new muse Symon Flaming
Editor'’s Note Welcome dear readers. Sit down, yes, yes. Now is the
moment you’ve been waiting for. You’ve picked up this pamphlet; now it is time to read it. Are you comfortable? Let us dive right in then, yes? Certainly! Let me tell you how this program is going to work. We begin with a fusty letter I recently received from my uncle, the aureate and insipient Professor Solomon Mcloomley. He writes in response to a letter I recently sent to him: “Dear Uncle,” I started. I hope this inclement weather is finding you supreme. I am very much looking forward to your company this Sunday evening, when you shall join my wife and me at our humble table. Thus, I extend to you this query; which dish inspires you more? The smoked emu breast, or the braised muskox? Yours in nepotism, Ellington Wildermay
To which I received the perplexing response contained herein, titled “New Muse.” If Solomon’s letter was nonsequitous for entrée selection, his trajectory of thought was nonetheless aligned with the recent trajectories of my own bemusement. I took it as a sign. I gathered the texts I had been thinking about, bit and bobs from here and there—acquaintances, quotes, scribbled-on napkins found in waste bins—and whittled it down to this curation. I worked rapidly, disgustingly, unceasingly. I realized I had to pour it all out at once, or risk its hot fat
congealing, so plugging the tap of my action. What you now hold in your little grubbers is the fruit of that tizzy. For your amusement, following the instructive letter from Uncle Solomon, the pamphlet includes two poems imaginatively penned by my youngest son. These I found written in his bedside notebook. Precocious little eight-year-old, I think you’ll agree! He’s always reading above his age level. It shouldn’t surprise me he writes above it too. Next, a nearly indecipherable confessional I found stuck to the shoe of a man passing me in the street. I followed him discretely and seized it when it seemed opportune. Called “New Muse,” it’s a revelatory little keyhole, apparently about a foot fetishist seeking a darker vocation. We tie things off with a coarse Bildungsroman called “New Muse,” in which an unhappy young man drinks to get drunk and comes to all the wrong conclusions. This piece came to my attention when I found its title included in an index of unpublished dystopian fiction—that book alone something of an inspiration. I had to find out who else had been inspired to name their work by the singular title “New Muse.” I traced the clues to a family residence in a suburb of Toronto, but I was too late. The author had died. Upon revealing my search and its motive to the author’s mother, she gave me this draft. Considering the circumstances, though, I cannot verify its authenticity. Nevertheless. I do hope you have settled in and that your appetite has been concomitantly whetted. I bid you, proceed inquisitively into this world wherein so much appears askew and warrants a second reading, or perhaps a second perspective. Please bear in mind: any resemblance to actual persons or events, past or present, is purely inevitable.
new Muse “Concerning the Gods, there are those who would deny the very existence of the Godhead.” –Epictetus Ellington, My boy, you have asked in your letter a larger question than you know. Inspire me? My dear! The Muse does not simply alight on any old branching whim or pretty thought, nor should she, I should say. The grace and domain of the Muse is like a roving island, or an unexpected oasis in the desert. It can only be found by being stumbled across, and usually when you’re engaged in something else, I might add. It is the scarcest love. Needless to say, it is a wonderful and tricky world but it is not a trip to be taken lightly. Do you think your pedestrian dinner board should muster my inspiration? I will not make a laced mutton of my Muse. Her demure benevolence heeds not your rhapsody of sinewy game, and I dare not be dragged into the matter myself. You walk an ignorant path, willy-nilly wishing inspiration for your worthless songs. You’d do well to remember that, Ellington! Where’s your more subtle touch? I would draw your attention my opening epigram, for it anticipates your apparent wayward attitude toward the Muse. Do not be one of those who, concerning the Muse, deny the very existence of the Musehead. Neither, though, should you think her your pet. The pitfalls should be obvious, but allow me to bring them into the light. On the one hand, we find those who say they have no need for the Muse: they seek the ascetic, self-determined existence. No better are they, however, than those who want her so desperately that they forget themselves—practitioners whose aesthetic reeks of cowardice for its inability to
muster their own gumption. These two parties quibble over the Muse to their own detriment. They are neither inspired nor above inspiration. Of course, there are those who find the middle path, but you’re not one of those. (My boy, I’m one to tell.) I’m merely concerned with enumerating the immoderates: those for whom wisdom is sought, not stumbled across; and those for whom denial is the highest virtue. Concerning the Muse, I am only concerned with those whose souls squint (Nietzsche’s motif) in the light of what they do not know. They are ultimately uninterested in perspectives other than their own. Traditionally, as you must know, the Muse serves a standard purpose, as far as the Gods go; the Muses (of which there were nine) are rather like demi-goddesses. The artist in pursuit of divine inspiration invokes them in moments of artistic defeat (which is why I find it so insulting that you’d ask me to invoke her for your dinner.) Milton calls on her for his Paradise Lost; Shakespeare, for many of his sonnets; For Plato and his contemporaries, the poet was the voice of the gods. The poet, though necessarily mad, only spoke what he was permitted, “For a poet is a light and winged and holy creature, and can not make poetry until he is inspired and is out of his senses and his reason is no longer with him….For it is not by art that they make their many beautiful speeches about things…but by a divine dispensation each man can make a beautiful poem only about the single matter to which the Muse inspires him.” (You’ve read Plato’s Ion, I’m assuming.) Of course, tradition has long been scrapped, leaving a largely idiosyncratic understanding of the Muse behind to be foraged. From lovers to oceans to idols; we now see all manner of objects illuminated with the false aura of Musery. False, I say, for today’s Muse is really only a vestigial torch we carry from the past, detached, a myth plucked from the history that grew it. We have such a weak relation with the true Muses of history, to the point that we do not even ask what it means to consider divine inspiration. Despite ourselves (I can hear you beginning to
huff, Ellington) in that moment of artistic famine when we lose faith in our own ability, we sometimes reach beyond our gathered skills and try to pick the fruit of the Gods. We snap our fingers and pray for our Muse to guide us, to speak through us. Tsk, tsk! See how the Muse is abused by the desperate, reduced to granting blowjob inspiration and booty-call fulfillment. What a battered housewife they’ve made of her! And made stupid devils of themselves, betting their souls for euphoria. And why? Why, they only follow the Muse out of tired resentment for their own shortcomings, drawn by the allure of the Faustian bargain. Meanwhile, the ascetics say that to take on a Muse is to sully that thing, or that idea, or that person, because the invocation arises from a place of bad conscience: it is an expression of ressentiment, they claim, that the combination of envy and the instinct of revenge so prevalent throughout history should give rise to needing the Muse. To go so far to take a Muse, they say, is to concede one’s own wretchedness. So if we understand invocation as a resentful reaction to feelings of inferiority, to invoke a Muse is to forsake yourself, and thus be untrue thereafter. To ask her to speak through you is to abandon yourself and your Muse and consider only the failure of desire. Or so they say. Really this inspires no one, and so achieves nothing. So we can acknowledge the Muse as a troubled figure, one who is separated from her past, one that we will only occasionally encounter, and one that we understand rather poorly. What can be done? It’s quite simple really. The invocation of the Muse itself must really be seen as the activity of creation. Simply being open to finding something beyond yourself is enough. Do not fear the Muse, but do not be boorish and hostile. The Muse will show herself to those she chooses, from those who are looking. You should feel so lucky. Anything else should feel contrived and should be quitted immediately. See you Sunday, for whatever. Ever your better, Solomon McLoomley
New Muse I do my muse like a drug. I do line after line Of Shakespeare, Of Donne. I’m a glutton. Unmetred. Perverse. And I put my pen Where so many men Have put theirs before. “Come you spirits,” I echo Lady M. I will her sing through me, Take this voice And do the rest. New Muse New bruise, new ruse, new noose, no use. New blues, new cruise, new ooze, no news. New stews, new brews, new truths, new cures. New views, new glues, new truce, new muse.
New Muse I’ve been sorting my socks by hole-count, and they all
have holes. I am throwing nothing away. It is tedious, consuming work if I make it so. This collection occupies my mind—and it is a distracting work-—but it gets me thinking; I’ve been needing a new muse. My last was okay but the weather changes. You know. The tide can’t always stay out. I’ve been considering Lady Macbeth. She’s tall and dark in my mind. Her hands are rough, but her eyes are young and people know who she is—those who want her to know who she is, those who want to tell her who she is to them. In mine they’ll see the unattainable. Her home is far away and easy to invent. Yes, she could do. I’ve had other muses. She played video games. She had three jobs. She made wine, and when I asked, she clipped my toenails and painted them too. But she is obsolete. Her hair is frayed. Her colour has gone. Her voice is still melodious but breezy—fluted but empty. She is gazing at me and I am a stone in the sun to her. The nothingness she can plainly see. I’ve had muses I haven’t known. Later, they come to me and tell me, “I am the muse.” They are tall and fair, and small and sandy. They take the size of a pill bug, and they whisper like the ocean. I should have been paying attention. I could have kept them in a box; “Do not touch!” it could say. Save for a rainy day.
Now Lady Macbeth is foaming lava from cracks in the ocean floor, bloodletting new earth in unlit places. Tonight I’ll drown myself to find that molten light. No more empty words. No more left unsaid. Give me a muse who will tear me apart and feed me the pieces. I took a muse, now Muse, take me.
New Muse Ronaldâ€™s day began with a vision; He saw a boy, no
more than fifteen, strung upon a stake, set for immolation. How the boy trembled. How the skin shivered like a horse. How the huge eyes pleaded from that thin face. How the tinder under him took to the little flames like fish to water. Then, how the flame splashed. The crowd was receptive to the sacrifice, and their cheers leveled the scene. Ronnie woke up as the fire soared and sang. O, how the fire sang!
The gallery is too warm and the guests are speaking as though it were a library. There is a tinge of green in the
air that is almost imperceptible, but unsettling nonetheless. It comes from the pieces along three of the walls. The grand fireplace set in the fourth wall suggests a dishonest prosperity. The people are humming among one another, laughing and telling stories. A few of them are looking at the art. The cityâ€™s lively atmosphere trickles in through an open window. Across the room, I spy Amelia, only momentarily companionless. She stays far away, and our eyes do not meet. Her eyes are everywhere but on mine. She knows more about me than I know about her. She cares less about me than I care to know. She carries less than I
carry and calls it baggage. I want to tell her she can carry more. She could carry more. I want to give her more. But she won’t talk, not to me, anymore. On the wall, my paintings hang with titles like “not yet full” and “almost full” and price tags tastefully displayed. They are, in the words of Miguel Kapur, preeminent Saudi-Canadian art critic and discriminate patron, “Stark, explorative, and brusque. What they lack in imagination they reveal in convivial jejunity.” A haute and prickly review, perhaps, but provocative enough to draw a crowd; at least that’s what he’s banking on. Hopefully it proves incendiary enough to draw the big shots. That’s the gamble, and favors are always a gamble. It’s my first show in almost three years. The conceit for this series was to take all my unsold work, ineffectively re-cover the canvasses with a pale green gesso, and mark each one with the phase of the moon under which they were defaced. The simplicity almost aligns in me something someone else must feel. It was Kapur’s idea. My reaction is a hard one to describe. Perhaps it is best reflected in the attitude of the guests; gathered under the pretense of free wine and the newest in a series of so-far-infatuating unknowns being drawn from Kapur’s enigmatic Rolodex, the guests stalk in pairs and mutter in hushed tones. From a tall thirty-something man in tight black jeans and a billowing, creamy collared shit buttoned to the top, I overhear of “a sense inexcusable withering doom,” and he purses his lips. Perhaps it isn’t a personal attack, I think. I didn’t catch the context. His phrase rises from the hushed sand dunes of conversation just to sink back in, although it’s enunciated in tones I would have imagined reserved for admonishing an incontinent puppy. From my six-o’clock I hear, “There’s simply no story to be read. It’s so sad to see,” an elegant but severely elderly woman pontificates at her petite and considerably younger friend. Her full lips are red with Merlot, her eyes, the same. Her pitch-black hair hangs in a straight, unbraided ponytail over her right breast. Her grey satin dress, I notice, has a small ketchup stain where it terminates in a heavy hem, slightly above her knees. It seems
like a plea, this spoilt patch. I refuse to hear pleas. It’s enough for me to quaff the final third of my own glass in mock-kudos to her audacity though, and I head to the makeshift bar for another. Kapur is chatting near the refreshments, smiling amicably and nodding, chin drawn, at a portly gentleman whose wild gesticulations elicited barely-restrained bug-eyed concern from my own visage. But Kapur is a master of his emotions. I loosen my skinny black tie and roll up my sleeves. It really is too warm in this room. Is somebody really adding another log to the fire? I grab another wine and approach Kapur as the portly fellow appears to wrap up. A couple seems to have been in line to speak with Kapur when I swoop him away under the crook of my arm. He waves back goodnaturedly, asserting singly with a motion of the wrist that he is both terribly sorry and won’t be a moment. “Ronny, how’s it going my man? You look like shit!” “Kapur. Listen, I don’t know if it’s just me, but—” “Whoa, it’s you Ron, it’s always you. I told you already, you got to listen to me. Trust me. Whatever you may be thinking… people are having a good time. They’re drinking, they’re milling about! They’re telling their friends—Incidentally, are you using that Twitter account I set up for you? Doesn’t matter, I’ll get someone to ghost write it. What matters is—hey, are you listening to me? It’s simple...” I’m looking around at the people he’s supposedly referring to. A pocket-fisting lanky fellow with round spectacles, whose clandestine squint expressed either a toothache or his misanthropy, is staring too closely at a piece for my comfort. I see a large bird-faced woman in a small red dress picking up the last sushi roll, and I turn back, not hurriedly, to Kapur. I tell him with my eyes, if these people are bringing their friends, I don’t think I belong in this town. “Listen to me kiddo, you’re gonna be alright. You look like shit, but you’re gonna be just fine. Are you taking that stuff I gave you?” I remember the little bottle of pills he passed me the week before. He’d called and asked me to meet him at a book signing for the avantgarde artist Steve’s new offering, Kitsch Chutzpah. It
was at that shish kebab pop-up in Queen West, Killer keBob, where the music was the Twin Peaks soundtrack on repeat. Of course I remembered the pills. Of course I hadn’t taken any. “You’re still self medicating, I can see that. That’s okay, buddy.” He takes me by the shoulder and straightens me out—his spine stiff, his head back— staring serenely at me down his large nose. “It’s Amelia isn’t it?” he says after a pause. I hold his gaze. He pats me on the shoulder and lets me go limp. He nods. “Alright.” His eyes go on. You don’t need her. You don’t need anybody they tell me. What was that about? I walk away, unsure of what I even intended to come of the conversation. Reassurance, I guess. I try to figure it out as I take my drink back to the wall. I feel like I’m missing the point of it all, like it all seems too easy. What am I getting away with? What did I come here for, anyway? I look around for Amelia, but she’s gone. The crowd is thinning. This time, I chug the whole thing and leave the glass on the floor. I pat my jacket pocket for a pack of cigarettes and take one out as I make my way to the fire escape. The door slams shut behind me. Instinct tells me it’s locked, but for some reason it doesn’t bother me. Perhaps because I know I can knock, and someone will let me back in. Perhaps because I want it to lock. I lean over the guardrail of the tiny outcropping. I can see down four stories of iron raiment at the alleyway crossed with debris and the wayward light of a streetlamp. I lean back to glance skyward, up the skirt of four more flights of rickety platforms and ladders. The full moon is a glowing nub, calling me, tugging me by the blood. I wonder if I can reach the roof. The ascent isn’t hard, I find. But the height gets to me as I overtake the final few rungs to peer at once across the tarred roof and the roaming city. The effect plays with my head. I find myself sweating and uncomfortable after the climb. I am wobbling slightly from the Merlot, the vertigo, and the warm summer breeze. I approach the edge. I saddle and light the cigarette and try to focus my eyes on the distance. I take stock of the entire scene swimming before me; all
its instincts, all its motions, all its paths through the tributaries of streets and open windows. I feel my phone buzz in my pocket. I check, and it’s her. Immediately my heart starts pounding in my neck. It buzzes again, her name and photo glowing in my hand. Her hair is still dark, not blonde like it was tonight, and she has that easy smile, just off to one side. Her eyes. Bzz. Her eyes are searching me. It was my favourite look, because no one else was capable of it. I probably took the picture three months ago. She is seated on a bed. Her eyes. I can’t see them. There’s a shadow. What colour are they? Bzz. I can’t remember the colour of her eyes. I feel suddenly hollowed, suddenly emptied. I look closer. Her shoulders are round, sloping away from her naked neck. There’s a messy bed. Sunlight on a plant on a windowsill. Two cups next to the bed. Two books. Though I can’t see their titles, I know what they are. Hélèn Cixous’ The Laugh of the Medusa, and Gilles Deleuze’s Nietzsche and Philosophy. But I can’t remember the colour of her eyes. Kapur may have been right, in what he seemed to be saying. I don’t need anyone. What did I want from her? A flash of recognition. A wink of intimate knowledge. Something cool to touch my head to. The inspirational music to resound. I wanted her fingers to brush mine again. But If I try to settle my mind on one distinct quality, one defining characteristic of her personality, the image gets hazy. The lust vanishes. I perch on the edge of the roof to dangle my legs over the street. I feel like a kid who’s climbed to the top of the tree, or at least as high as the branches will allow. I can imagine my mother calling me in for dinner. My phone is still buzzing. Why did she come? And why did I stay? I’ve known the weight of the cuckold’s horns. I’ve even sawed them off and hung them on the wall as testament to my will. They hang there still, in defiance. But I’ve slipped back into a burdened existence, and this time I feel like the heaviness has no obvious origin. Who tricked me? When I’m painting a bowl of fruit, I’m conscious of my stasis. The smooth brush does not soothe me. The rough brush doesn’t express me. The layering of colours,
the build-up enrages me. The fruit arouses my contempt, for I sense that its life is always progressing. How blind the spectator is to this quandary. While I’m doing nothing, capturing a moment, at least these fruits have the good sense to be rotting. Does slathering this sentiment with a new layer of paint express this inevitable death? Maybe. The captured moment is only trope though. It doesn’t exist outside the story, doesn’t exist in time. The artist can manipulate the moment to suit a purpose, to express more than seems possible. A moment can be filled further than reasonably conceivable, but no matter the skill in packing that moment, the truth is never revealed. If I imagine it this way, it’s not so hard to see how things turn out the way they do; we fashion ourselves into vengeful deities. When the world confounds us, we pray. We invoke the Other, the Better, and attach ourselves to it. Then, when we begin to see how fickle our love is, how it fades, we excise it. After the fact, after this catch-and-release, we are contented looking back at ourselves, upon our bright successes, but we don’t see how the torchlight casts crooked shadows. Nor do we see ourselves, but only what we are in the eye of the Muse. Her voice is all we know and all we use. Only by the grace of death, of that “thick night,” can we be anything more than man. In the distance, I can hear the spectators at the immolation. Sometimes I have dreams that I’m one of the people cheering along. Horribly, in these dreams the people on the stake are never the criminals and enemies that the state makes examples of each night. The people in my dreams are always young, always afraid. As they catch, first at their calves, then at their fingers, I have to look away but I never leave. I remain because their screams turn into songs, and despite myself I find them more beautiful than any music I’ve ever heard. They sing as they burn, or their skin does. I don’t know if they’re alive anymore. The fire is in their eyes… My hand stops buzzing, and the screen goes blank.
Copyright ©2013 Symon Flaming Frontispiece “The Devil and the Disobedient Child” http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17857/17857-h/17857-h.htm