Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth

The introduction to the neo-decadent anthology, DROWNING IN BEAUTY, by Daniel Corrick gives some idea of what is meant by neo-decadence, and why I read it beforehand, to find out what that might be, though he does obfuscate meaning by too much dealing in metaphor. ‘Decadence is art about the idea of art,’ he makes clear however, and ‘ecstasy in extremes, art about art and the artist, hidden beauty; these are the defining features of Decadence. Contemporary art and fashion scenes present an inexhaustible supply of eccentric personalities and scenarios.’ He means him. ‘Fandom and counter culture are havens of the aesthetic extreme. Decadence is a mode of consciousness,’ as all writing, of necessity, is though he does go on to specify, none too specifically, ‘dying, decaying, growing and mutating as its objects do,’ those of a decadent consciousness that is. ‘Neo-Decadence will look forward to where life in the 21st century is moving.’

Brendan Connell’s manifesto adds that the writing should be artificial and shallow, without contrived emotions. ‘Then maybe something will be realised.’ What? I’ve pencilled in the margin.

‘Writing can be neither sincere nor authentic,’ Justin Isis concurs with artificial and shallow in his manifesto. Oscar Wilde was content with one; neo-decadence has advanced to two.

The first story, MOLTEN RAGE, by Brendan Connell is a good story competently told in an arc from a character’s being not very high to as low as he could go, short of death. I scored out ‘like sewage’ as otiose if ‘his writing had a mephitic tang to it’. I liked the artful casualness of ‘as the latter was throttled, kicked and finally stabbed’, especially the ‘and finally stabbed.’ I felt I’d read the story before and might have located where sooner if I’d read the publisher’s page. It interested me to compare comments. I corrected the American spelling of ‘dived’ in both but this book doesn’t indicate where it’s published, so not a British book for British people, unlike the first, published by Chômu, a British publisher you might expect consistency of spelling from. In the first book, above ‘philosophy of violence’ I wrote ‘Sorel’ and corrected the horrible Americanism of ‘off of’ to ‘from’. I was more affected by the ‘throttled, kicked and finally stabbed’ at the first reading – a ‘contrived emotion’? – but more appreciative of it as art this time around, when I also remarked as unlikely that the ‘crucifix suspended above the chancel contained a nail from Christ’s cross’. The narrator’s use of see-me language does not detract from the story telling and does emphasise the artificiality of the writing in conformity with the author’s manifesto.

The third leg of the tripod on which the prophetic arse of neo-decadence is seated is Justin Isis. The inconsistent spelling of ‘coloured’ I put down to sloppy editing. THE QUEST FOR NAIL ART is a study of a shallow disagreeable character. The writer’s control is complete; not a word is wasted, none see-me. This is art. His varnish reveals no crack to give the appearance of life beneath, an illusion which also would be art. I’m not sure his conclusion quite nails it. I looked up ‘decal’, an abbreviation of a longer word, basically a transfer.

In A MANSION OF SAPPHIRE the character’s feminine name was at odds with a male sensibility to begin with but the soft-edged style righted that while inappropriate to the intensity that goes with obsessiveness I’d’ve thought. I wasn’t sure whether the concluding sentence of Damian Murphy’s story was good or bad: ‘All that remained was the ardour of her aspiration, flaring like a dying match head,’ asking to be blown out if you ask me. It does imply imminent death, but, if only to sustain the flame, wouldn’t she drag herself off after that last sentence, however reluctantly, to the fridge?

Yarrow Paisley’s ARNOLD OF OUR TIME is more like the thing. He wouldn’t mean a Matthew or Malcolm. Most likely a Benedict, with the section heading of Arnold Addresses Congress. In fact he means any old Arnold and proceeds to juggle his balls, linguistically and metaphorically - the metaphors having literal effect - until they drop with a light conclusive thump at the end of his performance. ‘Dispirited, Arnold donned his shirt, mismatching the buttons with their corresponding holes’ is a nice touch. Good.

You don’t... well, I don’t expect to see ‘o u r’ followed by an ‘o u s’ in good writing, as Ursula Pflug’s FIRES HALFWAY is but there it was instead of ‘glamorous’. I blame the editor.

I questioned a book’s pages would crumble in a night and a draught blow it away in Colin Insole’s THE MEDDLERS but it was salient aspect of things found where they were found by a character destroying that place and its social efficacy.

I thought the main character of DP Watt’s good story, JACK, would become a jack, of the cards he was playing, and in a way he does.

In Avalon Brantley’s GREAT SEIZERS’ GHOSTS it was unlikely a dying king would have such command of language, the writer thus meeting the required inauthenticity of the neo-decadent credo.

Really? I questioned Daniel Corrick’s character’s saying in CHAMELEON IS TO PEACOCK AS SALAMANDER IS TO PHOENIX ‘it was a private matter one didn’t talk about, like masturbation.’ I have a friend who enquires how many times a week I do it and encourages me to keep my hand in more often, for the sake of my health. Dan gave me this book on my birthday and his story was surprisingly good until I was reading Quentin’s AMEN, which is brilliant if of dimmer lustre at the end, I think because based on an unbelievable mythology not made believable. Still, very good, Borgesian and best. I might look up ‘abertive’ in the Oxford to see if it exists. He means ‘aberrant’. ‘Acedia’ is sloth. The listless character’s asking how he can write his best without pride could apply to the writer himself or the justification of any writer of a self-importance that is seeking endorsement. Maybe I’m myself too decadent to be able to distinguish but all the stories seemed normal.

On reading James Champagne’s XYSCHATON I paid little heed to the title and not much to the headings, Topology, I took to mean study of place, and none at all to their enumeration. It opens with a quotation that you’d have to be of a particular temperament to find apposite, ‘the unbearable death of youth’. The writer might’ve been doing something complex and interesting, melding one conscious entity, possibly alien, with a more recessive other, maybe human, ignorant of what was being done to it. It couldn’t be an unconscious directing consciousness, the wrong way round for that, unless from the point of view of the unconscious, hardly likely since the writer uses the word, ‘subconscious’, meaning below but also under (the control of) consciousness, and it’d be ludicrous to believe the receptive entity was in control of Z. I stopped short on ‘Z have’. Surely that should be ‘Z has’. It was a grammatical mistake that looked deliberate somehow ...because who’d make it? A small child might, referring to himself as a third person while maintaining the first person conjugation, but the consciousness of Z as monitored by the writer didn’t have a childish tone to it. It was a solecism too far. The writer presumes to be sure that some of us are curious why he’s been replacing the word ‘I’ with the letter ‘Z’. ‘Is that it?’ I wrote in the margin and abandoned expectation on this simplism the writer thought clever. If I said that my exclusion from this book in no way whatsoever impairs the objectivity of my criticism of it, you might smile and deduce it does, so you know exactly what I thought on reading ‘Perhaps you’re under the impression that Z am simply being twee or that Z have employed this strategy to make this story more difficult to read/understand. But Z can assure you that it is no mere postmodern pretension.’ What, behind his mask, are the writer’s pretensions? It’s not to pornography. I did feel the merest twinge in that direction but have had a more sustained one after writing up my diary for the day. He’s deliberately eschewing pornography.

Z needed to build a time machine if he wanted to fuck himself when a boy. Easier said than done, as he himself remarks, and one would think impossible to do. You’d think he’d know if he succeeded and that no such intimation he was fucked is given leads one to believe he failed. He sits inside a box with ‘time machine’ printed on it and ...succeeds. How? By thinking? This is a character who describes a boy as ‘blonde’. If he can’t get that right.... He has no unconscious whatsoever and thus no spirit to effect anything. It’s like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic and the ship not sinking. He does smoke a pipe. It’s fair to assume he’s having some sort of hallucination which might explain why he goes, psychologically implausibly otherwise, from conscious narcissism to promiscuity and dying, from an overdose. It does not explain how, in that event, his story comes to be told.

At Topology 21 my eye took in it was composed of symbols that made no sense and passed on, glancing back to check it was meaningless before proceeding further. That was a waste of space but I’d read something like it before that wasted space. I turned back to the Isis manifesto and drew a blank, literally. I did read the manifesto again and may again have wondered what was meant by its NO SUSTAINABILITY but what I saw was a blank page, a visualisation that the story I went back to reading wasn’t correlating to the manifesto. The meaninglessness of Topology 21 makes more sense if you read the topologies in numerical order but why should you? That’s not how they’re presented. Z doesn’t fuck himself after all. He makes do. He dies thinking to make love to a boy is to drown in beauty – for fuck’s sake, I wrote – as I suppose it would be, for the sake of a puerile fuck. Has he seen boys? In the main they’re not beautiful. By and large they’re plain, if not excessively so. Besides, if he’s drowning in a sea of boys the ones below should’ve suffocated to death already. The dream of a self-induced coma does not have to be consistent but it would have to be unconscious in the first instance and realised by consciousness, and there’s no intimation that that’s the case. It’s an implausibly conscious fantasy merely. The words ‘frivolous’ and ‘trivial’ came to mind, shortly followed by ‘doodle’, to describe this story considered so good it’s culminatory and gives the title to the whole book but ‘doodle’ implies some sort of unconscious organisation. ‘Drivel’ also came to mind but that’d be insulting. I settled for ‘meretricious twaddle’ to account for its appeal to the magpie eye of the editor who’d think it glinted with value. ‘Twaddle’’s also insulting. I should think of something more substantiating like it doesn’t really hold together and I don’t just mean because he’s shuffled the topologies, presumably to give some idea of disparate spaces at disparate times while continuous read numerically and also to make the story important. None of the others so much as refer to the unconscious and one doesn’t know how deep their individual consciousnesses go. If neo-decadent, not far.

The story ends with another quotation, ‘Someone who is attracted to small boys is simply attempting to travel back in time and re-experience his own past pleasure,’ a specious justification for paedophilia. Oscar Wilde said one must not equate an artist with his subject matter and in any case there’s nothing to suggest the writer is emotionally involved with his subject. I have to say on writing this and having to find out how the time travel was effected by reading some topologies in numbered sequence, I do have a greater appreciation of the story. I’ve also spent more time on it, as anticipated.

I must not neglect to say something about Colby Smith’s SOMNI DRACONIS I made no marginal hooks to hang anything on.

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