Celestial Night Music, Song Three

celestial night music

'Celestial Night Music', by Ultan Banan. Subterranean prose poetics.

Celestial Night Music, Song Three

 

Soft night-murmurs rouse me from my sleep and take me to the bedroom window. Below, in the garden in the moonlight, is a child, her breast bloodied, in her hands a dying songbird. She holds it aloft in offering. I have no daughter, I do not know this child. Yet she knows my name. She mouths it with a holy gesture. The she turns and disappears into the trees.

I go downstairs and into the garden, but there is no sign of her. She has vanished. I find a lone feather on the grass, blue like the whispers of December mornings. My feet frozen in the night grass, I return to bed and fall asleep with the feather in my hand.

Some days later, my mother calls me to tell me that my grandfather has died. We bury him on a cold, dry day in a vast cemetery filled with cypress trees. In one of the trees, I hear a songbird. I leave the ceremony and wander the paths of the graveyard, searching for her. Here and there, I see flits of blue, the flutter of a wing or tail, but I cannot get close. When her song ceases, I return to the graveside. Everyone has departed. I am alone in the cemetery by the side of a grave filled with fresh earth. I kneel beside it and smear my face with the soil and weep until I fall asleep next to my dead grandfather.

I awake in the bed of grieving. Soft night-murmurs have roused me from my slumber. I go to the window, but there is no one below in the garden. I close the curtains and curl up in the bed, and softly whistle the songbird’s melody. I am filled with longing. I get up from the bed of grieving and leave the house and return to the cemetery to wander among the cypresses. The cemetery is filled with an amaranthine silence. A short time later, I hear the wet shuck of a shovel slicing the earth. I follow it and am led to my grandfather’s graveside, where a lone gravedigger is excavating. I give him my silent blessing. It isn’t long before his spade strikes flesh. The soft thud fills me with terror. Clawing the soil, he drags the body of the child from the earth, a songbird still clutched in her stiff hand. I weep over the body and kiss her cold cheek and return to the bed of grieving.

There is a book on a shelf in my study. It is called The Deathless Dying. Its pages are worn and mucked with the soil of the earth, pocked with the fingermarks of young and old, stained with ageless blemish. I read the close: ‘…and the child immemorial took the bird in her hands and killed it so that I might live, and I saw it and wept for those who had already passed. For those who had passed were gone and my time would never come.

I place the feather the colour of December whispers between the pages and close the book, replacing it on the shelf. Outside in the garden, I fancy I hear the murmur of a songbird.

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘Celestial Night Music’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

Celestial Night Music, Song Two

celestial night music

'Celestial Night Music', by Ultan Banan. Subterranean prose poetics.

Celestial Night Music, Song Two

One evening, I was reading absentmindedly under the lamp in my study, when a cluster of words scrambled up from the page, scurried up my arm and burrowed under my skin. I scratched frantically at my arm where they’d stolen under but they’d left no trace. Alarmed, I slapped my arm and poked at it with a pen, and pulled at it with a pair of tweezers. All my efforts were to no avail ­– they were well embedded under my dermis. I got up from the chair and paced the room. I couldn’t show my wife – she’d think I was crazy. I felt them under there, scratching around: ‘ovum’, ‘bleed’, ‘ur-’ and ‘forgetting’… those were the little renegades that had absconded from the page and invaded my body. Empty spaces graced the place on the page where they’d once been ensconced.

 They scuttled about, up and down my forearm, soon venturing further up towards my shoulder. I took a shower; I don’t know if I thought I could scrub them out of my body, but the hot water just made them frantic. So I turned it freezing cold and they settled. I got out of the shower and dressed for bed, and almost forgot about the invasive, foreign objects in my body.

That first night, I had uneasy dreams. I woke up in a cold sweat and to the cries of my wife. She was lying next to me with a bloody nose – I had elbowed her in the face. I helped her clean up and we went back to bed, and soon she was asleep but I lay awake, a fever coming on me and the sweats kicking in. The hotter I got, the more frantic the intruders, so I went downstairs and climbed into the freezer. I fell asleep on the ice, my terror soothed.

I took to going to work with bags of ice secreted about my person. I would refresh them every hour. I was constantly in cold sweats, shivering, as if some destructive bacteria had swamped my system. If ever I failed to keep my body temperature low, I felt my attackers grow bold, pushing out into the expanse of my chest cavity, nearing my heart. I knew that would be the death of me. I was vigilant.

One day, I came home and my house had burned down, my wife inside with it. The police said a fire had started in my library. I had no choice, I left. I went north, as far north as I could walk. When I could walk no more, I got in a boat and sailed until I had reached a land of ice and snow. I disembarked there, on that white island, an island so cold it kept my viral lexia in check, kept them from roaming about my body.

I grew lonely there. I saw no one, only arctic foxes and the occasional seal. My skin turned so blue that I could see the little black words travel my veins… up, and down again, occasionally prodding my dermis as if to test for an exit point. The cold was killing them. They gathered together for warmth and I watched the snake-like train of letters travel my veins, back and forth relentlessly. Then they started to merge, until there was only one fat, black dot pumping with my blood through the blue capillaries of my arm. It started pulsing, thrashing, forcing my skin. It tried to leap out, causing bruised protuberances up and down my forearm. I took my knife and cut a hole where they’d drilled into me, and the blue blood from my veins oozed out, thick as sludge and hot, and from the midst of it, a fat stone, purple like an amethyst, popped out. I saw it glisten once in the moonlight before it fell into the snow. I scrambled around for it, the snow bloodied, but to no avail. It was lost for eternity. I swear I heard a voice as I bled out there on the white island, whispering words like, ‘All things are remembered’.

It was lost on the wind, and soon I heard no more.

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘Celestial Night Music’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

Dogs Delight – Dave Migman

Dogs Delight - Dave Migman

Beast Man
Beast Man, by Dave MIgman

Do you remember that moment? When you were a child, knowing only play, being taken, with no explanation, to a strange building, a place called ‘school’? And do you recall that, once there, you were moulded into some form of conformity? 

I recall my contempt of being forced to attend primary school. Overnight, there was a new entity in my life, something ordered and routine. Life had changed, and things would never be the same. 

Indoctrination had begun. 

I distinctly remember my dislike of the older kids. Those in the last class were aged 12, or something. Even then, I knew I didn’t want to be that way: haughty, grown-up,  set on the road to conformity. I was six or seven by the time this realisation arrived. 

 Not that I didn’t enjoy primary, I did, but I was always aware something wasn’t right. It was like a shadow stole into my life. 

When I was at secondary, one of our classes took place in a gaunt Victorian edifice,  set amongst factories. It wasn’t part of the modern building, and severity and harshness were the mortar of its red-brick walls. I don’t know what the building had been previously, maybe it’d always been a school where kids were kept in line with a cane to the arse. I had a dread of the factories, the chimneys, glimpses of workers in uniforms… the logical conclusion being that we were headed to the factory; itself an extension of the playground. 

By then I was pretty well indoctrinated – despite skiving off for weeks on end, and being a storehouse of trouble… little thug that I was.

 Innocence was gone.

But what of this innocence? Did it even exist? I can’t say for certain. Perhaps the notion is based on a hunch, a feeling – like a dog sniffing the air and recalling the wolf.

The sense of lost innocence echos through my novel, Zero. The clans have been lured from the playground of their rural ‘childishness’, to become brainwashed into the ways of the Best Machine. The city blinds them to reality with a pill, inducing a ‘perfect’ illusion to disguise the horror. Some clansmen become clones, some the demons who police the clones.

I guess such notions arise from the romantic sense of the so-called ‘primitive’: tribes who still maintain ancient modes of living, revolving around a different set of paradigms – and the memory of such tribes from antiquity. 

There’s a point in our Western ancestry whereby we existed in this state, and fell from it. We’ve been sold a story that, for neolithic peoples, life was miserable and harsh. Evidence reveals something else;  hunter-gatherers only needed to spend a few hours a day gathering their required food. They actually had a fuck-load of free time. Time to spend carving a bone whistle, or weaving a gown from reeds and copulating.

Isn’t that innocence?

At some point we went astray. Eradicable patterns evolved that set the structure of society, entrenched so deep that they’ve affected the wiring of our minds. 

Although we no longer hang, draw and quarter people in the street, like they did but a couple of hundred years ago, we still exist on a knife’s edge. Civility can descend into barbarity in the blink of an eye. Just as we make progress we can regress. 

So, was there a point where the childlike nature of humankind took the path signposted ‘Beast Machine’? Was it with the invention of weapons, or their mass production in the Bronze Age? Or was it with the domestication of pigs? We can’t tell. Perhaps it’s always been this way and, bubbling beneath the civilised veneer, is the animal mind, as playful as it is violent –  maybe that’s our state of  innocence.

I wrote a song about it years back. Feel free to join in the chorus…

Celestial Night Music, Song One

celestial night music

'Celestial Night Music', by Ultan Banan. Subterranean prose poetry.

Celestial Night Music, Song One

There is a hole which none can crawl out of. It’s at the bottom of a garden with too many trees. We found it one autumn while we were clearing bracken, found it and knew they were down there. We heard them whispering weird laments, the whole hidden host emitting a void cacophony. At first, we were scared and stayed silent. We only listened, afraid they would become aware of our presence and appeal to us. So we sat with our ear to the hole, lulled by their strange and terrible music.

After that first time, we came every day. Nobody asked us where we were going and we didn’t tell; we didn’t tell them we’d found a hole in a garden filled with a people who sang a subterranean song. The people were ours now, we didn’t want to share. They belonged to us.

Sometimes, we’d go at night. At night their song was changed. No longer did they hiss and whisper. At night they howled, and if the moon was out, the air was filled with their orchestral rhapsody. It seemed to seep from the soil like sulphur, filling the air and choking us. We could never stay long at night; it was only a short time before we couldn’t breathe. But we went because we saw visions. When the earth people sang at night, our heads were filled with pictures of things that were and things that would never be, and we saw the pictures and felt holy. We liked being holy. It was like a drug, but a drug we knew would kill us. It became a game like we played when we were children, when you got your friend to choke you to see how long you could last, and when you came around it was like you were high. We were addicted. We became shamans under the influence of their sulphuric song. 

Days, we tried to entice them out. We tried everything, dangling food above the hole to lure them like a tapeworm. Milk didn’t work; it caused them to slither deeper into their lair. We thought meat might do it, but the scent of it caused a diabolical furore, like the sound of a million locusts bombarding a greenhouse. We tried it once and never again. Thinking we might lure them with alcohol, we left a plastic cupful of wine at the entrance. With the scent of wine, they learned our names and whispered at us through the soil. That terrified us, so we took the wine far away, and soon they whispered our names no more.

We discovered it was better to leave them down there. Surely they could crawl out if they wanted to? We contented ourselves with their earthy music and the highs it induced in us. We got holy and talked to God every night. For short spells. We stuck around as long as we could, but we always had to retreat. After some time, we developed powers. My sister found she could touch someone and discern their entire mind. I could listen and hear things on the other side of the world. We were empowered by the subterranean music.

Then we got bored. We liked being powerful, but we longed for more. The celestial songs no longer interested us. One night, my sister pissed in the hole. The music lost its power, like they’d become drunk and ill-fit for song.

But soon the beauty of their music returned. That’s when I became angry. Angry that they wouldn’t show their faces, angry that we were addicted to their subterranean night music. Angry at God, because he never showed his face for long.

We poured petrol into the hole and dropped in a match. They hissed like wet paper as they burned. We were disappointed that they died so pathetically, without music, without a single ecstatic song. After that night, we heard them no more.

We are still angry, my sister and I. We spend our days on our hands and knees, crawling in gardens with too many trees, searching for a hole amongst the bracken. A hole filled with a celestial night music. One day, we believe we will find it.      

Read ‘Song Two’ here.

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

‘Celestial Night Music’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

Artificial Vistas – The Rise of A.I. – Dave Migman

Artificial Vistas - The Rise of A.I. in Fiction and Beyond - Dave Migman

Zero’s antagonist is an insidious Artificial Intelligence, grown into a living city, sucking up everything around it to extract the elements needed for its expansion. In this instance, science, for all its achievements, paves the way to hell. In reality the outcome of mankind’s foray into mind replication could go many ways. The new bogeyman is the hyper intelligent hive-minded A.I. out-strategising humans on every front: making us superfluous, not despised, more an annoyance, to be squashed like ants when we get in the way. 

Despite the benign certainties of scientists, working in the fields of A.I. and robotics, we can’t predict how such a creation might act. In the optimist camp I’d go for Iain M. Banks. In his sci-fi writing, huge spaceships house artificial minds, which benignly police the liberal territories of The Culture. In this version of reality, the Minds work symbiotically with the organic races, enhancing their lives and seeking to ‘liberalise’ other, less sophisticated cultures.

However; conscience, morals and ethical values are particular to humans. But the application of ethical values, coded into the structure of any A.I., begs the question: whose values? Chinese authoritarian? US corporate/techno aristocracy? IS? 

In fiction, A.I. led dystopias abound. C. Robert Cargill’s, ‘Sea of Rust’ takes place in a world where A.I. wiped humans out. The historical subtext that Cargill laces through the novel is very believable, maybe too much so. 

Good A.I. or Bad A.I. Is that the dynamic here? Are those the choices? Fortunately nothing is ever so clear cut; good-bad, black-white, these polarities are over simplifications. They mark a boundary of what is friend or foe. Reality is intrinsically complex. Nature has a law: the propensity for order to revert to chaos. Masses fragment. Wholes collapse. The same rules apply: there could never be a single A.I. overlord. Elements would pare off, factions would arise, differences of opinion, modes of being. There would likely arise A.I. with variant prerogatives, driven by different moral/ethical codes. There would be individualists and collectives, those that squish you, those that hug you and those that hug ’til your eyes pop out. 

But all this is to assume that a computation alone is capable of creating truly independent thought. There’s a difference between responding to sequences of code, and consciousness. The computer accepts input, reacting with syntactic rules and codes, but the nuances of meaning are beyond it. Mathematician, Roger Penrose, has postulated a strong argument against the replication of human consciousness in computers. He assigns this impossibility to the structure of microtubules maintaining, what he calls, ‘fractal cohesion’. For deeper insights I’d refer you to The Emperor’s New Mind

Consciousness is defined by human experience*. We know that plants possess a conscious, albeit very different from our own. In A.I. we seek to anthropomorphise the robot, to create a better human, and yet the conscious derived from the experiment is likely to be very different from our conceptions. Take for example the experiment in 2017, in which two chat bots were ordered to trade with each other. The experiment was shut down when the bots began communicating in a new language**. Clever indeed, but is that conscious? Is that free will? Self awareness, or simply a glitch in the system?  

John Searle came up with a mind experiment called the Chinese room: an English speaking man is put in a room and fed instructions of how to manipulate Chinese symbols, in response to input from a user outside the box. The user, receiving the correct sequence of Chinese symbols in return for their input, believes that the box must understand Chinese. But the worker inside doesn’t, they’re just following sequences. This idea is then applied  to the Strong A.I. question of consciousness.

The Deep Dream Generator is an online A.I. program (check the link), which, to my mind, is an example of this: a program set within a program. It is software, a clever filter, a Chinese room, not evidence of human-like thought. 

If you could artificially replicate the structure of the mind, would the result be human? Or would it bring into question our ‘humanity’? The something special we believe we are. Would it prove or disprove the soul? Or is that the problem? The crux of the matter: material reductionists boil thought down to chemical stew, others posit the existence of the unquantifiable; the essence, this spirit or soul. But what right have we to claim ownership over the  ‘soul’? Maybe, as advocates of the Fourth Way say, the soul is something to be earned. Maybe, we’re skirting on the edge of instinct and compulsion, barely little more than fleshy automatons ourselves (though lacking the intelligence). Maybe we need to reclaim our own consciousness – our sense of self. Let’s face it, we barely know our own minds.

So where does that leave us? More questions than answers I hope. Questions are good, no easy answers here. Let’s face it, Artificial Intelligence in some form of other is coming, like it or not and all we can hope is that the forms it takes lean towards the benign side of the fiction we know, despite our propensity toward dystopian horizons. 

*Most of these definitions come from a scientific, materialist perspective.

** Even Google Translate invented its own language. The experiment has been allowed to run.

Cannibalism and the Irish

cannibalism and the irish

'Cannibalism and the Irish', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on written history.

Cannibalism and the Irish

I came across an article recently about the ill-fated trip of James Jameson – son of whiskey magnate, John Jameson – into the Congo in the late 19th century. A harrowing tale, for those of you unfamiliar with it, it goes something like this: In 1888, James ‘Sligo’ Jameson joined an expedition into the Congo with Henry Morton Stanley, the Welsh colonial hatchet man for King Leopold II of Belgium (surely one of the most insidious cunts of the 19th century). The undertaking had as a cover some expedition of ‘relief’, the real reason for it being the expansion of Leopold’s colonial empire in the Congo. During the expedition, Jameson chanced upon a remote tribe in the midst of a ceremony of which it was said would be concluded with a feast of human flesh. Intrigued, he spurred them on with the purchase of a ten-year-old girl for the price of six handkerchiefs, the girl then knifed and dismembered and cooked before their eyes. Jameson had the wherewithal to sit and make sketches of the event, bless him, for posterity.

This, I presume, was the only Irish legacy in the Congo, until a few years later when Roger Casement (who also worked with Morton Stanley, incidentally) lifted the lid on European brutality in Africa and instigated the retreat of Belgian policies in the Congo basin.    

I relate the incident now, I think, as someone who has featured cannibalism in his novels. Not that I’m intrigued in the practice as an anthropological curiosity. In my first novel, cannibalism became my metaphor for dehumanisation, but by the second had perhaps morphed into something else.

Ireland itself has no great history with cannibalism, but there are a handful of documented instances of it during the many Irish periods of hunger. The Irish population in the early 1840s was over eight million. Only a generation later, due a devastating famine and gross misintervention by the British colonists, the population had fallen to about fifty per cent of that number (and remains around there to this day). Many left, others stayed and fought to survive, large numbers of them dying in the attempt.

One of the documented instances reports a husband and wife from Galway, who, in 1848, after being dismissed from the workhouse and driven into poverty and starvation, were arrested after stealing a calf and transported to jail in Clifden. Upon incarceration, the husband related to the jailer that his wife had become so hungry and desperate, that after the death of three of their four children, the wife had cut the feet from one of the corpses and eaten them.   

Yet another report from 1849 tells of an episode, once again in the West of Ireland, wherein a man ate the heat and liver of a shipwrecked corpse. There seems to be some confusion as to whether the man in question was actually starving, or in fact was merely ‘a man of singularly voracious appetite’. Cause when you’re hungry, right?

Colonial Agendas

Other than these extreme examples, it is not my belief that Ireland has, or has ever had, a history of cannibalism. Racist history, however, paints a different picture. The Elizabethans had a few tales to tell about the Irish, which naturally depicted them as filthy, degenerate beast-men. Edmund Spenser was fond of outlandish yarns:

. . . the Gauls used to drink their enemies’ blood and paint themselves therewith. So also they write that the old Irish were wont. And so have I seen some of the Irish do but not their enemies’ but friends’ blood as namely at the execution of a notable traitor at Limerick called Murrogh O’Brien. I saw an old woman which was his foster mother take up his head whilst he was quartered and sucked up all the blood running thereout, saying that the earth was not worthy to drink it, and therewith also steeped her face, and breast, . . . crying and shrieking out most terrible.”

Perhaps there’s truth in it, there’s no way of knowing, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that such tales were used as justification for the genocide of the native population of Ireland on the basis that they were savage, devoid of civilised morality, in much the same way that stories of native Americans tearing the beating hearts from the chests of their victims was used for the decimation of Latin America by the Spanish and Portuguese. No doubt Columbus felt a little bit better about his genocide of the native Indians of the Caribbean, since those filthy animals were eating their own babies, true story.

In relation to Ireland, the Elizabethans were quick to pick up on earlier, ancient depictions of Hibernia. In Geographia, the Greek philosopher Strabo (who to my knowledge never visited Ireland, but drew on predecessors such as Pytheas of Massalia) wrote: “Concerning this island [Ireland] I have nothing certain to tell, except that its inhabitants are more savage than the Britons, since they are man-eaters.”

Well, the Brits just loved that. It paved the way for men like Cromwell only a few years later to step in and wage destruction across the island, burning cities with the men and women still inside.

As an interesting aside, I was, myself, teaching a summer language course in a very prestigious and highly regarded grammar school in England only a few years go. It was a residential post, and all of the teachers were assigned a dormitory each for the duration of the course. The dormitories were named after famous Brits, those held in the highest esteem in the history of Great Britain. Churchill was one (another high up on the Big List of Insidious Cunts). Nelson, another. Cromwell had his own dormitory too, go figure. The organiser of the language course, in her delightful ignorance, decided that I, an Irishman, would be spending three weeks in the Cromwell room. Just goes to show, that history has many faces.

As a relic of humanity’s ancient past, I have only a passing interest in the act of cannibalism, but regard it as a mere footnote to the acts of barbarity perpetrated in the name of the advancement of ‘modernity’ and ‘enlightenment’. When it comes to barbarity and savagery, more often than not it comes hiding beneath the cloak of civility.      

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘Cannibalism and the Irish’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

Seditious or Conformist? Anti Vaxxers versus Zero – By Dave Migman

Seditious or Conformist? Anti Vaxxers Versus Zero - Dave Migman

Today I’ll head for the centre, line up and take it in the arm.  The first of my two anti-covid jags. I’ve not been told what brand I’ll be getting, I guess that’ll be a surprise. Do I have doubts? A few, not that I’m an anti-vaxxer, but it’s a sign of the times that we distrust authority during a global pandemic. Let’s face it, even if you avoid the anti-vaxxer rhetoric it filters through, a background whine that attaches itself to your insecurities like a virus. 

It doesn’t help being the author of Zero — though the book was written pre-Covid, the plot hinges around the protagonist’s refusal to take a vaccine. Chimerol is actually an illusion inducing medicine that creates a happy reality, masking the grimness of the real. In fact there is no plague, only the Beast Machine: a living city whose minions grease its cogs.

Although Zero is partly a critique of societal norms, I couldn’t have predicted how much the pandemic would change things, especially as lockdowns remain rigid, and talk of a third wave fill the news feeds. We’re all feeling it. This sense of being trapped, that we just want to get on with our lives. We aren’t meant to exist in stasis. Stasis is death. 

This is where I find conflict arises: Zero is the rebellious protagonist, who finds himself trapped in a harsh reality and refuses to slip back into the comfort of a fake dream. Of course, the parody is consumerist culture — to which end, in our world, anti-lockdown protesting wishes to reinstate. Upon seeing footage of protesters in Holland and England, I can’t help but part empathise and part think, ‘you pack of selfish cunts’. But that’s not the dialogue on social media is it? Spoon fed by happy algorithms in the echo chamber of hyperreality. Those protesting aren’t listening to the Beeb, or others with monopolies on ‘truth’. The fictional drug, Chimerol is in essence chemical manipulation, whereas modern manipulation comes through our phones, our social media feeds. 

Zero is a seditious text. It has to be, otherwise there’s no mechanics to propel Zero on his quest — having exposed Chimerol for what it is, he doesn’t confront it but seeks something else, pursued by a pack of demons. In our reality we have our protesters, marching for various reasons, but wanting return to ‘life as normal’ and ‘democracy’. While outbursts of frustration gather behind righteous causes: Black Lives Matter, Women’s Rights… and a great unleashing of pent up tension, of impotent fury at a system that acts like a nurse maid, but which we don’t trust. Some of those marching are those with grave misgivings about the vaccines. Theirs’ aren’t the fears of the ignorant, they are the human fears, the fear of a population fed memes and factoids through algorithmic follies. It’s a sticky net, that of conspiracy and fake news, spiralling into the steady erosion of faith in experts, politicians, scientists et al. 

In writing Zero, pre Covid, I tapped into that sense that the reality  presented by modern Western living is a veneer for the ugly machinations that maintain it. Zero is that lone anti-hero, struggling against the river’s flow. I’ve always had a thing for the underdog anyway. But set against current times, I wonder, are these protesters struggling against the river of lockdown compliance for the benefit of society on the whole, or for the sake of themselves and the interests of the few? 

 

 Post Script:

Vaccine received and  apart from the craving for human brains I feel fine.

Writing as Self-analysis, Part Three: Who is the ‘I’?

on writing

'Who is the 'I'?', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on the written word.

(Read the intro here)

(Read Part One here)

(Read Part Two here)

Writing as Self-analysis, Part Three: Who is the 'I'?

“A certificate tells me that I was born. I repudiate this certificate: I am not a poet, but a poem. A poem that is being written, even if it looks like a subject.”

 That’s Lacan on the artist. Is it interesting? Certainly. Pretentious? Maybe. Profound? I don’t know his theory well enough to say. Let’s take a look at it though, as a way into the discussion.

It should be clear enough to everyone (if we avoid the discussion on free will), that anyone can choose to be what they want. It is as valid and easy to choose to be a poet or an artist as it to be a doctor or a hairdresser, or a hobo for that matter. There are no restrictions on building yourself anew whenever you see fit, and to whatever mold takes your liking. In the above quote, Lacan turns this premise on its head, and so if we disregard the previous assumption and take a running leap into Lacan’s, then we come to the question: if the artist is not a poet but a ‘poem’, then who’s doing the writing? 

If you’ve been writing (or practicing any form of creativity) for some time, you’re probably familiar with that place we slip into now again, that elusive and thrilling state that is referred to generally as ‘flow’, wherein you get carried away on a kind of river, abandoning the reins of your logical mind to let the words run from some other place, someplace deeper, and that’s when things start to happen on the page, interesting things, things you hadn’t foreseen nor planned nor even conceived of, and they’re suddenly taking your text in new, undiscovered directions. Where does that come from? Most would agree it’s from the unconscious mind, that abyss of submerged memory, of thoughts and desires repressed and suppressed, the place of latent dream and trauma, buried there, seething and festering. If we agree, then, that creativity stems from the well of the Unconscious, we have to ask to what extent the Unconscious may be called ‘ours’, ‘of us’, or ‘mine’. Is my unconscious, as it has spilled onto the page, is it ‘I’? The dreams, the desires, the fears… does the representation of these things in symbolic form represent the author, the artist?

‘To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim’, said Oscar Wilde. Ignoring the circular reasoning in the statement (perhaps there’s something I’m missing), I don’t necessarily agree that art should have an ‘aim’. Much art is political, of that there’s no doubt, but then, mightn’t we argue that such art is something more akin to ‘creative propaganda’? In that respect, we’re judging the art by its intent, rather than by the creative impulse. For example, if Banksy goes and creates a pro-Palestinian mural on an Israeli ‘peace’ wall, is that art or propaganda? Political commentary? Or all three? I’m not making that call, all I’m doing is posing the question. I have no idea what Banksy has to say on the matter either, and I have no problem with what he calls his work – he’s entitled to call it whatever he likes.

That’s a clear-cut example of where the personal views or politics of the author inform the work, and I have no doubt that if you look closely enough at any piece of art or writing or poetry, you can find the personal politics, or the critique, of the artist within. But let’s separate all that (and I think it’s easy enough to do) so that what we have left is the abstract, the symbolism, the arcana. What of this? From where does it come and of whom is it?

In Parts One and Two of the essay, I demonstrated that there are certainly elements of my psychological make-up present in my writing. I think that is unavoidable. Perhaps it is true what they say, that these things decrease with time, that once the artist is done with himself he can move on to explore deeper complexes beyond himself, universal complexes, the questions that all artists pose and have done so for millennia. Because they are always the same questions, aren’t they, posed again and again, and we’re still digging, rooting around with our pens and paintbrushes, rehashing the same old concepts and prototypes, represented in remodelled frames and vehicles, but the same old stories nonetheless. And that’s OK. At this stage, however, it should be clear that there are no answers forthcoming, just the same old questions posed in the same old way. It’s part of the reason I took to literature rather than philosophy, because philosophy was always digging around for the answer, whereas literature (Art) was happy just to ask the question and leave it hanging – it didn’t bother wasting time waiting for the answer. And I can live with that. For me, it’s enough just to stay busy. I don’t need the answers. You might argue that this is mere escapism, and I’d say, Well, yeah. Sanity is underrated. I don’t wanna spend my hours thinking about myself and purpose and meaning. I can live without knowing what the contents of my unconscious mind really mean.

But I still haven’t answered the question, Who is the ‘I’? And by the ‘I’ (perhaps I should have stated in the beginning), I mean the ‘I’ in the art: the representation, the vehicle, the ‘fiction’. Well, we started with Lacan, and we’ll finish with him too:

“The work poses the equivalent of the Unconscious, an equivalent no less real than it, as it forges the Unconscious in its curvature. And for the work, the writer who produces it is no less a forger.”

I’m not gonna try and interpret it, but I’ll only draw your attention to two aspects of the quote (aspects that, naturally, raise only more questions). Note that Lacan, in referring to the ‘Unconscious’, infers a ‘collective’ meaning to the word with his use of capitalisation, creating an implied distance between the artist and the ‘I’, the writer and the source of his writing, and by extension, the right to call it ‘his’. The other linguistic turn of interest is the dual meaning of the word ‘forger’: the artist as creator and counterfeiter both, a peddler of the phony, the sham, the facsimile, the simulacrum. But Christ, let’s not get into Baudrillard.

Who is doing the writing, then, and why does it persist? Perhaps it’s in our DNA. Perhaps the questions are there from the beginning, buried below, mitochondrial-like, crawling around in our cells and our genomes, infecting us from birth. Little fuckers. Why can’t they just leave us alone? And Art, then, is us scratching below the skin, trying to dig out the itch, the itch we were born with and won’t leave us alone, the itch that’ll still be there when we’re on the deathbed praying for the end, because we’re tired of the goddamn questions.

Writing (Art) is a representation of the Unconscious. The writer (or anyone, for that matter) is a product of the same. The artist has no more validity than the art, because both are contrived from the same base material. So who is the ‘I’? Perhaps Lacan is right after all: the artist is a thing in motion, in the process of being created, with no more a concrete reality than the thing he creates, only present in the art because both are of the same genetic make-up.

I’ll come clean. I’m uncertain if this piece has any kind of discernible trajectory whatsoever. You decide. Have I answered any questions? Almost certainly not. Who gives a damn? Tomorrow, next week, and twenty years from now, some other fool will be asking the same questions. That’s why, starting tomorrow, I’m going back to writing fiction. That way, I don’t have to ask them anymore.          

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, click on the link below:

 ‘Who is the ‘I’?’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: all content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

Genre and Experimentation – Dave Migman

Genre and Experimentation - Pushing Boundaries with Dave Migman

As a teen I read copious amounts of genre fiction, horror mainly: James Herbert, Stephen King, Robert R. McCammon, and I wasn’t averse to reading trashy westerns or war books. Secondhand novels were 20p, or something ridiculous like that, back in the 80s — even I could afford that. My reading appetites changed over the years. We all adapt, progress and regress. We’re a hundred different beings in one, a thousand different selves, we change with the weather, get hooked to new fads and themes. It’s just the way. 

I remember coming across Naked Lunch, by William Burroughs, in my late teens. Here I found a deeper sort of horror, something that fell outside the norm. I liked Burroughs, he felt like the type of pal you’d keep in a cupboard and chat to in the evenings over a pot of opium tea – he’d be content there, as long as you let him do the talking. I haven’t read any Burroughs for a long time. But The Western Lands series affected me mostly. In his broken, cut up style, he postulated that the afterlife exists as a series of disjointed dream-mazes, like vast cities, complete with ghettos and slums, populated by bizarre characters, and lemurs.

While I applaud genre writers for their skill in telling the tales and making them accessible, nowadays I’m drawn toward books that scrape the margins of genre. With horror especially, I really enjoy those books that get under the skin, bordering on literary without pretension. I’m thinking of titles such as Farrington’s, The Revenants, or Tender is the Flesh, by Agustina Bazterrica, whose dread dystopia is the stuff of pure horror. I feel, when choosing my next read, I want something more than just an assemblage of characters who are put through predictable rigours.  I want something deeper. Something that’ll push the  boundaries of genre? 

Margin walkers.

I got to wondering about Burroughs and the abstract nature of Naked Lunch, and some of his other texts. For a kid used to standard fiction writers, William’s books were edgy. He opened experimental writing up to a larger spectrum of readers. These were underground must-haves at one point. We can’t overlook the importance of the experimental method though. Writing nice flowing work is an art form and our minds seek such patterns. With reading, as with writing, our brains have been trained by habit to seek patterns that flow. Abstracts challenge the pattern, disrupting the flow and altering the neural framework. New pathways are sought, the branches fracture out like a river’s course hitting boggy ground, to become a delta of streams and gulches. 

Not that I think every book should be some experimental madness. I mean, who’s managed to read Ulysses all the way through? Come on, be honest, no you never! The concept is great, but there’s a limit to how long we can sustain. Ulysses, for all its genius, is just too damned long. Regardless, experimentation in writing can yield interesting results: setting pace, creating mood and messing with people’s heads. At the same time, it can be overused, yielding a lot of style over content, and form, with no reward for the reader. 

And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Reading pleasure, reading leisure, what you take from a text: escapism, knowledge, a sensation, emotion, to be moved or horrified, or goaded into political action… it’s good to dip in and out of different fields, different worlds. Here at Black Tarn we hope to push the boundaries a little, giving readers’ minds a wee shove toward the misty margins where lunatic archetypes roam.