All the Latest

One of my short stories — “Sweet Fanny Adams” — features in The Beat Anthology 2006-2010, edited by Sean McGahey and published on 30 April 2010 by Blackheath Books. The other contributors are: Darran Anderson, Jenni Fagan, Steve Finbow, Chris Killen, Melissa Mann, Sean McGahey, Ben Myers, UV Ray, Joseph Ridgwell, Lee Rourke and Susan Tomaselli. The first 52 copies include a playing card and a spoken word CD. More here.

Dr Martens’ Bouncing Souls

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Dr Martens’ Bouncing Souls

It didn’t hit me at first. Not straight away it didn’t. For a few long seconds there, the world was freeze-framed. I half expected to see tumbleweed blow by. All around, people emitted muffled sounds as if sporting ball-gags under water. Possibly swathed in cotton wool, they spoke in slow motion, their syllables hideously elongated like limbs on the rack. I distinctly recall being put in mind of an unravelling audio cassette, or one of those avant-garde sound poems that were all the rage back in the day. And then it hit me.
Hard.
Really hard.
Repeatedly.

To describe the pain as excruciating just wouldn’t do it justice. It was unspeakable, unsputterable; not even stutterable — utterly unutterable. What I can attempt to convey, however — to a certain degree, at least, though not, alas, to the third — is the unrelenting nature of the whole episode. I was stunned. Dumbfounded. Gobsmacked. At a loss for words. Mouth agog, screaming on mute. Bent triple, pissing bleeding blood. Pummelled into that liminal zone beyond which no representation is possible. With the benefit of hindsight, I see it as a crash course in transgression, no less. Nothing would ever be the same again. Not quite. Not for me. Uh-uh. Blown was my mind. Rocked were my foundations. Shaken was my core. Topsy-turvy was my world. Over tit was my arse. And then it hit me again.
Hard.
Really hard.
Really, really hard.
Repeatedly.
Repeatedly.
Repeatedly.
Repeatedly…

I blame it on Effie. Effing Effie and her fucking iffy frock. A brown flower-print number, the kind usually modelled by ladies of a certain age. Ladies who have long ceased to turn heads. Ladies who are fading away inexorably. Ladies who are almost invisible already. Ladies who, even as we speak, are being cut out of the equation with tiny toenail scissors. Slowly. Surely. Snip, snip — snip. But draped around Effie’s nubility it became impossibly erotic, as if the breath of life had suddenly been pumped into a long deflated blow-up doll. As if all the old biddies in their flower-print dresses were in bloom again, having magically recovered their pertness of yore. As if our very planet were a tight pair of bouncy buttocks and the whole wide universe had a massive hard-on.
Hard.
Really hard.
Rock-hard.
Rock on.

Blowing mellow bellows from below, a bracing breeze sported with the hem. Effie even had to hold it down on occasion, which lent her an air of charming vulnerability. Despite this precaution, and after a great deal of hemming and hawing, the flimsy material finally resolved to flare up, possibly in answer to the prayers of all those who had slowed down to admire the young lady’s graceful sway. Time almost came to a standstill as the dress made its giddy ascent in the manner of a Big Dipper inching up the steepest of Battersea slopes. I half expected to see tumbleweed blow by. Then suddenly — amid a cacophony of catcalls, wolf whistles and screeching tyres — the world went into overdrive frock’n’roll-style. Effie gasped in surprise, looking back instinctively to see how many oglers would be going home with a spring in their proverbial and diaphanous black lace on their minds. As she did so, I couldn’t help but notice the imaginary ejaculates from a hundred passers-by glistening in her hair like so many constellations of icicles. It was hard not to really.
Really hard.
Really, really hard.

The heat was well and truly on. You could almost feel the sap rising as Effie walked by. Men for miles around seemed to be picking up illicit frequencies, pricking up their ears at the mere sound of her killer heels in the distance. I tried to throw them off the scent by accelerating or crossing the road at regular intervals, but to no avail. I knew I would bump into him eventually, or rather he would bump into me. He was out there somewhere — everywhere — whoever he may be. It was just a matter of time now, and now was the time. He loomed up, he loomed large, hurtling towards me with all the inevitability of tragedy. There was no way I could avoid him. In fact, he veered slightly to the right to ensure that we were on a collision course. It was fight or flight. It was lose face and face loss. It was too fucking late.

Effie didn’t notice anything at first. She pursued her monologue looking straight ahead as he rammed into me, only pulling up when I remonstrated with my assailant. This, of course, was the cue he had been waiting for. I was playing right into his big lumberjack hands, which he balled into mighty fists before felling me like a sapling. Effie screamed while I attempted to regain verticality by means of the wall. Paying no heed to the abuse that was being hurled his way, he slowly removed his jacket and folded it rather fastidiously. By the time he had finished rolling up his shirtsleeves, Effie had run out of expletives or patience. I noticed how she rolled her eyes in desperation as I finally staggered to my feet, still puffing and panting, only to hear that I was going to be taught a bloody good lesson in front of my wife. And then he hit me again. Hard. Really hard. Repeatedly. He decked me, then he floored me, then he pulled me up again and decked me some more. At first I was under the cosh, but I soon became conversant with the sentence that was being executed with such surgical precision; I could even distinguish the nuances of each blow. It was like learning a new language.

Taking on the demeanour of an impartial spectator at a boxing match, Effie stepped back to embrace the whole scene. She was more open-minded now, wanted to hear him out. She was hedging her bets: let the best man win, like. At one point — a couple of cheeky jabs followed by a cracking right cross — she even started seeing his, which he put across so eloquently, so forcefully. After all, he was only being fair. Firm but fair. So fair and so firm. Hard, really hard. With her arms folded across her ample bosom, she looked down upon me, sighing and shaking her head, as if she thought, on reflection, that a good lesson would indeed do me the world of good. She was bowing to the inevitable, submitting to a superior force and was silently urging me to do likewise, to let go. All resistance was futile: I had this coming all along and now it had come, and that was that. It was in the order of things to put things in order. It felt right; it even felt good, so good. Hard, so hard. The wicked gleam in her eye proved that she was now baying for blood. Baying, obeying some primitive urge. Harder, really harder.

After an uppercut and a left hook had left me on my knees again, begging for mercy, he slipped his jacket back on and bitch-slapped me to the ground. Blinking through the streaming blood, I caught a glimpse of my wife’s expensive black panties as she stepped over me to join him. They walked off hand in hand into the sunset.

[This story appeared in Everyday Genius on 28 October 2009. It was commissioned by Lee Rourke (who curated the site throughout October 09). The final version (above) features in New Cross-Fucked Musings on a Manic Reality (Dog Horn Press), an anthology edited by Tom Bradley and published in December 2010.]

The Future is Going to Be Boring

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This appeared in the summer 2009 issue of Flux magazine (issue 69, p. 77):

The Future is Going to Be Boring

Despite his bohemian hairdo and stripy tops, Lee Rourke is a creature of habit. Every single story in Everyday, his 2007 debut, was composed of a Saturday afternoon in the very same east London pub. And each one of these stories (or “fragments” as he prefers to call them) bears more than a passing resemblance to all the others. Time and again, the author retreads well-worn ground like a criminal constantly returning to the scene of his crime. Photocopying machines abound — underscoring this repetition compulsion — and the figure of Sisyphus looms large, from the hypnotic sway of a lady’s derrière in “Cruel Work” to the Groundhog Day pattern of “Footfalls”. If there is nothing new under the sun, all that remains is an eternity of repetition, recycling and re-enactment. That’s the gist of it.

“Our future is already boring, and we’ve not even reached it yet,” laments one of the scientists (echoing J. G. Ballard) in the piece you are about to read. Lee Rourke is rapidly becoming the poet laureate of tedium. One of his early “fragments” is called “Being Lee Rourke is Boring” — a title that exemplifies the author’s curious oscillation between self-aggrandisement and self-effacement. Should his dedication be in any doubt, Rourke is preparing a critical study in which he analyses how ennui has been “a central creative force” in literary history. He has also just completed a poetry collection that delves into the mind-numbing, soul-destroying monotony of office life: its eponymous emblem is Varroa destuctor, a bee-killing mite. “Most of my characters are either ergophobic or have major philosophical problems with the nature of work,” the author says.

Lee Rourke, a 37-year-old London-based Mancunian, is already one of the leading lights of the Offbeats and a respected reviewer. His first novel (published next year by American indie Melville House) is bound to further raise his profile. The Canal revolves around the Ballardian triumvirate of boredom, violence and technology. Set against the backdrop of Regent’s Canal — “one of the myriad arteries that flood a city like London with activity” — it is a book about dwelling “in the Heidegerrian sense,” about “the toing and froing of human interaction within a mechanised society” as well as the tale of “one man’s search for understanding and companionship”.

1

All the Latest

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Inés Martin Rodrigo has published an in-depth article on the Offbeats in top Spanish daily ABC in which I — “el Rimbaud de la Red”! — am quoted at length:

Inés Martin Rodrigo, “‘Se lo que sea, estoy contra ello,” ABC 16 February 2009

Es el lema de un nuevo grupo de escritores anglosajones con sede en Internet que está revolucionando la industria editorial. No tienen reglas ni manifiestos, pero la Generación Offbeat reclama su lugar en la escena literaria

La industria editorial es aburrida, está embotada y estreñida, desprende un cierto tufillo rancio y amenaza con eliminar todo fragmento de imaginación que aún quede en la mente del lector menos conformista. No es una sentencia categórica de un crítico cabreado con el ultimo best seller que ha llegado a sus manos, ni siquiera la reflexión concienzuda de un intelectual con complejo de Nostradamus. Es el pensamiento y la bandera literario revolucionaria de un nuevo grupo de escritores con sede en la Web y que se (auto)definen como Generación Offbeat.

Qué menos se podía esperar de los potenciales sucesores de Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs y compañía. Autores todos ellos enraizados en la libertad y el compromiso con ser fiel a uno mismo, filosofía de la que dieron buena cuenta en sus años de lucha literaria con las armas de las que disponían. Las armas de la razón hecha palabra y empleada en defensa de la paz, en contra de la Guerra de Vietnam o como sagaz discurso contra el recalcitrante conformismo de la sociedad de la época.

Una generación pegada a los libros

Los años han transcurrido y el discurso se ha transformado, al igual que las armas para evocarlo y defenderlo. Pero la raíz prendió con fuerza en una generación de jóvenes que creció leyendo el “Junky” de Burroughs, “uno de los mayores trabajos literarios sobre el mundo de la droga, al lograr algo que muchos libros que le siguieron fueron incapaces: habló del modo de vivir de un drogadicto”, en palabras de Tony O’Neill, escritor offbeat por excelencia. Y es que Burroughs describió el oscuro laberinto de la drogadicción sin ejercer de falso predicador para el lector, sin miedo a llamar a cada cosa por su nombre. Porque, le pese a quien le pese, un heroinómano no será nunca un pervertido al que adoctrinar. Así, llamando a las cosas por su nombre y leyendo, sobre todo leyendo, empapándose de los popes del movimiento beat fue como este grupo de autores fue regando su propio discurso.

Un discurso que se vertebra en un nuevo y excitante trabajo de ficción, que corre riesgos y que, cada vez con más intensidad, empieza a generar demanda en cuantos lectores se topan con él casi sin pretenderlo. Y es que, demasiado ácidos, diferentes y afilados para la industria editorial tradicional, la generación offbeat se esconde (de momento, aunque cada vez menos) en los amplios (y libres) márgenes de la Web y en alguna que otra editorial independiente.

El origen del movimiento

El primero en usar el término offbeat (y por tanto quien lo acuñó) fue Andrew Gallix, redactor jefe y responsable de la revista literaria online 3:AM Magazine (puestos a hacer comparaciones, valdría decir que sería algo así como el New Yorker de los offbeats). De eso hace ya casi tres años aunque, como el propio Andrew reconoce, “el movimiento llevaba bastante tiempo emergiendo. Es un poco lo que pasó con el punk o los nuevos románticos, al principio no tenían nombre por lo que mucha gente desconocía su existencia”.

Un desconocimiento que se fue disipando a medida que los grupos fueron proliferando en el ciberespacio. Eran escritores, guionistas, periodistas, bloggers, artistas… con un interés común por la literatura pura (sin artificios), que empezaron a gravitar alrededor de 3:AM y a organizar lecturas, conciertos e incluso festivales. “Fue en esos eventos donde comenzaron a establecerse las relaciones –explica Gallix-. La primera vez que fui consciente de que había aparecido un nuevo movimiento fue en el baño de Filthy Macnasty’s (uno de los pubs londinenses preferidos por Pete Doherty), cuando Lee Rourke (escritor y a la postre integrante de la Generación Offbeat) se abalanzó sobre mi y empezó a hablar de la enorme revolución literaria que habíamos iniciado. Aquello fue realmente el comienzo de todo”.

Un inicio virtualmente surrealista para un movimiento con integrantes de carne y hueso. Son muchos los offbeats que, incluso sin saberlo, engrosan la lista de esta generación pero, si hubiera que etiquetar al movimiento como tal cabría decir que se caracteriza por la variedad de voces y estilos y la ausencia de reglas (aquí no hay manifiestos). “A pesar de la diversidad, muchos escritores offbeat comparten características. La mayoría son británicos, treintañeros y creen que la escritura es mucho más que un mero entretenimiento”, enfatiza Gallix. Y sienten la música como elemento catalizador y de equilibrio.

Una lista repleta de talento

La lista es interminable y suena francamente bien. Noah Cicero (novelista estadounidense a medio camino entre Samuel Beckett y The Clash), Ben Myers (autor inglés mezcla de Richard Brautigan con Lester Bangs), Adelle Stripe (poeta londinense heredera del cinematográfico “realismo de fregadero” de Sidney Lumet), el propio Andrew Gallix (el Rimbaud de la Red), Tom McCarthy (novelista estadounidense afanado en la deconstrucción de una nueva idea de novela), HP Tinker (joven inglés al que comparan con Pynchon y Barthelme), Tao Lin (el aventajado protegido de Miranda July –a quien pronto veremos publicada en nuestro país gracias a Seix Barral-, con todo lo que eso supone hoy en día) y los primeros (parece que las grandes editoriales empiezan a tomar apuntes) que aterrizarán en España: Chris Killen, cuya novela “The Bird Room” será publicada este año por Alfabia, y Heidi James y Tony O’Neill, ambos con la editorial El Tercer Nombre.

Todos ellos influidos por el particular lirismo de Tom Waits, Lou Reed, Scott Walker o David Bowie, de la misma manera que estos sintieron la influencia de los autores de los que la Generación Offbeat es heredera. Aunque también están los que prefieren huir de las comparaciones. Tal es el caso de Heidi James, para quien la comparación es un poco “perezosa, basada en el hecho de que evitamos formar parte de la corriente principal”. Esta joven autora británica, que en marzo publicará su primera novela en España (“Carbono”, Ed. El Tercer Nombre) y que se confiesa fascinada por Lynne Tillman, Clarice Lispector, Marie Darrieussecq, Angela Carter o Virginia Woolf, es dueña de su propia editorial en Reino Unido, Social Disease. Con ella, que debe su nombre a la famosa frase de Andy Warhol -“Tengo una enfermedad social. Tengo que salir todas las noches”-, Heidi se ha convertido en uno de los estandartes de la Generación Offbeat al publicar “literatura única y genuina al margen de su valor en el mercado”.

Un movimiento coordinado

La propia Heidi James, en una prueba evidente de que el movimiento está coordinado y sabe hacia dónde se dirige, ha publicado en Reino Unido a autores como HP Tinker o Lee Rourke pero, sobre todo, a Tony O’Neill, el máximo exponente de los offbeats. Este joven neoyorquino, devoto de Bukowski, responsable de una prosa brutalmente descarnada, ex heroinómano, miembro de bandas como The Brian Jonestown Massacre, ha publicado ya cuatro novelas (la última, “Colgados en Murder Mile”, llegará a España en primavera) y se erige en líder (sin pretenderlo) del movimiento con ansias de seguir reclutando adeptos.

Como su propio nombre (offbeat) indica, una generación extraña e inusual de escritores, para los que la Red es su campo de acción, con espíritu punk y ganas de comerse la industria literaria tal y como ahora está concebida. El mundo anglosajón ya ha sido testigo de los primeros bocados. En España está al caer, ¡y ni siquiera es una generación! Que tiemble Zafón.

All the Latest

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Lee Rourke’s Everyday was reviewed in Time Out (London) on 4 February 2008. In his write-up John O’Connell devoted a paragraph to my “overexcited” intro (which, by the way, wasn’t written “straightfacedly”). Here is the relevant extract:

“At their best they’re [Lee Rourke’s stories] a delight, but at times their faux-naive simplicity (’It was two o’clock in the afternoon…’) feels slapdash, as if Rourke were more interested in establishing himself in a specific cultural pantheon than in crafting work that truly moves and endures.

An overexcited introduction by 3:AM Magazine editor Andrew Gallix underscores this, likening one tale, apparently straightfacedly, to ‘an episode of ‘Nathan Barley’ penned by Herman Melville and shot by Mike Leigh’ (a formulation which does the past-its-sell-by-date Hoxton satire of ‘Tale of an Idiot’ no favours) and another, intriguingly, to ‘The Rakes fronted by Julian Maclaren-Ross with Patrick Hamilton on bass, Ann Quin on drums and Maurice Blanchot on kazoo’. But the stories shouldn’t need this buttressing of explained context. As it is, they expend so much energy gesturing beyond themselves rather than simply being that they seem to aspire to some other status entirely — art prank, perhaps”.

Introduction to Everyday

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Here is my introduction to Lee Rourke‘s short story collection, Everyday (Social Disease, 2007, pp. 9-13). I wrote it in October 2007 and the book was published in December:

Unlike his characters (1), Lee Rourke doesn’t go unnoticed. The first time we met was in the toilet at Filthy Macnasty’s where he’d cornered me during a gig organised by 3:AM Magazine back in April 2005. Oblivious to the funny looks people were giving us, he waxed lyrical about the literary insurrection we had kick-started five years earlier and were celebrating that night. Somewhere in the background, Shane MacGowan was emptying his bladder to the strains of the Monochrome Set. It was there — in what Joe Orton called the last stronghold of male privilege — that I realised a new scene (the Offbeats) had emerged. And Lee was slap-bang in the middle of it. I already knew of him as the editor of Scarecrow who banged the drum for “the unheard, the unconventional, the eccentric, the revolutionary and the radical”. I was soon to discover his short stories — as you are now. Brace yourselves.

What can you expect? Well, it all depends whether you squint or not, of course. If you do: 1) David Brent dry-humping Franz Kafka over the zerox machine, 2) an episode of Nathan Barley penned by Herman Melville and shot by Mike Leigh, 3) The Rakes fronted by Julian Maclaren-Ross with Patrick Hamilton on bass, Ann Quinn on drums and Maurice Blanchot on kazoo. If you don’t: pigeons, pints of bitterness, work, Islington, gratuitous violence, boredom, Hackney twits, psychogeography, pigeons, Hoxton twats, anonymous crushes on public transport, class war, urban alienation, media whores, pigeons, happy slapping, sexual frustration, City yuppies, the threat of terrorism, immigrants from Eastern Europe, boredom, work, binge drinking, pigeons, pigeons and more pigeons…

Lee Rourke certainly has his finger on London’s tachycardiac pulse, but it is the universal he zeroes in on with obvious relish. In one story, William Blake’s sober gravestone suddenly rears into view (“Gravestones”). Baudelaire’s captured albatross — a symbol of the impotence of the artist — reappears here in the shape of one of those big advertising placards modern slaves hold up for a living on busy street corners (“The Only Living Boy on Oxford Street”). The tale of the swan that is killed for kicks by a couple of mindless thugs has all the gravitas and pathos of a Greekish deicide. The pole dancer whose rotting flesh decomposes with every new gyration echoes Webster’s skull beneath the skin (“Night Shift”)…

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Alongside the ubiquitous pigeons, the emblem of this collection is surely the photocopying machine. This is why the figure of Sisyphus looms so large, from the hypnotic sway of a woman’s rump in “Cruel Work” to the Groundhog Day pattern (2) of “Footfalls”. After being knocked over by a runaway bus, a man is condemned to circle round Soho looking in vain for the young woman who had come to his rescue (“Searching For Amy”). Taking his cue from Dante via Eliot, Rourke describes the vicious Circle Line as a noughties version of the nine circles of Hell all rolled into one. The office drones (a keyword) who inhabit these stories are the direct descendants of the living dead crossing London Bridge in The Waste Land (minus Eliot’s class snobbery). In the author’s words, Everyday expresses “the realisation that we are fragmenting, falling, and that it is never ending: just repeating” (3). Rourke is fascinated by the straw that breaks the camel’s back — the moment when his Bartlebys start running amok or falling apart. As in Michael Andrews’ famous painting, people keep falling over, giving in to gravity, endlessly reenacting their postlapsarian condition (4). After dropping like flies, they squirm on their backs, Kafkaesque insects, while indifferent passersby pass them by. Again and again and again. And when they finally get up, they jump back on the conveyor belt. “I’m not what you could describe ‘as going places’,” says the eponymous narrator of “John Barleycorn” reflecting on the treadmill of his life. These characterless characters are always on the go, but theirs is the restlessness of the undead. They are going nowhere fast.

Some of the stories collected here hardly qualify as stories at all. They are vignettes, or “fragments” to use Rourke’s preferred term — fragments of a bigger picture that doesn’t end (5). There is no whole in Everyday, just a gaping hole in a pair of black tights, a book of blank pages and an all-pervasive Heideggerian boredom. A gaping whole, but no grand narrative. Lee Rourke “documents the little alleyways and back streets,” which brings us back to the toilet at Filthy MacNasty’s where it all began.
Begin!

(1) Rourke is fond of aptronyms (Sheila Hole, Elaine Lowbottom or the bibulous John Barleycorn), some of which advertise the characters’ very banality: “Hack” or “Guy”, for instance, are ideal names for everyday Everymen. And then, of course, there’s “Anon”.

(2) Or should that be Wernham Hogg?

(3) “Purposely Resisting All That: An Interview With Lee Rourke” by Susan Tomaselli, Dogmatika, October 2007.

(4) Here, we are very close to the failed transcendence that lies at the heart of Tom McCarthy’s works (which Rourke has described as “blueprints” for his own).

(5) Originally, the sentence “They are vignettes, or ‘fragments’ to use Rourke’s preferred term — fragments of a bigger picture that doesn’t end” read: “They are vignettes, or ‘fragments’ to use Rourke’s preferred term — fragments of a bigger picture that doesn’t exist”.

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Lee Rourke’s book was reviewed in Time Out (London) on 4 February 2008. John O’Connell devoted a paragraph to my “overexcited” intro (which, by the way, wasn’t written “straightfacedly”). Here is the relevant extract:

“At their best they’re [Lee Rourke’s stories] a delight, but at times their faux-naive simplicity (‘It was two o’clock in the afternoon…’) feels slapdash, as if Rourke were more interested in establishing himself in a specific cultural pantheon than in crafting work that truly moves and endures.

An overexcited introduction by 3:AM Magazine editor Andrew Gallix underscores this, likening one tale, apparently straightfacedly, to ‘an episode of ‘Nathan Barley’ penned by Herman Melville and shot by Mike Leigh’ (a formulation which does the past-its-sell-by-date Hoxton satire of ‘Tale of an Idiot’ no favours) and another, intriguingly, to ‘The Rakes fronted by Julian Maclaren-Ross with Patrick Hamilton on bass, Ann Quin on drums and Maurice Blanchot on kazoo’. But the stories shouldn’t need this buttressing of explained context. As it is, they expend so much energy gesturing beyond themselves rather than simply being that they seem to aspire to some other status entirely — art prank, perhaps”.