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ISSUE #4 MARCH 2012 A Creative Writing and Arts Magazine

TENGEN Magazine

Interview with

WRITING Umar Hassan Justin Katko & Jow Lindsay Stephen Mooney Sean Bonney

FEATURED ARTISTS Erika Altosaar Johanna Torell

TOM MCCARTHY Exclusive Artwork


EDITORIAL Tengen has changed significantly since we started the magazine in 2009. Our most notable change has been an aesthetic one, and our editorial policy now reflects this. As much as this is a product of the taste of Tengen’s staff, it has much more so been a reflection of the multifarious submissions we have received. Our calls for contributions were well answered, and we received an excellent level of response from visual art students in particular. The visual features are stronger than ever before, and illustration is being increasingly brought into the magazine. The division between prose and poetry in this issue may seem somewhat arbitrary at times, although Tengen’s end is rhetorical in this respect. Similarly, the visual and written pieces are combined in some cases. Sometimes this reflected authorial taste, and at other times it was a matter of aesthetic congruency. The issue contains a fine set of poetry from a variety of backgrounds, including a notable current of experimental London poetry. The features are very strong – particularly the interview with Tom McCarthy and Kanitta Meechubot’s especially commissioned artwork – with many talented visual and written contributors including Erika Altosaar, Johanna Torrell, Justin Katko, Sean Bonney and Umar Hassan. This time round the issue length is substantially greater. As most of us are graduating this year our efforts have combined into a single product, but from next ‘year’ we intend to release with greater frequency. We will be extending the visual portion of the magazine to include work from different disciplines, such as fashion illustration and typography; furthermore we will be refining the reviews section and including content on music. We intend to expand the online content on our website ( after finals, and the magazine is available to read on our issuu page. We are continually open to influx of suggestions and connections, so feel free to contact us by email.




Joe Kerridge..................................3

Lara Kamhi..................................22

Rupert Cabbell-Manners Olivia Ho.........................................4

Poppy Whatmore....................23

Umar Hassan................................5 Stephen Mooney........................6

Johanna Torell....................24-25 Erika Altosaar.....................26-28 Kanitta Meechubot................29

An Epistle to Dave Willetts................................7

Sarah Pickering..................30-31

Jow Lindsay & Justin Katko Steve Willey..............................8-9


Steve Willey................................10

Maru Rojas Sean Bonney........................32-34


Kyle D. Robertson...................35

Interview with Tom McCarthy.....................11-13

Louisa Little with Khalid Tetuani....................36-37

Review & Interview: Manning Marable’s Reinvention of Malcolm X.............................14-16


London Poetry Feature: Q&A with Steve Willey...........................17-18

Sergios Zlamas: ‘Hugo’.............................................38 Enrico Tassi: ‘Carnage’................................38-39

Exclusive Feature: ‘Urban Drama’ Illustration by Kannitta Meechubot.......19-21

Cover Artwork by Adam Griffiths


2 WITH THANKS TO: Zixin Lin, Adam Griffiths, Joanna Houghton, Kanitta Meechubot, William Rowe, Owen Holland, Robert Kiely and all our contributers.




The hush mood, slow mover, sleep walker on the misty river Tucked in, under the wing of oaky autumn mountains Blow in, from the north the eyes of ethics and her sisters Gush through, water please, lapping blue, clear the winter. She is spring, sunshine sprig on the water, walk beside her So wakeful, move us all, send us swift for a sight of her Beacon be, please remain, receptive of our disquietudes I see no other saviour than the angel in an upstairs room. Bird fly through winter Mother feels far wind in nest All beasts were children On morning of noon Disquietude is so pale But fire will soon live You are all goodness Thank you for all your goodness Real radiance

Illustration by Joanna Houghton



Mother, I dreamed I walked through a live minefield, with each mine a heart. They were colouring the air with blood and purple muscle. I walked on. I knew that they were none of them mine. Mother, you feasted on me. I was the wedding cake you never cut. What is this sick beauty, Mother, this Chelsea grin you carved into my face? Mother, you taught me how to smile. Mother, you forgave me. Would that I could forgive you. You saved me from grief but I would fain have my heart back. Not this strange jewel you pinned to my breast Its beautiful mechanism clicking, like the tips of knitting needles, a lone echo in the silence of stopped clocks. Mother, I should have burned in your stead. I should have liked to see the heat crack this perfect heart. Better your pyre than the altar of my sacrifice. The ‘I do’ like the smashing of a clock face, the pieces left to rust in a cold room for years.

SONG NEAR HARBOUR ISLAND by Rupert Cabbell Manners

Circumference of solitude, The banded islets rise and fuse Around our ship, A brooding green where waters foam Behind resumes the single tone Through which we slip, A turquoise in the shallow dish Of the lagoon, a brilliant fish In midday's hand. We are the moving point; the world Winds with the freedom of a pearl In tidal sand. Eleuthera, we run aground; A garden cockerel clears its throat, Intentional. We queue to leave the stranded boat. Above the dock, the painted town Confirms the hill.

DIALECTIC by Rupert Cabbell Manners

A nettle’s an embodiment of green. The spectrum woken in the pressured stars Draws on the string and mulch within the scheme Like the fabrics farmed by manufacturers. Sophistication not in the rainbow bars Science dissects blooms in the chlorophyll And in the situation of our glance: The weed unfolds its luminescent stills Under a sun and in the shade it fills.



It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover our impotence. -- Mahatma Gandhi

When Ossie preached that Malcolm was nothing But a man, still a prince not a king in Negroland He was parsing masters' voices secreted in his elegiac script Not a plaintive eulogy for a widow and her children But his confession of the loss of a bartered masculinity With coded apologies to his Broadway bosses, balding angels Hiding behind the Harlem church's double doors Random notes first scribbled on a breakfast napkin Organized blues and Shakespearean references Two princes discontent in their own dangerous winters Lost in the madness of betrayals and deadly ambitions Blinded by the sun of York's throne ascension And the Negro king's success in southern racial skirmishes While he struggled, free and adrift in a bitter, northern sea of troubles He reprised that newfangled preacher man Tamped down a titter to play to Harlem's own better Waycross preacher called Detroit Red Harlem's son, Like he was unaware of Lansing, that cold place Where Malcolm's from and where his martyred father died Preacher man snatched Malcolm from the world's hands Ignored his pilgrim’s title, played blind to his international past Preacher man shot him again, to finish his peculiar madness With fifteen boss-chosen words, one for each assassin round There exploded hotness, slugs and words deftly hurled Through space and flesh and bone and memory Emptied casings bouncing on the Audubon’s stained floor Words rattling in the hollowed space of lost, scoring our hearts The weak-kneed preacher reveled in Malcolm's seductive smile Swooned, like a moonstruck schoolgirl lost in his Black urban style He believed that that smile would have been enough, like his own, Had his bosses only known, they would have loved him as a son Of course he was delusional, desperate for that edenic place Where he could stand in peace beside balding Broadway angels And wave a fond farewell to his prince and to his own masculinity.



However, you have chosen wrongly will you rub into his eyes? touch your exposed skin is not what you thought it was wearing the Ring of the burning on either side climb up to the next an eye etched into its top breaks on impact a human body completely encased If you wish to walk outside again I am following your every move If you wish to grope Despite the light from the burning If you wish to open the door a horrified look spreads You refuse to sit If you wish to open the door goes all the way who died at the hand and smoke starts to rise from its remember what you must do hollow eyes… You wipe the blood the sky like a black finger There is nothing useful to be found on the dead fought any of the other I regret that I have misinformed you Do you have all the items you are a weapon maker Are you one of those fancy folk where you live and you If you wish to risk walking takes the money He grins and says, ‘Practice what you preach’ a group of town attack you at once hedges have uprooted themselves is a painted sign which reads ‘Do Not



CITY OF THIEVES by Stephen Mooney

If you would rather keep on walking the shouting murderer away is a man in to hammer it into on top of its low to keep going you are not who you say you are making a dull jingling sound… If you can afford his asking price There are several silver outside reads ‘Ben they appear very cold to you brightly in the take what you wish is in fact a GOBLIN thief and you must fight him for your life like a small boy lying face down side for a few you will not harm him if he cooperates watch as he drops If you wish to hide to continue your search loose without waking and a few personal possessions and listen at the doors you will have to deal with the… Do you have any and you see movement amongst the rubbish runs south off the street point before continuing is sitting in the gutter They are overjoyed at their victory the middle of the bat If you wish to join in comes to a dead leave the ladies to their tastes absolutely women immediately start arguing again


made to look as if they are on fire You are suddenly halted back to the junction your forehead – you choose If you die, I keep all your possessions one black and five white to escape the pleas for aid from people fallen on hard times obviously pleased with himself if you wish to climb down stopped and you set Treat them as a single creature litter and rubble is they need shelter themselves face seems to be hiding a glimpse of the future will cost you… If you wish to smash it mad with hunger and picks omeone has stolen all my food Attempt to speak the dirty old Cave Trolls that live on the northern borders The street makes a sudden computing your attack If you wish to place it on your head round the neck of the man You must fight him rests on his hands and he looks line them closely permitting the holder to trade you walk into the city telling them that you think they are stupid feign illness and throw the iron pail Don’t reply, it’s obvious Allow yourself to be taken away? starving men in iron cages suspended from the city and Rihanna Worships the Devil


This text was collectively performed using a “people’s mic” in Lady Mitchell Hall, in place of the planned talk by David Willetts. Willetts was bundled off stage and students continue to occupy the space where he was meant to speak.

Posted on November 22, 2011 by Vsevolod

Dear David Willetts/ The future does not belong to you./ This is an epistle/ which is addressed to you./ But it is written/ for those who will come after us./ Why?/ Because we do not respect your right/ to occupy the platform this evening./ Your name/ is anathema to us./ You are not a welcome guest/ because you come with a knife/ concealed beneath your cloak./ Behind your toothy smiles,/ we have already seen/ the fixed gaze of the hired assassin./ You have transgressed/ against all codes of hospitality./ That is why/ we interrupt your performance tonight,/ because nothing is up for debate here;/ your mind is made up;/ you are not for turning./ All your questioners have been planted./ So we, too, have planted ourselves/ in your audience./ We stole in quietly,/ without much fanfare/– because we know your tactics -/ but now that we are here,/ we will not wait to be told/ before we speak./ You have professed your commitment/ to the religion of choice/ but you leave us with no choice./ You are a man/ who believes in the market/ and in the power of competition/ to drive up quality./ But look to the world around you:/ your gods have failed./ They were capricious gods/ and we do not mourn them,/ nor do we seek new ones. Fools that we are,/ we took you at your word:/ so we are clambering into the driving seat/ because your steering is uncomfortable to us/ and your destination/ is not one of our choosing. Even the very metaphor betrays you./ So let us begin/ by activating the emergency brake:/ the University is no motor vehicle,/ to be souped up,/ ideologically re-tuned,/ intellectually re-fitted,/ cosmetically re-sprayed,/ and then sent out onto the highway,/ like some gaudy engine of the ‘knowledge economy’,/ emitting noxious filth/ and polluting the air./ The road itself is narrow;/ your eyes are fixed on a vanishing horizon/ which you will never quite reach./ You have picked a route/ which skirts carefully around/ all redoubts of human warmth and solidarity./ Look elsewhere for your metaphors, David./ We have no desire/ to be put into the driving seat./ There are chairs enough in our libraries –/ would that there were more libraries –/ and these are the only seats of learning/ that we would wish to know./ We will not used/ by you./ We do not wish to ‘rate’ our teachers;/ we wish to learn from them./ We are not consumers;/ we are students –/ and we will stand with our teachers/ on their picket lines. Your soulless vision of efficiency;/ your mechanistic frameworks of ‘excellence’;/ your chummy invitation/ to hop on board/ and serve the needs of the Economy:/ all of this makes it clear to us/ that you have set out from a false premise,/ because guess what, David:/ you cannot quantify knowledge./ Your craven desperation to do so/ tells us only one thing:/ you are trying to discipline us,/ but we will not be disciplined,/ because we are schooled/ in a different kind of pedagogy./ You cannot steal our honey, David./ It will go sour for you./You can process all the information/ that you wish/ but your project is doomed to fail./ We thought we should let you know –/ out of kindness, mainly./ If you want to make us/ the processors of the information/ that is useful to you;/ if you want to smother/ the capacity for critical thought:/ so be it./ We understand that you do not like/ to be told that you are wrong./ So we understand/ that you do not want us to think/ too rigorously, or too critically./ So go on:/ lobotomise us./ Tell us that we are beyond the pale./ Make us over/ into the drones and ciphers/ of your economy./ Your world will be the poorer./ We will continue to nourish our traditions/ in the crevices and dark corners/ that you forget/ and that you cannot touch./ It is almost inappropriate/ to lay out to you/ the terms of your own wrongness./ But has it not occurred to you/ that the ‘vocation’ of scholarship/ far from leading to a profession/ may in fact preclude it?/ Or is it that you are more of a capital calf/ than you are letting on? / Is it that the Brave New World/ you are trying to inaugurate/ will, in fact, preclude scholarship?/ We have tasted companionship/ in a way that you cannot know./ We have a singleness of heart./ And, unlike you,/ we none of us believe/ that any of our possessions are our own./ You will not find us/ in any of your statistical surveys;/ our ‘student experience’ cannot be measured/ by your instruments./ Woe to every scorner and mocker/ who collects wealth/ and counts it./ We are both measurably younger/ and immeasurably older/ than you./ You have already lost./ You have lost the initiative./ You have lost the debate./ You have lost your sense of decorum./ We are closer than you think./ So it does not surprise us/ that you are worried./ You can try to intimidate us;/ you can threaten to shoot us/ with rubber bullets;/ you can arrest us;/ you can imprison us;/ you can criminalise our dissent;/ you can blight a hundred thousand lives,/ slowly, and one-by-one,/ but you cannot break us/ because we are more resolute,/ more numerous,/ and more determined than you./ And we are closer than you think./ So it does not surprise us/ that you are scared./ It is not that you lack our confidence –/ you never had it –/ the nub of the issue is this:/ you do not have confidence in yourself./Go home, David./ And learn your gods anew.


EXTRACTS FROM: TRIGGER WARNING by Jow Lindsay & Justin Katko

August 2011 Trident shot Mark Duggan down. Register the irony. Memorise this mother fucker. The Peckham safe is open. Work is like arson. Let Gregg’s burn forever. We are all all we’ve done. Get real black people! Mark Duggan isn’t dead! Keep the obsequy so strict. This is not a breakdown of the administration of grief. This is Ancient Greek. Steal everything that moves. The sanction of antiquity. Safe. Go Boris, on the day of aridity, of shadow and sadness, on the BBC like a Pagan hag on a stake, and say you don’t want to understand it. Of course that only makes sense if you already do. Time to rethink social housing is knife crime. Clegg begged students, ‘Just look at what it is you’re fighting. Just look. Just look! Just look! Just look!’ You looked around. A terrible smell was replacing you. Unlike these traitors, these locusts and gangsters. These nests of apaches, these thick white chavs. Welcome on. Every looted plasma mirror cop a riot turn on. Safe. It tore us up not having you. Speculum tumultus. Next screen over. Word scrambles “negroes” to “eengross” automatically, every flaming crossesque cop tape scourge gouging, on the coincidental Tortfeasous backward lashes, the frogs they collect, grovelling in Leftist throats to flake away our brains like white cabbage, out before the downstroke. Shellsuit and liquid shank. Fortunately KPGM believes that w are kaffirs, insistent on its freedom to deny the etymology of belief. Black pig rumbled into the picture incompletely, a picture whose every quality makes the man whinge on an unlicensed TV live: “I’m not trying to justify a very small image! I can’t comment on a piece of footage less than two inches across!” A hundred paragraphs ahead. Condemnation intonation. Croydon flaming blue. We can’t properly get asleep to go to it. The days run together like the gangs in solidarity. Does pure criminality exist? Read what is written by the Charles Ives Youth Centre and the Khalid Qureshi Foundation. We know that there are punishments you will bitterly regret, as goes for anyone with the faintest vestige of sympathy, for the people who have usefully unemployed us. Six months for a water bottle. Disgusting they’ll be out in five. They’ll get themselves out! Defibrillate Ian Tomlinson, shank [x]. Put quotes around they have no real interest in the issue, so they fade away quickly, depriving the agitators of their most valuable weapon. Urge children to contact each other, sexually. The remembrance of everything moving past, against the vast concussion of the economic justification... The problem is your refusal to understand that our government is keeping a liberal check on the wishes of the majority of the population, who would like to see hanging brought back, amongst other thing, like the gold standard and pussy and extinction events and poetry. You Marxist wigger-fascists and race traitors and leftist intellectual rapists on maiow-miaow and vitamin water and dope should show some respect for the coalition in this time of exceptional shortfalls, because they’re showing a rather


progressive restraint as regards the fate of the crusty rioter twats, amongst other things! [Off-air] Now where the fuck is my Profound Appletini?!” Her voice was matter of fact, as if referring to actual incest. Take her to jail. Without touching anything. Execution of light. No weapon is nonlethal. You are Oreo apparently. That is code for unhistorical. We wish to be associated with at least one antithetical honour. Like wearing books as armour against the invisible sonic boom spinning out from a total police heart siren: “The good thing about the riots was that the superior chav you wrote about in your book was able to replace his counterfeit shell suit with the genuine article. Then he got his girlfriend pregnant, and in a decade she’ll be a single grandmother with an unidentifiable STI.” Don’t just watch ?v=Zmo8DG1gno4&. Don’t even say thank you to the plebs. Return the children to their cubicle of stone in the sky. Loot rice. Rip Cadbury Digits. The police category of absolute deprivation feels the full force of a slow motion oral collapse upon our own liquid Johnson. You want us to think that capital cannot be responsible for that from which it is separated? You never read Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem. Don’t call it a protest. Count the cost, its qualitative stuffing. Lasso any old hoodie. Beat the cradle. Debenhams flushed out. You’ve already devoured most of the parents. Chant it. Our everyday life, so to speak, our sleep, is never as carefree as you force us to pretend. The days run together, like the truths of who we are. Liberation of the Arson Solidarity Looper. In esprit de corps, steal replete entity:bin, then march through dirty Clapham spilling it out before the feral janitorial mob, who become intrigued, then invigorated, then inspired, then infected, then inhuman, then intrepid, then shrieking in a monotony prescriptive: “It is typical of us to refuse to think of anything but our shops. How could we not enjoy the litigious aftermath of battle? Can you imagine the degrees of freedom in our claims on the insurance?” It is anarchy we hate. And liberty unrestrained. Crunch point. Your kind will eat shit... West Wing. Dawn 1. Graffiti in slime. Parameters 6 multiply as the children walk away. After dinner, I, Draftport Sugar, retire with my nemeses’ children, held hostage, getting drunk, beat to a pulp with her gyrating boobs, then sodomized liberally with her transvestic urinary appendage, ropes around the hand spanking child cunts head on. No literalised speech bubble to catch the blood / vomit. You pour over my titties slightly more cum than that whereof you have ownership, an act almost committed by myself, biting your fingernails down to the matrix, like salt poured down urethras. Dawn 3. We were too busy. El Cuaderno de Draftport Sugar. Exclusive stand-offs, the exhaustion of their costumes, jacking off into each other’s houses. A tit covered in leeches slid back and forth across the dirty floor. Knife waterfall down bevelled pedestal. This other dude stops, backs up a timeslice like some dalek walking onto the light. The skeleton worked down into the darkness. “This one says ‘MAMMA’ but it’s actually for DADDY.” Panties. Mother embracing him to her bosom his father and he share a handshake. Supposedly some group on the other side of the Superposition Labyrinth has fucked up all our work accidentally, by pouring drafts of said sugar and salt in, Blond Shamans. The girl made of light walks up to the boy made of light, wolken of rearing up, her perineum sprayed with olive juice, shuddering boulder-size booger cracks open, dick of breast blows out with thyme

back-synthesized from dick size correlated to vomit. Starved in a ribcage sandwich for life. Dusk 0, hakuna matata. The child raises fucking. Abuse of keyphone dating system couples. Soccer moms consolidated understand what the chunks of dicks are. Doing their kid’s identity like the rectum unparalleled. But she will not die. Secret hold of the gang weapons. Dream of the fractal penis flower, accompanied by sidecar penis, toilet lid smashing the other penises, which also are part of the fractal system, all making up my one and only canal which food is jammed into with retractable ear bud. Keep your circumcision. Lurking, gone, on a moisture tablet clinging. Down far below. The table of ice. Those vultures we saw. Their wings all now threshed. Status drop to zero. And if they don’t protect you? There’s no race to blame but the skint. For black is now the colour of our blue-skinned love. To riot is to return to normality. History. You cannot believe that. You’ll always be one of them. Deaf to the music in the spirit elevator. Too low for debt. Asbo as chav. When I see your name, I faint and change my own. Let’s make bones about it. Melt cartilage with Super Soakers. Fire is motion. It is to it that we turned. Play dead in our precision flame integrator. Next. All of this is code. God gave us arson and theft. Published in full by ‘Critical Documents’.


London 7 July 2011 …


Stop. Stop.


Stop. Stop. {Louder) Stop. Stop


Stop. {Synchronize}



London 13 July 2011

Post Script Sent only the empty rhetoric of love to a country that does not exist ~ & Confessed nothing but the abstract pull nostalgia exerts on the memory of an experience, you call politics that engaged your ear even while you slept, which seductively whispered that you are useful just for being there ~ & Realise that if it is not received then you will be the only one to suffer, for there, suffering is endemic ~ & Realise then, in time, that it has all been an echo of your complicity ~ & Send it anyway to your self ~ & Hate too, because you are already in the end of all you really want to muster ~ & Demand from others an absolute commitment to its sound, and doubt yourself for that ~ & Institute that emotion ~ & Fold it back into the form that is your love ~ & Feel the fragility ~ & Construct yourself, or the terms in which you want to be received, as you career into rooms, the limit of which is all the matter that can fill them, expressed to the point at which they turn back into themselves, back onto the fabric, as a black hole where all additional matter has been expressed as a two dimensional surface expansion ~ & Incrementally sharpen, blacken the page ~ & Call it the worst poem you have ever written ~ & The ones you have said you love project the tension of this sending ~ & Measure that love, with which you are living against the pattern of your careering ~ & Listen to them as you read it all back to back to set the gap, facing ~ & In so doing, form an infinity mirror to make it all come back to what has been sent to you already ~ & To what has been waiting for you to send all along.



Tom McCarthy is the acclaimed writer of three lauded novels and other works fictional and non. Together with Simon Critchley he founded the International Necronautical Society (INS).


TOM McCARTHY by Khalid Tetuani & Francis Gene-Rowe

Q. I was reading the INS’ Interim Report on Recessional Aesthetics called ‘The Moneying of Desire.’ A. The one about The Merchant of Venice? Where does that come from – there is a fake essay going around. But it’s probably right though. There was some version of that essay printed in an art catalogue that we hadn’t written, which is nice. Q. Would you endorse what it contained? A. I think we’d have to. After having sent fakes of ourselves to various appearances, we couldn’t really complain when something we didn’t write appeared. Every time we’ve done the ‘Declaration on Inauthenticity,’ apart from the first time in New York and from the Tate Britain onwards, it hasn’t been us. It’s been actors pretending to be us. Q. The essay itself deals with how The Merchant of Venice can be understood to prefigure economic recession. You

begin by congratulating the Obama administration on commissioning the essay, although the points you make are very serious. A. Yes we are absolutely serious about that. That essay came out of a thought way back in 2002 when Simon Critchley and I were invited to the James Joyce conference in Trieste. We were then talking about the central role that money plays in Joyce’s work. So we gave a paper called ‘On Chrematology’ which traces Derrida’s Bataillean idea of money and expenditure through Finnegans Wake. While we were writing that we began to realise that much of this has already been explored in The Merchant of Venice. And then we wrote a paper about economics and The Merchant of Venice; Harper’s magazine asked us to give advice to the Obama administration and ours was amongst seven or eight other pieces of the same nature by various philosophers and social critics. They were commissioned by Harper’s on behalf of the White House, not by the White House. It’s a serious piece; the logic of speculation and collapse is played out so well in The Merchant of Venice. So-

ciety’s tendency to blame The Jew – Madoff instead of Shylock – hasn’t really changed. Madoff needs to be congratulated for making it work for so long because he was only doing what the entire system is doing. Q. In Tintin and the Secret of Literature, you borrow from Paul de Man and Heidegger, who have both made some of the largest contributions to literary theory in recent times. The controversies surrounding their actions during World War II have become hotly debated, particularly since the former has passed away. Hergé himself also had a collaborationist past he was constantly trying to re-write; I was wondering whether you think this somehow compromises your project? A. When I was a student that argument was made by a prominent professor and I was suspicious of this argument; nevertheless it did create an interesting situation. Derrida said “I would not have written a word without Heidegger,” and neither would Levinas have, both great Jewish thinkers. If we start dismissing or


cleansing the genealogy of literature of the right then we probably wouldn’t be left with very much. To get rid of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Knut Hamsun, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Oswald Spengler, Yeats, would be to erase half the modernist canon. All of them were card-carrying fascists. Fascism was a period that culture went – and still goes – through. There is no difference between aesthetics and politics. I’m not saying it was okay because they were great writers as that would be the liberal argument. Adorno defines fascism as the ‘aestheticization of political life’; Shakespeare, Faulkner, and Beckett would have to be considered fascists using this definition. The way of understanding political processes for many great artists has been through aesthetics. Literature is not an embellishment of life; it's a core modality for understanding the world.

“London is the global centre of contemporary art and these artists have inherited the modernist tradition”

Q. Towards the end of Tintin and the Secret of Literature you wonder what Spielberg’s ‘love interest’ is with Tintin; what do you think this finally turned out to be? A. Money! An uninteresting, uncritical, and unpoetic relationship with money.

Q. In which case (as you rhetorically asked the Belgian writer Jean-Philippe Toussaint in one of your essays) are you ‘deconstructing literary sentimentalism or sentimentalising literary deconstruction’? A. The question is: what do you do with the legacy of modernism, of the avant-garde? There are those who choose to ignore the issue here and blithely think that humanism never ended. I think that this is the default position of mainstream fiction! It sells loads of books but it’s a dead end. Another way of responding to the 'demands' of the modernist legacy is to simply repeat the styles of movements which no longer exist; this is how clichés are made. There are writers who produce endless reams of cut-ups like Burroughs did but what does it mean now to do the same? What would it mean to do Malevich’s ‘White on White’ now, could you just do a bigger one? I don’t think that in slavishly aping something one is actually responding to it; that’s merely an echo. Most interesting pieces of literature somehow call attention to their own artificiality, almost unravelling themselves. To some extent, the whole of Remainder is an allegory of the artistic process,


but it’s not straight-up. When that book first started getting reviewed one critic said exactly that – that it was an allegory of being an artist – and I hadn’t actually thought of it so directly, so I asked an artist friend of mine Rob Dickinson if he thought this was the case. He didn’t find it so because, “if the hero of Remainder were an artist the whole book would be a day at the office.” The whole point is that there is no name for what he does. And it’s the same with Serge in C; they are both practitioners of a discipline which is yet to be named.

Q. There’s a now famous quote which has been used promiscuously by reviewers ever since Zadie Smith wrote an article a few years back in The New York Review of Books concerning your so-called ‘racial antipathy.’ I was wondering what your position is (and perhaps more importantly the position of the INS) on the London riots?

images courtesy of and

A. Well we haven’t been asked about the riots before, but my kneejerk response is that the INS is all for it. Race in Remainder is hugely important and very carefully configured. You’ve got the white Bourgeois subject with the capital, privilege, and the power; but he feels inauthentic precisely because of this. At the other end of the spectrum you have the black underclass – which is abject and dead – living in close proximity. The white subject then desires and fetishizes what he sees as their authenticity and wants to appropriate/re-enact it, to enter and become that position. And mediating between them is the Asian; the character of Nas came to me as I realised that the hero of Remainder would need a sidekick to

“I don’t think that in slavishly aping something one is actually responding to it; that’s merely an echo. Most interesting pieces of literature somehow call attention to their own artificiality, almost unravelling themselves” sort everything out, to facilitate him. I remembered in Moby Dick there is the Fedallah character who, in Ahab’s white crew and white obsession with a white whale, happens to be an Asian sidekick (in a racist 19th century way), embodying the darkness of the other. The racial setup in the shooting scene goes to the core of why white kids in suburbs listen to rap music; because it’s so fucking real. I remember doing an interview years ago with Gylan Kain (who founded the Last Poets back in the 60s – who you could almost say invented rap in its popular format) and he said that in the studio now you have a white producer shouting out “make it more real, man! Say the ‘n’ word more, more hoes and guns!” Q. Towards the end of C we are caught up in the Egyptian Revolution of 1919. Seeing as though it was published just before the current Arab Spring, have contemporary events caused you to look back on the book in a different way? A. That’s interesting because I would normally get pissed off when reviewers in the mainstream media would call C an “historical novel.” It’s not at all, and that’s a very superficial way to describe it. Yes it’s set 100 years ago but it’s about the emergence of new media and the end of empire. It ends at a time when the west is becoming unstuck in the oil rich Middle East, a hall

of mirrors of its own phantasms and paranoias. It could not more blatantly be about now. It’s about the anxiety of mass democratization, a patrician subjectivity giving over to the writhing mass. I seem to have this sense of déjà vu every time I finish a novel because some event happens which echoes the book, if not allegorically. I finished Remainder weeks before 9/11, and I felt like “shit, they’ve kind of stolen my ending.” Q. I’ve noticed from reading the interviews you’ve given in the past that you don’t really talk about contemporary English novelists, apart from Ballard. A. Ballard was a genius. Q. Does this have anything to do with the fact that London and New York are, artistically speaking, two different cities? A. Very different cities. London is the global centre of contemporary art and these artists have inherited the modernist tradition. Many of them are deeply influenced by Samuel Beckett, Alan Robbe-Grillet, and William Burroughs, whereas most writers in London, frankly speaking, are not. However in New York you have a situation where there are hardly any young and talented artists but you have many fascinating writers. I think this is just the result of the contingencies of time. Q. What are you reading now? A. I’m reading lots of Mallarmé. I got obsessed with his ‘Un coup de Dés jamais n’Abolira le Hasard’ (‘A Throw of the Dice will never Abolish Chance’) as the real “White on White” moment of literature, even more than Finnegan’s Wake. It is the complete zero degree of representation. And yet there is a coherent narrative in it too, with the shipwreck and so on. Mallarmé is interesting also because of the way he explores the relationship between art and politics. He has this notion of restrained action, deferred action; writ-

“Literature is not an embellishment of life; it's a core modality for understanding the world” ing would be a type of politically engaged activity which doesn’t engage, a kind of committed disengagement. Like Melville’s Bartleby… in fact, it’s interesting how Bartleby has become this heroic figure for the left of late. Agamben and Žižek have talked about Bartleby; the writer who will not write, the copyist who refuses. He doesn’t actively join a union and strike, he just says “I’m here, but I don’t feel like doing it.” I’ve been thinking a lot also about The Man Without Qualities by Musil. The hero of that novel is totally disengaged. He’s right at the heart of what’s happening in his era but he’s detached from it also. If he were a gear he’d be neutral, with all the other cogs whirring around him, and this is what is so potent about him.

Q. But do you end up going anywhere in neutral? A. Well look at Serge (in C); he’s the attaché for detachment, the détaché. He’s the cog in the machine that doesn’t work for the machine. Q. In that case do you think the postmodern condition is one of passivity? A.The hero of Bartleby is radically passive. He’s not lazy; in fact he’s a harder worker than anyone else, working 24 hours a day on this enormous project. And the times at which he’s become most engaged are when he has become absolutely passive. But I think this goes right to the core of literature. For Rilke, the poet isn’t someone who has something to say; they are the receiver. He has this image somewhere of a being without a shell, shaken by light, tormented by every sound, riveted by pain.

‘Remainder’, ‘Men in Space’, ‘Tintin and the Secret of Literature’ and ‘C’ are published by Vintage Books.



I shell have to x this ere paragrab,’ said he to himself, as he read it over… So x it he did, unflinchingly, and to press it went x-ed. - E. A. Poe - X-ing a Paragrab Malcolm was one of the 20th century’s finest rhetoricians, which is why the legacy of his X is so undecidable. He has come to mean anything to anybody. Malcolm X had what Miles Davis called ‘the attitude of jazz,’ and besides sharing Coltrane’s cadences he also shared with jazz a sense of indefiniteness. His legendary ‘X’ is unknowable, and it is this quality of Malcolm’s (sometimes mistaken for uncertainty) which has made the memory of him politically elastic. Jacques Derrida called the “X” the ‘supernumerary’ which he said highlights the ‘funerary architecture’ of the autobiographical enterprise; in other words, how suicidal it can be to decussate one’s life story. X’s memory is the ideological figure by which everyone who has come to love Malcolm (reactionary and revolutionary) marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning. The late professor Manning Marable’s (who passed away only three days before publication) biography of Malcolm X entitled Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, was a 20 year labour of love preoccupied with the enigma that still is X. Its explicit mandate was to ‘go beyond the legend: to recount what actually occurred in Malcolm’s life,’ to present a more complicated history of his life than the mythic Malcolm X of The Autobiography which, if subjected to a deeper reading, ‘reveals numerous inconsistencies in names, dates, and facts.’ In all, Marable succeeds in establishing the benchmark for the requisite amount of research undertaken for any serious biography on Malcolm X but fails to see that he, too, often fell victim to the same ‘hagiographic temptations’ he warns against. I don’t expect anyone who devotes ‘years in the effort to understand the interior personality and mind of Malcolm’ to come out of that dialectic storm unscathed. Some of the greatest parts of the biography are the


Cover art from Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (Courtesy of Viking Press)

sections Marable dedicates to the creative transfusion between X and jazz. Archie Shepp, who recorded ‘Malcolm, Malcolm Semper Malcolm,’ strongly believed that ‘what Malcolm said is what John [Coltrane] played,’ and Marable echoes this by expressing what many of us who have heard Malcolm’s recordings only had the courage to think (Marable mentions also that Amiri Baraka ‘described Coltrane as the “Malcolm in the New Super Bop Fire”’). It’s well known now that most black churches were hostile to bebop initially, and that one of the first places the new sound found a black audience was at NOI (Nation of Islam) gatherings. ‘Bebop reflected the anger of the zoot-suiters,’ Marable writes, ‘who opposed mainstream white culture. These musicians sought to create a protest sound,’ a revolutionary rhythm which ‘could not be so easily exploited and commodified.’ X’s ‘version of militant black nationalism appealed to their spirit of rebellion and artistic nonconformity.’ But he was also influenced in turn by them. Marable mentions that X had a rich tenor voice which he had trained to pick ‘up on the cadence and percussive sounds of jazz music.’ His lifestyle was like that of the touring swing artists he oftentimes knew; he became like an ‘itinerant musician, traveling constantly from city to city, standing night after night on the stage.’ The biography is also strengthened by the link Marable draws between jazz and Islam. He lists a roll call of jazz heavyweights who formally converted or were influenced by the Ahmadiyyah movement: Yusef Lateef, Kenny Clarke (Liaqat Ali Salaam), Art Blakey, Ahmad Jamal, McCoy Tyner, Sahib Shihab, Dakota Staton, and John

Coltrane. Unfortunately, though, Marable’s discussions of Islam are overshadowed by what Tariq Ali (New Left Review) called ‘nonsensical comparisons’ and ‘clumsy references.’ These include amateurish generalisations on the Shia/Sunni divide (Sunnis are literalists, Shias emphasise esoteric knowledge), factual errors in his discussions of Islamic jurisprudence, and a lazy, pre-packaged orientalist reading of Islamic history. Among the downright fallacious statements he makes regarding Islam, ‘Many basic beliefs Muslims have about its [marriage] purposes and duties are at odds with Western Christian values,’ is by far the most inexcusable. Other comments are similar: ‘The next morning, Malcolm and other pilgrims awoke around two a.m. and traveled to Mina, where they each “cast seven stones at the devil,” a white monument.’ Circumstantial evidence, perhaps. In fact much of the indignation surrounding Marable’s biography has been sparked by what he often calls ‘circumstantial, but strong evidence.’ Marable insists on a few tasteless suppositions involving sexual infidelities and male prostitution, couching these controversial sections with phrases like ‘may have’ and ‘appears to have.’ There is something strangely insincere about these passages, as though Marable may not even have written them; the crude psychoanalysis coupled with the celebrity blogger’s delight (as though homosexuality were taboo!) does not seem stylistically consistent with the rest of the text. On the other hand, the style of the book, in general, is hardly memorable (I can’t recall finding anything enjoyably quotable), and some of the ways in which it is implied Malcolm may have been homosexual (citing Malcolm’s indifference to marriage) are embarrassingly archaic. Perhaps the only relevant revelation is that of a woman named Evelyn Williams, an ex-girlfriend of X’s and baby mother to one of (the many of) Elijah Muhammad’s illegitimate child. The tension this created (corroborated by Minister Louis Farrakhan) between Malcolm and the NOI explains X’s veiled yet powerful discussions of betrayal in The Autobiography.

nels of information remained open among various organizations interested in Malcolm’s silencing, it remains difficult to determine what the FBI and the police authorized—whether, for instance, either subtly suggested certain crimes could be committed by their nonpolice operatives. Circumstantial evidence that they may have done so is both BOSS's and the FBI's refusal nearly a half century after Malcolm’s murder to make available thousands of pages of evidence connected with the crime.’ But Marable’s revisionist approach to the story of Malcolm’s life is spoiled at times by the surreptitious appearance of his political inclinations. Amiri Baraka was adamant that this is a result of Marable’s misplaced social democratic “consciousness”; which in turn produced patronising and sometimes supercilious judgements of Malcolm’s politics. Many reviewers have found the epilogue objectionable in particular, wherein Marable writes ‘despite his radical rhetoric,’ ‘Malcolm extensively read history, but he was not a historian,’ that Malcolm ‘largely missed the point’ and ‘it did not occur to him’ that his ‘political beliefs may have led him to misunderstand the fundamental importance of the mainstream civil rights struggle to the large majority of black Americans.’ These are very personal, political assessments. This subjectivity has enough confidence at times that it no longer realises its speculative, conjectural premises, particularly when Marable decides what X would have felt about 9/11 and affirmative action.

Marable also confirms the real extent of the government surveillance (CIA, FBI, and the NYPD “BOSS” operation) in what he accurately describes as the ‘David and Goliath dimension,’ in addition to naming who he believed was the actual murderer of Malcolm X (a man living now in New Jersey, though it seems that nothing of consequence has happened because of this). At the behest of J. Edgar Hoover, Malcolm and the organisations he helped found were the victims of illegal wiretapping and infiltration on a conspiratorial level:

Marable’s use of the postmodern “performativity” lexicon has been equally as misunderstood by its detractors as by Marable himself. He uses words like ‘manipulate,’ ‘artfully recount,’ ‘constructed multiple masks,’ ‘package himself,’ ‘buffoonery,’ and even accuses Malcolm of ideological hypocrisy (p. 60). The essential point Marable wants to make is not iconoclastic; he is merely trying to demonstrate (albeit clumsily) that Malcolm and indeed his ideas were in a constant state of becoming. ‘I was not one man only,’ says Proust's narrator, ‘but the steady advance hour after hour of an armv in close formation, in which there appeared, according to the moment, impassioned men, indifferent men, jealous men… in a composite mass, these elements may, one by one, without our noticing it, be replaced by others, which others again eliminate or reinforce, until in the end a change has been brought about which it would be impossible to conceive if we were a single person.’ This is not a postmodern argument but a kind of perennial truth in general. Using Bill Clinton’s political career to demonstrate how Malcolm X may have hidden embarrassing episodes of his life does not help to make this point.

‘…the convergence of interests between law enforcement, national security institutions, and the Nation of Islam undoubtedly made Malcolm’s murder easier to carry out. Both the FBI and BOSS placed informants inside the OAAU, MMI, and NOI, making all three organizations virtual rats’ nests of conflicting loyalties. John Ali was named by several parties as an FBI informant, and there is good reason to believe that both James Shabazz of Newark and Captain Joseph fed information to their local police departments as well as the FBI; BOSS carried out extensive wiretapping and/or surveillance against all three organizations, while the CIA had kept up surveillance of Malcolm throughout his Middle Eastern and African travels. Yet while the chan-

This kind of nonchalant approach to understanding Malcolm was sadly echoed in the trade press reviews of the book, all of which positively reviewed the new biography (which, as Abdul Alkalimat points out, ‘is unprecedented for a book on a leading revolutionary nationalist’). In particular, reviews by Stephen Howe (Independent), David Remnick (New Yorker), Thomas Powers (LRB), Andrew Anthony (Observer) all either diverted the subject to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, sniggering remarks at NOI beliefs, or how Dr. Martin Luther King was the better Civil Rights leader: ‘King is rightly regarded as the singular hero of the era… Malcolm was an electrifying spokesman for black dignity and selfhood… but his role in the civil-rights


movement was marginal’ (David Remnick). Thomas Powers thought that at least half of The Autobiography of Malcolm X ‘deserves to be ranked with the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,’ which is a gracious compliment I am sure Malcolm would have (speculatively speaking) been grateful for. On the other hand, amongst the reviews which took Malcolm and Marable seriously were by Karl Evanzz (unpublished), Molefi Kete Asante (unpublished), Abdul Alkalimat (San Francisco Bay View), and William Sales, Jr. (unpublished). Some of them were measured and others were, at times, vitriolic. But, more importantly, they took the book seriously and produced some serious criticisms where the more popular leading black intellectuals, namely Skip Gates, Eric Dyson, Cornel West, Peniel Joseph, and Nell Painter have merely repeated publisher’s lines.

Zaheer Ali was one of the lead researchers for Marable's biography Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. Since its release, Ali has appeared on several media networks discussing some of the book’s findings, including CNN, MSNBC, CBS, C-SPAN, and Al-Jazeera. Ali served also as one of the project managers and as a senior researcher of the Malcolm X Project (MXP) at Columbia University. An alumnus of Harvard, he is currently a doctoral student in history at Columbia University, where he is focusing his research on twentieth-century African-American history and religion. I discussed with him some of the more controversial aspects of Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.

flect any class bias to me as much as it does a professional one, in terms of understanding history as a profession. There are certain practices, tools of archival collection and analysis, etc. that a historian is trained to utilise that a nontrained, informal historian may not have. It's no more classist than a trained, licensed mechanic saying someone who just likes to fix cars is not a mechanic. This is why The Autobiography, while an incredibly powerful transformative text, is not the most dependable historical text. It’s more of a memoir – personal recollection – really, as it fails to contextualize Malcolm’s life thoroughly in the social, political, cultural, religious currents of his time.

There have been claims made that Prof. Manning Marable’s “consciousness,” in writing the book, was ‘somewhere else.’ Did you feel that in anyway? My responses are based on my own reading of the book; based on my work and knowledge of Marable. It presumes no special knowledge or awareness of Marable's consciousness. That being said, I will say this in general, based on my work with him: I never got the sense that Marable set out to tarnish or destroy Malcolm's reputation. On the contrary, he had great love and admiration for Malcolm, even if he did not agree with everything Malcolm said or did in his life. I never got the sense from working with him, or after reading his book, that he set out dish dirt, but rather really and genuinely attempted to engage Malcolm as a human being. Malcolm lived, loved, aspired, disappointed, succeeded, and failed, all at various points in his life. The biographer's job is to make sense of all of that.

There are some reviewers who have taken issue with the academic rigorousness of the biography. One reviewer even suggested it would not stand up to peer review. Implicit in Marable’s critique of Alex Haley’s & Malcolm X’s roles as collaborators on The Autobiography of Malcolm X, is an awareness of the role the author’s voice plays in shaping a text. I do not think that Marable saw himself as any exception to that rule; on the contrary, upon reading his Malcolm X it is clear that this is in fact his Malcolm X. The insertions of his thoughts, suppositions, and extrapolations signaled by “may have,” “appear,” etc., are quite transparent, as I believe he intended them to be. Like any writer, or more particularly historian, Marable has a thesis he is advancing based on his research and analysis. His is the first scholarly work to draw on previously unavailable archival sources detailing Malcolm's experiences in the Nation of Islam, of which he was a member for 12 years; this is the first work to engage Malcolm's travel diaries of his experiences abroad as an evolving Pan-Africanist and Muslim; and this is the first work to engage the Manhattan district attorney's case file on Malcolm's assassination, raising and highlighting important unanswered questions surrounding Malcolm's death. These are all sources neglected in the previous scholarship on Malcolm, and areas underserved in The Autobiography as well. Does Marable take interpretive risks? Yes. But I do not believe them to be as plentiful as some of his critics have alleged, nor do I think those interpretations undermine the overall strengths of the book. Marable often said that history was not just simply a recollection of the past, but a contestation over the meaning of that past. His Malcolm X is contentious; the contestations over it do not render it outside the historical profession, but squarely within it. This kind of dialectic provides an opportunity and incentive for additional scholarship that will advance our understanding of Malcolm X even further.

These claims are usually supported by quotes like ‘Malcolm loved history, but was not a historian’ (which was said to imply a class bias), alongside Marable labelling the NOI as a ‘sect.’ Well, technically, in the terminology of religious studies, it is! It is a sect, like Sunni, Shi'i, Ahmadiyyah, etc. "Sect" is a far better term, by the way, than "cult" which I've seen in many an academic discussion of the NOI. Marable goes much further than most scholars in embedding the NOI’s story within the context of global Islam. When Marable introduces the reader to the NOI, he starts with the history of Islam (going all the way back to Prophet Muhammad), traces its development in West Africa, to the African American encounter with the Ahmadiyyah. Throughout the book when Marable discusses aspects of NOI culture, he often references correlating Islamic practices (dawah, marriage, etc.). This is not the work of a scholar seeking to diminish the role of the NOI in the development of Islam in America. Furthermore, saying Malcolm is not a historian doesn't re-


LONDON POETRY FEATURE: Q&A WITH STEVE WILLEY by Francis Gene-Rowe London poet Steve Willey is currently a doctorate student at Queen Mary’s University, writing on the work of Bob Cobbing. He is also a notable for his poetry performances, as well as for his position as Co-Editor of ‘Openned’, a London poetry reading series.

POETIC COMMUNITY? I’ll start by moralizing: the idea of a ‘poetic community’ should be something that poets think very hard about. My thoughts on community are central to my work as a poet. For me ‘poetic community’ does not imply collective identity or an act of consensus formation, which might be described through an application of some generalizing principle or definition such as ‘London poets,’ ‘avant-garde poets,’ ‘mainstream poets’,’ or ‘poets who care about the migration patterns of monarch butterflies in Mexico.’ It means an adoption of a stance towards other people, and a self-conscious integration of that stance into the poem itself, a recognition that the stance is contributing to the writing, to what can be written, and to the quality and degree of time in which one writes. This definition allows for defensive or hostile stances towards other people or poets to count as forms of ‘poetic community,’ as long as the poet, as part of their poetic work, has carefully considered those stances. I use the term ‘poetic work’ rather than ‘poem’ to capture the idea that the poet’s work – i.e. what they do for money – affects their stance towards other people, as well as the idea that the poet can work to create new relations to people, which then can feed-back into their poems. Indeed, the construction of a ‘poetic community’ might be seen as a poetic act. It’s a fabrication, but an essentially important one.

ENGAGING YOUNG PEOPLE? Young people like all people are already engaged. I am not sure it is necessary to treat young people any differently to older people when it comes to poetry. The poem and poet have no more an elevated claim on a person than a breakfast cereal. Breakfast cereal is however an important part of many peoples’ lives, just as the price of wheat effects the quality of many lives on a daily basis. As a poet I want to

write poems that are as ubiquitous and as important as breakfast cereal, so that the poem can already assume an engagement will take place without the need to advertise. Given that this is not the case, I have given poetry workshops in schools and I made sure that younger poets were always given an opportunity to read when I ran Openned, a poetry reading series that I ran in London with my friend and fellow poet Alex Davies. Equally I find people are incredibly engaging, and young people have often engaged me (recently on a visit to Aida refugee camp, Palestine, a trip which continues to inform my poems). The poet has a responsibility to allow themselves to be engaged in different ways, and to be open to engagement, because that seems to me to be the best starting point for any specific engagement with young people, which is undoubtedly an important part of the poet’s work.

“How do we make the same sort of claims about the poetry that we read and write in Britain when the circumstances of our lives…are less obviously oppressive? What would a poem look like that made a claim to this sort of politics? Where would we write such a poem?“ COMMUNITY AND CRITICISM? One’s stance towards community should be considered a critical decision, for it will affect the type and degree of criticism that you as a poet will receive, as well as be suggestive of the type and degree of criticism that you as a poet will want to receive. For me, trying to read often and in as many different contexts as possible has proved the best type of criticism. Just as the quality of a voice’s echo is structured by quality of the surface off which it reflects (as well as the distance of the surface from the sound’s origin) the contexts in which one reads or publishes provides critical and interpretive frames for the poem; you hear your self, but differently. Once one becomes alert to the effect of context on meaning, context and community can be used as a form of self-criticism. It is not the job of the community to criticize the poem; it is the job of the poet to approach community critically.

POETS IN THE ACADEMY? It is a case of recent historical and contemporary fact that many poets are employed in academia, just as in pre-Re-


formation England monasteries were literary centre and many poets were members of the clergy. I consider myself to be a poet, and I am currently in the final year of a PhD at Queen Mary University of London engaged in academic pursuits; my thesis is on the poet Bob Cobbing and his performances. Even though I was writing poems at school I became properly enthused and serious about poetry at university. In the early stages of my PhD I saw my academic work as coexistent and informative of my poems, and at times the flexibility of the work has allowed me the space and time to write my poems, as well as the ability to search out other contexts in which those poems can live. Many of the contemporary poets that I like to read and many of the poets that have encouraged me to write are also academics. The values and my experiences of academia saturate my poems, even when I consciously try and take my poetry outside of academic contexts. It is something which troubles me greatly and is an unresolved issue.

“As a poet I want to write poems that are as ubiquitous and as important as breakfast cereal, so that the poem can already assume an engagement will take place without the need to advertise”

struction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicisizing art.’

VIOLENCE/SOCIAL DISORDER? It is part of life and so part of poetry. I have tried to acknowledge it as part of my poetry for some time now.

BOB COBBING? Well I am writing a thesis on him so it is difficult to know what to say other than that I think he is a very, very important poet. I made a documentary called The Sound of Writers Forum that might serve as a useful introduction ( Here are two good facts: (1) he was the co-ordinator for the Antiuniversity of London at 49 Rivington Street, East London, for a few months of early 1968 (go knock on the door! I think it is someone’s flat now), and (2) in the 1950s he was described as the ‘bearded Mr Cobbing’, and initiated an ‘Artists Strike’ in Hendon as part of the Hendon Arts Council: all artists withdrew their labour in order to get a larger grant from the Borough Council, which didn’t work. O.K., one more: he was an ‘inveterate punster’ and came up with this corker: ‘Ginetics’ (a poem about alcohol consumption and genetic mutation).

RELEVANCE OF IDEALISM? When I was setting up the Openned reading series with my friend and poet Alex Davies, idealism – understood as naïve enthusiasm – was our essential motivating factor. We honestly believed in poetry as an essential element of social and political change. Five years later, and with the reading series on a long and potentially permanent hiatus, it seems more relevant to relocate idealism in the face of its hollowing; to use the very shell of idealism as an echo-chamber, a context in which and out of which to write.


POLITICS AND AESTHETICS? The conclusion of the epilogue to Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction continues to be a guiding inspiration: ‘Fiat ars – pereat mundus,’ says Fascism, and, as Marinetti admits, expects war to supply the artistic gratification of a sense perception that has been changed by technology. This is evidently the consummation of ‘l’art pour l’art.’ Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own de-


PALESTINE ARTS BASED INITIATIVE? I visited Lajee centre, West Bank, Palestine in 2009. They have a website which is worth checking out, and each year they run a two-week work camp, which I whole heartedly recommend. They do important work. If you want to see the social and political importance of poetry and language first hand, go to Palestine. While I was there I happened to photograph a line of poetry which had been written on one of the walls in Aida Camp. It is the title and first line of a poem written in 1986 by the famous Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. It has been translated as 'We have on this earth what makes life worth living.’ The line of poetry, written onto brick and each letter inseparable from the fabric of the refugee camp itself, seemed to symbolise and literalise the importance of Darwish’s work, as well as the importance of poetry to the Palestinian people. To those who live surrounded by Israeli watchtowers, under the constant threat of imprisonment, and with limited access to water, it serves as a reminder that there is hope. Seeing the line written on the wall of the refugee camp, I was reminded that the poem was itself a form of hope and that to those that live under such intolerable circumstances it was also a form of politics. How do we make the same sort of claims about the poetry that we read and write in Britain when the circumstances of our lives (in my experience at least) are less obviously oppressive? What would a poem look like that made a claim to this sort of politics? Where would we write such a poem?


Kanitta Mecchubot was born in Bangkok, Thailand. Graduating from her MA course at Central St. Martins in 2011, Meechubot’s work is already attracting serious attention. Having exhibited now in Bangkok, London and New York, she was recently featured alongside Dinos Chapman for Granta’s ‘Visions of Horror’ issue. Meechubot’s illustrations exhibit her inner fascination at the similarities between the shape and form of trees, and the nerves and veins of the human body. Here, Meechubot presents her personal interpretation of social violence and discord reflected in art, especially created for this issue of Tengen. Overleaf: ‘Urban Drama’ 42 x 29.7 cm





LARA KAMHI SELF-PORTRAIT I, II & III The exterior is present in the interior - J. Lacan Projection onto Painting 2011



The Angry Series addresses different expressions and types of personal anger. My interests focus on how internal anger translates into visual arrangements. I enjoy playing with the paradox that arises from the juxtaposition of destructive drawing against traditional styles. This contradictive process reveals the reality that destruction performs a role in creativity. My aim is to produce a documentary method of encapsulating a fleeting, intense, and powerful moment which formulates the tension in an event. The Charcoal Scratching Drawing documents my first experimentation with the idea of drawing anger. I drew frenziedly with charcoal and scratched the surface with a knife. In ‘Friday: Scratching’, below, the drawing develops from the act of scratching violating the surface in an explosive manner. This procedure tears the plane apart, allowing for the cut and scarred paper underneath to open up and envelop the wounded, exposed hole. In Detail No. 3, a heavy weight crushes the fragile material of a charcoal drawing stick. The powder explodes and debris falls and fixes to the surface; the image of a powerful entity subjecting its power and weight over a susceptible and vulnerable entity is manifest.

Detail No. 3 Pl!ywood board, charcoal, paper, nails 1200 x 420 x 4mm 2011

The seven drawings pinned to the wall record a weekly diary of anger. Each drawing presents different forms of violence enacted on uniform surfaces of plywood. The first records an explosive kicking action, which splits the picture plane. The fourth is the act of using a machine tool in anger so that the surface scars and is destroyed as craftwork. The fifth is a composition of patching which covers violent scratching on the board. The sixth marks the stamping of a foot via charcoal imprint. The last is the burning of the centre of a picture plane. Each drawing proffers different moments and actions which anger creates through energetic force to externalise itself.

The ‘Angry Series’ Pl!ywood board, charcoal, paper, nails 1200 x 420 x 4mm 2011


FEATURED ARTIST: Interviewed by Sing Yun Lee

‘ETT’, Sweden, 2011

Johanna Torell grew up by the ocean in Sweden’s countryside, which has left its impression on her photography. The country's landscape and its wilderness, connected as it is with her childhood, are influential to her work and act as a significant stimulus; as she remarks herself, ‘It’s my roots, the beginning of everything that is me’. Eager to leave however, Torell displaced herself from her home country, relocating to the other side of the world. She has continued this habit of travelling ever since. Citing Nan Goldin and James Nachtwey as influences, she explains it is the spontaneous, documentary aspect of their work that appeals to her, the honesty with which they tell a story without pushing a message to their viewers. It is a use of still image which appeals to her own sensibilities, since she is drawn to the idea of providing a window into a time and place with no back story, no conclusion and no justification. She explores the suspense involved in a scenario where what is captured cannot be staged or prepared for, and she presents images which document the beds she's slept in, the cities she’s been to, and the people she has met. Here, her photographs combine her beginnings – shooting landscapes in Sweden – with portraits that archive her experiences abroad. Place and person become interchangeable.; lines of the body are mirrored in landscape; bed sheets look like clouds; rolling landscapes can be substituted for the empty rooms Torell has lived in. Her photography merges the sublime with everyday life as she strips her subjects of their identity, illustrating their capacity for self-preservation.


PHOTOGRAPHER JOHANNA TORELL “My photography is a tribute to the things that make up who I am, the different facets of my personality. But I feel that there’s something relatable for everyone; we all share these feelings, we all know these people, we all have those places that are important to us”

Johanna Torell is due to release a book of new photographs, printed by new Montreal-based publisher Bsviv. Visit her website and blog for updates:

‘ELVA’, England, 2009

‘FYRA’, Sweden 2011



"Anonyme" an excerpt from "L'Anonyme" | Trapshot Archives 36"x48" Charcoal

Toronto-born artist Erika Altosaar primarily began using watercolours and graphite, but since then her range has expanded substantially. Altosaar’s portfolio displays an impressive grasp of oils, charcoal, and a progressive understanding of more complex materials such as pico paper, felt, found objects, and mylar.



On previous page: "vehicule" 36"x110" medium charcoal on pico paper

Q: How important do you feel the gender of the artist is in the creation of the work they’re making? A: Part of what I'm dealing with is this idea of totalization and the one-dimensional representations/understandings of women in culture. Naturally it becomes an implication in making work, but I question whether it defines it.

Q: I feel that your work responds to gender from a particularly feminine viewpoint, would you agree? A: Without a doubt. My work attempts to understand issues of sexuality, sensuality, and gender programming and its consequent issues.

Q: The intimacy of your pieces may lead a viewer to interpet your work as an exploration rather than a statement. Is your work deliberately internalised? A: Well, I struggle with the maternal as a means to establishing personal and intellectual identity. This calls to question whether or not biology is a universally unified approach and whether a totalization of the female ideal can be avoided, and how this contemplation should be addressed in contemporary art. I'm also articulating the concept that motherhood represents alienation from womankind. Q: Were there certain tracts or works of literature which supported your drawings, or which your drawings led you to? A: I guess the strongest examples would be "Powers of Horror" by Julia Kristeva and "Volatile Bodies" by Elizabeth Grosz. Q: Which visual sources contributed strongly to your work? A: Marlene Dumas, Tracey Emin, Dorothea Tanning, Chloe Piene, Sophie Jodoin, Alice Neel, to name a few. Q: In your latest publications – L‘Etranger and L’Anonyme – the drawings are undoubtedly human, yet faceless. Do you have intentions for this mode of portrayal? A: Anonymity. I don't want to classify my subjects.


"Vehicule" 36"x120" Charcoal


24.5 x 18 cm


Victoria Road, 2002

Riots and scenes of civil unrest are a daily occurrence in a small town called Denton. Despite the heavy police presence the violence is only ever temporarily suppressed. Another day brings more trouble – an incident at the underground station; barricaded streets; an injured civilian to bring to safety. Although remnants of broken glass are strewn across the pavement and debris and smoke stains on the walls, Denton is not a place troubled by graffiti or litter. On closer inspection this place seems unfamiliar. The Indian Takeaway and Antiques shop share the same blank windows usually occupied by shop display. Door handles, letterboxes and curtains are missing, and there are no signs of habitation. Denton is a set used by the police, designed to provide a realistic backdrop for a riot. The violent aggressor is defined here by the estate he could inhabit. Although absent from the photographs, his identity can be pieced together from the elements of social stereotyping in this purpose-built environment. The Public Order series of photographs documents the attention to detail and simultaneous lack of realism within this artificial environment. This is a living invention, a fantasy placed within the real world - an attempt to make violence tangible and knowable.



To view the full set, visit:

River Way (Road Black), 2004

Guards, Violent Man, 2002



llustration by Maru Rojas

ON GLUTTONY by Maru Rojas

Week 2, Mexico They even took the dogs They came during the day. They’d been having marriage problems, the usual. Twenty-seven years of marriage disintegrating in front of her. The usual. He wouldn’t talk to her. She couldn’t stop talking. She wanted to talk of the children, the ones they didn’t have and the ones that had left. She wanted to talk of half-full wash baskets,


that looked half-empty to him. She wanted to talk about arseholes, an aphorism of their black and profound death. She wanted to talk during, before and after sex, except there was none to talk about. She wanted to talk about maids, and cooking, and cleaning dog shit, and being a housewife. She wanted to talk of the cold, sweaty panic that overtook her very other night, when she thought of thieves taking her life, the same one she despised. He wouldn’t talk to her. And then of course one day they

They even took the dogs.

came, during the day. To their pretty house in a private complex. With the tall gates, the washed out anti-climb paint, the frosted-glass windows, the broken security cameras and the watchman who turns a blind eye.

She could picture their TV’s and the laptop and their lamps and her jewellery in the back of a van. And she thought of the dog shit that she’d wanted so desperately to talk about. She thought of the dogs shitting all over their shit, the TV’s, the old sofa, her silk scarves, the lamp in the back of the van; all the shit that was now their shit.

The one with the huge garden, full of dog shit drying in the sun. They always come. It’s the panic she couldn’t get a grip of, couldn’t control. She kept it unchecked and invited them in.

And so that evening they sat in the big and pretty house in the middle of the mountains in the South part of the city. They sat on the floor and had dinner on paper plates. And there was no noise. No one spoke, as there was nothing left to talk about. And there was no dog shit, except the one drying in the sun.

And just like he’d taken his words, they took everything that was left. They took the TV, the fake Rolex and the real Rolex, the laptops, the lamp she got from Perisur, the gold she wanted to sell at the next goldparty, the extra cash hidden in the underwear drawer, the perfumes, the expensive-looking cheap jewellery, the dvd sets, all the other electrical appliances.

I’ve been thinking about the riots again lately. It seems to me, sometimes, that the week in which they happened has been compressed, buried somewhere in the distant past, and we’ve all been trapped within its shell. Nothing has happened since then, nothing at all or rather, everything that has happened has been blind scratchings at the walls of that week, on and on, hurtling further and further back in time. It’s a purgatory which I suspect we will only be able to escape from when Margaret Thatcher dies. Can you understand what I’m saying? Actually, I was talking to a friend a couple of days ago about what “understanding” might actually mean. “Understanding”, he said, “is precisely what is incompatible with the bourgeois mind”. For some reason I started thinking about the final scene in Lindsay Anderson’s film If.


You know it, of course - everybody does. Malcolm McDowell and his crew are sitting on the roof of the school, firing at all the teachers and parents and other kids, and then in a brief pause, the headmaster steps forward. He thinks he’s such a liberal, you recall. “Boys”, he implores. “boys - I understand you”. Yeh. And so the character played by Christine Noonan - one of the few characters in the film who isn’t a “boy” - she shoots him right in the centre of his forehead. You know what I’m getting at - that bullet is his understanding,

plain and simple, tho I’m not quite clear just how incompatible it is with the headmaster’s presumably bourgeois sense of beauty, love and imagination, or indeed his understanding, ultimately, of himself and of everything else - including his killer. A killer who, I’m sorry to have to report, is identified only as “the girl” in the cast list, even tho she’s obviously the central figure in the film. Tho you wouldn’t expect Lindsay Anderson to understand that. Anyway, I’m getting off the point: Margaret Thatcher, and her strange relationship with the combined central nervous systems of all of the people who were picked up in the weeks following the riots, around 3000 of them. It is, of course, a very tricky equation, and has to take into consideration all of the highly complex interactions between the cosmological circuit of the entire history of the city (as


perimeter) with the controlled circle of each of the riot prisoner’s skulls (at the centre). There are those who say Thatcher is just a frail old woman and we shouldn’t pick on her. I prefer to think of her as a temporal seizure whose magnetosphere may well be growing more unstable and unpredictable, and so demonstrably more cruel, but whose radio signature is by no means showing any signs of decreasing in intensity any time soon. They can hear it on fucking Saturn. The paradox being, of course, that Thatcher herself sits far outside any cluster of understanding the bourgeois mind could possibly take into account. But in any case, it’s clear to me the heroes of Lindsay Anderson’s If, had they lived, would have ended up as minor members of the Thatcher Cabinet, or at least as backbench Tory MPs. But we don’t know whether or not they do live: the film freezes on McDowell, sliding down the school roof, blasting away, his face not quite fearful, not quite anything. Then silence. Just like the riots, they stay where they are, and so does everything else, fixed into that single, fearful second. According to some cosmological systems, and ones not so far removed from our own as we would maybe imagine, when anyone dies - be that Margaret Thatcher or

“Nothing has happened since then, nothing at all - or rather, everything that has happened has been blind scratchings at the walls of that week” Mark Duggan - they take their place among what are called the “invisibles”, traditionally opening up a gap in social time, a system of antimatter in which nobody can live, but from which new understandings and arrangements of social harmony may be imagined. Music, for example. Or the killing of a “king”, etc. But while I’d like that to be true, it’s essentially hymn-singing, a benevolent glister on the anticyclonic storms of business-as-usual rotating counterclockwise at ever increasing speeds into the past and into the future. I take those “invisibles” as being not too dissimilar to so-called “undesirables”, all those refugees banged up in the various holding cells that cluster in rings outside airports and cities etc. That is, objects of human sacrifice which vicious and simplistic systems use to sustain a sinister and invisible

harmony where everything spins on its own specified orbit and everything remains in its preordained place; everything that is except the ever increasing density of suffering, as pressure increases and one by one we vanish into some foul and unlikely parallel dimension. You know, like a government building or something. A cathedral, for example. Or a medieval jail. Or a Heckler & Koch MP5 (Police Issue). Anyway, I’m rambling now. I know full well that none of the above is likely to help us to understand, or break out of, or even enter, the intense surges of radio emissions we’re trapped inside. Cyclones and anticyclones. Like, I’m certainly not proposing Thatcher as a counter-sacrifice, however tempting and, in the short term, satisfying that may be. It would be impossible: every Daily Mail reader would understand exactly what we were doing. It’s horrible. I feel like it’s gonna be the 6th August 2011 for ever. Christ, for all I know it’s still 13th October 1925. The estimated costs of the August Riots were around £100 million. You can get 46 rounds of the ammunition that killed Mark Duggan for 15 dollars and 99 cents. On Amazon. For the police it’s probably far cheaper, and right now that's the clearest definition of harmony I can get to. Happy new year.


You know I keep thinking about the figure of Michael Horovitz at this poetry reading I went to in London. Up before him was some guy reading from an iPad, talking about some commission from Louis Vuitton or some shit, it nearly made me sick and I couldn’t, and still can’t put my finger on why, on why that particular fact made me sick. I mean, we all have to earn a living. Welcome to the world: no-one gets out unscathed, and no clean hands do worthwhile work. That guy, up before, the best parts where the commentaries he interspersed his old work with, highlighting how bad they were. Anyway, that poet finishes, if he was a poet, and Horovitz is called up. He shuffles in stage, wild hair, half bent over, with a purply jacket and pyjama pants and a red and white cap. He has a shopping bag full of books which he places on the high stool infront of the mic. He reads poems by his son, his deceased wife, and some of his own. Ten minutes in, while he tries to find another book of poems in his bag to select something from, a roll of toilet paper falls out. No-one says anything, and he reads the next poem. He finished his set, or whatever you call it, and left the stage without picking it up. ¶ I go up to him, we talk. He’s published Burroughs and Beckett, took mescaline with the former and shot the shit. He quotes alot, talks about J. Arthur Prufrock and the exchanging of names like hats in Mercier & Camier. What is one to do? Bite the tongue. § Things are different elsewhere. § I go about my day, my life, without fuss. I don’t really try to change anything, I’m no radical. I observe and attempt to absorb, by osmosis, revolutionary tendencies ∵ these are the tendencies I most respect. But it is always already too late, one can barely catch up. Old news. ¶ I’ve compiled a revolutionary reading list. Schopenhauer de Sade Sutherland Lee Lindsay Nietzsche Nāgārjuna Raworth Rawls Kerouac Marx Morris Meillassoux Watson Winnicot Wilmot Heraclitus Heisenberg Prynne Althusser Adorno Acker Austen etc. etc. All deserving a PhD and extensive annotation and expansive commentary. You get the picture. But no reading list, no matter how revolutionary or Cobbing-esque, can articulate or exemplify the toilet roll.[1] ¶ One circles oneself in a correlationist onanism. It’s only natural. But then I


wonder if what we call reality, in the absence of a better word, and yet what word could possibly be better, is unchangeable. Outwards towards silence. Endlessly attempting to selftranscend. Just bad philosophy, all this. § Bildungsroman, Künstlerroman, the portrait of the artist, the roman á clef, that’s the truest way in‫؟‬ Mandatory setting out of aesthetics, to be picked apart and applied to later works by first generation of scholars. Jesus. “ever-lurking Father Time / Draws the blind on life and rhyme, / They’ll look upon our work and say, / ‘Another’s labours smoothed his way.’” Philip A. Nicholson. There’s too much, this weight of tradition. The good ones

“I go about my day, my life, without fuss. I don’t really try to change anything, I’m no radical. I observe and attempt to absorb,by osmosis, revolutionary tendencies ∵ these are the tendencies I most respect. But it is always already too late, one can barely catch up” are the ones who can shoulder it elegantly, no grunting or prolapsing as they bear the weight skywards. ¶ Listen, I’m going to tell you how this selfconscious bullshit ends, how this whole things ends. Because I’m already wracking my brain trying to figure out what to do. All options how been exhausted, by tradition I mean, I

think, maybe. So there will just be an arbitrary cutoff, I’m not sure what happens exactly before it yet. No antiepiphany or anything of that ilk, I hope. The text will end by disappearing up its own ass thus: ‘here:’ or ‘Here:’ (see what I did there? The colon, the end of the body, etc. But is it really the end of the body... is it not rather the sphincter, which might be designated thus: ‘*’? Or end with both, with: ‘:*’? We shall see, let’s just stick a pin in it, this fucking royal we. Christ.) ¶ [MORE ON THIS?] § Note to self: Change alot of the names. § John decided one night to talk literature with me. He knew of my weaknesses, though I tried to hide them. He asked me why, how, etc. He had read a bit too, he wanted details, philosophical underpinnings, an aesthetic model, a way forward. I espoused my truncated ideas, thoughts thought a thousand times before, to him. I explained that every conceivable manifesto and satire thereof was superfluous. I explained the unbridled irony, the super-contingency, I claimed my writing would not try to be new but that I didn’t think anyone had

“One circles oneself in a correlationist onanism. It’s only natural” amalgamated The Unnamble with a John Grisham novel, any old one, or Watt with a Tom Clancy novel. I said there were swathes of bathetic erotic stories on waiting to be amalgamated into a new epic that would make de Sade puke his ring up, and run, shrieking in a garbled way through his inverted digestive-system and scurrying like an ant about whatever room or area he happened to be in looking for an implement with which to gouge out his eyes or brain, whichever ended would be had quicker. I got very violent and fitful, and he left. ¶ But all that, that was only to speak of artists in one medium. Lynch, Beethoven, etc. Overriding pretension, not escaped through selfawareness. Mired. ¶ I reread the David Geefe columns. ¶ I lied.

[1] Callback.


Photograph by Johanna Torell

THE WAKE PT. 2 by Louisa Little with Khalid Tetuani

...But maybe she was wondering why I didn’t offer to go and get her a drink. Danielle makes an appearance, ‘mum your glass is empty, come and get another one Uncle Pete is here now,’ and Tanya’s mum does a little mock-bow with her hands in prayer position as she gets up to leave. Namaste. We’re two too-eager orientalists, awkward and jutting, eyes twinkling in ardent ignorance. Danielle leads the woman away protectively. She is Tanya’s brother’s wife. She has blonde bobbed hair, just the sort of hair I could never have. Even her life is the sort I’d never lead, but she probably dotes on my simple scope. I have a sip of water which cuts through the disgusting menthol tincture that’s stained my breath. I have to gulp down some more water. I look up and scream quietly – teeth clenched – because Tanya’s brother is standing too near me, trying to draw my eyes towards his. ‘Sorry,’ I say, really quietly, again, like I’m really far away, under that duvet. ‘I’m sorry,’ for


screaming at you like I have some mental condition, but he nods and I realise he’s taken it as a sorry your sister is dead type of sorry. That’s good, it’s more appropriate that way and the last thing I want to do is draw attention to the quiet screaming; I’ve never done it before and not sure exactly what it’s all about. -‘Look, I need you to meet me upstairs in a couple of minutes. Can you do that?’

“What do I know? I ask myself. That’s a good question, one you can take home and show your parents. It doesn’t sound trite, does it?” He adds the question after the request because I’m looking at him like he’s speaking a language I don’t know. It’s

important to know what language someone is trying to speak in. I nod my head and he walks away, leaving the room. Christ, what should be my concern right now? And what was that unsubtle clumsy invitation about? I fumble around for a twiglet. I’d been imagining Tanya’s brother taking the opportunity to get to know me better, all in a sexual thought. All day; it had got me through the hellish funeral, but I never anticipated him actually inviting me upstairs at his sister’s wake. Surely that wasn’t healthy? It could’ve been natural for him to seek that kind of touch at a time like this. Am I so jaded or is it just plain naïve to think that he just needed to talk and I was the person there that he could relate to? The only time Tanya’s brother had ever spoken to me was when he once offered me a cup of tea. It was such a staged event, and even Tanya looked at him incredulously. Ever since that day I’ve kindled the belief that, deep down, Tanya’s brother fancied the arse

off’a me. I was a bit worried now though. He was about to confirm or deny my belief. There was no chance for me to leave it sequestered comfortably in my symbolic resource. Get used to it. Still, as I steel myself to ascend the stairs I can't resist a cheeky glance at my appearance in the hall mirror. I don't look bad for a wake but then life's been looking pretty ugly, and this is no crowd to call an audience. I feel like I’m watching one of those poxy independent films; this one is called ‘Woman Walks Up Stairs.’ As I walk up the blasted stairs, I feel like I’m my own spectator, speculating wondering what on earth the woman walking up the stairs is thinking and feeling, I don’t have a clue myself. When I get to the top I see Ethan and he most clearly is not part of any audience. He’s got a lot of disengaged filmgoers entranced by ‘Pensive Man Sits on Bed.’ He sees me, and I see him, and wish he could just leave it at that. It’s going so well at the moment. He’s in Tanya’s room sitting on Tanya’s bed, so I walk straight in. I know this is the moment that should hit me, all the stuff, the alive-person’s stuff is all here, their deodorant, deodorant for Christ’s sake. I remember once when I used to work in an Old People’s Home and I made someone a cup of tea who was dead. I took it into his room – Jimmy his name was – and left it on his little side table, but he wasn’t there. I asked someone where he was and they told me he was dead. I went back and the room felt completely different; totally un-Jimmy. It wasn’t like when people say Oh I felt the person was with me and all of their things reminded me of them. It was the exact opposite of that; all of the things were just things. I went and threw the cup of tea away down the sink. I had to make thirty cups of tea but I couldn’t bring myself to give anyone else Jimmy’s cup. That was how I felt in Tanya’s room. I didn’t feel emotional about those times we’d spent there together, I just felt sick at the thought that someone might use that deodorant, that someone would wipe an evaluative, greasy finger over her CD cases. Tanya’s hands had been there too, her hair’s probably half alive on the pillow. It’s

terrifying, strange, how her possessions continue to live once we’re gone. -‘Suzanne?’ It’s not the first time he’s said my name, and I’ve probably been standing here mute for a while. I look at him but I can’t get the deodorant out of my head. ‘Look Suzanne,’ he starts again, and then suddenly gets up and closes the door behind me and stands with his back to the door. ‘Sit down.’

“- ‘I think I’m in shock.’ I’m pleased that I said that because it’s true and it seems to hide my speechlessness. I’ve explained myself, to myself, already” What do you know? What do I know? I ask myself. That’s a good question, one you can take home and show your parents. It doesn’t sound trite, does it? I think about him when he was in a school play. He could have had any girl in school back then. He could have had me. He puts his hands on my shoulders, kneeling down in front of me. This sort of surpasses the cup of tea moment earlier, by a long way. The moment is made pretty awkward by the fact that I was yet to say a word to him. I am revisiting resisting the desire to scream quietly again. He stands up very quickly and paces away to the window to gaze outside at nothing in particular [I’m sure]. I say very quietly: -‘I think I’m in shock.’ I’m pleased that I said that because it’s true and it seems to hide my speechlessness. I’ve explained myself, to myself, already. I probably need an orange and an egg; I could jump in Tanya’s bed and drag the cover over my head until he’s gone. -‘Right,’ he says looking impatient. There is a pause where I don’t ask him to lay down with me in Tanya’s bed. ‘Did you notice who wasn’t here today?’

-‘A lot of people,’ I think, well, virtually no one was here. They were all sitting at home probably watching Eastender’s omnibus. Or doing drugs. -‘All her mates, her druggie mates.’ I had thought that. -‘I don’t know if your mum invited them.’ -‘She doesn’t know them; but you do? Don’t you? You know who they are? Who was there?’ -‘I don’t live here anymore, I don’t go where she went.’ He just looks at me. ‘I know some of them, know of them, I have an idea of who they are.’ I get it now. We are Mulder and Skully. That’s better, I see what your language is now. That makes sense to me. The whole seduction thing is not going to happen and I’m somewhat relieved now. Slightly energized, I feel like I can now stop myself from doing a very heinous thing at a friend’s wake. I can eat my boiled egg without another layer of unbearable guilt. Thanks be to Jesus. Maybe my family were wrong; I’m so prone to extremities. I was there to help process Ethan and his sister’s death, and sex doesn’t figure in it whatsoever. -‘I need to know.’ -‘Who they were?’ -‘I need to know who they were.’ -‘So do I. I’ll do what I can to find out.’ He grabs one of Tanya’s pens from her dresser and grabs my wrist in his hand, pushes my sleeve up to elbow, and writes a phone number on my arm like we’re in some deafening club. The intimacy is shockingly perverse, but there’s nothing much in it to play with; I smile, we are acquaintances, after all, just trying to solve a little mystery. He’s like Jonathan Creek or something, only nowhere near as smart. This is all fine, this is something I can do for Tanya now. This will make their family better. He’s leaving now: -‘Call me soon,’ he says, and as he closes the door I wonder if he’s capable of killing someone. ‘The Wake’ is being printed in serial form by Tengen.


REVIEWS Though stories of bravery are susceptible to becoming clichéd, the couragestoryboard is fundamental to many of the most successful stories and narratives. Hugo is the title of Martin Scorsese’s newest film; in which he has undertaken the role of both director and producer. It is based on the award-winning novel by Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and the production and release of this movie is astonishing in light of the associations – generic and other – with which we have associated its director. The story is simple yet captivating from the very first scene: some time around 1930 in the heart of interbellum Paris, a boy named Hugo (Asa Butterfield) ends up living in a train station following the death of his father. Hugo’s affinity for mechanical engineering (and as it turns out, artificial intelligence) leads him gradually towards the film’s great secret; through his obsession with locating a hidden message from his father, Hugo manages to revive the glorious past of Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley). Aside from its simplicity, this film is made brilliantly immersive by the unexpected twists, enhanced somewhat by the use of 3D. Strictly speaking, 3D as an act of devotion to cinema tends to fall into an archetypical role; in Hugo, however it does captivate the audience by successfully bridging the gap between the cinema and its expe

Roman Polanski’s Carnage is an exploration of social mores stretched to their breaking point.Following a dispute between their eleven-year-old sons, the liberal, tolerant Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) have invited the high-powered Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) to their apartment in an effort to resolve the matter and see their children reconciled. The Cowans’ son Zachary has struck the Longstreets’ Ethan across the face with a stick, removing two of his teeth. The Longstreets’ tastefully ornamented Brooklyn apartment – ethnic tapestries adorn eggshell walls,


HUGO by Sergios Zalmas

rience. That process is enhanced by the plot and contents of the film itself; mechanisms, artificial intelligence, illusions, and toys. For the most part the 3D controversy reached its apogee with the release of Avatar; up to then 3D served the role of impression. In Avatar however it demonstrated its ability to project audience within-to story, which many still find objectionable. In the case of Hugo, 3D functions particularly effectively, decorating the general ambience and perhaps more significantly forcing the cast to give their best. The extended scenes produced in 3D reveals the slightest failing or looseness in cinematic tension. In Hugo each character unravels an intriguing narrative by gradually unveiling its hidden core. The meticulousness of screenwriter John Logan – who won a Golden Globe for his efforts – is evident, as the characters are not simply designated by their epidermal dramatic swings, but rather a part of the aesthetic whole. The most memorable figures in Hugo are the eponymous protagonist, who possesses an elegant innocence which many kids nowadays have lost (or never had), the

CARNAGE by Enrico Tassi

while art books can be seen neatly piled on a glass coffee table – acts as the suitably claustrophobic setting for the quarrel that ensues between them and the noticeably better-heeled Cowans. As a cordial atmosphere of mutual understanding gradually gives way to scenes of acerbic bickering and backbiting, Polanski’s caustically funny adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s play reveals a central concern that is more than a mere playground scuffle.

melancholic Melies and the justifiedly vicious train inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). Up to this point, Scorsese’s films treated of society and violence, bearing the mark of their director’s Italian/Catholic background. In introducing a film of a genre priorly ‘unknown’ to himself, Scorsese has topped the twists of his oeuvre hitherto: this sense of novelty is part of the film’s charm. In spite of this Hugo does in fact bear similarity to its director’s previous work in the struggle for a better life by its protagonist. The setup in Hugo may not be familiar to and with Scorsese’s style, but it has been a delightful surprise, as the nature of the film has reached equilibrium between its director as figure and the current film-market. For me, this is why it was the most nominated film of 2011, with eleven Academy nominations (won five), nine BAFTA nominations (won two) and three Golden Globe nominations (winning one, the third Best Director Golden Globe of its director’s career). Hugo is artistically directed (in both senses) in order to present a variety of interrogations about its own narrative and director throughout its timeline. Furthermore and more generally, the film can be taken as a message of love from Scorsese to the great cinematographer George Melies: fittingly the most notable Academy Award that Hugo won was best cinematography.

Largely absent from the film – and totally so from Reza’s original play – the kids’ altercation acts as a foil to their parents’ descent into heated exchanges of social impropriety, turning the film into a dissection of socially constructed identities and its accompanying pretentions. The urge to evaluate Carnage in this way – as a dialectic played out before the camera – is encouraged by the characters’ frequent references to “the customs of Western societies” and their repeated definition of themselves in relation to this social norm. However, it also says something important

about the nature of the film itself. Reminiscent of HBO’s recent adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited, for all its accomplished performances and tight directorial work, Carnage still feels very much like a play. As Alan comments on the view of the L-train through a rear window, Dean Tavoularis’ meticulously detailed set starts to feel distinctly stagey. Particular props are foregrounded before resurfacing at convenient moments. A vase of yellow tulips in the middle of the room – “twenty dollars for a whole bunch,” we’re told by an affable Michael – reappears twice in the charged atmosphere of the second half: first, as something for Nancy to drop Alan’s phone into, and second, as an object for her to throw around the room at the film’s visual climax. Similarly, Penelope’s art books are firmly implanted in our minds during a sequence in which she and Nancy paw a Francis Bacon monograph, awkwardly conversing about “cruelty and splendour . . . chaos, balance.” Two minutes later, Nancy proceeds to vomit all over said books, eliciting an amusing cry of “My Kokoschka!” from the devastated Penelope. The event itself is suitably explosive and gets one of the biggest laughs from the audience, but the setup feels ponderous and slightly forced. Yet maybe this is the unavoidable upshot of having an entire film take place almost exclusively in one scenario. Instead of creating the illusion of a world for his characters to inhabit, Polanski seems to have just recreated a stage in front of the camera. Perhaps by extension, we often feel like we’re watching an argument played out to its logical conclusion, every line of dialogue furthering the dramatic trajectory towards the couples’ moral disintegration. It is precisely this movement which aligns our sympathy with big-shot lawyer Alan. It is not that he is inherently likeable; in fact, he is presented as morally reprehensible, snorting down the phone to his colleague that the “neurological side-effects” of a drug manufactured by the pharmaceutical company he represents “make you look like you’re drunk.” But at least he is being himself from the start, apparently unencumbered by the hypocrisy of his merely

“superficially fair-minded” collocutors. The self-titled “advocate for civilized behaviour” in Penelope, for example, ends up firing expletives (“Get the fuck out of my house!”) at her peers. Michael, too, is rendered an obvious symbol for this shallow veneer of sociability when he reveals that Penelope has simply “dressed [him] up as a liberal” for the occasion. Really, he is “a short-tempered son of a bitch” to which Alan replies, “We all are.” Tellingly, it is also Alan who later identifies with the eponymous God of Carnage. By taking up this position, as both channeller of the play’s ethic and a spokesperson for us all, we are encouraged to take his side and laugh along with his sarcastic humouring of the others’ social pretentions. The introductory remarks to Reza’s 2007 play-script, Le Dieu du Carnage, read: Un salon. Pas de réalisme. Pas d’éléments inutiles. Polanski’s decision to shorten the title to Carnage for his adaptation belies the fact that Reza’s prescriptions have largely been stuck to. But do her injunctions even make sense on film? In the theatre, we might find the characters’ emblematic taking up of sides unobtrusive – and even necessary – to our understanding of the play. Played out up-close and on screen, however, Reza’s point feels a bit forced. When Polanski does exploit film, he does so most effectively by showing us something of the world outside the claustrophobic space of the Longstreets’ apartment, echoing Nancy’s words and reminding us that, “what’s happening somewhere else is always more important.” In the opening title sequence, we are shown a wide-angle shot of Brooklyn Bridge Park, the scene of Nathan and Zachary’s dispute. As we see a child being ejected from a group before turning round and striking one of them in the face with a stick, we realise that we have been witness to the film’s central, albeit overshadowed, event. Neatly, the closing titles then return to the scene, where we see the two children making up, unbeknownst to their still-quarrelling parents. Unlike the stage version – where the children’s confrontation is merely an implied

jumping-off point for the parents’ descent into enraged wrangling – Polanski’s decision to use the children’s own quarrel as an explicit framing device makes considerably more of the antithesis between children’s and parents’ behaviour. When Nancy states half-way through the film that “We’re not going to get into these children’s quarrels,” we don’t believe her for a second. By the end of the film, however, she’s been proved right, although perhaps not in the way that she had intended. Reza also receives credit for the movie’s screenplay and we can detect her script behind every word. If by the end of the film we feel this presence even more acutely, it is largely down to our own inability to suspend our disbelief any longer at the Cowans’ continued presence in the Longstreets’ apartment. On three separate occasions, we find them walking out of the front door only to be reeled in again by a contrived recapitulation of their original argument. When Nancy eventually asks the question that the entire audience has been thinking, “Why are we still in this house?” the plain answer is because it’s a play. Whereas on Reza’s stage we might be willing to entertain a circular 80 minute conversation, in a film where we have been shown the corridor, the elevator, and even Brooklyn Park Bridge, it’s difficult for us to believe that the Cowans wouldn’t walk out through the door just as quickly as they entered. The kinds of questions raised by crossmedia adaptations often hint at a need to justify whether the task was worth undertaking in the first place. In the case of Polanski’s decision to take Reza’s drama off the stage and into the studio, I’m a little stumped for answers. Not because it’s a bad film – in fact, I’d happily go again for Waltz’s performance alone – but because the script and concept are so much those of a stage drama that at times the exercise seems a little redundant. Sure, we should still be thankful for gifts we don’t necessarily have a use for, and Roman Polanski’s Carnage is indeed a good film of a good play, but it remains precisely that. At least by committing it to film, the audience are assured that every performance is as on point as the first.



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Tengen Magazine Issue 4  

Issue 4 of London Writing and Arts magazine Tengen. Featuring an interview with Tom McCarthy, exclusive artwork from Kanitta Meechubot, po...

Tengen Magazine Issue 4  

Issue 4 of London Writing and Arts magazine Tengen. Featuring an interview with Tom McCarthy, exclusive artwork from Kanitta Meechubot, po...

Profile for tengenmag