The Truth of the Matter

The Empire of Light II-Rene Magritte 1950
The Empire of Light II-Rene Magritte 1950

You want to know the truth?
There are so many different kinds:
A truth for you and a truth for me;
If you ask me the truth of the matter
It’s that there is too much truth.
If only you would realise
The truth of what I say
Things might go a little easier
But if you really want the truth
You could find it in the empties
And lipstick stained glasses
Littering every surface…
No?
So it a different order of truth
That you are looking for…
Well, if you must insist upon
Searching for the truth
Wherever and whatever
You will have to hear me out
As I tell you a little story
Come closer…
Closer still,
So that I can whisper
Into the shell of your ear
The whole truth and nothing
But the truth;
In between the sweet nothings,
Sweeter than any truth
That I could possibly tell you.

It is true that I was the kind,
To fall asleep at their desk
Always at the very back,
Roused only by the exasperation
Of the weary teachers
As the lesson descended
Into a chaos that was
My unconscious objective,
Quietly disruptive and
Rubbing the sleep away
I would glimpse some
Sarah or Cathy or Lisa staring
Before quickly averting their eyes
Causing me to grin
Like a cat with spilled cream,
While the teacher would rant
About taking that look off,
But I couldn’t help myself
I never could, then or now
After all how can I help my face?
Besides maybe here was
My potential partner in crime,
A willing accomplice
Someone to share, finally,
In all my myriad punishments.

All this is all very fine and gospel :
But it isn’t the whole story
Not by a long chalk.
If you want to hear everything and all
Hold me tight and look into my eyes.
See…
Would I lie to you?

The truth is that you are not the only one
Who doesn’t know what to make of me;
Sometimes I was the class rebel,
Sometimes the comedian
But only occasionally,
Because I was really
The boy that wasn’t there
If you met me on the stairway
You might have breezed past
If I was waiting there at all,
Instead of loitering
On corners and stores
Pocketing and lifting
Whatever lay in reach
If the opportunity arose
And if not there then
Receiving my true education
In the somnolent suburban home
While rifling through the contents
Of drink and medicine cabinets,
Purses caked with make-up,
Locked draws and hidden chests
Before watching the old flick:
A world of stark black and white,
The body in the swimming pool,
The perpetually shuttered blinds,
In the decaying mansion
High in the lush Hills,
Far above the city
Blanched bone white, way down below,
Where the shadows are deeper
And the nights are oh so longer,
For the hero inescapably doomed
By a sinister fatal figure
Out of a past that refuses
To either forgive or forget.

Here then, is my eye witness
Testimony. For sure, it contains
Discrepancies, lapses, omissions
And perhaps evasions,
Even downright fabrications.
But the truth of any story
Lies in the telling;
And that, my tender, dearest one
Is the simple truth of the matter.

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ID 23

Toyen-The Unfolding Screen
Toyen-The Unfolding Screen

I recently suggested to Miss Heart of House of Heart that we collaborate together on a particular hare-brained idea. I am delighted to say that the gracious Miss Heart agreed to indulge my whim and displayed not inconsiderable patience with so idle and tardy a rogue. The result is the following poem, one half written by the vastly talented Miss Heart and the other part by myself. Like any work of the imagination it can be read in a number of ways or fashions. Suffice to say that there are many conflicting versions of events, that the same incidents can recur in different locations with a varying cast of characters and that all you may surmise doesn’t necessarily dispel the mystery.

ID 23

2

The autumn leaves have begun to fall.
Late October London is covered in hues of orange and purple.
On my bench by the river I daydream that I am
an adolescent reptile escaped from Kafka’s Die Verwanlung,
Laid back, baking in the sun.

My nostrils absorb layers of perfumes,
but women are for later, for now I am content to observe.
To my advantage I know all about the ladies
but they know so little about me.

Thinking of you against my wishes,
Dying just a little, dying and dead all sweet hope
of our dream never realised.
I imagine my earthly body padded sat beside yours on a grassy knoll
to breathe in the scent of lilac and the mossy green River Delta.

In the dark I am nude but for a shadow across my torso.
You are so near and to distract my self from the honey of desire
I distract my mind with “In A Dark Time” by Roethke.
You plead and to make me stay burn your breast with my cigarette.

By chance we meet years from now at the Cafe Rouge Et Noir.
You are so fragile, your eyes the soft halo of sunflowers.
In my arms you sway like a young birch in a summer tempest.
I am reminded of yesterday when we gave away what we had already lost.
We sing sad songs and hold each other, knowing love has died and we with it.

3

Can we ever escape the past?
Changing the scene, mood and direction,
Demolishing those very tender memories
Guilty yet again by this sense of omission,
Just leave the ruins intact, buried deep down.

The stratum of history juts all around here,
A nightmare but not my own, belonging to these others
That press against me in these antique streets
Desperately pretending that they are in fact alive.

Sometimes I catch myself wishing you were here
To guide me, hold my hand, stroke my hair,
Soothe me after the storm has subsided
That glint in your eye, the passion causing
My insides to unfurl like a flower seeking the sun

Can the colour of love transform this gray
Brutalist cell into the vivid fan of a peacock
Strutting through a mescaline paradise?
Only your intensity can grant this miserable miracle.

But in a future as yet undefined
I know we will meet again once more
By chance, of course, and we will dance together
At the Cafe Rouge et Noir, torn between
Hate and love and a fierce unquenchable desire.

XYZ

Toyen_The Shooting Gallery 7
Toyen_The Shooting Gallery 7

We were supposed to wait,
Only on the count of five,
Uno, dos, tres, cuatro,
But we breakdown before,
Just can’t resist the finality,
Taking XTC to the last XYZ
So here is my master-plan,
We touch, angelic juxtas
Poised angled positions pressing
Skins closer inching mouths
Salty sharpness of tooth
Sliver tongues crescent lips
Searching to assuage
Sucking biting licking kneading
Seeking some succour from
Suicidal weariness so we ball
The only way we know how,
Hard, harder and hardest yet,
For though we can’t tame
The magnificent striped beast,
The menacing stippled tiger
We can at least ride and ride
Until the world ends with
The softest of sighs
Uno, dos, tres
Uno, dos
Uno,
XYZ.

The Birds

The Birds-Alfred Hitchcock 1963
The Birds-Alfred Hitchcock 1963

Alfred Hitchcock’s horror movie The Birds from 1963 is very loosely based on Daphne Du Maurier’s novella of the same name. Hitchcock’s first American film and international success had been an adaption of her Gothic melodrama Rebecca, and later Nicholas Roeg would adapt du Maurier’s eerie story Don’t Look Now, which became a staple on the late-night movie circuit in the 70’s.

du Maurier’s original story is more concerned with the revenge of nature, exemplified by the suddenly hostile birds working in concert to punish humanity for its hubris and arrogance. As such it can be seen as a fore-bearer of a particularly English sub-genre of ecological apocalyptic fiction, John Wyndham, J.G Ballard and Anna Kavan all produced work in this vein.

Hitchcock told the screenwriter Evan Hunter to keep the central premise of unexplained bird assaults but to develop new characters and expand upon the plot. Given the end result it is hard not to see The Birds as a symbolic take on the ungovernable nature of female sexuality, in all its myriad forms.

The Birds centres on the character of Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hendren), a chic and irresponsible socialite who becomes a cuckoo in the nest when she impulsively follows love interest Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) to his home in the small coastal town of Bodega Bay, California with a pair of caged lovebirds in tow. Mitch is defined solely in relation to the women in his life; his overbearing and jealous mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy), his younger sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) and his ex, the local school teacher Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette). Soon after the birds begin to inexplicably attack the residents of the town, massing, with even birds of different species flocking together to launch aerial invasions. At one point a hysterical mother in the diner expressively connects the menacing behaviour of the birds with the arrival of Miss Daniels. Somehow her presence upsets a delicate balance, unleashing all the forces in nature inimical to humanity.

Below is a short clip of the school scene, a masterclass in suspense.

The Occultation of Surrealism

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Toyen-Portrait of Andre Breton 1950

In the Second Manifesto of Surrealism from 1930, among all the excommunications and score settling, Andre Breton calls for the ‘…THE PROFOUND, THE VERITABLE OCCULTATION OF SURREALISM,’ which is suitably followed up by quotes from Cornelius Agrippa’s Third & Fourth (spuriously attributed) Books of Magic. This interest in the occult, hermeticism and alchemy can also be evidenced by the set of playing cards the surrealists designed during WWII, which features another Renaissance occultist, Paracelsus, as the Magus of Locks.

However  it wasn’t until after WWII and Breton’s return to France from exile in New York that this hermetical tendency become dominant. The realities of the Cold War political landscape meant that the Breton placed ever less hope in the achievement of a Marxist Utopia, shifting  his focus towards the idiosyncratic mystical Socialist thinker Charles Fourier.

As can be seen from the above portrait (crayon, charcoal, oil and glitter on linen) Toyen embraced the change of direction enthusiastically. Painted as a birthday present and presented to Breton on the eve of his birthday, this idealised portrait places Breton in the centre of three triangles (one equilateral and two isosceles triangles) and surrounded by the four traditional elements, water and air, earth and fire.

Around this time Toyen had been working on the drawing series Neither Wings Nor Stones; Wings and Stones which has strong alchemical references. Also from this period Toyen painted At the Golden Wheel, At the Black Sun and At the Gold Tree inspired by  signs that were ‘luminious on the inside, not the outside’ of the Alchemist Street in Old Prague, magical capital of Europe since the days of Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia. The importance of the androgyne in alchemical literature and art would also have surely been noticed by Toyen, who purposefully chose an ungendered pseudonym.

Toyen’s unwavering devotion towards Breton and Breton’s respect and veneration of Toyen was such that, after his death in 1966, Breton’s widow Elisa insisted that Toyen move into his original studio at 42 Rue Fontaine, where she lived until her death in 1980. She was buried in Paris des Batignolles cemetery; close to her friends Jindrich Heisler and Andre Breton.

I will leave the last word on this exceptional artist to her friend Benjamin Peret, also buried in Paris des Batignolles;

The entire work of Toyen aims at nothing other than the correction of the outside world in accordance with a desire that feeds and grows on its own satisfaction.

X Marks the Spot

Gerhard Richter-Grey House
Gerhard Richter-Grey House

It hadn’t stopped raining for a moment since his arrival in Eden Falls. The days (if the pale pearl grey light could be classified as day) and the white, starless nights were considerably longer than in most standard regions, clocking in around 36 hours, undoubtedly controlled by decanates and/or Janus-faced daemons. Looking out from one of the innumerable windows, the Melancholy  Lieutenant automatically defined the constant drizzle and mizzle as culchie soft rain, however in his attempts at surveying the territory he soon realised that the very sky looked to deceive. Drenched to the skin and bone he would beat a hasty retreat long before reaching the end of the drive that appeared to lead nowhere, crazy zig-zagging across the arsenic green fields to suddenly stop against a lone oak, a lookout for the massed ranks of its brethren in the faraway forest.

So the Melancholy Lieutenant would while away the time investigating Eden Falls. Up stairs and through corridors he walked, opening doors that led to rooms of angled mirrors or vast chandeliered ballrooms empty apart from a solitary upright piano, past endless colonnades interrupted by the regular statuary procession of mounted tyrants, down steps that finished in mid-air. Somewhere in this maze there must be a clue to the exit, he thought doggedly, determined to be re-united with the Ingénue.

He discovered a room full of globes and atlases, a Map Room of a Victorian gentleman. However the maps were just diagrams and architectural plans with a scale of 1:1, of no longer existing wings and hastily abandoned extensions of Eden Falls. The library seemed to contain a hint of promise, but most of the books were written in Chaldean or Etruscan or Babylonian, or even Agarthaen or Enochian or Lemurian.  The pop-up books contained only cleverly designed miniature 3D versions of rooms he had already trudged through.

That left the jigsaw puzzles that every drawer in the building (be it palace or sanatorium or mental asylum or hotel) seemed to contain. The picture on the outside of the box was always misleading, unsurprisingly enough, he thought.  It was never a street or circus scene, never a Cezanne or a Monet, it was forever the labyrinth of Eden Falls. He had almost given up hope when he found a puzzle that appeared to have a pattern on both sides, though the backside was just two-tone black & white. At least it won’t be another illustration of a prison, he thought, as he began to pierce the ten thousand and one pieces together.

With mounting excitement and dread he realised, as the pieces fall into place, that this was the message he had been waiting for. But what if he didn’t like what it had to say? Perhaps it was a trap set by Le Bateleur? No matter, he had to carry on.

As soon as the Melancholy Lieutenant triumphantly slotted the last tile into place and began to scan the writing, he heard a phone ring out. He hadn’t seen or heard a phone during the entire duration of his time in Eden Falls. Trying to quell his panic he decided to concentrate on the message contained in the puzzle, because something was definitely now happening and what other options did he have?

X marks the spot

You are here

X

But where you should be

Is the other side

Don’t pick up                                                                          Run run double quick

Abra-Xas

\\\\\3-6-5/////

That is that then, he decided, though he never had any intention of picking up the incessantly ringing phone anyway. The warning of the message posed further disturbing questions, but those could wait. It was time to go. He located and grabbed his kit-bag (always packed in case of emergencies and sudden departures) and ran out into the rain.

He kept on running until he had reached the oak that marked the end of the pointless driveway. Pausing for a moment he couldn’t resist a look back at the building, which flickered briefly out of focus, before fading away totally. That gig was up, the nixer nixed, Eden Falls was 86’ed.

The Melancholy Lieutenant, turning his collar to the cold and damned, headed towards the forest, searching for the deepest cover.

Mirror Images

mirror broken

(This is a post that has previously appeared here, however now with four brand new illustrations by Susanne Rempt).

All mirrors are inherently mysterious and magical. The moment when Narcissus looked into the lake and realised that what he saw reflected was at one and the same time the self and an image was the moment of a great divide, a second Fall, but as certain Gnostic sects argued about the temptation of Eve and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden this recognition was a necessary loss of Innocence.  It was the first experience of a mediated reality. All that was needed was the technical expertise to manufacture mirrors to disseminate this heightened self-awareness to every individual. And from mirrors it was only a matter of time before the camera and then film which led to the media landscape that envelops and dominates our perception today.

Mirrors are mentioned frequently in myth, folk-lore and religion; not to mention in art and literature. In Corinthians Paul says of our knowledge of the divine ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known’. In Vodou, the syncretic religion practised widely in Haiti that combines elements of West African spirit religion, Catholicism and arguably Mesoamerican traditions, the altars of hounfours (temples)voodoo mirror

are decorated with mirrors as they are conduits that the houngan use to contact the spirit world. Many cultures at many times held the tradition of covering all mirrors in the house when in mourning, this custom persists today in Judaism. In connection with a heresy held by one of the numerous Gnostic sects Borges states ‘Mirrors and copulation are abominable, since they both multiply the numbers of men.’

In libertine fiction mirrors play a large part as they increase the pleasure of the moment and enables the libertine to view the erotic scene which they are actively participating in. In the sparkling sophisticated jewel of a tale Point de lendemain (No Tomorrow) by Vivant Denon the artful heroine describes to her paramour the delights of her chamber with its reflective glass covering every wall, when he enters he is enchanted to find a ‘a vast cage of mirrors’ and then states that, ‘Desires are reproduced through their image’.mirror hand

One of the most memorable mentions in fairy-tales of the deceptive nature of the looking-glass is the Magic Mirror of the Evil Queen in Snow White, which is a good illustration of William Blake’s quote ‘A truth told with evil intent beats any lie you could invent.’

However, for me the supreme moment for the mirror in literature is when Alice steps through to the other side of the looking glass. _20180102_164940 (1)Ever since the phrase has been used to describe many different and varying experiences; the transfigured absolute reality glimpsed in insanity; the shifting contours of the nightly dreamscape, the heavens and hells of drug use (the John Tenniel illustration was reproduced on LSD blotters in the sixties) the transcendence achieved in sexual ecstasy, and ultimately death, that unknowing inevitable frontier where we hope that the outward appearance will vanish to be replaced for all eternity by our fundamental essence. For although mirrors are just surface and can deceive, distort and warp, they also always reveal something other than just ourselves.

The Captives of Longjumeau

Félicien_Rops_-_Les_Sataniques._Satan_semant_l'ivraie[1]Introduction

One of the most glaring omissions from Breton’s Anthologie de l’ humour noir is of  the symbolist writer Leon Bloy. Bloy’s scathing, vitriolic assaults on the bourgeoisie are certainly fine examples of black humour. His highly idiosyncratic, reactionary Catholicism is diametrically opposed to the Surrealist militant left-wing atheism, however the similarly politically inclined decadent writers J.K Huysmans and Villers de L’isle-Adam are both included. Maybe the absence of Bloy has more to do with his personality, he had an enormous talent  for making enemies. By the end of his impoverished life he had managed to fall out with everyone in the Parisian literary world, former friends especially, and had earned the nickname The Ungrateful Beggar for his constant written requests for money.

The following story by Leon Bloy was much admired by Borges who positions it as one of the few precedents of Kafka. Translation is my own.

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The Law

Hilma_Af_Klint_-_1915_-_The_Swan,_No._18[1]
The Swan No. 18-Hilma Af klint

What is the law?
-The whole of the law is that love is all.
What is love?
-The collision, then the collusion, of wills.
What is the will?
-The power to make desire the living reality.
What is desire?
-The manifestation of imagination.
What is imagination?
-The knowledge of the magical universe.
What is magic?
-The hidden force that enacts the law.

Oblique Angle

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Agent Lee, provided with the best cover, tailed the trade and talent in Agartha on the look-out for the word on Al the Angle. What was on the agenda today? Everyone has an agenda, naturally enough, and the Angle had the poise to exploit any number of situations to his advantage. The various reports circulating of the Angle moving his operations to Agartha was of the gravest concern to the controlling authorities and the forces they in turn answered to.

If the intelligence was to be believed somewhere in this twilight territory where reality itself appeared porous, the Angle had set up base, undoubtedly co-ordinating and triangulating, in an calculated effort to bisect previously untouched zones and sectors, to expand his sphere of influence. Agent Lee was the obvious choice to go under in this underworld, fading to grey to the point of invisibility. Besides he was the kind of talker that got others to talk while never giving anything away himself. He had that talent, though he had other gifts even more highly prized by the controlling authorities.

But where in this city, with its warren of streets and rapidly changing intersections, which no map could ever capture or even begin to convey the complexity of, was the Angle hiding? Traditional enquiries only lead to suburban cul-de-sacs or dangerous dead-ends. However Agent Lee had other methods at his disposal, methods only to be in the event of extreme emergency. After rolling the dice and shuffling the pack Agent Lee was persuaded that now was such a time. He set off to the Cafe Rouge et Noir on the corner of Fascination and Oblivion Streets where he was going to meet, by chance of course, a women with a violetly vivid aura. She would have the skinny on the Angle, now going under Alabama Al, though he wasn’t American. He would have to approach obliquely.