Shitstorm – Fernando Sdrigotti

Shitstorm

I am interrupting normal transmission to bring you an important update, you know how easily I get side tracked by the daily shitstorm moment. What is the latest shitstorm? Pushcart Prize plagiarised poetry? (See the alliteration I used there, nice work Tony) A female journalist removed from the Australian Parliament because her sleeves were too short? Not at all, Fernando Sdrigotti has just released, through Open Pen in London, a new novelette, ‘Shitstorm’, and getting my hands on a signed, numbered first edition has been the highlight of my week. Don’t worry, I’ll forget the excitement soon enough, I’ve read it now.

My copy of the book came with an instruction document, a list of Do’s and Do Not’s for example; “Do feel the need to respond to the above on social media. Especially when you violently disagree with the opinions vented in the aforementioned Opinion Piece TM.” Or “Do Not pass up any opportunity to have an opinion on any given topic, regardless of your respective understanding.” The instruction document in the vein of Sdrigotti’s hilarious tweets like how to get published everywhere (you can read the full list here).

‘Shitstorm’ is a very short book, marketed as a novelette, which can be read in one sitting, although the wallowing is deeper than the actual word count. Essentially this is a dark fable, reflecting on the world of keyboard warriors, those going into fight for justice using their handheld devices and their furrowed brows. It starts with the story of Doctor Walter Turner, a dentist, who became known as Cecil the Lion’s killer after he hunted the famous beast in Zimbabwe with a bow and arrow, and the subsequent social media fury.

It gives us something to talk about, a reason to keep marvelling at the evil of other human beings. (p26)

The fallout of this event is the catalyst to present and discuss various shitstorms, involving cult celebrity, far-right views, transphobia, conspiracy theories, and of course the United States President.

While everyone debates whether processed meat is racist or not. (p46)

Sdrigotti has his tongue firmly in his cheek as he leads us through the outrage that we witness daily on our Twitter feeds.

In the days that follow the new North Korean missile launch many develop a sudden expertise regarding all things nuclear, ballistic, and strategic. The New Missile Crisis is followed live on television, bogs on newspapers, Twitter moments, hashtags, comments on Facebook. The whole world is watching, waiting for the smallest thing to ne be announced. But instead of novelties we are fed repetition – the same opinion is remixed several times, turned into a cubist opinion: eaten, chewed, swallowed, excreted and eaten again. But we can’t stop watching, reading, consuming, despairing about the state of the world. (p46-47)

Although satirical, this book contains its fair share of home truths. Leading from actual events, that most of us would recall, to the imagined future of the dentist Dr Walter Turner and this is where the dark fable element comes to the fore. I was reminded of the Brothers Grimm tale “Mother Trudy” where a disobedient child goes to visit a witch;

And with that, she turned the girl into a block of wood and threw it on the fire. And when it was blazing, she sat down beside it, warmed herself up, and said: “Now that really does give off a nice bright light.” (p402 ‘The Bicentennial Edition The Annotated Brothers Grimm’ translated by Maria Tatar)

Unlike many fairy tales where good triumphs over evil, this tale resonates with me as the witch triumphs, a disobedient child is defeated!!

Sdrigotti’s novelette contains many satirical truths, speaking against the unwritten rules of outrage;

Travelling is about immersing yourself in a foreign culture, even if you can’t make sense of it, and even if you immerse yourself and all your previously conceived ideas remain unchallenged. It’s about the immersion, really. Watching the local telly. Eating the local food even if you hate it. Drinking the local drink. Shooting the local animals. (p70)

A highly entertaining book that does jolt you out of the day to day monotony, forcing you to reflect on the depth of your outrage. It contains a dark, but brutally honest, message so isn’t simply social commentary.

I suggest you buy a copy, not that Fernando Sdrigotti needs the extra income from his writing, those royalty cheques must be huge. And if you buy quickly it should arrive before Christmas. I purchased my copy here, it came with a sachet of baking yeast, “its use will become clear after your reading Shitstorm TM” (as advised in the covering letter).

You can follow Fernando Sdrigotti on Twitter using the handle @f_sd

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Life A User’s Manual – Georges Perec (translated by David Bellos)

 

UserManual…play is essentially a separate occupation, carefully isolated from the rest of life, and generally is engaged in with precise limits of time and place. There is a place for play: as needs dictate, the space for hopscotch, the board for checkers or chess, the stadium, the racetrack, the list, the ring, the stage, the arena, etc. Nothing that takes place outside this ideal frontier is relevant. To leave the enclosure by mistake, accident, or necessity, to send the ball out of bounds, may disqualify or entail a penalty.
Roger Caillois “Man, Play and Games” (translated by Meyer Barash) p6

Georges Perec’s ‘Life A User’s Manual’ is a place for play, a 580-page game, ninety-nine chapters structured “with precise limits of time and place.”

Here is a work that can be examined on many many levels, today I have chosen to look at the structure of the book, the “play”.

Imagine a building, (possibly) nine storeys high, with a basement, an entrance hall, stairwell, lift and various apartments, no need to image too hard, at the conclusion to the novel there is an outline;

LifeUserMan

Let’s break these rooms down a little further, ten sections, over ten storeys in height, 10×10 – one hundred evenly sized squares:

IMG_8500

I would love to add a credit to the creator of this “map” however all sources (Pinterest etc) do not quote a source.

Let’s now remove the façade from the building and take a snapshot of the detail in each of the squares.

Enter the stairwell, up to half way (the square marked “1” on the image above), you are a knight, the chess piece, and from here you are to move in an ‘L’ shape, you will either move two squares sideways and then one square up or down, or two squares up or down, and then one square sideways. Let’s make this a little easier, as I made my way through the book, I highlighted the completed squares on a printed grid using a different colour each time I completed a part of the book.

IMG_8571

Perec’s novel is a giant chess game, in fact it is many games, chess, a jigsaw puzzle, solitaire, and then there are games within the games;

Let is imagine a man whose wealth is equalled only by his indifference to what wealth generally brings, a man of exceptional arrogance who wishes to fix, to describe, and to exhaust not the whole world – merely to state such an ambition is enough to invalidate it – but a constituted fragment of the world: in the face of the inextricable incoherence of things, he will set out to execute a (necessarily limited) programme right the way through, in all its irreducible, intact entirety.
In other words, Bartlebooth resolved one day that his whole life would be organised around a single project, an arbitrarily constrained programme with no purpose outside its own completion. (p117)

At the novel’s core, and he does sit near the centre of the building, is Bartlebooth and his mission to paint five-hundred watercolours at various locations on the planet, have the paintings made into jigsaw puzzles, which he will complete and then return those paintings to their place of origin and have them reduced back to blank paper. “A fragment of the world” that is futile, “A single project, an arbitrarily constrained programme with no purpose outside its own completion.”

Throughout this journey, there are hundred and hundreds of asides, games played in rooms, crossword puzzles, futile meditations, hints for the reader to solve the unsolvable, and a cast of thousands (well probably 100’s, there is a 59 page Index listing all of the references, it forms part of the game – as well as a checklist for “some of the stories narrated in this manual”).

As the reader travels into the depths of a painting, or along with an historical story, you are stopped in your tracks and returned to the concrete world of 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier, the building where you will need to move as the knight into another space, and another puzzle.

Sometimes Valène had the feeling that time had been stopped, suspended, frozen around he didn’t know what expectation. The very idea of the picture he panned to do and whose laid-out, broken-up images had begun to haunt every second of his life, furnishing his dreams, squeezing his memories, the very idea of this shattered building, laying bare the cracks of its past, the crumbling of its present, this unordered amassing of stories grandiose and trivial, frivolous and pathetic, gave him the impression of a grotesque mausoleum raised in the memory of companions petrified in terminal postures as insignificant in their solemnity as they were in their ordinariness, as if he had wanted both to warn of and to delay these slow or quick deaths which seemed to be engulfing the entire building storey by storey; Monsieur Marcia, Madame Moreau, Madame de Beaumont, Bartlebooth, Rorschach, Mademoiselle Crespi, Madame Albin, Smautf. And himself, of course, Valène himself, the longest inhabitant of the house. (p127)

The book contains such oddities as family trees, newspaper articles, map titles, visiting cards, shop signs, chessboard diagrams, advertisements, to name only a few items, keeping the playfulness bubbling along.

Ahhh, but there are one hundred squares, and only ninety-nine chapters? Yes, there’s a blank square, a missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle, how could a user’s manual on life be complete?

Returning to Roger Caillois;

Thus games are not ruled and make-believe. Rather, they are ruled or make-believe. It is to the point that if a game with rules seems in certain circumstances like a serious activity and is beyond one unfamiliar with the rules, i.e. if it seems to him like real life, this game can at once provide the framework for a diverting make-believe for the confused and curious layman. Once easily can conceive of children, in order to imitate adults, blindly manipulating real or imaginary pieces on an imaginary chessboard, and by pleasant example, playing at “playing chess.”
“Man, Play and Games” (translated by Meyer Barash) p9

I urge you to step into 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier, dressed as a knight of course, head up the stairs, and take your instructions from Georges Perec, you’ll enter a second reality!

All About H. Hatterr – G. V. Desani

Hatterr

The Indian ‘Ulysses’

Do we read for enlightenment?

Warning!

‘Melodramatic gestures against public security are a common form of self-expression in the East. For instance, an Indian peasant, whose house has been burgled, will lay a tree across a railway line, hoping to derail a goods train, just to show his opinion of life. And the Magistrates are far more understanding…’
Anglo-Indian writer

Indian middle-man (to Author): Sir, if you do not identify your composition a novel, how then do we itemise it? Sir, the rank and file is entitled to know.
Author (to Indian middle-man): Sir, I identify it a gesture. Sir, the rank and file is entitled to know.
Indian middle-man (to Author): Sir, there is no immediate demand for gestures. There is an immediate demand for novels. Sir, we are literary agents not free agent.
Author (to Indian middle-man): Sir, I identify it a novel. Sir, itemise it accordingly.

So opens this romp and wordplay by G.V. Desani, a writer born to Indian parents in Nairobi, Kenya, and raised in Sind, India (located in the present day Pakistan). This ‘gesture’ follows H. Hatterr on his search for enlightenment. Our protagonist, and author, is the son of a European merchant officer and a Penang lady, raised and educated in missionary schools in Calcutta.

Before you join Hatterr’s journey seeking out seven sages, from Calcutta, Ranoon, Madras, Bombay, Delhi, Mogalsarai-Varansi and All India, you need to decolonise your thinking. The cultural impact of a colonial missionary upbringing is represented through Hatterr’s obscure and garbled English. What we have been taught is thrown back in our faces, forcing us to shift our paradigms.

That’s all why this book isn’t English as she is wrote and spoke. Not verbal contortionism, I assure. (p16)

A wild satire, at times reminiscent of Cervantes’ Quixote’s adventures, Laurence Sterne’s rollicking and obscurity, and with the characterisations suggestive of Charles Dickens, this ‘gesture’ is unpredictable in many ways;

All pelmanism and former McCoy forsook him. Thus humbled, this once Apostle of Enthusiasm refrained from self-pity, and acted. HE gave up digging for good; and – fall of man! – he climbed down; evolved backwards. From the high station of a seeker of wisdom and learning, he went below; to the lowest bottom-rung of the human progress-ladder. He decided to become a writer! – belong to the frisky fraternity of autobiography-makers, the fellers who keep a tally of their does, and, in the sunset of their days, make an oyez to humanity, asserting the motto, Everyman, I will be thy guide! – damme, clowning and vaudeville-turning! (p31)

Each of the seven main chapters exploring H. Hatterr’s seach for enlightenment with each of the seven sages. They contain a “Digest”, “Instruction”, “Presumption” and a “Life Encounter”. Seven? Reminiscent of the seven deadly sins, pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wroth and sloth, although which teaching is which? For example in Chapter II, Hatterr lusts after a circus owner’s wife, and is reduced to lion taming, cowering on the floor with a raw steak on his stomach whilst the lion eats. Is this lust or gluttony? There is a possible explanation in the closing of the book, a critique of the book by Hatterr’s friend, seven quotes from the Bible , for Chapter II the reference is ‘Comfort me with apples: I am sick of love’. This closing part of the book consists of 80 paragraphs, again a number is used to imply other connections, “The number 8 is extremely symbolic: v. 8-limbed Raja Yoga, etc.” To add to the maze, the book also uses symbols, mathematical and to represent the planets.

Hatterr’s accomplice Banerrji, speaks a garbled Shakespearian waffle;

‘Honest Iago,’ says the feller, greatly agitated, ‘I am as meek as Moses, but I have just heard that you have been mishandled by that Bhata Govinda. Whip me, ye devils! Roast me in sulphur! Gall, worse than gall! A rascally yea-forsooth knave! Three Judases, each one thrice worse than Judas! Falstaff speaking, I am as subject to heat as butter. A man of continuous dissolution and thaw! What valour were it, when a cur doth grin! If I can but catch him once upon the hip, I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him!’ (p189-190)

The absurdity of Western customs and rituals always bubbling to the surface;

Baw-saw: Why do the Occidental males wear neck-wear?
The Sheik: It is a mystic symbol and is called the Neck-tie. Their system of mysticism is called Etiquette. Accordingly, their women suffer equality with men: and assume leg-wear, the Garter! Mystically baptised the Honi. I have heard it said, in answer to another query, that the highest respect an Occidental husband can accord his spouse is the addressing of the incantation, You are a super, sweetheart! You don’t let the side down! Good show! (p104)

At times the language can be difficult to follow, with circular references, including allusions to the book itself, and spoonerisms, misquotes, incorrectly attributed references and more! Here Hatterr is travelling as a mystic, from town to town seeking alms as he has no money;

The trump card of us Balaamite fellers is the mumbo-jumbo talk : The priestcraft obscurantisms and subtlety : (…Wherefore, pious brethren, by confessing I lie, yolks! I tell the truth, sort of topholy trumpeting-it, by the Pharisee G. V. Desani: see the feller’s tract All About…, publisher, the same publishing company) : a language deliberately designed to mystify the majority, tempt ‘em to start guessing, and interpreting our real drift, and allegory, what the hell we mean : pursue our meaning on their sthula (gross), the sukshama (subtle) and para (supreme) planes, and levels, and still miss the issue and dash their heads against the crazy-paved rock of confusion, (…Wherefore, what we found, we forsook: what we did not find, we kept. Answer: Lice. A Greek writer feller called Homer, Plutarch confirming, killed himself trying to solve this.) Meantime, while heads are being dashed, and good Greeks killed, we the Wherefore, wherefore fellers, the masters of perplexing parable-speech, remain the all-knowing, never puzzled minority! (p120)

Heavily italicised, exclamation marks throughout the tongue in cheek jibes at the English, are forever flowing;

Damme, almost said to the feller, in his own tone and lexicon, ‘Cheer-o! Cheer-ho! Same to you! Blaw, blaw! Appadine-bloomin’-Sinclair! Huntin’ and shootin’! Good show! Good show! Ain’t cricket, Featherstonehaugh! Play the game, Cholmely-Smythe! A century, old bean! A daisy-cutter! A pink ‘un, Cru’shank! You are a Briton, sir! A real blightah, sah! A sahib, a durai, a tuan, a thakin, and a bwana, bay Jove! A fine dato, Finerty-Milliceep! Fore, there, fore! O mother, O begetter, O jewel! O bearer of the pangs of childbirth! Mama mia, madre, matka, anya, mata, meri! May Appadine-Sinclair’s dago arteries be squashed for turning up at this inauspicious moment! (p248)

Yes, Joycean in style and tone, this is a work that demands re-reading, a slow contemplative absorption, where you can take in the enlightenments, and the references to English (and European) literature.

Which leads me to the introduction, by Anthony Burgess, the same fellow I referred to earlier in the week and his Joycean reference to Alisdair Gray’s ‘Lanark’. Here he specifically references ‘Ulysses’;

The reader who expects the shapeless mind-wandering regularity associated with an amateur search for Truth, must now be informed that H. Hatterr’s story is carefully, even pedantically, planned as Ulysses. There are seven long sections, each of which begins with H. Hatterr consulting a sage. That means seven Sages, each from a different Oriental city, each specialising in a different aspect of Living (H Hatterr’s capitalisation is infectious). The student, having learnt some great Generality, the proceeds to an Adventure, in which he attempts to spread the gospel to other aspiring minds. He ends the section in a discussion with his friend Banerrji, then, refreshed and more hopeful than ever, he proceeds to the next stage of enlightenment. Some such patter, as Joyce knew, was essential if the fine flood of language was not to take chaotic control. (p10)

Here I will agree with Anthony Burgess, this is a highly enjoyable, yet challenging, humorous romp towards enlightenment. I’d give you the keys in summation, but that would be a spoiler alert and it would deprive you of the wonderful journey of H. Hatterr.

Another work complete in my journey through the world of Ulysses.

Lanark – Alasdair Gray

LanarkThe Scottish Ulysses

Based on a list of twelve “novels that have been described, whether by critics or the authors themselves, as the Ulyssi of their respective cultures”, compiled by writer Joshua Cohen, late last year I added a post “A World of Ulysses”.

I did extend the listing of twelve adding a number of novels that other readers have claimed fit the Ulysses tag. At that time, I was encouraged to add Alasdair Gray’s ‘Lanark’ as the Scottish Ulysses, as apparently Anthony Burgess had referred to it as such.

I know only a little about Anthony Burgess, famous because Stanley Kubrick made a film based on one of his books, or that he spat the dummy and refused to turn up to the Booker Prize in 1980 because William Golding had written a better book, or that he wrote a LOT of reviews. Attempting to find the Ulysses reference by Burgess has been part of the ‘Lanark’ journey, I never found the alleged reference, maybe he never compared the two, however I have found a lot of references comparing Gray to Joyce, and the oft dragged out quote:

 “It was about time Scotland produced a shattering work of fiction in the modern idiom. This is it…the first major Scottish novelist since Sir Walter Scott”

It’s a bummer really as I was going to write a whole piece about how ‘Lanark’ is nothing like ‘Ulysses’…

Let’s start with the book’s structure, something that is out of the ordinary, a structure best described by the author, in the book itself;

“When Lanark is finished (I am calling the work after you) it will be roughly tow hundred thousand words and forty chapters long, and divided into books three, one, two and four.”
“Why not one, two, three and four?”
“ I want
Lanark to be read in one order but eventually thought of in another. It’s an old device. Homer, Virgil, Milton and Scott Fitzgerald used it. There will also be a prologue before book one, and interlude in the centre, and an epilogue two or three chapters before the end.”
“I thought epilogues came after the end.”
“Usually, but mine is too important to go there. Though not essential to the plot it provides some comic distraction at a moment with the narrative sorely needs it. And it lets me utter some fine sentiments which I could hardly trust to a mere character. And it contains critical notes which will save research scholars years of toil. In fact my epilogue is so essential that I am working on it with nearly a quarter of the book still unwritten. I am working on it here, just now, in this conversation….” (p483)

Books three and four, the bookends, take place in a futuristic setting and feature a character named Lanark in the city of Unthank, books one and two, in the centre of the novel, is a coming of age story about the Glaswegian artist Duncan Thaw. Glasgow not just the setting but also a “character”;

“Then think of Florence, Paris, London, New York. Nobody visiting them for the first time is a stranger because he’s already visited them in paintings, novels, history books and films. But if a city hasn’t been used by an artist not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively. What is Glasgow to most of us? A house, the place we work, a football park or gold course, some pubs and connecting streets. That’s all. No, I’m wrong, there’s also the cinema and the library. And when our imagination needs exercise we use these to visit London, Paris, Rome under the Caesars, the American West at the turn of the century, anywhere but here and now. Imaginatively Glasgow exists as a music-hall song and a few bad novels. That’s all we’ve given to the world outside. It’s all we’ve given ourselves.” (p243)

To counteract this imbalance of foreign culture and awareness, Alasdair Gray paints an intricate picture of the city, a place where the sun doesn’t shine a lot;

Sliding patches of evening sunshine mingled with flurries of so warm a rain that nobody thought of sheltering from it. Drummond led them round Sighthill cemetery, across some football pitches and up a wilderness of slag bings called Jack’s Mountain. From the top they saw the yellow-scummed lake called the Stinky Ocean, then came down near a slaughterhouse behind Pinkston power station, along the canal towpath, between bonded warehouses, across Garscube Road and into a public house. The customers sat on benches against the wall, staring at each other across the narrow floor like passengers in a train. (p329)

Whilst a futuristic dystopian novel, interrupted by a coming of age story, that highlights Glasgow, this is also a political work:

Many hard workers make noting but wealth. They don’t produce food, fuel, shelter or helpful ideas; their work is just a way of tightening their grip on folk who do.” (p409)

Using several interesting techniques throughout as a reader you are always pitched into a new realm to discover, for example instead of repeating a route or the scenery;

Consider him passing along the route described at the start of Book One, Chapter 18 only he dozes most of the way and gets out at Glencoe village. (p351)

Creating loops for you to follow, skipping back and forth as Lanark is being told the life of Duncan Thaw. The Epilogue, as referred to above by the writer himself, and not appearing at the end, was for this reader the highlight of the book. Does Alasdair Gray pre-empt the world’s issues by fifty years (‘Lanark’ was published in 1981 however some parts are “copyright 1969”)? Here Lanark is attending a meeting as the representative of Unthank to plead the case to ensure the city’s longevity;

You move about discussing the woes of Unthank with whoever will listen. Your untutored eloquence has an effect beyond your expectations, first on women, then on men. Many delegates see that their own lands are threatened by the multi-national companies and realize that if something isn’t quickly done the council won’t be able to help them either. So tomorrow when you stand up in the great assembly hall to speak for your land or city (I haven’t worked out which yet), you are speaking for a majority of lands and cities everywhere. The great corporations, you say, are wasting the earth. They have turned the wealth of nations into weapons and poison, while ignoring mankind’s most essential needs. The time has come etcetera etcetera. You sit down amid a silence more significant than the wildest applause and the lord president himself arises to answer you. He expresses the most full-hearted agreement. He explains that the heads of the council have already prepared plans to curb and harness the power of the creature but dared not announce them before they had the support of a majority. He announces them now. All work which merely transfers wealth will be abolished, all work which damages or kills people will be stopped. All profits will belong to the state, no state will be bigger than a Swiss canton, no politician will draw a larger wage than an agricultural labourer. In fact, all wages will be lowered or raised to the national average, and later to the international average, thus letting people transfer to the jobs they do best without artificial feelings of prestige or humiliation. Stockbrokers, bankers, accountants, property developers, advertisers, company lawyers and detectives will become schoolteachers if they can find no other useful work, and not teacher will have more than six pupils per class. The navy and the air forces will be set to providing children everywhere with free meals. The armies will dig irrigation ditches and plant trees. All human excrement will be returned to the land. (pp490-491)

I believe this is an uneven novel, one that soars at times, but meanders along with a simple narrative plot at other times. The references to the African delegates (in the meeting above) as the “blacks” and their speech punctuated with “man” made them caricatures not characters. And the representation of females?

The gallery was filling with older people who were clearly delegates or delegates’ wives, and other in their thirties who seemed to be secretaries and journalists. There were more red girls too, though few of them now wore the whole red uniform. (p504)

In the future women still aren’t delegates, they are simply wives, or secretaries….and the whole novel does overly hinge on male bravado, women simply exist to adorn the men, even in the future the “princess” is rescued by the “prince”.

Enjoyable, clever, but at times tedious (frequent visitors here would know how I hate coming of age stories) and now somewhat dated, the structure is one part that is interesting. No ‘Ulysses’ sorry.

 

 

Yukio Mishima’s “The Sea of Fertility” tetralogy, “The Decay of the Angel”

DecayAngel

I have completed reading the final instalment in Yukio Mishima’s “The Sea of Fertility” tetralogy, four novels that follow the life of Shigekuni Honda and his interactions with Kiyoaki Matsugae, Isao Iinuma, Ying Chan and Tōru Yasunaga, supposedly reincarnations. Covering the period October 1912 to November 1970 it is a collection moving through significant historical periods in Japanese history.

Highly symbolic and meditative in style, the four novels are not only difficult to read and digest, a slow reading is almost demanded as you contemplate each reflection, they are also difficult to write about. When I say “difficult” I do not mean your “Finnegan’s Wake” difficult, it is more a case of the narrative arc, character depth and motivations, playing less of a role than the symbolic, the allegoric, the reflective and the meditative.

To recap, the four books that make up the tetralogy are:

Spring Snow translated by Michael Gallagher

Runaway Horses translated by Michael Gallagher

The Temple of Dawn translated by E. Dale Saunders and Cecilia Seqawa Seigle

The Decay of the Angel translated by Edward G. Seidensticker

Interestingly the tone of the novels shifts quite dramatically in the third novel, the feeling of immersion in nature becoming more clinical and then becoming sparse in the final instalment. Is this a reflection on the different translators of the books, or was Yukio Mishima changing his style?

Without revisiting old themes of earth, wind, fire and water, or nationalistic symbols as I have done with previous posts about these books, this time I will simply post a few short thoughts about various questions raised in the final novel.

Chapter Eight, explores in some detail “the five signs…that death has come to an angel”, using various religious texts. There are “variations depending upon the source”, including “lesser and greater” signs;

Here are the five greater signs: the once-immaculate robes are soiled, the flowers in the flowery crown fade and fall, sweat pours from the armpits, a fetid stench envelops the body, the angel is no longer happy in its proper place. (p 53)

Highly symbolic in nature these signs are a glaring motif for the reader to follow, as we observe Honda in old age;

Huge, solid, the buildings spread great wings of steel and glass. Honda said to himself; “The moment I die they will all go.” The thought came to him as a happy one, a sort of revenge. It would be no trouble at all, tearing this world up by the roots and returning it to the void. All he had to do was die. He took a certain minor pride in the thought that an old man who would be forgotten still had in death this incomparably destructive weapon. For him the five signs of decay held no fear. (p55)

Soiled robes, fading flowers worn as a crown, sweat, stench and unhappiness all appear and reappear in various guises throughout. Reincarnated Tōru Yasunaga, for example;

Tōru’s heels looked up from the skirt of his kimono. They were white and wrinkled as those of a drowned corpse, and patches of dirt were scattered like bits of foil over them. The kimono had gone quite limp. Sweat drew clusters of yellow clouds at the neckline.
Honda had for some time been aware of a strange odor. He saw that the dirt and oil on the kimono had mixed with the sweat into the smell as of a dank canal that young men put out in the summer Tōru had lost his fastidiousness. (p219)

Are all the reincarnations angels?

As he lectured to the attentive Tōru, Honda had the feeling that these were really instructions for Kiyoaki and Isao and Ying Chan.
Yes, he should have spoken to them. He should have armed them with the foreknowledge that would keep them from flinging themselves after their destinies, take away their wings, keep them from soaring, make them march in step with the crowd. The world does not approve of flying. Wings are dangerous weapons. They invite self-destruction before they can be used. If he had brought Isao to terms with the fools, then he could have pretended that he knew nothing of wings. (p113)

“Kiyoaki Matsugae was caught by unpredictable love, Isao Iinuma by destiny, Ying Chan by the flesh. And you?” (p206)

As I have previously posted, Mount Fuji becomes a “Temple of Dawn” during the third novel and here the symbolic mountain returns, this time linked to the angels:

He had visited Nihondaira Heights below Fuji, and on his return had stopped by the Mio Grove and seen such treasures as the cloth, probably from Inner Asia, said to be a fragment of the angel’s robe (p9)

We also have the sea as a prominent motif in the final novel;

The sea: a nameless sea, the Mediterranean, the Japan Sea, the Bay of Suruga here before him; a rich, nameless, absolute anarchy, caught after a great struggle as something called “sea,” in fact rejecting a name. (p5)

Recap of Yukio Mishima’s quote about “The Sea of Fertility”; “Or I might say that it superimposes the image of cosmic nihilism on that of the fertile sea.”

There are links and hints in every chapter, a giant circle of reincarnation, revisiting and learning. The four novels weighing in at 1,376 pages (Vintage Classics Editions) means there are opportunities galore to sow a seed and slowly allow it to germinate.

Decay, it is not only for angels, our protagonist is now in his 80’s, his health is failing;

But it had come to seem that there was no distinguishing between pain of the spirit and pain of the flesh. What was the difference between humiliation and a swollen prostate? Between pangs of sorrow and pneumonia? Senility was a proper ailment of both the spirit and the flesh, and the fact that senility was an incurable disease meant that existence was an incurable disease. It was a disease unrelated to existentialist theories, the flesh itself being the disease, latent death.
If the cause of decay was illness, then the fundamental cause of that, the flesh, was illness too. The essence of the flesh was decay. It had its spot in time to give evidence of destruction and decay. (p209-210)

The Vintage Classic edition of Yukio Mishima’s final novel, “The Decay of the Angel”, finishes with “The End: The Sea of Fertility; November 25, 1970”. As we know on that same date the then 45-year-old Yukio Mishima staged a failed coup d’état and then performed seppuku, a ritual suicide originally reserved for samurai. Seen as an honourable way to die, the ritual consists of using a short blade to disembowel oneself, a “kaishakunin” is appointed whose role is to behead the one who has performed the ritual, in Mishima’s case the kaishakunin, political activist Masakatsu Morita, was unable to complete the task and it was then left to Hiroyasu Koga to behead Mishima, and subsequently Morita, who had stabbed himself in the abdomen.

As I have mentioned in previous posts about Yukio Mishima’s final four novels, it is difficult to read these books without the sceptre of his final day looming large over your thoughts, however Yukio Mishima’s attention to detail with minor matters such as clouds, waves, grass, flowers, is often more significant than the death of a major character. The observation of natural elements may run to pages, whilst a death may be a clinical short paragraph. Is he telling us to observe, enrich and submerge ourselves in life?

It is 48 years since Yukio Mishima finished his writing, I do plan to revisit these four novels in 2020 (two years’ time), the 50th anniversary of his death, and I have the added bonus of knowing how long they will take me to complete. A collection of books that demands rereading, simply to draw all of the threads together. But then again I have made many a reading plan that hasn’t come to fruition…

 

Yukio Mishima’s “The Sea of Fertility” tetralogy, “The Temple of Dawn”

TempleOfDawn

Further reflections on Yukio Mishima’s final books, “The Sea of Fertility” tetralogy. The four books that make up the tetralogy are:

Spring Snow translated by Michael Gallagher

Runaway Horses translated by Michael Gallagher

The Temple of Dawn translated by E. Dale Saunders and Cecilia Seqawa Seigle

The Decay of the Angel translated by Edward G. Seidensticker

I have now completed reading the first three, with the shortest of the four books remaining. The allegory, metaphor and symbolism continues in The Temple of Dawn, sky, clouds, dawn and the evening sky the prominent subjects.

Of the three volumes read to date, I found this one a lot harder to engage with, it could be the change in translators, although the subject matter was less focused on character development and action, with significant portions dedicated to musing on Buddhist and Hindu theory.

The work opens with our protagonist, Honda again as the main thread throughout the tetralogy, travelling to Thailand and India. A slight hint of travelogue style allows Mishima to present a detached view of Nationalism;

Traveling through a country like Thailand, Honda realized more clearly than ever the simplicity and purity of things Japanese, like transparent stream water through which one could glimpse pebbles below, or the probity of Shinto rites. Honda’s life was not imbued with such spirit. Like the majority of Japanese he ignored it, behaving as though it did not exist and surviving by escaping from it. All his life he had dodged things fundamental and artless: white silk, clear cold water, the zigzag white paper of the exorciser’s staff fluttering in the breeze, the sacred precinct marked by a torii, the gods’ dwelling in the sea, the mountains, the vast ocean, the Japanese sword with its glistening blade so pure and sharp. Not only Honda, but the vast majority of Westernized Japanese, could no longer stand such intensely native elements. (P26)

Early in the novel we are introduced to the Temple of Dawn, Wat Arun in Thailand;

The pagoda had long served as a morning bell tolled by its rich hues, resonant colors responding to the dawn. They were created so as to evoke beauty, a power, an explosiveness like the dawn itself.
In the eerie, yellowish brown morning light reflecting ruddily in the Menam River, the pagoda cast its shining reflection, presaging the coming of still another sweltering day. (pp14-15)

However later the temple becomes Mount Fuji, this is post WWII Japan now and Honda is shifting from ignoring “the mountains”, he can “stand such intensely native elements”;

The next morning Honda awoke alone in the villa, and for protection against the cold, donned a woollen scarf, a cardigan, and a thick winter coat. He crossed the lawn and walked to the arbor at the west end of the garden. More than anything else he had been anticipating watching Fuji at dawn.
The mountain was tinted crimson in the sunrise. Its tip glowed the color of a brilliant rose stone, and to his eyes it was a dreamlike illusion, a classical cathedral roof, a Japanese Temple of Dawn. (P157)

The references to reaching for the divine, whether in Thailand, Japan or India (Honda travels to India too), add to the spiritual angle of this work, and whilst the thread of Honda’s interactions with reincarnated characters continues here it is a less prominent element to the novel. The references to architecture showing an ageing Honda is adding structure and order to his life. Although dawn is representing newness, freshness, the potential for a brighter future, there is also the foreboding of twilight;

There is a time of day immediately before dusk when the outline of every object becomes sharply delineated. It was just that moment. The lacerated edges of wooden beams in the wreckage, the freshness of the rents in the shredded trees, and the curled zinc sheets with their puddles of rain water – everything appeared almost unpleasantly vivid. In the extreme west only a horizontal line of scarlet was to be seen in the sky between two or three towering black burned-out buildings. Flecks of scarlet were also visible through the windows of the ruined structures. It was as if someone had turned on a red light in a deserted and uninhabited house. (p140)

We had already been forewarned;

“Art is a colossal evening glow,” he repeated. “It’s the burnt offering of all the best things of an era. Even the clearest logic that has long thrived in daylight is completely destroyed by the meaningless lavish explosion of color in the evening sky; even history, apparently destined to endure forever, is abruptly made aware of its own end. Beauty stands before everyone; it renders human endeavor completely futile. Before the brilliance of evening, before the surging evening clouds, all rot about some ‘better future’ immediately fades away. The present moment is all; the air is filled with a poison of color. What’s beginning? Nothing. Everything is ending. (p12)

It is this luminescence just prior to the “ending” that fascinates Mishima;

The evening sky was already casting its gentle rose color over the river; passing sails dropped dusky shadows on the water.
It was a time of opulent, mysterious luminescence before the dusk of evening. A time controlled by light, when the contours of all things were perfect, every dove painted in detail, when everything was dyed a faded yellow-rose, when a languid harmony reigned with the exquisiteness of an etching between the reflection on the river and the glow in the sky. (p61)

In my previous posts I also referred to the moon references, well the tetralogy IS called the Sea of Fertility and in the Vintage edition notes on the author, Mishima is reported to have said, “The title, The Sea of Fertility…is intended to suggest the arid sea of the moon that belies its name. Or I might say that it superimposes the image of cosmic nihilism on that of the fertile sea.”

I’ll finish this post with two pertinent quotes about the sea of fertility, keeping in mind Mishima’s failed coup d’état and subsequent ritual suicide immediately after finishing the tetralogy;

But the feeling of disillusion and despair – as if one had seen the other side of the moon – which overtakes the successful revolutionary makes death merely an escape from a wilderness worse than death itself. (p87)

He was certain that unless the moon were permitted to stay clear, the emptiness and disgust that flooded his heart would expand and expand, and the dark turmoil would be transformed into sexual desire. It astonished him to discover that it was just such a landscape that awaited him at the end of his life’s journey. (p183)

I will continue to slow methodical march of our protagonist Honda (and Mishima) to his death, as I’m sure that is what awaits me in the final novel.

Aqua Spinach – Luke Beesley PLUS bonus poet interview

AquaSpinach

It is not my custom to weave any kind of fantastic plot about the figures I amuse myself in contemplating. I just see them, and their value lies purely in the fact that I can see them. Anything I might add would diminish them, because it would diminish what I term their ‘visibility’.
– Fernando Pessoa “The Book of Disquiet” opening to Fragment 125 (translated by Margaret Jull Costa)

Fernando Pessoa’s “The Book of Disquiet” sits on my bedside table, I dip in and out of the fragments quite regularly, it is not a book one reads from cover-to-cover, a collection of artefacts that add to/take away from your daily mood. I read Fragment 125, above, soon after finishing Luke Beesley’s latest collection of poetry “Aqua Spinach” and I thought it was utterly relevant. Into my notebook it went “Use Fragment 125 opening for Luke Beesley review”.

Scrap that thought….start again.

I quite often visit the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (‘ACMI’) where they screen iconic films. Recently I’ve seen movies by Tarkovsky, Antonioni, Bergman, Breton…there are so many movies to see.

Luke Beesley’s “Aqua Spinach” closes out a trilogy of books that explore the intersections between poetry, music, the visual arts and cinema. The epigraph coming from Leo Charney’s “Empty Moments: Cinema, Modernity, and Drift”:

In the empty moment, what you call identity ceases to be continuous,
linear, apparent.
It’s hazy and insubstantial, a jumbled, fragmented surface.
It skips around from one time to another, from one place to another.
It refuses to respect the need to keep one moment consistent and con-
tenuous with the ones that precede or follow it.
It’s a film.

And this collection of prose poems is a “jumbled, fragmented surface”, skipping “around from one time to another, from one place to another.”

Scrap that thought….start again.

“Aqua Spinach” is broken into three sections, “Ink”, “Paint” and “Film”, writing, visual arts and cinema being the points on a three pronged surrealist compass, the sixty-four poems seeping into your awareness, leaving scar tissue memories and setting off synapses of past experiences like miniature firework displays in your brain. Ah yes, the lobster telephone, I saw that at the ‘Salvador Dalí: Liquid Desire” retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria back in 2009…or did I, maybe I thought I saw it? I’ve definitely seen Dalí’s collaboration with Luis Buñuel, “Un Chien Andalou”, hasn’t everyone who is into film? You know the one, the dissected eyeball, or am I thinking of “Le Voyage Dans La Lune”? No definitely not that, it was made in 1902, Georges Méliès made that, something to do with the moon and eyes…

Scrap that thought…start again.

Luke Beesley’s final instalment, following on from “Jam Sticky Vision” and “New Works on Paper”, has just been released, by Giramondo Publishing. Get your bus ticket organised as you are about to board public transport, head to work, view several exhibitions, watch a film or two, however it is all going to take place at once.

Incomprehension came to mind as I started reading this new collection of poems, I was attempting to make sense of the surreal. Once I let go and allowed the journey to just unfold, the seemingly disparate images began to build a story of an artistic life alongside mundane everyday actions. Just as watching a single star in the sky of the city, polluted with light haze, is not as magnificent as seeing the same star as part of the the Milky Way in the clear skies of the desert, it is still the same star.

A Century of Poetry in English

Over pottery in the language inherited a century of prose
and lilac Iliads. The Iliads by binoculars and binoculars by
lower lake and the century in English against the French or
Spanish soccer grace, Keatsean anticlimactic brilliance,
William-to-William, wheeled in on bright cuts and English
lessons. The sentence flosses the Armadillo mountains in the
east and the sun reaches out of atmosphere like a sneeze,
centuries. We work around the spine.

The above poem appears in the “Ink” section of the collection.

The front cover features a still from Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s film “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”, the 2010 Palme d’Or winning film at the Cannes Film Festival. A movie that explores past lives and is the final instalment in a multi-platform art project centred in Thailand’s northeast. The mystical use of various media and the subject matter aligns nicely with Luke Beesley’s work that uses art, objects and humans to transform. The exploration of literature, visual arts and film through small bursts of comprehension creates a hybrid questioning of absurdity in the everyday. A collection that lingers and haunts your dreams…or your reality.

Yet again, I pass on my sincere thanks to the writer for taking the time to be interviewed and Luke Beesley’s answers and engagement with my high-level questions is really appreciated.

You can buy “Aqua Spinach” direct from the publisher here (where you can also purchase the poet’s earlier books).

Q. “…dust motes float around verb in all literature, the dust motes float.” Are your thoughts dust motes?

I like that idea. Rings of Saturn Sebald-ish and dust-like. Part of what my writing process might cause, I think, is a dust-like illustration of distracted thought. But also none of the metaphors in the poems are achingly mulled over with the full weight consciousness – they swim up out of somewhere during the fast first draft and, to me, this anchors them to something deeper, or they’re easier to trust.

 

Q. You reference Apichatpong Weerasethakul”s film “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” in the poem “Wild Thing” and the cover image is taken from this film. The Director in an interview with the Bangkok Post says it is primarily a film about “objects and people that transform or hybridise”. Two questions here, (1) were you involved in the cover design, and (2) are your poems about “objects and people that transform or hybridise”?

1) Very big yes! The book cover is something I’m really into, as I’m sure the very patient staff at Giramondo Publishing will tell you. Whereas New Works on Paper’s key focus was the visual arts (hence a drawing for the cover) and Jam Sticky Vision’s a little more on the side of music (hence the detail from a Pavement record on the cover), this book was always tipped to the side of cinema. Apichatpong’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is the film that has had the most transformative effect on me over the last few years. I didn’t go out of my way to reference it; it was just a big part of my imagination around the time Aqua Spinach was written. I did a whole series of drawings based on the film, too. I was fortunate to be able to track Apichatpong down, via a friend, and he was really responsive and lovely. He provided that beguiling image. I love the way the cover turned out and am grateful for Giramondo for including me in the process. (2) I guess everything’s moving and shifting in the writing, in the world, in the way we see each other. The film is mysterious and darkly aesthetic: bringing in photography, playing with formality, day-for-night filming, humour, banality, surprise – it’s the stuff of contemporary poetry. It’s the kind of film that puts me in the type of alert daydream place that is productive for writing.

 

Q. The collection is arranged into three sections, the nouns “Ink”, “Paint” and “Film”, can you talk a bit about the “Film” section, your influences by Éric Rohmer, Stanley Kubrick, Luis Buñel, Joanna Hogg for example?

Embarrassingly perhaps, I discovered Rohmer only a few years ago. I’ve since watched nearly all of his 25 or so films. It was so great to re-watch Full Moon in Paris on the big screen at MIFF. Actually, today I happen to be watching A Tale of Springtime which is one of the few films of his that I haven’t seen. I enjoy his use of colour, but I love that you spend time with a thoughtful, sensitive, hesitant, indecisive character and you gradually grow very close to them. And Rohmer will show his characters thinking while folding clothes or walking or reading or just popping back to an apartment to pick up a couple of books. He’ll show the whole sequence so that you as the viewer have time to think and you understand that the character’s mind is busy in thought while they fold or walk or read or eat or stare at a view (a view which more often confounds expectations by being either disappointing or unexpectedly interesting). Joanna Hogg, who is influenced by Rohmer, is probably – along with Apichatpong and Suwichakornpong – my favourite filmmaker of the last few years, and I’ve watched her three films over and over. I write while watching films – that dream trance they put you in – so it’s natural that they appear in my daily writing. Image-wise, I like the idea of the book springing up out of Un Chein Andalou (maybe minus the eye scene which I can’t watch, more ants, armpits, absent mouths and moth eyes). I like the following question: What has Un Chien Andalou got to do with inner-Melbourne?

The trilogy – New Work on Paper, Jam Sticky Vision, Aqua Spinach – ends with film, which goes back to the book’s epigraph. In the end, film wins, I think, concerning its relation to its influence on the moment.

 

Q. “Ink” being writing, “Paint” being art (painting) – you have an active cultural life – can you talk about some of your major influences from the poetic, painting arts?

If you went through the visual art references over the three books and took down names my obsessions at the time of writing would all be there. It’s more than the actual art, too. I like the names of artists and the way their names work in poems and how the name moves out, almost topographically, beyond the art, or rhymes visually with other names. A writer can be linked to a musician or painter via this visual rhyme.

I feel I always have a pool of artists I’m focusing on, and then those artists will lead me to others. I could probably trace this movement, via hundreds of artists, over twenty years. In my 20s it was Rothko, Coltrane, Ondaatje, Lee Ufan, Malick, Egoyan, Pavement, Silver Jews, David Brooks and Leonard Cohen. Then later it was Kelly Reichardt, Cy Twombly, Helen Frankenthaler, Bill Callahan, Carlos Reygadas, John Ashbery, Gerald Murnane, Helen Frankenthaler. My favourite-pool of the moment is probably Joan Mitchell, Cesar Aira, Aldous Harding, Anocha Suwichakornpong, Lydia Davis and Enrique Vila-Matas. I also just finished a forty-odd-thousand word exegesis on the enthralling and elusive writing of poet Barbara Guest, and I’m in no way willing to let go. Her ekphrastic poetry has led me to many other painters, too.

Essentially the story of Modernist painting and the innovative writers of the 20th century are significant influences.

 

Q. The poem “The Lobster” uses André Breton and surrealism as a theme. Is your work surrealist automatism at play?

Yes, the lobster is a double reference to Breton and also a contemporary artist such as filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, who is trying to work today with what the surrealists offered up. Regarding automatism, it’s hard to say. My process is to write fast in pencil every day, and I’ve built up an improvisational approach by doing this for about eight years. There is a calm centre to it. I try not to think, that’s very important, but then it’s maybe, over the years, been honed to control the levels of pure automation so that I can have a poetry mode and a more narrative short-fiction mode. I like the idea of calling the writing surrealist, though.

 

Q. Individually these poems may appear incoherent, but as a whole the reader can see your day to day activities, catching a bus, in an office, reading poems, sitting on a park bench and all of the associated random thoughts that go with these activities. Can you explain a little about the timeframe where these poems were written and the writing process itself?

I feel I’m with you with this Q & A, in that we’re anticipating each other. It’s really pleasing to know that there is a shape to the book when you step back.

I’ve written a bit about my process. Perhaps I could add that the handwriting is important. I can’t read what I’ve just written – it can only be deciphered afterwards – so all my attention is focused on the associations thrown up by the what is going on around the point of the pencil. One phrase – its shape, images and sounds – leads to another, not unlike the way one author leads to another, below.

Concerning the timeframe, the poems were drafted in 2014 and a little bit in 2015 (there are one or two poems from my Barbara Guest research trip to New York and New Haven in early 2015), and edited from 2015 to 2017.

 

Q. I ask all my interviewees this, and it is building up a nice reading list, what are you reading at the moment and why?

Hmm. I generally have about 2-3 long Modern classics on the go, on the bedside table, that I’m re-reading. And I tend to move between a number of books at the same time. I’m reading Woolf’s Jacob’s Room just because I love her writing and that novella had escaped me. I’m also reading Lydia Davis’ recent short story collection Can’t and Won’t which came out of reading her novel The End of the Story. I walked into a secondhand bookshop and saw the novel and picked it up and it helped me finish a long prose piece I was working on.

I’ve been in an Anita Brookner phase – her books are so crisply written and deceptively dark and sad. I sped through Look At Me and then A Start in Life but I’ve slowed a little to modulate the sadness. I’m now reading A Private View. I’m also reading the new Ondaatje, Warlight, but I’m disappointed with it, as I was of his last novel, in comparison with his earlier books, or I’m arguing with my younger self. Who’s changed? Him or me? His poetry and fiction were my first major writing influences, way back, and so I’m kinda sulking about this novel and only reading a few pages at a time. I guess I’m being a bit melodramatic.

I’m reviewing an Australian poetry collection, and I’m also re-reading the fabulous poetry collection Knocks by Emily Stewart. I’ve been reading Harold Brodkey’s wild and bold short fiction: The World is the Home of Love & Death and Stories in an Almost Classical Mode, and I’m always moving through Cesar Aira’s books in translation – am about to start Conversations. I’m also reading Czech novelist Michal Ajvaz’s bazaar Borges-like The Other City. Also Julio Cortázar’s expendable-chapters novel Hopscotch just arrived in the post.

I mostly read what might be termed contemporary experimental fiction/short fiction, and Modernist classics. And it leads to the next question.

p.s. for more on my reading habits go here

https://southerlyjournal.com.au/2016/05/27/followed-by-patrick-modianos-dog-what-ive-been-reading-last-part/

 

Q. Finally what is next? Are you working on anything you can tell us about?

One of the reasons why Aqua Spinach is a full stop – the end of a trilogy – is that since I finished drafting it a few years ago, I’ve mostly only been writing short fiction and fiction. Having written that, sometimes stories come back from literary journals with a note from the editor saying hey this is poetry. Anyway, I’m writing what I love to read most at the moment, and I’m really into it. Ahead of me is a lot of crouching over my terrible handwriting, trying to transcribe it to the computer, but I have more than one manuscript that is getting close to completion.