A JOURNAL OF LITERARY MISRULE LUNE 02 DISLOCATION WINTER 2018 Brian Baker Robert Boucheron Jonathan Catherall Tim Cooke Claire Dean David Evans Mairi O'Gorman Blair James Stu Hennigan Stefan Nicolaou Luke Palmer T. Person Gerard Sarnat Angela Sherlock James Varney
CONTENTS Charlie Gere Introduction
James Varney Self Portrait as Distance Stefan Nicolaou A Man and a Woman Walked Out Blair James See Better, Lear Stu Hennigan A Life on Film Tim Cooke The Town Mairi O’Gorman Zerm Angela Sherlock Exports Claire Dean Six Attempts to Catch a River Robert Boucheron The Pyramid Jonathan Catherall Traipse Luke Palmer An Episode of Dysphasia in a Balinese Restaurant Luke Palmer Dying Falls for Three Possible Fathers Gerard Sarnat Prisoner Micropoetry T. Person Well I’ll Go Fuck Myself David Evans Transitional Brian Baker Acceleration Contributors
4 7 18 40 44 48 64 69 75 78 79 81 83 84 87 88 105
Introduction Charlie Gere
In the call for submissions in the last issue of LUNE we asked for work that deals with question of place, displacement, space, spacing and location, especially in relation to writing and reading themselves. It has been fascinating to read the different responses to this rather open brief. We received many excellent submissions, and, unfortunately, we were unable publish all of them, much as we would have liked to. The rule of thumb for deciding which should be included was to look for those that fulfilled another desideratum of our call, for work that ‘engages with language, genre, subjectivity, that brings into question the ability of writing to represent the world at all, or even to fully make sense, pieces that do not fall easily into normal categories, such as memoir, fiction, or poetry, but subvert them, or play with the boundaries between them’. Thus most of the pieces in this issue of LUNE all belong, more or less, to recognizable genres, such as essays, poetry, memoirs, or fiction, but in each case bring those genres into question, or push at, and even spill over, their edges. Each also takes a different approach to the question of dislocation.
I am not even certain what genre James Varney’s ‘Self Portrait as Distance’ is, though it takes the form of a letter addressed to LUNE itself, which Varney has signed. Similarly I don’t know if Stefan Nicolaou’s ‘A Man and a Woman Walked Out’ is memoir or fiction, though, again, I don’t think it matters. Blair James’s ‘See Better, Lear’ appears to be a straightforward essay on Shakespeare’s most dislocated play, but a closer reading suggests something stranger is going on. Stu Hennigan’s ‘A Life on Film’ is probably fiction, or at least I hope it is. ‘The Town’ by Tim Cooke could be memoir or fiction, or perhaps both. Mairi O’Gorman’s ‘Zerm’ is more recognizably a travelogue, albeit highly personal and poetic. Angela Sherlock’s ‘Exports’ is a beautiful reflection on the dislocating experience of the Irish diaspora. ‘Six Attempts to Catch a River’ by Claire Dean mixes text with images of text to achieve the aim of the title. ‘The Pyramid’ by Robert Boucheron offers a Kafkaesque vision of the construction of 2
the eponymous monument. All these piece are more or less recognizably prose. The next four are closer to poetry, but in each case pushing at the boundaries of what we understand poetry to be. Jonathan Catherall’s ‘Traipse’ is a marvelously dislocated piece of something like poetry. ‘An Episode of Dysphasia in a Balinese Restaurant, on Honeymoon’ and ‘Dying Falls for Three Possible Fathers’, both by Luke Palmer, look like poems but are what he calls ‘sculpts’ and are extracted from prose texts by Don Delillo and Robert McCrum. Gerard Sarnat’s ‘Prisoner Micropoetry’ experiments with both prose poems and haiku. Tom Person’s wonderfully anarchic ‘Well I’ll Go Fuck Myself Then’ pushes at the very limits of sense. The last two pieces are a mixture of text and image. ‘Transitional’ by David Evans is both image and writing simultaneously, while Brian Baker channels his inner Ballard to great effect in ‘Acceleration’, his mixture of graphics and text
CG, November 2018
0) self-portrait as distance 1) Dear Lune, I am a writer and theatre maker based in Manchester. I spend most of my time writing emails, reading emails, writing and thinking about writing. I don’t live in the city I was born in but I think about the place and how it has made me often. Today, I write on the suspicion that if I am to see myself better it must be through alienating the separate parts of myself which seem alternately to pen me in and fence me out of knowing myself. I am writing in pursuit of a self-portrait through and of the city that grew me. I am writing to you to ask, and convince, that you might consider this piece of writing for your November edition, on Dislocation. 2) I am writing towards something, in that it feels like my best chances of making some kind of sense or of communicating with a reader are in treating this exercise as an attempt, rather than in any way a guaranteed method of getting anything across. I’m seeking a sort of unbounded geography of the self, affective and fluid, like a street you might walk down and find the name suddenly changed by the time you reach the other end. You have turned no corners, but through your tracing of its unbending line you find you have passed an invisible threshold. Our old streets have grown together in the towns and cities of this country like lichen, not a single organism but an arcane combination of living parts, including us. I think of myself, somehow now an adult, as being significantly formed by the streetpacing I did in my home town 3) while teenaged and restless (and obnoxious) in the early years of this century. Having moved away, and not lived there for a few years now, I feel its distance. I can no longer take the intimacy of those streets for granted, but they echo. Sometimes I’ll be warned about the ‘rough’ areas of a more alien city before finding those places comfortingly familiar to the streets I grew up in, walked to school through. And this is one of the places I find a useful alienation – that disconnect between me and someone else’s sense of ‘rough’ or foreboding. Useful because engendering an amount of selfknowledge. And for one reason or another I wish to know myself. Which actually already presumes I am fundamentally being dissociated from myself, doesn’t it? 4) These moments are welcome ghosts. They come like a kind of nostalgia for past versions of myself. I am simultaneously very solidly and amazed by the person I am. Which is also a kind of nostalgia for a constantly shifting present. Perhaps it’s a kind of vindication – I value my own difference and independence and these moments of contradicting another’s estimations of the 5) world provide proof of my own autonomy. It is always an omen. As much as these are moments of vindicating difference they are a reminder of the patterns and models I fall into as part of my everyday, when I am not being shocked into awareness. And it is an omen and a reminder of the people I overlap with, whom I see myself in who have died, been damaged, ceased to function in any way useful to themselves or others. 6) I don’t believe we are ever expected to kill ourselves. To do so is to suddenly give way to tragedy. The circumstances left behind are suddenly narrativised. Our lives aren’t normally stories; we aren’t so much the end result of everything that has happened to us in the past as we are everything that has happened to us still happening all at once. We move through the world as still-living forces of history. Death, to life, creates a story out of the random ongoing intensity. No one saw it coming (it was coming). 7) I see the streets I am writing about as a vehicle for absorbing the shock of death, of that sudden absence. When community is a machine for preserving and generating episodic stories about stillliving bodies, it accommodates for a person’s removal by making more solid and powerful all their shared, talked-about past. The natural way to respond to mention of a person’s death (even decades later) is to tell a story about them. The streets absorb. The narrative is a mode of contextualising, consuming into the normal running of things. We are good at telling stories. A true story is, after all, only a string of well-deployed facts. As I try to pin down my self 4
in a living stream, perhaps I am inviting some element of the annihilation of death onto me. To fix my own narrative is to deny that I am fluid, because still breathing. I want to muddy the idea of death as a shock or interruption, too. It’s certainly an interruption to the person it happens to, but maybe it’s more interesting to think of death as a transformation. In dying, a person becomes closer to being a story, further from being a force moving through the world and more functional in the continued existence of it. Maybe in this way, death is a sublimation of the self; we become no longer observers or actors in the world, are finally wholly part of it and nothing else. The normal trading of stories by which we live 8) anticipates the interruption of death. It is not the destructive force it seems. Since leaving my first home and seeing it a little more from the outside I can appreciate its elasticity in the event of (sometimes extreme) trauma. It’s only natural, I suppose. We are all made out of bones and parts which heal themselves. They’ve always been capable of that. 9) This use of stories is borne out of proximity and density. There is a deep historical intimacy of bodies in the inhabitants of streets. People who specifically live under largely identical material conditions. The houses are all the same repeated shapes, over miles. This is entangled with the way the streets are shaped, the way housing is packed, the distribution of pubs, corner shops, post offices (and the increasing scarcity of them). It should be obvious by now that when I write about ‘the streets’ I am writing about more than town planning and architecture. A community is a geographical phenomenon – its behaviour is equally a result of its shape and a cause of it. 10) You might notice I am giving no specific examples. You haven’t earned them. I will not give them because you will not understand them, and to put them in terms universal enough to be understood is to transform them into a meaningless utility. Any story of the area I am writing about cannot leave it and survive. The real utility they have is in being lived and spoken as part of 11) the places they live. This is an old and living thing we inhabit. It is only useful because it exists through us, because we live. So I abstract any stories entirely, for the benefit of the reader and their own survival as obscure, local pieces of the air we breathe. (any story i might tell you i’m sure would have some echoes in your own experience, i hope you might find some echoes even now i am being tactically obtuse) 12) Theresa May speaks directly to me in her inaugural speech as Prime Minister:
If you’re a white, working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university. If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately. […] If you’re young, you’ll find it harder than ever before to own your own home. I am a pawn. I am useful in my whiteness, in my assumed history and wants. But Theresa cynically touts the shape of this country without understanding the ways I have emerged from it, and would reshape it. I am deeply attached to history, and to a physical geography. But our culture is a living thing, bound to people (who might happen to find themselves living in certain arrangements) and not to 13) place or property. We have fashioned ourselves for hundreds of years as people without control over history or the shape of our streets or cities. Our streets are important for the age of the people who inhabit them, as sources of the stories which shape us, not because some of us own or aspire to own pieces of them. We know how fleeting our geography is. I can draw my identity from a cluster of twisting streets in small city on a small island and still understand that my family and their neighbours live their on the tentative permission of a council who act seldom compassionately or wisely. 14) The shape of the places I care about is in my bones. Their value is not in themselves but in 15) what I have absorbed from them. At the same time, cities are toxic places for our bodies to be in. Cities are the bleeding edge of the growth of the world into space which does not exist, they grow
dense at a human cost. I worry that the basic premise of a city is the exploitation and physical decay of people who live in places like I grew up. I worry that the city is a project incapable of transforming into something other, that the spaces I love cannot be repurposed, are too far gone as a project of exploitation. At the heart of this countryâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s government, the sentiment is understood 16) and broadcast that people like me exist. We are paradoxes, born out of circumstances which fight against us even as they define who we are. And what does that mean for me, symbiotic lichen boi grown out of a city-shaped petri dish? Maybe that poison is in my bones. Maybe all my values come from a premise motivated by cruelty, no matter how capable of love and care I believe myself to be. 17) My urge to know myself maybe comes largest from an impulse to exorcise the evil that is implicit in my own existence. When I encounter those ghosts, thrown up by a collision with some difference, I have to ask myself, is there any part of them which is salvageable? How much of my self is tied up with specters of cruelty? How much am I capable of good. I contain a lot of ingredients towards self-harm, through the way I work myself until I am exhausted, or drink myself until I am spent, or fail to talk about my mental health and emotional 18) state. I shorten my life as a matter of casual practice. I think I believe in repurposing those destructive tendencies within me, harnessing them to make myself more useless, less efficient a channel for the destruction of others. But at the same time, I am as networked as a street map, my illness will pull down others. Exorcism is the only solution â&#x20AC;&#x201C; somehow tearing pieces of myself away whilst preserving an essential self, constant enough to function. If I can exorcise myself, perhaps a whole city might be purged one day, too. 19) I do not live in spite of the violences pit against me by circumstance. I live inside them, which implies to me that the ingredients for deconstruction are inherent in my living. It is important to me to emphasise the distances between people. They are not a force for isolation, they are a space of potential. Gaps in experience are places we can tear, birth our own specters to bring whatever 20) new deaths we desire. I am my own exorcism, immanent and contradictory in each step. If I contain fundamentally the force for my own death inside me, then I hope that force can be employed to wrestle with the evils and power-abuse that I embody. And I must find a way to divorce and destroy some parts of myself; some parts of myself are unabidable in the world I wish to live in. 21) Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you. James Varney
A Man and a Woman Walked Out Stefan Nicolaou
A tradition is like a fish. After a while it starts to stink.
A tradition is like a fish. Resistance keeps it afloat.
A tradition is like a fish. It never fucking closes its mouth.
And tradition does have a mouth. It could be popping it open and shut for oxygen or it could be screaming.
Weddings are the great Atlantic salmon of traditions. Or the tuna. Canned. In brine. Not dolphin-friendly. It’s everywhere and arousing no suspicions. Unless you’re looking down from the surface.
Cut to – a kiss on the cheek giggling tears promises a kiss on the lips sobs 1.25 glasses of prosecco per person 2 whites and 1 red per 9 people speeches
Weddings are adjusted with each rendition but it’s the same score, same meaning in the margins. Removing one note shifts the emphasis onto another.
It’s difficult not to consume them like music. Comparing one to the other like they’re cover versions of the classic, the later era contrasted to the early work. It’s all ugly.
/My latest wedding - a case study It started with a man. The father of the bride towed his daughter down the aisle. She was wearing a dress that was so elaborate that she would barely be able to eat, drink or dance at her own party.
Guests gasped and stood to film. They scrunched up their noses in wonky smile-crys. The crinkled faces lost their paste. The groom was already there. He had no spectacular entrance, had no music played for him.
The bride was delivered, poured and served - decanted - from father to groom. At some point the master of ceremonies asked what man gave this woman to this other man. Perhaps some do not ask this question anymore. A lot goes without saying.
I assume vows were exchanged. There were no microphones. The vows are where the chiffon slips and we enter a ritual. The same words, recited over and over by millions and millions until the wedding itself is considered an innate urge, a self-perpetuating and spontaneous human activity.
The words act as incantation and thus magic. There is no material change. Everyone stands in the same place as before, suffers the same itch of the shirt collar. They continue to shuffle in their seats. But something has been transformed. If you squint your eyes and peer over the fascinator there is a thread sewn between the couple. It penetrates and swirls and glistens. The final state change, starting with stranger and ending with spouse. It means something because people believe it does.
And then a contract is signed. The only legal escape is blaming a partner for adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion.
And so on the last wedding I heard no vows, no spell. A woman and a man walked into a room and a man and a woman walked out.There was a 4 hour wait afterwards. There was 8
nothing to entertain us but the strange paintings on the wall: unworn dresses filled in by invisible women.
//Dinner The soup was the very same offending sludge that appeared at the hotel buffet the night before. We were served peas floating in a water. It was a more luminous green than the actual vegetables.
Broccoli disintegrated under the fork. Roast potatoes sat on mashed potatoes beside dauphinoise potatoes. I sawed into the chicken and found matter that shared consistency and colour with pounded Cornflakes. I ate little and drank a lot. Wine was sold in airplane-sized bottles. It’s easy to lose count. Especially during a 4 hour wait for dinner.
///More words and magic, speeches and music The father of bride congratulated his daughter on her two best qualities – she is beautiful and stunning. He had lots of people to thank on her wedding day. He raised his glass to each of her brothers for watching over her. He thanked various uncles for being good influences and role models 1. Other men were asked to stand and received applause for being stalwart men. He said he was glad he had found the groom to look after his daughter. Her father crouched slightly and pawed at something under the table. He pulled out Amazon packaging and attempted to locate the opening.
He shoved a blind hand in and discarded the grey padding over the dinner plates of the mother of the bride and the bride. The grease travelled along the creases.
“When she was dressed up to go to her first disco… He reached in again, paused and tugged upwards
… we wanted to put her in one of these!”
There were honourable mentions for ‘mad’ aunt Pam and ‘dotty’ grandma Dolly.
He pulled out a chastity belt.
The novelty chastity belt is like a metal pair of underwear – think of a silver cast of Barbie’s genitals. Small keys dangled around the crotch.
A lot of the guests whooped.
I wonder if he ever really thought about what he was implying, joke or no joke. Or what the joke even was. A teenage bride, probably of around 13 or 14, all Impulse body spray and misguided curlers. She’s ready to leave the house when her father notices her body resembles woman more than daughter. That other boys may recognize that too. Did he recognize any choice on her behalf, any person in the woman? Was he implying he wanted to restrict the bride from saying yes or restrict the other boys from taking it? After all, they can’t help themselves.
The bride smiled. She shook her head and blushed. Scrunched her nose and looked down.
He said a final thank you to the groom for being a safe pair of hands.
We stood, raised our empty glasses and sat.
The groom stood thanked the father for raising this… ‘girl’. She is a beautiful and stunning and wonderful girl. A girl a man is lucky to… have. He thanked the father of the bride for graciously ‘welcoming’ (read: permitting) him to marry the bride. And after fumbling through more platitudes (best day of my life / means the world to me / all that I could wish for / the rest of my life) he revealed the bride’s best attributes. Not only is she beautiful and stunning, but supportive. She gives, is generous. She’s also quite funny: she once confused a picture of the alps with one of the white cliffs of Dover. It was hilarious.
Oh yes, the mother of the bride is also very beautiful and warm and accommodating. Stand, raise, lips, sit.
The best man was the next to speak. A best man describes the time before the bride, the 10
wilderness. It is nearly always a eulogy for the groom’s bachelorhood.
The best man at this wedding stood and murmured I wasn‘t meant to be doing this alone. The erstwhile other best men were stranded in their hometowns because of a very British reaction to a snowstorm. A large projector screen lowered across one wall of the venue 2.
A series of pictures followed. They had the quality of pictures taken by the compact digital cameras that hung off every university student’s wrist in 2006. It’s unmistakable. These pictures are easily sourced from Facebook if you click back far enough.
Slide #1: Drunk groom (peach-faced and slender) in his boxers and writhing around with an inflatable crocodile on an one of those unstainable dorm-room carpets.
Audience: Laughter. Hooting.
Next slide: Groom (red-faced and contorted) with a leg draped over a blow up doll. Audience: Thigh slapping.
I was sincerely blown away that a venue of this caliber would own and could execute this kind of technology.
Next slide: Groom (blotchy and spread eagle) deep throating a bottle of Jack Daniels.
Audience: Some chuckling. Some shifting. Next slide: The groom (corners of mouth pointing up, hair with bleached tips) kisses another man.
Audience: Whoops. Laughter. 3
Next slide: Groom (beaming and suntanned) in a bar with two grapefruits in his top, mimicking breasts. A hint of pink on his lips.
Audience: Shifting, coughing. Next slide: Groom (hands in the air, mid-flounce) wearing eyeliner and lipstick. Audience: Silence.
One audience member, yelping: It ain’t right!
This was prop and gag too far for the audience. The same-sex kiss is silly behaviour. It resembles but is not. Flesh touching flesh but no intent. No hint of intent, of possibility. However, that trace of traditional female on the male is obscene. If the man falls slightly into the space of woman he is ruined. Why else have the rules and red tape and police them with such voracity? These rules drive man into more man-ness and, to create that extreme, that ‘ideal’, it pushes woman into a more precarious space 4
The best man finished by remembering when the bride and groom first met. The groom trotted into their shared house after the first date and exclaimed:
Possibly large oranges. This train of thought wasn’t going through any of the guest’s minds (probably)
“She‘s so sexy I could shag the accent off of her.” And she’s stunning and beautiful and the groom is very lucky and raise your glasses and all the rest.
/////Dance! I am Trevor Doyle otherwise known as DJ Glenn. I am here all night and I take requests. YOU make the party.
Perhaps DJ Glenn could have saved the day. After all, there is no greater salve for the soul than sloppy drunk dancing. There is universality and freedom in music.
I collected requests from my table and ran straight up to the stage to present the list to DJ Glenn. He squinted at my phone and cocked his head. He lured me closer to the booth and took the phone from me. His lips danced a little, as if he were swilling spittle around inside of his mouth. He reached for his phone, opened the camera and hovered it over my screen. He passed the phone back without taking the photo.
I can write it down for you if you like… I turned to go back to my table. Mum always has tissues, chewing gum and a pen. No wait…sure I‘ll remember: Flawless, Dancing on my own, Work. Gotit. Flawless remix with Nicki Minaj if you have it 5
He nodded along. Did not write anything down.
I ordered a round of pink gin and tonics. My uncle stressed he would like the usual, colourless gin (the only difference between the two is the colour). 5
He did have it. He was using Spotify.
I returned to my seat with the drinks and waited. It was bitter. Every time a song like Gangnam style, Tell me more, or from Jason Derulo and Guns and Roses played I felt a tiny exclusion. I didn’t take any joy in even watching the spectacle. I would usually have been amused at the synchronized puppetry of people dancing to Cha Cha Slide. Or misguided air-guitar, strummed and throttled as if they were actually miming the drowning of a litter of puppies.
I could not rise above it. My moratorium on smoking is lifted on weddings. Even that was unpleasant. It was minus 12 and the smoking space was a small unfinished path between the car park and an A-road. My mum supplied the cigarettes. I leaned against the bricks and complained I just wanted to dance, to hear a song that I liked, to feel like I belonged. I bent towards her lighter with a cigarette in my mouth.
She dusted chalk and dust from my shoulder and exhaled. Beyoncé and Rihanna aren‘t really love songs, she reminded me. They need to listen to songs that make them happy. Apparently they most liked songs if they only knew the words to the chorus.
Sometimes I would shout Riiiihhannnnnna Bey‑awwww‑sayyyyyy into the void. I was obsessed. I craved something familiar, anything to remind me that this was the universe for tonight, not always. Not playing a gay boy’s favorite songs isn’t a hate crime. But in the context of the wedding it felt pointed. They’d mock me - worse, delete me - during the speeches and then not take my requests at the DJ booth.
/////First dance, last dance: a glimmer
I gave up waiting at around 10pm and counted my change for two drinks. A final, hopeful 14
last drink in the venue and another small bottle of wine my room.
And then I heard it. The 808 dotted with a synthesizer. A whimper from a female vocalist that lurched into a woo and wham. Brass. A chant underneath the brass urging me to dance.
A very wise person once commented on Twitter:
Never trust a gay who believes I wanna dance with somebody is a superior rsong to How will I know.
These are words to live by. At the wedding I made an exception. I hoped for at least 9 minutes of abandon and settled for 4:51.
The dance floor cleared before the first verse began. It was time to chase the blues away or at least give them a chase. I ushered my boyfriend, my brother and my brotherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s boyfriend towards the dancefloor.
I wanted to dance with somebody. Lots of bodies. I pointed over to empty dance floor. Grabbed my sister and aunt with each hand.
I loosened the sewing around my buttons as I whipped off my blazer. I clutched at my chest when loneliness calls. I crouched to prepare for the chorus and jumped up into a star when it hit. I dragged my waistcoat over my head.
My boyfriend thrust his hips out and grabbed his waist when Whitney wanted to feel the heat.
We roared the words at one another. Every swimming cell of my body believed that I was emitting the same powerful vocals as Whitney. Judging by the hell my boyfriend and 15
brother unleashed from their vocal cords, I wasn’t. It didn’t matter. I acted out the words with my hands. I lost my senses by raising my palms upwards and vibrating my arms. I feigned fever with the back of my hand over my forehead, slumped over and then threw my arms up again. Every gesture and exaggerated note made me feel every word of the song harder. Night fell. The song ended and Little Mix washed us from the dance floor and replaced us with the rest of the wedding guests.
I swept up my suit from the nearby chairs. I undid my belt as we walked to our hotel room. I dispersed clothes and cables from the bathroom to the bedside table and found my charger. I ended the night twerking in my underwear to Work by Rihanna.
/////The honeymoon In the morning, it seemed unfair that I didn’t enjoy the music yet my ears were still ringing. We had some time to kill before heading to the airport. Just enough time to visit ‘one of the top 5 tree tunnels in the world’6.
I shook a lot of hands before we set off. A lot of the party guests were still in their suits. Red rings and purple splotches under their eyes. The mother of the bride pointed to Alfie, curled up in an upholstered chair in reception.
He was tired, she said. Alfie was the smiley, cute as a button, darling of the family. He can’t have been more than 6. Throughout the wedding he was as unabashed at feeling the music as I was during I wanna dance with somebody. Earlier in the evening, during the live band he danced, on his own in the bar, to a Country spin of Happy and you know it. He threw up his arms and spun. Grabbed everyone’s hands and twirled under their arms.
Yeah, me neither.
Flamboyance is generally more tolerated in small children. He reminds me of you when you were little, my sister whispered. My family agreed. And he really did. Sometimes you get a sense for these things. I also sensed that he might not always feel so confident moving like that or feel so free. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s probably going to get really bad for little Alfie. But one day itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll get better. Even for just a song.
SEE BETTER, LEAR
Blair James Shakespeare’s characters so often cannot see, so often are blind, because Shakespeare was consumed by the ignorance of the world around him. And so am I. So am I.
Shakespeare thought that we should see differently. His work is “relentlessly subversive” (1998, 799) as Stephen Greenblatt says, taking our expectations and concepts and turning them on their heads. He wants us to challenge the things we deem inherent. Heather Dubrow states that Shakespeare succeeds to “induce in a reader a series of intellectual reflections and emotional experiences very like those being enacted” (37). Shakespeare’s preoccupation with challenging the ignorant ways of the world presents itself through his rhetoric: genre, characterisation, tropes, figures of speech, and so on. His plays make us question our assumptions and he experiments in order to open our minds. It is in King Lear that his focus is most prominently dedicated to making us see differently.
Jules Cashford observes of King Lear, “it is possible to read vision as the controlling metaphor of the play, leading inexorably into the wider question of what it is to be human which the play at the deepest level explores” (1). Cashford is right here in linking vision and thus perception to the root of humanness. Of course, utterances that evoke sight and blindness pervade the play. Frank Kermode recognises this “dreadful emphasis on blindness” (196) and notes the repetition of the words “eyes” and “seeing.” (192) It is specifically helpful that he makes mention of Cordelia’s death, during which “the words ‘see’ and ‘look’ resound, the latter four 18
times in Lear’s last ten words.” (199). However, another word is used heavily throughout this play: “fool.” John E. Van Domelen reports, “the word occurs no fewer than 49 times” (133). Shakespeare makes his point very clear, very visible indeed. We must see differently.
Van Domelen discerns that “King Lear is concerned with essential human nature” (133) and, in Shakespeare’s characterisation of what George Wilson Knight calls “the Lear universe” (201), he displays perceptual flaw and conceptual affect, and how those things may present themselves in human character. Blinded perception is central to Lear’s characterisation. He is a foolish man, and his foolishness is a direct result of his perceptual flaws. The tragedy that unfolds stems from his inability to see the real intentions of his daughters and his inability to challenge his perceptions until it is too late. When Lear resolves Goneril to be a “degenerate bastard” (1.4.229) he responds as though her behavior has threatened his own very character, asking:
“Who is it that can tell me who I am?” (1.4. 205) Lear is so threatened by this challenge to his perception that he feels he must no longer actually be himself. Essentially, he cannot believe what is happening. This phenomenon occurs all the time. Lear looks for confirmation of his character because he can no longer trust his own perceptions. His concepts are logically flawed. We reach out to our social reality for our concepts when we are unsure. Why don’t we try something new? His response moves quickly from confusion to seething anger and defensiveness, as is often the case when people oppose our views:
”Detested kite, thou liest!” (1.4.239) 19
“Into her womb convey sterility.” (1.4.255) Lear would rather disown his child, with some justification, than admit wrongdoing; wish curse upon her fecundity rather than recognise his own failing. He is so stubborn that he believes that nature has “false persuaded” (208) him of even fathering daughters. This scene is a stark portrayal of the tunnel vision we can become trapped in if we refuse to see in other ways. The Fool comments, “May not an ass know when the cart draws the horse?” (199) – Implying that Lear is so blind that he cannot even address the inversion that is taking place. He recognises his own folly but still fails to change. As Lear leaves Goneril’s castle he cries, “Old fond eyes / Beweep this cause again, I’ll pluck ye out” (278-279). So Lear would rather rip out his eyes to support his perceptual delusion than see differently. Lear’s irrationality deftly captures the stubborn nature of emotional conceptualisation and perceptual blindness. The fool urges Lear to “learn more than thou trowest” (105), and to rival Lear’s silliness, sings:
Fools had ne'er less wit in a year, For wise men are grown foppish. They know not how their wits to wear, Their manners are so apish. (144-147)
We are not born foolish, we learn foolishness. Lear later cascades into madness. However, madness can also be seen as “seeing differently.” Stanley Wells asserts that “by causing Lear to go mad, Shakespeare greatly extends the character’s emotional range […] in his madness the King 20
challenges not only his court and family but the universe around him” (45). It is interesting that it is only when Lear begins to see differently, that he has any kind of autonomy, sense, or power. It is in madness that Lear can find “reason” (4.6.169), and through new eyes that he can overturn his perceptual past to see more clearly. Wells notices that “the suffering diminishes when madness comes upon him” (45) and as Gloucester is to realise later in the play, madness can offer relief from suffering.
Wells rightly states that “it seems misleading to refer to the Gloucester story as a subplot, or underplot, because it adds to the Lear story, with which it soon becomes inextricably intertwined, rather than simply supports it.
Parallels of situation are clear, but there are also differences which extend the play’s range of reference” (43). Gloucester’s experience in the play mirrors Lear’s, as he also fails to see due to egocentricity, however his sight is obstructed twofold by the shame of fathering an illegitimate son. He is perhaps more hurt by the betrayal of his actual son than he would ever be by a betrayal performed by Edmund. It is this shame, produced by his social reality in which the doxa of illegitimacy as shameful was accepted, that separates him from Lear. Shakespeare “juxtaposes the story of a man who is driven mad with that of one who has his eyes torn out” (43), and it is my belief that Lear and Gloucester are presented with consequences according to the kind of conceptualisation that creates each character. Gloucester, whose conceptual framework is determined by external doxa, must fall victim to external forces – resulting in his physical blindness. Lear’s vision, on the other hand, is marred purely due to his own flawed concepts, and so he suffers an internal blindness: a madness. Once each character has “seen” these consequences, they are 21
then also able to see the errors in their ways.
Gloucester is portrayed a fool. Like Lear, he is delusional, and often blames the stars and the gods, instead of taking any responsibility for his own character and choices. By the end of the play, after the physical blinding of Gloucester, it seems he has finally realised that things are not always what we believe or see them to be, that our perceptions fool us. It is only through actual blindness that Gloucester learns that we cannot rely on perception. In his blindness he becomes compassionate and humbled. We must humble ourselves!
Lear asks, “Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts?” (3.6.71-72) – and no, there is not. Our hearts become hard by our emotional concepts and how we see reality. Matthew Wikander understands that “what is appalling in Goneril and Regan is […] that their ways are the ways of the world” (321). Shakespeare shrewdly comments upon his social reality as greedy, unloving, selfish. We must threaten the common social reality. Shakespeare endows his characters with perceptions similar to the ones that fill our own worlds. When we are made aware of them we may wish to see differently, it is certainly clear that this provocation of thought was Shakespeare’s intention. To be unaware, to refuse to see, is tragic.
Edmund’s characterisation is the most complex, perhaps not solely in King Lear but throughout any of Shakespeare’s plays. He responds and reacts accordingly to the social reality that has been forced upon him as a bastard, but in doing so reinforces it. We feel a confused sympathy for Edmund. He has negatively constructed emotional concepts, and his character has been marred by “the plague of custom” (1.2.3), but he refuses to acknowledge his own responsibility in challenging this ideology and 22
simply fortifies the perceptual flaws that affect him. It is these same perceptual flaws that make Edmund human. It is so often that through circumstance or learning, we end up victim to hugely flawed perceptual backgrounds, and so often that it is only ourselves that can break free from them. Our previously constructed negative emotional concepts blind us. But we must not walk out into the mist like Edmund, we must learn to see differently. His hardships provide no justification for his blind sighted actions. Edmund is a bastard of his own making. We cannot feel sorry for those poor fools who blind themselves. Like Lear, Edmund starts to see his failings too late. Why wait until you are blind to try to see? And even as Edmund tries to redeem things, he says "some good I mean to do, despite of my own nature" (5.3.242243). This statement only works to more properly elucidate his delusional ideas about his own character; he sees his change of heart as a fluke, perhaps, believing that it is inherent within his nature to do wrong. What he fails to realise is that there is no such characteristic inherent within him, and accepting such things as natural and unchanging only works to support the view of illegitimacy as “base,” and “with baseness, bastardy, base” (1.2.10).
Knight notices that “it has been remarked that all the persons in King Lear are either very good or very bad” (201), which, as he suggests, is a wildly reductive and lazy remark. It is not surprising that the story of Lear was extremely pertinent at the time Shakspeare chose to mold it into this tragic vision. Wells tells us of a “catalysing external influence in the case of Sir Brian Annesley, a rich old man with three daughters. When he made his will, in 1600, the two elder were married; he bequeathed the bulk of his estate to his youngest […] He became senile in 1603, when his eldest daughter […] tried to show that he had been mad when he made his will, as a way of laying hands on his estate” (30). Annesley’s younger daughter, 23
named Cordell, protected her father. Of course, there are striking resemblances between the two “tales”, though one is a piece of drama, and another the details of a lawsuit. It is fitting that the story should bear such similarity to real life, as the characters within the play are also such deft portrayals of real human character. Wells believes that King Lear “has come to be regarded not only as its author’s finest literary achievement but also as one of the most profound and challenging examinations ever undertaken of what it means to be human” (1).
Furthermore, Knight calls the persons in King Lear “individualised,” (201) “rich,” and “varied” (203) and claims, “no Shakespearian play shows so wide a range of sympathetic creation: we seem to be confronted, not with certain men and women only, but with mankind” (202). Shakespeare’s characterisation masterfully displays the complexity of perception, conceptualisation, and the human mind, in order for us to look upon ourselves; that we might be spared from tragedy.
In this play, a character’s language elucidates their perceptions. The language of the Lear persons is as heavily affected by their perceptual frameworks as their actions are. In Wells’ words: “constantly the play’s language — verbal and gestural — will relate its action to moral and philosophical concepts” (33). Through his innovative use of language, Shakespeare is consumed with creating imagery of vision and blindness. Cashford makes a helpful list: Images of sight and blindness are rarely absent: […] “heavenly eyes,” “washed eyes,” “old fond eyes,” eyes which “do comfort and not burn,” eyes “asquint,” “scornful,” “fierce,” “sweet,” the “eye’s anguish,” “eyes of vile jelly,” “glass eyes” - eyes that have sight and cannot see and eyes that see though they are blind. These images of sight and blindness gain cumulatively 24
in power and reference, serving almost as a chorus to the play’s essential dynamic, in which Lear is driven to “see better” and know himself. (1-2)
Sometimes wish I was blind. Sometimes cannot see.
“I have no way, and therefore want no eyes; I stumbled when I saw.” (4.1.19-20)
Gloucester’s profound comment upon perception is beautifully evocative. He recognises the flaws in “seeing.” The metaphorical language of vision is applied to a figurative journey – in which one can stumble, can remain still, get lost, go nowhere, and so on. This trope is extremely apt for our perceptions. We must travel, we will come across bumps, get stuck in traffic. But we must always revise our frameworks – our maps. We must be aware that our perceptions can encounter wrong turns, but we must also take a drive out in the wild, must experience the world, and learn to perceive differently in order to adapt to new experience.
It is not purely metaphorical language of vision and foolishness that is repeated throughout the play, but also a constant epizeuxistic echo of the words “no,” “never,” and “nothing.” Edward W. Tayler suggests that this repetition signifies “negation” (17) and that “in the art of a play, as well as in the life of the mind” there may be a “connection between ‘no’ and ‘know,’ between negation and knowledge” (17). If we recognise this connection, we can see Shakespeare’s repeated use of the word as a constant reminder that we must “know,” that in order to “know,” we might have to deny (say “no” to) our perceptual assumptions. Tayler goes on to say that “our intellectual as well as our moral judgments, our capacity to have knowledge and to 25
know, derive from our having learned, early on in life, to say No. In art as in life, negation may produce knowledge, knowledge of oneself and others; in the art of Shakespeare’s theater, negation leads to anagnorisis” (17-18). Applying Tayler’s theory to perception reveals that we must from time to time say “no” to our preconstructed concepts, though we may encounter complex resistances, in order to learn and better know ourselves.
The repetition of a word indicates its importance, and the word “nothing” is particularly important; the constant repetition of “nothing,” and “no,” and “never” highlights the limits of our perception. We cannot perceive “nothing.” We cannot perceive things outside of our perceptual frameworks. If we accept that our perception is limited, we must also come to accept that we can never grasp any kind of “real” reality. It is perhaps no coincidence that Shakespeare changed King Leir to King Lear – an anagram of REAL (supporting the idea that Shakespeare’s characters are true to “real” human minds). If our perception is limited, are some people’s frameworks better or bigger? Might we try finding new and different perceptions to add to our repertoire, to move “toward anagnorisis, toward the knowing of the self and other” (Wells, 19)? A trajectory of refusal is built up within the play – we must refuse our mouldy concepts, and we must realise that our perception is limited. Perception is not inherent, as Lear states, “nothing will come of nothing.” (1.1.89) Cordelia is often spoken to in figures of speech. For example, France says: “Bid them farewell, Cordelia, though unkind” (1.1.261). Through the use of antiphrastic adianoeta, Shakespeare has France evoke a double meaning in the word “unkind.” Of course, France calls Cordelia unkind due to Lear’s perception of her regarding her “betrayal” of him. However, we can separate the word, “un-kind,” to reveal a more subtle meaning. Cordelia is acting out of her kind – after all, she is meant to be 26
Lear’s most loving daughter, or at least Lear perceives her to be acting unusually. The idea that something we cannot perceive must be unnatural is extremely detrimental to our perceptual health, yet it is encouraged by common conceptualisation, and Lear’s accompanying egotism and refusal to question his perceptions makes him victim to it. Victim to himself. People often fall victim to this flawed ideology when they view people that are different to them prejudicially. Our perceptions are not always our friends. But what is of supreme interest here is France’s adoption of another character’s perception and therefore language.
Cordelia’s suitor, also describes her by way of oxymoron: “Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich, being poor; Most choice, forsaken; and most loved, despised!” (1.1.251252) What Shakespeare elucidates through this description of Cordelia is that things can be perceived in many different ways – even simultaneously. As France is a noble and honest character, we can take his way of thinking as educational. We see the best in things when we can see them in different ways. Cordelia is financially poor, but to France she is worth more than a monetary prize. She is his first choice, though her father has disowned her. And though Lear can see only hate within her now, France sees only love. It is his willingness to see through different lenses that bequeaths France such capable and creative language.
Wells remarks that “Shakespeare was indebted to convention, but not subservient to it, for the language of his play” (49) and it is true that Shakespeare’s linguistic trickery served his own purposes. Shakespeare gives his characters a certain awareness of the language they are using. The fool often seems the master of his own songs and riddles, and Goneril and Regan word their own false testimonies of love – as Wells discerns, “Shakespeare causes them to speak in a self-conscious, hyperbolical style, creating set speeches which give the impression of having been 27
thought out in advance” (49/50). We also perceive that Cordelia’s silence expresses that “she feels much more than she says” (50). People may act in ways that challenge our perceptions – but we must recognise this flaw of perception. Shakespeare’s use of language draws our attention to the ways in which our perceptions can be fooled.
In order to discuss Shakespeare’s use and manipulation of genre, and in so doing, compare it to the ways in which perception works (or does not), I will make reference to my earlier work on Shakespeare and Genre, All’s Well That Ends Well? (2016), in which I elucidate the fact that “understanding the concept of genre is important in interpreting any literature, but it is integral to understanding Shakespeare’s plays.” (3) It seems strange to reference myself, particularly in the context of questioning one’s perception.
“Shakespeare’s generic coalescence has been harshly contended” (James, 1) and as Frank Kermode states, King Lear “is the craftiest as well as the most tremendous of Shakespeare’s tragedies” (200). My given definition of genre is: “a specific type or kind of work, each with a different set of conventions,” and I posit that “in acknowledging a work’s genre, both the playwright and his audience implicitly agree to certain things: structures/plots, character types, and so on.” (3) Genre is the way we grasp the nature of a work, much in the way that we grasp the nature of life via perception. Genre is the way in which we categorise literature, much in the way that perception is the way in which we categorise experience. But perceptions may overlap, be limited, or become tired. Shakespeare challenged the boundaries of genre as a way to encourage us to challenge the boundaries of our perception. Further still, the genre of tragedy “resists simple explanations,” (Bennett & Royle, 103) so what other form 28
would Shakespeare choose to incorporate in a plea for resisting simple perceptual frameworks?
To understand that Shakespeare used genre in his mission to make us see differently, we must recognise the likeness of genre and perceptual or emotional concepts. Tzvetan Todorov says that Genres “function as ‘horizons of expectation’ for readers, and as ‘modes of writing’ for authors” (18). These definitions, too, fit the function of perception. Our perceptions create expectations for our experience of the world, and we adhere to concepts that shape our social reality, much as a genre or “mode” shapes a piece of literature. Genre is the “framework” (James, 4) for Shakespeare’s work, much as our perceptions create a framework for our lives. “In subverting genre he simultaneously adheres to it; there must be rules in order to break them. Without an audience, there is no need for genre” (James, 4). As our only way of experiencing our world, we must abide by perception’s rules, but we must constantly push the boundaries of conceptualisation, engage in perceptual experimentation, and view perception as non-rigid in its own forms. It is true, too, that without the social element of perception, we would have no use for emotional or experiential concepts: for categorising our perceptions.
Susan Snyder declares that recognisable genre “conditions our reactions” (83), which, of course, it does. That is its purpose. Genre creates a relationship between the play and its audience/reader. What Shakespeare does is muddy our generic expectations – just as our perceptions can be muddied. It is within the very framework of King Lear that he then sets up this connection between our experience of reading or viewing the play and the way we read or view the world. It seems as though the metaphor of sight is a conduit to genre: the characters’ ability to see and perceive determines their genre. It is tangible that it is their perceptual failure that 29
creates their tragic genre. And as “traditional theories of tragedy have understood that tragedy continually disrupts order and calls it in doubt” (Grady, 135), so too our perception must be called into doubt. Lear’s tragic flaw, his poor judgment, is the root of the tragedy. During the “love test” he foolishly mistakes Goneril and Regan’s lies for truth, and fails to see the honor in his youngest daughter.
Lear is blind because he does not question his perceptions. To be blind ends in tragedy – to see differently, perhaps, might end comically (happily). It is worth noting that when the Fool (a traditionally comic character) exits the stage, he sets in motion the shift of King Lear from comedy to tragedy. It is furthermore worthwhile to recognise that he is a character who can see.
For Shakespearean drama, “Tragedy portrays the possible consequences of mulishness” (James, 4), and as Greenblatt notes, the story “had been often told when Shakespeare undertook to make it the subject of a tragedy” (2308). He undertook to see the story differently. Shakespeare clearly believed that to be perceptually blind can only end in tragedy – it affects not only us but others too, such as poor Cordelia, and loyal Kent. He offers no hope with his ending, making King Lear one of the bleakest plays ever crafted, and the thought of refusing to see differently a very bleak road, too.
Shakespeare gives the impression that although “genre controls its characters’ ends”, “we, in fact, control our own.” (James, 11) And as Patrick Bateson and Paul Martin say in their work Play, Playfulness, Creativity and Innovation, “play enables the individual to discover new approaches to dealing with the world” (5). Not only does Shakespeare’s use of the dramatic medium help us reach our own “real” anagnorisis 30
but the fact that he “plays” generically within it surely encourages us to play around with our perception. We should think of our minds as perceptual playgrounds, not as conceptual prisons.
In choosing to see a different ending for King Lear, Shakespeare presents his own perceptual flexibility, and Northrop Frye notes, “the freedom with which he handled a story familiar to his audience is extraordinary.” (102) WE NEED TO BE FREE. “But,” A.D. Nuttall suggests, “King Lear is also about the fear of madness” (301). Seeing differently is a definition that could be applied to madness. Mental illness itself is, of course, a framework of perceptions that does not fit the common acceptance. We can see within King Lear the fear of seeing differently, and certainly, the unknown is usually feared. Frye says, “no previous account of Lear suggests that he went mad” (102) and obviously to Shakespeare this element was a crucial addition. For Lear, with madness, comes clarity. In seeing differently, we can learn. Nuttall senses “the mind breaking free from its moorings” (301) in Lear, and freedom should be encouraged! If our perceptual roots, or moorings, change, then we, too, can change. The very word mooring here suggests an image of being held down: confined, trapped. I don’t want to feel trapped.
Though the story is now so well known that Shakespeare’s perceptual play between his audience and his characters may go unnoticed, Frye suggests that if we watch or read King Lear we should pretend we have never heard it before. Frye urges us to “forget” what we know of the characters: “forget that you know how bad Goneril and Regan and Edmund are going to be,” and in forgetting we will “see more clearly how Shakespeare is building up our sympathies in the opposite direction” (103). Reading under Frye’s instruction reveals Shakespeare’s attempts to showcase the foolishness of perception, and how it can so often be deceived. Shakespeare tries to blind us. He 31
shows how easy deception is to achieve and the possible danger of not seeing differently. As Frye proposes, we must remove our blinkers. Frye also implies that if we read differently and try to see more clearly or under differently perceptual instruction, we can get more from literature. Rationality can make us blind, even. Sometimes we have to go into the dark. For example Van Domelen notices that, “from the standpoint of mundane wisdom and cool self- interest the self-sacrificing actions of Kent and Cordelia are bound to appear foolish. Moreover, it is the evil characters who are coldly reasonable, and from their viewpoint the vehemence of Lear, the credulity of Edgar, the impetuosity of Kent, and the sensuality of Gloucester all appear as irrational foolishness” (Van Domelen, 134). Perceptions must be built wholly by context and by experiment. Reason calls some nights, and compassion others, but it is clear that Shakespeare saw evil in purely rational, practical, or self-serving perception. Nuttall also establishes that Lear “must be unmade before he is made anew” (306). We must banish these limited perceptions, old thoughts, and common concepts before they can be replaced, and to rid we must become aware.
Knight says that after “Lear has trained himself to think he cannot be wrong: he finds he is wrong” (184). And so, as seeing differently can be scary or seem to threaten our beliefs, it can also often reveal our flaws. Therefore it is a worthy challenge. We may find that the challenge proves unsuccessful, but we could be no worse off than living in perceptual blindness. In the character of Lear we can see extremely confined perception, he is very much like a “real” person in refusing to see what is right in front of him. Lear has truncated emotional concepts, and as Lisa Feldman Barrett confirms: “without concepts you are experientially blind” (29). Lear does end up opening his perceptual framework to create new concepts, but it is too late. Don’t live 32
your whole life without ever looking in another direction. It’s so sad. The waste is what is so bleak.
We are regularly instructed by the conventions of theatre to see what is not really there. To see what we do not really see. What we actually see is actors and props on a stage, perhaps lights, a curtain, and so on. We sign an implicit contract that denotes we perceive these things in a different way, as though they were not these things at all. We believe we see a king, a throne – a heath, though as Werner Brönnimann points out, “the word heath does not occur in King Lear at all” (69).
Shakespeare creates these perceptions in our head. Again, this manipulation must be used as evidence to support the fallibility and malleability of perception. Shakespeare is not only in control of our perceptions but he also allows his characters control of others’ perceptions. Graham Holderness recognises “exactly such an experiment” conducted by Edgar. “Edgar tells Gloucester what he would be able to see if he were not blind. In fact Edgar is of course making it all up, and there is no Dover Cliff. But he makes the experience visible, for Gloucester, and for us” (102). Our perceptions are not always, and in fact are very rarely, accurate. But Edgar shows that sometimes we must see differently in order to understand, or to learn. If we manipulate our perceptions, we can get more out of life. Gloucester’s physical blindness is a result of playing by common conceptual rules. Sometimes by blinding ourselves from these assumptions, we can see more clearly.
Barrett believes that “there is a kind of freedom in realising that we categorise to create meaning and therefore it is possible to change meaning by recategorising” (292). Shakespeare experimented with genre as a way of recategorising the concepts 33
within his play, and therefore changing their meaning. Can we recategorise literature? Or the way we read? If literature is an act of expression, and that expression is based on perception, then surely we should see works of experimental genre as challenging or expanding our perceptual frameworks. We become who we are by these frameworks, as discussed earlier in regards to characterisation, but to be perceptually blinded by our social reality is fatal. Edmund becomes a villain because he believes that other people perceive him in this way, due to the doxa surrounding illegitimacy. His character is obscured by perceived or real doxa and the skewed emotional concepts he has subsequently developed. He plays up to his role as bastard. No one can see who he really his, and he cannot even see himself. When the inverse perception reveals itself, that “Edmund was beloved” – his character, too, seems to reverse. When he sees differently, he is remorseful – he is “good.”
Edmund’s fear of being unloved is reflected by many other fears within the play. When Gloucester pronounces:
The king is mad. How stiff is my vile sense, That I stand up and have ingenious feeling Of my huge sorrows. Better I were distract— So should my thoughts be severed from my griefs, And woes by wrong imaginations lose The knowledge of themselves. (4.6.274-279) He expresses his fear in facing his true feelings, which, due to his inability to see, are causing him suffering. He would rather be unaware, rather pretend. With sight, comes responsibility. We see, and must act accordingly. Lear, in fact, does 34
become distracted as he “vainly imagines a happy ending” (199) says Kermode, and remains blind until the very end, believing Cordelia to be alive due to his obfuscated perception. Are we scared? Would we rather be blind? It is not simply the Lear characters that hide from sight, but even dramatists working with the play choose to omit certain elements. The Fool -- the beacon of sight-- is often omitted, and as Robert Pierce notes, the scene of Gloucester’s blinding is regularly avoided.
Pierce says, “Cornwall commits an act so repulsive that older performances often evaded its staging altogether. Whether implied or actual, the spectacle triggers our deep-seated human fears, no doubt biologically based as an automatic reaction to protect our vulnerable eyes”. This idea that we see physical damage to our eyes as damaging to our connection to the world, and that we are biologically stimulated to protect them, is extremely fitting. We metaphorically believe our eyes to be our connection to the world, that they are the vehicle for our perceptions. Our perceptions, therefore, are also extremely vulnerable, and it is to be expected that we try to protect them when they are threatened or challenged, or provoke negative reaction. Pierce continues: “the horror of the audience at this scene surely grows out of our deepest fears about the vulnerability of our sight and our belief in the utter catastrophe of being sightless” (2012) and though he talks here of the physical capability of seeing, it must be recognised that perceptual blindness can also be catastrophic. What Shakespeare actually suggests we should fear is seeing through a limited lens – a dirty window. Shakespeare’s rhetorical creativity within King Lear evidences his commitment to perceptual deviation. He does not simply 35
suggest that we should be naughty, or deviant, in our perceptions, but that we should always consider deviating from the norm as a viable option. Lotto asserts, “perception matters because it underpins everything,” (20) but suggests that there is not purely one way of perceiving.
Shakespeare clearly believed in the power of seeing differently. Lear is urged to “see better,” and we are shown that we must be adaptive in our perception. Lear and Gloucester cannot see the meaning in what is around them, so they may as well be blind. Sight without meaning is redundant. But, “thinking about your perception has the ability to alter it” (Lotto, 133) and Shakespeare undeniably makes us think. Cashford observes that “the way that Lear and Gloucester learn to see becomes a mode of knowing both the self and the world.” (1) And it might be that through King Lear we will also learn to better know our world and ourselves.
So, it seems that what Nuttall calls “the greatest tragedy ever” (301), is the tragedy of blindness. “It was great ignorance, Gloucester’s eyes being out” (4.5.10). Please do not be perceptually ignorant, do not become blind. It may be true when Goneril claims a love for her father that is “dearer than eyesight,” (1.1.54) because sight is so often unstable and flawed. Kermode believes King Lear to be “about suffering represented as a condition of the world as we inherit or make it for ourselves” (184), and I believe, as I assert Shakespeare believed, this suffering to be brought about by perceptual blindness. We suffer from both inherited and personally constructed concepts.
Lear’s final words are “Never, never, never, never, never,” an epizeuxis which continuously threatens to circumscribe our lives. Lear's repetition of "never" resounds 36
like a death-knell to the possibility of ever being able to see. It is up to us to change our own perceptions. They are not built-in. Blindness begets blindness to come. Let us live hereon with the “washed eyes” (1.1.269) of Cordelia. How well do we rise after falling? Hugh Grady suggests that in Lear’s struggle to find out what man really is he finds that man is “neither necessarily cruel nor necessarily kind.” (132) We see a transformation in Lear, but must accept that everyone is different and capable of different things. We should “acknowledge the existence of and the limits to human nature, underlining the unknown dimensions of the boundaries formed by these limits” (Grady, 132-133).
See, lest thou become a passive object of literary force. Lest we allow ourselves to plummet to the rocks.
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James, B. 2016. All’s Well That Ends Well? Salford: University of Salford. Kermode, F. (2000). Shakespeare’s Language. London: Penguin. Knight, G. W. (2001). The Wheel Of Fire. London: Routledge. Lotto, B. (2017). Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Martineau, J. (2016). Trivium: The Classical Liberal Arts of Grammar, Logic, & Rhetoric. Glastonbury: Wooden Books Ltd. Nuttall, A. D. (2007). Shakespeare the Thinker. London: Yale University Press. Pierce, R. B. 2012. “I Stumbled When I Saw”: Interpreting Gloucester’s Blindness in King Lear. Philosophy and Literature. 36 (1), pp. 153-166. Sánchez, A. B. 2014. Shame, recognition and love in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Azafea, revista de filosofía. 16, pp. 73-93. [Accessed 20 August 2017]. Available From: http://www.academia.edu/10959299/Shame_recognition_and_love_in_Shake speare_s_King_Lear Shakespeare, W. 1997. King Lear. In: Greenblatt, S. ed. The Norton Shakespeare. London: W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., pp. 2318-2553. Snyder, S. 2001. The Genre of Shakespeare’s Plays. In: De Grazia, M. & Wells, S. eds. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 83-97. Tayler, E. W. 1990. King Lear and Negation. English Literary Renaissance. 20(1), pp. 17-39. [Accessed 20 August 2017]. Available From: http://dx.doi.org.salford.idm.oclc.org/10.1111/j.1475-6757.1990.tb01004.x Todorov, T. (1993). Genres in Discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Van Domelen, J. E. 1975. Why Cordelia Must Die. The South Central Bulletin. 35(4), pp. 132-135. [Accessed 20 August 2017]. Available From: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3188472 Wells, S. W. (2008). ed. The History of King Lear. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Wikander, M. H. 2005. Something is Rotten: English Renaissance Tragedies of State. In: Bushnell, R. ed. A Companion to Tragedy. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 307327.
A Life On Film Stu Hennigan I sometimes feel like I’ve spent half my life watching myself on film. Some of the time I’m okay, but then I get these really protracted, bleak periods of mind-fucking depression, and that’s when the film show starts. It’s like there’s this character, Sean Molloy, and he’s got his life to live and his job to do and his kids to raise, and I’m hovering in the background watching it all unfold, without the slightest conception of the fact that he’s actually me, I’m actually him, and I’m actually in charge of everything that he’s doing. It’s like the connection between body and mind disappears, and for months at a time I’m literally out of my head, a disinterested onlooker observing this other person’s life as it unfolds in all its greyscale mundanity. Sean getting up, Sean brushing his teeth, Sean skipping breakfast, Sean smoking a fag, Sean going to work, Sean driving the car. Sometimes he stops at the traffic lights and the awful realisation dawns on him that he has no idea where he is, or why he’s in the car, or where he’s been, or where he’s heading, but then the lights turn green and from somewhere he remembers. He sits in meetings with people he doesn’t know, whose names he thinks he can’t recall. His mouth moves and words come out, but he doesn’t know where they’re coming from, or what they mean. He sees people nod, smile - they’re receptive to what he’s saying, even though to his own ears the words are just a jumble of phonemes, plosives, geminations, a nonsense language that he simply doesn’t understand – Finnegans Wake read aloud. He gets up, shakes hands, and goes back to the car with not a clue as to what he’s spent the last hour talking about, or where he has to go next. It’s like a state of perpetual now, all conceptions of past and future obliterated by the chaos in his brain, like he’s a member of that tribe whose language only contains one tense, the present. He comes home from work, cuddles the kids, then finds he’s sitting down at a table with his mouth full of gloop, realises he’s eating his tea but can’t remember making it, or even what it is. He has no idea I’m there, watching him from the top of the bookcase in the living room as he flops onto the sofa and zones out in front of the TV, staring at the tube in the same detached manner I’m staring at him with. Does this sound crazy to you? To me it’s just life, or the movie version anyway. Sean’s World. Nights can be the worst times. For years and years I had terrible problems with sleeping, and I’d be lucky if I got a couple of hours a night. I remember one night laying in bed, absolutely fucking frazzled and thinking that if I didn’t get some sleep I was finally going to go insane. And, just like that, that’s what actually happened. At some point, I must have fallen asleep, but in my dream I was awake in my room, hoping that I’d get some sleep to stop me from losing my mind. It took a while for me to realise I was dreaming because the scene was exactly the same, and the only reason I knew was because on the shelf at the bottom of the bed next to the stereo was an ornament, a little sand timer from Greece made of blue glass, that I knew I didn’t have any more because it had got broken when I’d moved house a couple of years earlier. Once I realised I was dreaming, I woke up, and found myself stuck there again, back in bed, desperately craving sleep and feeling like I wasn’t going to get any. And then the sand timer reappeared, and then it went, and then it came back again. What?! I spent the whole night alternating between two virtually identical poles, sleeplessness, and dreaming of sleeplessness, with only the presence – or absence – of the sand timer as guide to which state was which, and by the end of the night I just didn’t know any more. The conscious and the unconscious had blurred, and the insanity I’d been fearing all along seemed to have arrived. If that doesn’t make sense, there’s an old parlour trick you can try that mimics the experience. It takes a bit of practice so you might need to be patient, but it’s trippy as fuck when you’ve cracked it so it’s well worth persevering. All you need is a big mirror, a floor to sit on, and a 40
couple of candles. Basically, you turn off the lights, close all the curtains, and light the room with the candles. Tea lights work pretty well cos you can put a few of them around you, but if you’ve got proper candles they’ll do too. The idea is low lighting though, so don’t go crazy with them. You just need enough light to be able to see clearly what’s in the mirror, that’s all. What you need to do is sit yourself on the floor in front of the mirror and concentrate on what you see in the glass. A good technique I use is to stare into my own eyes, but really it’s a case of whatever works for you. The trick is to stay as still as you can, just focus, focus, focus, and if you do it for long enough your brain can’t tell which side of the mirror you’re on, so it feels like you’ve swapped places with your own reflection. It’s pretty far out, but not in the same terrifying, brain-wrecking way as my night of dreaming about not sleeping. I was shellshocked in the morning – comatose, but still wide awake. Life is a fucking blag, and the sooner you realise that, the better. Everything you see is based on illusion. Nils Bohr once said ‘Everything we call real is made up of things that cannot be regarded as real.’ This isn’t the time or place to be kick-starting a discussion about the finer points of quantum mechanics, but even a cursory look at some of the simpler ideas of subatomic physics shows that he’s right. Wave particle duality, Schrodinger’s Cat, all that stuff, right? If that’s too heavy, how about this one from Robert Louis Stephenson? ‘Dreams are real while they last. And do we not live in dreams?’ I think what I’m getting at is what I see as the fundamental unreality of reality. When you’ve spent as much time as I have watching yourself from the outside it teaches you an awful lot about perception, and that’s what it all comes down to, really. Everyone perceives the world in a different way, so to talk of something like concrete, objective reality is just a complete nonsense. The Buddha used to tell a great story that goes like this. Once upon a time there was a king, and he ordered all the men in his kingdom who had been blind from birth to be brought to his palace. In his palace, there was an elephant. The king instructed his servants to stand the blind men all around the animal, and to place their hands on different parts of its body, so one man was given the trunk, one a leg, one an ear, one the tail, one a tusk, and so on. Each of the men were then told, this is an elephant. Afterwards the elephant was sent away, and the men were asked to describe the elephant to each other. Each man compared the elephant to something different – a storeroom, a plowshare, a basket , and a furious argument took place, as no two men could agree on what an elephant is really like. Ring any bells? He was a smart cookie, the Buddha. Back to Sean’s World. In this scene, it’s after midnight. His wife has long since gone to bed, he’s sitting blankly in front of the TV and emptying his second bottle of wine of the evening. He’s always been a drinker. There’s something in the alcohol that reins in the mind, pulls the conscious me, the me-that-is-Sean-but-isn’t, who’s sitting on the sofa opposite, watching Sean watch the telly, back into Sean’s body, or closer to it than it has been during the day, anyway. Sean is miserable. Despite his wife and two kids, he’s lonely. All his life he’s felt that way. No matter how many people he’s surrounded by, he always feels as if he’s on his own, totally out of step, disconnected from everyone and everything around him, but especially from himself. He thought having a family would put an end to it – how can you be lonely when you’ve got two children who adore you and a partner for life? – but it’s actually made things worse. He feels like a stranger in his own home, an imposter, someone who’s not worthy to live in such a nice place with such a beautiful family. He’s a bad husband, a shit father and a terrible human being. One day, he’ll get a tap on the shoulder. You’ve been rumbled, sunshine, come with us - like Stanley in The Birthday Party - and it’ll all be gone forever. Now I’m closer to Sean’s body I’m more in control. I’m tempted to make Sean go to the garage, get a Stanley knife and cut himself. His arms are scarred from years of self-harm, 41
but since he’s had the kids he’s stopped. He’s never found a substitute for it though, and maybe that’s part of the problem too, now that there’s no valve to let out the pressure that builds inside him like pus in a boil, just waiting to explode and poison everything it touches. I know that if he cuts himself we’ll be together again, the me-that-is-Sean-but-isn’t and the Sean that’s on the sofa drinking his wine, body and mind united again for a few brief moments while the pain takes over and all the tension bleeds away. It’s a fantasy now, a fetish, a dream from days gone by, and no matter how strong the temptation may be, I just can’t make him do it. The decision made, Sean drains his wine and decides to head to bed. He’s a little drunk, no more than that, but at least he’ll get some sleep, and whatever effects he feels in the morning with be nothing compared to a night of unhinged insomnia. He turns off the TV, turns out the light, and goes upstairs. Fade to black. Cut. Fade in. Sean’s at work, sitting at his desk, looking at his computer like he wants to kill it. I’m even further away from him than usual today, right in the far corner of the office so I can barely see him from where I’m standing. He looks at the clock. It’s seven and a half minutes past nine. He’s been here for about ten minutes and already he’s wishing it was home time. He feels like he’s been here for days. I’m trying to cross the room so I can get a bit closer and see what he’s doing on the computer. One thing’s for sure, he won’t be working. Days like this, he forgets how to do it. Emails appear on the screen and he reads them listlessly, line by line, over and over again. The strange symbols he sees on the page are letters from the ISO basic Latin alphabet, formed into words which he should be able to read and interpret in micro milliseconds, synapses flying from brain to eye and back again, but something’s wrong with the wiring and he might as well be trying to read something written in ancient Hebrew for all the sense they make right now. Robotically, he makes a coffee and sits back down, starts reading the emails again, still gets nowhere. Deep down he knows he needs to see a doctor, but he’s been down that route before. They’ll give him pills by the bucketload, and he hates them. Fluoxetin, Dosulepin, Mirtazapin, Flupenthixol, Lithium, he’s had them all. They make him sweat like a fat man in a baker’s shop, they clog up his stomach so he can’t shit for a week at a time and they make him shake like he’s got Parkinson’s, but they don’t change his black moods and his mind stays firmly checked out of his body, leaving a whirring void in its place. He knows it will come back one day as suddenly as it left, completely of its own volition, without any warning whatsoever. He’ll open his eyes one morning and it will just be there – the numbness gone, the static storm that obliterates his thoughts having vanished into the abyss from whence it came, until next time it decides to come back unannounced and ruin his life again. He’s been living with this forever, long enough to know that if all the doctors can offer is pills, he’s happier trying to ride it out on his own. It’s always worked before, even if the respite is only temporary. Once upon a time, there was a boy so shy he was afraid of his own shadow. He was frightened of the whole world and everything in it, and so, little by little, he started to hide himself away. He lived in darkness, a nocturnal creature of habit who shunned the sunlight as if he were the walking undead. Books were the only companions he needed; he sustained himself by communing with Dostoyevsky, Burroughs, Pynchon, Joyce, Shakespeare, Herman Hesse, master magicians weaving webs with words that often left him dizzy and disorientated, 42
filling his head with new thoughts and new ways of seeing the world. He started to grow up, and as he got older new masters appeared. Faulkner, Beckett, Tolstoy, Hugo – titans of their art. Whenever he felt sad, which was often, he turned to his books, asking the seers for answers, and for a time it helped, allowed him to explain his feelings in ways he’d never have been able to articulate himself, to piece together a personality and a worldview from snippets of text. There is no intensity of love or feeling that does not involve crippling hurt. They give birth astride a grave - the light gleams an instant, then it is night once more. You will die — and it will all be over. You will die and find out everything — or cease asking. The point of life is that it stops. Crumbs of comfort in an alien world - until he became a man, and hard reality came to kick down his front door. Sean’s back at home now. The kids are in bed, his wife’s playing with her phone, and he’s reading a book. It’s a bit of light stuff today, short stories by Raymond Carver, easy enough to read, but with enough substance that he can still feel like he’s stimulating his mind. Me. And it works. I’m sitting on the sofa behind him, literally close enough to breathe down his neck and read the words over his shoulder, and for a little while, Sean is at peace. I’m trying hard, willing myself back into his head, knowing how much easier life will be if I can get back in there, but I just can’t get close enough right now. Sean’s wife looks up from her phone, starts talking to him. He half-closes the book, and instantly I’m pushed away by an unknown force that sends me to the other side of the room, onto the sofa I was sitting on the other night while he was watching TV. I watch Sean speak with her, laughing in all the right places and answering back when he needs to, but I know that he’s not processing what she says. He keeps glancing at the book, and every time he does I feel a tug in his direction, but it’s futile. By the time his wife goes to bed, Sean is too tired to read any more. He closes the book, and any chance I had of getting back into his head has gone. It’s a strange feeling, watching your life happen to somebody else, and you never quite get used to it. Depersonalisation, I think it’s called, or dissociation, a symptom of certain mood disorders like the depression I suffer from. The doctor told me about it when I finally paid him another visit last year, but the conscious part of my brain was standing in the corner of the room, watching me weeping in the chair, looking on from outside to keep me from feeling the pain and the shame of breaking down in front of him, so a lot of what he said didn’t sink in. Sean and I are together again now. I didn’t want to take them but there are new pills this time Citalopram – and they seem to be working. It’s early days yet though, and it’s still hard to get past the unpredictability of it; twenty five years of experience says the connection can be severed at any time, without warning. Every time I go to bed, I know that tomorrow Sean might wake up with that numbness behind the eyes and a grotesque pulsating frog where his brain should be, pressing against his temples like it wants to shatter his skull, and somewhere else in the room there will be me, watching, waiting, wondering how long it will be this time until we’re together again.
The Town by Tim Cooke
Kestrels and Crows
I was born to this town and reared on its edge. I loved its light and stone, its currents and routines painted in abrupt, colloquial language. There was tranquility to this place then, not unlike that found on the motorway that skirts its northern border: an industrial artery. Everyone drove forward at similar, soothing speeds, slowing occasionally into queues of traffic, glancing left and right, catching glimpses of kestrels hovering over the verges. Then all of a sudden, we began to veer off in different directions, the sun beating down, illuminating previously hidden junctions and laybys â&#x20AC;&#x201C; dead ends and fresh starts. Some of us continued to plough through hedges into farmersâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; fields, tearing lesions into blankets of corn, tumbling on into wilderness. We inspected the bones of dead crows and other birds, and considered the lay of the land. We felt the plates grinding, churning the town out of shape.
The Drive Home I sit here now, aged thirty and a father of one, thinking back over time to the person I was then. My hopes and fears, dreams and nightmares, the people I loved. I remember, with good reason, a journey home from visiting my sister in London. She was living with her husband in Golders Green, and my brother and I had spent the day playing Fifa in a kitchen I now recall, perhaps incorrectly, to have been tired and covered in dirt. We left the capital via the M4 and whilst driving between Swindon and Bristol darkness descended. It came in an instant, like a flash, as if a bulb had burst.
I always felt extraordinary warmth and comfort in the busy, familial space of the car; there was a calmness to the intermittent clusters of passing lights â&#x20AC;&#x201C; vehicles, lamps, occasional sirens; red, white and orange. But I had long feared, since an indescribably terrifying nightmare years before, something lurking behind the guardrail and hedgerows, deep in the gloom. A presence without shape or matter but equipped with incredible speed and agility. On this winter evening, it seemed to be tracking us, racing alongside the car and reaching, like a spectre, for the door handle.
The bridge over to Wales was lit up like a beacon. The waters of the River Severn raged in a way I had not previously seen. Peering into the blue murk, forcing my eyes to adjust to the estuary like a fixed-focal-length lens, I watched grey waves rise and fall as if leviathans lunging at low-flying gulls. Furious winds whipped silver spray into wrathful swirls, like dust devils in the desert. The wind beat hard at the body of the car. It was at this moment that, I think, I first appreciated the volatility and indifference, the aggression, of the natural world. I longed to touch it. I wound down the window and let cold air and rain gush in. My parents began to shout and my brother’s face turned ugly, grotesque: “What the hell are you doing?”
I felt something enter, something sinister. My sense of security, my very sense of the world, was compromised; things were changing and my chronic fear of sleep rose to the surface.
We drove further into the night, passing two cities and evading the valleys, before emerging from the darkness onto a bright dual carriageway. We ran over two or three roundabouts – I can’t claim to recall with total accuracy the lay the roads at that time – and hit a strange intersection, where routes from the town met those from the coast. Warehouses, car parks and a pub spilled from an adjacent industrial estate – my dad owned an electrical wholesale firm there.
We slipped onto another A-road, passed a new McDonald’s and a KFC, and slid into a strip of wild suburbia separating the town from its surrounding countryside. We drove along the road on which my eldest brother and his wife had recently bought their first house, beneath the hill where the huge secondary school I’d attended for the previous term stood, and across the Tjunction onto the street that had been my home since birth. We rolled down the slope, past two of our closest friends’ houses and the turning to the cul-de-sac where my grandparents once lived, and arrived finally at ours, plunging into the driveway and activating the security lights. We were not alone.
* That night, we ate beans on toast and probably watched Last of the Summer Wine. My brother and I played table tennis and PlayStation, our bare feet pressed deep into thick, reassuring carpet, and the clock ticked on, gathering speed. I observed with dread as the final hour neared. I went to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water, and the sight of the open door gaping into the back corridor unleashed a ripple inside me – an after-effect of another petrifying nightmare. The blind had not been pulled over the large window above the sink; I peered at my reflection, half swallowed by 45
the pitch blackness behind, and listened as the wind howled across the wide expanse of playing fields that stretched from our rear garden fence right up to the river running beneath Bluebells Wood.
I had never slept with ease, not for as long as I could remember. I had a complicated relationship with the dark and, more profoundly, with silence. From a young age, I’d experienced recurring nightmares of waking up in the fields in the dead of night. I could see blue flashing lights in the living room, but no matter how hard I ran, the distance would only expand and I’d sink back towards the river winding away to the castle and the coast, squirming with eel and trout. Sometimes I would see a figure – nebulous, inhuman – crawling from room to room as my parents sat in front of the TV. I’d try to shout but nothing would come. I’d watch paralysed with horror as death drew near, totally silent.
When I couldn’t sleep, which was often, I’d listen to Just William and Narnia audiocassettes, fearing the end of each chapter or story, as that would tell me how long I had lain awake for and seemed to confirm that I would do so for hours to come. I would let the tapes click out and then lie in silence, unable to stand anymore of time’s cruelty. I’d try to imagine nice things: music, rugby, family barbeques. Nothing worked, ever. Knowing that everyone else in the house was asleep was the worst feeling of all – I have never since felt so alone.
If my parents were still up, I would sit at the top of the stairs and cough. Sometimes they would come with kindness and sympathy, other times exasperation. They could not help me. Nevertheless, I longed for their presence and would beg them to ascend the stairs and kiss me goodnight just once more. When going to bed each evening, having brushed my teeth, I would expect them both to come and reassure me with a simple peck that I would see them the next day. They invariably did so, unless one of them was out for the evening or away, which was hell. Once they had left my room, I would call over and over, “Love you, see you in the morning,” until they were out of earshot, or simply chose not to respond. I was reminded emphatically of how all this felt when, years later, I read Proust for the first time.
This occasion, however, was different. It wasn’t just about sleep and night-time insecurities – this was about the stability of the waking world, the atomic structure of everything and everyone. Nothing would be the same, I could feel it in my bones.
For some reason, it occurred to me that we should go to a supermarket, where it was light and busy and, perhaps, safe. “Shall we go to Tesco?” There was a large Tesco near the KFC and MacDonald’s, just out of town, or there was a smaller one closer in, near the bus station. Alternatively, we could go to the Sainsbury’s by the new outlet store, next to the motorway junction on the other side of town. I didn’t care. “What is wrong with you?” my brother replied.
I brushed my teeth in front of the mirror and listened again to the whistling gusts hurtling back and forth over the fields. Rain had begun to spatter the bathroom window, double-glazed and iridescent in the weather and the glow from the streetlights at the front of the house. I sat on the toilet and shivered. I left the bathroom, passed my brother at the top of the stairs – “freak” – and called to my mum and dad: “I’m going to bed.” Ten minutes later, she came into my room. “Goodnight.” She kissed me on the cheek and ran her hand through my hair. “See you in the morning.” As she creaked down the stairs, having switched off the main light and turned on a small lamp by my sister’s old room, I called out to her. It wasn’t a word, but rather a noise – base, primitive and pleading. “Sleep well,” she called back and disappeared into the lounge below. He came in after her and said four clinical prayers; he, too, kissed my forehead and left.
Finally, I closed my eyes, faces warped and broken whirling around me, pale breasts oscillating in the dark. Fires began to blaze and the crowns of trees lurched to and fro. The river ran from behind our house up to my bedroom door, seeping underneath – the bones of animals somersaulting in the flow, carcasses strewn over the carpet. This was not a dream. For the first and only time in my life, the attic trapdoor in the ceiling outside my room broke and the ladder dropped down with a thud onto the landing. The whole house shook. Like a small child, I longed to flee into my parents’ arms, but I chose instead to stay put.
Zerm by Mairi O’Gorman
I stayed with my cousin, Gordon, and his family, in a bungalow on the hillside above the town. Mahé is sixteen miles long and eleven miles wide, but in places it rises to almost three thousand feet above sea level. The Trois Frere mountains are visible from almost every part of the island: dense jungle, strands of lianas, odontoid granitic boulders, habitations sparse. But the hill on which Gordon lived was smaller, gentler, and studded with little houses made of Masonite and bright galvanised iron sheets; its wildness was limited to the difficulty that buses sometimes had in traversing its narrow roads, and the frequency with which the water pipes would burst during the wet monsoon. From October to April, the north-west winds bring the wet monsoon; from May to September, the dry monsoon comes from the south-east. In between the two, there are short transitional periods during which people will remark that “the wind is changing”, that the fish have gone away or come back. Regardless of the season, it is always humid, and rainfall during the dry monsoon has only increased with global warming. I arrived during the wet monsoon. The rain scarcely ever ceased. The air always smelled faintly of mildew, despite the obsessive cleanliness that prevailed in Seychellois households. I slept in the front bedroom, between the veranda and a small outdoor cupboard where the washing machine was kept. Because Gordon had children, he was continually trooping back and forth between the front door (which opened onto the veranda) and the washing machine. He would have to lean through the window of ‘my’ room to plug the machine’s cord into the socket by my bed. When there was a break in the downpour, Gordon would rush recently- laundered clothes out into the sunlight; the rest of the time, they hung despondently on a line that crisscrossed the veranda.When I slept with wet hair, I woke with wet hair and a wet pillow. When I spilled a glass of water on the carpeted bedroom floor, it took three days to dry completely.
The dampness, humidity, and alternation between wet and dry monsoon have produced a landscape in which plants proliferate and grow huge, so that almost everything is smothered with greenery. There is always potential for things to grow where they shouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t. A war against the subtle moulds and spores that cross the permeable boundary between inside and outside, bringing with them laws and logics that are destructive to the ethic of the postcolony (Tsing 2012:150), is constantly being waged. Homes are stuffed with doilies, lace tablecloths, layers of curtain and net, ribbons and dolls and teddy bears, all of which signal the respectability of the household and must be kept free of the taint of these invaders. But when a building is empty â&#x20AC;&#x201C; when its former inhabitants can no longer live in it or with one another â&#x20AC;&#x201C; it is abandoned to green, incomprehensible, uninhibited growth. Very quickly, perhaps within a year or two, it becomes almost impossible to distinguish the husk of an old restaurant, a municipal building, a small bungalow, from the ruin of a copra processing plant or a cinnamon still. Small clues remain: silent regiments of coconut palms; repetitious beds of sitronel maron; the sour green thumbs of bilenbi pressed against a tree trunk; a well; a rusty bell.
Everything inflames, irritates, needles, poisons. The plants bear fruit often two or three times per year, filling the air with their invisible communication. Noses are clogged, sinuses swollen, and children regularly dosed with cetirizine syrup. One small cousin was usually covered in a
bumpy rash that varied in intensity but never disappeared altogether. To make things worse, during my visit, Seychellois were plagued by the senir plim, a small, fluffy, yellow caterpillar, whose fine hairs produce a bubbling rash that can hospitalise anyone unlucky enough to stand downwind of the mango tree in which it prefers to make its home. * I visited Seychelles for the first time when I was nine. At school in suburban London, other children had wanted to know whether I was “half-caste,” and why my mother didn’t live in the place that she had “come from,” deciding instead to live in their community and send me to their school. Even I had to admit that it didn’t make a lot of sense – how could someone be from (let alone of) paradise? It was apparent on arrival that something was wrong, for in place of the sunny island full of smiling people, there was a dense cloud that smothered everything. It rained so hard that we had to stay indoors, where we found that our relatives were sometimes miserable and sometimes made each other miserable. When they smiled, this was often a consequence of joking that, to an oversensitive child, appeared cruel. Their full phenotypical range was confusing to me, the categories so mutable that it seemed to confuse them too. Worse still, they were even more obsessed with colour than the children at school had been – my young uncles, tipsy, mischievous, pinched my little brother’s arms and called him “Fresh Milk.” Cousin Gordon, a decade my senior, was at that time a wiry, agile youth. Though his mother, my aunt, was black, he was said to be “Chinese”-looking. He dutifully put up posters of Bruce Lee, competed in martial arts tournaments throughout the Indian Ocean region, and invited us to watch badly-dubbed wuxia VHS tapes with him on stormy afternoons. At night, as dusk fell with a rapidity that seemed eerie to children who had lived their lives far from the equator, he would tell us stories of ghosts and vampires. We lay wide-awake beside our parents on a mattress on the floor of the spare room, trying desperately to forget the images he had put into our minds; I convinced myself that I was more afraid for my little brother’s wellbeing than I was of ghosts.
At nine I still thought that it was a question of belief. At twenty-nine, I realised that asking a Seychellois whether they believed in ghosts would only invite them to laugh at me and change the subject. Belief is not necessary where there is proof, and proof (in Seychelles) is everywhere. I visited Liliane and Alvin in the South, danbwa (in the jungle). Liliane’s mother used to live with them; the house is still full of photographs of her, the walls covered with murals and stencils that she liked, the sideboard groaning with her good crockery. In the evening, when darkness had fallen completely, and the air was cool and still, they told me about ghosts. Liliane used to accompany her grandmother to the dense forest on the nearby hillside to forage for herbs and greens. Sometimes they would hear, through the underbrush, the heavy, dragging steps of someone weighed down by chains. “There is someone else here,” Liliane’s grandmother would say lightly, and they would move on through the woods, away from the sound, to forage elsewhere. Liliane remembered vividly one night when something ran across the tin roof of the house (the very roof under which we were sitting). “I know it was probably nothing. But I remember the sound.” She hid, with her brothers and sister, under the dining table. Her grandmother heated a small stone in the brazier used to boil water, and then wrapped it in a cloth and took it outside. She hurled the stone at the thing on the roof and swore at it in the coarsest language she could muster. “You have to swear at the ghost,” Alvin said, lounging. “Use the worst words.” Another night, Liliane continued, something came into her bedroom. Because she saw the gooseflesh on my arms and that my expression was one of mild alarm, she added quickly, “It
was when we lived in another house, it was not here.” Something came into her bedroom (quite evidently the bedroom in which I would shortly go to sleep) and stroked her feet as she lay half-awake. Her mother said that it was not something that lived in the house, it was only passing through – and it never happened again, so this must have been true. Ghosts travel. They have a dual quality: fixed, yet wandering, like planets that wobble uneasily in their orbits. They do not stray far from places associated with death: they throng, invisibly, the forests of the small outer islands where slaves were quarantined and young men imprisoned; they dwell in each forgotten mocambo on the mountaintop. And yet they often go – and seem compelled to go – among the living. The road to the airport, which passes the cemetery at Mont Fleuri (stuffed, almost to bursting, with bodies from every family on the island) is a particularly popular route. These lost souls are usually unknown to those who encounter them, not recognisable as a family member or an old friend – an oddity, on an island that is home to fewer than a hundred thousand inhabitants. They do not pass by politely, as anyone would on the street, with a smile and a nod of the head; they call out your name in a piercing voice, pursue you through the dark, and try to catch you. “Why,” I asked Liliane, “does a ghost call your name? How do they know it?” She thought hard about this. Then she said, as though she were unsure, “Maybe because someone sent them?” * Some ghosts do not wander very far at all, preferring to pace the perimeter of their former habitations. The ghosts of the old white elite, the grann blan, haunt each plantation house, their presence experienced by tourists as the sudden onset of gooseflesh on an otherwise suffocating afternoon, or the weeping of a baby late at night. The dead Dauban family still dwell in splendour on the island of Silhouette, and guests at the Hilton resort sometimes enquire about a woman in a white dress who crosses the moonlit lawn. Tourists, who will nod and smile at a guide as he shows them a plantation bell, and a ruined outbuilding, and a baobab, are touched and frightened by the thought of these white people being confined to their palatial homes for the rest of eternity. * Gordon was no longer slim and wiry and Chinese, but had become broad-shouldered and white (like many Seychellois, he had some grann blan heritage in the mix). After work, in the
evenings, he would bundle the family into the car and drive us “around.” He would take us down one hill, up another. We would “pass by” the houses of friends and family, stopping to chat and sometimes to drink, or park outside laboutik and purchase refreshments. One night, as we drove down the hill towards Union Vale, Gordon smiled. We passed an old building, floodlit against the dark vegetation, and he said, “You know, this used to be the archives. It’s haunted. The old man who built it, he didn’t want to leave. He walks around at night.” The building, built in the 1930s by a wealthy white planter named Ange Pillieron who died shortly after its completion, is known as La Bastille. The only official explanation given for this peculiar name is the fact that it would have been considered “large and imposing” at the time of its construction (Mathiot 2016). It is said to have an “extensive cellar and basement” (ibid.), a design feature associated in island ghost stories with the covert mistreatment of black subordinates by white masters (though this, like so much of history, is innuendo). From the 1960s onwards it was occupied by various government ministries. The islands were at that time imperial possessions of the British, and legislative power was in the hands of the inheritors of the plantocracy, the grann blan class. In the 1970s there was an era of sudden, wrenching change: independence from Britain in 1976, followed swiftly by a coup d’état in 1977 that sent many of the old elite into flight and exile. The new ruling party (hence the only ruling party) began a programme of cultural revival and African socialist reform. In 1981, La Bastille became the site of the National Archives. In 1994, the archives were moved to the new National Cultural Centre in Victoria, and the National Heritage division of the Ministry of Culture took up residence at the old house. The ghost stories continued, but Pillieron was not the only persistent non-human presence; by the time I arrived, the National Heritage division had also been moved to the National Cultural Centre, with the explanation that La Bastille had been full of toxic mould.
Letan i’n sanze
The season began to change, and I went to live with Uncle Marc in a social housing estate on reclaimed land, a locale that was almost the opposite of Gordon’s place in the hills. Often the clouds that formed over the mountains expended themselves long before they reached the old shoreline; on the new land, casuarinas grew raggedly among the gravel, the ground was dusty,
and the heat profound. Every day for a week, I boarded the bus to town (where the rain refused to release its hold on the season), crossing the bridge that separate the fabricated and the real, the dry and the wet. I got off at a small community centre, where I struggled to hear my instructors over the pounding of the rain on the tin roof. Two artisans were teaching a small group how to construct a moutya drum: first they would soak the wood for the frame and then, when it was pliant, bend it into a hoop; goat skin, shaved and soaked, would be stretched across this frame and bound tightly to it. The large, flattish drum required tuning before each use - it would have to be warmed by the fireside. In the past, moutya was always performed at night, in wild places, by the light of a fire.
Everyone was in a thoroughly terrible mood. There were not enough participants in attendance, and the drum itself kept going wrong. The artisans claimed that the materials provided were poor quality and, in frustration, insisted that they could retrieve what they needed from storage at La Bastille. I went along, as did one of the other attendees, a middle-aged man named Joseph. In daylight, the building appeared far less forbidding than I had expected, its yellow exterior positively cheerful, no sign of rot or mould or ghosts. As we parked, a security guard with one very swollen leg limped down the front steps and told us we were under no circumstances to enter the building. The artisans disappeared into a mass of bric-a-brac stacked under the covered way. Joseph said, â&#x20AC;&#x153;Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a shame this old building cannot be used.â&#x20AC;? He explained that it was important for Seychellois to have contact with their history. Through the archives they were able to carry 55
out genealogical research, an important component of claiming citizenship, resurrecting old land disputes, and preserving a psychological connection to the Creole past. He added – perhaps because he knew that I knew, perhaps in case I was unaware – “But it’s closed because of the fungus.” I asked if there was no way the building and affected items could be treated. Joseph replied that a team of French “experts” (including a biologist and chemist) had inspected the building and had failed to find anything out of the ordinary as far as micro-organisms were concerned. He seemed to find this funny. That left an alternative explanation: perhaps the standard issue yellow paint had been purchased cheaply, and was releasing fumes. Certainly, the effects were profound. Those who had worked at La Bastille experienced respiratory difficulties, hair loss, horrible rashes (“like burns”) on the skin, and painful inflammation of the limbs. Months after their exposure to this invisible pollution, they were still unable to work. “But then,” he said, “perhaps there’s a bit of mass hysteria too.” How fortunate, then, that the archives had been moved to a new building devoid of both microorganisms and historical associations.
“Sick building syndrome”, characterised by the kinds of symptoms experienced by National Heritage employees, is said to occur all over the world. A particular building, a specific structure among many other similar structures, suddenly becomes toxic to those who inhabit or use it. Those who write about it are clear that it is not the building itself which is sick – insist, in fact, that a building cannot be sick (Murphy 2006)– but that it is simply a locus for various forces which combine to produce episodes of unease and disease. These factors obey a scientific logic: in theory, they can be measured and monitored, though realistically some variable may always lie unaccounted for and out of reach. Manmade structures, in this model, appear to contain a dense, invisible tapestry of criss-crossing movements: air currents, light, dark, jets of heat and coolness, beads of moisture, the slow drying-out caused by air con, insects, microbial and bacterial life. Moulds and spores are quite often woven into this tapestry, for they are nothing if not mobile; they are virtually always present, to some degree, in any environment. The fact that La Bastille was so old, combined with the dampness of the climate, made it the perfect breeding ground for mould.
Nonetheless, the connection between wet conditions, fungal life and ill-health is not uncontroversial, and a straightforward causal relationship between moulds and respiratory difficulties is hard to prove (Mendel et al 2011). Throughout the course of a day, the amount of fungal activity in a room may wax and wane, making its influence hard to pinpoint. When there is no visible sign of mould, it is unlikely to be judged the culprit for whatever ails humans. But as soon as evidence of appears, the near-imperceptible, constant presence of fungi becomes frightening. Fungi have uncanny qualities, aspects of both the vegetable and the animal. Through mycelial networks, they can connect with one another across vast distances. They enter into mutually beneficial relationships with trees, penetrating their very roots and becoming interdependent with them in a process known as mycorrhiza. In plantation societies, fungi both constrained the scale of sugar cane cultivation and fermented sugar into profitable rum – this latter process enabling the expansion of the plantation system and with it the trade in enslaved Africans (Tsing 2012:149). The plantation as it is now understood – as an institution that reshaped relations between people and things, giving rise to the current Anthropocene era – could not have existed without the silent, obliging presence of these beings. The roots of the plantation system were in the archive. This was the space where the racial taxonomies and power structures of the colony were laid bare and maintained, tinkered with, and refined (Stoler 2002). To create the plantation, both trees and people were uprooted, transplanted, reproduced, cultivated; the archive was not only a record of these processes, but a physical manifestation of their continued salience. Had this archival root been compromised? Did something grow in the shade of the family tree? * In May, I moved to my late grandmother’s house. She had passed away several months before my visit to Seychelles, and since my arrival I had wanted badly to spend some time there, among her things, as though I could know her better by doing do. My uncles had warned me that it would be a difficult place to live, because there was “nothing there”, but I did not understand what they meant by this. I had visited the house during the rainy season, and had found it full of trinkets and decorations: the sideboard, like Liliane’s, laden with china ornaments and raffia baskets; prayer cards pinned to the wall; above the door, a clock bearing the image of the President of Seychelles kissing the hand of the Pope.
But that was during the wet monsoon. During the dry monsoon, I arrived to find the house had been emptied of all these things. There was no trace of my grandmother.
Then in July, at the height of the dry season, I went with a group of visual artists to the National Cultural Centre, which housed not only the National Archives and the Heritage Division, but the National Gallery, the National Library, the staff of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, and the Electoral Commission. It was Friday. The artists had participated in a weeklong series of workshops on conceptual art – neglected, in Seychelles, in favour of straightforwardly representational paintings and sculptures. The culmination of this week of was the installation of several pieces around the NCC. In addition to their unfamiliar form – deliberate ugliness, incompleteness, the use of found objects – many of these pieces dealt with ‘difficult’ themes such as substance abuse, domestic violence, political strife. Seychellois, seeking to make the islands attractive to visitors and to themselves, do not typically draw attention to these aspects of social life, except to make mischief. Consequently, as the public attempted an engagement with these works, rumours began to circulate on social media that the art objects and installations were enchanted, that they were acts of grigri (black magic). It happened that on Friday, every week, supporters of the opposition party gathered outside the NCC to call for the resignation of the Electoral Commissioner and protest a government that they regarded as intolerant.
In front of the NCC, there was an installation (entitled “SX3”) that dealt with the persistence of slavery in the modern era. Trafficked women were represented by white sacks, filled with sand, upright yet slumped, bound with and linked by ropes. The life-size figure of an overseer, blackly bandaged, mummy-like, was posed on a bench beside the women. The artists – Nigel Henri, Philip Volcére and Robert Alexis – explained to me that the white colour of the ‘women’ signified purity, while the black of the ‘overseer’ represented evil.
The protestors waited until one o’clock to begin, the better to attract the attention of anyone taking a lunch break. As they sat patiently with placards at their feet, a man in the black habit of a priest or pastor approached and began to rebuke them loudly, waving his arms wildly. We stood, eating our lunches of grilled fish and rice and chutney, watching the tableau. The pastor retreated, disgusted with his opponents – then, just as swiftly, circled back to abuse them all over again. This continued for a while, the laughter of the protestors drawing him back to repeat his scolding, his retreat, his return, each cycle more absurd than the last. At one, the protest began in earnest. Among the ranks of the forty or so opposition supporters, there were light-skinned and European-looking people who could quite plausibly have claimed descent from the great planter families. Yet there were plenty of dark-skinned, light brown, Afro- or Indo- or Sino-Seychellois too. This was the dirty secret that everyone knew, hidden
in plain sight: the very processes that had divided Seychellois for centuries had also mixed them so thoroughly that it was never a simple matter to distinguish one side from the other. The protestors played music loudly, sang, chanted. Some passers-by sang joined in. One middle-aged man, wearing a neat button-down shirt and shorts, began to make a speech through a megaphone. I could not follow everything he said in Kreol, and my attention wandered, until the artists began to make sounds of derision and irritation. I asked Joseph, standing beside me, what was happening. “He said this,” Joseph pointed to the installation, “is grigri. He says the artists have done this for the government, they have used grigri.” “For what?” “They say we want to make them slaves,” Joseph said, pointing to the protesters, his eyes bright with anger. “They say the government has told the artists to use grigri, to make them” (these white people, I surmised. These descendants of the plantocracy) “slaves.”
* Mass hysteria spreads as rapidly as mould does, but this contagion is not predicated on an environmental imbalance so much as a problem within people and their relationships. They are too close to one another, identify with one another too much, fail to perceive the important
boundary between this mind and that mind, this body and that body. No one made this explicit to me; the truth dawned very gradually. I had been holding La Bastille and the NCC apart in my mind, but just as a bad thought or a secret wish might travel from one person to another in the form of gossip, the mould had long ago travelled from La Bastille to the NCC. The very story of the mould collapsed the geographical distance between the two places, for it was always said to be “the archives” that were making people sick – those who told me this never located the phenomenon in one building rather than the other. I had created the geographical distance myself, imagining that the NCC, as a modern building, was clean, while La Bastille was dirty. The NCC has never been the domicile of anything but culture, and unlike La Bastille was never intended to be a home. No ghosts walk its corridors by night. Still, somehow the mould was there and was still making people sick. The widely-circulated explanation that the archive materials themselves were suffused with fungus from La Bastille contradicted the French experts, who found no evidence that this was the case (Seychelles News Agency 2016). The experts declared the use of UV light and ozone treatments unnecessary, but Seychellois continued to use them, a course of action that gave rise to a theory that these methods were themselves highly toxic and the likely cause of symptoms (Today in Seychelles 2014). The worst-afflicted employees have now been on leave (and thus not physically present at the NCC or La Bastille) for several years, and continue to report the same symptoms, which have neither worsened nor abated over time. Employees in other parts of the building have begun to complain of the same symptoms and the archives, partially re-opened in September 2016, are likely to be closed again. * I told Liliane that I admired her home. We were sitting in the garden, preparing food – a job that must always be done at the boundaries of the house, for the sake of cleanliness. Many people had told me that in the old days, women carried out all the tasks inside the house – sweeping, dusting, laundry – because these tasks were clean. Men were dispatched to the yard to chop wood, clean and gut fish, feed the dogs. Men were tasked with these outdoor things, these dirty things.
“You like it?” she said, with a smile. “You know, people have told me that it has been too long since Mummy died, and I need to put her things away. I shouldn’t keep them like they were when she was alive.” “Why?” I asked. I had an inkling of what the answer would be. The day was hot, but the hair prickled on my arms. Liliane ducked her head. She was sitting astride a wooden bench with a serrated blade affixed to one end, grating coconut into a bowl between her feet. Her movements were swift and assured. “It has been six years,” she said, “since Mummy passed away. And they say it’s bad luck, you know, to keep the dead person’s things in the house. I port mofin, it brings bad luck. But after all, she was my mother, and I loved her, and it’s my house!”
There is another kind of time, unlike the wet time or the dry time or the time in between when the change occurs (i’n sanze). There is the time of a cyclone, a self-contained time within which a huge force arises, hurtles across the ocean, and eventually dies out. The cyclone is even further removed from humans than mould; fungi, at least, take an interest in human affairs.
When cyclone Fantala struck, disrupting the dry season with its violent showers, my bed broke. I had been trying to ignore the fact that it was going to break, steadily shifting my weight to one side of the wooden board, then to the very edge, then to one of my own buttocks. Finally, in the middle of the night, it gave way. I collected myself and went to sleep on the sofa in the living room. The slats of the windows were closed, but the wind permeated the house completely. It lifted the curtains, causing them to stream like banners. For a few hours, there was no barrier between inside and outside at all; only the soughing of the air, and its touch on my hair and nightgown. References Durup, J. 2014. Ozone treatment: dangerous and senseless. Today in Seychelles. Retrieved 24/04/17, from https://www.facebook.com/todayinsey/posts/721972881173858/ Mabrook, J., & Bonnelame, B. 2016. French team working to ferret out Seychelles archivesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; fungus. Seychelles News Agency. Retrieved 24/04/17, from http://www.seychellesnewsagency.com/articles/4512/French+team+working+to+ferret+out+ Seychelles+archives+fungus/ Mathiot, T. 2016. The National Monuments of Seychelles. Retrieved 24/04/17, from http://www.pfsr.org/history-of-seychelles/the-national-monuments-ofseychelles/ Mendell, M. J., Mirer, A. G., Cheung, K., Tong, M., & Douwes, J. 2011. Respiratory and allergic health effects of dampness, mold, and dampness-related agents: a review of the epidemiologic evidence. Environmental Health Perspectives, 119(6), pp.748-756 Murphy, M. 2006. Sick building syndrome and the problem of uncertainty: Environmental politics, technoscience, and women workers. Durham and London: Duke University Press Stoler, A. L. 2002. Colonial archives and the arts of governance. Archival science, 2(12), pp.87-109 Tsing, A. 2012. Unruly Edges: Mushrooms as Companion Species for Donna Haraway. Environmental Humanities, 1(1), pp.141-154
Exports by Angela Sherlock Westport There’s not much poetry in potatoes. Even less when they rot and turn black. It was the English, of course, who called our style of planting ‘lazy beds’. You can still see them, snaking up the hillsides, the pattern of the ridges etched into the land; but now it is only grass that flourishes where we heaped up kelp and sea shells to feed the soil. That was the year they call Black ’47. Mary was born 100 years later. Rode on the back of her uncle’s motorbike, in her mother’s belly, before ever she got out into the wide world. How the vibrations must have travelled through Kathleen’s body, her thighs clenched against the metal, her breasts pressed up against her brother-in-law, and the tremors shaking her uterus. Quite an exciting start, I suppose, and suggestive of much more excitement to come. Which it didn’t, I’m afraid, or at least not for a good many years. The house in which she was born was in a slum, one of the poorest parts of the city. Kathleen had come over to England to stop Sean carrying on with another woman, so he had to carry on with his wife instead. Mary was born, therefore, out of retribution and guilt, not love at all, which cancels out the glamour of that pre-natal motorbike ride. Makes her a sort of penance, doesn’t it? The London of her childhood was a grey and shattered place. On bus rides into the city, Kathleen would have to climb the stairs to the top deck, clutching her shopping, the handrail and the little ones, so that the children could look out and down upon their world. Bomb sites gaped, the ragged sides of houses sliced open, their walls and roofs tumbled into jagged heaps. These ruins were left for so long that the children thought them part of a normal city landscape. When Sean moved the family out to Essex, their new places to play were abandoned gun sites at the edges of the fields, and Anderson shelters which their stories turned into dungeons. He would take them for spins in the car across deserted airstrips where grasses were beginning to reassert 64
themselves in the broken slabs. But that 100 years is important. For if Sean and Kathleen had lived a century earlier it is likely that none of them would have survived. Or they might have been American. Limerick Think of it, now. More than three million quarters of corn. That’s over 24 million bushels. And those four thousand ships, carrying peas and beans, rabbits, salmon and honey. Think of the poetry of it. Four thousand ships laden with salmon and honey. Kathleen’s father had fine moustaches that tickled her when he kissed her goodnight, and a nice wave to his hair. She danced her childhood through his fields, and in the streams and mountains of her homeland. So her heart never could embrace that grim city. She would bundle the family back some summers, the long roads winding through the Welsh mountains, the night crossing and the seasickness. But they began to be too many and the younger ones knew little of Ireland except in stories. ‘But if it was so lovely,’ you ask, ‘why did they ever leave? And why did they never go back there to live if it was such a paradise?’ Kilrush T’wasn’t only the people that left. The ships were crammed with livestock – with sheep and swine, oxen; horses and ponies, cattle. Think of the comedy of it, coaxing the terrified horses up the gangplank. All those sheep milling about on the quay, the dockers turned shepherds in case they tumbled themselves into the water. A regular Noah’s Ark tossed across the Irish Sea. I was telling you about the father, the one with the moustaches. Now he did come back, transformed into an American in the meantime, but he did come home. It was hunger and disappointment that had driven him away. Not the Great Hunger. That came earlier. No, just the 65
regular hunger of poverty and oppression and stolen land. You will be wondering who it was who killed his father. Well, uniforms do not go down well with the Irish, so maybe that was enough. But then, what was it killed his grandfather? And where was the rest of his father’s family? It is back there, at the beginning of that hundred years, that we would find them. But, trust me, that is not a time where you would want to be. Ballyshannon And there was corn and alcohol distilled from grain. And butter – great golden tubs of it stacked in the holds. Why, they even loaded potatoes on board. Now, all things considered, that’s a fine sort of irony. So many good things to eat and to drink. Fair makes your mouth water. But we are heading in the wrong direction. There are the neighbours to meet and the priest. There’s the solicitor and the farmers. If you stepped into any of their homes there would be a welcome. Tea would be brewed, in all likelihood stronger than you care for it, but you cannot say so, as the thick dark liquid streams from the spout; and great plates of bread – dark rounds of malt loaf and the flour-dusted discs of soda bread. There will be a scrambling in the kitchen and the women of the house emerging with dishes of bacon and cabbage, mounds of potatoes decked with a slide of melting butter and a glitter of salt. And afterwards, when you are trying to ease your belt a little to give your belly a bit more room, there will be the offer of that alcohol, grain distilled. No point in refusing, the glass will be handed to you anyway. It goes down smooth and hot and you don’t refuse the second, so that the next morning you will be lying in bed wondering how many you had and why does your head hurt so. Perhaps it is to drive out the memory of that hunger that they give you so much to eat and to drink. Killala Some died on the ships to America. But the ones to Canada, dear God, they were worse. Coffin 66
ships that bore twenty thousand corpses. Twenty thousand stinking, dying Irish, fevered and starving and pestilent. So, going forwards again. How they spread out. Some went to Australia and others worked in America. If the women married they tended to stay, to die there. But some of the old men, single, childless, made the mistake of coming home to a land where they did not fit anymore. Mary, she who rode a motorbike before she was born, drifted from London out to Essex and you’d think she was the dullest of the lot, but appearances can be deceptive. Imagine, now, if she became a ballroom dancer, winning trophies with her young partners when she was in her sixties, scandalizing her sisters. They had their adventures, too, wandering around Europe and Africa, cutting loose from their religion, one of them even getting divorced. But their mother, Kathleen, rarely stirred abroad. She had moved from one country to another and that was enough, except for the occasional pilgrimage to Lourdes. The younger generation would go back an odd time – to the farm with its little mountain and its lake; to the cousins by the fjord at Leenane; to weddings in Dublin. Usually, news of funerals came too late so they missed those. A shame, for there’s nothing like a good Irish funeral. Sean went back for his mother’s, of course, but he had turned into a Londoner now, almost an Englishman, with the faintest of accents and an odd beard, long and bushy but no moustache Could he have been someone else if they’d stayed at home? There’s promise in that photograph. A tall, well-made man, just out of his youth, with a hint of gangliness left in the dip of his head and the sheepish smile. The sleeves of his jacket are too short and the bones of his wrists stick out. Kathleen stopped liking him after that business with the other woman, which must have left him lonely. And as the children grew they went from loving him unconditionally as their daddy, tall and loud and funny, to a mild contempt for the old man. 67
Dingle Emigration, eviction, starvation. The imported maize made them sicken. And the corn was unfit for human consumption. Public works were instituted so that the dying could earn their keep. They were set to build roads that went nowhere. That came from nowhere. You will not find them on maps, these famine roads, but if you search, you may find their traces. Part the rose bay willow herb. Lift aside the travellersâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; joy, the old manâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s beard. While you are gathering sloes or blackberries, mind out for the thorns, but remember to look under the brambles. And while they were digging and starving and dying, bodies lying by the road side, swollen and ripening for the grave, those ships set sail for England, their holds full of the goodness of the land. Salmon and honey and corn and butter and livestock. Paradiso. Diaspora
Six attempts to catch a river by Claire Dean 1.Conversation 06 December 2016 21:35
All week I'd been thinking I'd start talking to you on the 5th. I felt the anniversary coming in the frost and dark mornings, the first Christmas cards arriving, the high rush of water in mid-November, but when it came to it the day passed and I forgot. In fact, I only noticed you once. Still and calm, reflecting the bridge in perfect ovals as I rushed out the door to pick the kids up from school. You won't have remembered either. 07 December 2016 07:19
You are a mirror of last night's self, as though you hadn't shifted and swollen with an early hoursâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; tide, as though you are always the same thing. 08 December 2016 08:28
I was half-running for the bus, the pavement was being overwhelmed with rain and a gut-tug pulled my eyes up (half holding breath, half not wanting to look) to see where you were. 11 December 2016 09:13
I opened the curtains to find you are incoming tide. Long liquid waves. There is another life to you, lived the other way round. Bringing the space and salt and sky of the bay up between the stone city walls. 13 December 2016 18:51
Do you remember falling? Is that memory part of what pulls you along, still falling, always falling, always reaching for the next place. 17 December 2016 09:41
This morning you are mist. A river in the air. The tops of trees float and everything else is gone. 21 December 2016 12:52
You look carved out today. Was it the hail or the swirl of gulls that took you away? 24 December 2016 09:04
You are swing and seesaw, wind-tipped waves. You left your shadow on the wall in the night, showing how tall you were, how close to reaching over the wall. 69
2. Containment I put the river under my pillow so I would know where it was all through the night, but it wouldn’t stay still; I dreamt of the sea. I put it in an empty milk bottle in the fridge, but it sneaked out and flooded the vegetable drawer. I took it to a café and asked for an extra cup. On the table it behaved, but when I tried to leave it spilled out all over the floor. I kept it in a Sainsbury’s bag for a week (one of the thick 10p ones) but in the end it began to leak. I told it to be still and quiet and if it was I’d let it play out in the yard after tea, but it ran out into the road as soon as my back was turned. It wasn’t allowed to touch my books, but I found its fingerprints at the edges of pages and there was damp in their spines. Its friends were silt, empty cans, twigs and dead birds. I didn’t really want those things coming round to play. It left mess in every room. In the end I left it to build up, until one day I realised the house was a riverbank and my life had washed away. 3. Dream diary The river dreams it has skin The river dreams of bridges pinning it down. The river dreams of flight. In the morning there are strange nests along the banks made of tattered plastic and reeds. The birds stay away; they didn't make them. The river dreams it can breathe. The river dreams of your living room carpet and the taste of cake crumbs from the carpet and the books you've left on a low enough shelf for it to read. 4. Definition Gap
The space between story and life. The time it takes for an event to become a material you can work with. The distance between the river and the door.
6. Afterwords It took me two years to write a story about the river, about the way it can slip into the house uninvited, furring the walls and your childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s lungs, leaving a trail of tidewrack to remind you that it will be coming back. In June, I made a home for the story from water-soluble paper and left it out in the yard in the rain. It felt better not to pretend a book could hold on to it. The text took longer to leave than I thought it would. Words became unmoored as the surface swelled. The story moved from squamulose to shrivelled over days, disembodying letters and leaving glutinous ink shadows to fade in the sun. Grit, pollen, seeds, light, a dead fly, and strands of my hair all became trapped as fibres tautened. Sense tumbled and flaked away. I loved seeing how the words twisted and squirmed; we are so used to the lie of them being still on a page. It is September now and the last scraps of the story are still holding on to the stones.
The Pyramid Robert Boucheron The pyramid takes its shape from the rays of the sun as they pierce a cloud. Sheathed in white limestone and capped with gold, the pyramid is a mountain sacred to the sun. As a royal tomb, the pyramid enables the king to ascend to the sun. Seated among the gods, he will say: â&#x20AC;&#x153;I have trodden thy rays as a ramp under my feet.â&#x20AC;? When choosing a site for the pyramid, consider these things. It must be west of the Nile, toward the setting sun. It must stand well above the level of the river at the inundation, but not too far from the west bank. The stone used to build the pyramid, the mortuary temple, the wall, and lesser structures will be brought by ship from quarries upstream. The bedrock must be uniform, free from intrusions, and not liable to crack. The site must be near a capital, Memphis or Thebes, and preferably close to a royal palace. The king will visit yearly during construction. Attended by a throng of family, priests, and government officials, his final journey from home should be brief. Each side of the pyramid exactly faces a cardinal direction. To find east and west, mark sunrise and sunset at the equinoxes, spring and autumn. The dates must be certain, and the sighting must be at the center of the disc of the sun. To find north, sight the Pole Star, which never moves, and project this point in a straight line down to earth. The line between this point and the observer runs north. Another method is to observe the rising and setting of a star near the Pole Star, in the group called the Bear or the Deathless Ones. Construct an artificial horizon of brick, a circular wall of which the top is level and higher than anything seen beyond. Stand at the center of the circle, mark the points of rising and setting, project them down to earth, and draw lines from these points to the center of the circle. Bisect the angle drawn, and this line is north. Remove the surface layer of sand and gravel. The pyramid must stand on a firm foundation. To level the bedrock, build a dam around the perimeter, fill the enclosure with water, and cut 75
a grid of trenches in the rock. The bottom of each trench is the same depth below the surface of the water. Drain the water, and cut down the squares that remain. Use the rubble removed to build the causeway to the river or fill low spots. A mound of rock may be left in the middle to reduce the stone needed to build the pyramid. To lay out a perfect square, do not measure with cords made of palm fiber or flax fiber, as these change length with heat and wetness, stretch under tension, and sag over long dimensions. Use metal rods or a chain pulled taut. The two diagonals of the square must be equal to obtain four right angles. If a mound of rock is left in the middle, it will be impossible to measure the two diagonals. Extend the sidelines an equal length at opposite corners. Calculate the stone needed to build the pyramid. Order the stone from the quarries. The lowest course and the largest in area is red granite from Aswan. The bulk is ordinary limestone in rough blocks from any suitable source near the site. The facing is white limestone from Tura, with a fine grain and no fossils. Use slabs of granite to line underground corridors and chambers. Use slabs of limestone to line the mortuary temple and causeway walls. Note the area of walls to be carved in relief, inscribed with hieroglyphs, and painted. Alabaster may be used for ceilings, as it takes a high polish and reflects light. Columns, capitals, bases, and statues have special color and grain. The sculptor must order them and visit the quarry to choose the blocks. Calculate the men needed to cut the stone, ship it by river, haul it to the site, lift it, set it in place, and so on. Divide these men into teams from provinces and villages. Draw up a calendar for the construction. The masons work year round, but haulers during the inundation, when the fields are idle and labor is cheap. Calculate the years needed to complete the pyramid. If this number exceeds the lifespan of the king, the pyramid may be left unfinished, or the work may be hurried, or the structure may be of inferior quality. Advise the king and adjust the design. In former ages, the burial chamber of the king was cut deep in the bedrock, directly under the cap of the pyramid, reached by a shaft. Changes in the size of the sarcophagus, the 76
arrangement of furniture, and the lavishness of grave goods have led to other designs. The chamber may be built in the heart of the pyramid. A treasury annex is useful. A shaft at an angle from the burial chamber to view Orion is desirable. The entrance must be on the north face, elevated from the ground, and sealed with a casing block identical to the others. Whatever design is adopted, build the hidden spaces as the courses rise, to avoid the cost of tunneling afterward. Vary the teams for secrecy. To haul stone blocks from the river, build the causeway of mud brick and stone rubble, wide enough for a team of four abreast, or ten cubits, with wood skids laid on the surface. Sprinkle the skids with water to make them slick for the sledge. A team can pull up to four tons. Some blocks weigh more. To lift the blocks on the pyramid, build the ramp in the same way, at a slope of no more than one cubit in ten, and enlarge the ramp as the courses rise. Determine the final location of each block while still on the ground, and paint its number on it in red. Where construction is under way and room to maneuver is tight, use jacks and levers to move the blocks into position. Hidden faces may be left rough, but remove the bosses left at the quarry. Mortar must be fresh daily, and joints must be thin, at most a finger. Install the facing blocks in reverse order, from the top down, starting with the capstone, and demolish the ramp as the work proceeds. Cover the capstone with pure gold. Use a scaffolding of poles lashed and braced diagonally to support the masons as they dress the exposed face. Clear all stone chips and debris from the base of the pyramid and dump them well away from the site. Build the mortuary temple, the wall, lesser structures, and the walls along the causeway. Install the statues of the gods and the king. At all stages of the work, inspect the site in person, and write reports to the king. At all stages of the work, allow the priests to enter and perform the rites. At the end, if all the work is good, inform the king and sign your name on the pyramid. The gods will give it life.
traipse by Jonathan Catherall vaudrouille (f) erreur ou rebus? abuse boozing in its boots whose no knots knows no s’ s e pa is sent
traipse: error or rebus? abus qui a bu dans ses sabots qui ne s aurait steps thicken which ne key in ear steps slacken and heel in ear rat steps wax in urban arabesques lapse ignore rattrape through redbrick backstreets back of houses clutch of cow parsley chicken wire gnawed at and fags at the crumbling camber motorway turn off s lip road into no mad’s land inner ear gnaw rat er r at a l’ère de Lumières sunlight polarity aléatoire I precis e yes my in divid ret retry my itty in deviously duel v I the ret r at trait the ox and ass scarred carried to the ark the ret récit short out circuit ous
ignorait from A to B dont les pas s’épuisent
catch up stochasme et cetera et lettre c l’être c’est cement hoppers along the Seine dust eating the sunlight which does not come back we found ourselves caught lost in the Year of the Rat travelling l’ère rat épais therapy poor trait portrait in Erebus the body’s bars cerebrate the st a r r e t istique where la beauté hides its o kay or quai, its lac k ey
in arterial Paris a man spoke to me
down by the re ve r s id e a I rest my case stasis rat trap forked tongue in asp ic
An Episode of Dysphasia in a Balinese Restaurant, on Honeymoon. Sculpted from Don DeLillo’s Falling Man Pages numbers – 10:28 09/11/20 01 by Luke Palmer Scattered still-lifes on the north wall That was something held a couldnotname irregular and obscure Ominous even Latent meanings in the wind asking questions Digging curious about the wrong things my things The thing wasn’t just the thing you did This isn’t the time Unspeakably
Think about that
* Her halting response Failings issued beginning to slide away inverted lost struggling into runoff Missing An intimacy of missing and closed eyes before it all closed down idea thought character and author Embellish with phrases Seize the auditory *
When this happened I thought he’s dead looked at What was unfailing Unfailing in its grip on identity Of course I went looking for it Wanted a certain thing Did I want you there
alive The case at heart is a beautiful and sensitive child But otherwise * Tell me this What is unspeakably more Figurative or abstract * The situation attention coverage all soon fade That’s good Still here sat in the lounge near the waterfall hotel slippers and ashtray like a forbidden religion And our old game Back then I don’t think it was you There were isolated incidents * A glass-marbled light A Breakfast Special sign Things distant and still He was everywhere
Dying Falls for Three Possible Fathers
from Robert McCrumâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s The Fabulous Englishman Luke Palmer
offering encouragement, led a sheltered existence, stitched a seamless garment, could trust his words, borrowed nothing, this is an in-house job,
I have tried to be frank, one important omission, despite prodigious efforts, if he should read, in some hotel bedroom,
I hope he will agree, now begin,
a more or less faithful account, surprise, reproduce
warts and all. *
A bookshop in Praha,
he felt proud,
his returned letter in his pocket, his anxiety about Helen, his hopes that the children, the disappointment, the afternoon fading, the seabirds, the boat, against the hard horizon, past the prow, he could see the waterfront, the refineries burning, he looked at his watch, took the envelope out of his wallet, he missed the train, the mystery, the romance, out of the window,
he strode anxiously up and down the deck, his head thrust forward, calculating the water, the deck cabins, the child looking through a key-hole, watching soft-porn, all those years, the collective hallucinations, he walked on, level with the sea-front, the calm waters of the harbour, he went below. * I might have guessed, before the war,
was going to ask about everything, it was a flying accident,
on the repertory circuit in Coventry, he met my mother, was married at the time, it was a great romance, greatly disapproved of my family his divorce came through, two years later, he was killed, I can look quite tragic when I need to, mother gave me his ring, â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Thank youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; I said, his hopes were dashed, he got up and disappeared, I found myself thinking, she could have made peace, she devoted herself to my education, I think about the sacrifice, there have been compensations, her triumph, how I hoped, there was less than expected, she was able to retire, to enjoy some leisure, I imagine her making plans, a little trip abroad,
giving an illustrated talk.
PRISONER MICROPROETRY GERARD SARNAT
1. LOBBYISTS AND POLITICIANS AND DRUG-SELLING PHYSICIANS LIKE ME HAVE ONE KIND OF REVOLVING DOOR Boring, frustrating, crazy making as spending about the last nine months sitting pregnant in LA commuter traffic -- that’s how it feels most every day accomplishing nothing back here in Lompoc’s minimum-security prison. 2. (TEMPORARILY) EX-CONS PERMANENTLY OF COLOR HAVE ANOTHER When out on spring probation, I can’t get dishwasher jobs since I never have been able to pass employer background checks & then they must think my rehab should not be trusted with no pots or pans.
3. CAUTIONARY TALE I LEARNED ON SUMMER JAIL BREAK A half clever internist who cut too many corners, after doing hard time, I took care of my zaftig wife after surgery that removed half her stomach. Though what I used to “earn” as was fifteen times an RN’s salary, this particular wife’s more touched by her husband’s unexpectedly kind nursing.
4. 5 AM Equanimity Practice Haiku Hundreds of hungry inmates line up for fixes -- a pressure cooker.
5. Coincidencia Haiku Is it by chance hombres who've asked, "Tu marriage monogamous?" son
T. Person Well, I’ll just go fuck myself then
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Acceleration Brian Baker
Evolution Reflection Ascension Home A circular motor race The flag The course The laps The Sensual Now Autobahn of Light Speed Armada Closed Circuit Conviction Occupation Union Infernal Machine
Brian Baker is a Senior Lecturer in English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University. He works on science fiction, masculinities and post-war British and American fiction, having published monographs on Masculinities in Fiction and Film 1945-2000 (2006), Iain Sinclair (2007), Contemporary Masculinities in fiction, film and tv (2015) and also The Reader's Guide to Essential Criticism in Science Fiction (2014). He is currently working on a collaborative film project, on a book which revisits and remixes 1960s experimental science fiction, and on the relation between sound, music, narrative and contemporary subjectivity.
Robert Boucheron grew up in Syracuse and Schenectady, New York. From 1978 to 2016, he worked as an architect in New York City and Charlottesville, Virginia. His short stories and essays appear in Fiction International, London Journal of Fiction, New Haven Review, Poydras Review, The Short Story, and other magazines. robertboucheron.com
Jonathan Catherall has published work in Blackbox Manifold, Datableed, 3AM, Tears in the Fence, Molly Bloom, Envoi and others. He has reviewed for a range of publications, and edits the quarterly online magazine Tentacular www.tentacularmag.com.
Tim Cooke is a teacher and freelance journalist. He writes about film, literature and place for various publications, including the Guardian, Little White Lies, the Quietus, Ernest Journal, the Nightwatchman and the Hackney Citizen. His creative work has appeared in Elsewhere Journal, The Shadow Booth, the Lampeter Review, Storgy, Litro, Drain Magazine and The Mechanics Institute Review, among others. He is currently studying for a PhD in creative writing. You can follow him on Twitter @cooketim2
Claire Dean is a writer and researcher. Her current work explores material writing practice for making digital wonder tales. Claireâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s short stories are widely published and are included in The Best British Short Stories (Salt, 2017, 2014 & 2011), Thought X (Comma Press, 2017), Spindles (Comma Press, 2015) and Beta-Life (Comma Press, 2015). Bremen, The Unwish, Marionettes and Into the Penny Arcade are all published as limited-edition chapbooks by Nightjar Press. Claireâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s first collection, The Museum of Shadows and Reflections, was published by Unsettling Wonder in 2016. She lectures at Edge Hill University. http://www.clairedean.co.uk/ 106
David Evans studied philosophy and French at Oxford University and the École normale supérieure in Paris. His writing has appeared in various journals, and includes essays, translations and a retrospective of the life and work of a fictional artist.
Mairi O'Gorman is a PhD candidate in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. Her thesis, drawing on fieldwork carried out in London and Seychelles in 2015 and 2016, focuses on transnational créolité, intimacy and things that grow where they shouldn’t. http://arockyisland.wordpress.com
Stu Hennigan is a writer, poet, musician, librarian, teller of tall tales, spinner of yarns and compulsive nostalgic, particularly fascinated by time and memory, and the distortive symbiosis between the two. @Stu_Hennigan
Blair James is a PhD Researcher in Experimental Literature and Cognitive Science at University of Salford, with research interests in Genre, Consciousness, Memory, and Shakespeare. James is Co-Editor of The Manchester Review of Books and Assistant Editor of LUNE Journal. Mixing academic and creative practice, James wants to write for the open mind.
Tom Person is a creative writing student at University of Glasgow that finds pleasure in vivid inbetweens and crannies in the brain. They want to develop a mixture of genre and psychology and to extend the confusion of understanding what on earth is going on. Previously published journalism in Exberliner and Berlin logs.
Luke Palmer grew up in Dorset. He has been an English Teacher for 11 years and recently completed the Creative Writing MA programme at Bath Spa where his work focussed on the reimagining of the self following trauma. His poems have been published in various journals and he was an Agenda New Generation Poet in 2016. He lives with his young family in Wiltshire. @lcpalmerpoet
Stefan Nicolaou is an essayist living in London, UK. He runs writing workshops in the basement of a bookshop. He has previously been published in .Cent magazine, Kensington & Chelsea Review, Huck, Fringe Review and Gay Times. @pocketstefan ihatecommas.co.uk
Gerard Sarnat has won many prizes for his poetry, including the Poetry in the Arts First Place Award and the Dorfman Prize. Educated at Harvard and Stanford, Gerry has worked in jails, built and staffed clinics for the marginalized, been a CEO and Stanford Med professor. He has been arried for a half century, and has three children and four grandchildren, so far. gerardsarnat.com
Angela Sherlock’s Exports is the opening story in To know they dreamed, a collection of 16 interlinked stories which explore the Irish diaspora from the 1860s to the present day. Five of these have been published: Set Dance in New Short Stories, 5. Landscape with two figures, in Lighthouse, Issue 2. The Other Sister in Two Thirds North (Stockholm). Hangman in New Short Stories 7. Postman’s Knock in New Short Stories 8. Other work has appeared in Leaf Writers’ Magazine and on line in Staxtes Periodiko and in Litro. She is currently working on stories which take their themes from the periodic table.
James Varney is a writer and theatre maker based in Manchester. His writing has been published in Ambit, The Stage, The Real Story and Le Monde. His work in theatre has handled treason, witches, mental health, the DWP, and ghosts. He is currently working on Prince Gorge, a longform poem performed with a live band, in which Prince George of Cambridge grows up to become a Queer performance artist and cult leader. James writes cultural criticism at www.jamesvarney.uk @mrjvarney
LUNE 03: DISPLAY For LUNE 03 (Feb 2019) we are looking for submissions on the theme of DISPLAY. Whether it is the preening of a male peacock’s tail feathers, the parading of nuclear missiles by isolated despots, or the high definition chimera of today’s liquid crystal surfaces, displays involve the separation of (surface) appearance from the complexities of underlying process, circumstance and intention. When things are displayed, things are disguised; this means that all displays contain multitudes of disguised elements, each of them tangibly, if obscurely, codified into the display itself. The display can be considered the crucial feature of the current situation: not only because of the ubiquity of digital displays that resolve a world in crisis into hypnotic sequences of surface and surrounding, but also because the questions of what is displayed, how and why, are key to forming a critical position on our post-truth political figures. Display is a concept rarely taken up in relation to writing and reading, perhaps because language itself, and the poetry, theory and fiction we make from it, is often considered separately from the material conditions of its appearance. To attend to this separation, we want writing that engages with the way language displays and is displayed, and how writing itself is a method of display that exceeds that of the visual realm. We anticipate this will result in works that combine the literary and the visual, and engage in the complexities of form and content, reality and appearance. As ever, we particularly encourage work that does not fall easily into normal categories, such as memoir, fiction, or poetry, but subvert them, or plays with the conditions of their display. • •
For text submissions: 5000 words max, including footnotes and references if applicable. Photography, collage, comics, visual poems, media works: welcome
Please include a 100-word bio, including any links, that you are happy to have published on our website and used in our social media. Submissions and enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org by 15th January 2019 Lune 02:DISLOCATION to be published February, 2019 109