This Terrible Glare

Anne Carson, “The Art of Poetry No. 88,” interview by Will Aitken, The Paris Review 171, Fall 2004″

CARSON

Yes, a glare from behind the set where I’m standing. So if I’m a little actor on stage, there’s this terrible glare coming from behind me. And people feel that. I don’t feel it, but I’m aware of it going past me, and I see dismay on their faces mixed with this other thing. I think that’s why sometimes I am spooky to people. Because this glare is mixed with an infantile charm that disarms. And they have to deal with both.

INTERVIEWER

But what is that glare?

CARSON

I don’t know. It’s just absolute dread. It’s bumping up against the fact that you die alone. You think about that from time to time all through life, and it continues to make no sense against all the little efforts you make to be happy and have friends and pass the time.

The Magic of Fragments

Anne Carson, “The Art of Poetry No. 88,” interview by Will Aitken, The Paris Review 171, Fall 2004″

In Sappho’s poem, her addresses to gods are orderly, perfect poetic products, but the way — and this is the magic of fragments — the way that poem breaks off leads into a thought that can’t ever be apprehended. There is the space where a thought would be, but which you can’t get hold of. I love that space. It’s the reason I like to deal with fragments. Because no matter what the thought would be if it were fully worked out, it wouldn’t be as good as the suggestion of a thought that the space gives you. Nothing fully worked out could be so arresting, so spooky.”

Chauvo-Feminism

Here is my review of Chauvo-Feminism: On Sex, Power and #MeToo by Sam Mills. The Irish Times, 27 February 2021, p. 14:

A performative espousal of feminist principles may be a fig leaf for plain old misogyny. Many of the abusers exposed by the #MeToo movement — including Harvey Weinstein himself — were men of a woke persuasion. Sam Mills calls them chauvo-feminists, among other things. She even dated one, which gave rise to a textbook case of gaslighting. This provides the armature for a coruscating disquisition on the mind games of Jekylls who Hyde in plain sight. Mills corrals a vast array of material, blending poignant memoir and meticulous research to great effect. Bristling with righteous indignation, yet commendably nuanced, her essay is never less than entertaining, as when she remarks that map-reading is not a task she has to ‘strain against [her] vagina to accomplish’.

Indecipherable Chicken-Scratch Squiggles

Sam Mills had the good taste to choose “Celesteville’s Burning: A Work in Regress” as part of her contribution (5 February 2021) to A Personal Anthology, a fine series curated by Jonathan Gibbs.

‘Celesteville’s Burning: A Work in Regress’ by Andrew Gallix

Sostène Zanzibar, a successful novelist based in Paris, is suffering a midlife crisis and struggling with creative inspiration. When the journalist Loren Ipsum comes to interview him, they embark on a love affair that ends in humiliation for Zanzibar, who then descends into crisis. The prose is beautifully crafted, the story a wonderful mixture of literary satire, erudite references, superb puns and zingy one-liners, and jokes that made me laugh out loud — Zanzibar’s ex “publicly pooh-poohed his cunnilingus technique, comparing the result as a series of ‘indecipherable chicken-scratch squiggles’”. As the story progresses, there is a shift in tone from comic to poignant and the ending is dreamy and bittersweet.

First published in The White Review, and available to read online. Collected in We’ll Never Have Paris, Repeater Books, 2019.

The Death of Francis Bacon

Here is my review of The Death of Francis Bacon by Max Porter. The Irish Times, 9 January 2021, p. 13:

Porter’s Portrait of the Artist is a Masterpiece in Miniature

Max Porter explores the inner workings of Francis Bacon’s mind as the artist deliriously recalls his life

If writing about music is like dancing about architecture, what of painting? As Francis Bacon once said, “If you can talk about it, why paint it?” Indeed. In his third novel, Max Porter explores what happens when you contemplate canvases to the point of being contemplated by them.

Rather than talk about Bacon’s paintings, he lets them speak — or mutely howl — and what they express is not what they represent, but how they feel: the sensation of their own brute facticity. “I can still feel it, right through me, like a shock,” Bacon says here, remembering the time when he “bit down on shot” while dining out on pheasant stew: “Metal drill in my fillings right down through my urethra. Buzzing in my underbladder.”

Possibly moonlighting as the critic David Sylvester, the author plants a sneaky mission statement at the beginning of the fourth chapter, where he confesses his longstanding “unfashionable fixation” with the painter as well as his aim “to get art history out of the way”. (Porter once obtained an MA in this very subject at London’s Courtauld.)

Bacon is lying on his deathbed in a Madrid clinic, where he is attended to by a sister whom he addresses as Hermana or Mercedes (she calls him “piggy”) and regularly mistakes for figures from his past, such as his lover and muse Peter Lacy or photographer and Soho habitué John Deakin. Through a series of delirious dreams, his life is depicted in the visceral style of his work.

Tales of turpentine and turpitude, fisting and feasting commingle with children’s stories and striking imagery, while the artist ponders his legacy: “Oh naff off you skag,” he says apropos of one famous critic. Dying itself is leavened with dark levity: “I wonder if I might have no pain. If you’d be so kind.”

The opening section — one page long, text laid out like a poem, copious amounts of blank space — is devoted to a “[N]on-existent” sketch, from which we may infer that all the other works conjured up thereafter are authentic and still extant. Every subsequent chapter proceeds from a different oil on canvas — seven in all — of varying dimensions (the smallest being 14 x 12 inches).

Of little import at first blush, these measurements highlight the art’s materiality, enabling us to track down, with a fair degree of accuracy, most of the pieces Porter has purposely left untitled. They also allow us to ascertain that the sequence in which the paintings are summoned is strictly chronological down to the penultimate chapter, which is in keeping with the narrative’s biographical tenor.

Porter spares us the tiresome ekphrases. Save for the aforementioned sketch, none of the artworks is described. The emphasis is placed firmly on the creative process and how the works “work”. The revelation of the models’ convulsive beauty, for instance, as soon as they twist and turn — a recurrent gesture that echoes Bacon’s retrospection. When the sister turns sitter she suddenly becomes a “handsome prospect”, her “crowded mouth” making the artist yearn to see her snarl: “that’s why she has to sit like that, as if sitting for me, lest those rows of teeth burp out”.

In one instance Bacon juxtaposes the boyish features of Don Carlos, seen on one painting, with Julius Caesar’s punctured body from another: “I folded the head over at the eyes and laid it on the injury.” This is portraiture as vivisection: “Yes, peeling a scab. Lifting the whole clotty lot of it and seeing the root. Verruca stippled. These are a few of my favourite things.”

The non-existent preparatory sketch, which Bacon cannot recall drafting, represents his own deathbed scene. It soon becomes apparent that with each new chapter and canvas, the sketch is being fleshed out. This impression is reinforced by the numerous repetitions: the sister’s incessant “Intenta descansar”, on which the book closes, produces a sort of litany; every chapter beginning with “Take a seat why don’t you” and containing questions pitting the painter against other figures (Edward the Martyr, Caesar, Mussolini, Caravaggio).

All the while, Bacon is painting his own departure until he absents himself through his work, resurfacing in canvases hanging in museums and galleries from whence he can spend an eternity mocking his critical foes. Self-portraiture as auto-autopsy.

The Death of Francis Bacon is a little masterpiece; a slim volume that packs a mean Peter Lacy-style punch. It is as though Porter had bit down on shot, taking the most adventurous passages from his two previous novels and letting rip — painting in words the “deeply ordered chaos” Bacon saw all about him.

Loren Ipsum – The Movie

This short film, by Julie Kamon, is based on an extract from my novel-in-progress, Loren Ipsum. The music and soundtrack are by Also Known as Ariel (aka London-based Argentine author Fernando Sdrigotti). Readings by Susanna Crossman, S.J. Fowler, Stewart Home, Sam Mills, and C.D. Rose.

The film was published by 3:AM Magazine on 13 January 2021. It premiered on Carthorse Orchestra, David Collard‘s online literary salon.

“From the opening shot (a stylish nod to Jacques Demy) this is a wonderful, assured, immersive ten minutes in which sound, text and image align perfectly. Repays multiple viewings” – David Collard.

Also Known As Loren Ipsum

Also Known As Ariel (aka London-based Argentine author Fernando Sdrigotti) has kindly composed this eerie soundtrack for a forthcoming video (by Julie Kamon) showcasing an extract from my novel-in-progress Loren Ipsum. More soon.



You can also find it on Spotify.

On Mooning Considered as One of the Fine Arts

I have a short story — “On Mooning Considered as One of the Fine Arts” — in ZenoPress’s latest annual anthology, Zahir: Desire and Eclipse.

Here is the publisher’s blurb:

Zahir: Desire and Eclipse is a new collection of writings including essays, poems, experimental texts and short stories. This issue features works by both established and emerging artists and writers.

The starting point for this new anthology is the short story by Jorge Luis Borges ‘The Zahir’. Zahir is an Arabic word that indicates a concept or object that obsesses man, to the point of making him lose touch with reality. The Zahir at first may appear insignificant, it insinuates itself into the mind and invades it occupying every corner. It becomes an obsession that can only be freed by going to meet it, looking for it and making it one’s own forever.

Within the realms of poetry, essays and short stories, this anthology explores how the Zahir — something both very serious and vaguely absurd — sticks on our minds and refuses to be shaken. The aim is to consider how its cultural meanings are produced and how it shapes and resonates in our imagination, as well as causing consequences in various aspect of life. Each work investigates how the Zahir allows itself to be a screen onto which we project our anxieties and desires and functions as a mirror in which we see ourselves reflected.

Featuring works by:

Andrew Dyer, Andrew Gallix, Annie Q. Syed, Anthony Etherin, C.C. O’Hanlon, David Roden, Emma Bolland, Flowerville, Genese Grill, Geoff Saunders, Iris Colomb, Julia Rose Lewis, Kate Wakeling, Octavia Bright and Rushda Rafeek.

Edited by Christian Patracchini.