Friday, 26 February 2016

The Death of Tommy Bonetti (from a fiction in progress)

My head was bent over the water, his face stared upward from just under the surface. Slowly I let fall a gobbet of spit, a lump of wet foam. It settled just above his face before slipping away downstream.

If the filmreel of his life flashed before him, or flared inside him, before disappearing down the wormhole, then at some point he would have seen the scene of bullying, crouched over me, spitting in my mouth and laughing, laughing at my powerlessness and distress. And hopefully this mental image would coincide with the gobbet of spit I let drop from my mouth, resting briefly over his white  face, on the surface of the water, delicate as an insect: the two moments, past and present, joined at the point of death. Death, the little puckered sphincter of death, into which his life disappears, leaving behind the body, not lifeless exactly, but lent life by the gentle waters, given grace and temporary beauty by the slow green waters, the gentle flow and ripple of the river. A pale water creature beckoning from another element.

Fat dumb head of a chub. I’d always thought he looked like a fish. Blank and cold and open mouthed, I’d always thought, even at school. To myself I called him “the chub”. The chub is dead, with a fat cold head. Remember him sat with his cronies, farting and giggling, picking on “swots”. You, reader, listener, will say it wasn’t him, the schoolboy, you drowned,  the kid who bullied you  at school. You drowned a  man who’d outgrown all that. But that’s not how is works, it not how time works, it not how the self works. Not like that. All the selves we were are stored inside us, a roll of the dice and they return. A smell of varnish and they return.  A tune, a face. And at the moment of death I’m sure he joined hands with that schoolboy bully, the schoolboy bully usurped him, briefly, only to die with my face on his retina. The sudden peremptory justice, the redemptive force, the surge of triumph and clarity thet only violence can bring.

 This end would cast a dark shadow over his whole life right back to his birth. And therefore when, thirty years ago, he was spitting into my mouth, this same shadow was already hanging over him. I was already there, waiting by the river’s edge,  watching the cruel spectacle from afar, the winter sky all heavy with death. He was now, and so always had been, a man who would die at the age of 45 by drowning in the river Aire. All his life was now re-written. When he spat in my mouth the thread of his death was already spun. And the end of his story was an image that belonged to me.

That image, the dead face under water, is still captive in my memory. Not as an image of reproach or guilt, but the signature of a victory and a beginning. Sometimes only a deed can save you; only a deed that breaks all rules can put things right. The deed is done and the drum of timestarts up a new rhythm. In an instant the future is born.

 I realised, afterwards, that there had been a vent open which allowed the child I was to supervene the man I had become. The humiliated child, the child in pain and helpless. That vent was now closed.

Monday, 22 February 2016

On Identity, from a fiction in progress

I bump into McGregor, who is teaching a class on "Identity". Except I'm never quite sure what this means, "Identity". It seems to have something to do with ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality – none of which I’m particularly interested in. All of these - Ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality - are simply passport and social security categories. They are always on the side of the state and the state mentality. To 'identify' with such categories, to affirm your attachment to such categories, is to align the inner workings of your soul with the outer workings of the state, to observe obediently and to the letter a protocol decreed by the state. In latching on to this ready-made state identity, one is diverted from the force and idiosyncrasy of one’s own desire. Our own desire is nothing but the potency we have within us, the stubborn and innate tendency to express our own peculiar form of life, and our only duty is to be true to this desire; but instead we are diverted into false problems and fake questions, like this non-problem of our 'identity'. The endless framing and reframing of this issue, the endless discussions that require people to focus on it, the metastasis of blather that grows up around the question of identity, the demand that we attend to this bogus question, all of this only reproduces and confirms the mentality of the state, the mentality of bureaucrats and the corporate mind, and at the same time anaesthetises our desire almost to the point of coma. McGregor thinks that identity is affirmative and liberating but as far as I'm concerned, when people speak of identity they are speaking of knots. “I am Irish,” "I am Protestant," "I'm Jewish"– as if they cannot undo the knot that ties them to Ireland, to Protestantism, to the Jewish faith without the whole Self coming unbuttoned and falling apart. I'm an American!" someone shouts, proudly tightening their knot. The individual becomes the mouthpiece of the collective and makes pronouncements on its behalf. “As Christians, we believe...” and so forth. Belief resides always with a “we” and the individual defers to the we, refers all questions to the We. Such people have become ventriloquist dummies for the We.. They are content for the We to think and believe and feel on their behalf. “We believe that when you have a child..” "We have a different attitude to grieving.."Yes, I say, but what do you believe, the idiosyncratic desirous "I" who's wriggled free of its knot? They are lost for words, of course, or offended, or an amalgam of both, because they do not want to unravel the knot.  I have always tried to avoid such knots. Or at least mine tie me only to my own peculiar life. Morning coffee in a Soho cafe, the nib on the blank page: such is my communion, such is my citizenship and affiliation. I don’t need an identity, I say to McGregor, I’m happy with how I am.

Sunday, 14 February 2016


When my father died, a facet of me died, a facet of me was deactivated and could not be activated again. There was a speaker who only lived when he spoke to my father, and a listener who only lived when my father spoke to him, and forms of speech that passed between us now long dead and buried. My mother thinks she knows me, she thinks the visible bit she knows is the same as the bit she doesn't. In fact, she only knows the facet that is actualised by her, the facet that flickers into life when the two of us speak. The facet she knows lives only in this interval between us, and will die when she dies or I die.  Each significant person, each significant object in our lives activates a different facet, and we are nothing but a multitude of facets, activated by different people, objects and places at different times. Other facets will never surface, will not be activated, because we never encounter the objects and people that would activate them. They await vainly for the person or object that would activate them, these facets, these so called facets, but it never happens. Perhaps some of our most remarkable facets never even exist. 

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Travellers (more from WIP)

I used to go to that cafe every morning. A small Italian on Berwick Street. A pungent espresso in a thick white cup. I remember the first time I saw the slender man with the long tanned face. He reminded me of Claud Cahun, a sculpted androgyne from an era long gone. His movements were delicate and precise and his eyelashes long and dark; a beige moleskin jacket and open necked shirt completed the picture. And in the early morning light, and viewed in his marmoreal isolation at the corner table, he would be thought beautiful. But then he opened his mouth. He began speaking in a nasal Kiwi accent about his travels. All the vowels trimmed and cut to the same sound. He’d travelled to Thailand, South Africa, Peru. And these places were of course “amazing”. That was pretty much all he had to communicate. His amazement. "the landscape, the culture.." he stuttered, too amazed to complete the sentence. Some people, and far too many these days, have to make a 3000 mile trip to have an experience. Their bodies and minds are presumably so numbed that it requires the electric prod of a trip to Thailand, being thrown out of a plane on a sky dive, or pushed off a bridge in the middle of nowhere on the end of elastic rope.. just to have an experience. Whereas, you can sit in a cafe, raise an espresso to your lips, watch as the sun takes the floating dust and turns it into a column of tiny golden insects.  And this moment, not noticed, not snatched by the camera as soon as it’s born, is an experience of dizzying depth and distance. But it requires stillness, it requires slowness. You have to stop. It’s not about crossing the earth so fast that the 'boo!' of novelty knocks you down. The endless bungee jumpers, the skydivers, those who’ve had their ankle tattooed by a tripping Tibetan midget.. all they needed to do was sit at the table by the window and the world would unravel itself infront of their eyes.... but no. The slender man with the long oval face comes back from table mountain, comes back from the hillside terraces of Peru, and all he has with him is the word ‘amazing’, and a tick-list dictated by Facebook, and a digital casket of grinning souvenirs.