As Doth the Stubborn Turd

I hope you will believe me when I say that I am not naturally inclined towards material of a scatological nature. No doubt my wife would disagree; all I can say in my defence is that I have never sought out culture of this kind, but that – being an expert of obscure European literature – I find it inevitably surfaces, as doth the stubborn turd, from time to time.

To put it another way, I’d rather not dwell on the relationship between defecation and creativity, were it not that I felt duty bound, on occasion, to do just that.

This is undoubtedly one of those occasions. After all, anyone who has read the latest published excerpt from my ground-breaking memoirs will have noticed that an entire section was devoted to this very indelicate subject. The subject, that is, of reading ‘in lavatorio’, also known as ‘bogging’, ‘restroomeading’, and ‘shiterature’. In short, letting the words go in whilst the waste goes out (and the curious benefits therewith).

Today, however, I would like to shift the focus onto a second form of defecatory creativity, which, for the purposes of this discussion, we may as well call ‘urinal reading’.

One’s regular sojourn to the standard urinal does not last terribly long: this much we know. Hardly long enough, you’d fancy, to get any serious reading done. Where there’s a challenge, though, there’s almost always an obscure European writer willing to take on that challenge. Enter, in this case, Egor Falastrom, author of the vaguely popular Dark Dreams of  Delirious Dog-Catcher (and like-minded titles). Seeing a gap in the market, Falastrom has just released a series of poems designed to be read whilst standing at an urinal. Poems for Pissing, by all accounts, is already something of a success in his native country. ‘Falastrom has transformed the very nature of a piss,’ writes one critic, ‘changing it from a rather tedious task to a moment of transcendent, gushing, illumination’. For the first time in local history, men have been seen queuing for the toilet.

As for women, well, it seems they will have to wait. As yet, Falastrom is only posting his poems above urinals. He hopes to expand the art form, however, before too long. ‘I see myself, in future, on the back of all toilet doors in Turkey’, he told one magazine. Does this mean that he will be competing with Tosca Calbirro, originator of the toilet-paper novel? Not at all, claims Falastrom. His poems are designed for ‘pissing people only’. The ‘poo form’ he leaves to other, more experienced, practitioners.

A Peculiar Process

Hardly the perfect conditions, you might think, in which to make sense of a highly complex theoretical text. Ah, but reading – as Speyer tells us – is a funny old thing. There is the book, there are your eyes following the line of words on the book, and there is your mind, perched on high like an eagle on a rock, trying to make sense of the landscape below. Some days the eagle catches a juicy mouse of wisdom, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the words just pass before your eyes. Yes, reading is a peculiar process. You can’t second-guess reading. You lay out your traps and your cages, but you never know which of them, if any, will take. Which is why, as Speyer never fails to remind us, you have to mix it up.

Conversations with Speyer is back. Long live Conversations with Speyer!

An Offer I Can’t Refuse

A few days ago my old friend Jean-Pierre Sertin made me an offer I can’t refuse (though I daresay he may withdraw it when he next sobers up). He agreed to transcribe the remaining chapters of my mesmerising memoirs, Conversations with Speyer.

This has come as something as a relief: not only had I feared that the notebooks containing my original text were lost, but I was concerned that my wife would not have the time to copy any of it out, engaged as she is on rather more diverting tasks. Not that I blame her. I am, of course, incredibly proud of her achievements in the field of contemporary poetry. She is six and a half times the writer I shall ever be (and at least forty times the poet). All the same, I shall miss the patient service she supplied. If she wasn’t the most conscientious editor in the world (bearing in mind the fact that English is her third language) she was at least a kind one. Not once did she tell me that the words she was typing up were a worthless stream of driveling nonsense.

I know not whether Jean-Pierre Sertin will be quite so forgiving. His track record suggests not. Nonetheless I do hope that he will lay his criticisms on lightly. Being an editor myself has been scant preparation for being edited, just as being a reader does not prepare one for being read.

Rather Pointless Cultural Projects

The plot thickens (and, more importantly, my memoirs are, at last, recovered):

Georgy,

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I will not apologise. Not for losing your spare key, not for breaking into your house, not for leaving the window open, not for inviting a taxidermist over to stay, not for the wine she split on your Persian rug, not for leaving a partially mounted dead bird in your study after a small argument with said taxidermist, not for drinking your private stash of Scotch, not for turning up pages in your copy of George Lasmuth’s Diaries, not for blocking your downstairs toilet, not for truing to unblock said toilet and making it worse, not for eating something which I thought was a mint but turned out not to be, not for leaving a dent in the frame of the print that hangs just outside your bedroom, and not (last but not least) for taking a hammer to that very weird sculpture on your living room mantelpiece.

Having said all this, I do have a proposal for you, which comes hot on the heels of a discovery. Yes, yes, yes. I have finally relocated your lost memoirs. They were, believe it or not, hidden in plain sight, right there on the kitchen table, next door to the bread bin. Praise the lords and ladies. You will no doubt be relieved.

My proposal, leading on from this, goes like so. It is of course well-known in literary circles that you have a long-standing habit of making your wife do all your work for you. The magazine which you claim to edit, the blog which you claim to write, the research that you apparently do: all of this is, as any fool knows, largely the work of one Doris Boshchov, a.k.a. Mrs Riecke. For some years now, your friends and colleagues have been aware of this fact, without raising a complaint. The issue is one between you and your wife, no? If she wishes to waste her precious God-given talent on your countless, rather pointless cultural projects, who are we to object?

It matters not to you, I know, that your wife is a celebrated poet, whose work has earned her a prestigious fellowship overseas. Still you insist on making her write up your memoirs, dull word by dull word. No wonder there are so many typing errors! I’m surprised she can keep herself awake. Conversations with Speyer is, compared to her own wonderful work, a very minor piece. A tin-flute melody compared to an orchestral symphony. Nothing, really, when as is said and done. Certainly nothing that she should be wasting her time on.

Which brings me onto the meat of my proposal. Having secured your hand-written memoirs, what say you to my copying them up onto the computer? That is to say, why don’t I take over from your wife, and complete this thankless task myself? I would expect some sort of small payment, naturally, though the real compensation would be the knowledge that poor Doris is free again to pursue her own quarry. How does this strike you, you lazy old so-and-so?

If this idea pleases you, send me a message do. And please ignore what I send in my last two messages concerning your American adventures. I’m not all that interested in what you are up to after all. I was merely being polite.

Yours, and hers, and all the world’s

J-P Sertin

Beyond the Preening (Yet Another Angle on Edmund Ek)

My recent post on Edmund Ek has, as ever, attracted an abnormal level of attention. Several readers (two, for accuracy’s sake) have expressed concern at my ‘cynical acceptance’ of the theory that the ‘trouser theft incident’ was staged by the man himself.

‘Yet more fuel poured over the cruel and baseless rumour that Ek is, in your words, a “preening young writer”,’ observes one of them. She goes on: ‘when will you critics stop kicking chunks out of the poor fellow? Just because he is good-looking (an admittedly rare affliction for a writer) you insist on knocking down a peg or four. But ask yourselves this question: why would a mildly successful author willingly humiliate himself at a serious dinner party at a well-known East Coast university? The idea that Ek was seizing the opportunity to show off his astoundingly well-formed and handsome legs, is nothing short of ridiculous. This was an attack on Ek’s dignity, nothing less. Don’t try to pretend otherwise.’

Meanwhile, the other reader notes that Ek’s ‘so-called accomplice remains a complex and shadowy figure. One day he steps in at short notice to impersonate the writer, with unfortunate results; the next day he slips into a private dinner, hides under a table, and removes the guest of honour’s trousers. Who is this chap, and what’s in it for him?’

Both readers raise interesting points. As I have no doubt mentioned before, critics have always been guilty of prejudice in the face of Ek’s, well, face. His rugged good looks – tied as they are to natural talent of a high order – are certainly a sore point within the international literary community, thus the long-standing suggestion that he isn’t, after all, as talented as we thought he was; that he simply ‘got lucky’ when he penned The Incredible Expletive Shock! (to quote one critic: ‘he wrote it despite himself’). All this I accept. It is wholly undeniable.

On the other hand, the evidence does point, overwhelmingly, towards the fact that Ek enjoys (or has, in the past, shown a distinct fondess for) a good prank. This is not to say, of course, that his recent move to the countryside is one of those pranks; no, I uphold a man’s right to overturn his predilection for casual japes. When looking at Ek’s earlier career, however, one cannot ignore the frequency with which the Norwegian novelist sort to play games with his public. Trust me, a doppelganger and a case of missing trousers are the least of it.

As for the shadowy accomplice, I have nothing more to add. Rest assured I can think of many who would be happy to fulfill such a role. Writers will have their cronies.

[Further to the above, I think I promised readers an update on Ek’s current whereabouts. According to my Scandinavian sources (also known as Mildrid and Hans) he has ‘taken to the hills’. No word, as yet, as to what hills these are; whether he is still writing a graphic history of Buddhism; or whether his pet cat, Heidi, will be in attendance.]

[Further to the ‘further to the above’, this will probably be the last post on Edmund Ek for a while. One gets caught up in his ‘story’ every once in a while, without ever quite knowing why. For someone about whom we know little that is substantial, he remains a hugely compelling figure].

The Meek Seeking of Forgiveness

Part of me wonders whether it is fair of me to post J-P Sertin’s private correspondence on the web.

(Just part of me.)

Georgy,

I will start by staying that I am, by nature, loath to apologise. I find the whole culture of regretfulness self-indulgent to the point of being sordid. My knees can’t stand being fallen upon. I did what I did because it seemed the right thing to do at that moment. One cannot stop the morning flower from unfolding to the warmth of the sun. Contrition is for the domesticated; those content to live under the thumb of others; those who willingly implicate themselves in endlessly evolving power games. We wild ones, on the other hand, work by other rules. Not for us the meek seeking of forgiveness! We did what we did, and refuse to waste any time feeling guilty about it.

Having said this, a brief explanation may yet be required. So here goes.

Somewhere around midnight last night, I took a hammer to one of your sculptures. That is to say, I destroyed a work of art belonging to you. What was once one large piece is now several smaller pieces.

You will have no doubt guessed which work it is I am referring to, for I have related, in previous correspondence, the queer effect that the work has had upon me.  This effect is not one I can underestimate. This piece of art has disturbed my system. It has plagued my mind. It has discomforted my very soul.  I have barely slept, for thought of it. What is it? Where did it come from? What is it saying? Why is it so bad? These questions, and others, have been worming their way, backwards and forwards, through the damp soil of my subconscious.

Something had to be done. The sculpture and I had reached an impasse. We had tried to understand each other – and failed. A more serious step was required.

I realised this late last night, after a glass of two of some rather glorious whisky I discovered in the bottom drawer of your mahogany desk (one of many hidden bottles I have hit upon during my evening rambles through Maison Riecke). You will say that it was the alcohol speaking: they always do! Well, that is simply nonsense. It was instead the alcohol facilitating my heart to speak. The whisky was but the mediator. It carved out a short-cut to my inner thoughts, and opened the way to necessary action.

And so it was I decided to take to your sculpture with a hammer. Some may call it destruction. They are ungenerous. I prefer to call it ‘renovation’. Or, better still, ‘re-creation’. It may look as though I have knocked chunks off the sculpture, in the manner of a bandit. It may seem as though my resolve and senses took a short holiday together, leaving my impulsiveness in charge. In actuality, I have done something rather wonderful. I have created a new work. Several new works, in fact; all of which are, aesthetically, much stronger than the original work. You may think you have lost something. But let me tell you: you have gained, Georgy, oh how you have gained.

This is not, then, an apology. I am not so gross. No, this is merely an explanation of what has passed. Something for the records. Something for future generations to take note of, should they so desire. I, Jean-Pierre Sertin, am now a sculptor. Yes, indeed.

In other news, I think I may know where your misplaced memoirs are. That is, I have a faint memory of having come across them sometime this morning, when trying to find my way back out your house. Why didn’t I pick them up whilst I had the chance? The truth is that I was in a rush. But I shall return forthwith this evening, and do the deed.

Yours in lightly wavering faith,

J-P Sertin

P.S. I’ve asked you this before, but you never answer me: how is America? What in Uncle Sam’s name are you getting up to over there?

P.P.S. Taxidermy is less fun than it sounds. So are taxidermists.

A Very Curious Bird

The house-breaking continues:

Georgy,

There is but one word for it. Chaos.

Wait, no – is that the word I want? Perhaps ‘disarray’ would be better. Or ‘pandemonium’, perhaps? Or even, should you feel inclined, ‘anarchy’?

The long and short of it is that a bird has entered your house. How he/she/it got in remains unclear (further research is needed before I can confirm the sex to which the subject under investigation belongs). My first thought was through the chimney, but then I remembered that you have no chimneys. This prompted a rethink, which led in time to the conclusion that it must, for now, be categorised (like so many dear incidents) under the word ‘mystery’. What does it matter in the long run?

Unless, of course, it made its way through the letterbox. Do you think that could be possible, bearing in mind that we’re obviously dealing with a very curious bird here? What kind of bird, I cannot say; rest assured it is a curious bird. I might even go so far as to say that it is a curiously cultured bird. Quelle surprise, quoth the reader. It would have to be a cultured bird to have decided to enter your house, non?

I say cultured: this isn’t to say that it hasn’t had its – shall we say – ‘lapses’, or ‘difficult moments’. To put it another way, there are droppings all over your collection of antique yoghurt pots (or whatever they are; I have never been able to tell). There are also a few stray feathers here and there. On top of all this, I suspect it might have pecked the stuffing out of your green baize armchair. But otherwise the funny little creature has behaved itself remarkably well. I found it in the guest room, reading a volume from Balzac’s Human Comedy (Illusions Perdues, I think). I say reading: what I really mean is dying on an open page. Not so much dying, now I think of it, as dead. But it amounts to the same thing, given time.

I suppose your first thought will be this: did I give it a Christian burial? To which the answer is this: no, I most certainly didn’t. For it so happens that I have, over the last few days, developed a strong interest in taxidermy (why the surprise, my friend? I am a man of many interests: you know that). It all started on Thursday night at The Crippled Bee, where I met a charming woman who works at the local natural history museum. The rest, as they say, is history. Or natural history, in this case. Which is to say that she has promised to give me a few lessons on ‘mounting’ animals (that’s the official term for ‘stuffing’ them, believe it or not). And where better to start than with our feathered intruder?

So, all in all, you have a lot to thank me for. Not only did I apprehend the dead bird, and remove it from its final resting place, but I promise to return it, fully mounted, to your very own mantelpiece. It was, after all, a cultured bird – and deserves to live its merry afterlife in such cultured surroundings as your house can offer. I will place it, I think, opposite a copy of Balzac, so it can continue its reading where it left off. What a dear bird it was!

This happening has, naturally, put the brakes on my continuing search for your missing memoirs. Once I have mounted Lucien, though, you can be sure that I will turn my attention to this matter. Oh yes, indeed.

Meanwhile, send my love to your wife. Any remaining fondness you may keep for yourself.

J-P Sertin