Surplus Will: the Stories of Andrew Gallix

The second chapter of Tom Bradley‘s Put It Down in a Book is devoted to a brilliant analysis of some of my short stories. It’s a slightly altered version of an essay that appeared in nthposition in 2007:

Tom Bradley. “Surplus Will: the Stories of Andrew Gallix.” Put It Down in a Book. Cedar Park, TX: 2009. 21-26.

A myriadminded man, Mr Best reminded.
Coleridge called him a myriadminded man…
His unremitting intellect is the hornmad Iago…

— James Joyce, Ulysses

Almost nobody has ever adequately evoked that gorgeous monster-hardon called Paris. But Andrew Gallix has nailed it to the wall like a luminiferous aether of opium jelly. I reckon he can do it because his language is lush and orgiastic as the topic it encompasses. Well up to the task, with plenty left over.

One is left hankering for more, for a whole book of his “Gelignite Dolly-Bird.” She calls for an unzipping and delectating till consciousness succumbs, spilling out into a larger frame: effusion, sheer tsunamic detail of sense and satire, where one gets to fuck and mock multiple celebrities, ankle deep in menses and jizz, all over million-franc Persian rugs.

Gallix’s heroine has only just awakened from a drunken swoon when she sees a silver-greasepainted faun tiptoeing among the piles of her fellow fucked out orgiasts. He has awakened her with his “muffled squishy sound as of manifold foreskins peeled back in unison,” as he despoils the flopped bodies, the semi-comatose pataphysicians, post-structuralists and “pointilllist ponces in pointy shoes.”

Such a silver faun must soon transmogrify into an incubus outright, and so he does. He coalesces into Beauty itself, personified with a dick attached, and he despoils Gallix’s heroine, to the accompaniment of this mentholated whisper: “You can only take so much Beauty…”

And that’s how much Beauty he gives us. The depravity of Gallix’s Paris is transfigured by paragraphs of sheer transcendent Beauty, given out with virtuosic offhandedness, as we ascend into Gallix’s galaxy: “…Fanny’s angelic features were bathed in gold, her halo melting like fondue cheese, and sparkling fruit carved in dewdrops dangled lasciviously from chandeliers like overripe testes.”

This Beauty, this silver faun, is a slender version of that other incubus whom we once saw tiptoeing and despoiling the flopped bodies at Shrewsbury, on the plain between Prince Hal’s camp and the rebels’. That far fatter faun, metallic with chain mail rather than silver greasepaint, was bent over a supine figure, too, like Gallix’s, and likewise whispered in its ear. But he didn’t say, “You can only take so much beauty.” Rather, he huffed, “if thou embowel me to-day, I’ll give you leave to powder me and eat me too tomorrow… with a new wound in your thigh, come you along with me.”

Falstaff’s embowelling cannibal woundings go direct and deep as Gallix’s Beauty, right down to our connective tissue. The former’s stomping ground was a blood-rank battlefield, while the latter’s is a rut-reeking Parisian parlour. But the deeper parallels hold true, those beauteous similarities obtain. As it is in Henry IV Part I, so it is in “Half-Hearted Confessions of a Gelignite Dolly-Bird”: every phrase of Gallix, every juxtaposition of words, is considered and balanced, faithful to the Shakespearean ideal. And, like Will, he waxes hilarious, at will. An almost random selection of one liners from another Gallixean rhapsody, “Forty Tiddly Winks,” will demonstrate:

God knows how much of his mortal coil ended up in the hoover on a weekly basis.

One of them could actually recall being buggered by Bulgakov, and a bloody good shag it was too…

…as if he had spent the night snogging a siren in the snot-green sea. (Not only the Bard, but Joyce is all through this, thoroughly assimilated and metabolized.)

In “Forty Tiddly Winks”, Gallix obliges so-called Judeo-Christian civilization with a hilariously despairing revision of the first several chapters of Genesis. His could be one of those great revisionist insights that penetrate and suffuse the collective awareness and spur new epochs: “The genocide of humanity itself.”

For Gallix, Adam has been replaced by Tim(e), the Miltonic lecturer who lives opposite Cerberus and is perpetually pursued by his own (Time’s) winged chariot. I can see why “Tim is out of joints,” and why he’s in such deep trouble with “them.” It’s because he has found out the most hideous secret of all: Eve and her hung hubby never ate of the tree in the first place, and were never as gods. Tim has Holocausted us all into a hole, Jew and gentile alike. Tim has run out.

The kiddy classroom in “Forty Tiddly Winks,” like the sixth chapter of Genesis, is peopled by critters procreatively bizarre enough to be identified with the Nephilim. Those tots prematurely pubesce, “ovulating wildly” as they gaze up at the forbidden fruit that oozes “Angel-come,” in a paragraph that, beyond its other-dimensional strangeness, is physically delicious, like so many other Gallixian structures.

Miss Ramsay, the kiddies’ teacher, is terrible and unparaphrasable. She is the trans-sexed YHWH, jealous, apple-forbidding, seeing that “it was good.” She skips ahead a few pages to peek at the end of the Good Book, and finds herself suddenly in the middle of Saint John’s rant. Seeing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse “beyond the pale, skimming candy-floss clouds on foot-propelled micro-scooters,” Miss Ramsay is turned into a serpent coiffed medusa — one of many magical metamorphoses in this strange Gallixy.

Those micro-scooters go beyond art and beyond criticism, and scoot into realms we can only speculate about. We can only tentatively hazard that something seems to be undulating, or breathing, behind these stories, as in the Hindus’ Unthinkable That — unadulterated strangeness.

This is my favorite kind of writing, all the more pleasurable for its rarity (almost nobody has the chops to do it): exploding with allusions to the big, the timeless, the Biblical, the Shakespearean, the Miltonic, the Joycean, claiming its own niche among those gorgeous monster hardons through sheer dint of artistic and intellectual doughtiness, and at the same time dancing light as a mote of hashish ash.

Nietzsche distinguished between artists who wring their works from a deficit of vitality, and those who blast forth from sheer surplus will. Andrew Gallix is clearly to be counted among the latter.

Advertisements

Remembering Jacno: France’s First Punk

This appeared on the Guardian Music Blog on 9 December 2009:

Remembering Jacno: France’s First Punk

The new wave icon, who died last month, founded the Parisian punk scene and pioneered French electropop

“Denis Denis, oh with your eyes so blue/Denis Denis, I’ve got a crush on you.” So sang Debbie Harry on Blondie’s first European hit in 1978. At the time, there were persistent rumours that the Denis in question was none other than Denis Quilliard — better known as Jacno — who died from cancer at the age of 52 last month. After embodying the post-punk years in France, Jacno (his soubriquet, which he acquired as a chain-smoking teenager, was a tribute to the graphic designer who created the iconic Gauloises cigarettes logo) had himself achieved cult status.

Despite being at the heart of the original Parisian punk scene, Jacno hated the herd mentality associated with such movements. One of his more recent songs is called “Je viens d’ailleurs” — “I Come from Elsewhere” — and in his book of interviews, he repeatedly refers to himself as a “martian” (which is quite fitting given his resemblance to Bowie circa The Man Who Fell to Earth).

Jacno met the beautiful Uruguayan Elli Medeiros (now Mme Brian de Palma) during a student demonstration in 1973. They became an item and formed the Stinky Toys (a reference to both Dinky Toys and New York Dolls). Following their first chaotic gig in 1976, the band acquired a reputation for debauched drunkenness that eventually alienated EMI who were about to sign them.

At Malcolm McLaren‘s behest, they played the 100 Club punk festival following which Elli appeared on the cover of Melody Maker. Their eponymous first album sold — as Jacno used to point out — as many copies as the Velvet Underground’s debut. And like the Velvets, their small fanbase included such luminaries as Andy Warhol. When he arrived at Orly airport in the summer of 1977 — having been invited to attend the inauguration of the Pompidou Centre — the Pope of Pop was sporting a conspicuous Jacno badge. Over the following days, Warhol would court the young musician assiduously (albeit unsuccessfully), famously painting his portrait on a restaurant tablecloth using a borrowed make-up kit.

On their second album, the Toys abandoned their original riff-heavy sound and explored colder, quirkier climes. The band disbanded after an Altamont-style gig during which a fan was killed by rampaging Hells Angels. It was time to move on.

In 1980 Jacno became the poster boy for the Jeunes Gens Modernes (“Modern Young Things”), a label coined by a local magazine to describe the resolutely elitist post-punk scene based around Le Rose Bonbon nightclub. He provided the soundtrack to Olivier Assayas‘s first short movie, including an instrumental entitled “Rectangle“, which no record company would release at first, although it ended up being a massive hit throughout Europe. The film also included a bittersweet track sung by Elli that marked the birth of the Elli & Jacno duo which would go on to sell millions of records until the couple split up in 1984.

Jacno also produced albums by some of France’s greatest stars like Jacques Higelin or Etienne Daho, but he will go down in history as a pioneer of electropop who anticipated the late 1990s French Touch. By playing schmaltzy 1960s “yéyé” tunes on Kraftwerk-style synthesisers, Jacno provided a perfect retro-futurist soundtrack to the melancholy innocence of adolescence. Paris will never be quite the same without him.

Silences

An excerpt from Tillie Olsen‘s Silences (1962):

Literary history and the present are dark with silences: some the silences for years by our acknowledged great; some silences hidden; some the ceasing to publish after one work appears; some the never coming to book form at all. What is it that happens with the creator, to the creative process, in that time? What are creation’s needs for full functioning? Without intention of or pretension to literary scholarship, I have had special need to learn all I could of this over the years, myself so nearly remaining mute and having to let writing die over and over again in me. These are not natural silences — what Keats called agonie ennuyeuse (the tedious agony) — that necessary time for renewal, lying fallow, gestation, in the natural cycle of creation. The silences I speak of here are unnatural: the unnatural thwarting of what struggles to come into being, but cannot. In the old, the obvious parallels: when the seed strikes stone; the soil will not sustain; the spring is false; the time is drought or blight or infestation; the frost comes premature. The great in achievement have known such silences — Thomas Hardy, Melville, Rimbaud, Gerard Manley Hopkins. They tell us little as to why or how the creative working atrophied and died in them — if ever it did. Kin to these years-long silences are the hidden silences; work aborted, deferred, denied — hidden by the work which does come to fruition. Hopkins rightfully belongs here; almost certainly William Blake; Jane Austen, Olive Schreiner, Theodore Dreiser, Willa Cather, Franz Kafka, Katherine Anne Porter, many other contemporary writers. Censorship silences. Deletions, omissions, abandonment of the medium (as with Hardy); paralyzing of capacity (as Dreiser’s ten-year stasis on Jennie Gerhardt after the storm against Sister Carrie). Publishers’ censorship, refusing subject matter or treatment as “not suitable” or “no market for.” Self-censorship. Religious, political censorship — sometimes spurring inventiveness — most often (read Dostoyevsky’s letters) a wearing attrition. The extreme of this: those writers physically silenced by governments. Isaac Babel, the years of imprisonment, what took place in him with what wanted to be written? Or in Oscar Wilde, who was not permitted even a pencil until the last months of his imprisonment? Other silences. The truly memorable poem, story, or book, then the writer ceasing to be published (As Jean Toomer, Cane; Henry Roth, Call It Sleep; Edith Summers Kelley, Weeds). Was one work all the writers had in them (life too thin for pressure of material, renewal) and the respect for literature too great to repeat themselves? Was it “the knife of the perfectionist attitude in art and life” at their throat? Were the conditions not present for establishing the habits of creativity (a young Colette who lacked a Willy to lock her in her room each day)? Or — as instanced over and over — other claims, other responsibilities so writing could not be first? (The writer of a class, sex, color still marginal in literature, and whose coming to written voice at all against complex odds is exhausting achievement.) It is an eloquent commentary that this one-book silence has been true of most black writers, only eleven in the hundred years since 1850 have published novels more than twice. There is a prevalent silence I pass by quickly, the absence of creativity where it once had been; the ceasing to create literature, though the books may keep coming out year after year. That suicide of the creative process Hemingway describes so accurately in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” He had destroyed his talent himself — by not using it, by betrayals of himself and what he believed in, by drinking so much that he blunted the edge of his perceptions, by laziness, by sloth, by snobbery, by hook and by crook, selling vitality, trading it for security, for comfort. Almost unnoted are the foreground silences, before the achievement. George Eliot, Joseph Conrad, Isak Dinesen, Sherwood Anderson, Dorothy Richardson, Elizabeth Madox Roberts, A. E. Coppard, Angus Wilson, Joyce Caryl. All close to, or in their forties before they came published writers; Lampedusa, Maria Dermout (The Ten Thousand Things). Laura Ingalls Wilder, the “children’s writer,” in their sixties. Very close to this last grouping are the silences where the lives never came to writing. Among these, the mute inglorious Miltons: those whose waking hours are all struggle for existence; the barely educated; the illiterate; women. Their silence the silence of centuries as to how life was, is, for most of humanity.

Literary Silences

Tom McCartan, “What Bolaño Read: The Literature of Silence,” MobyLives 7 December 2009:

Roberto Bolaño is famously the author of two very long novels. The English edition of 2666 is 912 pages, The Savage Detectives, 672 pages. And though Bolaño died prematurely at age fifty, he produced more than 25 published volumes. A stash of unpublished manuscripts was discovered earlier this year. He was, simply, prolific.

But Bolaño was deeply interested in writers who chose not to produce or publish, as well as writers who were prematurely silenced. In an interview from 2005 in the Spanish literary journal Turia, Bolaño declared that “There are literary silences.” And he connected a number of his favorite authors to this notion.

Kafka’s, for example, which is a silence that cannot be. When he asks that his papers be burned, Kafka is opting for silence, opting for a literary silence, all in a literary era. That is to say, he was completely moral. Kafka’s literature, aside from being the best work, the highest literary work of the 20th century, is of an extreme morality and of an extreme gentility, things that usually do not go together either.”

Another figure that Bolaño raised was Juan Rulfo, whose two books are among the most influential works of 20th century Mexican literature. After publishing the short story collection The Burning Plain (1953) and the novel Pedro Párama (1955), Rulfo (who lived from 1917 to 1986) stopped publishing narrative fiction, despite the enormous critical success of the books. Both Faulkner and García Márquez admitted to having been influenced by his prose.

Rulfo’s silence, according to Bolaño, “is obedient to something so quotidian that explaining it is a waste of time. There are several versions: One told by Monterroso is that Rulfo had an uncle so-and-so who told him stories and when Rulfo was asked why he didn’t write anymore, his answer was that his uncle so-and-so had died. And I believe it too…Rulfo stopped writing because he had already written everything he wanted to write and because he sees himself incapable of writing anything better, he simply stops… After dessert, what the hell are you going to eat?”

In the Turia interview, Bolaño also touched on Rimbaud, who famously gave up poetry at 20 for a life of gun-running, saying “Rimbaud would probably have been able to write something much better, which is to say bringing his words up even higher, but his is a silence that raises questions for Westerners.”

And, finally, the silence of passing… perhaps the only kind to which Bolaño succumbed: “There [also] stands the silence of Georg Büchner for example. He died at 25 or 24 years of age, he leaves behind three or four stage plays, masterworks. One of them is Woyzeck, an absolute masterwork…What might have happened had Büchner not died; what kind of writer might he have been?”

Quotes

“I had always maintained a difficult relationship with phones, a combination of repulsion, squeamishness, and lifelong fear, an irrepressible phobia that I no longer even tried to suppress but had finally come to terms with, handling it by using them as little as possible. I had always known more or less unconsciously that this fear was tied to death — maybe to sex and death— but never, before this night, never had I been given such an uncontestable confirmation that there is absolutely some secret alchemy connecting phones to death.”
Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Running Away, 2005