Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Marilyn Manson – Heaven Upside Down review

Okay, more just some informal thoughts on the album rather than a professional review. Manson is my favourite artist and has been pretty much since I first truly got into music, the soundtrack to my later teenage years and a great and lasting creative inspiration to me, so it’d be remiss of me not to post my thoughts on his new work.

As a friend of mine has said, there are three tiers of Mansons’ works. Top tier – the triptych, second – GAOG and POAAF, and third tier everything after. Which while good, maybe even great in parts, has never matched up to the previous tiers, but that’s okay. This new work has naturally not transcended third tier, but it is still great.

After the Pale Emperor I said, with some hesitance, that it was his best work since GAOG. Now I say that it has been replaced by this album, and with a bit more confidence.

You’d be forgiven for having doubts. My first spin of the first single We Know Where You Fucking Live did not impress me. Thankfully it’s a definite grower (and the music video, while not great, does somehow make the song better), and is definitely better when listened to as part of the fuller album. That said, it is most assuredly one of the weakest songs of the album.

The first song of the album, Revelation 12, I find the weakest (read: least catchy), but it isn’t *bad*. There are no stinkers on the album (although I’m biased – however I’ll admit to never liking Heart Shaped Glasses). Once you’ve gotten past Revelation 12 you’re immediately in for some treats.

None of the songs released yet – WKWYFL, Kill4Me, snippet of Say10 – are the best the album can offer, and they shouldn’t have been offered up as representative (just like the single Heart Shaped Glasses was the worst song of EMDM and maybe on any of his LPs). I had a feeling from what I’d heard that the record was going to be closest to Born Villain meets The Pale Emperor. The truth is it’s a lot harder to pin down – there’s definite elements of these, but also of Holy Wood, EMDM/HEOL, GAOG and possibly even a little Mechanical Animals. Or maybe I’m just trying to work out where these sounds are coming from, rather than someplace new. You see, for a number of songs, this is the most goth-electronica Manson’s ever been. Really, the style is all over the place, and yet still feels cohesive.

In my opinion, after the few spins I’ve given it, there are three main highlights. The second track, Tattooed in Reverse is possibly the biggest surprise of the lot. I’m not sure I can define it. It’s weird, sparse and filthy industrial rock put to sort-of modern pop vocal hooks (and I mean actual mainstream pop of today, the sort that confuses me). And yet it’s also odder than that sounds – not something that sounds like it’d fit on the radio. It’s as peculiar as it is confusingly-catchy. I instantly loved it but I can see that some really won’t.

Another highlight is Jesus Crisis. For much of the album the verses, prechoruses and bridges are better than the choruses – this has been true of him for the majority of songs on the last few albums. And another complaint I’ve had for last couple of albums is Manson shying away from rhyming even more than normal. There’s a REASON people rhyme on songs, Mazza.

Thankfully on this song the opposite is true. The chorus is the catchiest thing Manson has done in AGES, maybe even since GAOG, and that’s probably because it rhymes. It’d be perfect in a rock club and I hope it comes to them rather than them still playing his hits from over a decade ago.

The song, however does have a bridge that, while good, just seems to come out of nowhere. It’s the song’s namesake, and yet it doesn’t fit with the rest of the song, especially not lyrically. The rest of the song has nothing to do with ‘JESUS CRI$I$’. There’s also this ‘ah-ah-ah’ bit that comes after the chorus that lets the song down and I’d rather it wasn’t there. Still, the chorus is irresistible enough to make up for it. It’s full of the kind of dumb bravado and swagger that has been missing from Manson’s work since GAOG.

A third highlight and maybe the best song on the album is Saturnalia. So – did you ever want Manson to be more goth again? Here you are. This song sounds like somebody asked Manson to make a song that’d play well on a goth night. And then some. It’s the most industrial, electronica, and processed song on the album, and all the better for it. If there’s a flaw at all to be found it’s that it doesn’t sound completely like Manson – it’s SO club-goth-band-you-can’t-remember-the-name-of. Still, it’s a great track, dense and atmospheric and interesting as it is danceable (and pleasingly long). I guess it can’t be more of a surprise and ‘this doesn’t sound like Manson’ than Mechanical Animals was at the time it came out.

In general, the album is really Tyler Bates’s success. It was clear from watching a recent interview with Zane Lowe that Manson knows how much he owes Tyler. This is the most carefully constructed, densest, layered album since Holy Wood. There is so much texture and it always seems like there’s new bits of sound to listen to each time you play it – something I’ve sorely missed. This album needs good speakers.

Manson is sporadically a weak link – sometimes he sounds almost as bad as he did on Born Villain, whereas other times he sounds great. And honestly, that’s probably when his voice is processed or doing something different, and not so great when it’s his raw unfiltered wail he’s been doing last couple albums that I’d rather he stopped. Thankfully that’s less of a problem this album than before.

The album isn’t perfect. A number of the choruses don’t live up to the strength of the verses, but then there’s a usually a good bridge to look forward to. Some of the songs – like Revelation 12, WKWYFL, and Say10, fall a little flat.

But it’s the most interestingly instrumentally since GAOG and arguably Holy Wood. The lyrics are better, and less repetitive. It’s got some great catchy moments. It’s got songs like Tattooed in Reverse and Saturnalia that make you realise Manson still can surprise you with direction. And it’s got a mixture of filthy and bordering on gorgeous guitar licks (such as on the EMDM/HEOL-but-better closer of Threats of Romance that only lacks for a better chorus).

In short, if you like Manson, get this album. It’s not a masterpiece but it pleasingly has surpassed my expectations, and it is one more step up for him since his fall.

Heaven Upside Down2

How Not to Kill Yourself Kickstarter launch!

Howdy.

In advance of the official Microcosm release of How Not to Kill Yourself: A Survival Guide for Imaginative Pessimists, it’s just been launched on Kickstarter, for anyone who wants to get preorders in and any of the other goodies that come with it.

Here’s the Kickstarter link. Have a looksee before time runs out (October 26th end date)!

HNTKY cover

The Self-Loathing Left and the Blame for the Alt-Right

I’ve flip flopped a lot on this whole idea in the wake of Brexit and Trump. At first it seemed all too easy to blame the left’s poor communication and reliance on identity politics. That “they” (all of them, apparently, if reactionaries are any judge) took too much time calling others who disagreed with them racist and privileged.  Maybe you’ve already seen the post-election Jonathan Pie video that went viral. But is there really enough evidence to say that this is a prime causal factor, and not just one dredged up by Captain Hindsight as a retroactive self-justifying attack tool of the right, and clasped to like a lifebelt by the drowning, self-loathing left?

What about the idea that these attitudes and people were always there, but that they were less galvanised to make themselves truly heard until now; the time has come when they can freely speak out, safe with their brethren at their backs, now that they have a platform with apparent political viability, and are too strong and numerous to be shut down. Or perhaps they were always shouting about it, but now we’ve given them the spotlight and chased away the shadows. Now they (once more) have figureheads in prominent political positions. They have emerged from the cracks in the world and are standing up. Events like the election of Trump, and the alt-right movements following or running in tandem elsewhere, are taken as a complete validation of their opinions, both those previously declared and those previously hidden deep down in obscurity.

And the left sits down and whines and licks itself and looks up with sad, protesting eyes and blames itself.

Do we really think that most of these small town people were – before the initial rise of Trump – really that up do date and widespread on Tumblr and Twitter and the various online frontline progressive echo chambers? Sure, the left called them racist a lot – and upset their precious, fragile pride at the very idea that they might *gasp* hold racist atttidues – but to take such umbrage surely meant that they already held the views they had, before they were called out on them. It was not that the these views did not exist, and were wormed into being by the faults of the left, but simply that they might have been exaggerated and galvanised under the toxic, populist breath of Trump and Brexit and so forth.

It’s like with the movie Borat. People will open up about the nastier things they think when they’re with someone they think agrees with them. Maybe that’s the unpleasant prime reason – that white nationalism and a desperate need for ‘Othering’ was there all along, fermenting just under the public eye (unless you were looking in the right places and didn’t have your head in the clouds/echo chambers). It just needed a spearhead, a public, visible sense of unity with the likeminded.

The Tumblrism and occasional much-derided liberal arts college campus culture isn’t all there is to the left, just like bigotry isn’t all there is to the right, but that’s how the media (on both sides) has framed it, as though it really plays a significant part. Sure, it helped to incite the alt-right counterculture – but I’d argue that counterculture was looking to be incited, and that giving them their fodder was just an unfortunate price of progress (not progress in all respects, but in the sense of sidelining the white male in order to support underprivileged minority groups – yes).

But while the alt-right helped Trump win, and he wouldn’t have existed as a candidate at all without them at the beginning – that didn’t mean he won the election from them. America is too vast and varied, and most voters I really doubt would have a clue about most of the things alt-righters meme about and circle jerk to in their own online safe spaces. An America where Trump succeeded entirely or almost entirely on the alt-reich vote is not one where Obama could ever have won two terms.

You want to know the biggest reason Trump won? Not his beginning, not his rise, but why he won? I wouldn’t say the left’s identity politics or its poor communication, I wouldn’t say safe spaces or “SJW agendas”, or any of that. I think if you wanted a single core cause, it could be summed up in one easy word.

Hillary.

(Bernie would have won!)

Enough said on that score, it’s been done to death and I’m sure I don’t need to go into it. Suffice to say, I’m certainly not “With Her”, nor ever was.

I agree that the left need better communication – but so does every side. The left is more varied than the right, and certainly far more at war with itself. The infighting is constant. But it’s still just a vast group of individuals after all (this might be hard for some to believe but the left isn’t a hive mind), and as individuals, as common, deeply flawed human beings, they are just as susceptible to easy insults online rather than calm debate, and to anger, trolling, arrogance, patronisation and frustration just as right-wingers are. They’re still just people; they don’t suddenly have a different fundamental way of acting and responding because they’re left-wing.

The left and right are, after all, both entirely reactionary. If people among the left try to debate and discuss pleasantly, rationally and logically (and even empathetically) online, and it does miraculously still happen, do you really think they will continue with that ad finitum when responded to with constant disparagement, verbal shutdowns, all the fallacies in the book, and the same buzzword insults used over and over (‘triggered’, ‘cuck’, ‘snowflake’, ‘libtard’, ‘typical tolerant leftie’, ‘liberal tears’, ‘safe space’ etc.)?  Sometimes it seems immediately responding with these aforementioned buzzwords are literally all that’s required of the alt-right when engaging in any capacity – even worse than the left’s reliance on words like “racist”.

Yes, it does indeed go both ways. Neither side should ever pretend a great deal of its supporters don’t shut down arguments and turn to insults as a first resort. Everything is reactionary. I have deep respect for those who continue to engage in as polite and reasoned discourse as they can, but can you truly blame those who fall to frustration and cynicism, and just plain give up on ever trying to take the high road?

The left wing has its hypocrisies of course – we all do – but in my opinion nothing compares to the alt-right. It annoys me that people expect the left wing to be weak, pacifist and to bow down under pressure, and yet when they are confrontational and fight suddenly it’s “ooh, see the so-called tolerance of the left! They’re the real thugs.” Non-violence only works because it is the velvet glove covering the iron fist.

Or people on the right will accuse the left of being the real racists (because of a fear-mongering and pride-sensitive concept of an anti-white agenda that is almost farcical if it wasn’t clung to by so many), or of being foul mouthed (witness the irony of all those comments attacking Madonna’s “degenerate” and “disgusting” speech at the Women’s March, whilst lauding the “straight-talking” of Trump).

The ultimate double standards come to communication. That the left wing actually accuses ITSELF, agreeing with the right, of not talking nicely and politely and limply enough, whilst giving the alt-right a free reign to be as horrible as they like, because hey, it’s the right, they don’t know any better right? They can be as nasty as they like to whoever they like (well, apart from good white Christian men of course), whereas it’s the left who has to bend the knee and not hurt the alt-right’s fragile snowflake super-easily-offended feelings (yep, there’s the final irony). Apparently a leftie showing some fight in them is more objectionable than a neo-nazi whose belief system is based on state violence and ethnic cleansing (“soft” or otherwise).

The most important quality for every member of every political persuasion is self-awareness. I feel members of every side supremely lack that. As I’ve already stated, everything is reactionary, and people need to recognise that more. Someone will take one particularly aggressive left/rightwinger and use that to then fuel their own future verbal assaults, because all left/rightwingers are the same, right? And because it’s easier to rise to anger and insults than to discuss and debate, it just creates a shitstorm that never, ever dies down. And when someone does offer an olive branch and try and debate rationally (which I do happen to see much more often on the left, but then again I am biased) it’s too late, the waters are already thoroughly muddied – all I see in reply to those honest posters are endless insults and ad hominems.

It’s fascinating (in a profoundly irritating way) to see the left painted as a weak target (both by its opponents and by itself). The right is so, so, SO easy to attack. Especially the alt-right. They fail on so many counts – science being one of them (the left has it’s science problems too, but not as many). And yet the right keep winning. That’s because the majority of people are naturally, innately drawn to right-wing concepts like the xenophobia of Othering, traditional values, deep faith and national identity/pride. The alt-right just exaggerates them all, and plays up to the idea of the wounded and victimised white man left behind.

It’s up to the left to pry people away from these tendencies, and that’s why they have the much harder fight. The alt-right could literally just sit there and trot out buzzwords and make a million offensive gaffes and piss off whoever they like, and lie and lie and lie more than any other, and act like total fools, absurdist caricatures, and they’d still have a good chance of winning, simply because they play on age-old fears and miseries and bitterness of a changing new world, simply because they tell people what they want to hear. Really, just about all you need to do is shout “BAH, IMMIGRATION!” and you’ll be applauded. The bar is set very low for right-wing populists.

Because they did win. They won because of establishment politicians like Hillary, who left them behind in the ensuing march of globalisation. They won because everybody confused the modern strain of liberal with the left wing, and they needed a real alternative. They won because the left was weak and divided, and because the siren calls of the right were attractive. A desire to be Great Again (when were they great exactly? Nobody seems to be pointing out exact time periods here).

They won. For now.

The real question for those lefties blaming themselves is: do we then open up leftleaning doors and deliberately give greater free reign and tolerance to attitudes that we were trying to stamp out or block, just so we get their vote? Which attitudes? A great many people want validation and acceptance of white pride and for Christianity to be free of persecution (i.e. keep privilege), for groups like BLM to be shut down, for the feminist movement to end, and for transexualism and other LGBT issues to be laughed out the room.  Others want state-sanctioned violence against minorities and protesters, and worse besides. And they want the freedom to discuss these things as viable alternatives-certain-to-become-mainstream-once-more. What lines are drawn? How much lenience do you give regression? How wide do you open the door to fascism? And that’s not even getting started on climate change denialism, which affects us all and is the single biggest issue of them all.

Space to debate is good, of course it is, but it is also surely naive if you don’t realise that confronting certain deeply held (perhaps crossing generations) issues and trying to get these people to acknowledge them as deeply problematic is to them the very same as being victimised and having their free speech infringed upon. Go on, try and debate a staunch white nationalist. See where it gets you. See where validating these attitudes in the name of fairness get you. I don’t know, maybe you’d like things to return to a 1930s Germany state of… expectation.

The biggest priority of a racist is that nobody should be allowed to call them racist. Apparently not honouring this will always be something the left has to answer for.

Certainly, the left (that cyclopean hive mind…) needs to do better at appealing to what people “do” like, rather than simply what is wrong with them. Not that that should be entirely left out the picture, but it should be tempered with “yes, I understand where you’re coming from, but [here’s something you like and is good for you]”.  Oh, and people on the left should strive to be more self-aware and careful before throwing out complicated, layered terms like ‘privilege’ (especially when white middle-class students do it), and to better explain accusations of racism.

That said, they’re all just individuals, barking at each other online.

It’s good to be self-critical, of course (it is after all a necessary effect and component of good self-awareness), but not if you only do that at the expense of combatting your opponents, especially when your opponents have zero interest in their own self-criticism. It’s simply become popular, both individually and in a wider narrative, to hate the left, because they’re perpetually seen as the victim (even when they’re winning), probably because they victimise themselves. They need to start standing up. They need to be careful that using certain words too much could trivialise them in the eyes of others, and they need to focus on pushing a stronger, more unifying narrative. They need to stop giving so much attention to its most farcical and sensationalist fringe elements and individuals. They need to start representing the people and stop relying on corporate establishment politicians to provide ugly echoes of what the left is really about. They need to offer hope.

And in particular, we need to settle down with this perverse pleasure in identifying the left as left’s worst enemy. We’re like some abused domestic partner with Stockholm syndrome at times – “oh, it must be my fault” – it’s no wonder we get identified as handwringers. Less pacifistic conciliation and infighting, more fighting the right (but in a more effective manner), for god’s sake!

Rise the Alt-Left!

 

P.S. As a finisher, here’s a quote from a friend-of-a-friend, lifted from a Facebook discussion that inspired this piece:

“What I do know is that our failure doesn’t come from our echo chambers or our sneering. If echo chambers and sneering were enough to lose a referendum/election, the right wouldn’t stand a chance. The difference between the left and the right is that the right seems able to create numerous smaller, independent echo chambers. The right manages to play the middle class, working class and unemployed off against each other. Meanwhile, the left seems obsessed with making sure everyone is on the same page, so you wind up with intersectionality, identity politics, third-wave feminism and so forth.

This also ties in with sneering. The right is able to create closed communities and conversations so that it can sneer at whatever person or group it wants to, create strawmen and bogeymen alike. This doesn’t work so well on the left. The reason the left is prone to squabbling and in-fighting is that our echo chambers aren’t soundproofed. If someone on the left starts acting like an idiot, we draw battle lines to attack or defend them. If someone on the right starts acting like an idiot, they elect him to the highest office in the land.

That’s not to say the left doesn’t have problems with self-righteous arseholes. But it just feels weird that we’re so quick to blame ourselves for a fascist demagogue getting into power when we weren’t the ones supporting him. We seem to want to twist the facts to paint ourselves as the problem. We don’t listen to the right? Must be our fault for sequestering ourselves away in our echo chambers. The right doesn’t listen to us? Must be our fault for coming across as sneering tossers. I’m just saying the reasoning seems a little suspect.

All that said, I will agree with you that key influential elements of the left have no interest in dialogue or debate. What you miss out, however, is that their lack of interest in debate is exactly why they’re influential. Left or right, people seem drawn to those who are loud, obnoxious and uncompromising. For some time now, I’ve felt that the most controversial thing you can say about an issue is that it’s complicated or multifaceted.

Speaking of things being more complicated than they appear, the rise of the alt-right and everything associated with it. Yeah, some of it was the left acting like pricks. But another, not insignificant part of it, was caused by the right being fearmongering cunts. Painting these politically correct, gay agenda-pushing, feminazi SJWs as a large, faceless, all-controlling, sinister force. Getting people to close their hearts and minds to anything that seems a bit too progressive; to lash out at anything too left wing.

And you might say that this reaction (along with people voting for Trump or Brexit) is understandable, given what divisive bastards the left have been acting like. But then couldn’t you say the way the left has been behaving is understandable, given the way the right has behaved? I’m sure I’ve spoken at length about the cyclical nature of political hostility before, so I guess I’ll cut this short by saying that paying dismissiveness unto dismissiveness is not the answer. Although, I guess it is understandable.”

 

2017-01-25-The-Free-Exchange-Of-Ideas

Ghostbusters: No room for fence-sitting

Ghostbusters. I’ve left off saying anything before now, because why add my voice to the cacophony? Besides, I genuinely didn’t care as much as other people seemed to, or pretended to, despite loving the original. The IMDB score has risen to a cruel 4.1 by now, and the RT score is a proud 76%. It’s the polar opposite of Batman v Superman. Who should you trust? Neither. They are both as biased as shit.
 
WIll I go see the film? Maybe not, or at least not for a while. It doesn’t much interest me; recent reboots, remakes and sequels of old franchises have a really bad track record, and there’s something that seems particularly shameless about this one. The practice of keeping the same exact name as the original has always been an obnoxious one, as though you could wallpaper over the original (and I don’t think it’s realised just how significant this was to people’s ire over this film). It also didn’t look like I’d find it that funny. I’m not big on Paul Feig’s movies, nor Melissa McCarthy. Meh.
 
Finally, and perhaps I’m wrong here, but what I read about its triumphs as a piece of feminist entertainment, was that its definition of feminism seemed to at least include point-scoring against men, which, while it doesn’t really annoy me, isn’t the same as being a stellar example of feminism. Ghostbusters can be perfectly decent entertainment, perhaps, but it’s hardly something to hold up in tearful pride.
 
It was unlikely to be a great movie – though possible. But also, crucially, and whatever the baying hordes said, it didn’t look abysmal. It seemed neither a great film (and I don’t have time for mere ‘good’ films), nor did it make my eyes and ears bleed and make me rage in foaming, apoplectic spittle, like it did many others.
 
It is sad that there is no room for moderate voices anymore in the world, no fence-sitting. Or, at least, moderate voices will be drowned out in screeches and screams. You have to love or hate something. What do you mean it’s just okay, or that you have reservations? LOVE IT OR HATE IT!
 
Of course there was sexism surrounding the film. There were many people who wouldn’t have hated it anywhere near as much (or maybe not at all) if not for the completely deliberate gender swap. Many, many people let whatever their criticisms of the film be riled up by other, louder voices, into this mass howl of dumb, impotent protest.
 
In return, the liberal media did what they always do: focused on the most hateful, sensationalised it even more, and painted everyone who had the mildest criticism of the film with the same insulting brush.
 
This, in turn, enraged its detractors all the more (and no doubt converted some of the almost-moderates) – and before you knew it, both sides were flinging mud, and all the countless moderate voices were drowned out. Even the more legitimate criticism like the possible racial stereotyping of Patty was buried, because it didn’t fit the narrative – you either love or hate the film! You’re on the right side or you’re PURE EVIL!
 
There was one very telling subheading to a professional review. “It’s very good. It had to be.” IT HAD TO BE. Of course it did. There was too much at stake. The media had thrown all its eggs in this basket that they were beating the public with, who were beating them back, that they couldn’t afford to say anything less than it was a triumph.
 
So whose ratings are less biased, the public or the critics? Well, as said, the critics were desperate to be right. But they at least watched the damn thing, before contemplating just how to spin it. Most of the ratings on IMDB (no doubt a string of 1s) came before it was even released, by people who believed it essential to make their point known.
 
When something is this contentious – a contention forcibly and unnaturally escalated by both sides – you really can’t get a good measure of something’s worth. It’s the goddamn EU referendum of films. Except in this it really shouldn’t matter that much if you do or don’t like the film, if your reasons are decent.
 
In short, just stop shouting and please try and be fair.

The EU referendum shows our true colours

Well, well done Britain. So, so proud, just like always… Can’t wait to go back to the truly Great empire days of grand exploitation, war and slavery. Yes, Happy Independence Day indeed against the evil invading aliens…
 
No… I can’t just leave it at sarcasm. I know not everyone who votes Leave are ‘bad eggs’. But I have followed, painfully, so, so many comments on the internet from many different places. And it’s clear that the xenophobic, backwards looking, nationalistic and yes, bigoted, average Joe, pushed by the frothing media, has truly come into the light, revealing modern Britain for what it is. This is very clearly a big victory for the right wing.
 
It’s not exactly the outcome that was so awful (although that’s a bad enough portend for what’s to come), it’s the opinions suddenly, widely on display more than ever before, and the validity this gives them. You know how people really speak their mind on controversial subjects when around people they know will agree with them? Well, the cat’s out the bag now.
 
We are not a progressive nation, we are not a progressive people and not interested in common unity or co-operation, let alone having a sane, rational media. We can hang out with our liberal circles of friends and read the Guardian and even crappier smugger liberal internet blogs, and we can laugh with the Mash and Newsthump at the silly and small-minded Little Englanders, and imagine that they are a dwindling minority and that we are winning.
 
But they are huge. They are powerful. They have risen up from the streets and made their voice heard. The voice is deafening. Britain does not want to help others. Britain is not interested in empathy, in liberalism, in shared values, and certainly not in holding hands. Britain wants to take. Britain is proud of its bloody history. Britain wants the world to bow at its feet once more.
 
The Remain supporters (has there been an official campaign? I must have blinked and missed it) have been rather snobbish and patronising and often deliberately insulting – of course we have, we’re only human – but the Leave campaign has been atrocious. Full of lies, fascism and outright racism. The thing is, is it hasn’t mattered, no matter how much they’ve been called on it. What does that tell you? That, for many people, not all but a great and highly visible many, it’s been a matter beyond the ‘experts’, beyond anything to do with financial matters, beyond a matter of verifiable truths and falsehood. It’s been an emotional argument, built on rhetoric, built on nationalism, nostalgia, and prejudice. And, above all, ignorance.
 
I would like you to collectively slap our entire nation across the face.
 
I am not painting all Leave voters with the same brush. I’m sure there are many who measured the arguments and believed Leave was right economically and politically. But you’d be fooling yourselves if you didn’t believe, if indeed you were paying a lot of attention to the campaigns, and looking at that map dominated by blue, what has happened, and how it happened here, wasn’t an ugly and embarassing portrait of the British public and its media, and a signal that the clouds have gathered and the rain is coming.
 
So let us all don our red jackets, sing ‘Rule Britannia’, and welcome back the return of the Golden Age. It’s going to be particularly cold and hard.
Indian Massacre

Set’s Guide to the British Seasons

Winter: Winter is for masochists. The snow looks nice, assuming you ever get any, but it lasts for 2 days before it’s cold muddy slush, which doesn’t stop people from putting it down your neck. Everything is grim, the trees are all skeletons, and it goes dark about a minute after you get up. Most of the time it’s just rain, wind and freezing cold. Unless you want extortionate heating bills your home may as well be an igloo.

Spring: Spring is an awkward middle child, it doesn’t know if it wants to be winter or summer, so it tries to be both, which of course fails. Generally expect lots of clouds, rain, cold and wind, together with the kind of weather I call ‘nothing’. Once every few weeks you might think you see a flash of what might be the sun, but don’t be fooled – it’s just a trick.

Summer: The favourite among most, especially the young, active and annoying. Summer might be alright (assuming you don’t have to work, and you have a group of friends you want to go outside and do things with every single day, and they with you), if it wasn’t for the inexcusable fact that it continues to be present at nighttime when you’re trying to sleep. The nights are actually hotter than the days, what’s all that about?

Summer is like that friend who you only meet on nights out, and is “fun”, but at a certain point enough is enough, you’re tired and you certainly don’t want them to come home with you and keep you up all night.

Summer never knows when to arrive or when to leave. If you’re lucky you’ll get up to two weeks of dry, baking heat and sleepless nights before summer sacks the whole thing off early and delivers you into –

Autumn: Autumn desperately wants to be winter so much it’s embarassing. It’s always trying to impress winter, but it just doesn’t quite have the sociopathic chops to pull it off. Expect lots of try-hard attempts, chiefly lots of rain and cold, and omnipresent wind that will blow you into the road to be hit by a bus given half the chance.

Essentially, there is no such thing as a good season, at least not in Britain. The worst thing about them is that each of them is supposed to last for 3 months. The best thing about each of them is looking forward to the next one. If it was up to me each one would be a week long, so they didn’t outstay their welcome.

Actually, I don’t think I could handle a week of sleepless summer nights, so let’s put the four seasons over a week. Winter gets Monday and Tuesday, giving just enough time for the snow to melt before spring, which has Wednesday and Thursday. Summer gets Friday and Saturday, of course. Autumn only gets Sunday because it doesn’t deserve any more. It’s needed simply so you can have a decent night’s sleep before the awfulness of Monday.

 

people-walking-in-rain

The Hallucinogenic Power of Words

I have a very visual approach to writing. No, not just a visual, a sensory approach to writing. Something, or more likely many, many things, appear in my head, and I must capture them. I am always trying to not just paint a picture, but to paint sound, movement, and atmosphere.

This, to my eternal frustration, is impossible. A picture paints a thousand words, but a thousand words do not make a picture. No matter how much I – or any other in my place – try, I will not be able to accurately communicate what I see in my head.

This could be well seen as a criticism against my writing, perhaps even a fault of my character as a writer. Not that I fail in this regard (for it is impossible), but that I am so focused on trying. I am, perhaps, more interested in these efforts at communication, than I am in the stories themselves. My approach is often cinematic in intent, and when I’m trying to illustrate sounds, sights, movements and cinematic atmosphere in words I feel like I’m trying to draw blood from a collapsed vein.

Not that writing doesn’t have atmosphere of its own. The atmosphere of the cinema is the sensory atmosphere, while the atmosphere of the book is a cerebral atmosphere, crafted, received and understood in an entirely different way.

You may ask, if I am trying so hard to replicate a movie, why I do not go into making movies, or if I am so interested in painting a particular picture, why I am not a painter. Partly because I (think I) know how to write, and am better at it than I am at anything else. I do not know how to make movies, or paint pictures – and both these talents require quite a lot more expenditure and set-up than just putting pen to paper/fingers to keys. Another reason is that I have simply more interest in writing than these other fields; I can imagine myself as a writer, but not really as the others, nor am I much inclined to try.

There is one more reason, a reason why, if I was to turn to these fields and, against all odds, excel at them, why I would still be in eternal frustration. The pictures, sounds, feelings, atmospheres, textures and all other ideas in my head are transient, flickering and completely elusive; they last less than a second. They are never concrete, not in the slightest, but merely vague concepts and shadows. I’ll understand them, sometime a little, sometimes completely – but I could never define them, I could never capture them, not to canvas nor film. Apart from anything else, there is simply not enough time – like trying to catch the fastest and smartest of butterflies in a broken net.

These are not the only reasons. For all us authors’ failures to replicate the magic, pathos, dynamics, drama, and sensory thrill of movies, our writing has its own strengths that movies cannot replicate.

Movies are the kings of crafting experiences born of the senses, of the outside world, but they are slaves to these things. For what about the inner world? Bar using narration – likely stolen from the book-before-the-film – what can a film tell us of what’s going on inside someone’s heads, of their actionless intentions, their dreams, their thoughts? How are these characters perceiving the world, perceiving conversations, perceiving the people they interact with?

It is this where the written word reigns king. Novels are the inside world. They are the behind-the-scenes of the movies (or, conversely, movies are the eyes and ears of novels). And it is this, this inner voice that has its way with everything, with every spoken word, every person, every animal, every rock, tree, blade of glass, every knife and drop of blood – it is this that I can control, that I can send out like a dog to war.

A movie can show you what a tree looks like, but it can never tell you how to perceive it. It cannot tell you that this tree looks like a cluster of crooked fingers, stabbing the sky. That the tree looks angry, and broken, old not in time but in weariness. That the tree is sick, not by disease but by bitterness. It cannot tell you that the few green leaves of the coming spring are its last plaintive calls of hope.

This is where I come to the title of this essay/speech/post/observation/whatever.  For, you see, cinema has always failed at attempting to replicate the experience of hallucinogenics. It will, perhaps, show you a new, absurd land, of melting walls, snakes in the carpet, talking lizards, giant purple mushrooms, pink elephants, cavorting spirals and dodecahedrons, and everything quite madcap, like a fairytale, a fantastical nightmare, or a Dali painting.  Out of all these, perhaps only the melting and the abstract geometry (fractals is the key word) have much of a truth to them. You can watch as many things attempting to describe the hallucinogenic experience to you, and you will never understand, because the key component, your brain, has stayed the same.

For, as I have said, movies show you things. They deliver their goods unto your eyes and ears, and they can give these goods in whatever package they desire. But they cannot give you anything direct to your brain; your brain will remain entirely yours, always rational (assuming you are already rational), and never screwed with.

Hallucinogenics, on the other hand, leave your eyes and ears alone. You will still see the same lamp, the same desk, the same ceiling and walls, and the very same people around you. Your eyes and ears are fine; they do the job as they have always done, and they give their reports to the brain, and then they get the fuck out of there, washing their hands and saying ‘what happens next is none of my business’.

Yes, your senses are still working perfectly, and that lamp will never change to a demon, that ceiling will never drip tentacles, and that desk will never start talking to you.

However.

What is happening is inside you. Your perspective is what changes. The changing perspectives of the mind is something movies cannot meddle with; it is quite impossible, no matter what tricks they have up their sleeve to make you think they are succeeding.

But words! All those abstract passages, sentences, and mere standalone metaphors and similies that you have no doubt read many of, to greater or lesser degrees, in your life – they are all illustrations of perspective. That tree is not really a hand; you are, of course, still seeing a tree, but doesn’t it make you think . . . perhaps enough to be completely convinced . . .

The brain can be very convincing at these times. Not just with drug-induced hallucinations, but in ‘ordinary’ hallucinations, in the fleeting phantasms of the night, of the corners of our eyes, of those quick, frightening things that scurry in and out of this world just long enough for us to hear something and imagine something else.

Writing can tell you what’s going on in the inside, but not the outside. And so while it cannot show you the real colour of the leaves, or the real sound of the cough right behind you, right now, it can tell you, as best it can, better than anything really can, what’s going on in your head, in my head, and in the heads of my characters.

And that is why I write.

 

fractals