Chamber of Horrors

Writing is a lot like shitting. It is an intensely sensual process over which the author has little real control: sit, open wide, hope for the best. Words flow – that is not the problem. The difficulty is in recognising that they are not yours, that they first emerge like ready-made turds you had no part in forming beyond being receptive to them. Style, tone, content, form; texts are moulded into shape and squeezed out by complex forces beyond our understanding or cognizance. Few writers have the right to claim authorship of their excreta. The urge to write begins with an abstract ache, a pressure calling for its release. This ache should be regarded with suspicion: it most likely emanates from a prisoner chained up in your (limbic) basement in an attempt to bluff their way to imaginary freedom. Once the pointed nib of the pen hovers over paper (fingertips poised over the keyboard) a slew of charged impulses are released that snake into syntax and morph into words. The wordy matter is then evacuated through well-trodden pathways like logs down a flume. Until lit-er-a-ture sticks its head out into the world, a foul discharge dressed up as higher language.

I turn to writing because a blank page is the one place where I can safely pursue the pleasure-seeking, self-destructive impulses that momentarily make me feel human. Plop. It is regrettable that civilisation resorts to art as a repository for behaviour that would ordinarily be scorned and shunned. Splish. Subversive actions are the bread and butter of cinema and lit-er-a-ture; the desperation, longing and confusion that is suppressed in daily life is allowed to come out to play (shockingly, artfully, tastefully). Splosh. People spiral out of control, perversity is wallowed in, strangeness is celebrated. There will be love, there will be blood. Normal people run around pretending to be retards. Couples run around on killing sprees. Last tangos get had on weekend getaways. Bonobos go loco, snort cocoa. Women make a cuppa after getting raped. Men punch mirrors and smash bottles over their heads. The forms morph, merge. The stories are emotional emissions, borne of chimney flues, sewers, traffic jams. Art is our culturally sanctioned asylum, our confessional. Thank you but no; I want to live fully and freely in real life.

Waiting for J (she’s driving back from Kaunas), thinking about this text, a ridiculous joke materialises out of nowhere:

Q: What did the seasoned porn star say?

A: Ooh yeah, I’m cumin…

When I first met J she was reluctant to discuss shit with me. Now we discuss it with the same gusto that we talk about the weather or gossip (kindly) about the neighbours. I inquire after the quality and consistency of her stool. “I am very well,” she says. “How do you do?” Our stool says it all (the quality of mine, incidentally, is closely bound to the writing of this text). Every day we flush away a Kilimanjaro of shit, out of sight, out of mind. When I lived in America during the Middle Ages I was astonished by the magical power of their flush toilets, it was like a whirlpool, there was nothing that sucker couldn’t get rid of.

When I lived in America during the Industrial Revolution, I briefly had a lover, a co-worker in an ice cream parlour, a nice girl with radical politics who told me that cigarette butts were designed to unconsciously evoke nipples. We scooped all day long, we scooped hard. My co-worker told me an interesting story about a previous co-lover of hers who was furious with her after she broke up with him. He stalked her, hate-bombed her. The poor girl became the object of his ressentiment. I think love-hate can be beautiful if it’s done artfully and respectfully but he did it like a kid throwing a fit; he broke into her apartment and took a shit in her underwear drawer.

“No shit!”

“Uh-huh…”

It was around that time that I hugged the World Trade Center. I was out of my tree on acid, wandering around downtown with a good friend. The towers seemed to my naïve young eyes like something out of a mad fairy tale, a beanstalk built of futures and derivatives, a totem to the supremacy of commerce. I tilted my had back, rested my chin on the corner, and looked along the length of it, a sheer verticality disappearing into the lilac night sky. It was an extremely dizzying sensation seeing it from that intimate angle. I remember feeling sorry for it, I think I may even have whispered “nothing should be that big”, before I gave it a good hug to make it feel better. My friend and I walked all night. We visited the (closed) New York Public Library. We bought bagels from a deli (today I read a story about a fight that broke out on a train over bagels. The British Transport Police tweeted: “Let’s be clear, no bagel should be treated so cruelly.”). We photocopied the contents of our pockets as a memento of the night. We felt safe in-our-heads-in-the-world.

The destruction of the World Trade Center was the ultimate symbol of the end of the binary world order. The Doomsday Clock now stands at three minutes to midnight (GMT). I try to remain objective, to be wary of nostalgia and the inclination to sensationalize, but it really does feel like the world is rushing headlong towards conflict. Maybe in five years, maybe in ten, maybe not at all, but the forces at work are immensely powerful and cannot coexist indefinitely in a world with limited resources and founded on competition. It is almost as if a Clausewitzian war is willing itself into existence as a means of wiping the slate clean and allowing us to start over with a new set of values and priorities (as opposed to the internecine principle of constant economic growth fuelled by consumption). You can feel the bowels of the earth moving, the rocks shifting through cavernous tunnels, the seismic parting of a metaphysical sphincter.

“How’s Magda!”

Everyone asked after Magda. Even my respectable 73-yeard-old neighbour, the duenna of the neighbourhood, would ask after Magda’s well-being with a mischievous grin. What the hell was going on? Magda had been a fleeting joke, but it had clearly struck a nerve. To explain: I lived for several months at J’s long-neglected summerhouse to work on a novel. There was an old wooden cellar door which led down to an empty basement with an earth floor (I used it as a pantry during the summer). I once casually joked, as I emerged from the cellar with a sweaty salami, that I had been checking up on Magda, a sex slave I kept down there. For the rest of the summer my (kind, decent, etc.) visitors and neighbours would continually ask about Magda with a gleeful chuckle. It made me wonder what was going on in their limbic basements….

(I think they got off on the magic-inducing name of Magda – it resonated with them, perhaps even tickled a buried streak of anti-Polish sentiment.)

Chambers of horrors used to be the specialty of Austria and American horror movies (remember Joseph Fritzl, who fathered an entire family with his daughter in a basement beneath his family home; she was kept a prisoner there for 25 years). But basement-dwelling sadists and monsters are coming out of their evil playgrounds into the light. They sense that the time is right, the political climate is rife. Shit is being weaponized. Truth, reputations and people are being smeared with it. Women are being hounded in cyber chambers in the cruellest possible ways (these trolls really ought to read the Marquis de Sade for a lesson in the limits of language). I feel like I’m being sucked into a whirlpool of shit, a 50s-style Forbidden Planet of rampaging Ids.

REMINDER: Renew passport. (No, really – it expires in three months.)

I would dearly love to have a lover called Magda. I’d Magda her all day long (though I sure as shit would never Maggie her).

 

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