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Pampas

Since the beginning of April I have been using Facebook as a platform for short, linked, daily bursts of text and image. It occurred to me that not all those who might visit Facebook would find their way to the full length rolling version of this endeavour so I’ve reproduced it here and from now on will update it on both platforms as it proceeds. To read the whole thing please scroll right down to the end of this post which is, of course, its beginning.
 

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For example Mr Butcher the baker, Ms Wheeler the walker, Mrs Baker the milliner, Jean Dexter the socialist, Jack Fitch the student, the nudist Ian Draper, Neville Carter the Formula One racing driver were there. It was a curious occasion but very human as the builder, Robert, observed. Towards the back the crowd was parting as a figure made forward. Eyes widened. “Is that Roy?” “Does he live round here?” “I think he moves from town to town.” “Who is Roy Mummy?” said the bright young girl. “He is a high-functioning psychopath darling.” “Does he gut people?” “Not all psychopaths gut people sweetheart. I’m not sure if Roy does or not. And the word is eviscerate.”

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22/04/15 The restaurant manager suggested that the large crowd and Johnny go to the cricket pitch where Johnny could continue crying and people could watch. He set up an armchair and led Johnny to it. The people continued to be respectful, maintaining the social space measure common in the west, that is to say between 4 and 8 feet (for newly formed groups). Richard and the manager invited the people to write their questions on file cards which they distributed. Each card bore the legend ‘Johnny is Present’. Among those in attendance were visitors to Bury from the outlying villages of Little Saxham, Fornham St Genevieve and Cattishall.

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21/04/15 So from above looking down people are respectfully encircling Johnny’s table in the chain restaurant as he sits his wrists flat to the surface tears coursing down his face. “Was it Sheridan?” Richard asks softly. Johnny shakes his head. Two truck drivers step forward not too close “We so like what you do,” they whisper. Johnny nods distractedly. A girl asks her mother “Who is that Mum?” She bends to the girl’s ear “That’s Johnny Depp darling from Nights of the Black Caribbean.” The girl pushes her way through the crowd now some thirty strong watching. Gently she puts her hand on top of Johnny’s hand. “I’m sorry you’re sad.” As one a family towards the back bite their lips and breathe in then out. The father looks up. “What is that music?” The air was filled with such magnificent music.

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20/05/15 Richard Ostend, emotionally fatigued after his outburst on the A14 took the vagabond film star Johnny Depp for a coffee in Bury St Edmunds, a market town in England’s Suffolk area. Richard chose a restaurant chain in Auction Street. As Johnny Depp examined the laminated menu he found himself suffused with a troublesome sensation of recognition. His eyes misted over as a mysterious but profound sadness overtook him.

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19/05/15 “Johnny,” said Richard as he expertly went along the road. “I was recently trying to move a filing cabinet. It slipped from my grasp and crushed my toe. The nail detached but is now regrowing. As I was putting my socks on this morning in Snetterton I glanced at the toe and…” Richard hesitated. “I feel embarrassed to say this.” “Go right ahead,” I urged. Richard said “Do you know Sheridan Smith? The actress?” I shook my head, “Is she good?” “Oh certainly,” he affirmed, “but when I glanced at my toe I thought of Sheridan Smith.” I asked “She looks like a toe?” “God no. Lovely looking woman. But I thought of her.” I nodded slowly. “I know people who would envy this, Richard.” He turned “Really? Is it good?” I replied “It’s terrific.”

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18/05/15 Michael, with his genial way, eased the froideur. He said “I have recently celebrated my birthday.” A murmur ran around. Noomi said “How old are you?” People said things like “Whoa!” but jovially. Michael went “I’m 38. What about you?” Noomi goes, to the point as you might expect, “35.” “Okay!” says Ryan. “Yeah Ryan?” Carey responds to him. Ryan shrugs like it’s nothing “34. Carey, you’re 12, right?” This gets a round of laughter. “Old joke, Ryan,” Carey says, “I’m actually 29. And fuck off, by the way.” Oh boy. It’s coming my way. And I don’t have a clue. When was Gilbert Grape? 80s? 90s? Scarlett is grinning at me. I’m fucked. Am I older than Michael? Got to be. Jennifer comes in “He-e-e-ere’s Johnny!” Scarlett’s looking quizzical. I’m fucked.

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This is what they look like:
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16/05/15 We were fingering our macarons when there was a knock at the door. It was Jake, bearded and in a hurry. He greeted us breathlessly. Ryan said “Try these puits d’amour a caramelized jam-containing puff pastry.” Jake said “Can you lend me a fiver?” Noomi said “No sweat” and slipped him a bill. I said “Jake, I thought you were a homeless man when you came in.” Ryan said “I mean the pastry contains the jam, yeah? The jelly?” Jake said “I got it the first time round.” Then Jake turned to me “Where you coming from, man? This is connected to what I’m doing.” I said “What are you doing?” Jake shot me a glance. “Google it, man.” Then he hurried out. There was a silence. Carey said to me “He likes you to know what he’s doing.” Scarlett was looking at me funny. Again.

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15/05/15 I was getting increasingly nervy about Scarlett. We enjoyed at times a wordless communion beyond knowing – she would touch my cheek I would squeeze her elbow. She would move the salt cellar a fraction and I would nod. I did not feel false. We went round to Carey’s for supper, Ryan was doing his lasagne, and they had Noomi (so strong!), Jennifer, Bradley (still buff) and Michael (actually a really relaxed man!) there. They all accepted me and were solicitous about the terriers. Noomi picked up her flute (not the instrument) and went “Toot toot!” and this really caught on, with Michael going “Toot toot!” and Jennifer then going “Toot toot!” For dessert Ryan had got some dainties from Patisserie Valerie, that place in Soho.

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14/05/15 The thing was, Johnny told the rapt Richard, I had to gather the cloud. Without waiting for Richard to say “You what?” he said: It’s a Blavatsky thing, she picked it up in a lamasery in the U-Tsang province of Tibet. You concentrate the astral fluid between the palms of your hands, drawing it down from the atmosphere then enshroud it cloaklike around your vile body. It was in this manner that I was able to approach David unannounced, pluck off his pangolin and give him the koala I had scooped from among the swedes in their firm, non-acid soil.

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Johnny (below)……………………………………………………………………………….David (below)
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12/05/15 Johnny Depp, and this is how it happened, rushed out of the store with some slacks where he saw a man running that he was curiously drawn to by. He (Johnny Depp) thought it was something in the man’s face. So he followed him to the country where he recognised due to him (Johnny) playing Tonto with a crow on his head that what it was was shamanistic where you all ate something, for example a clown or other job and their qualities went into you. This fucks around with your identity and Johnny saw that who we know now to be David had lost his so there was Johnny’s chance!

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11/05/15 Richard Ostend was approaching the junction of the A11 with the A14 outside Newmarket. “What I don’t understand, Johnny,” he ventured, “is at what point the switch was effected.” I said “Maybe I can help you there. It was back in Oxford Road…” “Street?” intervened Richard. “Yeah,” I confirmed. “All the shops. I came out of M&H…” “H&M” Richard corrected. “Yeah. I saw this guy running. He had a cup of tea. There was something about him.” Richard interrupted me. “Excuse me interrupting, Johnny. But the way you’re talking! It’s just like one of your films. Where the character sets the scene. And the voice…it’s very good.” “Well, you’re very kind,” I conceded. “No,” he said “I love it.”

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09/05/15 I swirled my Pinotage. “I kind of like this one,” I volunteered. “It has a distinctive nose.” “Rather like you,” Scarlett riposted. A smile played around my lips. But it may not have struck the right note. Scarlett raised an eyebrow. I swallowed. But she could not possibly know. My close resemblance to Johnny was beyond dispute. Her instinct would be to attribute her feelings of unease to my being out of sorts, not to the nature of my being. She cocked her head and murmured “Are you sure you’re okay?”

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06/05/15 Scarlett wanted to go to Nando’s for a late breakfast. She had enjoyed her last visit there with Carey and Ryan and found the peri-peri enlivening. The staff were kind to the bear Edith Clever and respectful of our privacy. Scarlett, recently returned from voicing the snake Kaa, was absentmindedly fondling one of my hands. “Yeah, it was terrific. Did you know in the first Jungle Book Kaa was voiced by Sterling Holloway? He did adult Flower in Bambi – can you imagine that?” I asked “Is that the guy with the cigar?” Scarlett rolled her eyes (gorgeous). “No, honey. That was Sterling Hayden! Doctor Strangelove!”

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Richard’s car can be seen here.
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05/05/15 I was moved by Richard Ostend asking after Scarlett. Aquitaine had passed away that morning and I had pinned her to my lapel, using hair spray to stiffen her wings. I had come to a turning point. “You probably don’t remember,” Richard said, “but when you were preparing for Edward Scissorhands I connected you with a nervous hairdresser in the Holloway Road.” “Oh yeah,” I cried “I recall that guy! Such mannerisms!” He turned to me again “Johnny, can I ask you, where exactly is David now?”

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04/05/15 I asked Richard what if, in addition, the people studied the film stars and attempted to assimilate their qualities. “Collateral damage,” he said. We were passing through Mildenhall. Insofar as he might without taking his eyes off the road Richard turned to look at me. “David,” he asked, “You’re actually Johnny Depp, aren’t you?” I swallowed. The jig was up. I barely knew the guy but I felt I could tell him. “I guess I am,” I replied. “How is Scarlett?” enquired Richard. “She’s voicing the Jungle Book right now.” “You miss her, yeah?” I nodded. “I really do.”

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This gives a good idea of the space we had in the back.
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03/05/15 I was out of there. I herded the creatures onto the A11 and stuck my thumb out. Our first driver had a savagely capacious 4×4. I said “I’m David.” He replied “Richard. Richard Ostend.” It turned out that he ran an agency which introduced film stars to people with distinctive characteristics so that they, the film stars, might spend time with them, these people, learning to replicate their qualities. “That’s where the big money is,” Ostend asserted.

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02/05/15 An obsidian disc etched with hieroglyphs from the Aztecs or space. A vellum scroll with treasure information marked with X or the equivalent of X. A will in which the finder is rewarded with a collection of vintage car barn finds. Two tickets to Latitude with motor home. A book commending the actuation of unrealised personal resources. An instrument to unlock portals to dimensions and safes. I replaced the package and strode from the barn to the light. “Keep the money,” I said to Ames. He said without a flicker “Olly olly olly tits in the trolley.” “Enjambement,” said Cora.

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02/05/15 The package was clearly a device. Or the means of containing a device. But how should it be regarded? I fell to ruminating on the issue of Ames. His eyes, hollow as if he had himself torn them out, spoke of melancholy and decrepitude, a world of falling buildings, unvisited lanes, torn boughs. Dust beneath taps, under the sink a cloth brittle with rust and residue. He would bring instead of the scream the hoarse whistle the low whir. What of his estate would he wish to share?

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01/05/15 Aquitaine was weakening after her piercing by the parasitoid wasp Gaston. It was in the nature of the latter but a bummer nevertheless. Such beauty. In the second week I found a broken fax machine under the driver seat. Ames said “It is a kind of television.” Then he said “You should see the barn.” My legs were frail and the barn was dark. Using my hands I found a package wrapped in oilcloth secured by cord. On removing these I found a deep blue reflective polycarbon shell which, when pressed like this (I am demonstrating) fell into the halfshell exposing a film of seamless nanomesh bound tight around a pebblesmooth glassite container.

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30/04/15 Cora, where Ames would say things, said single words that were not connected to the topics under consideration at a given moment. I said “Is there ham in your coldbox by any chance?” and she looked at me for a long time, with her arm in the air then said “Pierrette.” On one occasion Ames and I almost had a conversation about van Gogh. I said “What about van Gogh?” and Ames said “From what I can put together he is unbalanced.” I thought to myself “Come on, Ames, your wife’s got her fucking arm in the air!”
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30/04/15 We had been in the pickup for several days. I took the driver seat and those in the back took turns sitting beside me. The pickup had not moved during this period. Ames would throw, at different times, seeds, pollen, ants and plankton into the back for sustenance. The days were long and uneventful. Ames was not unpleasant but he was not warmly sociable with affable greetings or similar. I said “Do you have the makings of a sandwich in the larder?” and he said “That’s more of a lady area.”
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29/04/15 Which would have been fine. The pickup when I turned it over there was nothing. I opened the bonnet and there was no battery. I held Geraint with his exceptional sense of smell over the petrol hole. He was indifferent. I kicked the tyres. You guessed it. Ames and Cora, her arm down for a change, watched from the window. “I think we may not be gone some time,” I declared.

The Flies Adherent.

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29/04/15 There was a bucket which I rinsed and filled at the old pump for the carp Perlesvaus which I put in and Gauvain immediately skittered to it and took up his whole immobile thing near it which encouraged the whole of the rest including birds not to mention Aquitaine now a marvelous marsh fritillary with the colouring to find their way into the open rear cargo enclosure. I took the pangolin Geraint from my shoulder and clipped him under the wiper blade that he might flick out his adhesive tongue for flies otherwise impacting the windscreen.

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Perlesvaus Immersed.

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28/04/15 I said “Good day. Can I ask you about the pickup please?” “You’re welcome he said evenly.” “Okay,” I commenced in a businesslike way, “How much do you want for it?” He folded a bib and reached for a creased lace tucker. He said “Is it for sale?” I said “Oh. That depends. Is it?” He said “What do you want it for?” I said “I’m taking some animals around and it’s a slow business on foot.” He said “I certainly understand that. Are they a variety or of a type?” I said confidently “Very much a variety. I dispensed with types.” He nodded, “I hear what you’re saying. Fifty pounds.” “I accept that I said.” As an afterthought I said “I assume she’s a runner.” He nodded, “Fleet.”

The Pickup Unplucked.

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28/04/15 I bunched the animals by the gate and made my way down the path and passed the trees and some heifers (not my ones I had got rid of them in a purge just ones like you would expect to see) and there was a dark red house that I hadn’t expected there were no window frames and inside a woman with her hair down and her arm stuck straight up in the air. She was still but across the dark room was a man ironing with his back not ironing with his back but with his back to me. I started to speak and he said without turning “I’m ironing willy nilly.”

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27/04/15 I went on a spring holiday to Stockholm once, round the archipelago, very nice, not cold and they had a deal where if you go without opposable thumbs there’s a 30% discount so I took it. Let me say: it was shit. You can barely eat! You have to crowd the food with your palms and let’s not even go where when you drop something you have to clap at it and kind of hope to scoop it up. Ridiculous. I got some lip plumper cream at the Åhléns City beauty centre in Klarabergsgatan, it makes your lips bigger and I smeared it on and after a couple of days I had some thumbs again. You know, I don’t want to dwell on it but Johnny Depp does have his own thumbs!

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27/04/15 As Johnny was fretting over how do you get the last vestiges of potato out of the masher the phone rang and Johnny said to Edith Clever the bear “Can you get that?” Unbelievable or what? I mean, he actually thought that a bear could answer the phone for him! What is it like the world in which these people live? That they thought that an animal – one without opposable thumbs – could do such dexterity!

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26/04/15 Neither the koala, Johnny, Angelina nor Edith Clever (born in Wuppertal) knew the koala’s name was Edith Clever because Johnny stole the bear and didn’t think to ask its name before so doing (don’t get me started!). The bear watched from the shoulder as Johnny squeezed in the Ecover (or equivalent) and set about the plates. Angelina wanted to dry there and then with a cotton cloth but Johnny said “Just let’em drip” so Angelina arranged them in the draining board. Then Johnny set about the knives and forks, holding half his lower lip between his teeth.
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26/04/15 From her perch on Johnny Depp’s shoulder Edith Clever (rhymes with bear) was beginning to feel quite the show business columnist with seeing charmed lives everyday and eating from the table of piled eucalyptus of various strains gathered for her by Leaves of 24th Street, Suppliers of Arcane Provender to Whomever Would, Like, Search Such Provision. But last night a group of explorers and the German actress Edith Clever (Die Marquise von O. (1990), Ein traum, was sonst? (1994)), now 74, came round for supper and now Johnny is washing up.

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25/04/15 Now I had about me a lean team stripped of sentiment and symbol. I could test the deedscape unencumbered. My invective would stream from the black stream without the barnyard. I had about me Gauvain the reptile (“Who’s a halted boy then?”); Agravain the marten recently run from Runton; the carp Perlesvaus, cold, disdaining flies; Aquitaine now larval, soon to be pupal then Blooey!!; Sissy Boyce and Miss Emily Posthene, the lovebirds dancing slowly with Launcelot – gaunt, gauche, cackhanded ; Strange Dick the edible dormouse; and caterers. As a bunch we were bostin, swank. Don’t steal from us.

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23/04/15 Evelyn de Mure I said to the white-tailed golden horse You will always be a pal of mine. Lordy I said to the cock You crow but you are not a crow - think about it. I embraced the sheep Cheddar Plate murmuring History is not made by individuals. Keep it in your pants Flopsy I jovialised at the buck The Couple Tina and Lofty. With heavy heart I worked the line as the kittiwakes wheeled and their mournful cries scraped the slate sky. I kissed a cow, stroked a playful piglet under the gaze of its spattered mother. They were my almanac, my zodiac.

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22/04/15 These concerns, I thought, would help me in the task of eliminating those who were not suited to the business of tracking down Johnny Depp. Yes, I had myself killed and eaten a clown but there was no way I would have considered the fucker a pet - he was simply unlikeable. No, it was clear the farm animals would have to go. And the dogs and the cats. Geraint could stay. Who ever called anybody a fucking pangolin? I rest my case.
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22/04/15 I had to work out which of the multitude of creatures stood for something and which were innocent. I was familiar with Leach’s work on animals and swear words wherein he asserts that we tend to frame insults in terms of animals which we are close to in our everyday lives, for example: bitch, dog, rat, pig, cow, sheep, fox. Leach also suggested that the edibility of animals is an issue – we are uneasy about creatures that taste nice yet could be pets.

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21/04/15 I came through the detritus of old joke ends broken catchphrases to see you nice laid out as if on a poisoned sea bed with immortal plastics and looked out around about me and there were the sheep lowing and the cattle barking and the pigs in the trees and I put them into their proper places patting them and saying yes that was surely far out but now is the time to walk wiser forth and emboldened. And I realized that for some of them they were qualities in the mind and for others they were there, near Thetford where we were, in the flat places that spread you utterly butterly. Now we would sort the sheep of mutton from the goats of frail insubstance, we would walk embrightened by the clown whose life we had taken into ourselves and we would find and get back Edith Clever the koala bear taken by feckless Johnny Depp the film star.

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20/04/15 Angelina smiled warmly at the young waiter and said “He really wants the husgomboc.” Ryan said “I’d like to go Swiss actually.” He glanced enquiringly at Paolo. Paolo said “We have the veal saltimbocca, signore. Is veal escalope wrapped in Parma ham, with a white wine and sage sauce.” Ryan came back with “Is that Swittish? It doesn’t sound Swittish.” Carey was gazing at Edith Clever, the stolen koala on Johnny’s shoulder. “Johnny,” she mused, “What about the bear?” Johnny pointed his first finger at Carey. “I’m on it! They only eat eucalyptus leaves.” He turned to Paolo, “Can we get some eucalyptus?”

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20/04/15 The place was packed but it had the typical bustle. The gang studied the menus. The waiter was Paolo. He said “Today we have the sharing platter with caprese bites.” Johnny looked up “Do you have anything Hungarian? I’d like Hungarian today.” “He’s a pretty Hungary guy,” quipped Ryan. Angelina leaned mesmerically in. “Look, Johnny, they have polpette. That’s meatballs isn’t it? Kind of Hungarian.” Johnny pursed his lips. “The Magyar husgomboc comes on a platter with buttered noodles tossed in poppy seeds. It’s a quite different thing.” Paolo brightened, “We have the platter…”

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19/04/15 Yes, I am Johnny Depp. I know you will think that I’m not, that it’s hard to believe. But there we are. I have put the bear, it’s small, on my shoulder so that it can tell my moods and I its. From my low hill that I found in this flat place there are all manner of divers creatures just, like, tripping. The worst is their self appointed leader or herdsman David who, frankly, is well out of it. Later this afternoon I am meeting my wife Angelina and we will go to Carluccio’s for a tricolore salad. We expect to bump into Ryan Gosling – a terrific fellow – and one of your English actresses the young Carey Mulligan, born in Westminster. What a talent there!

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18/04/15 Hi. My name is Johnny Depp. Yes, I followed David out of Oxford Street and saw him get animals then do some clown in a bunch with the animals he got. I saw how stuff got out of hand. Way out of. I saw the bear and I figured they’re not going to miss it. I always wanted one anyway and I figured for David they’re just like toys or like a herd of bagatelle.
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18/04/15 At the height of the rush so much the ostriches of the ineffable I’m losing the platform it’s higlady piglady the fur is flying here come the jest What it is is the herds are sherding the sheds are shed. What it is is that I’m like blending with the flock they’re incoming and I’m going out and yes I know the difference between snot and broccoli I know it’s epping barking I know what Della What? When did that happen? Johnny Depp? You’re kidding. Are you dicking me? Are you my uncle? He took what?
 
 

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17/04/15 I had seen dogs dreaming by fires near water on beaches at night their feet pedalling their jaws working. Yelping to themselves perhaps they see rabbits said someone. The supine swarm while not asleep was flushed with flesh and small animal jokes were animating their limbs and fins and wings. Such was my affinity with the intoxicated herd that I was able to decode their humour and here is how I present it now. With pigs they suddenly straighten the tail then let it recoil. With butterflies they unfold their wings, spread them to the sides and pretend to be drawn to wardrobes thereby imitating cloth-eating moths whom they legendarily despise. These things the various creatures find diverting but of course they do not laugh. They cannot.

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The clown rush is upon me. I feel it in its earliest stages. Despite the wretched demeanour of the now digested funny fellow, whose blown chunks litter the soil around my shoes, it is not his acerbic tone that lingers. Rather it is the essence of his calling, the parfum of his métier, that now floods my cerebral veins and begins to humorise the cackle of voices that we are pleased to call thought. What presently clutters my consciousness are the most banal of utterances. I don’t mind if I do. Rather you than me. If I say so myself. Better in than out. You have to be mad. You know you like it . I won’t say no. If my arse was like your face. I could get used to this. A man goes into a box.

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15/04/15 In an appropriately supportive environment the clown rush takes about an hour to come on. Subjects often choose to lie down but will rise in order to vomit, an essential process which, if resisted, will only postpone the rush. The practice as a whole would be regarded as anthropophagic but this, of course, could only apply to myself, as a human eating clown flesh. In the case of my charges the ritual could be seen as hematophagic but this is to stretch the definition. Early clown rush onset features only mildly humorous episodes.
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14/04/15 “Call me Bonkers,” said the entertainer. He noticed the pangolin Geraint on my shoulder. “Fuck’s that on your shoulder?” he said coldly, “Looks like it came out of the cheese.” I replied “Is that your humour talking?” He replied to me “A lot of people are drawn to it.” I picked him up, put him in my mouth, worried him briefly then bit him into various pieces. I swallowed his painted head then mindfully distributed the rest among the swarm. I won’t say he tasted funny. Things were looking up.

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14/04/15 I was distracted from this melancholic inwardness by the pushing to the front of Mister Double You, the pig in shit. Even animals are sensitive to caste and the excrementally compromised swine was given the widest of available berths. But what was Mister Double You doing? He seemed to be worrying something in his mouth. “What’s that in your mouth, Porky?” I said familiarly. He dropped it at my feet. It was a small, injured clown. “Long way from home, funny man,” I remarked, unpleasantly.

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13/04/15 Few hoots across the fen. Little lowing. Scant baaing. The cuckoo imperceptible, like its distance. No yap. No sheep bleats like blokes in the night on a hill. Gone from touch the velvet nose of the fallen horse Torrance the Saturnine, nor her warming whinny and snicker. Just the wind through the sedge. Scratched on the war memorial: “Suck Mine”. Were they not a herd or skein? Why the long faces? These creatures, now in three figures, were bunched, yes, but not affiliated.

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12/04/15 “Every generation,” the airman declared “must pass down its shapes so that the young may rock out, bending these gestures to their own idiom.” “Shit,” I exclaimed, “I mean, I so agree.” “Look at the Egyptians – Hatshepsut, daughter of Thutmose – wild figurations!” So saying he turned about and within a moment was a wisp. I placed Geraint on my shoulder that he might communicate readily. Yet my charges were dispirited. Do animals dance? I don’t think so. Then again, the grebe…

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11/04/15 A figure stepped sharply from the haze. “I’d like to introduce you animals and their guardian or carer (he nodded to me but it was imperceptible, as between men) to some body shapes.” Setting to one side his rifle he began to throw big fish, little fish, cardboard box. I glanced at the carp Perlesvaus. The officer had moved on to shelf on the wall. I became aware of unrest in the vole Edith Clever. I realized that the shapes, thrown competently enough, were nevertheless found offensive by the water creatures. I cut my losses and, as a diversion, plucked up into my hands the dry pangolin neonate Geraint.

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10/04/15 Tiring of the show I took my leave of those who had gathered. One man said “I would like to control Nature.” I said “It’s a slippery slope.” I made off in the direction of Thetford, anxious to expose the animals to an air base. Jets cracked above and Gauvain the lizard went still like wood. Shimmer rose. Flannery Walker said “I’m more of a city type.” How was I supposed to feed all these? And their la de da sensibilities. The F-15C Strike Eagle is hardly the stuff of buttercusp and davies is it?

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09/04/15 We were where passersby paused. I clustered the creatures and began to wrangle. “Hola, All of the Bensons!” Forward from the collection came the grouse. “Avanti, Delphine!” Out of the cluster loped the vixen. “Hup! Hup! Dash!” The elk sedately emerged. Through the crowd murmuring began. As each creature was summoned so it came and so it stood in the sun on the plain. Creatures that dined on each other rubbed shoulders with each other as if they were herbivorous to a creature. Which they were not. Some seemed shiftless. I realised that they needed husbandry.

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08/04/15 I had Ron Contray, Mister Double You, Miss Emily Posthene, Miss Julia Margaret Cameron, Mister Kevin Waller, Prince John of Andorra, The Family Jack and Linda, The Couple Tina and Lofty, All of the Bensons, Evelyn de Mure, Cowslip, Fatty, Strange Dick, Dash, Torrance the Saturnine, Benjy, Paulette, Esprit, Monty Pulciano, Peter the Erratic, Sissy Boyce, Ted Brothers as well as the Ted Brothers, Flannery Walker, Agravain, Jack the Lady

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08/04/15 I next arranged them in a varied group. In order to demonstrate my wranglerhood wherein I would call their names and they would trot or fly forward, I named them. I had Aquitaine, Charlemagne, Edith Clever, Gauvain, Cheddar Plate, Carlos, Saxmundham, Ernest, Beldame, Dobbin, Charity, Andrew, Gance, Coptic Thistle, Delphine, Victor, Geraint, Lordy, Raine, Aquavit, Tonelle, Sultan, Brunel, Launcelot, Roy, Hope, Gaston, Norman, Perlesvaus, Titi, Humphrey
 

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07/04/15 I ran so fast, gesticulating, that soon I had burst, heedless, from the end of Oxford Street and, via Marble Arch, was quickly in the countryside. I looked about the moors around. Now I could collect some animals! Standing still by trees in copses I jumped out unexpectedly and soon had armsful. I had tiny struggling birds, warm stoats and martens writhing, a vixen, a pig in shit, butterflies about my hair, at my feet in the grass a snake. And many others of all types peculiar to the area.

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06/04/15 I was approached by Johnny Depp. “I really like that whole stars thing,” he said. “Johnny!” this was me being so frank, “It’s not just for the character actors or bit part players – it’s for all of us so that films and of course television would be even more terrific!” Johnny said “ Oh yeah, man. That’s completely cool. I have many colleagues who would go right along with that.” “Down the road?” I asked. “Oh yes,” Johnny said. I went on down the road, running.
 
 

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06/04/15 Now there are great sales. I ran again through the streets communicating my ideas. “In films all the actors should be stars! Not just the stars should be them! The lesser should be more too I cried out!” I had a cup of tea at the pavement – what a cuppa! I wanted to knit. To be in a railway carriage. Going past the White Horse with a sheep. I could see that a pedometer would be informative. It was, after all, a long street.

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04/04/15 In the course of the day I pampered myself with both soft and hard things. I sorted through light fabrics, tissues, creams and the damp noses of adorable animals. Then I took hold of massive bars and bolts, moving them roughly through hedges whilst swearing. I shouted hoarsely. I barged along shopping streets. I demonstrated qualities in such a way as to suggest robust focus tempered by great suitability for teams.

Pampas begins from here on up

Punitive

On the radio DJ Zane Lowe was talking about a song and he made some comment or other then said ‘No pun intended’. He didn’t want us to think that his sense of humour was so underdeveloped that it would lead him to stoop to the use of puns. Personally, I don’t mind them. You get good ones and you get bad ones. Certainly they have a strong association with the tastes of children and the insides of Christmas crackers, but in that context they are hardly worthy of more than a mild wince. Children find the pun empowering, it demonstrates that they are getting on top of the language project to the point where they can enjoy its elasticity. They can deliberately misuse what they have learned and no one will think they are making a mistake. But the apologetic, muttered, adult utterance ‘No pun intended’ is delivered as if a breach of etiquette as applied, say, to table manners, had taken place. As if one had inadvertently expelled from one’s chewing mouth a small piece of food or hiccuped in mid sentence. There is clearly something disconcerting about the pun, especially when it arises artlessly, without intention, when apparently it has the potential to shame its originator. ‘Chance produces stupid puns’ (Emile Augier).

Alice, pressed by the March Hare to ‘Say what you mean’, asserted instead that ‘I mean what I say’ then added ‘…that’s the same thing, you know.’ To mean what you say is the easier part - it simply describes an attempt to get something across by closely and firmly aligning language with intention. Saying what you mean, on the other hand, can be dangerous if what you mean is at odds with what you are actually prepared to say. In such a situation, you run the risk of being understood. It might be preferable to insist that you mean what you are saying. The artless punster has no choice in the matter - language has caved in around him.

diana-dors-1-sizedThe pun, when credited with the autonomous capacity to intervene unbidden in speech, can be the very devil. It draws together two sets of meanings and, in the moment before it is laughed or shrugged off, introduces the threat of ambiguity hence the risk of being, in this case, misunderstood. It is the last ditch before the abyss of the Freudian slip wherein, and this is true, a vicar introducing 50s blonde bombshell film star Diana Dors, who was born Diana Fluck, to an audience at a fete held in her home town of Swindon, referred to her as Diana Clunt.

The punster - the purveyor of the lowest form of humour - is generally not considered to be clever but he or she who alliterates is seen as trying too hard to be clever. In an earlier Strength Weekly post I wrote about a tendency in the editing of live television to eliminate behaviour - such as reaching for a glass of water - that draws attention to the artificiality of the studio interview. She or he who alliterates - in a written medium - draws attention to language itself rather than to what the language is designed to convey thereby breaking the rule that language is an invisible conduit that reflects upon itself at its peril. It is as if the pun and certain other types of linguistic play have a capacity to induce autoimmune conditions in which language turns upon its generator and renders them pitiable. It’s not that the punster should apologise for the pedestrian quality of their humour, rather they have momentarily exposed the possibility that the elements of language might coalesce into unwieldy, unreliable, multiple merged masses by means of which nothing and everything, too little and too much, might be communicated.

Back in 2007, in the very first year of Strength Weekly (a digital display), I wrote here about neurotic vegetarianism and its spectral nemesis, the Meat Ray. In the course of a routine disparagement I mentioned a book my mother had bought in the USA in 1951: ‘Fun Fare - A Treasury of Reader’s Digest Wit & Humor’. In the collection, which I read avidly as a seven year old, was the following jewel-like item:

“The late Senator Charles B. Farwell claimed that this was the only perfect triple pun in the English language: A woman’s three sons went to Texas to raise beef cattle, sheep and hogs. Stumped for a good name for their ranch, they wrote home to mother for suggestions. NAME IT FOCUS, she telegraphed. Puzzled, they wired for an explanation. The reply came immediately: FOCUS - WHERE THE SUN’S RAYS MEET.”

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Unplank & the Dog Eaters

There are so many reasons why I shouldn’t do this. Every time I think about it I think of fresh reasons. The fact that I’ve written about it before on Strength Weekly (a digital area), for example. The fact that everyone who has written about it says much the same things. They say, for example, many of them, that the whole thing is a pantomime. It’s an entertainment. We should not expect it to deliver substance or authenticity. It is, everyone agrees, not to be taken seriously. The people on it are clearly deranged but it wouldn’t work if they were not. And the people in charge are to a large extent only acting their sternness. They probably think that the other people on it are utterly ridiculous, as do we, but they appear to take them seriously and criticise them strongly in relation to criteria that people in their stern community take seriously. It is as if the clowns, as one might regard the excitable entrants, would, if they responded constructively to the criticisms directed at them, be capable of improving their ways and become viable subjects of the ring master. As a hypothesis this only works if the clowns themselves are not pretending to be clowns. This need not be seen as an obstacle to their conversion, however. It can be argued that the clowns are, in fact, heralds of a new post-psychological personhood, sent among us to ease passage into new, simplified ways of being. In the new, or emerging, state of affairs, distinctions between pretending to be something and being something do not have the relevance that they are currently awarded.

But first the clowns must be sourced. The pre-project preparation could work two ways: in the hunt for a clutch or hilarity of suitable clowns the hunters will say things like “Even though you’re a team player under what circumstances would you throw fellow team members to the lions in order to advance your own cause? That is to say: can you reconcile your strong and, for some, unedifying, sense of entitlement with the requirement, felt by some at least, to be a social being?” Or, and this would be the other way, the hunters, having accumulated a collection or irritation of clowns in order to assess them would do this rather more straightforwardly by asking “Would you be prepared, for the purposes of the project, to pose as or enact the role of one who is so excavated by greed that he or she shows every sign of sociopathy even as the condition is understood in tabloid newspapers?” The latter enquiry immediately prompts the question of where the depravity - whether or not it is authentic - actually comes from. Upon what do the clowns, or wretches, as one might regard them, found their agitated displays?
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Again, there may be two ways of coming at this. The wretches may simply take their cues from alpha wretches who, despite the veneers and polishes acquired in the field, have become masters of acquisition. This is certainly what the programme wishes to establish. It is more likely that if capitalism is what is left when more promising systems have been tried, then the non-psychology of the wretch is what is left when depth models of human potential have been systematically disparaged then abandoned. In the absence of psychology (not to mention socialisation) instinctual forms of expression may come to the fore.

Such is the greyness of the area pertaining to the distinguishing between modes of modern presentation that I find myself on the brink of suggesting that in the panicked, pantomimic and agonised exudations of the aspirants there is actually to be found an unproblematic authenticity. The sundering of psychology from behaviour is such that Behaviour 2.0, as it will come to be known, can only be authentic because it is derived from a radically de-complicated base, unlike the earlier ‘Dark Behaviour’ in which contradiction and ambiguity are present in an abundance that is acknowledged to be confusing. In those Dark times you had Elvis and you had Elvis impersonators.
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A personality structure that is authentically degraded, through no fault of the owner, becomes the site of an array of urgent, unrooted compensatory behaviours. It is probable - as suggested above - that the wretches consider these behaviours to be credible imitations of those who are alphas in a slurry of omegas. It is just as likely that they simply perform them unreflectively because their sense of urgency is considerable and they must do whatever pops up. In both cases the unedifying behaviours are authentic. It is, after all, wretched to consent to enact wretchedness, to comply with the requirement to appear wretched. Those who comply will, by definition, already be authentic wretches. The hunters’ assessment, therefore, is not that hard. You just have to be sure that those who comply will do it well - you’re not trying to weed out malingerers. It’s not as if there’s a dearth of aspirants.

In the age of psychology, a phenomenon of the 20th Century, considerable attention was paid to matters of identity, which was viewed as a product of knowingly maintaining oneself in a framework over significant periods of time. With the passing of psychology, premised largely upon access to contents that were not necessarily evident, we see an emerging personality structure that is platformless - lacking a stable ground on which to perform. This unplanked condition is paradoxically fertile and subject to turbulence. Back in the day the hippy said “I am the wind that passes through me.” When he said it, however, it was understood to refer to the fact that he was so singularly lacking in block or barrier that nothing he experienced could be distorted by the taints of his ego. The 21st century winds are markedly more toxic and require a less wispy counter. What comes to pass, though, as those gusts howl through, makes the hippy look rather rugged. The 21st century wretch is instantly intoxicated and he stays that way. When he comes back to the house after a hard but successful day in front of the tribunal, his colleagues applaud him and he says, referring to his supporters, “From now on it’s dog eat dog.” He smiles. They smile too, congratulating him on his forthrightness in matters of cannibalism. (See Series 10: Episode 1 - 14/10/14)

Physics with Christ

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I was gratified by the volume of feedback received after the recent post titled ‘Plate‘. I had not realised that my account of the serendipitous purchase of a green towel in as-new condition would strike a chord with so many readers of ‘Strength Weekly’, an online entity. It is true that towels are comforting and also of great use. Were they sentient, they would know us intimately and be repositories of our secrets.

I was sitting in a café reading A Certain Tendency in Hollywood Cinema 1930-80 by Robert Ray and from time to time I would glance up to think. It was a sunny afternoon and the café was open to the street. Immediately in front of me sat two women and a little boy. The women were talking to the boy and he would say things to them. I realised after a while that the boy was deaf and that the women were mouthing their speech to him without speaking out loud. I continued reading. When Ray said that most American films followed themes first established in westerns I looked up to think again. A man at a table next to the women and child had been greeted by another man. The man standing in the street talked animatedly to his seated friend. Despite being perhaps six feet away from them I realised I could not hear what they were saying. Clearly these two were also deaf. I wondered what it was about the café that attracted members of the deaf community.dtcommonstreamsstreamserver Ray said that the classic objective of the western, and many western-like films, was to demonstrate how the individual could preserve his individualism at the same time as acting for the good of the community. But as I raised my head again I was seized by the irrational thought that I had myself become deaf and I swung my head round to scan the clientele inside the café. Their hubbub was exactly what would be expected moreover none of the patrons appeared to be deaf. I turned back to the deaf people ranged before me. Then I noticed a certain play of the light in the sky. It was an effect of the very clean plate glass window fitted between my table and the tables in the street. Very very clean.

custom-cut-glass-for-tablesI asked the waiter Who cleans your windows? They are exceptional.
He said I don’t know - a guy comes once a week. I don’t know his name. We all like his work. We don’t do windows ourselves.

At the party later the hosts had a beautiful swimming pool in their garden. As it was a warm evening they had pulled open the big glass doors of the sitting room, effectively removing one wall of the space. One could walk across the flagstones onto the patio, which was similarly paved. Carrying a glass of prosecco, I made my way to the buffet laid out beside the pool. As I pressed past some of the guests I became aware that my right foot was wet. Within a moment my left foot was wet. Now things were happening at great speed, particularly within my nervous system. fascinating-amusing-outdoor-dining-room-table-furniture-set-by-blaze-makoid-architecture-on-the-deck-nearby-the-beautiful-modern-swimming-pool-fieldview-residence-view-by-night-for-apartment-design I was standing in the pool and there was not a moment to be lost. And then, on the tail of that moment, I found myself on dry land, still clutching my prosecco. My shoes and socks were soaked but the darkness only reached an inch up my trouser legs. I didn’t really mind. The warmth of my feet would dry everything out. My host asked if I was all right. I reassured him. I realised I had contacted my inner Christ. This, for an atheist fundamentalist such as myself, is no small beer. I had walked on water. My body, loath to become sodden, had, if only for a trice, overcome conventional physics. In my mind, hopefully not in a patronising way, I complimented my body.

A few minutes later, by which time the poolside had become crowded with guests loading plates, a woman in high heels, carrying a plate of various salads, cried out. She was sinking quite fast into the pool. Lacking, I supposed, my own fortunate if unlikely inner supernatural resources and not helped by her heels, she was already calf deep. A man leaned over and extended his arm. As she leaned over and extended her arm, they made contact, the effect of which was to tip the woman onto her side, after which she sank, if only momentarily, completely beneath the surface. The man at the poolside somehow had her salad but he also had her arm. My hostess took the woman, whose mood was gamely upbeat, upstairs where they discovered that they had sizes in common, including shoes, both pairs of which, the doused and the dry, it happily transpired, were in the style called nude. The woman towelled herself down and returned to the patio looking perfectly smart.

In a documentary film the other night about the war time codebreakers of Bletchley a woman takes a strip of paper and licks it in order to stick it in a logbook of some sort. I was surprised to note that I was shocked by this image. envelope-backIn my time I have licked a quantity of envelopes, many stamps and, in the years before adhesive tape, length after length of brown gummed paper, known to we children of Austerity 1.0 as brown sticky paper. The white heat of subsequent adhesives technology has, of course, taken us all beyond the need to use our tongues to facilitate the adhesion of, say, paper and package. So common was such licking in my youth that I would often consider and sometimes practise the licking of unsuitable materials. I licked metals and woods, the latter sometimes still attached to trees or shrubbery. Often the tastes would make me smile in a way that was quite unconnected to pleasure, rather it was what my face muscles did in reaction to the chemical assault.

I had a cousin, cousin Gareth, from the Welsh side. He wasn’t actually my cousin but some relation or other. Gareth told me not to eat soap. He was staying with us for a day or two and came into the bathroom as I was conducting a curious experiment. This involved licking a bar of soap in order to see whether I could bear the taste, which I could not bear. I had been carrying out tests for a number of days: just one lick followed by noisy gagging. Gareth’s words were “David, you know you shouldn’t do that.” I can’t remember if I thought he thought I was mad. Is it possible for someone to be that imperturbable? Perhaps Gareth had licked soap in his youth and knew that it was just a phase.

At the time I couldn’t not lick the soap. I wanted to not lick it and I also wanted to not feel that I must lick it. If I didn’t know what licking it would be like - which is an unlikelihood - then after the first lick I very much knew. But I went on licking. I think I may have been testing the limits of my manhood. This suggests that my idea of a man was one who can regularly survive the introduction to his body of vileness. Given the manhood models available even back then, my gagging was entirely inappropriate. cowboy-hat-soapKirk Douglas, for example, would slide the bar into his mouth and routinely bite the end off. He would then munch the chunk and swallow the slippery surfactant without the trace of a grimace, let alone a convulsion. A few years later, Clint Eastwood would do much the same – Clint would not be copying Kirk, he would simply punish personal feeblenesses as they arose on the trail by passing his tongue across a red bar crudely hewn from a larger slab kept in a cool place in the shadows of the ranch house. So thorough was his application of the unbalm that weakness would flicker only briefly at the periphery of his consciousness before guttering then expiring.

But when the woman from Bletchley licked the paper strip I thought not of manhood but infection. And not even in a sensible way, where because you don’t know where it’s been the paper gives you germs. Everything gives you germs, of course, but they are usually harmless. I thought ‘She will give germs to the paper.’ This is clearly nuts. But I understand it. In my mind, for which I take only partial responsibility, we have all become infectious because we do not lick enough inappropriate surfaces. This starts to sound less nuts when one considers the importance of reinforcing the immune system - in our infancy, at least - by exposing ourselves - usually inadvertently - to a wide range of pathogens.images2 I must confess, however, that in a part of my mind that is, let’s face it, primitive, we have all become toxic. To a point where paper should give us a wide berth. It would be odd to suggest that we should get back to more catholic licking styles but it wouldn’t hurt, I think, if they showed, for example, more stamp licking on television. The under 20s would have to have the practice explained to them but it would serve to compensate for the only partially conscious realisation that in an unrelentingly consumerist society our mouths have become obsolete insofar as the goods now consume us. We should cultivate passivity in order that we do not contaminate those goods.

In another Oxfam I was poking about when it occurred to me that if I was ever to obtain a non-Swedish language edition of Stephen King’s ‘11.22.63′ (see ‘Plate‘) it would help to be confident of the category under which it might be shelved. My snobbisme told me that it wouldn’t be under ‘Fiction’ because that means Not Genre. (Many critics feel that Non-Genre Fiction cannot be held to be a genre. How could it be? they say.) As for Genre, it could not be Horror, the writer’s most widely employed category, nor was it Fantasy because that usually denotes a casual attitude to the laws of physics. As a time travel and alternative universe story it would count as Science Fiction, the only other genre category besides Thrillers to earn shelf space in this particular Oxfam. As I mused on these rather uninvigorating matters I spotted some fat books lying on their sides. ‘I wonder…” I wondered. Yes. There it was. These things only happen when you’re ready for them. Rubbish.

The jovial man with glasses who runs the till was pulling a big box on a trolley towards the back. I said ‘Nice box.’ He said ‘I bet you say that to everyone’. Yes, I know. But he did say it.

On a stool a woman gazed out of the window in the café further down the road. They had opened the window because it was warm. You could hear the traffic outside. She was just gazing and I was just looking.
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She leaned forward and took the leaf of the pot plant between her finger and thumb and rubbed it. Then she grasped the stem and brusquely bent it towards her. When she released it it sprang away from her. It was too good to be true or not true enough to be any good. That this was clear to her was clear, even across a crowded room.

Next door was the shop which, it seems, will often be there and in it the box in which was the lovely blue towel that I seized and purchased. Now I had two, not including the ones I already had anyway, from other occasions.

I took it home and felt that I should raise it to my face in order to report on it for Strength Weekly, an enduring journal and platform. As if having washed I lifted it to my face and pressed it so that the light dimmed. In that darkness my eyes were closed anyway but did not, I suppose, have to be. I waited for sensations to do with the loop, softness and absorbency but instead there came pieces of thought and flashes of pictures, racing feelings as if glimpsed from a train window, voices some of which sounded like me others not
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Mortem Post

An actor friend called Matthew Scurfield was a member of the repertory theatre company in Barrow-in-Furness. At one point in the play, which was a period piece, he was required to march on stage, stand before an expectant throng of actors and deliver a mighty and important speech. Matthew strode to his final position, stood with his back to the audience and gathered his cape around him. He then drew himself up majestically and extended his arms wide, holding on to the wings of the cape. He was bollock naked.

Thus disarrayed he delivered the entire speech. The actors could not possibly be seen to react. He could have killed somebody.

In 1982, towards the end of a performance of ‘Circus Lumiere’, Lumiere & Son’s most popular show, the five male performers, at the behest of Pamela the Ringmistress, enter the ring in their underpants in order to reenact their days as wild men in the jungles of Brazil. The uncouthness that they displayed before their discovery by Pamela, who had civilised them then launched them as circus performers, was made evident in the way they fought incessantly among themselves.cl-1-4-b478 This flashback sequence was punctuated by snap blackouts, during which the performers would assume fresh tableaux comprising complicated interlocking stacks of grappling bodies. For the effect to work properly, the audience must not see the performers changing position and the performers must move at top speed in the dark in order to be discovered ‘magically’ reassembled when the lights snap back on. On one occasion I hastened to my next position - a manoeuvre that had been rehearsed many times - and sensed that I was a tiny bit late. I dived into the pile of bodies just as the lights came up. I found that I was sitting on George Yiasoumi’s face. There then ensued a bout of uncontrollable behaviour that will be the subject of this post.

jimcarreySimilar behaviour can be easily located in such arcana as any Jim Carrey Blooper compilation on YouTube. His ‘Liar Liar’ bloopers will be found instructive in this respect. In the footage Carrey is seen pursuing two slightly different paths. Characteristically working at a maniacally elevated pitch he displays an impatience to achieve the results that the overall film project is designed to deliver. Some of the bloopers are simple errors based on bumping into the scenery or getting the lines wrong and they precipitate fits of giggling in all the actors present in the scene.

In these situations Carrey is rarely content simply to fail. He picks up on his initial mistake and runs it through a few more gears before giving up in order that a fresh take may be taken. He will land on a rather small error, which could easily be ignored, and instantly extend it, as if the end result of the extension represented the real nature of the original mistake. His fellow actors usually crack up and, as a result, perhaps Carrey gets a preview of the effectiveness of his comic persona. If this is the case then what the other actors and crew give the star is not an endorsement of the work in progress but the tension generated by that work. The cracking up demonstrates that the actors are tense and are pleased to experience relief from that tension. That they are tense simply indicates that they are professionals - they wish to optimise the presentation of their skills come what may and their attention is monopolised by acts of concentration, memorisation, collaboration and, importantly, surrender to the qualities of the character they are portraying. Carrey is also often seen - at least in the blooper reels - to subvert/undermine/increase tension (possibly constructively) and show off as he deliberately strays off script to deliver gags and pull faces that make him and most of his colleagues snort explosively or bray with delight. It’s debatable who is the more tense and therefore has a greater need for the release, Carrey or those working with him.

article-2368851-1ae06069000005dc-17_634x6521Carrey, in other words, enjoys corpsing and making others corpse. The term derives, it is thought, from the mischievous practice of trying to make a corpse, to be precise an actor playing a corpse, laugh when they should not even be seen to breathe. The risk here would be that corpsing is very contagious and may well reduce the least hardy of the company to helpless giggles as well. From the corpse’s point of view, then, the ideal position in which to play dead would be one in which you are facing upstage, away from the audience.

Corpsing is odd. It is a forbidden delight, with which audiences eagerly connive. Up to a point. Beyond that point it suddenly looks too easy. The corpsing actors start to feel uncomfortable, despite their being enwrapped and entrapped in the greatest of comforts. The audience suddenly senses that, as far as they are concerned, a few seconds of abandon is quite sufficient. They’d like to get back to the script now please. But why did they succumb in the first place? You pay a lot of money to go to the theatre, why would you be so delighted by the abrupt and thoroughly disenchanting collapse of the whole point of the evening out? avengersbloopers2Or, why would you appreciate the inclusion of blooper outtakes on your box sets? Why do TV shows based solely on collections of bloopers draw dependably respectable figures? It has been observed elsewhere in this publication that actors demonstrate to non-actors that it is possible to act. This disclosure can be taken as an endorsement of the practice of pretending - when the occasion seems to demand it - to be other than you are. It can also support the more offensive notion that all behaviour is performance. Whether this makes actual actors seem more or less skilled is open to question. It is, nevertheless, salutary to witness actors at work, especially since most of the time we are sufficiently seduced by the performance willingly to sideline the obtrusive sense that it is a performance. In other words, performances can be credible. And this is good to know.

The other side of the coin would feature uneasiness about the whole performance enterprise. If theatre or film performance and everyday performance are comparable in some way then non-actors could be prey to breaks in continuity on a par with those suffered by thespians. Professional corpsing is clearly a breakdown of some sort and may be seen as having its equivalent in everyday social life. Some non-actors can act, in everyday life, better than other non-actors but both parties will experience occasions when they turn in a bad performance. For many this will not be an issue. It happens - move on. However, both professionals and non-actors carry within them the possibility of the flawed and therefore detectable and therefore non-credible performance. While non-actors do not corpse - their performance errors tend not to occur in front of large, attentive and formally arranged audiences or highly focused groups of fellow actors and technical crews - they will regard corpsing as significant rather than trivial. Having suggested above that it is reassuring to know that the act of everyday acting may produce credible (if not authentic) behaviour, the more sweeping suggestion - that all behaviour is performance - may precipitate considerable anxiety.

joke-warfare-monty-python-200Death stalks these proceedings. Comedians ‘die’ on stage, Monty Python built a sketch around the ‘the Killer Joke’ which was killingly funny and some of us ‘almost die laughing’. If the experience isn’t actually terminal we may nevertheless find it ’sidesplitting’ or ‘cry with laughter’ or ‘piss ourselves’. The latter actually happens, of course, but people rarely die laughing, despite their assertions that they did.

The laughter business is fraught with danger. Almost by definition laughter is out of control and intense laughter threatens to lead us to a point from which we might have difficulty returning. I’m not suggesting that this is what anyone thinks when they burst out laughing but our colloquialisms do suggest that laughter is not simply restricted to things that we find humorous. I wrote recently about delirious, frightened or horrified laughter in the post ‘Murder in the Dark’. Given that we’re not going to die laughing there still remains within the corpse and the snort more than wholesome, disruptive fun.

The processes that comprise an actor’s preparation do not explain satisfactorily what it is that actors actually do. Somehow they create space within themselves for characters other than their own - that’s pretty clear. 0One wonders what happens to the actor’s own character when they submit to one that has been constructed in the rehearsal process. In the case of demonic possession the subject is held to be eclipsed or erased by the immigrant evil spirit. The rehearsal process demedievalises this setup, transforming a spectacular event into a series of measured operations.

Romantic misconceptions about method acting not only serve to assure audiences of the authenticity of performances but encourage the idea that the actor dies nightly and is resurrected within the terms of the script. It’s easy to form the impression that accomplished actors move beyond impersonation to almost complete submission to character. If submission were complete then the actor wouldn’t exist, she would walk offstage, get a National Insurance number and look for something to do with her life. If submission were complete then the actor - like the stereotypical schizophrenic who thinks he’s Napoleon and is disappointed at the lack of respect he receives - would not be able to follow the script, so diverted would he be by the myriad possibilities of interaction with those around him whom he would assume are real people. Notwithstanding the purportedly awe inspiring capacity of some film actors to maintain character between takes, the idea that they forget who they are and only remember the character is silly.mgm-lion-0061 They need who they are because so much of what they do on stage or before the camera is technical. They need to stand in prescribed places most of the time and they need to know when the other person’s speech ends so that they don’t interrupt them when they respond. Etc. So this whole submission thing is just not a useful idea. They just submit a bit. Some more than others.

Even so, we are used to thinking that the better they are, the more they have submitted. Perhaps the notion of absorption is more versatile - it could describe a state in which both technical and character requirements are simultaneously maintained in focus. This makes the job sound more difficult yet it does suggest a multi-tasking the components of which are at odds with each other and could not confidently be described as complementary. IMG_9759And this in turn is consistent with a precariousness in which the actor’s condition is vulnerable to breaking down, splitting apart and being defined by neither of its disengaged parts. Suddenly, just because the drawing room doorknob comes off in your hand, you are between worlds and discombobulated, a zombie with a body but no character.

But they recover. In rehearsal they recover every few minutes. When the director says “Can we stop there for a moment?” the actors jump off the bus, hang around in the bus station with the director then just jump straight back on the bus when everyone is ready. The building of character is an act of composition and the actor is required to hold the character in a state of composure but this can be relinquished when it is appropriate to do so. However, when it is knocked off balance without warning then decomposition can follow, rather than the straightforward on and off the bus that is typical of rehearsal. The world of the actor in a scripted play is both thoroughly stable and teetering at the point of imbalance.

dngq5he
In his remarkable book ‘Boo! Culture, Experience and the Startle Reflex’, Ronald C. Simons presents a detailed study of the latah phenomenon. In Malaysia and Indonesia there are individuals who react to a sudden noise far more violently than others. Simons explains that ‘Latahs do everything that hyperstartling people do elsewhere. They may strike out at objects or others, assume overlearned defensive postures, or say improper or idiosyncratically stereotyped things…The disruption of ongoing attentional processes is for them more extreme. latah_echolaliaAfter a series of startles, a latah’s speech and behaviour may become quite disorganised. In addition, after being startled some latahs experience strong attention-capture, focusing on salient aspects of their perceptual fields and narrowing and locking attention on them. Latahs may call out the names of what they see or repeat or approximate sounds they have just heard. They may match movements of objects or other persons with movements of their own bodies. As with persons whose attention has been captured generally, latahs will sometimes obey imperiously given commands.’

Latahs or their non-Malaysian and Indonesian equivalents are found in many societies. They may not have the special status afforded them in these regions but the precariousness of their composure is much the same. They will ‘jump out of their skin’ and not be able to get back where they belong for minutes at a time. During this time their capacity to direct their own behaviour is spectacularly diminished to the point where they will be compulsively obedient or repetitive. They are, in a sense, ‘anybody’s’. While corpsing actors cannot be described in these florid terms, there is a similarity in the abruptness of the shift from composure to disarray in both latah and corpsing actor. Actors may be, in the particular sense I have suggested, fragile, but only when they are acting. In the case of the latah it is as if their entire being, or their sense of being, will only cohere if they are never startled. The video clip demonstrates that the non-latah peers of the latah individual tend to tease the latah, sometimes mercilessly, in order to precipitate what is clearly regarded as an hilarious performance, available on demand and unticketed.

Now let’s look at Andrea.

Plate

I found an alley I hadn’t spotted before and heard sounds of jollity at the end of it. I walked down and round and came upon a primary school fair in full swing. This could only mean one thing: a secondhand book stall. In fact, that particular thing proved to be unremarkable but there was, right next to it, a stall selling beer and wine. For the encouraging schoolyard price of £2 I got a plastic cup of prosecco and dealt with it. I strolled to the next street and found that it had been closed off and filled with stalls - another fair. But it isn’t a fair. It’s a street food festival where, instead of pleasing variety it’s types of snack on tables. Foods, as far as the eye can see down this packed street. Many cupcakes.cream-roses-cupcakes Just think, every cupcake is different but not in an interesting way. The cupcake is very easy to make. Six year olds can make them and so can thirty year olds, it would appear. Toddler foods by British bakers. Just how many food stalls do you need before a street event becomes nothing more than the contents of victuallers’ shops moved into the street? At the farmer’s market you can get a rabbit or a swede and take them home. At the restaurant you can get courses. But what if all you could get at Borough Market or Smithfield were dainties? What if the restaurant only had afters on the menu?

How many times can you eat when the only diversion from eating is eating? Could you have lunch several times so as not to waste the opportunity? Surely a fair or a ‘festival’ has more than one type of thing in it. Surely once 90% of the available street-side space has been taken up by over-priced rhinestone-displaydelicacy outlets, room should be made for tray after tray of over-priced jewellery. Ah! On closer inspection it becomes apparent that for every ten food stalls there is a ring and bauble stall whose proprietor will say “This is a very nice piece” to anybody about anything. Anyway, I don’t drive a 4×4 so I’m not really in the target constituency. When I was a boy you could see a pig with two heads. Can’t say fairer than that.

 

I escaped down a leafy side street, passing a group of people sitting on a low wall in front of a house, chatting in the sun. A boy of about five was playing in the background. I strolled on but flinched then froze as I heard a loud crack behind me. I swung round and the scene had completely changed. wired_glassIn slow motion the adults on the wall were rising to their feet and gazing in horror at the space where the boy had been. A large sheet of wired glass, broken in several places, was sliding down into the cellar whose access shaft it had been covering. The boy had climbed onto the glass and it had instantly shattered. The glass crunched into the space below. Onto the boy. A big man ran across to the shaft, peered down then lowered himself in. A woman screamed, leaped to her feet and desperately cried “Sam!” over and over. From the shaft the man shouted “He’s okay! He’s okay!” The man emerged holding the boy in his arms. His mother took him. The boy started to cry. It was clear he wasn’t hurt but just beginning to realise what a shocking thing had happened to him. The man stroked his head and murmured something reassuring. It was over. I had tears in my eyes.

Moved by the heroism of the big man, wondering what I would have done if one of my kids had been so shockingly swallowed.

yellowballoon-wStrolling down another alley, one I knew, I saw a man at a table with a boy on his knee. The boy had just let go of a balloon and was getting ready to wail. The balloon moved in an upward diagonal across my path. It was about three paces ahead. By the time I reached it, maintaining a steady pace, it would be eight feet above my head and somewhat to the right. I became calm and I focused myself. To my left the father was rising slowly. Grasping the balloon was out of the question, only a basket-ball player would be capable of this and there was every possibility he would burst it. But the balloon was trailing a string. Even as the way became clear my left hand, the one I am best with, shot, with serpentine certainty, towards that trailing tendril. Smuh! went my fingers around it. We were just about to have a situation there said the father. I smiled. As I made my way away I heard
Who was that man?
No one knows.
Does he seek reward?
No. He seems to be content with just the deed. Soon we will forget him. He will be like tears in rain.
That’s lovely.

bath-towel_light-pristine-green_singleAt the far end of the alley were piles of used books and fabrics - curtains, doilies, valances and the like. I spotted a pale green towel. I needed one. It’s a very nice one the man there said. It was. It was in terrific condition. The man said it was £2. Apparently, moreover, it was new.

Then I saw Kenneth. There was no mistaking him: the white goatee, the bow tie, the challenging twinkle in his eye. He was a close friend of my father and had died about twenty two years ago. And now there he was in the street. When I was a little boy in the fifties Kenneth used to come round for supper. Unlike the other biochemists he talked about books and music in addition to amino acids and when greeting my mother would kiss her on the cheek, which she found unsettling. She said He’s a bit flamboyant. Biochemists in the fifties were dour and polite but Kenneth laughed loudly and was strongly opinionated. At a party in his garden, this would be after he had married my second cousin Doffy, the biochemists were discussing a strange new disease - more of a syndrome at this stage - that patients had been presenting in Los Angeles. It seemed to attack the immune system, was one line of thinking, insofar as the sickness seemed to comprise a number of pathologies at the same time. The people suffering from these odd symptoms were mostly homosexuals, particularly those who regularly visited the bathhouses where men would have sex with other men. The point was, the men were starting to die.

amylOne of the biochemists, a young Italian, had been on a field trip to the bathhouses to talk to some of the men there. He told his colleagues at Kenneth and Doffy’s party that some of the men had as many as twenty sexual partners per night. The biochemists were startled to hear this but instead of disapproving they nodded ruminatively. The young Italian said that the men often used cocaine and amyl nitrite to heighten their sexual experiences. One of the biochemists wondered if their immune systems had been compromised by an assaultive drug diet. Kenneth was listening to this discussion and said something that I have never forgotten. “Well, if this is going to be some sort of plague then it might solve the population problem. If you look at Africa, immune systems there are under constant attrition. A massive plague would solve a lot of problems.” He wasn’t suggesting that homosexuals might be usefully wiped out, just continentsful of people. It struck me that I might have misread that goatee.

Next door to Pizza Express there was a proper secondhand book shop. An Oxfam, in fact. And there, in the window, right at the bottom of a pile of books stacked spine out, was a book I’d had on the wish list for only a few days. Consonant with my career in the experimental arts I had always maintained a snobbish disdain for the work of Stephen King. “That’s one writer I won’t be reading,” I had thought. But then I read a number of warm reviews for ‘11/22/63′, in which the period leading up to the assassination of Kennedy is visited by a traveller from 2011. The New York Times said ‘It all adds up to one of the best time-travel stories since H. G. Wells. King has captured something wonderful. Could it be the bottomlessness of reality? The closer you get to history, the more mysterious it becomes. He has written a deeply romantic and pessimistic book. It’s romantic about the real possibility of love, and pessimistic about everything else.’ (Errol Morris 10/11/2011).
stephen-king-11-22-63-series-slice1

So I asked the woman in the shop if she could kindly retrieve the volume from its hard to get to location. Then it was in my hand. Hefty at 849 pp but a snip at £1. Where better to examine it than Pizza Express? First I read the paper for a bit then I turned my attention to the doorstop in my bag. As I opened the bag I caught sight of an upside down word on the back cover of the book. Something like ‘myos’. Suddenly the room was quiet. The chatter and the bustle just fell away. I flipped the book open and it was in Swedish. I had taken home a Swede. Fuck. No wonder it was cheap. As luck would have it I passed another Oxfam. I told the man what had happened then kindly donated the book to his cause.

I said “I don’t suppose you have one in English by any chance?” He said he was afraid not.

Some of the instructors had mixed groups of teenagers and adults but Olly, on this particular morning, the sky sullen but the waves regular, unlike the other day, had some really quite young ones to look after. I was standing out that day, because my ribs hurt so much, but my girls were in there, in another group, doing pretty well, standing up more and more. In Olly’s group there were maybe three small girls and three small boys. Each time one of them launched into a wave Olly would shout encouragement, clap his hands and laugh in celebration. A big, genial Australian, he wore a straw hat in the morning when hanging out the wet suits and now, standing among the breaking waves, had a peaked cap. It can get very tiring falling off or rolling off your board over and over and there’s not much you can do about that. But if you’re a little kid and Olly is your instructor then he will do this excellent thing. There’s a kid just coasted into the shallows, lying flat on his board and Olly wades forward, grasps the board on both sides and picks it up with the kid still on it. He then wades back to the waves, turns the board with the kid on towards the beach and launches him.
surf_report

The Telltale Glass

In an earlier post about tennis on TV I wrote about how the sport, when televised live, is adulterated in order to shore up incomplete narratives. The adding of narrative filler is but one aspect of a pervasive mode of interference associated with the live editing of broadcast material. A subtler form of intervention, designed to diminish narratives that are complete but too revealing, is to be found in television programmes that feature presenter-led interviews. So modest are the adjustments wrought in this territory that, if noticed at all, they may be written off as insignificant. They are, however, aspects of a concealed system that, like the fantasticated Deep Web and its fearsome contents, is hard to uncover. This is not because the portal to the territory has been cunningly rendered invisible to search engines but because it is located beneath our noses.

The phenomenon that defines this shadowy realm can be called the Performance of Unperformance. In itself it is not a new phenomenon but one that has acquired a pervasive presence - a veritable Japanese Knotweed of deportment - its behaviours gradually overwhelming the flora of native conduct. It is readily researched and will be found thriving on a television near you.

Outside the realm of the actual actor employed in dramas there are individuals who come under daily scrutiny and of whom the highest standards of presentation are expected. The current affairs programme presenter must not only operate within conventional performance criteria but he or she must also regularly deal with interviewees from public life who may not be polished public speakers.
 
394540_3024956423398_1247374767_33312465_1185588589_nOne of the most important things about professional non-drama performance is not to look at the camera in order to check if it’s looking at you. Presenters rarely do this but their guests sometimes find it hard to resist. If such evidence of everyday human frailty does arise then an intervention is made by a highly responsive technician.

In current affairs programmes, for example, the vision mixer – the person who actually cuts from camera to camera in the studio in order to maintain what is considered to be a fluid and focused visual account – will always cut away from an interviewee or, sometimes, a presenter who ought to know better, when they glance out of the corner of their eye to see if they are in shot or about to come into shot. Anxious glances to the left or right will be noticed within a moment or two, as will surreptitious examination of notes when somebody else is talking and expressions of distraction, indifference or discomfort from pundits seated in the space awaiting their turn. The vision mixer pounces and we are hastily ushered away from the site of leakage that betrays the performance of the nonperformed.
 
glass_of_water_350A similar protocol pertains when a studio visitor, having completed a response to a question, reaches for a glass of water. The vision mixers are invariably impressive – they rarely allow us to see such transgressions for more than a split second before cutting to another shot. A hand is extended, it moves towards a glass then pouf! It’s history. The mixer’s skill preserves the viewer from a sense that what is being viewed is in any way artificial. The viewer, it is assumed, will like to see people who can function without being compromised by nervousness. An inverted system of values is introduced in which to be seen reaching for a glass of water is not understandable but a sign of weakness. It is instructive to compare the team effort required to maintain these studio presentation values to the efforts of a football team, whose every mistake is fully visible and cannot be edited out.
 
The broadcast conventions generate images of individuals who appear to be at ease with performance conventions. They resemble, therefore, thoroughly confident and accomplished beings emptied of any compromising psychology that might have the unintended effect of suggesting that the studio situation is fundamentally untenable, by which I mean the notion that the mode in which they appear to function so well is absolutely not suitable for everyday life. Such beings are admired but there is a risk that they are seen as wholly spontaneous, that is, they do not think, they only utter. They have no interior, no mental process. Their powers of analysis and agility in argument are outwardly directed and focused but function without recourse to private knowledge.

Strictly speaking, it is possible for a presenter (but not an interviewee) to be wholly without knowledge if the director supplies them with a steady stream of information and instruction through a concealed earpiece. It is equally possible, of course, that the presenter is a well briefed professional but even if this is the case, the level of professionalism will be such that a drink of water or a quick scan of the notes can be pulled off while the camera is momentarily directed elsewhere.

Viewers know that people on television are performing but the polish that is consistently constructed around this mode of performance is seductive: it is easy to imagine that people on television are not performing because they perform nonperformance so well. The next logical step is to assume that this is how ordinary people who are not on television should also behave. It may even be assumed that most people do behave in this way and that oneself is the unfortunate exception.

If television viewers do not notice the sanitising activities of the vision mixer, they still, I am sure, experience them subliminally. The interventions fall beneath the threshold of conscious perception but their significance is noted. One effect of this will be to make physical indications of uneasiness seem shameful. While it may be considered simple common sense not to stutter or look panic stricken on live television, the editing out of reflexive behaviour – that which acknowledges the mechanics of the studio setup – is executed not by the presenter but by an invisible, unidentified agent whose activities may seem disapproving and punitive. This can be compared to a hypnotic injunction the content of which the subject internalises then experiences as their own view.

Such is the predatory nature of the point of view shot - it becomes our point of view rather than that of the interviewer, who functions as a (personable, quick thinking) prosthetic extension of our own position - that not only do we imaginatively appropriate the skills of the interviewer but we are also compelled to regard the interviewee as a potential repository of the tics and twitches that we, in our other imagined role as interviewee, must work to suppress.

The experience of watching interviewers and their subjects at work is not quite as exciting as this - the anxious and uncharitable thoughts are moved to the periphery of consciousness as they are when we watch a tightrope walker or lion tamer and ponder on the possibility of their falling off or being eaten alive.
 
The gaze of the television camera is carefully and skilfully constructed. The edits occur in real time before one’s eyes but they are largely imperceptible. The seamlessness is sufficient to persuade us that what we see is the product of our gaze. If this is the case then it is we, not the servants of the broadcaster, who are continuously modifying what is seen. It is we who are suppressing evidence of psychology and frailty.
 
Such a state of affairs will contribute to a rigid definition of what constitutes performance and to the elevation of the performer to the level of an opaque, human-like machine rather than a psychologised being. Performance itself comes to be seen as a purified, optimised behaviour that is implicitly disparaging of unpolished, unprepared and hesitant conduct. Performance actually acquires the status of the nonperformed while the latter loses all its connotations of authenticity and becomes the repository of shameful behaviours.
 
If we subscribe to this notion of widespread subliminal messaging we are within a hair’s breadth of the widely reported delusion of the paranoid schizophrenic that the television is sending him secret, personalised messages that are controlling his behaviour. In addition to the content delivered by the programme itself there is, in the view of the complainant,  an extra level of communication which is no less meaningful than the programme. The paranoid schizophrenic, in this model, is not only trying to impose some sense on an elusive internal phenomenon but is picking up on something going on in the real world that he also finds destabilising.

pdvd_0161BBC2’s ‘Review Show’ is fertile ground for anxiety spotters because the guests are seated close to each other, often in a crescent, which makes it difficult for the director to isolate speakers without repeatedly going into a tight shot. The guests are not always aware that they are being included when attention appears to be focused on a speaker so they will often stray from the attentive ideal.  On this occasion everyone is performing their attention quite well.
 
pdvd_0011On this occasion the presenter, Kirsty Wark, seems less interested than she would wish to appear and has acquired a glazed expression. Her female guest, however, is being ideally attentive.
 
pdvd_013Attentiveness is obviously highly desirable. Here Kirsty – a highly experienced presenter -  has come up with an excellent version of attentiveness that could almost pass for the real thing. Possibly slightly too intense but pretty good.
 
The professional presenter, as distinct from the actor of dramas, must perform the unperformed with aplomb. The actor of dramas has, in some respects, an easier job because her objective is transformation – if she gets it wrong it will be seen as an insufficient conversion but if the presenter is seen to perform the unperformed then the shortcoming is a betrayal of the authenticity of the entire programme.
 
The unperformed of the presenter is not informal – we need it to be unwaveringly focused and efficient and we know that the autocue will often support this effect. Even so,the fantasy, I think, is that despite the fact that we know that it is the presenter’s experience plus the technical support of the team that gives him the requisite polish, we simultan­eously believe that he is a being of perfect confidence and self-belief.   
jpaxman_415
We know it’s artificial but we want to see the subjects denying this, both in the name of professionalism - we appreciate a polished production -  and of self improvement, whereby we are able to study and learn from individuals who are being closely observed in real time as they make public presentations. In these studies we can distinguish between the consummate professional – Jeremy Paxman, say, and those interviewees who are not schooled in studio behaviour but are aware of the rules. This isn’t a purely voyeuristic exercise  –  the TV professionals are an educative presence – they not only teach us what’s going on in the world, if they happen to work in current affairs, but they also show us the minute details of artificial composure, the  moment by moment maintenance of a fluid, attentive, integrated surface. They demonstrate that you can go a long way with an edited, smoothed, heightened, repurposed version of what is normally regarded as your self.
 

 

Murder in the Dark

In the Theatre section of the blog I have recently compiled the scripts of a number of short plays I wrote at the rate of two per year between 2003 and 2010. I have also written introductions to some of the plays, sometimes on the same page as the play, sometimes as a separate, linked page. The plays were designed and presented in the Theatre School of Wimbledon College of Arts, University of the Arts London. In the course of introducing a play called ‘Red Devils‘ I strayed from a strict focus on that work to such an extent that I decided to lift the text out and post it below.
The ‘Red Devils’ playlet is the result of subtracting everything apart from the blood from the text of Webster’s ‘White Devil’. To these remains were added various dialogue elements.

When I was a film student in the mid 60s I read a translation of Antonin Artaud’s four page play ‘A Spurt of Blood’ (1925) and was gripped by the blunt poetic directness of this remarkable work. Notwithstanding the author’s preoccupation with a punishing God and his fastidious unease with the sexual activity of women, the playlet is simultaneously pantomimic, florid, grotesque and grave. The Wikipedia article on ‘A Spurt of Blood’ supplies a synopsis which supports the notion that the show could be a good night out, if a rather brief one. In my own production of the show (see below) we almost burned down the elaborately panelled ceiling of the Royal College’s Gulbenkian Hall when an ‘exploding star’ failed to fall from on high to the stage level. But that’s another story.

The extremity of the play also elicits a sort of delirious laughter in its audiences (as far as I know, Peter Brook (1964, Theatre of Cruelty season at Royal Court Theatre) and myself (1968, Royal College of Art) are the only directors to have mounted full-scale public performances of the work, which was not, it is thought, performed in Artaud’s lifetime), akin to the nervous delight aroused by some horror films - John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ (1982) is a fine example of this, as are, in what can only be called the Lynch genre, David Lynch’s ‘Blue Velvet’ (1986), ‘Twin Peaks’ (1990-91), not to mention the rest of his work apart from the untypically charming ‘Straight Story’ (1999).

dennis-hopper-and-kyle-ma-007
Peter Bradshaw, in a re-release preview for The Guardian captures the alarming humour of ‘Blue Velvet’ in a summary of the opening sequence that establishes the director’s mastery of deadpan excess - ‘(Jeffrey’s) capacity for obsessive rapture and scopophilia is unlocked by the bizarre discovery of a severed ear in some waste ground after walking home from the hospital where his dad is recovering from serious spinal injuries.’ The same species of horrified delight can be experienced most recently in the utter melancholic darkness of HBO’s ‘True Detective’ (2014, writer Nick Pizzollato, director Cary Fukunaga), which provokes dread-filled giggling in its rotating passages of philosophy, sociopathy and redneck homicidal occultism.
ustv_true-detective-finale-61

‘True Detective’ is not devoid of cliché insofar as the obligatory naked, tortured, tattooed, decorated and decaying female corpse is revealed within the first few minutes of Episode 1. Images of the extreme and homicidal abuse of women have become common in ‘dark’ film and TV dramas and have supplanted other lesser darknesses (drug retail and dependency, mainstream murder, police corruption etc) associated with the contemporary thriller genre. The ultimate plot driver now, it seems, is something so foul that it will appal and energise all who choose to endure it.

Certain crimes are deemed ‘unspeakable’ but they do, in fact, frequently prove to be describable both in words and images. Their unspeakableness is a function of the fact that they are, as far as the complainant is concerned, ‘undoable’ - one cannot imagine doing them oneself. (You can see the point of robbing a bank but do you really want to dismember women?) The crimes are not wholly unfamiliar, however. The horror that they provoke is partly comprised of uneasiness about the possibility that the darkness from which they arise is without boundaries. That is, it may reside in oneself, not just in psychopaths. It is possible, therefore, that one could imagine doing those sort of deeds oneself. But one would not do them. And one would not wish to test one’s imagination in order to see if they are imaginable. Because what if you started imagining then you liked what you saw? Unthinkable. But all sorts of cultural products will do it instead.

None of this is particularly contentious. Dark films and TV only thrive if they strike a chord, after all. And there’s no doubt that a violent, pervasive misogyny is on the rise. But why is it on the rise? Do we watch these dark programmes because we all somehow became psychos fairly recently? Or has the prevailing economic and political ideology reached the stage of development at which its hitherto obscured internal logic is steadily emerging and finding expression in extreme behaviours? If the latter is the case then the misogyny in dark films and TV is not only a psychiatric articulation but is a product of political formations that marginalise empathy and generate an extensive murderousness. It can then be argued that the fashionable and apparently fascinating dismemberment of women is ’successful’ in current fiction partly because it offers a coded indictment and partial analysis not of individual psychopaths but whole social systems. Such an analysis is hard to formulate, we see symptoms easily enough but causes are mysterious - we want to know whodunnit. But it seems to be transpersonal, taking place on a global scale. It would be objectionable to imply that widespread misogyny is no more than a symptom of a grander but less tangible scheme, but perhaps useful at least to make links between economic ideology, alpha masculinity and a hatred of women.

Flight & Fight

Some of the aeronautical terms used below can be examined in greater and probably more reliable detail by clicking on the links provided.

Back in the early 80s I was writing a TV screenplay about the USAF in East Anglia. I drove, for the purposes of research, to the Duxford Air Show to look at the Lockheed SR-71 ‘Blackbird‘ stealth plane, a long-range strategic reconnaissance aircraft which had recently come out of hiding. Having marvelled at the sleek, black, radar-invisible craft parked beside a hangar and guarded by machine-gun toting US airmen in blue grey uniforms with white silk cravats, I was drawn back to the main runway when it was announced that the Harrier jump-jet would shortly pay a visit. rs086-600border This is the one that can land by descending vertically and can even hover, using the downward vectored thrust of its movable jet nozzles, while delivering death from above. The V/STOL (vertical/short takeoff and landing) configuration makes runways, even aircraft carriers, redundant. Air show crowds are pleased by its versatility and its availability for anthropomorphic projection. The latter is apparent in the cries of pleasure that accompanied the fawning behaviour of the jet as it hurtled into view, skidded to a halt in the sky, hovered 30 feet above our heads then dipped its nose up and down several times, as if waving or bowing to us, who were its supreme and fearsome masters. One could imagine, on another day, above another country, the same manoeuvre being seen as a form of taunting.

43The Harrier’s dark enchantment is due in part to its special relationship with what is known in aeronautics as relaxed stability. The term describes an aircraft’s tendency to change its attitude and angle of bank of its own accord. If it drifts from its path it will begin to move from side to side in relation to the path, gradually moving further off course with each excursion. This can be corrected with controls that influence the three ways a craft can move in the air: pitch, yaw and roll. Pitch refers to an up or down movement of the nose or tail; yaw is a side to side to side movement of the nose and roll (or bank) is said to occur when the plane rotates around its longitudinal axis - the line that passes through the plane from nose to tail. There are two other types of stability: positive stability when the aircraft will maintain its attitude without constant control input and will eventually return to its intended position if its path is disturbed, and neutral stability when the craft will not return to its trimmed setting without control input, but will swing from side to side without moving further and further off course.

All of which suggests, reasonably enough, that you don’t want relaxed stability in any aircraft - it should be designed out at the offset. There are, however, situations in which a form of instability is considered highly desirable. Certain military craft are deliberately designed with inherent instability and equipped with flight control computers to compensate. Such craft will instantly lose stability if computer control is suspended. What would appear to be a form of designer recklessness actually brings the great advantages of being able to change direction with minimal intervention of the flight surfaces (the flaps, elevators, rudder etc). Responsiveness is increased and the craft can manoeuvre in dramatic and unpredictable ways. It will confound and frustrate its enemies by tossing itself around in the air.

It is hard to resist the thought that these ideas, and the terms in which they are expressed, could be fruitfully applied to certain contemporary social situations. The nature of stability, for example, is not just a matter of personal psychology but an effect of the ideologies that compete to secure a dominant definition of the concept. One man’s stability is another’s death-in-life. In the 60s, for example, stability was what your parents craved and you despised. Their ’small “c” conservatism’ - a symptom of what was, in part, a widely dispersed postwar posttraumatic stress disorder - made them, in your view at least, unable to change direction without considerable forewarning and persuasion. Your view, consonant with the aeronautical theories with which you were not familiar, was that their stability would lead to their undoing. It had no flexibility insofar as it would guide its adherents further and further into inaction then rigidity. The aeronautical version is much the same: stability is synonymous with the maintaining of a set position but implicit in this condition is its own decay.

rimbaud-arthurThose enchanted by the revolutionary tone of the 60s (including the Editor in Chief of this journal) believed that all this must be put behind them by means of the active pursuit of instability. Where Rimbaud, in 1871, recommended the ‘long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses’ and was probably appreciated at the time by a relatively small number of Bohemians and Decadents, the youth of the 60s energetically took up the project in significant numbers. This was not a self-correcting fly-by-wire enterprise - for many it involved a comprehensive cutting loose from constraints, a vigorous immersion in experiences previously insulated by taboo, and an indifference to the straight and narrow.

l-iqa0htmra5mm1u1 This erraticised adventurousness piqued unattended and dormant appetites and prompted the emergence of desires people didn’t know they had. Thus it was, with the passage of time, that those who espoused a new anti-materialism and, to a greater or lesser extent, turned on and/or tuned in and/or dropped out, came to be regarded as excitingly needy by the manufacturers of such goods as clothes, records and posters. The Mad Men themselves, we are beguilingly informed, were able to navigate the haze of their own substance abuse in order to strategise the manufacture of desire for less folksy items such as cigarettes and saloon cars.

timothy-leary1Instability, with its basis in relaxed impulse control, acquired a perverse reliability as advertisers refused to see in it a frustrating elusiveness but instead found ways to exploit it as a resource. Timothy Leary, after all, had suggested that ‘To think for yourself you must question authority and learn how to put yourself in a state of vulnerable open-mindedness, chaotic, confused vulnerability (in order) to inform yourself.’ And it sounded good at the time, I have to say. But on the heels of voluntarily induced chaos and vulnerability came a complex of operations that succeeded in commandeering these states and repurposing them in such a way that they served the interests of authority rather than facilitating critical insight into it. ‘Cash from Chaos’, as Malcolm McLaren would observe some years later.

The link between adventurous instability and the adventurer had been weakened, enabling the emergence of a fertile ground for a form of instant messaging. Manoeuvrability was found to be as exploitable as immobility and came to be seen as manipulability. The scene was set in such a way that Guattari would write ‘A certain type of subjectivity, which I would call capitalistic, is poised to overtake the whole planet; an equalised subjectivity, with standardised fantasies and massive consumption of infantilising reassurances. It causes every kind of passivity, degeneration of democratic values, collective racist impulses. Today it is massively secreted by the media, community centres, and alleged cultural institutions.’ Writing in 1985, Guattari uses the phrase ‘is poised to overtake the whole planet’ predictively. In 2014 his acute assertions seem simply descriptive.

A conception of the uses of instability forged within military aeronautics emerged at the same time as the commercial appropriation of 60s open-mindedness (the Hawker Siddeley Harrier V/STOL made its first flight in 1967 and the Russian equivalent, the Yakovlev Yak-38 strike fighter, in 1971) and became an aspect of an array of counter-intuitive ideas that normalised the production of dissident energies by aligning them with consumerism. The new instability was characterised by individuals easily knocked off course and prone to erratic behaviour. They were also highly responsive, able to react efficiently to rapid state changes and capable of high-volume decision making in short time periods. Affinities between stock market traders, military personnel and ‘accomplished shoppers’ became apparent, as did a willingness to obey orders. The latter quality has proved useful when the latent pathology of this malleability is presented as a psychiatric issue. workplace_feel_goodFortunately the reshaping of psychotherapy under capitalism has produced a treatment based on the issuing of orders rather than a consideration of such tiresome matters as the unconscious. What you do, right, is simply tell the patient to think differently. It’s the patient’s ideas that are the problem. Change them and the patient is relieved of their problem. You have to go at least six times, mind you. These things can’t be done overnight. Cognitive behavioural therapy - why worry when you could be at work not worrying?

It’s probably more sophisticated than that, but not a lot more.

So we are all soldiers now. A militarised technology contributes to a militarised psychology in which the unforeseeable is preferred to the reliable. The unforeseeable, apparently patternless, can be patterned. You want fighting men and women who will instantly obey orders, highly defined individuals who are careless, unattached, impetuous and obligated. With their yaws muzzled and their pitches perfected their disorder is a small price to pay for order.

Hey, Girlfriend!

sellotapeIn the cinema films are edited before they get to you. You can’t do anything about it. But what would you do anyway? Editing is a hard thing to criticise. It might be the least criticised aspect of a multi-disciplinary form in which casting, acting, dialogue, good bits, plots and stories, sets and setting, costumes and music tend to receive more attention than lighting, camera movement or sound design. Or hair.

Editing is among the least critiqued because it is premised upon being unobtrusive to the point of invisibility. Its unshowiness depends on seamlessness - transitions from shot to shot should not, on the whole, be readily describable as such. The seamlessness, in turn, encourages the view that the passing of time in a film resembles its passage in everyday reality.

This reality effect is based on a grammar that only exists within films. We know that films are put together in jumbled time - film crews shoot the end of the film on Monday because that’s the only day they can get those particular cars, horses, valleys or actors, then, for similar reasons, they shoot the beginning of the film on Tuesday. The actors quickly get used to this and develop appropriate but peculiar skills. The jumble produces a jumble of shots which, thanks to the grammar and, of course, the script, will be assembled into legible, coherent sequences.

With live television broadcasting, editing is carried out on the hoof. As you watch, sequences are being put together. You can, in this situation, mount small local complaints. You can say out loud “This Jubilee on the river thing, with lots of boats, singularly lacks good shots. These people should go to Film School, or at least watch more films.” Nobody cares that you said this but the point is made: a reality effect that is put together on the hoof will fracture from time to time.

This doesn’t mean that you suddenly see through the effect to a more definitive, hitherto concealed reality beneath. You will, more likely, gIimpse parts of an apparatus that usually serves to maintain the effect that an effect is not being maintained.

Editing is not only a matter of withholding ‘bad’ shots - often editors and directors conclude that something is missing and will have a range of strategies to compensate for this. Which is where tennis comes in.

tennisballs2pic-1Television coverage of championship tennis is, we can deduce from the way it is shot, basically flawed. The flaws stem from an impoverishment at the heart of the sport rather than a failure of imagination within the teams who produce the broadcast material. An abiding anxiety about the lack of anxiety evinced by the players is evident in the vocabulary of types of camera shot that typically constitute a sequence of play.

Despite the profusion, in our culture, of fictional narratives depicting struggles between men in which images of women may be absent for the entire duration of the artifact, and the innumerable broadcast instances of team sports coverage in which women are wholly absent for, say, both halves of those games thus structured or for, say, the duration of those comprising a number of successive innings, there is clearly a state of enduring crisis in the broadcasting of tennis that requires regular, radical intervention. The interventions, in the form of a species of camera shot, are radical not because they extend our understanding of the finer technical points of the sport but, instead, function as a narrative implant that, at first glance, has nothing to do with tennis.

In common with the broadcast presentation of most sports, the atmosphere and excitement attendant on tennis tournaments is enhanced by means of crowd shots and coach (or, in other sports, manager) shots, expert commentary and telling detail shots - the umpire conferring with a line judge, the relacing of shoes, the obsessive adjustment of racquet strings, for example. It is difficult, however, to think of a sport in which the girlfriend shot has acquired such importance.

fpib6f3fw5h2ngvlargeThe girlfriend shot caters to anxieties about the possibility that male tennis stars are not heterosexual, not properly socialised and not human. The shot also assuages the fear that tennis is obsolete insofar as all that can be achieved within its terms has been achieved. If the latter is the case then the peaked sport will tip over into a protracted but inevitable death characterised by decadent cultism of the body and baroque embellishment of the microkinesics of technique.

A friend who likes tennis explained that all the top seeded players differ in the matter of their skills by the tiniest of quantities. Winning is not an expression of superior play but superior focus. Any of these guys can play exceptionally well most of the time. Any of them could beat their nearest rivals and all of them do so from time to time. We are no longer watching games of skill, the sport has dematerialised and must be appraised as a war of nerves, a battle of wills etc etc.

These considerations are widely understood and have consequently divided the tennis audience into two camps; those who nostalgically crave a contest featuring a wide vocabulary of skills in addition to the power serve and those who find a source of fascination in the posthuman unearthliness of pure intention. In the latter group the fascination consists in a ceaseless process of research into the question of whether the star players actually experience stress at all. If they do not experience it, is it, nevertheless, still to be found somewhere within them, screened from consciousness? Or is it possible that there is simply no stress within them - have they taken a tip from the machines and sealed the the system so that it cannot be degraded?

Both possibilities are attractive. The achievements of those without emotional experience are considerable and new opportunities are emerging daily. Even those who may not wish to achieve can envy the unruffled demeanour of he or she who runs the gauntlet as if it were a velvet glove.

A handful of top tennis players can allay suspicions about their machinic qualities by being likeable in some way. This need not involve acknowledging their errors - displays of regret and irritation may fail to be ‘all too human’ and often suggest instead ‘coding malfunction’ and are therefore probably best suppressed. Likeability may consist in having a pleasant face, like Djokovic, or using a number of different facial expressions - all of which, needless to say, should be related to an event or a state of mind.
novak-djokovic_30038501
Having a girlfriend is tops, obviously. Having a highly focused mother will not appeal to everybody but an attractive girlfriend will solve a number of problems. It also introduces new levels of difficulty, however. While the presence of the girlfriend suggests not only that the millionaire player has a life, inhabits an emotional spectrum that includes the possibility of love and subscribes to the master template for all known relationships, namely heterosexuality, a certain amount of disowned anxiety is projected onto the female companion.

Her function is not merely to lay to rest uneasiness about the possible emotional vacuity of her partner but to fill in the expressive gaps in the partner’s repertoire. Where he does not, if he can help it, react to feelings of tension, trepidation, imminent loss, the vanquishing of a weakling etc, she will throw the emotional shapes on his behalf, thereby rendering legible the humanness of the struggle which otherwise might start to resemble computers playing chess together or an experiment in the command and control of humanoid drone vehicles.

The funny thing is that the girfriends almost invariably succumb to a sort of Stockholm syndrome wherein they appear to feel almost as constrained as their boyfriends. In what may be a bid for consistently ladylike behaviour, the girlfriends, isolated by the cameras every couple of minutes, suppress their faciality to within a few degrees of the range evinced by the partner they are gamely attempting to magnify to a human scale. The gravitational pull of gristly hypermanliness proves irresistible.

Posthumanists with an eye on sport would find the progression from blood to circuitry inevitable and predictable. Meanwhile tennis in its early phase of decay will, despite the assiduous application of the girlfriend shot, tend to the preconditions of mechanised warfare just as gamification - the applying of the principles of video gaming to non-gaming situations - facilitates the development of military drone guidance.

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