Thursday, 24 February 2011

Rising with the Wirelessness

On Skype
You have folded your arms
And are looking at me with books for eyes,
As if waiting for a gift.

I have nothing in the way of treasure, surprise, heat or strength.

If a new season begins its press
(The slitted blinds, enemies, plated heat,
The brush of Firefox light in my bed),

And we think about giving it a go,
There would surely be a deep end.
Or an imperceptible chaos of lips, from which
I ought to be afraid
I might not have the body to make a return journey.

The mind becomes drowned in returnity.
You must be Autumn,
Since my first two turns on the claw crane
Were analogous to Spring and Summer;
The word, ghost, loses its clean reputation so fast.
Vowels of pink oxygen are holding us by the tongue,
Letting bedtime stories into our ears like cotton.
I want you to tell me things.
I want to own you,
I want an eating.

What I need is forgetfulness - to repress into the future
A footprint.
In my sleep, footstep-crime goes unpunished.
When my head falls away from camera,
You ask what is happening.
I speak up,
Rising with the wirelessness, angel-hoarse:
We were asleep.
But now our heads are heavy with gold and concrete.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The King's Speech

* * * * *

(Dir. Tom Hooper, 2010)

Somehow, the author and journalist Christopher Hitchens has found time to squeeze into his shrunken daily grind, and into the circularism of the movie reviewing business, an unexpected piece. Amid the fervour in the States (Americans just love regal, British numbers), and on contrarian service, Hitchens hones in on the various untruths in The King's Speech, particularly the transmogrifications of Hitler's pal, Edward VIII, and Winston Churchill - whose depiction comes closer to the Car Insurance, nodding-dog namesake, than the Prime Minister hero.

The role of Churchill is attempted by the normally effective, normally less significantly casted, Timothy Spall - recognisable as assistant to both Sweeney Todd and Lord Voldemort. In Orwellian ink, the tone of the article is hardly surprising. Problematic as facts are, however, The King's Speech is really nothing more (or less) than a showpiece of storymaking and storytelling. And Spall has barely a handful of script. Director Tom Hooper (Longford, The Damned United) might have broached this in his history-lesson endnote, but then what kind of auteur makes a confession moments before his name appears?

The based-on-a-true-story patter might inconvenience a biographer, and yet for those immersed in the drama, Hooper has furnished a humble and funny flickering of spectacle. His dialogue captures the ethical and historical wonder of a contemporary phenomenon: the nonsensing of guilt through revelation: psychoanalysis.

The best of this script is shared by a protagonist with a speech defect, the future George VI (Colin Firth), and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), although Helena Bonham Carter's affectionate turn as George's wife, the late Queen Mother, deserves mentioning. After failing to speak at a packed Wembley Stadium (a scene likely to fascinate any football fan with a sense of history), George is advised by Elizabeth to recruit Logue, an Australian who is secretly unqualified and has abandoned conventional hypnosis in the belief that talking is what works.

After establishing an informal routine (in the film, anyway, he calls the King by his private nickname: Bertie), Logue discovers that George's stutter is the souvenir of a nightmarish royal childhood, rather than something innate. The son without the charisma, George is bullied into an irrelevance that lasts until after he has fathered two children. Logue makes his first breakthrough by turning to something like Breuer's principle: 'a high degree of the restriction of the field of vision' (Studies on Hysteria). Having failed not to stutter, when reading anything previously handed to him, George is now headphoned with instrumental music, all presences are muted, and his task is to read the most famous lines in Hamlet: the soliloquy on self-preservation and self-execution. When he eventually hears the recording, it is a perfectly spoken Hamlet - "To be", but one who still has it all to do.

The promised, delayed action is what is so attractive about The King's Speech. A death, an abdication and a brief abandonement of Logue will have to happen before George even sits on the throne. A favourite frame of mine, when the pair fall out, is Colin Firth slowing his angry walk-away to light a cigarette in a single flash of flame. It is such a rare composed action that it fills the screen with breath and depth; the facial expression is legitimised as expression, as it stops frowning out a defence.

The war is imminent, and when brother, King Edward VIII, swiftly abdicates to continue banging his mistress overseas, the newly crowned George must prove himself, which means his voice, to England. It is not until the final preparations - for the speech that will prepare England for war - that the most important breakthrough is made. Alone with Logue and a gruesome archbishop, George's frustration pinnacles at Westminster Abbey. When his (speech) therapist asks, "Why would I waste my time listening to you?", and the King answers, crisply, "Because I have a voice!", the past has finally been addressed. Like a repaired, old vinyl, the language has had its scratches removed.

The end of the movie is the politicisation of talking cure, from the palace to the ordinary household, via the BBC World Service. The power of surveillance is dumbed and pointed elsewhere. Whatever the propaganda, George's courage seems a deliberate, superb antonym for totalitarianism. For a public that still had 'faith' in its monarchy, The King's Speech is historically principled in at least this respect. Anything modern-smooth about the cinematography - each cut is very beautifully leashed - does not detract from the fidgets and stutters, and deeper and deeper into the film, the credible shots of ceremony. Closure, meanwhile, is taken for granted. We know how this war ends and so its prologue, spoken here at the end, is already, proudly received. It is a performance, a speech, that exhales on behalf of the spectator, leaving the throat dry.

Tom Hooper's movie is the only royal event in 2011 worth tuning in for. Having dominated at the BAFTAs, the accomplices of The King's Speech will fancy their chances at the Oscars this month. I am still unsure as to what, if anything, Inception has to say about people. Neither Freud nor Lacan can be ventriloquised by me, but while their teachings are vulgarised in Christopher Nolan's first weak film, I am sure that The King's Speech and Black Swan would have more greatly impressed either pioneer as intriguing fictions and case studies. The Academy Award for Best Actor seems ineluctably headed for the speechmaker. The implied reality of a Hollywood fate remains as absurd as ever, and yet it is absolutely convincing in the case of Colin Firth - unlucky to miss out last February - that this is his time.


Apparently, really,
Your essays are immature,
Not in their writing,
But in their underexplored content

(Which is, surely, writing.)

There really is no exit from this little madness.

So it has to be enjoyed, 
Watered and relished,
As publicly as is possible,
As unshoutingly as has to happen.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

All The Visitors Had Gone Home


    In a small room on Ward C, a student began to excavate and staple together his storytelling. Beryl is the best thing I’ve ever written, he said. Ready for the post: for friends, professors and publishers. It was half past eight in the evening. All the visitors had gone home. To his judgement, they had arrived too early and left too late. He preferred isolation and a dead quiet. He confined the word ‘solidarity’ to the dictionary, and kept its synonyms vibrating in the thesaurus. He wasn’t lonely. In private, he knew how to fulfil all his wildest dreams. Food would pile up in his hands, masturbation on a plate. There would be no such thing as cliché. No matter who was first to see the final draft, he wanted it polished. He folded his work so scrupulously that any leftover creases echoed the faint musculature of a child.
    Sharing his eyes with those in the mirror, he could see that his fingertips were impatiently slow. He rolled up his sleeves and noticed an increase in the fierceness of veins up his forearm - a reward for his efforts in the work-out room earlier. He began at the paperwork. He guided it into an envelope as though he was arranging the first birthday card in the world. Immediately he cringed at the realisation: I want to apologise. He wanted to apologise for over-analogy and for braking hard at every full stop, the way each sentence tried to be an event. So he moved over to the wardrobe as if to inventory his clothes but he knew that there was another mirror in the bedroom, on the inside of the wardrobe door - a mirror where a family photograph or calendar might have hung instead. He opened the door and looked himself in the eye: I’m really, truly sorry. But this will have to do.

    Nobody could say he wasn’t a sincere person.

(From the sky, a million copies of the now uneditable, now public, manuscript snow lightly down. His hands and feet are cuffed. His legs, his superficial fibulae, snare in mid-air: he can not loosen the noose, go down and reread his work. The rope is a monstrosity offering a love-bite. There are spectators at the gallows, but the wind is dead. The wind in whom two people hold onto one another as one, the wind in whom two people argue as two, is dead. The twitch goes on, objectively. 'How the Howl Became a Fossil', they said he should have titled it. A children’s story. An earthly addition to Tartarus in every illustrated book of Greek mythology. Know thyself! But he wasn’t having any of it. Instead he suspended himself in a fantasy of punishment.)

The stapled storytelling now out of sight, he felt-tipped the same address on every envelope. He could have been an office clerk repeating the process of writing for a minimum wage, willing the passing of time. In the hospital everything is matter-of-course. There are beds, meals and books. There are old boxes of Top Trumps and Scrabble sets missing the rare tiles. The visitors would ask: How are you finding it here? They would say: Your room is homely, the staff are lovely. Rarely would he answer. And when he did, he would neither agree nor disagree.

    The following morning, the visitors happened to see whose address was handwritten on every envelope.

Why did you send it to yourself?

He would fidget, bow his brain and say:

I didn’t mean to.


    It’s Beryl, a name, a handwriting manufacturer. She is sitting opposite me. Her skin is an orange, plastic felt tip - a broad boringness. She picks her nose and I hold my gaze in the reflection as passengers make way for passengers at Doncaster. I carry on comforting myself through a jean pocket. Yesterday I slept for fourteen hours. Some kooky cunt of a song like ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ blares from her white headphones and I think I might foam up and yell FRAUD but it doesn’t happen today. She’s writing something down in blocks that look like stanzas. I imagine pointing her hand - as men do to women in the movies at constellations - at the ad below the luggage shelf which reads Blog Here: It Matters To Us What You Have To Say. I sneer and rub my palms into a mad sweat because on the table separating us Beryl has a Mac Book and a protective case for her iPhone, also by Apple. I continue to sneer and swell until I’m short of breath and conjunctives.

    "Unoriginal? Don’t you have anything more to say? I haven’t edited it yet, that’s your job.”
Further up the carriage, a writer and his critic bicker. The critic points at a pair of double-spaced lines: mirrors that transport ghosts. I study my-selves, winning at each reflection.

Wherever condensation is I need to finger B-E-R-Y-L at all costs.

The critic does a grin, mocks the writer. He holds an iPhone. He thumbs the iPhone to pause a heard song. Now he will turn away, look into my eyes and think: there cannot really be such a thing as pause. I am bored by this noise. And by the noisy thoughts of the passengers. As the train pushed on, I heard the writer say: I have no choice, I have to write about writing.

    The timing is perfect when a star, a spheroid of been-and-gone light, becomes, and Matt Berninger of The National has the courage to sing through my headphones: I'm frightened I'll overdo it. I stand up and look to the luggage shelf. I unzip my rucksack and unlatch a blade from a Stanley. This is how it is supposed to happen. I tell myself I'm in arms-reach so, straight-faced, I jab and slit Beryl's throat and I believe (but don't understand) what I've just done. A pensioner repeats "What the fuck is happening?".

I sneer, sated.
    I am a sneering satiate.
        I am a sun swallowing sunlight.

I do some slow breathing. My forearm is flecked with a vividly red metaphor, endowed with a tongue: Society is a wall of glass I can see through, punch through. This might have been spoken previously and the exhilaration is too much to bear. This is how I dreamt it would happen. The film director in my head is mouthing at me.

        Motherlessly: I accept the new word.
    Motherlessly: I accept its meaning.
Motherlessly: I do what he says and surrender.

Limbs and nails padlock my beautiful body:

    He lay like a marble statue staring down.

On the carpet where my neck is bent there are Whopper Meal wrappers and balls of Wrigleys, torn-off clothes and more. What I begin to see is the nude who in every passenger: they have not so much undressed as a planet of shopping malls and street vendors and Old Testament leaves has disintegrated

in a sentence that could only begin, Suddenly!, there are flat continents of skin, curves I forgot could be interesting, and without even details of the body I can feel the muck of intimacy. It might filter in, fill in, for the anonymous fuck and become a named thing - loving, loved, laughing, bed-lingering, bud-linking - once more:

    Would I might leave my body!

Someone upturns my bag and onto the table roll a Lucozade flask, a Guardian, a print out of my ticket, a bracelet of duck tape the size of a bony woman’s wrist, and a shiny Samsung with the most erasable phonebook in England. And when the bystander moves to Beryl’s side of the table and finds a purse in her handbag and opens it, and out of breath says, “When you get through to 999 tell them her name is Jo, tell them her name is Jo…” I sound a groan. Because from the floor I have to twist in my new personage if I'm going to look the hate of the train in the face when I let it into my secret, breathing easy as pie, I let it out thus: “No, her name is Beryl. B-E-R-Y-L.”


Speed is a means of defending oneself against dishonesty, especially in writing

about the clock. Or the beach. Or the train. Or the stars. They are so slow.

The evening is a certainty now. He stands at the window, looking out. The garden is an enclosure. He can see that there are other patients, standing at windows, looking out. The lights from the hospital bounce off his Nike wristwatch; the iconic tick, or ‘victory’ in higgledy piggledy Greek, is strange. Its look-alike symbol is the square root: a demented signpost issuing the last of the past of the self. Light continues to bounce, back and forth, bark and froth. In the garden the light finds a flower, if not an answer. The centrefold is yellow, closed-in-on by white petals. There is reason to ask: Is a description of the flower lovelier than an answer? Yeah any day. Slowly

the flower will wither and fail. After a while, the colours and smells will be replaced. The narcissus doesn’t know about this, of course. The centrefold is yellow, closed-in-on by white petals. Sometimes the patients too are enlightened. Always they are relocated or replaced, or both.