29 10, 2017

Mattias Forshage – and some unexplained occurrences of aquatic faunas

By | October 29th, 2017|News|0 Comments


and some unexplained occurrences of aquatic faunas

By Mattias Forshage

Head Louse Press & Peculiar Mormyrid Press

Print Copy Appendix Volume: Dream Stories Print Copy | Free Ebook

MATTIAS FORSHAGE
 The semi-aquatic and internationally suspect entity who dared speak out in favour of notorious bathyscopy, and who writes of: 
  • Savage carnivores that prowl in the park…
  • Towns that are made entirely of onions and eggs…
  • New developments in the science of eschatology…
  • The mysterious monument known only as The Tintin Gate…
Plus other reports of the obsessive, the uncanny, and the oneiric.
1 09, 2017

Hagstone Review—Rings A Bell

By | September 1st, 2017|Object, Prose|0 Comments

In the creepiest corner of the commodity market, among the cheapest and most embarrassing DREGS of garage sales and bargain bins and used-book stores, a new spirit is forming from the misshapen, the forgotten, the uncanny leftovers of the literary. HAGSTONE REVIEWS seek to unearth these eso-erotic atavisms for the world at large, in the inimitable and mysterious Mormyrid manner! Do you dare answer the phone for:


Rings A Bell, by Angela Griffiths (Hutchinson & Co, 1985)

Keywords: Devices, erotics, eccentrics, miscommunication, rebellion, slapstick, prize porkers

Of interest to: shut-ins, obsessive antiquarians, phone scammers, voyeurs, technophiles from the age of Verne, sex workers, sketch comedians

*

Lest we forget that devices too have their devices—

Conspiratorial phone booths. Disembodied ears and tongues. Organs without bodies. Feet lusting after powder. Organizations of ambiguous function. Poisoned wedding cakes. A glowing cloud of voices that whisper temptations into the ears of the local sky… Hold the line….

I was initially attuned to the surrealist potential of phone literature after reading Franklin Rosemont’s Wrong Numbers (Black Swan Press, 2002), in which the phenomena, philosophy, erotics and poetry of the telephone are expounded at great length and with much to commend them. In that book, Rosemont points out a few examples of popular romance and children’s literature in which the telephone plays a highly charged role—a conduit, in some cases, to a new amorous world.* It was with such hope and no context that I purchased an gnarly old $1 volume at the used book store in the basement of the Ottawa Public Library. 

Rings A Bell brings together three short dramatic pieces that center on the use of a telephone in an undisclosed village, presumably in Britain, but then again, perhaps some kind of parallel cartoon universe or utopian socialist community of the far-flung future. The book’s exact genre is hard to discern from the 1980s functionalist design. Forlorn digits seem to indicate whole set of missing companion volumes. A few hints suggest that the volume fits into the enticingly pleonastic category of “literacy literature” (whatever that could mean). The entire series is edited by a mysterious entity known only as “Wendy Body” (Oh anybody? Where’s the body?) In short, there is every reason to believe that this is a set of secret coded training guides for trans-dimensional invaders.

Gertrude: Do you mind! I am making a very important phone call! It could very well change the course of my entire life!

In the title piece, Rings A Bell, we encounter a character who could have walked straight out of Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet. Gertrude Clump, armed with a folding chair, a stack of cigarettes and a pile of coins, marches into the village phone box one sunny Saturday afternoon. There, she has a lovely time speaking to Boris, of the shadowy Blue Lagoon Friendship Club. This occupation results in an effective communications blockade of the entire town. As any reader of Edward Lear knows, eccentric individual behavior in public will always attract the rebukes and scorn of “They”. I can happily report that despite the pressure of the townsfolk, who with a miserabilist ardour for the ordinary are not long in sabotaging Comrade Clump, she does not surrender. Her irrational re-appropriation of the town’s seemingly sole method of communication to the outside world—a tactic worthy of any situationist Frondeur—seems to disrupt the everyday life of the village at its most traumatic point.

Clump remains on the phone, doggedly pursuing her useless conversation and ceding nothing in regards to her unbridled desire to kibitz, until a reactionary local traps her by wrapping the phone cables around the phone booth. Nevertheless, during the occupational situation, she inadvertently spawns an erotic cue of people brought together by the forces of objective chance: Emma and Charles, parallel victims of jilted love and occupied phonespace, encounter each other and couple off in a pairing worthy of a narrative by Breton—a child with a lollipop inexplicably lodged in its ear is spared the disaster of medical reprisal—two lonely older eccentrics arrange a dinner—and all this under the auspices of a mysterious substance known only as “Foskins Fancy Foot Powder”.

Emma: Poor Boris was driven mad in the hot weather. He used to sit with his feet in the fridge and read the label on the tin. ‘Take the fire out of your feet with Foskins Fancy Powder,’ he’d say. It seemed to help him, saying it out loud like that.

The second play, Crossed Wires, is notable for an exciting telephonic miscommunication. The word is “wigs”, as requested by Queenie, a local thespian and something of an anti-police activist. A game of telephone is played through quite literally, including a healthy round of cop taunting, which, by means of alchemy of the verb sees the request mutate from wigs, to figs, to jigs, until the denouement finds Queenie surrounded by a horde of ravenous pigs. The staging is silent on this point but we know how hungry pigs can get. As the disgruntled farmer says, “Pigs aren’t easy on strange ground.”

Ginger: It’ll have to be prize porkers. How many does she want?

The last piece, Problem Line, depicts a local call-in radio hotline. The topic: the patriarcho-industral complex of weddings. But while radio host Rick Shaw and hymeneal propagandist Bella Bliss attempt to give their trite hetero-normative advice they are subverted by situationist-cum-bridal store owner Mr. Flint. The latter advises things like poisoning the  wedding party by means of a cake filled with chicken medicine, or the appropriateness of a nuptial vehicle with a trunk full of fertilizer. “It’s just not done!” scream the chorus frustrated foils of bourgeois respectability. At the climax, he even incites a jilted bride’s mother to literally horse-whip her escaped ex-son-in-law:

Lady Portly: So, do you agree that I should track down this scoundrel and take my horse-whip to him?

Bella: No don’t.

Rick Shaw: [Alarmed] Please don’t!

Mr Flint: Just follow your instincts, Lady P.

These three plays form a twisted macromelodrama of eroticism, popular revolt, surrealist subversion, and black humour. In all, I can heartily recommend the Rings A Bell trilogy as the best Ring Cycle in town. I can only hope some daring dramaturge will take up the challenge of this lost classic and give it the staging it deserves. Five out of seven hagstones.

I’ll leave you with some enticing summaries of other volumes in this series, which I look forward to encountering in a basement or yard sale someday in the far flung future:

Family Tree

The Council are coming to cut down gran’s favourite tree but Gran has plans of her own. To Charlie’s horror, she climbs into the tree and refuses to come down until the Council change their plan. Charlie tells the story of Gran’s heroic battle for her tree.

Long Gone Lil

At the safari park, all the keepers have taken the day off to go to a big local wedding. Ted is left in charge of Lil, a beautiful, rare giraffe with a sense of humour. Lil gives him the slip and leads him a dance all over the local countryside, until he finally catches up with her somewhere he would rather not be.

-Reviewed by ‘Agstone ‘Arry

*Tangentially, another interesting treatment of the phone as a mechanism for disembodiment can be found in Au telephone (1901), by the great Grand Guignol playwright André de Lorde. Here, a family murder is overheard by a distant father whose impotence to intervene—really reminds one of phone sex—whatever that is…

15 08, 2016

On Certain Possibilities of the Irrational Embellishment of Living Surrealism by Jason Abdelhadi

By | August 15th, 2016|Essay|0 Comments

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It’s of note that today the monster is accruing yet more status in the shared mythos of rebellion. As before, it retains the honorable title of destroyer of men and cities, and also its long history as a collectible, destined for some hellish cabinet. Yet it has come to reveal another counterfactual power against the paucity of reality. The monster today is quantum; no longer simply of the past, nor solely the threatening the destinies of the future, the monster is today both virtual and optative. We will it to have been.

The present-yet-occulted-character of today’s monster allows it to serve as a cipher for revolt. It explodes narratives from the inside. History is now open for retroactive terror and haunting. Embedding itself like missing arche-fossils in the timelines of evolutionary biology, or posing as a digital goblin layered on top of the everyday, the monster lives by altering space and time, play and collectivity, strict chronology and what might have been. Though less realistic than ever, its role is not superfluous, but rather surfluous.

I refer to surfluity as opposed to superfluity in the same spirit of conciliation between opposing forces that has been a priority for Surrealism since the Second Manifesto. We are using or being used by monsters to alter the “unalterable” against the run of everyday business, that Mothra of the Stock Exchange.

Of the recent popularity of monstrous mobile games and their power for “mobilization”, we can only harrow the commodification of yet another source of fear wonder. Commodification and spectacularization are even grown repetitive in their scandal. Acting at the service of the monstrous, we can do much better than that.

For surrealism, still, the Kaīju have their uses. The world can be monsterized, which is just a sub-branch of surrealization as a whole. The Golem of Prague guards our ghetto from nationalist thugs and art dealers.

For one, it’s important to point out the project of the Surrealist Bestiary has been undertaken seriously in Stockholm. We also note certain essays on Icecrawler/Heelwalker that look favourably upon the surrealists as a kind of X-Men or Superhero group.

And now, from the outside, we’ve got something really peculiar… A documentary tale about Surrealism from China Miéville, The Last of the Days of New Paris, (and the appended Bestiary of Manifs).

We can recognize in this “novella” (a designation that always irks) something long thought extinct: a true popular friend of surrealism, and not our typical overeager gravedigger. Certainly, like his pulp forbears, a popular accomplice. Using the simple plot devices of weird/dystopian/alternative fiction, Miéville imposes on the traumatic wartime experiences of 1940s Surrealism a B-Movie magic device that turns surrealist art, objects, exquisite corpses into actual living monsters – better, weapons of class war. And yet at the same time, lovable objects that drive a real mania for collecting:

“I’m not leaving until I catch them all.”

But perhaps a little more. With this book we might feel like Don Talayesva must have when he discovered the secrets of the Kachinas on display at the Field Museum: the mysteries are all there on display! At any rate, we have in this text an external but certainly sympathetic and well-researched commentary on Surrealism in History. This is evidenced in good faith by his afterword. Using the gothic device of a secret informer (which is not to say this informer is not real), he lists at least some excellent sources, unusually well chosen, and nearly all by active surrealists or their sympathizers.

His monsters, the “manifs” are referred to as “living art”. As if surrealism sought anything different than to abolish the the gap between those two words. But they are more than they seem. These monsterized objects or objectified monsters are systematically drawn by Miéville from the gallery of surrealism’s all-too-rarefied past. If the catalogues of museums could be loaded with death-dealing power… A nice thought… At any rate, his manif index at the end is quite an interesting addendum to what Mattias Forshage is doing in his Surrealist Bestiary.

The alternative history depicts surrealists struggling with a mutant Second World War that for the population of the 20 arrondissements of Paris never ended. We meet a truly surrealist Resistance in the novelized Main à plume group, who practice a kind of automatist, pure psychic warfare. Automatic shooting! As Miéville hints with perfect umor, it was already inherent in the “simplest surrealist act” of the Second Manifesto. Although we find a moments of that goofy, Buñuel style surrealism that Icecrawler has called a “cul de sac”, and all too common a style in popular fantasy/sci-fi, perhaps it is put to a theoretical deployment. Guy Debord didn’t mind a potboiler about situationism and encouraged Michèle Berstein to write one. Perhaps we shouldn’t worry too much either. But Breton’s disdainful attitude towards fantasy should mostly hold good here – we always deal with fantasy and fiction from the side, as it were, and as exceptions, never as genre. What we are looking for is evidence of the marvellous anywhere, even, on occasion, in convention.

I am struck by the depiction of the artifact hunters who crawl the rubble to collect and sell surrealist objects as if they were loot. Aren’t these everywhere, still? Perhaps even more significantly, we see “surreal” imagery stolen from and turned against the surrealists themseves. Nazis summon a pack of Brauner’s wolf tables to attack the fighters of Main à plume. The world China invokes is surfluous. It has been since the 50s, and not metaphorically. The term “manifs” might equally serve as a synonym for banal creatures called advertisement, media, and now, meme, which feed upon the discarded husks of surrealism.

Still, it is admirable to see how well Miéville actualizes his material. He invigorates the propositions in the old ASDLR article On Certain Possibilities of the Irrational Embellishment of the City (ASDLR no. 6, 1933), for instance, with the complex dystopian overtones of a latter-day superhero movie. The Arc de Triomphe becomes a giant pissoir. Sacré Coeur is defaced in a way outlined by Breton and presaged again in by astrological text L’An 2016 from the Paris Group of the Surrealist Movment. For Miéville the surrealist mythology becomes rarified; a comic book of itself. It is refreshing that someone takes surrealism for once – instead of metaphorically, analogically, artistically, existentially, or therapeutically – literally.

Incidentally, I hope popular storytelling gets over its fetishization of the 20th century, that a trope among the new generation of tv serials, where speculation and historical cosplay go hand-in-hand with banalization. We might as well cite here, besides shows like Mad Men, the recent spate of Woody Allen films, beginning with Midnight in Paris and even his latest Café Society.

The historical Surrealists made (and still make) for very good pulp characters. There might even be something to be said for the value of a science fictionalized re-imagining of what a surrealist revolution could entail. And this work could not have been done by an actual Surrealist – although some of the storytelling in Pas Un Cadavre comes close. I might cite my own Kaiju-ization of the Breton/Ehrenburg spate, and Guy Girard’s Breton in China, which even explicitly cites Phillip K. Dick’s speculative sci-fi methodology.

But does this novelization obscure the living movement? Miéville’s Afterword, I think, merely hints at its existence, its occultation. Perhaps the most charming part of the novel is the slow realization of Parsons, occultist engineer, who meets Breton and the surrealists waiting at Marseille in 1941 before their great exile. He is initially convinced he is dealing with artists and fops. But soon…

“Jack listened to French night birds. Here he was in the moonlight with a battery full of distillate, of this overlapping thing, this Surrealism. That was a freedom right there.

Parsons knew how to take a substance, render it, burn it and use it.

What can I power with this? he thought.”

Why, must you…

-Jason Abdelhadi

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