Sunday, July 7, 2013

Radical Form vs. Radical Content

It has been quiet here for a very long time, at least in part because I now have a Tumblr account and, with it, another, much more active blog. But by the same token, given the way that Tumblr is set up, I had long intended to keep longer musings confined to this blog, however frequently or infrequently that I might have them.

One slipped out, though. So I decided that I would link it here, just to keep some symmetry. It is, simply, an impromptu response to a terribly interesting article about an "anti-capitalist" art show that fell a bit short of the mark. It is, as per usual, less about the article itself (with which I agree) than about something that certain individuals might take from it. Perhaps I am jumping the gun with my assumptions, but better to talk too much than fail to speak when it is important.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sound and Silence

There is something fundamentally alien about total silence. Not relative silence, but total silence. For most people, the world is not a quiet place: We are surrounded at all sides by great and shifting tapestries of individual sounds that blend into one another with deceptive density. Electric and organic sounds, the sounds of machines and people in motion in ways big and little, from the roar of engines to the soft flutter of breathing. Yet even deprived of these, the natural world is far from silent. Everything makes noise.

Recently, I had a conversation with my mother about the hypothetical loss of a physical faculty—an idea that had come up as an exercise in a creative writing class that she had taken many years before. "What would you sacrifice? What couldn't you sacrifice?" In the end, we both agreed that while many fates would be unpleasant, deafness would be the most alienating. Where the loss of sight might deprive us of the image of the outside world, deafness deprives the world of depth and distance. A sudden hand on one's shoulder is far more frightening if one cannot hear it coming, for instance. Worse yet, to be unable to hear one's own breath, one's own heartbeat. To be alienated from sound is, above all, to be alienated from the body.

So comes the question of silence. Sound is the motion of objects in space creating vibration within a medium which our ears transform into sensory data. For something to be silent, it must either be motionless or move in such a way as to cause little to no vibration in the medium through which it moves. The feathers in owls' wings are optimised to cause as little friction as possible within the air while still maintaining lift, allowing them to soar and swoop down silently when hunting their prey.

We are trained to expect that, for the most part, only that which is motionless is silent—that is, that which is dead, or that which was never alive to begin with (at least not in the way that would imply motion). What does move without sound is therefore strange and often threatening, if not for this immediate reason than because of the question that follows it: Why is it silent despite being a thing that moves? The answer, of course, is rarely comforting.

Silence is also important for a very different reason: It creates negative space wherein any other sound that occurs, quiet or loud, is automatically emphasised. This effect is most obvious in media with a strong or predominant auditory element: Music especially, but also film and theatre. Yet the principle may also be applied to other disciplines through the aforementioned concept of negative space. The elements of a painting may determined just as much as by what is not shown as what is, both for what as seen as emphasised by the open spaces and what is implied by those absences. This follows through into prose and poetry, wherein what is and is not described in a scene or stanza sometimes assumes equal importance to the actual content presented. What we know is only half of the truth; the other is what we know that we do not know.

As someone with a passion for the music, film and literature of dread, I could easily digress on the use of absence as a horror motif, particularly with respect to the notion of "the weird"—that is, the element of the inexplicable as a driving force in a fear-based narrative. And indeed, I have something planned discussing that very topic. But ultimately, I think that it would be unfair to single out only that one emotion here, however powerful it may be.

Indeed, the open question posed by silence may, depending on the circumstances, invoke any number of complex and contradictory emotional responses, from laughter and joy to grief and shock. Where the sudden pause before a theme in a grand composition might indicate a devastating blow, it might just as well indicate a declaration of love or an unexpected triumph. Silence is as much a tool for one side of the scale as the other.

But in the end, the purity of absolute silence is a less malleable force, subject less to manipulation than to deference. It is an enigma, an open and empty expanse wherein no shapes can be discerned, no distances charted and no limit determined. It is endless because its end is unknowable. All that stands to us is to say what this means.

Friday, October 12, 2012

"Novel" Excerpt #1

Context-free sampling at its best, folks. For some reason, I felt that I should throw this on up here. It's a fragment from something that I've been working on for quite a while now, yet seem to actually work on quite rarely—something that I seek to rectify.

Like the last post: New, first draft, unprompted, unedited, unseen before by human eyes that aren't my own. Also, brief. Unlike the last post: Part of an overarching narrative, based on an existing idea, third person, past tense.

He could remember every detail of the room, but what most struck him was the scent. Not the dark, greasy smears that adorned the walls and ceiling in every sort of splatter, nor the forms crumpled and splayed about on the floor like broken dolls, but that one sensation as he first passed the threshold into that small house would not leave him.

Aseptic, yet not alcoholic in nature. Soft, somewhat sweet and somewhat bitter, tinged with dried fungus and rusted iron. Blood, stone, lichen, fallow earth, death without rot, like a frozen body grown warm and moving without breath or beating heart. No spoiled smell of decay or ripened wounds. A lifeless, hollow scent.

It filled the house. It coiled in the room, in the walls, in the furniture, in the bodies like twisted puppets on the floor.

After standing for a while in the second doorway, he had attempted not to faint. He failed.

All feedback is appreciated. Thank you and have a pleasant whatever.

P.S. If you're wondering why "novel" is in quotes in the title, my best answer is this: I'm not sure whether this will be a novel or something different from that. Only time will tell. In the meantime, it's prose, it's a narrative, it's long; ergo, it's a novel, and that's that.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Improvised Vignettes #1

I was bored, so I wrote this just now. It's about trying to watch Andy Warhol's Empire on a broken television set.

A shifting haze of thousands of little black and white grains of light turns in a secret wind, and in it my eyes attempt to trace a shape. What could I be seeing in and amongst the empty movements? A tower, I think, or a monolith. It is a vast, tall thing, defined against the other static by a certain heavier greyness, more black specks closer together.
Gradually colour seeps into the ruined image, and I see tiny windows. I imagine the rooms beyond the windows, not silent as the image is but filled with furtive movements, days of labour passing in quick succession. I am watching years in seconds, or seconds in years. Time is not the same within as it is without. There is no perspective to the mind.
I turn off the television and go to bed. Several hours later, I awaken and return to my position.
Same view. There it is night.
Perhaps I was mistaken.

So there you are.

P.S. Formatting is an evil art...

Monday, May 28, 2012

On Ignorance

There are times, I find, when people try so desperately to be politically correct as to actually become offensive to the individuals who they are trying to support.

This is one of those times. [Note: The blog "The Queer Dance Party" no longer seems to exist. How curious.]

Perhaps I should start with saying that as an etymology buff, this post insults me for completely different reasons than it might most others. I consider the derivation and use of words to be very serious business indeed, and when someone misuses a word with no regard for its roots or societal context, I become uncontrollably agitated. Can I forgive someone for this? Of course. Ignorance is curable. But this takes things a step or two farther than usual, as I will get to in a moment, so I feel no qualms in being a bit retentive here.

First, to the words.

"Person" is derived from the Latin word persona, literally meaning "mask" and figuratively, "visage" or "theatrical role." The earliest uses of the former word reflect these sense, being, respectively, a role that one takes and an individual in that role, both dated to the early 1200s. There are no indications of gender in the English term, though the original word (and its use in English as "persona") are both distinctly feminine.

It is with "woman" that things become more complicated. The original use of "man" in English describes, simply, a human being; gender specifiers for male and female could be found in wer and wif respectively, each of which was used as their own word. While the latter word survived well into the modern period as "wife" and the prefix to "woman," the former all but completely vanished (save for in the word "werewolf"), with man living on to serve as both the general gender-neutral expresser of humanity and as the word for the male individual. Why? Basically, sexism: Most of the people assumed to be important in the mediaeval world were men, meaning that the default assumption was that the "man" you referred to was, well, a wer. Bad? Yes. But that has no bearing on the word "man" itself. Nonetheless, this is one of the reasons why we like to use "person" in most formal contexts. So it goes.

Now, by all accounts, the issues inherent in intentionally misspelling "person" are far greater than in doing so with "woman." The historical context behind the latter, while perhaps not justifying the change, at least makes it understandable; the former does not have this problem, and so one can only attribute such justifications to pure ignorance.

Which is where the ableism thing comes in.

This is where my consternation goes from "nitpicky" to "genuinely offended."

Beyond the obvious fact that such a statement basically gives an out to any person with consistently poor spelling and grammar with no interest in improving themselves by allowing them to call their critics "ableist," it is also deeply insulting to those that actually have dyslexia not only by patronising them, but by actually making it harder for them to read your article in the first place. By replacing the letters in a common word in order to "rail against patriarchy"—and friend, there are better ways to use language in this fight—you have taken away yet another landmark that would allow a severely dyslexic individual to (with a certain degree of effort) read what you were trying to say. Not only have you insulted the intelligence and will of the people you intend to empower, but have, in your own way, hindered them just that little bit more.

Perhaps I should chalk this up to not thinking through the implications of what you were doing, dear article writer, but does that really assuage of guilt?

P.S. I am aware that Tumblr is considered a bastion of this kind of wildly misguided social justice tomfoolery, but this struck me as both typical and unusually clueless, so I felt the need to comment. Note that I take no issue with social justice initiatives; to the contrary, some would consider me radically left-wing. Rather, I take issue with the implicit accusatory tone taken with so many given the Internet Soapbox and the ignorance with which they wield that power. So I write.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Awful New Things To Come

If all goes well/ill, those of you who are now reading this—or, more specifically, those of you now reading who intend to watch this space—shall quite soon be subjected to a barrage of inane, uninformed opinions. Some of them will be mine.

I get my laughs where I will. Patience is a virtue. In any case, I can still do my best to guarantee disappointment.

Monday, April 12, 2010


As of yet I have nothing remotely significant or intriguing to say. I suppose there are a few marginally interesting things, mostly music-related, but those can come later, along with all the other borderline-meaningless things I shall blather on about on a fairly (ir)regular basis. Whatever the case, it's best to expect nothing. In fact, I implore you: please expect nothing. That way, I can emulate COUM Transmissions and outright guarantee disappointment....

"I've found something
That no-one else is looking for,
I've found something
That there is no use for,
And what's more,
I'm keeping it to myself."