist — when he acquired exclusive rights to the world’s blackest pigment. His name is not even mentioned in Vantablack, unlike those of Malevich, Hammershoi, Hitchcock, Trakl, and Francesca Woodman. Especially Francesca Woodman. Lee Rourke’s latest work is a black hole orbiting an exhibition of her photographs that was held on London’s South Bank.

Black and white.

Little islands of ink in an ocean of whiteness. Like a bat — a flash of night — in broad daylight. Like a corpse lying in a field of snow. Robert Walser’s footsteps are the ubiquitous dashes that connect and interrupt — so numerous at times that they seem to cross out the entire text, sous rature-fashion. If we erased all the words, keeping only the dashes, would we discover some kind of new Morse code?

Like Glitch, Lee Rourke’s latest novel, Vantablack combines the conceptual with the emotional to stunning effect. It is about everything and nothing — the nothingness of everything. It is strong coffee and Guinness. It is so black you can barely see it.


a geometry of blackness set against light―black light slants―moves forwards―towards blackness―not the slanted light expressed by―Hammershøi―exposing dust motes―in bright sunlight―black light slanted―indefinably―turning back―towards black―exposing nothing―yet still within this―somehow―form turning away―from form―shuntering through―open space―like black―night―

the geometry of black rooms (a)―it becomes space―a room―dwelling there―to hide―within one corner―oneiric afternoons―caught snoozing―daydreaming―within the―pure geometry of―black rooms―each form of space offers an interior: some form of―escape―in space―

(b)―outside is roughed in―gnarled angles―dragging components into the open―into the―space―where rooms are―soused―in stifling―black light―

(c)―the corner of any black room―containing all―the geometry we need―offers itself to us gleefully―fall into the―cornice of its presence―into blackness―again―away from―blackness―

whichever way you choose to look at it there is a downturn―each smile―we owe―to―catastrophe―a disaster―in time―falling―black―from―the sky―

[ . . . ]

―whenever we stopped―smiling―the storm came―and smothered all―our cherished ruins―

conversation (e)―‘voices shovelled away into heaps guttural―like phlegm―coughed-up―spat―out’―

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Lee Rourke is the author of the short-story collection Everyday, the novels The Canal, Vulgar Things, and Glitch, as well as the poetry collection Varroa Destructor. He is contributing editor at 3:AM Magazine, and has written regularly for the Guardian, Times Literary Supplement, Bookforum, Independent, and New Statesman. He lives by the sea.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, March 24th, 2020.