Life on Marx

Ashford, James. “What is Hauntology?” The Week, 31 October 2019:

[…] And away from politics, “at its most basic level, it ties in with the popularity of faux-vintage photography, abandoned spaces and TV series like Life on Mars”, said writer and academic Andrew Gallix in The Guardian in 2011.

“When you come to think of it, all forms of representation are ghostly,” he added. “Works of art are haunted, not only by the ideal forms of which they are imperfect instantiations, but also by what escapes representation.”

A Ghost-Hunting Manual for the End of History

Mardell, Oscar. Review of Love Bites: Fiction Inspired by Pete Shelley and Buzzcocks, edited by Andrew Gallix, Tomoé Hill and C.D. Rose. 3:AM Magazine, 27 October 2019:

[…] And it’s not only time that is out of joint. Andrew Gallix’s ‘Operators Manual’ begins with the haunting passage:

I live on a trap street. One of those fictitious roads cartographers add to their maps in order to confound plagiarists. Have I confounded you now that you have found me? Found me here, of all places — a non-existent one.

Gallix’s piece is, among other things, a masterstudy in place as palimpsest, a setting defined by what is elsewhere. […]

Here are some more highlights from the review:

Like the band that inspired them, the pieces collected here share an obsessive focus on the ordinary, lovingly cataloguing its mundane, glamourless, and frustrating weirdness. They document the awkwardness and the hilarity of human relationships, and of love in particular — the way it violates and completes our everyday lives, and the way it transcends the gender divisions by which those lives are often structured. The singularity of the source, in other words, has begotten wonderful issue. Love Bites is about as far away from the linear or sentimental retrospective as you can get. This is no starry-eyed tourist guide to some bygone era; think of it as a ghost-hunting manual for The End of History. It will be a hard — perhaps impossible — act to follow. And whatever comes next is destined to look like a parody of an old routine.

Expertly Seeking Susan

Review of Sontag: Her Life by Benjamin Moser. The Irish Times, 5 October 2019, p. 22.

In 1965, Susan Sontag — fresh from publishing her landmark essay, “Notes on ‘Camp’” — was whisked away in a limousine to a hip nightclub notorious for its strict door policy. A member of her party whispered something in the bouncer’s ear, whereupon they were ushered in ahead of the lengthy queue. “I said, ‘We’re with Susan Sontag,’” her friend later confided, when she asked how he had worked his magic.

The young woman, still only in her early 30s, was astonished to discover that her name had become an “open sesame” to high society. Despite being filmed by Andy Warhol and dining out with Jacqueline Kennedy, the budding intellectual superstar felt like a figment of her own imagination. This discrepancy between the “real me” and the “self-for-others” lies at the heart of Benjamin Moser’s fittingly monumental authorised biography. Running to more than 700 pages (excluding notes and index) and drawing on a wealth of hitherto inaccessible material, as well as scores of interviews, Sontag: Her Life has a strong claim to definitive status.

Sontag herself may well be the ideal candidate for a literary biography. She once observed that an author’s journal allows us to “read the writer in the first person” and “encounter the ego behind the masks of ego”, but what her own diaries reveal is essentially a lack of ego, or at best one so amorphous as to be a blank slate.

To say that Sontag was a divided self is not the half of it. “I have always liked to pretend my body isn’t there,” she confessed, despite coming across, in the 1960s, as the love child of Alcibiades and Socrates, or Monroe and Einstein. This accounts, inter alia, for her lifelong hygiene issues (she had to remind herself — in longhand — to take baths and clean her teeth), her punishing, speed-fuelled nocturnal writing routine (WH Auden was one of her dealers) and her failure to even mention she had cancer in Illness as Metaphor.

Moser chronicles Sontag’s regular attempts to resolve what she called the “agonised dichotomy between the body and the mind”, which she identified early on as the source of her “greatest unhappiness”. These could take a predictably theoretical shape, as in her work on Antonin Artaud, who had sought, she wrote, “to heal the split between language and flesh”, or her concomitant interest in Gnosticism, which held out the promise of reconciling “all dualisms”. At other times she would make a concerted effort to “emerge from her head into her body”, perhaps most successfully during her passionate affair with playwright María Irene Fornés, who introduced her to sexual pleasure. She described (in comically abstract terms) “[t]he coming of the orgasm” as “the birth of [her] ego”, going as far as to claim that she “didn’t exist in the sense that others and everything else did” prior to this most seminal of events.

Her busy, tempestuous, sentimental life failed, however, to provide any semblance of plenitude. Sontag always conceived of relationships as a struggle between master and slave (usually playing the former role with men and the latter with women, although her bullying of long-term partner Annie Leibovitz takes some beating). This power dynamic was even internalised, with “Miss Librarian” — as she called her geeky, gawky self — constantly berated and spurred on to better things by “that person who has been watching me as long as I can remember”.

At the tender age of 11, Sontag made the (as she put it) “conscious decision” to become popular, thus embarking on a lifelong “project of self-transformation” underpinned by a pressing need “to see more, to hear more, to feel more”. As a schoolgirl, she could be found studying Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, concealed behind a copy of the Reader’s Digest she was really meant to be focusing on. By the age of 16 she was studying at Chicago — then the US’s most intellectually rigorous university — having already spent a year at Berkley. And that was only the beginning.

As Moser points out, she often tried to find herself in works of art in which she could lose herself. Her quest for a heightened sense of reality doubtless culminated when she directed Waiting for Godot in a besieged Sarajevo: “This is not ‘symbolic’,” she declared, as though she had just brought down the Matrix, “This is real”.

Writing, for her, was not so much a means of self-expression — having little self to express in the first place — but one of self-creation. Convinced that all good writers are “roaring egotists”, she coveted the persona of the great author which would counteract her inclination “to hide, to be invisible”, itself compounded by her homosexuality: “I need the identity as a weapon,” she stated in 1959, “to match the weapon that society has against me”.

The imperious diva of later years — with her trademark Cruella de Vil hairdo — may have lorded it over Manhattan’s intelligentsia, but still felt, whenever she was alone, like the little girl she had tried so hard to outgrow. The part of herself she had spent a lifetime attempting to leave behind was, paradoxically enough, the only one that felt truly authentic, no doubt because it was born of deep trauma (a dead father and an alcoholic mother). Moser shows how fame inevitably widened this gap “between the simulacrum, the metaphor, the mask, the persona and the self found in silence”.

Sontag’s adoption of the larger-than-life persona of the Great American Novelist was also at odds with the negative capability that informs some her best works, which may well have reinforced her feeling of inauthenticity.

Sontag’s greatest creation was, ultimately, Susan Sontag herself, and the two were “neither completely distinct nor completely identical”, just like an image and the object it represents. As her biographer puts it, twice — but it is worth repeating — she “created the mould, then broke it”.

Into the Zone

Don DeLillo, “The Art of Fiction No. 135,” The Paris Review 128, Fall 1993

INTERVIEWER
Athletes — basketball players, football players — talk about “getting into the zone”. Is there a writer’s zone you get into?

DeLILLO
There’s a zone I aspire to. Finding it is another question. It’s a state of automatic writing, and it represents the paradox that’s at the center of a writer’s consciousness — this writer’s anyway. First you look for discipline and control. You want to exercise your will, bend the language your way, bend the world your way. You want to control the flow of impulses, images, words, faces, ideas. But there’s a higher place, a secret aspiration. You want to let go. You want to lose yourself in language, become a carrier or messenger. The best moments involve a loss of control. It’s a kind of rapture, and it can happen with words and phrases fairly often — completely surprising combinations that make a higher kind of sense, that come to you out of nowhere. But rarely for extended periods, for paragraphs and pages — I think poets must have more access to this state than novelists do. In End Zone, a number of characters play a game of touch football in a snowstorm. There’s nothing rapturous or magical about the writing. The writing is simple. But I wrote the passage, maybe five or six pages, in a state of pure momentum, without the slightest pause or deliberation.

Love Bites

Love Bites, edited by Tomoé Hill, C.D. Rose and yours truly, is out now!

It contains 35 short stories inspired by the late Pete Shelley and Buzzcocks courtesy of:

Emma Bolland, Victoria Briggs, Tobias Carroll, Shane Jesse Christmass, David Collard, Sarah-Clare Conlon, Lara Alonso Corona, Cathleen Davies, Jeremy Dixon, Sharron Duggal, Wendy Erskine, Gerard Evans, Javi Fedrick, Mark Fiddes, Andrew Gallix, Meave Haughey, Tomoé Hill, Richard V. Hirst, David Holzer, Andrew Hook, Tom Jenks, Jonathan Kemp, Luke Kennard, Mark Leahy, Neil Nixon, Russell Persson, Hette Phillips, Julie Reverb, C.D. Rose, Lee Rourke, Germán Sierra, Beach Sloth, NJ Stallard and Rob Walton.

A Masterpiece!

A big thanks to Jane Roberts (pictured) for her rave review of We’ll Never Have Paris:

Strong contender for one of my favourite anthologies … ever. Almost 600 pages containing some of the most enlightening, complex, and intriguing authors of the present day. Swap the Brexit blues for this red, white, and blue marvel. It is impossible for me to choose a particular highlight, albeit the introduction alone is worth the full price of the collection. A masterpiece.

A Lungful of Absence

A big thanks to Des Lewis for his very generous review of my short story (“Celesteville’s Burning: A Work in Regress”) that features in We’ll Never Have Paris:

And, if many of the previous stories in this not-Paris book had not been quite so inspiring as they have been, then I would have thought this excellent Gallix story was the sole reason why I was MEANT to read this massive book (a book that I picked up at a whim!) — from the “Zut, zut, zut” of Marcel Proust to the Putain! Putain! Putain! of Sostène Zanzibar, this work is an astonishing delight. Zanzibar is a writer with a chequered career, a sexual fling with a young lady journalist etc., a rivalry with another exponent of the writerly or filmic arts, car chases across Paris, and much more. Yet, the biggest delight was his John Cage connected search for a tune within silence, or vice versa. And his publication of blank literature. (…) I LOVED this story. And so much more to tell you about it.

You will find all of Des Lewis’s real-time reviews of We’ll Never Have Paris here and there.