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TENGEN TENGENMagazine Magazine


A University of London Creative Writing and Arts Magazine

An Interview with

CHINA MIEVILLE A special feature on


PLUS Features Poetry Short Stories Visual Art and Reviews

Adrian Holme discusses




Hello and welcome to the first 2011 issue of Tengen, a London university writing and arts magazine. This, our third release, has been the product of several months of hard work as we have sought to improve the quality and breadth of the magazine and its contents. Our ambition is for Tengen to become a genuinely exciting publication in the field of the arts, and in attempting this we have had some truly excellent contributors and submissions.


To look forward to in this edition are our added elements of features and the special feature. This issue's features include articles written by Adrian Holme and Gareth Polmeer, both of whom teach at the Camberwell College of Art, and an interview with critically acclaimed weird fiction author China Miéville. Our features converge around the loose theme of this issue - the city as an artistic space and presence - which is currently the source of much focus in arts departments. This issue’s special feature is on the Small Publisher’s Fair that took place in late 2010; it is an interesting annual event that is well worth exploring.

New additions aside, the core of poetry, prose pieces and reviews is perhaps stronger than it has ever been in Tengen. I am especially pleased that we had the chance to print work from Mark Ford and Peter Robinson, renowned both as critics and poets. In this issue we have printed material by Clarissa Pabi and Liv Schulman, of Oxford and Goldsmiths respectively; we will always be open to accepting submissions sent from far afield central London– our aim at Tengen is to create as high quality and interesting a publication as possible. The fourth issue will be coming out soon, and I would encourage anyone interested in contributing to email us at: Finally, I would like to issue my deepest thanks to all those who have attended our meetings; you all contributed to the magazine with your opinions and submissions, and without you Tengen would be less than it is. Above all the keenly perceptive attentions of Khalid and Matthew, as well as Sing’s fantastic design work, are what have made such a strong issue possible. Finally, my sincerest thanks go to all those who submitted work for this issue. To those reading, I hope you find yourself interested and stimulated, and I would encourage you to check out our wordpress and issuu pages. Till the next time! Francis Gene-Rowe



S P E C I A L F E A T U R E:

Adrian Holme explores the concept of London as a multi-sensory city..............3

Mark Ford Graeme Abernathy............................9

Olivia Ho and Sing Yun Lee interview Yves Chaudouët on art and publishing in

Gareth Polmeer discusses William Raban’s latest film About Now MMX in ‘The Cinematic Map’...............................5

Peter Robinson Oliva Ho Khalid Tetuani.................................10

Our interview with China Mieville, on weird universes, speculative fiction and fucking around with engines..................7

Clarissa Pabi Rupert Cabbell Manners................11





Louisa Little....................................15

Yuwei (Vivien) Zhang.....................18

Liv Schulman....................................16

Ho Zhen Ming...................................19

Timothy Yam.....................................17

Sing J. Lee.........................................20

the 21st Century........................................12 Olivia Ho profiles Royal Holloway's Creative Writing Programme...................13 John Tucker reviews Jaime Robles' new collection of verse, anime animus anima...............................14

REVIEWS Tim Marshall reviews Paul Auster’s latest novel, Sunset Park....................................21 Halim Boudjeltia examines the hype surrounding one of 2010’s biggest films: The Social Network.........................22 Timothy Yam reviews Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky’s latest award winning film............................................................23

Editor: Francis Gene-Rowe Deputy Editor: Khalid Tetuani Sub-Editor: Matthew Rudman Design Editor: Sing Yun Lee

*Title image courtesy of Sing J. Lee. See p.20



Adrian Holme lectures in visual theory on the BA Illustration at Camberwell College of Art and Design, and the BA Illustration at Maidstone UCA. A practising artist, his research ranges from installation to performance, ‘psychogeography’,

and the history of alchemy.


ou could say that there are at least two conceptions of cities. One is the rational city, planned, ordered, that, in the West, we have inherited from the Renaissance.


ion ship of the observer of a Renaissance picture as Marshall McLuhan expressed it: No Involvement! The viewer of Renaissance art is systematically placed outside the frame of experience. A piazza for everything and everything in its piazza. (McLuhan and Fiore, The Medium is the Massage, 1967, p.53)

Manhattan may be built upon a grid,

carefully planned sightlines and vistas, regulated now by city planners (an extraordinary map of London sightlines in which development is restricted is available at: f2009flashmap/ ). Views of Saint Pauls have been rigorously protected, as outlined in a City of London Corporation Document:

'St Paul’s Cathedral is an internationally recognised building in the London skyline. Since 1938 the City of London Corporation has operated a unique policy known as the “St Paul’s Heights” to protect and enhance

No sooner had the Renaissance architects Alberti and Brunelleschi developed their revolutionary system of fixed point perspective, gridding up space and time, and producing an architecture to match, than Alberti (1404-1472) was extending this grid to the planning of an entire town. The Perspective view of an ideal town sometimes attributed to Piero della Francesca, (Figure 1) reflects this new envisioning of a city. And, although the ideal human form lay (like Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man) behind the proportions of Renaissance architecture, this ideal city (in which the grid is declared for all to see) is striking for its absence of actual people. It is as though the presence of real people would contaminate this space – as though chaos, noise and all manner of smells would erupt and burst through the visual perfection that he depicts. The ideal city of the Renaissance was conceived visually. It did not grow organically, by accretion, all higgledy-piggledy, as the Mediaeval city before it, but sprang anew, fully formed and lined up along the grid. The relationship of the individual to this ideal rational city is the distanced relat-

Figure 1. Sometimes attributed to Piero della Francesca, Perspective view of an ideal town c. 1470 Panel, 60 x 200 cm Galleria Nazionale, Urbino.

but London, built upon an orderly Roman city (the Amphitheatre lies underneath Guildhall Yard, and, wondrously, can be visited by descending the stairs to the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery) never truly became a Renaissance city. It remains resolutely Mediaeval. Even after it was burned down in the Great Fire of 1666 it proved impossible to resurrect London as the planned city that Christopher Wren envisaged. The organic network of narrow winding Mediaeval lanes stubbornly remained. Even after the Blitz of World War II, when the City was again consumed by flames, the Mediaeval city reasserted itself once more after the war. Visuality asserts itself of course, in

important local views of the Cathedral from the South Bank, Thames bridges and certain points to the north, west and east. The long term consistent implementation of the Heights policy has enabled the protected views to be preserved and enhanced for more than sixty years for the enjoyment of Londoners and those who visit London from near and far.'

(City of London Corporation Development Plan 2002. Supplementary Planning Guidance. St Paul’s and Monument Views - Part One. St Paul’s Heights Guide. p.5, Clause 1.1)

And so, despite never succumbing to a total Renaissance ordering of space and vision, London does carefully retain, even cherishes, certain symbolic Renaissance elements, such as the views of Saint Paul’s,

even if often glimpsed in somewhat fragmentary ways. (The view of Saint Paul’s from the Tate Modern, across the ‘wobbly’ Millennium Bridge, is one example of modern city planning asserting such a view

This implies the simultaneousness of the environment and, therefore, the dislocation and dismemberment of objects, the scattering and fusion of details, freed from accepted logic.' (Boccioni, cited in Hughes,

Those with a taste for such things can look out for the careful alignment of new buildings framing London landmarks – and also consider the impact of Renzo Piano’s ‘Shard of Glass’ upon various London views, as it rises up to impose itself silently, and eventually glacially, upon every citizen of the metropolis and further afield.

In his book London: the biography (2000), Peter Ackroyd devotes a chapter (5) to the noise of the city (and another to silence). He quotes Shelley:

But, aside from the rational, visual city of Renaissance architects and civic planners, obedient to Reason, to space and to time, there is another city, more familiar, a phenomenological city, a multisensory city, of which the visual is only a part. Perhaps this is the city in which we truly dwell.

'The Shock of the New'1991, p.44)

London: that great sea whose ebb and flow At once is deaf and loud, and on the shore Vomits its wrecks, and still howls on for more (PB Shelley, cited in Ackroyd, 'London: The Biography', 2000 p.76)

Ackroyd refers also to the clamour depicted in Hogarth’s The enraged musician (1741), (Figure 3), which Henry Fielding, playwright and friend of the artist, said was ‘enough to make a man deaf to look at it’ (Uglow 2008, 'Words and Pictures', p.55).


Literature is a medium well suited to conveying this multisensory experience of the city. See how Charles Dickens achieves it in this excerpt from Great Expectations (first published 1860-1), describing Pip's experience of the City of London: Figure 2. Boccioni, Umberto (1911) The noise of the street penetrates the house, Oil Painting

Umberto Boccioni's (1911) Futurist painting, The Noise of the Street Penetrates the House (Figure 2) attempts to reproduce the multisensory experience of the modern city, with its noise and endless movement, within the frame of a two-dimensional work, with a fracturing of the traditional Renaissance fixed-point perspective. (The way in which this is also a painting about 'a view' somehow reinforces the point that perspectival representation is inadequate for conveying this multisensory experience).

'In painting a person on a balcony, seen from the room, we do not limit the scene to what the square frame of the window renders visible; but we try to render the sum total of visual sensations which the person on the balcony has experienced: the sunbathed crowd on the street, the double row of houses that stretch to right and left, the beflowered balconies, etc.

'When I told the clerk that I would take a turn in the air while I waited, he advised me to go round the corner and I should come into Smithfield. So, I came into Smithfield; and the shameful place, being all asmear with filth and fat and blood and foam, seemed to stick to me. So, I rubbed it off with all possible speed by turning into a street where I saw the great black dome of Saint Paul's bulging at me from behind a grim stone building which a bystander said was Newgate Prison. Following the wall of the jail, I found the roadway covered with straw to deaden the noise of passing vehicles; and from this, and from the quantity of people standing about, smelling strongly of spirits and beer, I inferred that the trials were on.'

Figure 3. Hogarth, William (1741). The enraged musician. Engraving

other writings (Nightwalks) Dickens attributes to the city a kind of organic wholeness, as, troubled by insomnia, he wanders the streets at night with the homeless:

'The restlessness of a great city, and the way in which it tumbles and tosses before it can get to sleep, formed one of the first entertainments offered to the contemplation of us houseless people. It lasted about two hours.' (Charles Dickens, Nightwalks, p.1)

And, prior to Dickens, we find a Romantic city, a city of dreams, of noise, of smells, of dark alleys, a sprawling unknowable city, like the endless space within us – a city of imagination. William Blake's poem 'London' (Songs of innocence and of experience, 1794), as in Dickens, includes appeals to the ear and touch as well as the eye, along with an embodied feeling of walking in the City.

Figure 4. William Blake (1794) London. Songs of innocence and experience.

(Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, pp. 1634.)

London (by William Blake)

You can almost smell, hear and feel the meat market of Smithfield and its environs. Furthermore, the dome of Saint Paul’s has agency, and ‘bulges’ at Pip. In

I wander through each chartered street, Near where the chartered Thames does flow, And mark in every face I meet,

Marks of weakness, marks of woe. In every cry of every man, In every infant's cry of fear, In every voice, in every ban, The mind-forged manacles I hear: How the chimney-sweeper's cry Every blackening church appals, And the hapless soldier's sigh Runs in blood down palace-walls. But most, through midnight streets I hear How the youthful harlot's curse Blasts the new-born infant's tear, And blights with plagues the marriage-hearse. Blake, with his walks through the city and his mapping of the ideal city of Jerusalem onto the actual London of his day, is sometimes considered a forerun-


illiam Raban’s latest film, About Now MMX, is a contemporary portrait of London made in response to the recent financial crises. Filmed using a telephoto lens from Ernö Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower, the work is a montage of mostly time-lapse sequences observing the ‘social contrasts and urban shifts’ of the city. The nearby Canary Wharf towers are ever-present, mirrored in the distant buildings of The City and intercut with shots of markets, rooftops, pedestrians and passages of the moon’s transit through the night sky. Recorded in horizontal and vertical camera movements and with a soundtrack by David Cunningham, the film explores an alienated urban existence through the formal tensions of the camera’s frame, and the enframing space of the city (Fig. 1).

Commenting on the film, Raban notes a double meaning of the term ‘recession’, creating an interrelation between the represented ‘content’ or subject of the film (the image of the city) and the representational ‘form’ of the film (i.e. the camera, frame, projector or filmstrip). While his first reference locates the work in a context of economic ‘recession’, the second use is more intriguing, being in pictorial terms the translation of a three-dimensional space onto a two-dimensional plane. Put otherwise, this ‘recession’ of perspectival depth is the way in which most forms of pictorial representation since the Renaissance – painting, photography, cinema, television – flatten the visible world onto a canvas or screen. These comparable terms for recession establish social space and film space together as currencies in an economy of meanings. In this way, we can locate Raban’s politics of

ner of what is now called ‘psychogeography’ – that term of abuse taken up by the Situationists. And perhaps today it is the contemporary ‘psychogeographers,’ writers such as Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd (who prefers the term ‘territorial imperative’) who, in a spirit not unconnected with Romanticism, produce some of the most interesting work on the city.

extraordinary moments where the opposite is felt, a walk in Greenwich Park, a stroll by the Serpentine, a quiet moment in a city churchyard. Despite its Roman origins London has resisted the supreme emphasis on the rational and visual of the Renaissance. It remains resolutely Mediaeval in many respects, and provides a multisensory landscape which still, and perhaps more than ever, resists time and space, despite the best efforts of planners and other authorities*. And in this respect it is no doubt well placed to face whatever the 21st Century might throw at it.

The city has always, of course, provided an experience that we might describe as multisensory, and the Ideal town of Piero della Francesca (or followers) would no doubt have been a place of utter tedium and overbearing control – even if it happened to be a democratic republic. London has never been such a city. London has always been a contested space (the cries of ‘Our Streets!’ that rang out in recent student demonstrations were a powerful reminder of this) and a place of noise, filth, danger, stench, excitement, and surprise – as well as providing those


*Of course, the rational is still present. To throw away the rational, as 20th Century facism showed, is to push neo-Romantic dreams into the realisation of nightmares. The need to still find a place for the rational was, I believe, understood by Blake, as well as McLuhan

by Gareth Polmeer

Gareth Polmeer is an artist and academic. This article draws from his current research at The Royal College of Art, as well as a conversation with William Raban in February 2011 Given Adrian Holme’s comments on landscape and the Renaissance, this article offers some thoughts on William Raban’s new London film, About Now MMX (2010) and the relationships he situates between pictorial space, the economy and the rationalised space of the city . the image within a history of the avantgarde, in which the city has been a site for critical practice. What is at stake in filmic representation for Raban is determined by dominant socio-economic relations – relations which in themselves organise and rationalise social space to the systems of the market economy. Engaging with the formal constructs of the cinematic apparatus – the practical means and tech nology of representation – poses a challenge to our day-to-day encounters and relationships to the city. In other words, the aes



thetic experiences created by and through the film aim to negate given systems of meaning. In Raban’s practice, these systems are worked through with film as a material process, questioning the mediated and often uncertain nature of photographic representation, and continually seeking to establish an experience in which the viewer plays an active, reflexive role. About Now MMX is the latest in a body of Raban’s works spanning forty years that have focussed on London and the River Thames. With thematic links to the art-historical landscape tradition in England (J.M.W. Turner, John Ruskin or John Constable for instance) the underlying formal concerns of his works also relate to the dynamic modernist paintings of Fernand Léger and Piet Mondrian, and the ‘city symphony’ films of Dziga Vertov and Walther Ruttmann. As one of a constellation of historical factors, the Renaissance features in two very interesting ways in About Now MMX, both of which relate to the rationalisation of pictorial and architectural space and a means of mapping or positioning a view of the urban landscape. In pictorial terms, Stephen

Heath has argued that certain codes and conventions of mainstream cinema have a historical relation to Renaissance perspective, with the organisation of shots and screen space creating an ideal view or ‘scenographic vision’. In this way, film space is systematised and unified, with cinema’s dominant codes of representation naturalised and constructed according to specific ideological determinants.

comments on the film as a ‘cinematic map’, we can consider the tensions established in the work’s production, in the way that the formal strategies of composition, camera movement and framing fragment and juxtapose the varying systems and networks of the city.

In architectural terms, one might return to the Renaissance image of the ‘ideal city’ - for instance the painting attributed to Piero Della Francesca featured in Adrian Holme’s article – which represents a range of political values and ideals about spatial relations and representations. Theorists such as Denis Cosgrove have explored the relationships between Renaissance perspective images, landscape and the socio-economic domiFig. 1: ...the formal tensions of the camera’s frame, and the ennances that systematise or ratioframing space of the city nalise our relations to architectural space. In other studies, writers such as Henri Lefebvre or W.J.T. Mitchell have also argued that the representational space of the landscape - and its depiction in pictures - is ordered in certain ways to signify a unified whole; buildings project power or wealth, state and institutional planning organises areas and vantages, and infrastructures and boundaries delineate order and control. These ideas activate the ongoing processes of space and place, and our constantly shifting relationships to both rural and urban landscapes. Fig. 2: Raban operationg the camera rig Images (c) William Raban, 2010. Used with permission

Whilst only an overview can be offered here, the potential convergences in these areas offer a rich ground for a study of landscape films such as About Now MMX. In this sense, we might reflect briefly on some of the aims of Raban’s work in attempting to open up, or make apparent, the contradictions of any ordered or unified idea of the city, towards a more different relationship to place. Drawing on one of his

The use of time-lapse in the film - capturing images in varying intermittencies and the slightly juddering pans and tilts of the camera on the hand-operated tripod mechanism (Fig. 2) constantly re-punctuate the differences between individual photograms as they move through the projector at twenty-four frames per second. Ordinarily, this cinematic flow of time passes with

the differences between frames effaced in a smooth continuum. Raban’s approach foregrounds the illusory flow, with the repeatable logic of the machine interjected by mark-making linear movements of the camera, and the material surface and rectilinear shapes of the images fractured into subtle interplays of form. Other sequences of the film return to closely cropped shots of office buildings, latticing the film frame with windows and zones of activity. Here we are drawn reflexively to the multi-levelled functions of the pictorial frame and associations to the windows of perspectival painting in the Renaissance writings of both Leon Battista Alberti and Leonardo da Vinci. We are reminded here too of the act of looking, being as we are in an impossible omniscient position, watching workers doubly enframed within the office block and film frame. Within this sequence, as with others, the fundamental splits between movement and stasis, relate the mechanical reproducibility of the camera with the reproducibility of labour and commodities – between a seemingly frozen reality of current conditions and the possibilities of a movement to difference and change. In summary, Raban’s film could be read as a dialectic of the city and its image, an argument between how it is and how it might be re-imagined. By shifting between the material space of urbanism and the architecture of the film frame, About Now MMX aims for a more reflexive viewing experience, fracturing the spatial relations of the city into an activity of movement and dynamism. Raban’s project is one of fundamental engagement and makes necessary a critical reappraisal of urban space, our relationships to place and the promise that film might hold for a transformative relation to the city.

REFERENCES 1. See notes on the film at: 2. See Payne, Simon (ed) (2010) Sequence, Issue 1. London: pp. 38-39. 3. See Erwin Panfosky’s Perspective as Symbolic Form (1997, trans. Christopher Wood, New York: Zone Books) for an elaboration of perspectival pictorial space and scenography in relation to Vitruvius Pollio, Albrecht Dürer and Leon Battista Alberti amongst others. 4. See Raban’s films Sundial (1992), A13 (1994), Island Race (1996) or MM (2002). 5. See for example Léger’s painting The City (1919), Mondrian’s painting Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-43), Vertov’s film Man with a Movie Camera (1929), and Ruttmann’s film Berlin: Symphony of a Big City (1927). 6. See Heath, Stephen. (1981) Questions of Cinema. London: The Macmillan Press. 7. See Cosgrove, Denis. (1984) Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape. London: Croom Helm. 8. See Lefebvre, Henri. (1991) The Production of Space. (trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith). Oxford: Blackwell, and Mitchell, W.J.T. (ed.) (2002) Landscape and Power: Second Edition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.


by Francis Gene-Rowe with Khalid Tetuani


China Miéville is an award winning author of weird/speculative fiction and teaches creative writing at Warwick University. Here he speaks about his acclaimed novel The City & The City, his work using the fictional Bas-Lag universe, and method in speculative fiction.

: Many of the references in your novels to phenomena that are peculiar and particular to the world of New Crobuzon are left unexplained, so there’s a sense that your “ideal readers” are citizens of New Crobuzon. Is this a deliberate strategy of yours; this sense of dislocation?

trying to relate to their expectations is a bad way of going about it. It’s not my job to give people what they want or what they expect, it’s my job to make them want what I give.



: I think what you’re wanting, what you’re hoping, is to create a sense of culture shock in the reader. There is that cliché about fantasy: if you have a map at the beginning of the book you have to go through and check off everything on the map; it’s an unfair cliché. There have been books of a certain tradition that do have that notion of mapping and chronologies and so on as a way of essentially domesticating the mass and chaos of history. So that being more realistic is really the point: not feeling obliged to explain things unless they come up organically. There’s a whole tradition of fantasy that does that though. There’s something almost disrespectful about the notion that you can contain the totality of a world and there’s this sense that it’s always going to be bigger. And in terms of the payoff it’s the hope that the reader has that sense of culture shock, a sense of a totality beyond the bounds of book.


: Do you think that it’s an expectation of fantasy literature or just an effect particular to your method of writing?


: Iwould be mortified if you were to im ply that this technique is new and something I came up with when that’s clearly not the case; there are other writers who do it. I know my readers have expectations and I’m sure a lot of the time my books fulfil their expectations, but personally I don’t care what people’s expectations are. I don’t mean that in a kind of swaggery way; I want people to really like the books. But

: You often construct settings that are fantastical and weird. Are the small details of those worlds just the reflection of your own impulse or whim?


: One of the methodologies I like to start with is the absurd. I like to start with something and then retroactively justify it; bring the logic in after the fact. It’s almost like a mental game: you start with a race that has the body of a human woman and the head of giant peacock; there’s no way you could logically derive that. In this case it’s filched from Egyptian mythology and fucked around with. All right, now I’ve done it, I have to retrospectively derive it. By some form of tortuous but persuasive internal logic, get me there. Or don’t explain but imply that you could get me there. I suppose part of the game of the fantastic is to convey a sense or rigour and even ineluctability about things that are, frankly, absurd. That’s part of the pleasure.


: If you are writing in a field where words like “imagination” and “originality” get chucked around a lot, would you say that you have no trouble with the idea of “good theft” in writing?


: I know people who – when they’re writing – won’t read anything because they are concerned that they will steal from it, and I understand that. But for me it’s not the way I address issues of culture. I feel like, if you come up with a cool idea,


there’s a very reasonable chance that, at some point, that idea has entered your mind surreptitiously. As long as you do something reasonably interesting with it, and as long as you engage in an interesting way with it, I have no problem with a sort of piratical appropriation of things. There is such a thing as plagiarism; you can take someone’s ideas, recycle them, and proceed to make a lot of money. But if you’re referencing, if you’re stealing and tweaking, either affectionately or argumentatively, I’d see that as flattery and as inevitable. And you notice it more within a genre because genre is an incredibly selfreferential tradition. So genre-bound literature of 120 years ago will be well known amongst those who ardently pursue the field.


: You have novels that resemble detective fiction and others that seek to emulate different styles. To what extent are you also interrogating the writing styles as tropes themselves?


: I think the idea of a genuinely unreconstructed genre book, a book that isn’t aware of engaging in with certain tropes is rarer than one thinks. There are a lot of writers who don’t make a bally-hoo about being subversive or self-conscious whilst being very aware of those processes.

Now, that said, in the case of The City and the City, it was a special case for me because it was the book of mine above all others that very explicitly paid homage and surrendered to the protocols of a police procedure. It is a neurotically self-conscious crime novel. What I want to do is take things apart, like an engine; sometimes you take an engine apart to try and fuck with it a little, at other times, and this is the case with The City and the City, I want to take it apart and reconstruct it absolutely faithfully. And the idea was that the most interesting way I could think of to investigate the setting was to play the narrative very

straight, so I let the odd stuff bubble up behind the narrative’s back, becoming a definitive part of the narrative without being the driving force of the engine. The Iron Council has a relationship to the western as a genre, but it’s not so carefully faithful; it was more of a question of taking references and tropes and other ideas from the western, amalgamating them so that, among other things, The Iron Council becomes a western. Whereas The City and the City doesn’t just happen to be a crime novel: it’s a novel about a novel being a crime novel.


: When do you consider it necessary to describe specific characters or settings and when is the level of detail appropriate? Do you have a certain strategy or does it vary from book to book?


: It varied from book to book because variations from book to book invariably implies voice to voice, and so I try and find a particular level that is appropriate for the book and for the voice.


IF A MOVEMENT HAS ENOUGH SWAGGER, PULLS INTO THE LIGHT SOME NEGLECTED : In Iron Council you seem to gently mock the ‘sectarian passions’ of artistic Q TEXTS, CLASSIFIES and critical schools/movements. Do you subscribe to any of the movements you have been associated with? And would you conTHINGS IN A NEW sider yourself a “postmodern” writer? WAY; WHAT THE FUCk : No, but if someone wants to call me a Apostmodern writer then I’m not going to be too fussed by it. “Postmodernism” itIS WRONG WITH self is a heavily vexed question because it implies way too many things. If someone THAT? calls me “a postmodernist writer,” I would-

In a way I want to assert two contradictory things: firstly, if you’re going to go for that cultural shock type of thing we talked about in the beginning, you build a sense of an organic pre-existing world in which either the protagonist or other characters don’t feel it necessary to describe certain things to the reader. It makes the reader feel effectively dislocated to have to piece together certain details from the way characters speak about or infer something.


: Why do you prefer to be identified as a “weird fiction” writer as opposed to a “fantasy” or “sci-fi” writer?


n’t say “fuck you” I’d say “what do you mean?” or “I wouldn’t call that postmodernism.” Postmodernism doesn’t have the fucking copyright on hybridity. That kind of theoretical imperialism is an extremely effective marketing campaign. If I agree with all the substantive claims and they want to call me a postmodernist I’d say “well that’s not the term I’d choose but whatever.” With regards to schools and movements: I’m genuinely interested in artistic movements but I think the ways in which they are argued about are pointlessly mean-spirited and wrong-headed. There was a movement about ten years ago that called themselves the New Puritans; Toby Litt, Scarlett Thomas, Matt Thorn, various people; and they had a manifesto. Critics made their usual complaints: “How can they be the authority on aesthetics?” or “They’re breaking their own rules,” all ways to reductively miss the point.

Completely contradictory to that, one of the classic tropes of science fiction that receives a lot of criticism – disproportionately so – is the info-dump. You have specious historical information that you need to explain, and rather than having a torturous piece of dialogue between two characters you simply have a paragraph where you say “ten years before the aliens arrived they looked like this etc.” It’s the kind of thing that people outside the genre have a go at, but there’s something reasonably honourable about it, and when it’s done well it’s a very unfussy way of establishing something. The question of description: on the whole I’m much less interested in the physical descriptions of people than of places or monsters but it becomes necessary in certain circumstances.

: I’ve been thinking about this for the past few years and it has a lot to do with this notion of the “ghostly”. We think of the ghostly as the uncanny or return of the repressed. What distinguishes weird fiction is the abcanny; it’s not about something we’re

ply that it happens to be a tradition that looms very large over my head and I think it’s taxonomically appropriate for me to identify with it. It operates slightly differently from what people now know as “fantasy.” I’m not abjuring fantasy; I’m very happy with being called a fantasy writer, but if I’m talking to anyone who knows about the field I’d use the term “weird fiction” because it will give them a slightly clearer sense of the abcanny, the grotesque.

Images courtesy of and

trying to repress, it’s the realization that we have never known, that it’s unknowable. The reason why I like and associate myself with the phrase “weird fiction” is sim-

Any manifesto is a performance. Alain Badiou has a really nice phrase where he says “a manifesto is not a contract.” My feeling is that if a movement has enough swagger, pulls into the light some neglected texts, classifies things in a new way; what the fuck is wrong with that? A while back there were all these arguments about the “New Weird”, is there such a thing, am I a “New Weird” writer; and I loved all that. I was very happy, but then it turns into a marketing category. Marketing departments at publishers have jobs to do and I understand that, but at the point where the category becomes a commodity you say “I’m no longer talking about this.” You don’t necessarily have to turn your back on the idea and repudiate it, but I deal with it by saying that it’s not interesting anymore for our purposes. So I would say teasing rather than mocking.


BIST DU EIN kÖNIG? by Mark Ford

The landlord of the Inn of the Two Herrings watched, yawning, the afternoon rain pockmark the dust, and dimple the grey-green harbour waters: out on the washing line, his sodden breeches would be staying sodden. No need to water the flowerpots. A fitful wind wailed in the chimney breast, now and then loosening a clump of soot that came pattering down into the hearth. He plucked with his nails at his collar, but couldn’t reach the itch. His wife, the first of seventeen, was upstairs


Passing under mouldering archways purposeful in some unacknowledged charade coercing pocket change from broken-backed umbrellas spray cans and fragments of falafel in incomprehensible yellow styrofoam Paying tribute to squat registers of roadway devotions passageways to more of the same

with the babies, who, like the wind, were wailing; and over their wailing he could hear her yelling at him to find and bring the gripe-water … the collar was not just itchy, but metal, and spiked, and when he protested, the fire tongs leapt from beside the hearth, a deep fiery orange. Alarmed, he called out for a wife to hand him the poker, so he could fend off the tongs, but in his distress named the shrewish one, Elizabeth, whom in a fit of pique, he’d himself beheaded. The tongs advanced, with glowing, open jaws, while the wind sang a hymn; its chorus seemed to consist of two questions asked over and over: Where is the gripe-water? Bist du ein König? Note: ‘Bist du ein König?’ (‘Are you a king?): this was the question scornfully put to Jan van Leyden by Bishop Franz von Waldeck on the Bishop’s triumphant entry into Münster, after a seventeen-month siege. (‘Und bist du ein Bischof?’ Jan is said to have replied.) King Jan and two other leaders of the Anabaptist rebellion, Bernard Knipperdolling and Bernard Krechting, were executed on January 22, 1536; each was first tortured for an hour with redhot tongs, then stabbed in the heart with a dagger. The name of the wife Jan van Leyden beheaded was Elizabeth Wandscheer.

a beggar’s rubber rain cloak some shouldering trains arcades of brick and stone bearing lordly hieroglyphs trumpeting vacant decrees of jubilation Standing in for unremembered straddlers who pictured extinction in unshovelled dung piles and sang echoing songs to burring pigeons in shivered roosts blackened by coal shrugging all the while like staggering archways.

BOYLE FAMILY ALBUM by Peter Robinson Time was, face set forward, mooching with peripatetic stoop, your eyes dropped too, from shyness or fear, were getting the literal texture as threats made approaches, fast in a dusk. I’d cross to avoid them, gaze fixed on flagstones speckled with drizzle, black flakes of what was a burning Sun (as if they hadn’t a point of view…) now shifted through ninety degrees, heaved up onto a gallery wall, and you there, raised eyes contemplating scent-less tarmac, untouchable signs from a childhood studying pavements. Impacted dreck in these non-places comes back as choking nostalgia, an anguish at smashed tiles, gutter grates, tramlines flush with the fibre-glass cobbles — me caught in their painstaking slices of fate.

DIA DE LOS MUERTOS by Olivia Ho We do not call our dead, for we have no dead. None, and yet you dwell on the sinister, savour its tang in the fuming air, its pallor in the painted deaths-heads. The Spanish trips on your tongue like tequila, as you curl the words in the hollows of your mouth, rolling the taste of silent ‘j’s – hijo de puta pendejo mierda mierda mierda Death to you is a strange and fascinating liquor, like the little ghosts who used to sit at your window and read to you from the books of breathing. My hands draw mariposas on the kitchen floor and you talk on, unaware of La Catrina grinning in your young teeth. What is the day of the dead to one who has never known death? Dead men lie in banner-strewn streets, the blood of their eye-sockets grown vitrified in the stars of dust. The dead are in the air they rise, listen, rise. The chickpeas cascade through your fingers like years.

I WANT YOU TO USE YOURSELF (AND GLIDE) by Khalid Tetuani …both will accept the challenge of the past, of the already said, which cannot be eliminated: both will consciously and with pleasure play the game of irony...Both will have succeeded, once again, in speaking of love. Umberto Eco I was approached by a cascading Sonny impro That told me to “be more than a friend”, well, That’s all I’ve ever been. I’m in love with you. I’m in love with you, I don’t care what I’m Saying. It told me that I’m really diggin’ you. “Like, I’m discovering you: a gem, pigeon [sic] blood” And I should be feeling really weak. Spit some Poetry; Love with you, love with you. Drop some bars. “She loves him uncontrollably [i.e. with no Recourse to logic or rationality.]” They don’t understand the noumenon of light. (Nour) They don’t understand power[lessness]. (Quwwa) Midnight grinding… Sharing a moment. Someone’s closet. I’m not ready. “Who is?” “Constant pleasure… [?] No scales (I’m a Libra) Can measure.” My Sanctified Lady. I ask of you: No, I demand you the way you are. I’m tellin’ you. “I want you.” I’m serious. Only we remain. Only our foreheads touch. This is After the Dance, the Blue lights in the basement, trapped tight: the royal silhouette Of our night. “Tell me are you feelin’ me feelin’ you?” I’m too, Used, To… Being aware. “What you gonna do?” Look at the arrangement, the fanaticism. I follow Like Athena. Should’ve known like when Ike met Tina. You say my name too well, in that sultry Levantine style: “Europa was Pheonician anyway.” That hits me hard, so I stay tuned in, listen. “You’re a warning: for men of understanding.” Sing to me some magic psalms; look inside my Electronic diwaan, request an old favourite. I Miss you in the morning, and understand (No, no: Well one day you’re gon’ overstand…) Sure, you got my vote. I feel like nothing really matters. I’m feelin’ this song. That’s too close. Don’t hold my hand. This is me: as in, the reflection of my love.

DIRTY OLD MAN by Clarissa Pabi This is an excerpt from the poem ‘Dirty Old Man’ by Clarissa Pabi. To read the rest online visit A plush chair and vinyl Guinness with air-eated viscous foam on top. A mop of dreadlocks and slovenly slop on his chin. No coat of ermine

Comet Cupid Doner Blitzen, And blitzing past the moon and sol, He consoled himself with the The idea that if he did speed in Switzerland It was still yesterday in America so technically

inlaid in the red

it hadn’t happened yet,


And every once in a while he caught the sight Of a child with wide anime eyes Animated and as bright as asterisms And asterisks, and on the verge of tears so Everything looks pixellated.

Just a pee-yoo smell a pewter hip flask and his emphysematous cough. Slurping it down, no longer painting the town red, In his sledge. No longer tinselling the town with the thread Of GHG emissions Or the rain of Reindeer urine pissing Down; their antlers and anthropogenic foot prints Seen all the way from Yemen, like the star, That had once guided three men to Bethlehem. He had carried a food baby, messianically, And made a mess in the inn of the lavatory. A former kleptomaniac, Nick would not nick stuff, He would pop in with a Mary Poppins-esque rucksack, And resist the urge to ransack by giving. He had hauled the big bag full of presents Through the halls of many homes, weighing two hundred and fifty Stone. Two hundred and fifty kilos, flitting through keyholes, And chimneys as if he was a size zero model, And not obsess and two hundred and fifty years old, Only taking the candied coke-ca[i]ne of coke-a-cola to not feel the cold. Festivities and festoons of holly, You’ve seen those Holidays are coming, not ‘Holy day’ is coming adverts. So can you understand, why he forgot The meaning of Christmas? He would drop lollypops and pinstriped brolly top, At the speed of that Ghuliwog Usain Bolt. At the speed of Lightning, and whilst Christmas Carol singing and carousing On the whiskey left out for him. And he did speed and did speed. How else was he expected to speed From one continent to the next? Speedy Gonzales, in the flying Gondolas of the sledge and Dasher Dancer Vixen Prancer

An infant Pikachu playing peek-a-boo just to get A peek of who might be bringing him something. And one Pichachu, face screwed as if in mid achoo Nostrils flared with a choo choo train’s steam chugging Out, planned to catch Nick out. By 12.30 Nick met his match and his MATCH As this child attempts to catch his sight instead Stewie Griffin-esque this child Plotted to catch the Man in Red, Using a little Arsenic. And Nick who had been feeling sick From eating too much drank the poisoned Milk left out.

A PARLOUR by Rupert Cabbell Manners The drapes are closed, The chandelier opposed To darkness by its sharp allusive glow. The lamps are dim, Soft on the lacquered skin Of parquet tables, high-waisted and slim. Portraits recline On golden threads, behind Their weight of giltwork wood and patterned vines. The lid is raised With music there to play The smooth piano in its marbled place. A heel clicks. The panelled door's oiled hinge Turns soundlessly; but she will not come in.


THE SMALL PUBLISHER’S FAIR This issue’s special feature is on ‘The Small Publisher’s Fair’, an international event hosted annually in Conway Hall, celebrating the creators of books and their publishers, hailing from a wide variety of artistic fields. Included in this feature are interviews with two of 2010’s contributors - Yves Chaudouët of French Design school EESI, and Susanna Jones of the Royal Holloway Creative Writing Programme - as well as a review of jaime robles’ latest book of verse.




ket; in fact, the creative liberty of the artist’s world may well hinge on the publishing industry. “Since the 1960s, the art book has become a true vector,” explains Yves Chaudouët, painter, poet and publisher. “From Ruscha to H.P. Feldmann, from Heydsieck to Duyckaerts, it will never die and it will always demand a better analysis.” “On my personal ‘palette’, I really consider publishing – especially book publishing – to be one of my favourite colours,” he jokes.

Professor and artist Yves Chaudouet (c)


t the mention of ‘publishing’, one pictures literature – fiction, non-fiction, volumes and volumes of text. Art publishing, then, is a notion distant from the mainstream; it seems incongruous that an artist should go through the publishing process like an author or an editor to have their work reproduced en masse instead of showcasing the original at an exhibition. Yet art publishing is far from a niche mar-

M. Chaudouët is the referent professor of the Atelier Edition or the Publishing Department, at the Ecole Européenne Supérieure de l’Image (EESI). Born a few years ago from the merger of the Poitiers and Angoulême Fine Arts Schools, EESI specialises in contemporary art production ranging from documentary filmmaking and digital programming to comics and illustration. At the Atelier Edition, students learn the

Image courtesy of

importance of print and publishing in the artistic field – historically, philosophically and above all practically. “From ancient printing techniques to the most recent digital applications, we concentrate on the meaning of printing to the contemporary artist,” explains M. Chaudouët. The Atelier Edition allows its students a taste of the publication experience with L’Idiote, a multimedia magazine showcasing student works. L’Idiote experiments with the concept of sans papier, or paper-less publication; from Idiote 2≠ onwards, it has been published in three different media. Besides a hundred copies in quality print – sold at €5 per copy – the magazine is available in an interactive form on the EESI website and can also be downloaded off it. Four issues of L’Idiote have been published, with a fifth currently being printed. Traditionally, the magazine invites a prominent artist to serve as chief editor for each issue; the next issue will see Academy Award-nominated Romain Goupil (Mourir à trente ans, Les mains en l’air) in the director’s seat, so to speak. L’Idiote has so far explored contemporary creation in media such as printing, photography and cinema. For instance, Idiote 2≠ exclusively features digital photography, arguing the case for photography as a valid art form, although the photographers’ input on their subject matter is significantly less than that exercised by other types of artist. “Photography is – to borrow the words of Roland Barthes – a certificate of presence,” writes artist Eric Watier, the issue’s chief editor, in his preface to the students’ works. “Though it may not be original, it is not without origin; it is a work which is perhaps without authority, but never without author.”

The course offered by EESI is split into two phases: the first, ‘Programme’, lasts three years and hits the student with as many different topics and techniques as they can absorb. If the student chooses to stay on at EESI for the second phase, ‘Projet’, they will then spend two years working on a more personal project that will cement their future direction as an artist. Upon his appointment in 2005, M. Chaudouët set to redistributing and reconfiguring the department’s resources to admit a more fluid circulation of projects, where the artist could use publishing as an autonomous medium. To this end, EESI boasts numerous studios, some dedicated to a variety of media such as video, photography, publishing, and sculpture, and some simply open spaces in which the students can experiment as they please. M. Chaudouët expects even more new spaces to be built in the near future. While independent art books might struggle to stay afloat in the choppy waters of great publishing capitals like London, M. Chaudouët has faith in their survival. “Of course the huge and increasing art market can make the “radikaal” art book suffer,” he concedes. “But you will always find nice and accurate things thanks to the inventiveness of young artists and publishers.” He is thus eager to champion “small and beautiful” publishing showcases – such as


he creative writing student anthology regarded at best a sample menu for fresh literary blood, at worst a scholastic indulgence - is often associated not so much with the respectable publisher as the vanity press. Yet the student anthologies thought to be pushed out perfunctorily by creative writing courses can in fact be considered a functional publishing business model, and many of these collections are especially tailored to fast-track their contributors into professional publication. One such anthology is Bedford Square, a publication showcasing the works of students of the Creative Writing Master of Arts course at Royal Holloway. The magnum opus of one of the University of London’s most prominent creative writing programmes, Bedford Square released its fourth issue January 2011. Many of the students who have appeared in it have since gone on to be published professionally. “I began the anthologies because I wanted the students to have a shop-window in which others could admire their writing,” says ex-Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion, who created the course in 2004. Since its inauguration, each cohort has seen its work published in the anthology, which is distrib-

the Small Publishers Fair, where EESI has a stall. “We need places which procure this happy alliance of exigency, freedom and fragility,” he muses. In an industry where the drive for commercial excellence often tarnishes the pure spirit of experimentation, such fairs allow a safe harbour for a “vivacious questioning of the times.” “Obvious and colourful flowers often eclipse tiny and delightful mushrooms,” he concludes, “but still you can find them spreading.”


uted in stores such as Waterstones and sold online on Amazon. Window-dressing may sound frivolous but it is a calculated art, certainly the shopwindow Sir Motion has created for his students styles its display expressly for industry exposure. “Some students will be contacted by agents on the basis of their published piece,” says lecturer Susanna Jones an award-winning novelist herself. “It can lead directly to representation by an agent and then publication.” The growing list of course alumni who have since gone on to professional publica-

Fig. 1: “Pigfish", acrylic on canvas 150cm x 100 cm, coll. Fonds régional d'art contemporain, Limoges (F) Finally, upon being asked what his personal outlook on art in England is, he responds: “Funny. In 2006 I was kind of asked the same question by a British artist and acurator. I responded through a painting. Please allow me to show this image again as an answer.” (Fig. 1)

tion includes Tahmima Anam, whose debut novel A Golden Age made its virgin appearance as a work-in-progress in Bedford Square 2. “I’d put a few bob on Tahmima Anam,” wrote the Times in review of the anthology in 2007. “The extract from her novel-in-progress . . . is a vivid and intriguing slice of Bangladesh in 1959.” Ms Anam wrote half of the novel during the course at Royal Holloway; the extract in Bedford Square 2 caught the eye of publishers, and she snagged a two-book deal with John Murray. Detailing the bloody birth of Bangladesh through the eyes of a young mother caught up in the horrors of the 1971 War of Independence, A Golden Age was published later that year and has since gone on to win the Commonwealth Literary Prize for Best First Book. Ms Anam recalls in an interview with the Observer how her tutelage under Sir Andrew shaped her writing style: “I remember the first week on the course he told me I ‘didn't have to be so dutiful’, and the phrase stuck in my mind.” “In a way, it is wrong to think that one cannot be taught to write,” is her response to the typical criticisms of creative writing



by John Tucker

courses such as Royal Holloway’s. “You can be taught to write!” The Royal Holloway course itself has grown by about 50 per cent from its initial two workshop groups, and its organisers expect it to expand further over the next few years. It has also established the Margaret Hewson prize with leading literary agency Johnson & Alcock. Open to all Royal Holloway Creative Writing MA students, the inaugural prize was awarded last July to Laura McClelland for her piece on a group of preRaphaelites. The anthology is named for 11 Bedford Square, the building where the classes gather to look over each other’s work. Whilst student anthologies are usually associated with small or vanity presses, Bedford Square is published by prominent company John Murray, whose stable of works includes first editions of literary masterpieces such as Childe Harold and Emma. Sir Andrew previously worked with the company’s current managing director Roland Philipps; John Murray has since published all four issues of Bedford Square. Although the students’ submissions are edited professionally by staff at John Murray, they arrive at the publisher’s already finely-tuned from the course’s workshops, where draft after draft is spared no critical mercy. “Our students usually arrive with a project – a novel, a collection of poetry or short stories – to work on over the course of the MA,” explains Ms Jones. “We have intensive weekly workshops where work-inprogress is discussed and developed.” While the future direction of Bedford Square itself remains uncertain for now, Ms Jones believes that student anthologies as a whole are poised to take to the Internet en masse. “I think that the future trend will be for paperless, on-line publications which are easily available to agents and editors,” she concludes. How moving their shop window online will affect the Royal Holloway course remains to be seen. In the meantime, Bedford Square as publication hovers precariously between print and pixels; while at Bedford Square the address another cohort of students click their pens and painstakingly fit into place the words that may well tip this publication into a whole new domain.

*Published by Shearsman Books

Animus, Anime, Anima


was happy to be asked to review a new volume of poetry by jaime robles (who like e.e. cummings prefers lower-case letters for her name). anime animus anima is a sleek volume of verse in three parts, named ‘Black’, ‘White’ and ‘Colour’, based on imagery from classic Japanese animations: Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost In The Shell series, Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Shinichiro Watanabe’s Cowboy Bebob. The imagery in these apocalyptic anime looks to the West from the East, and borrows Western influences such as 30’s Surrealism, Judeo-Christian mythologies and American cowboy myths respectively. Robles, on the other hand, looks at the East looking at the West. The collection is very much concerned with vision. She starts by leading us into ‘the theatre’s darkened hollow’ to witness as ‘the film flutters,’ using an achieved freeverse style that is stripped, spare, systolic and aptly haiku-like in its distillation of the senses. robles proceeds to take us further into the super-involuted structure of an eye watching and in some senses filming, and even into the cinema’s 24 frames per second, as she says, ‘caught open: the wide eye a path’, resolving ‘solid gesture into solid gesture’. As image-sensation becomes internalized, we journey further into the brain – to ideation, and ultimately towards the soul. Freeze-framing and snapshot-fragments become her technique and help her hypostasise a unique universe. To my mind, robles is asking us if an unmediated experience is possible in our image-saturated world. Tensions between the sensuous mode of being and the vicarious nature of spectacle are explored, but not quite resolved. The transference of personality to characters such as nerve, soul, heart also give this book a sense of being a slightly opaque psychodrama with unreal characters. The poems assume postures, their arguments tempered with a mindfulness suited for the medium of anime. (She also employs

the long dash that is characteristic of writers like Emily Dickinson with mastery). But anime is also a means to explore deeper issues like the ‘occult passageways’ of the body and soul. With a terse and imagistic style, that could be considered a filmic shorthand (though clearly full of craft), she eventually weaves in her own, modern American experience.


It’s also helpful to remember that in Jung, ‘anima’ is one’s innermost self distinct from social persona. Imagination, the nature of memory and relationships – both familial and amorous – become part of her musical score. She writes: ‘I’m trying to change viewpoints here, to experience more than/what bumps up against the interface of skin and sense.’ The book proceeds from Black and White into Colour, which incorporates ‘Falling debris’ a 14-line prose-sonnet which I take to be a counter-poetic reply to T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. Eliot’s ideas of time as ‘eternally present' and 'unredeemable’ are reworked for the freeze-frame generation: 'He falls through the rose-shaped window and into another time he believes is in the past but persistent always in the moment: mercury from a broken thermometer skitters in planetary pellets.' Overall this is a very good book, which both warrants and rewards attention. Highly recommended.

*This is an excerpt from ‘The Wake’. The next part will be available in Issue #4 Image courtesy of

by Louisa Little with Khalid Tetuani


elanie was staring into her third Bacardi and Coke with an intensity she usually reserved for good looking blokes. After the bell has gone for last orders – please take me home – she mockingly asked her drink before knocking it back and looking up at me with the same eyes. I’m smoking Berkley Menthol, a last resort, thanks to Tanya’s Old Dear, who has me tied down to her. I’m kind of in love with her anyway, at that moment. We have smoked seventeen fags between us and the lipstick marks left on the butt ends have gradually faded with the dimming of the lights. I’ve got this mild headache creeping on to me. I’m suffering a bit. I’ve never known proper shock before which is weird because I should have; some terrible things have happened to me. But at the time, it never really registered with me. I think it’s because I could have stopped it, at some level. I feel like shaking everyone here. Maybe they’re dead too. I’m not sure they really understand. Wake up for fuck’s sake. Someone is dead and they shouldn’t be. At least Tanya’s mum has reassured us that she’s with God now. She really actually says that. I try not to look too appalled. Cheap sentimental refuge. In my family it borders on the sacrilegious to mention God unless you’re swearing or joking. ‘Yes, that is comforting’ I said, and can’t believe I’m so full of shit. It dawns on me that I’m gonna have to talk banal bollocks for the rest of the afternoon. I envy the departed, and I bet they don’t envy me. Bet they’re glad it’s all over and done with; no more sitting where I don’t want to be. Melanie is pleading with her eyes again, take me out of here, and I throw the look straight back at her in all helplessness. I flip between feeling welded to the chair and the urge to jump ship, or walk the plank. I wouldn’t mind being at home in my pyjamas watching Eastenders with my duvet. I could even cut up an orange and boil an egg like I’m sick. Simulate sickness. Fuck, I can’t see a way of getting from here to there. I feel sick like that time when my mum told me of a time at work when a guy she knew, a colleague, asked her if he could borrow her Atlantic Starr LP [‘As the Band Turns’ (1986), which featured that track Secret Lovers]. He was married. The woman he was fucking was married: wht a mess.



Melanie gives up on me and heads to wards the kitchen table. I’m not drinking in case I end up speaking my mind or something like that. This facetious vicar approaches us, telling us how ‘lovely the cake is,’ and someone goes and fetches another piece for the man. He then sermonizes about the merits of this cake he’s eating, which makes it clear that, whilst tragic and meaningless deaths are his bread and butter, decent cake only comes along every once in a while. I notice Tanya’s brother staring at the vicar in some kind of pretend indignation and I consider, for the first time that day, how much he probably wants to fuck me and how he might bring it up in a conversation, and what I’d do from there… Did I ever fuck him before he was gone? I don’t feel guilty about thinking about sex with the bereaved as I’m sure I remember reading about the connection between sex and death. Was it fiction or a proper study?

One thing I love about chatty loquacious people is that you can totally fall apart in their presence, and as long as you show no outward manifestation of this disintegration, they stifle your ability to communicate. This is something I also hate about them. As you are: stay, it’s a bonus. Tanya’s mum is totally hammered which is proper fucked up considering the way Tanya died. When someone dies like that you can’t ask too many questions without coming across too[?] morbid. It was only after they had published the findings of the inquest in the local paper that I actually understood the details of what happened: straight coke, ecstasy, heroin and alcohol; get it wrong and it kills you. Has anyone ever got that right? And what’s left of them? I mean even my friend Nik who is on-andoff – basically a cat – wouldn’t take that lit

tle bundle in such a short space of time – however inviting it may seem – which is why she’s still alive, although her hair did fall out one time. Apart from that she seems largely indestructible. But Tanya didn’t usually do heroin: so it did her in. She must have done it once or twice before on a joyride but she was all about the coke and drink, of course. I hadn’t spent much time with her for ages but what the fuck went on? The bit that got to me in the report though, the bit that got me so sad and angry, freaked out even, was that she died in the evening – poor sod – and whoever was there with her didn’t call or nothing until around three the following afternoon. They might as well have called a coroner by then; what use is a doctor or an ambulance (or a fucking vicar for that matter) then? When Sunil’s brother got hit by a truck the school bus driver turned around to us – marooned on the pavement – and said ‘he’s brown bread mate’; but how did he know? He looked the same lying there on the road. There wasn’t even any blood. When the ambulance took him away a few minutes later they didn’t even bother to put on the siren. I couldn’t believe it. Surely there were degrees of death: the less time you were dead the less permanent[?] it was. I suppose you could[?] be dead for a second or a hundred years, it was all the same. You’d rocked the cradle into the abyss. Thinking back to what my mother used to say to my dad: ‘You can fleece me all you like, but remember, one day, when you skin me, that’ll be the fucking end of it: you hear me?’ When did Tanya cross that line? How did it exactly happen? I’d been over it hundreds of times in my mind before I’d go to sleep… but I didn’t even know who they were. Tanya’s mum’s drink has run out and she puts the glass to her lips once more, tipping her head back to make sure – no, definitely an empty glass. She looks at me and I look back at her as we both realise that this is a queue for something else to happen. We can’t just sit here smoking Berkley Menthol forever can we? Sooner or later one of us would need a piss or we’d run out fags and that would give someone else the smart idea to come up and strike a conversation with me, or her. It would grow dark eventually, the twiglets would run out. But all good things must come to an end: I heard as the world fell apart before my ears.

and spend the day sweating.


You patiently wait for them to break the one you’ve chosen’s teeth and you lose the bet that you won’t pay. You’re already in trouble for not paying the bets you’re losing but oh well. You tape the footage for some possible eventual artwork although you don’t think you’re ever going to use this complicated black and white footage because you don’t really know what you want to say with it. You know that they’re making a lot of money thanks to the clandestine

their sleep. You watch them eat. You watch them fight. They fight twice a week and the fights are really impressive. They fight barehanded but they wear shiny robes, costumes and beautiful Lucha Libre masks. He’s got a fan club online, and you join the fan club and you send love messages and promises of going back to Morocco to win him back, and launch a fantastic career on the dry world. You keep fighting with Tyson online and now you’ve won level 2. You keep admiring your boy and you write a book on him.


riting is like boxing so put on your gloves and shiny robe and go out. The crowd acclaims you. You have steam in your glasses and you rub them with a small tissue. After all this time you decide to write as if you were boxing with Tyson and Tyson is boxing with a broken back. You box with a small version of Tyson on a game you found online but you stay at level one. You count the calories you’re mentally burning in your computer. You think: uppercut, uppercut, uppercut, hook upperca, uperca doble uperca, respirar inspirar hook uperca, uperca hoook doble aperca hoo respirar inspirar respirar inpirar respirar inspirar Tyson peleando con la espalda rota inspirar expirar inspirar expirar aperca aperca aperca pibe aperca aperca, medis la distancia, miras al techo y pensas aperca aperca aperca aperca aperca hook an aperca aperca aperca aperca, you’re just the melancholic copy of a good boxer. You’re at home. You’re chatting with your computer in a face-to-face dialogue, you think of her as a personified object that you love. You box with your computer aperca aperca aperca aperca doble hook aperca hook aperca aperca aperca aperca aperca hook. You discover that in the hold of a Spanish ship stationed in Morocco there are three hundred illegal Bolivian workers hiding from the immigration police. The ship is stationed because it’s in an illegal and very difficult to sort situation. They’re all men and they live and sleep together smelling each other’s manly sweat. They never go out. They organize public fights while they wait. They wait forever. You observe them fighting through the web cam of an illegal bets website. You watch their muscles for hours. You’re feeling ambiguous curiosity towards this group of people that remains unknown to you. You learn to love them and you watch them every day. You become dependent and in the end you don’t go out anymore, you just stay home and watch the boys. You have steam on your glasses again

Image by Sing Yun Lee

fights and you also know that you’re maintaining that because you lose every bet. They stay there for almost a year because the ship can’t reach the harbour so you get to know them very well, you watch them sleeping at night and you also know that in the beginning there were some North African people in there and two Argentinean women but the Bolivians have taken over.


You watch the black and white footage over and over. You think hook doble hook aperca aperca aperca aperca aperca aperca aperca aperca hook doble hook doble hook doble aperca cross, hook cross hook etc; you’ve fallen in love with one of the boys from the ship. You’re sending love and lusty messages disguised as Internet pop ups and spam that your teen love is not getting because he can’t really read.

You fill your eyes with teardrops, and spend the whole year wanting to cry. You keep losing all the bets. The boy you’ve fallen in love with wins the only fight you forget to bet for. You eat Frijoles to celebrate. You enlarge your desire. You watch them eat cake and celebrate someone’s birthday. In the strange footage there’s a black spot that slowly grows, you try to clean up your screen until the spot is gone, you go to the kitchen and you fry Fritanga, when you come back to your screen the spot is back but you wait for a while and then it goes away. Aperca aperca aperca hook derecha izquierda derecha hook repetimos la combinacion aperca aperca cross y hook y croos doble cross aperca.

You start living with them, you follow their movements and you listen to Reggaeton, cumbia hot and a few Rancheras. You eat Arroz con Queso and when you’re lucky you get Asado de Chancho en olla, and lately you’ve been getting lucky. You sleep when they sleep but only a few hours because seeing them sleep is one of the most exciting things you’ve ever experienced. You tape

You watch them having fun, and you have fun with them. Once they bring a piñata and your sweetheart strikes it. You see black and white confetti falling over his shoulders and for a moment the footage becomes blurred and you see abstraction, you see black and white shapes, bright-unidentified objects. You stare at this image for a while, and then the image becomes clear.

The footage becomes blurry again or maybe it’s your glasses that are all steamed now. Your hands are shaking, you’re shivering. The image goes clear again. Your teen love comes to the web cam and winks and for the first time in one year. You shut off your computer and go to sleep. You close your eyes and all you see is in black and white. You experience confetti falling on your shoulders that become abstract geometric shapes and melancholy takes over. You think of your boys again. You sleep and in your dream your body


is a hotel for ambivalent feelings that you’re unable to identify, you don’t see anything or the things surrounding you have become abstraction, you see the souvenir of a table and the angle of a sofa and all you see is fake minimalism in the dark and flashes of


his is the story of a man who lived life as if he were writing his autobiography.

As he sat in the bus on the way home he thought to himself, ‘what illuminating insight can I have reached while sitting here?’ As he walked down the streets, he realised that it was the first time he was completely aware of his actions. Left foot forward. Right foot forward. Swing arms in a discernable yet not obvious way. This, he felt, would make an excellent anecdote. Eventually. He considered the faces of his parents when he was a child, wondering what facial expression they were communicating at the time. Happiness at his first fumbling attempts at theatre? Disappointment at his poor exam results? Sorrow when his uncle passed away at a too-soon age? How had they affected him? He would be somewhat reticent about it, but when pushed (who would push him though, in his own autobiography?), he would probably guess that he would remember them with fondness, a distant, pleasant memory. He even thought about how the book would look. It was difficult to think of a publisher. He didn’t want one too big, like HarperCollins, but a reputable name, famous for obscure post-modern literary works. No name came to mind. It never did. After a few decades though, it would be a Penguin Classic. It had to be. Bound up tastefully in black, tasteful font summarising essential information for the casual reader at the back, and a photograph of him as the front cover. What would the photograph be of, though? He figured it out exactly two minutes and thirty-four seconds before his twenty-eighth birthday. It would be a candid shot, artfully but not pretentiously composed. It would either be a picture of him, as a young boy, smiling gleefully at the camera in the living room of his first house, or him as an old man, gazing


thoughtfully at the camera in the study of his last house. In both those photographs, he was enjoying an ice cream cone. It bothered him from time to time, this method of thinking. He never understood James Joyce, for it seemed entirely inconceivable that people’s thoughts would be so messy and disorganised. Nor did they attempt to construct a single narrative thread through their daily lives. Was this how people were supposed to be? Was his fumbling first kiss supposed to be more than the beginning of his chapter detailing his loves and relationships? He soon convinced himself that there was nothing to be guilty about. What difference did it make, him ignoring the beggar on the side of the road just so he could penitently reflect on it while writing those pages as opposed to walking by simply because he didn’t care? People are all motivated by different desires. Sex for pleasure. Work for money. God for fear. For him, his reason seemed somewhat purer than the others, or at the very least, on an equal level with them. The project expanded, of course, as works of these magnitudes tend to do. Before long, he was considering what the critics would say. Would they see him as a

darker, you look at yourself crawling on the floor, you’re being watched through a web cam and you fight your honey love. Aperca aperca crosshook aperca hook derecha izquierda derecha izquierda ok cross doble cross combinacion de derecha izquierda derecha izquierda derecha izquierda aperca aperca aperca aperca dale pibe aperca you hit him really bad, his eye is all swollen and you break his back but he keeps fighting with a broken back and at the end he wins. When you wake up the first thing you see is black and white footage.

self-serving, self-congratulating egomaniac, hiding the truth with every single possibility? Or would they think of him as a latter-day Rousseau, coming clean with every single dirty detail of his life in an effort to repent or make some sense of it? Above all, would it sell? Well, obviously it would. The movie rights would be picked up before too long. Most likely by a studio that specialised in thoughtful art-house films, intellectually stimulating without being obtuse. No name came to mind. It did though, decades later, a studio that unfortunately has not yet been set up at the time of writing. The real problem was who would play him. He could not envision a big star in the role. No. He was not George Clooney, nor was meant to be. He was a character actor, well respected, possibly with an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor on his mantelpiece, but who never quite got the attention or reputation he deserved. Too many names came to mind. He even went so far as to think of the soundtrack of the film. While walking down the street on a dark day, at the moment before the storm broke, wild gusts of wind whipping at his coat and the air heavy and thick with the smell of rain, he heard ‘Gimme Shelter’ echo through the tributaries of the city, dogging his footsteps and stalking his shadow. ‘Iron Man’ hung in the smoky air during his first encounter with drugs. ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ entered the hospital with him when he met his first child for the first time. Unfortunately, it was a boy. Sometimes, though, he couldn’t quite score it the way he wanted. We never can tell what will come next, sadly. Sometimes, the tragic score he had in his head would be cruelly deflated by an ill-timed comic moment, the swelling strings and mournful melodies brought to a screeching halt, only to be re placed by canned studio laughter. No mat-

ter. He would remember all those failedalmost-nearly-but-not-quite-special moments in his mind, chopping, changing, editing them till they became perfect in his mind and in his book. He never did write his autobiography though. No, he did not die suddenly. Nor did he die young. He died slowly, peacefully, gradually drifting away day by day somewhere else, as he had been doing all his life. Nor did he forget to write it. It was not by deliberation, nor was it by accident. It always stayed with him, occupying the back of his mind, like a first love. You never forget them, they just fade away into the background of your thoughts, their image somehow always almost just within your sight. Still, he kept on writing it in his mind. Even in his final days, lying on his hospice bed, surrounded by his children and their children, he pondered on whether his ruminations on mortality were better off being placed in the first or the second-tolast chapter. He did not live long enough to make up his mind.


They would open the box, examining the various fossils of one man’s existence. A few books, pages yellowed with age, or a gold watch, slightly dulled by the passage of time. Nothing of much interest, really. But perhaps they would pause and look at the two photographs, lovingly and carefully preserved in the pages of a battered copy of ‘Great Expectations’. Candid shots, one of a young boy smiling gleefully at the camera in the living room of his first house, and the other of an old man gazing thoughtfully at the camera in the study of his last house. They were both enjoying ice-cream cones.


Eventually, he passed away, his final thoughts on, appropriately enough, what the final line of the book would be. This, unlike most things, was a certainty. He had known it from the very start, had planned it far in advance. It was not even a choice. As he reflected on the last line, it was impossible to tell what emotion his withered face was showing. Perhaps there was just no emotion at all, only a soft whisper to finish off his life’s work. ‘I never wrote this story.’ He was forgotten by his children and their children. Quickly. There was nothing special about him. He did not succeed in much; he did not fail in much. He just got by. There were no great achievements to herald at the funeral, most eulogies were standard-issue, except for his second daughter who considered herself a poet. He did not leave much to remember by. Most of his possessions were thrown away or sold off. A few pieces of memorabilia were kept, a gold watch he received at his retirement party, his favourite books, these were stored away in a cardboard box in the attic, collecting dust and occasionally being moved to the attic of a different house. The day would come though, when someone would open the box. A new young family trying to form a little museum for their son. A young girl, assembling a family tree for a class project. A curious housewife chancing upon it during a routine spring cleaning. Someone would find it.

Pencil on Paper


by Yuwei (Vivien) zhang

and and Feathers is a work I initially intended for a drawing competition. By utilizing the familiar figurative image of the hand, I tried to bring about, as in many of my other works, a sense of dichotomy: from the graphic, rigid quality of presumed soft feathers; from forging the sculptural against the flat; from combining static feathers and a hand in motion; and from the two elements’ contrast in intensity, style and interactions.

Espresso Caffe Latte Cappuccino Caffe Mocha Americano Hot Tea Hot Chocolate

£1 £1.50 £1.40 £1.50 £1 £0.80 £1

- C.S. Lewis

‘A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word darkness on the walls of his cell.’

The text reads:


by Ho Zhen Ming


We operate on multiple systems in our daily lives, all harbouring varying degrees of authority, secularity, scientific authenticity and a sense of danger to our state of being. This installation is a point of convergence for some of these systems.


by Sing J. Lee

To see this video and other short films by Sing J. Lee, visit: ‘ORDER’ explores an ongoing personal interest in patterns, shapes and rhythm. It is an interest which is inspired by the rigid architectural surroundings of Manchester, and by the soft free-flowing movement that can be formed with fabric. Drawing influence from various areas of the creative field, I sought to pool several techniques and ideas to create a short dynamic piece. The idea for ‘ORDER’ originated from some thoughts I had during the completion of another project. Over the summer I took the opportunity of working with a band called ‘SCAMS’ to direct and create music videos for their debut singles. This allowed me to work with a variety of people in different locations, some settings proving more challenging than others. During the edit of the second music video I began to consider creating something which would involve comparing natural patterns with man-made objects. In consideration of the themes that exist within ‘ORDER’, I felt very strongly about highlighting the element of fashion; it is an area which has always been of personal interest, yet has always lingered just at the fringes of my work. The two girls I wanted to work with for this particular project were Sasha Seddon and Emma Dixon, both models with great portfolios who are very easy to work with. Incorporating fashion as a form of expression in ‘ORDER’ allowed me to think of using it as an area of aesthetics at a more conceptual level, something I will bear in mind for future work.

Stills from ‘ORDER’

Emma’s role embodied the portion of the film that moved in a rigid, tight and linear manner; for that section of the video I allowed myself to be influenced by old Pierre Cardin eyewear, hand-designing some for Emma to wear. Sasha’s role was very much a representation of fluidity and motion within the video. I swathed her in an almost excessive quantity of material and had her dance and twirl, hoping to capture some scheme of life in the sheets of fabric as they trailed behind her. That part of the video concluded the project, bringing the project to its close in a freezing Mancunian car park on a rainy Saturday morning.

return to better times.


aul Auster, along with the likes of Phillip Roth, Don Dellilo, and Gore Vidal, is one of the great elder statesmen of American Literature, so it is with some anticipation that critics have awaited his sixteenth novel Sunset Park. Auster is often a byword for postmodern fiction, but on the surface this is a surprisingly conventional novel by his own standards. This could be connected with the 2008 economic crisis, which, according to many, has placed more stylistic constraints on novelists in general. Auster leaves aside the experimental and deconstructive fiction he is so well known for and focuses instead on intricate characterisation and interweaving narrative, as well as intertextual references to canonical U.S. literature. Auster has addressed terrorism in Leviathan and the possibility of a second Civil war in Man in the Dark, so global financial meltdown comfortably completes an unholy trinity. In the first section of the book, Miles Heller opens immediately with a snapshot of the subprime disaster as we witness the workers of the euphemistically named ‘Home Preservation’ service gutting a house of its abandoned possessions and delighting in the spoils they get to keep. However Miles refuses to take anything and instead photographs the objects as they were left. He is described as twenty eight year old ambitionless man; a symbol of a lost generation. His life changes when he falls in love with Pilar, a young Cuban girl who happens to be reading the same book as him, The Great Gatsby. Auster is very deliberate (and perhaps crude) with his literary references and Gatsby is the first and most important one in the novel. Sunset Park features two car crashes that shape the text: the first being the one that killed Pilar’s parents enabling Miles a way into her life; the second being the one that killed Miles’ step brother (Bobby) for which he feels eternally guilty. Miles is almost an anti-Gatsby: although they both live at a time of severe economic recession/depression, it is Gatsby who begins with nothing and becomes obscenely wealthy, whilst Miles runs away from his privileged family and college education in an act of self-destruction. However unlike Gatsby, who rapidly falls from grace, Miles eventually returns to New York to reunite with his parents in the manner of a more traditional bildungsroman. Miles arrives at Sunset Park where Bing and Company (as the second part is titled) have created an urban Walden, in which each member tries to make sense of their life through art. Miles and Alice have literature, Bing music, and Ellie sketching. Bing works in the ‘Hospital for Broken Things’, a mirror to the gutted house at the


beginning of the novel, the difference being that it is full of obsolete technological ap pliances like typewriters and record play ers, which Bing lovingly restores in his defiance to the more disposable era he lives in: “He takes it for granted that the future is a lost cause, and if the present is all that matters now, then it must be a present imbued with the spirit of the past. That is why he shuns cell phones, computers, and all things digital – because he refuses to participate in new technologies.”

However it is not Miles’s relationship with either his mother or Pilar that is central to the novel. If anything, the female characters are poorly conceived and merely keep the plot ticking over. It is rather the return of the prodigal son to the forgiving father that is at the heart of the novel. Morris Heller is an independent book publisher struggling to keep his business afloat, describing himself as “a man out of step with the times,” paraphrasing Ezra Pound’s Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, “M. Verog, out of step with the decade.” As a character Morris is problematic, as he is so obviously a vehicle for Auster’s deep concerns about the decline of the publishing industry and quality fiction:


“It’s a rough time for first novels, very rough and he’s been forced to reject some good young writers, books he would have taken a chance on a year or two ago, and he finds that troubling since the whole point of Heller books is to encourage new talent.” Image courtesy of

The idea that the future is a lost cause is a bleak outlook for a man not yet thirty, especially as all of the occupants work at least part time (although for very little money). Auster is aware that his Waldenesque utopia is unsustainable as the threat of eviction looms ever present. There is a sense that each of the occupants enjoys their artistic pursuits in isolation, but as the section goes on, they finally reach a greater understanding of each other through their art. Miles is also reunited with his mother when he learns she will be performing in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days which, along with the 1946 film The Best Days of Our Lives (continually referenced throughout the novel), is a metaphor for the decline of America and hope for a

Despite lamenting the dearth of opportunities for new literature, Auster knows the importance of the past in sustaining the symbolism of his text and for providing solace in difficult times, much as Miles and his father love to reminisce about old baseball stars. This notion comes to its apotheosis in the final section, “All” when Auster’s covert literary allusions break down into Mile’s overt meditation on the Odyssey and the powerful notions of homecoming and homelessness; Miles is like the Odysseus of a (re-born) lost generation. It is his most didactic work to date: A Dialectic of Enlightenment styled attack on American material greed is evident, alongside the aesthete’s message of the importance of preserving literature across generations. There also seems to be much more autobi-

ography in this novel than in hisprevious books. The relationship between Miles and his father seems intensely biographical as does the bond between Morris and the author Renzo. Unusually for Auster there are acknowledgements at the end of the book to friends, and a particularly tender one to his daughter, whose high school paper on To Kill a Mockingbird is assimilated diBefore I watched The Social Network I knew only three things about it; it’s about Facebook, David Fincher directs it and Justin Timberlake was in it. I didn’t have a problem with Ole’ Trousersnake and I would watch a documentary about toothpaste if David Fincher was directing, but a film about Facebook? I half expected the opening scene to be a camera zooming up Mark Zuckerberg’s nostril, through his prefrontal cortex and revealing a blue and white logo with eight letters. But then as the opening credits revealed the name Aaron Sorkin over Fincher’s trademark green and yellow colour scheme, I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that I might watch more than a film about a ‘very successful computer person’. For a failed actor, former crack addict and obsessive clean freak Aaron Sorkin knows a lot about dialogue; we know this because he likes to use a lot of it. In the opening scene alone I counted like, a million words, all said by a character called Mark; a socially inept über-geek, and his bewildered date Erica. Everything she says is retorted with something obnoxious as they play a game of verbal ping-pong, and she is very quickly losing her tether and finally does the smartest thing she has ever done and dumps him.

rectly into the text. Sunset Park is a deeply sincere and beautifully crafted response to both the economic and spiritual crisis that has overwhelmed us and Auster is to be applauded as one of the first writers to produce such a commensurate response. Mark Lawson described Auster’s style as being “cold in its mechanical artifice and brilliance of

THE SOCIAL NETWORk by Halim Boudjeltia


It’s when heartbroken Mark decides to blog about “B.U. Bitches” and some very unflattering things about Erica’s modesty that we begin to see the initial spark of his idea for Facebook. And just when we think that we are about to see the worlds most intellectual teen sex comedy we are flung into a deposition case. The film is cleverly based on three heavily fictionalized accounts of what happened in the first couple of years of Facebook’s genesis, it’s also Sorkin and Fincher’s way of having their cake and eating it and it doesn’t matter. This isn’t a film about the details; it’s about capturing a time that already feels like centuries ago. Jesse Eisenberg, who delivers lines with the exactness, as if every sentence is under intense scrutiny. He does well playing a man with the social tact and empathy of a HP ProLiant ML110 G6. The supporting cast are all together solid, notably Justin Timberlake as the mercurial Sean Parker; the fallen golden boy-man of the information age, slickly exuding bullshit a mile a

Image courtesy of

technique,” but I believe there is as much warmth as the title suggests; it is an author in the twilight of his years writing a love letter to what is important to him – art, literature and family – and a grave warning to us of the dangers of losing sight of these ideals.

minute. Then there are the Winklevoss twins – played by Armie Hammer and Josh Pence – the übermensch to Zuckerberg’s über-geek, still holding on to old world values that jar with the fuck-youbuddy approach of the Noughties. Mark’s best friend Eduardo Savarin is also a victim of 21st century techno business brutality and is played wistfully by Andrew Garfield. The film travels at an efficient and deliberate pace; barely any gaps are allowed between lines, which makes this a very hard film to eat popcorn to. Each scene is directed to death by Fincher who tries to inject his flair into straightforward scenes, like in the Oxford boat race with a demonic Trent Reznor soundtrack that is welcome but probably completely unnecessary. The main gripe I have with The Social Network is that the subject matter isn’t cinematic (see the popcorn problem). This could have really worked with a one hour HBO TV movie, and we would have been spared the bogus motivations of needing to fit in and joining finals clubs – I can’t imagine Mark Zuckerberg being a frat boy of any kind. Also this isn’t a film that will stay with you, or something that you will care deeply for. The characters aren’t precisely drawn out enough: you can’t root for anyone enough to care about the conclusion. Aaron Sorkin puts the theme and events at the forefront instead of character development, which is appropriate because there is something attractive about someone who doesn’t change, and Mark Zuckerberg is a lot like Charles Foster Kane with an Xbox LIVE account. Of course when the themes such as betrayal unfold it is hard for the audience to care about the characters, I didn’t really care about who really invented Facebook, I’m sure it wasn’t the Winklevii, from the film they seemed to be planning some sort of dating site for rich douche bags, but we can never be sure. And just like the films structural premise, the film can be taken in three different ways; as a Harvard caper about rich people acting naughty, a Greek tragedy about the breakdown of friendship when ambition and wealth become involved or a film about a “very successful computer person”. Take your pick. 4/5.

bashed melodrama, and like any good melodrama, is ridiculously over the top and filled with sex and violence.

BLACk SWAN by Timothy Yam

(Warning: this review might contain spoilers. I’ve tried my level best to avoid them, but with a film of this sort, it is nearly impossible to describe without revealing some details)


lack Swan, appropriately enough, opens with a dream.

It might end with one. Who knows? Certainly not our protagonist Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), whose tenuous grip on reality is chillingly portrayed by director Darren Aronofsky through a skittish handheld camera. Nina starts out as a relative nobody in a ballet company run by Tomas Leroy (Vincent Cassell). However, plummeting sales spur Leroy to make major changes, including ‘retiring’ his former prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) and planning to put up a new interpretation of the classic Swan Lake, with a new dancer to play the Swan Queen. That new dancer, in a move that surprises even Leroy himself, turns out to be Nina. Nina is indeed talented and hardworking, but it isn’t long before the film starts to suggest that she might be somewhat … repressed. Her mother (Barbara Hershey), whom Nina lives with, surrounds her with stuffed animals in a baby – pink room, a fact that actually is a lot creepier than it sounds. This repression shows through her ballet. She dances a perfect White Swan, fragile and innocent, but as the lustful and fiery Black Swan, she is too frigid, too mechanical, too cold. Trouble begins when a new ballerina, Lily (Mila Kunis), is cast as her alternate. Lily is seductive, bold, and confident, making her a perfect Black Swan, and this fact begins to gnaw away at Nina’s already fractured psyche. That’s when things get weird. Aronofsky, after the stark, realistic The Wrestler, has moved sharply into the other direction, and this film is drenched in touches of the macabre and Grand Guignol. I won’t lie; at times this film is almost unbearable to sit through. That, strange as it sounds, is a compliment. The film wants to make you uncomfortable, and it succeeds at that in spades. Black Swan, at its heart, is an una-

Much like its protagonist, the film dances at the very extremes. Black Swan’ is shown through Nina’s perspective entirely, and it’s questionable just how much of it is really happening. Just like the titular protagonist in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, Nina’s view of reality is horrendously skewed, haunted by shadowy figures that lurk in the background. Reflections in mirrors behave in ways they really shouldn’t. Mysterious scratches begin to appear on Nina’s back. And a terrifying confrontation with Beth in a hospital had me screaming in terror (hint: it involves a knife). Blood exists in this movie, along with liberal amounts of body horror, as Nina’s feet and legs begin to suffer from their continual punishment.


Even sex is not free of the ever-present sense of unease that pervades the movie. The notorious sex scene between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis became a minor internet sensation, leading to quite a few snarky comments of Princess Amidala/ Meg Griffin. In the film, however, sexually repressed Nina can’t seem to enjoy a single moment without it being punctuated by sheer terror. Her art becomes her life, she dreams about dancing, does nothing but rehearse and practice, fuelled by her quest to be ‘perfect’ in everything except life itself. There is a certain irony in Darren Aronofsky creating a movie about a driven protagonist whose quest for rigid, controlled perfection becomes her fatal flaw. Aronofsky, of course, directed The Fountain, one of the biggest disappointments in recent memory, a film bogged down eventually by ambition and pretentiousness. The Wrestler was his comeback, a comparatively simple story shorn of the directorial flourishes that marked his earlier work, a sign of intent and quite possibly penance. In Black Swan, however, glimpses of the old Aronofsky return. The film is seen through mirrors, half-obscured reflections of Nina haunt every scene (and provide some very effective scares). The last half hour (don’t worry, I won’t spoil what happens) is punctuated by strange, surrealistic imagery as the boundaries of Nina’s imagination and reality get increasingly blurred. Aronofsky’s confidence has never gone away, but it’s not been on show like this since Requiem For A Dream. The

risks he takes are bold and showy, but to the director’s credit, never gimmicky. Quite possibly, the reason why Aronofsky’s direction never threatens to overwhelm the movie is because he wisely chooses to centre the entire movie on Natalie Portman’s performance as Nina. She is, in a word, amazing. Like the film, she goes over the top, yet somehow still remains believable and sympathetic. Portman grounds the movie, which could so easily have been cheap shocks and thrills, through her immaculate portrayal of Nina. A film like this can only work if the audience is sympathetic to the main character, and Portman measures up to the task admirably. Aronofsky lovingly frames her fragile body and delicate features in closeup, making the suffering she goes through all the more painful and unbearable. Portman disappears under the skin of Nina, conveying every single emotion perfectly. It would take a heart of stone not to be captivated by Natalie Portman’s performance, and it does not surprise me that she has been rewarded for it in this current awards season. As good as Portman is though, she’s backed up ably by the rest of the cast. Mila Kunis oozes sex appeal in every scene she’s in, and does a capable job of showing us Lily through Nina’s own unreliable eyes. Kunis faithfully portrays whatever her character is supposed to be, whether a concerned friend, scheming rival, or even sexual partner. Vincent Cassel, roguish and charming as ever, is a delight to watch as the strutting, predatory impresario, providing a few moments of levity in a film that would otherwise be completely dark and macabre. Between the supporting cast though, it is Barbara Hershey who stands out the most playing Nina’s mother. She is every child’s worst nightmare, the horrifying ‘smother mother’ who lives vicariously through her child’s achievements while simultaneously resenting it. Hershey is superb, and her interactions with Natalie Portman are by some of the finest acting sequences in any film I’ve seen this year. Black Swan is one of those movies that will polarise opinion. Yes, it is over the top, unrealistic, and at times, nearly unbearable to watch. Yet, it is one of the most mesmerising and captivating films I’ve seen all year, a film that revels in its flaws rather than being bogged down by them. Aronofsky does indeed have interesting (albeit not very original) ideas about female sexual repression and the sacrifices that people make for their art, and this, coupled with the superlative performance of Natalie Portman, is enough for me to recommend this movie wholeheartedly, with the slight caveat that you may have to watch bits of it while hiding your eyes and curling up in a foetal position.

* Words by China Mieville ‘The City & The City’, Macmillan 2009

Tengen Issue 3  

The third issue of the University of London Creative Writing and Arts magazine. Contents: interviews poems, prose pieces, visual art, review...

Tengen Issue 3  

The third issue of the University of London Creative Writing and Arts magazine. Contents: interviews poems, prose pieces, visual art, review...