Chapter 4: Where he supposed that composing internalised opposites might help
Children have too many limbs.
That was a thought he had whilst sitting on the bus going back from the hospitial .
He was watching a couple of ten year olds mucking about whilst their mum on the seat ahead was stoically looking out of the window ignoring them even though he hoped no doubt she did care really and was just having a bad moment and needed to take a breather.
You can tell a child nothing and anything and everything
came the next thought as he watched them play. He had often been struck by the fact that parents don't know their children at all, concealing everything from them even though the smallest of children understand that their parents are doing this because they consider them too young to understand!
Adults hold the line on this, though, that children must never be believed in the most important matters
because it would be just too unbearable to hear what we prefer to go through in silence
- was what he thought next.
He read a news story.
Girl, 9, Found In Shallow Grave.
It was garish, blunt and depressing, one of those distressing heartbreaking horror acts that you can’t be wry or straightforward or even world-weary about but instead makes you feel feel oddly provoked and strangely parental on account of the victim being a little girl.
He felt he’d have liked to have been in her life because then, somehow, he’d have understood and been there for her and things would have worked out better - if not good then at least better - better than this annihilating disaster.
The bus kept on through what was now a little mysterious drizzle, down a road that had few shops and so it felt like the lights everywhere had all gone out.
What had she done? He read the dismal story.
You cannot imagine what sorrow and anger seized his whole soul when he read between the lines and realised how her life, one which seemed to have been long enough to have been piously revered by those who knew her, had been bungled and dragged into the street by events that seemed to him to have been both avoidable and depraved. It was as if her sad story had made her unrecognizable, dirty, askew, absurdly presented, without proportion, without harmony, too close, singed, a distraction for strangers travelling home and nothing else. That's what affected him most, the indecency and exposure of it all, its inpurity and darkening visibility.
There was something convulsed, relentless, desperate and full of effort in what he read. The tone of the piece had death and violence in it but in an impulsive, flash way, but not without dignity either and obviously connected with this and that, other manifestations of the whole life, so to speak, so it wasn’t merely freakish but held a nerve to its line. But it also had that suddenness that’s modern in it too, an abrupt energy living as if it was suddenly erupting onto the scene and had no thoughts about the past or anything else but the here and now.
It seemed to be enclosed in itself and cut-off. But that only went to a point and then it stopped as if drawing a line between, as he put it, being zeitgeist and being mental.
The first is what you’re always wanting - he told himself - and the second is fearful and we get pulled in by dread when that thought comes
So even the stark hospitalizing violence and enfringement of her story had to be seen as a high sheen event without being tortured out. That was the mystery and attractiveness of the narrative. It was searing, flexible, slightly aimless and barmy, alarming, alienating but with a buttery, indiscreet and unpleasant charm.
And it had a grunge feel too, which seemed to find its objective correlative in the long abject overcoat a size too big for her that had wrapped her corpse, according to the report, an object that seemed to cover her small lost body as if with a dirty world,
weighty and jostling and fringed and anagramic and stumbling and cosmic and basic and heroic and deaf and slick and fractured (but not in the old way, but enough of it to make him remember the old ways nevertheless, so just enough)
and scientific and overlaid and abstract and intimate (so it’s a personality haunted by unhappy adolescence perhaps, that kind of thing, but done in a staged raw way, like a displayed dental brace or coil or grim bed he thought) and wide and glamour relationshipy and minimal with a pared-down shock effect, as well as being seamless and going back a long way then zooming forward again,
and exact and surfaced and advancing and popular (but not just caught entirely by that, so in a sense not entirely surfaced and thus, he'd say, cynical, which worried him for a while because he liked to think about truths that lie underneath the cynics sidewise talk, although its not clear whether he really really really really does – but cynicism only gets to a short point is what his opinion actually is)
and imitative and fascinating and disturbing (but not in a thundering way that keeps him awake at night but more as something that might make him wonder whether he can afford to expend anything on it anymore) and compressed and ambivalent and ambivalent about ambivalence and singular and drained (so what was before is still here but in a more diluted way because, honestly, he can’t take the old stuff anymore)
and scrolled down and black screened and tagged and blurred and crowded out and changed and back and forth and siloed and referenced only by breathing space
and forever and toursity and mythic (but in a downtown way) and knowy and foregrounded and theatricalised and carried-on and junky and fluxy and intent and accorded despite everything and Siberian and doomy and whimsical and disguising and installed and perpetual and opposite and delicate and fantasisied and direct and conventional and ugly and inferno-y (which has him reeling about in his head hoping his feelings will catch up with the mental disturbances but also hoping that they don’t because to do so might propel him from zeitgeist to mental, which is bad and what holds him in a tearful grip)
and voyeuristic and sub and plastic and phony and rubbish and afflicted and remade and iconic and massy and business-like and ecumenic and obsessive and arch and camp and mannered and industrious and drugged-up and monitored and emotional (but not without the option to say it isn’t really and make it's so empty an appropriate response, because having that kind of option is part of the whole thing too)
and Swiss and underground and corporate and neurotic and jokey and intense and urgent (but without making clear what is so urgent, and that it isn’t right to ask, because the whole point is just to feel that urgency is lurking about and thus feel a bit wired and knotted)
and banal and historical and sparky and devoid (usually of meaning, but that’s not quite right because there is meaning a lot of the time, it’s just that, without apologising, he just can’t be bothered with most of it) and strained and oceanic and worldly and materialistic and absurd and magic (which again is one of those things that has a very thin line and if he gets it wrong it is just mental and sad rather than good and zeitgeisty)
and profane (often he likes profane without anger although it can go both ways and sometimes a good angry profane is great to watch as long as you’re not on the wrong end of its bravura) and Italian and poetic and withered and hypnotic and unlabelled (and of course unlabelled is a self contradiction when applied, so he likes that even more because it makes sense of the obvious, easy, mescaline-induced theorizing that is really just rubbish if taken at face value rather than as zeitgeist, but as zeitgeist can be emblematic)
and textured (but not too much of this please) and morbid (because he doesn't want to be singing if he's thinking about the darkness, unless of course we perform songs of darkness knowingly or make our pop anthems in parenthesis so their lightness and frivolous bubbly quality becomes just another wonderfully clever ironical joke about darkness too, hence Kylie singing with Nick Cave for example, and the ever-distressing Morrissey, he ruminated...)
and primitive and sexy and ushered and mild and interlocking and pseudo-primitive and voodoo and blasting and crude and airy and pulsing and eloquent and inert and delicate and consequential and subsequent and alcoholic and outrageous and rough and garrulous and grippy and awakening and sensitive and re-done and rhetorical and sincere and rebuking and consumerist and abstractly moral and tough and positioning and frenzied and gestural and broody and reduced and apocalyptic and strapped and negotiated
and eighty miles and hour and thin and grinning and sour and uncaptioned and traumatized and allegoric and aphoristic and disastrous and cold and anti-context and cinematic without a film
and every minute
and no drama
and basically the same all the way
and resistant and soliloquized enough and money-orientated and on the make and observationally astute and summarizing and against phony Hollywood and for phony Bollywood
and twinned and glimpsed and often unsteady and surveillance footage outtakey
and exploited and inside a motel and a bit less human every day and pared-downish and hysterical (but not really) and memorizing and subjectively modified and old and on the streets and clutterish and stuffed and
and viscera-gleaming and edited and sadistic and populist and veganist and deformed and booed and hallucinationary and clichéd and unbridled and disgusting and paraphrasing and horrorising and so
that with this overcoat, just the overcoat, covering as it seemed to him all the options of her now completed life, everything deep and perplexing and mysterious flows away and becomes nothing else but the weird and unaccountable.
Briefly he let his eyes fix on the water droplets running down the glass of the window. He felt suddenly that life was a kind of sacrifice, but he didn't understand the sentiment, as if he realised that he didn't have the strength for the idea and that in this respect he was as weak as most everyone else.
Let’s be honest, there’s a lot to be said for the adage that to be modern is to be screaming.
Although much of the time he does that secretly. Probably in his head. But the subconscious is unknown. So who knows really? This is the kind of complexity he likes, being who he is and living now. He likes it because he thinks life is complex, in fact life is hard, so even when he's lounging around on a good day he has that thought in the back of his head.
This is luxurious and nice, all this lounging and drinking the tequila and watching the speedo guys or the bikini girls or less gendered pleasure-dome stuff of course, because he's always awake and alert and not going to fall for any of that nonsense is he, the desperate comforts of ebullient youthful life and its collapse into the chaos of age?
But even as he's comfortable and soaking up all this pleasure he's thinking that he has something purged out, a kind of drainage, which nevertheless is still haunting and pertinent despite the smell of sun lotion and limes and the sea waves bobbing. What he feels is uneasy, let’s put it like this, and he wants to scream against illusions, representations, associations, distortions, dreams, caricatures and whatever else is the rage because he knows he's against pure unadulterated self-expression and maybe the self too but in this electrified state what’s left, he asks, what's left?
And then he screams inwardly, because it’s a sort of answer to everything he's feeling is happening. But he doesn't really understand what just happened when even in the middle of a good afternoon, imagine, he starts doing that, because it’s happening at a different level, he thinks, although at the same time, it’s here and now and happening like a formation.
And then there’s always the faint suspicion that this sort of screaming wasn’t a good thing after all, despite it acknowledging in a way the complexity he felt, about life and the situation and everything.
Because perhaps all it showed is that he was taking his own life to an extreme and that that was a terible mistake, because, he considered, perhaps you should only live your own life to a point and never ever venture to carry it to even halfway.
This haunted him, the thought that what he had felt was cowardice was actually prudence, and that what he regarded as finding comfort in deceiving himself was sensible and not about deception after all, but was rather the ability to grasp a higher truth, so to speak.
He peered around him at so many souls toing and froing and wondered if they had worked this deeper thought out and were actually, against the odds, secretly living lives of transcendent goodness whilst he struggled with his screaming and night terrors like an idiot who had completely misunderstood everything.
He never wanted his thoughts to be just thoughts, and his words just words. That's why he kept on living, so that he could make it so.
He remembered a Russian proverb: throw nature out the door and it'll come flying in through the window.
He shook his head and shivered. The bus was cold and he was grateful for its bright lights and the playing children a few seats down.
Who wants life to be rational? As if we could bear life to be that way
he almost muttered outloud.
Could a starling lie? he asked himself and with grim humour concluded that it could not.
And this thought satisfied him and brought him to reflect that what lying did was prove our lives because,
and he turned his head so that for a moment he peered this way and that trying to see if there was anyone on the bus that he'd missed, and then continued,
only humans can lie and so all we need to do to rise above the life of a bird is to tell a lie, just one perhaps, but the more the merrier in fact, and in doing so we would be truly alive, truly ourselves.
He wondered if the little girl wrapped in the overcoat had lied and concluded that she had, that she must have done, for who could go through life without lying? and the truth can't be nailed but life can be made to go away, so he hoped that she had lied and in so doing disclosed her truth, different from being a mere bird, the truth of her life held each time in each lie.
We must lie, even in our own minds, and so live and keep living in truth. That's what's important, because then we can tell the truth in someone else's way, of you like
So again the world turns and everyone has to be in it , he thinks which makes him wary of screaming no matter how ruffled, repetitive, refracted, thin, agitated, stumbling, cool, flowing, samey, transparent, encrusted, difficult, honoured, aesthetic, fundamental, assured, dismal, petty, simultaneous, intense, eclipsing, concluding, lawless, rigorous, self-administered, sexy, Kantian, zealous or mystic.
But to stand and live upon a lie is to make a life a mockery, he added, trembling and if you could have seen his eyes at that moment, oh, then you'd have seen something.
Yet, there are other ways.
He admonished. In silence.
Some have those ways. He was trying to think it out. There’s artificiality, which is what he thinks lots of things are now.
And then there’s staged artificiality which is what he picked up some many years before.
Now staged artificiality is all the rage even though the thought is old now and taking on a new veneer of classical period strength.
Actually, once a thing gets staged its artificial straight away so you don’t need to stage artificiality after all, he thinks.
You just need to stage.
And then he starts thinking maybe he should go on with thoughts about the staging and see if there’s more. So he now thinks a staged thing is artificial but in a way that shows reality better. So there’s always a mockery going on if anyone tries to tell him they’re not performing.
Damn right they are - he'd exclaim.
All that existential blood, dismay, screaming and desperation is not on. It’s corny.
And seems perverse and besides the point. Because everyone now knows if you stage it then you can begin to pay attention to the feelings that are being played out.
And the feelings are just being staged.
So - he reflects - you don’t need blood, screaming, tears and authenticity, especially authenticity - and why not? -
Because you’re allowed to see it as Trash now in all its great shallowness.
He closed his eyes on the word.
Trash is why he can watch the Kardashians and Real Housewives and find there’s a tortured existential suicidal despair inside its cool plastic crap celebrity living.
A spellchecker goes mad with Kardashians. It corrects to Cartesians or Carpathians.
So there’s his point right there in the spellchecked correction.
But that’s how it is these days, he grimaces.
Even algorithms dance.
But his head was spinning with all these things going on and he became aware that perhaps he was making a fool out of himself. He became furtive and glanced about but sighed when he realised that he had managed to remain impassive and outwardly unmoved, maintaining throughout a blank and rather calm expression on his unremarkable face, even though he was still feeling exasperating moments of pain and some droplets of sweat ran from his brow down to his eyebrows, some even reaching his cheek. But it was raining outside of course, and so he rightly supposed that were anyone to notice the droplets they would suppose it to be the rain and not his deteriorating condition.
He felt amazed at how even in such circumstances he had been able to maintain himself enough to hold onto a decorum and self-control that betrayed no secrets. Not even the fiercest inner dialectic had ruffled his appearance and forced him to give away any signs of being in turmoil or discomfort.
Hee felt a quiet pride in this, as if he had secretly proved something somehow, although what it was and quite what it's worth was obscure and vague.
He considered the whole thing and concluded that there was a fallacy in inferring mutual exclusivity from thinking in opposites.
Why, here he was, and what he had done was not a matter of being either important or symbolic - an infernal opposition so often encountered - but was surely both.
This new awareness, or whatever it was, seemed to comfort him and he relaxed a little, feeling the muscles in his shoulders loosening a tad and the tight discomfort that had gripped his back since the bad news in the hospital dissipated a little.
The bus rolled on. The rain drizzled. The two children played and their mother stared out of the window into the dark.
He closed his eyes and wondered how anyone would finally be happy and find peace and tranquility?
He thought of the dismal story he'd read, of the little girl who beat her chest so desperately, who then was killed , and whose unavenged tears seemed to fill the swirling dark in his head.
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