Wednesday, 27 August 2014

William Burroughs and Mervyn Peake - Unlikely Bedfellows

Modernism is a tradition. Burroughs has been copied to death. Joyce framed for crimes he did not commit. Virginia Woolf, flying down the angular vowel, her stories spinning into infinity. Kafka resplendent in his grotesque dreams whilst Cummings rotates on the forefinger of eclecticism.  Now they come again, neo as new as now. Will Self grumpy, growling, refusing to roll over and let the tradition fade. Ballard wrote the mainframe. David Mitchell grasping the nettle, fusing tradition with experimentation, Kate Atkinson too. Eimear Mcbride flaying my heart with her intimate detail. Modernism is tradition. Experimentation isn’t.

I wake up in a hospital bed. A balloon is tied to my bed. The only time it moves is when a nurse passes by causing an updraft which makes the balloon dance and jiggle. On the balloon is two numbers five and zero. This is fifty or, if you prefer, 50. It is my birthday and I am lying here following a heart attack, a very mild one but heart attack no less. Thumbscrew, my daughter, the eldest of my brood, looks at me with face screwed up, tears roll down her cheeks “YOU WILL FIGHT THIS.” Oh, my dear, do me a favour and give me more morphine.

March 2004. Fifty. Birthday. Hospital. Bed. And so it began, at this momentous time, at this insignificant age with my head fucked and my heart playing second fiddle that I suddenly wanted to learn, that I realised, at this moment, with friends and family making their visits, that I had more than half a brain, that I wanted to learn, had to read more, listen to more music, see more films, take in all manner of ‘stuff’, fill my soul with learning.

Panic attacks followed my violent mood swings as I self-destructed taking those close with me. Their tolerance is remarkable. Wife a stranger, made so by the hurt in me transferred as blame to her. Why? Fuck knows. I don’t. Miserable arsehole was I. Resplendent in my self-obsession. Discharge. It began. Healing. Those arty types, those creative souls. Blogging became the crutch, learning my drug. Dee Dee and Doc A, R and C, Tictac tick tacking and yes, all the others

And now all that remains is the car crash. Brittle bones and glass shattered across the tarmac of living. The only recourse, the only way to find peace is to get beyond it. You hit the brick wall. So what. Get over it. I am.

And I am here reading Naked Lunch for the first time. It is a nightmare given flesh. Burroughs heats the spoon, dissolves his mind, and pours out in unrefined splintered language a world of dissolute monsters who strike me as being the ugly truth. Humanity stretched beyond the point of understanding. Strident, fornicating, foul. I say beyond understanding but that isn’t so. This literature reflects the 20th century as it gazes, along with Nietzsche not so much into the abyss but in upon itself. The 20th century did this. Navel gazing, inward seeking, trying to breach the regulations subjected upon mankind’s freedoms by a system it created. It is the collective seizure that century had made literary. It is the angst of the juvenile growing up coming to terms with what dreadful acts he’s done.

And here I am reading Titus Alone. The truth is ugly but here it is beautiful for the caricatures of fiction resemble the creatures of fact. This too is humanity. Gross, yes, absurd too. Masses of unmistakeable individuality sat and squashed into bold shapes, disfigured so as better to view… us. Like a parade of characteristics shuffled into solid features. Our foibles exposed as blessing of difference, individuality celebrated. The descriptive writing is a joyous rush. Each line wordy, elaborate, refined. It delineates Homo Sapiens faults but praises them as it does, illustrating our gory glory. Here we come.

Each page is a guitar strummed. Each word the bent bow of a cello string. The sounds gather colour, the words form scents, the narrative tells of shapes. If the colours are filthy then blame the sitter, if the notes are flat blame the composer.

So who wins my vote? Burroughs or Peake? And why compare? Peake surely isn't a modernist? Ahhh, but I think he was you know. The absurd, the grotesque, nonsense may come from the age of the Victorian but remained vital even beyond. And anyway, those that think Peake is like Tolkien, from the Fantasy genre, then forgive me for saying so but where are the dragons, the elves, the spells cast, the wizard with their hats or the magic they cast?  Gormenghast was not fantasy. It was/is grotesquery.

There is no point in comparing the two authors. The simple remedy is to enjoy both.

More books. More music, more comics. Here we come!

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.


LeeKwo said...

Well Mr Duffy a fine read indeed as good as any review I have read and the personal insight into yr life added an other angle/Never read Mervyn Peake I dont know when I will ever read again/I buy the books I always wanted but as yet other commitments you know/Really was a great read full of humor and irony/Yes Burroughs is over for gods sake he has lasted more than a generation let him slip away gracefully/

Russell Duffy said...

Mate, I hope we don't forget Burroughs. His legacy is huge, especially in music but also literature.

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A Utility Fish Shed Blog

A Utility Fish Shed Blog