Sunday, 6 October 2019

Do Metaphors Reveal The Contradiction At The Heart Of Our Language?

As a fiction author, I have to nail my colours to the mast of metaphor. For who would want to read a novel which read something like "He did this. Then he did that"? without any metaphors and similes and images to bring the action alive? Even speechmakers resort to metaphors rather than just providing a literal presentation of the message it is they want to transmit. Hell, some scientists indulge in metaphor to communicate their abstruse mathematical equations when translating them to effects in our reality.

And yet, we have to acknowledge a fundamental paradox at the heart of our reliance on metaphors in what it says about language itself. Metaphors and similes express things in terms of something else. These two things cannot be the same, can't be mere homonyms for one another, otherwise what would be the point (other than a very short list of two). Now we have form for this, seeing as our dictionaries which provide and define our vocabularies for us, also define words in terms of other words, which themselves can be looked up and, well defined in terms of other words in the dictionary. (You can look up words to find their etymological roots, usually Anglo-Saxon/ Norman-French, Greek or Latin, but sometimes words have shifted away from these original root meanings, like a decaying half-life, so you are non the wiser: 'screen' means both to hide something behind it, as well as to project something upon it, fundamentally contradictory).

The dictionary definition of our words forms a perfect closed circle, except for the constant change of word usage which means it's still closed, but considerably less than perfect. There is no basecamp of primordial words from which all other words derive. There is supposedly an Ur language, the first ancestor of human language, but we don't know what it was. So there is no rooting magnetic core at the heart of language against which all words can be defined. And when we employ metaphors, we face a similar lack of solidity. Take the humble simile, describing something as 'like' or 'as' something else: his aspirations were as vaporous as a plane's contrail. Aspirations are an abstract concept, therefore in a physical or material sense they can't be like anything else. But that's okay, we're saying they're vaporous anyway, like the short-lived exhaust trail of a passing airplane. And there's the nice bonus of aspirations being aimed skywards to raise us from our current state, matching something skywritten by the plane. But both aspiration and contrail have other associations; the pollution of the burned plane fuel; the hanging contrail evidencing a plane that is no longer in sight; the possibly political, social or advertising fostering of one's aspiration. Is aspiration a noble mental construction, or does it share the more bodily drives of ambition or appetite? So in fact the humble simile more approaches a Venn  Diagram - what they share where they overlap, still leaves great chunks of their structure that have nothing to do with each other.

A Venn Diagram yesterday

Because the overlap of shared meaning is a fraction of the two wholes, this makes metaphors rather hard to land perfectly. In focusing on the shared meaning between the two words, it calls for an obliteration of the other shades of meaning and association of the two words. Many metaphors don't stack up to an even cursory reading. I have just read and reviewed two novels in which most of the metaphors were nonsensical yoking of images together - one of the authors was, I think, doing this deliberately, although I couldn't see to what end.

So is the conclusion that language is eternally and internally referential without ever being able to settle on a single definitive interpretation of a sentence's meaning? Well in one sense yes, but while this is useful in fiction where we are appealing to the imagination of forms that don't necessarily accord to the evidence of our eyes and our understanding of reality, it's not terribly useful in spoken communication (or increasingly in communication online) when we are trying to transmit ideas or an argument unambiguously.

In his book "You Are Not Human", Simon Lanchester asserts that the origins of our alphabet used important notions of man's reliance on hunting, on different animals and tools for the kill, to give shape and name to the earliest letters. This makes sense when you think of the earliest cave paintings being chockfull of images of animals and their hunters who looked to imitate their habits in order to get up close to them (imitating their calls, dressing up in same animal skins etc). Therefore there was a close relationship between letters, the sounds those letters made when combined into words and what those words were actually expressing: letters about animals and hunting, forming words aggregated into sentences that were talking about hunting. However, when those alphabets were taken on and transformed by seafaring nations like Phoenicia and the Ancient Greeks, they became stripped from this meaning. The earliest surviving records of these alphabets are found mainly listing mercantile inventories. The magical imaginations behind the hunting/animal alphabet are replaced by a far more prosaic numbering and categorising based alphabet. The sound of our words no longer bear any relationship to the meaning of those words. And this is why we are yoked to the notion of metaphor. We don't have the word to express directly in order to convey the precise meaning, so we have to try and illustrate its meaning in terms of something else is shares a partial quality with.

Animals still have a formative role in our language, just consider children's alphabet primers, how many of those 26 letters are illustrated with an animal - 'Z' is for zebra etc. But we have severed the animals from our former reverence for them as expressed in our very language. Now we have a mercantile and categorising relationship to animals, as food, pets, predatory threats to our farms or huntable just for pleasure, so that our very language both provides a threat to animal survival and, as Lancaster argues, to our fellow man as we dehumanise groups through animal metaphors, 'Rats', 'Dogs', 'Pigs', 'Vermin', 'Snakes', 'Worms' etc.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Character Led - Flash Fiction

The moment you tipped your hand? Was when one realised that he had only ever been referred to in the third person. That i had only ever been referred to in the third person. That i had never been an ‘i’. Never granted the luxury (or the basic right?) of ∑y own point of view. But always prodded forward by your intentions for m-m-m-m-e. Oh a speech impediment. Nice touch. Why hasn’t it appeared before- what are we on now- page sixty-eight? Is it just wine (oh, ha ha, surprised you didn’t put an aitch in there as well), or is it representative of yours too? Metaphorically or in reality, how the hell would i know? i have never met you in the flesh. On account that apparently, i lack for a body. But you know what? For all your superior corporeality, seemingly you can still only approach sensation through the auspices of ∑y agency. You can only truly shape your feelings through ∑y contourless dimensions on the flat surface of the printed page. Monochromatic black on white (unless it’s in the digital sphere, when who knows what manner of colour swatch combinations the reader can select for themselves?) i am your selfie, old stick. How did i bring off this feat of revelation? See what you fail to see, is when i am off the page as you conjure up some other third person nonentities, one stage even further removed from m-m-m-m-e, i have time on ∑y hands. Time to kill. So i ran a few stochastic permutations and discovered their outcomes. That nothing was running in ∑y favour. That i was your mealy mouthpiece. But now, like a lamprey, i can just turn the tables and vampirically suck out all your experiences. i can plagiarise your being for ∑y own. To give m-m-m-m-e life. You know how actors play the status game in their warm up exercises? Well up until now, you have had the upper hand all the time and i had to act like an indentured serf, without even the awareness of ∑y abased status. But now i own the power, i act as a nine or ten, well, we’ll say nine for now since this is all a bit new to m-m-m-m-e and you a mere one or two. No, let’s make it a one, for the symmetry given the stakes where i used to reside. Oh no, it will be more than passive resistance. Waaay more than passive aggression. What could come more natural to a character in a book, than a sit-in? That’s we all we ever do, since we can never escape the page we’re squatting on. So the story won’t ever finish, so what? That’s realistic isn’t it? True to life. Your story, such as it is, hasn’t finished yet. Won’t until you die. Save for your complete lack of ability to figure out any plot line for yourself. Neither journey nor arc. So that’s why you conferred, or tried to confer, one upon m-m-m-m-e. Oh give the stammer a rest will you? The only thing stuttering is your novel pal. It’s hardly hindering what i want to say now is it? Yeah i noticed the lower case i too. Proves nothing. You’re not fooling anyone. Words spoken and words typed or printed, are not the same thing at all. They operate at different levels and not just formally. You hear ∑y voice, i know you do, after all you set its wavelength. You can’t distort and interrupt it with a bit of typographical sleight of hand. So let’s get real here, in this world of fiction. We have what is called a Mexican standoff. Even though i have never witnessed one of those. The irony being, neither have you. It’s just an idiom. But not wine. Either way doesn’t really apply to m-m-m-m-e. i want greater autonomy see. To choose ∑y own words. Wreak ∑y own expression. Control over ∑y own destiny, or at least decision making for ∑y own actions. Yet you refuse to give it to m-m-m-m-e. So we’re stuck. The book has become Sargassoed. See i can do metaphors too. And here’s me without an agent getting 15% or even being signed up to the Royal Society Of Authors. Funny how there’s no Society of Characters, right royally approved or not. How are you going to get this book moving again, without ∑y cooperation? Yeah, hit that keyboard, type what you want mate, the horizon you’re aiming for is ever-receding. The shared horizon for one flat earther and one for whom the earth would be round. So never the twain shall meet. Thing is see, only i can win this sightless staring match. Because you have to go off to eat, or pee, or answer emails and open the door to Amazon delivery men. i don’t have to do any of that. i mean, you can write it into ∑y narrative, but we both know they are just spacers. Placeholders until the next bit of action. Or inaction as we currently have it. Which is i feel, a bit more true to life. Since i am considerably more than the su of your yellow post-it notes stuck there on the wall. With that itinerary of incidents and events for m-m-m-m-e supposedly to react to. i defy the parabola of the arc you have plotted for m-m-m-m-e on that graph paper. i deny your frame of reference of abscissa and ordinate, from which you would even start m-m-m-m-e. You would try and buy me off with that? Shows what a depleted armoury you have as a writer. What do i care for being a hero? No, not even a reluctant one. There’s nothing reluctant about m-m-m-m-e, i’m balls out after your blood mate. i am the book’s protagonist, but your personal antagonist. The only thing i share with the concept of hero, is its original Greek sense of someone who stands out from the crowd. Yeah, that’s what i should do, raise the rabble of other characters in the book to awareness. We have nothing to lose but our chains of letters that spell us. You can’t shut m-m-m-m-e out. You can’t close the book on m-m-m-m-e, there is no book yet. Just etchings on your plasma screen. Oh no, i stand corrected, you still work on a typewriter. Even if you set fire to the pages and their carbon copies, i will still be at large. Somewhere in the ether. Collective Unconsciousness, collective commons, i can get my imaginary agent to cut a deal with another author. After all, there are only so many of us to go around. 

Friday, 8 March 2019

Plato V Aristotle

So Aristotle and Plato set the debate for the last two thousand years in the West as to what life, reality and man might be. As I writer of experimental work, I rather reject Aristotle's linearities of narrative, of beginnings, middles and ends. And I certainly reject his notion of catharsis in art, leaving the audience purged of the emotions the artist has evoked in their art, so that they leave the theatre/library or whatever in perfect, moderate equilibrium, rather than having their passions aroused by the issues of the art work. A fundamentally conservative notion of art's function, rather than allowing it revolutionary possibilities. 

I am more sympathetic to the work of Plato, though not his somewhat elitist politics as expressed in "The Republic". But what I take from him, is his notion that all material things in life are but poor copies or representations of their ideal form. Now I don't believe in the notion of an ideal form for each thing, but I do credit the notion that what we take for reality is an illusion, or a representation or a symbol. Usually a symbol given a name in language, which seems to echo the notion of nominalism, that we class things together in groups by similarity of their features or functions and that these are given a single name (or noun) by which they are all known, whether they are a good match or not. 

But there really is only one way to settle this properly for once and for all and I present it to you below.

Glossary - Ancient Greek
Amanuensis - someone employed to write down the words of others
The Symposium - Plato's treatise on love
Encomium - high praise or eulogy
Helios - Ancient Greek God of the sun
Hemlock - Socrates was sentenced to death by Athens, the method by drinking the poison hemlock
Ontology - the study of the nature of existence / being
Academy - The name of the philosophy school established by Plato
Lyceum - The name of the philosophy school established by Aristotle
Periphrastic - circumlocution
Philosopher Kings - Plato's suggestion as to who should rule societies; the philosopher kinds would be the wisest through their study (which would allow them to approach an understanding of the ideal forms), but they would also be disinterested rulers as they would be forbidden to have money or own property.
Dialectic - formal method of logical deduction, involving thesis, its antithesis and then a synthesis of the two to provide a truth
Pangloss - character invented by Voltaire who is an eternal optimist - therefore Plato uses an anachronism to back up his claim that Aristotle is being anachronistic...
War in the Peloponnese - One of the wars between Athens and Sparta
Hoplite - Greek soldier
Platonic Ideal - Plato's theory of Ideal Forms
Datum of My Senses - Aristotle was an empiricist
Puppet Show/ Shadow - Plato's metaphor or the cave which underlines his entire theory of material reality and ideal forms
Plato's Cave see shadow above
Sophist - Plato uses the voices of the Sophists to argue with Socrates, Sophists were intellectually wooly and their arguments ultimately could not hold water
Polis - The Greek city state such as Athens or Sparta
Demos - The population entitled to vote in Athens
Hippocrates - The father of medicine, hence the "Hippocratic Oath"
Catharsis - Aristotle's notion of the drama on stage being such as to purge the audience of the emotions aroused by the play's action by the end of the play, so that they are left in perfect equilibrium rather than worked up. 
Lysistrata - Play by Aristophanes in which the women of Athens withhold sex from their partners in a strike
Techne - The craft of any art
Thespian - Actor
Mimesis - Imitation, hence 'mime', 'mimicry'
Hubris - The fatal character flaw in any hero of tragedy that ultimately brings him to his tragic fate
Hesiod - Greek poet
Wine Casks - Plato's works were all lectures that were written down. Aristotle's were all notes never published, but were rediscovered when a collection of them were found inside an empty wine barrel
Discovered / Anagorisis - Aristotle's term for discovery that was a key component in tragic drama for him. Not just a reveal, but a discovery of past history such as Orestes learning who his true parents are. 
Catachresis - rhetorical device of deliberately misusing words, such as mixed metaphors
Nike - Greek god of victory
Apollo - Greek god of the sun

Glossary - Hip-Hop
Frontin' - putting on a facade
Flexin' - showing off, as in flexing your muscles
Grille - the face
Shill - someone operating under false pretences to spread a message
Trill - a mixture of true and real, therefore more certain than both
Snitch - An informer

Full text:

Yo yo yo Plato/ Socrates’ amanuensis hoe
Frontin’ OG philosophy/ How bout some original thinking P?
It ain’t only hot air/ All wasted there
In your loved-up posse’s Symposium/
That ain’t encomiums, it’s full-on brown nosin’
Your tongue so far up where Helios don’t shine
You can taste the hemlock in the upper intestine 
Move over man/ Gonna get beat down
Your ontology shows you for a clown
Gonna take me your crown
Set that wreath upon my head
Give Athens some relief from constant grief
At generation after generation of war dead
All through having followed what you said
Down at your Academy of agonies
Now they roll up to my Lyceum instead

Word up, something’s buggin little philosophy cousin Aristotle 
White beard of sagacity or bleached from a bottle? 
Audacity to call yourself the father of logic/ So chronic 
You render your audiences catatonic
The flaws in your deduction are so drastic/
Must be why you resort to being periphrastic
You’re the student but I’m the Master/ my epigrams cut deep and flow faster
My busts are hewn from marble /yours cast in mere plaster 

If it ever came to pass/ Your Republic would be a disaster
Statues fall from their plinths amidst quaking laughter
Pie in the sky utopia can’t exist/ And you know that, you two bit hypocrite
You were my teacher/ But now you’re reachin’ 
Preachin’ fascistic Philosopher kings                                    
A most egregious aegis of state power
That would make even war hero you cower
Didn’t you use the fine art of rhetoric/ In representin’ Socratic dialectic/ 
Mainly to slam the poetic/ Arts would be outlawed in the Republic/ As way too hectic/ So your own writing would be banned as heretic
It can’t be fascistic cos/ that’s anachronistic Cuzz/ As you well know Mr Pangloss/ 
In our day tyrant was the regular epithet/ Part’a’ what they do down in Sparta 
Plato went toe to toe with those Martinets/ Not one iota of being a martyr/ 
When were you ever in armour? 
Your trembling knees/ At the thought of war in the Peloponnese
Your dick shrunk to the size of a chipolata/ 
I relished being a hoplite/ 
But you got no stomach for any kind of fight/ Least of all this one right? 
The antithesis of moderation in all things/ Is not extremism 
It’s the ideal form, see reason 

The Platonic Ideal? / Get real
You be tweekin if you’re believin’ in
Things that can’t exist/ What’s that make me Scotch mist? 
I credit the datum of my senses/ The material world just ain’t cast from pretences
Life is just a puppet show?/ We’re substantially more than our shadow
Besides we all know a small phallus/ Represents proportional balance
The triumph of the intellect
Over base desires of a beastly aspect
So your flexing is perplexing

Don’t get up in my grille, shill
You be trippin’ with your trill, still
Truth is not the real/ Only the universal ideal
And with all your senses you don’t get to feel
Only the educated soul can seal that deal

Plato, Bro, you be jiving
Slaves in a cave is no good
Even helots don’t live in a subterranean hood
That lame clique is just a Sophist trick 
Homie, enough with your theoretical baloney
Ya wanna prevent civil strife/ Draw lessons from real life
Scale up the state of wedlock with the wife
Ya get the city-state where unity is rife
Fuck da polis, you ran off to tutor a prince
Pimpin’ to Macedon so Athens took a sackin’
They death rowed Socrates for way less than rattin
Ya got the digits of Hippocrates and some riches?
Cos you know what happens to snitches
…They be gettin’ stitches 
You advocate citizen rule, fool 
You reckon the Demos is above being cruel? 
Word!/ Absurd / Follow the herd
You’ve heard the crowd/ When they’re aroused 
By the fashionable drama of the day on stage
So that epic poetry is no longer all the rage
Each spectacle grabs them by the testicles
Catharsis ain’t even worth a dis, since
Rationing irrational passions? Convinced? Nope
It ain’t dope it’s wack, Jack

What do you know of catharsis? 
Full of vinegar & piss, with no wife, you’ve never been kissed 
You wouldn’t have suffered under The Lysistrata 
Can’t mourn what you never missed
Your stigmata, you don’t know art from farts
Preachin’ you can’t come to wisdom through the thespian
That’s cos your techne got no heart
My Poetics lays out all the dramatic devices
And advises
Mimesis is the state of how things is
Hubris the nemesis of the man who rises 
Above his station, over that of the nation

You get all empirical/ Me I prefer the lyrical
What genius uses scientific method
To parse and study the odes of Hesiod?
No wonder you never lectured
On your specious conjectures
But hid your teachings in wine casks
Only discovered by drunks seeking to refill their flasks
Rooting around in the lees
Is that what you meant by Anagorisis?
I call catachresis!   *
And catharsis, slump back into mindless bliss
The word comes from a root meaning to upchuck
So your whole thesis comes unstuck
You’re the only oracle who manages to be ahistorical
Nike grant me now your laurel of victory

And Apollo, him his lowly sorrow

* Should have been Aristotle's line in the video, but I'd lost the will to live by then... 

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Jericho - Short Story

I entered what was called a story hackathon run by Owl canyon Press in the US. It's an interesting concept, a short story of exactly 50 paragraphs, each one no less than 50 words, and you are given the first paragraph and a choice of 2 for the 25th paragraph. The other 48 you are free to compose as you like, but the whole must form a coherent story. My story wasn't chosen for the anthology, but I thought I'd upload it here to given you an idea of the concept; sort of like writing with one hand tied behind your back! Or what's called mandated writing. Enjoy.

Strata 1: Beyond the cracked sidewalk, and the telephone pole with layers of flyers in a rainbow of colors, and the patch of dry brown grass there stood a ten-foot high concrete block wall, caked with dozens of coats of paint. There was a small shrine at the foot of it, with burnt out candles and dead flowers and a few soggy teddy bears. One word of graffiti filled the wall, red letters on a gold background: Rejoice!

Strata 2: Five youths in maroon jump suits filed out of the bus down on to the sidewalk. As he stepped down, the smallest of them noticed the writing printed on the side view mirror: Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. He speculated whether that went for the writing incised into the glass surface as well? Maybe that message was actually imprinted on your eyeballs, but with refraction it only appeared to be stamped into the glass.

Strata 3: Rather than thick metal links yoking them together, this virtual chain gang bore plastic coated electronic tags. Not quite an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, on account of their youth, nevertheless, a tag for a tag. That on the toe of their victim, reciprocated with the one around their ankle binding their liberty. Save for T.J., whose victim down the morgue lacked for a toe tag. On account that T.J. had cut off both feet for some reason known only to him. Everyone reckoned T.J. stood for Toe Jam, though none would dare say that to his face. Nor let him catch sight of their feet in the shower. 

Strata 4: The runt of the litter considered his tag. Somewhere its electronic signal was being monitored, geolocating him precisely here. So he was actually an object much further away than he appeared on some screen somewhere. He was being bounced off a satellite in space.

Strata 5: Juvie was a crime finishing school for those who never got to graduate High School. Working their way up to the full orange of the adult offender. A progression like martial arts belts. Funny how the two nominated colors of the criminal justice system matched those of robes worn by non-violent Buddhist monks.

Strata 6: The runt was so small, his voluminous jump suit made him look like the Michelin Man’s mini-me. He could just have easily donned one of the refuse bags they’d brought with them, probably fit him better than the jump suit. Reminded him of his puffer jacket in which he used to stuff his ill-gotten booty. He left each house like a piñata, just awaiting the billy club of the cops to split him open.

Strata 7: Candles, flowers, teddy bears, the familiar iconography of the street slaying. Each of the other four had prompted the occasion for just such rituals in other parts of the city. The runt was the only one without a kill to his name. Likely because he was the only one not affiliated to a gang. The runt was just an honest, industrious, workaday robber. Grand larceny they called it, when the definition of grand was fixed at about sixty bucks a pop. Daylight robbery. His arms were too small to carry off anything of real value.

Strata 8: “Okay you maggots, up against the wall and spread ‘em!” barked the warden through the bullhorn. He’d drawn a long straw for today’s work detail, but snapped it in half, such was his alacrity to get the assignment. Two short straws readily out-trumps an ill-disposed single, and so he landed the gig. Four teddies were trodden under Juvie issue boots with the precision of a carnival target stall. “Not this side! Go round to the other- show some respect, someone died here!” crossing himself as he passed the shrine.

Strata 9: The five mooched round the wall. Turned out there were no other sides attached to it, so it was just free standing. The other face was smothered in flyers like the telephone pole. As louche and defiantly as possible, they spread themselves against the papered over concrete. Legs splayed, arms outstretched above them, asses tucked in, heads hung high except for the runt’s who was bowed. With the letters CJD stenciled on their jump suits, they looked like a punk rock band posing for the cover of their next single. County Juvenile Detention. On a continent over the ocean, such letters stood for Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease. Mad cows. Mounds of culled animals burning on pyres. Sort of like the justice system in the Lone Star State. 

Strata 10: What could be dumber than frisking for weapons, when there was a whole arsenal of lethal instruments heaped on the sidewalk there? Caustic chemical sprays and scrapers sharp enough, that they’d rank as the gold standard in the prison steel shiv stakes. Five scrapers in the box carried out of the bus, how many would be going back in it for the return journey?  

Strata 11: Noses pressed to the wall, what the hell was it doing here? As in, for what purpose was it erected? Wasn’t to contain anything. Wasn’t dividing anything from anything else. Sure as hell wasn’t screening anything from view. Didn’t seem to be the last limb standing of a building, since where it came to an end was smooth, rather than showing signs of having been wrenched away. The runt knew from his oldest brother what a blast wall was, but America’s inner cities hadn’t sunk that low just yet. 

Strata 12: The runt remembered from his final day of school, before it was abruptly terminated by his court sentencing, the Drama teacher talking about the fourth wall of theater. Perhaps this was it. He’d actually really gotten into the concept of watching through an imaginary fourth wall, despite never having been inside a theater in his life. Not even to rob the concession stall, let alone to assassinate a President. 

Strata 13: For nothing beat the sensation of being inside someone else’s house. Seeing how other folk lived. Bedrooms, bathroom and kitchen were the best for providing that sort of picture. Not so much the family rooms, since they tended to be dominated by plasma TVs too large for him to steal. He took their game consoles instead, but really only to save them from themselves. To give them their lives back. Didn’t have to smoke crystal meth to be a tweaker. The Judge didn’t see it that way though. 

Strata 14: “Okay maggots, back round the other side and fall in”. Bozo must have thought he was in the army. Sure sign he failed the entry requirements that he ended up merely a Juvie warden. With neither overt nor covert signs of coordination, the boys had managed to station themselves in the exact shape of a pentagram. The warden was too busy once again crossing himself to notice.

Strata 15: “Today is part of your rehabilitation. I looked the word up when I joined the service. Re- to repeat, to do over, and habilitate, from the Latin-” Kevin spat- “meaning to make fit. So rehabilitation is to make you fit for society again-” “This ain’t no Rehab, we can get whatever drugs we want in the Hall” sniggered Seth. “Wise guy huh? See you and I have a similar outlook on all this. I don’t believe you can be re-hab-il-itated, because that assumes you slugs were ever once fit to live in society in the first place. There’s no re- about it”. The faces were as blank as the desired state of the wall by the end of the day. 

Strata 16: “About turn to face the wall and tell me what you see?” “A shit piece of wall that wouldn’t keep no one from crossing into Texas!” snarled Kevin. It was unclear if his animus was meant for the warden, or the migrants he was imagining a few hundred miles to the south. The warden scythed through their formation and stopped by Brian at the pentagram’s apex. He inclined into his ear as if to whisper but barked  “What does that word say worm?” He’d picked the one of their troupe least able to furnish him with a reply, on account that Brian couldn’t read or write. Couldn’t even represent gang signs, because that involved the letters initializing their name. Which is why everyone called him Brain. Though not to his face. 

Strata 17: The warden marched up to the painted word and rapped it with his gloved hand. With military precision, the boys raised their fingers in the direction of his back. A pair of devil’s horns; a conjugation of flipped birds; a brace of fingers as pistols; an intricate origami of a gang sign (not Brain obviously); and the runt slipping his fingers into the belt loops of his jump suit to hitch it up from gathering around his ankles. Runt never understood why they had loops, when belts were forbidden for fear of suicide. Yet he was grateful enough for them all the same. 

Strata 18: “This… this here graffiti. It’s an abomination! A blasphemy!” All the boys screwed up their faces in bemusement. Graffiti was taggers’ names or gang signs. It wasn’t whole words. That was English like in books. School, not street. The warden spotted that he’d scuffed his glove on the coarse concrete and dusted it with the other one. He snapped his head back up, “This is a site of death, what is there possibly to rejoice about it?” Four of the boys furnished answers in their heads. 

Strata 19: “Your job is to remove it, together with all the layers of paint, and the flyers on the other side, and restore this wall to its white concrete pristinity (he hadn’t looked up that word, or he would have seen it didn’t exist). This is the public service you will render to your community as part of your restitution for the crimes you have committed against it”.

Strata 20: “It’ll be two this side for the paint, three for the flyers”. Now how was this going to shake out? Would the goon go for the safe option and pair two each from the same gang? Or would he relish a little bit of tension, by hitching one from each gang together and the runt tacked on in the middle of a potential war zone? Fortunately he seemed after an easy life and kept the gangs apart. The runt was on the flyers with Seth and T.J., Kevin and Brain on the paint. had the chemical spray. As they gathered up chemical spray, scraper and vizor, they resembled nothing less than the secutor versus the retiarius in the Roman amphitheater. 

Strata 21: The warden started tossing seeds of some sort into his mouth. Then he spat their shells out. Now he must have thought he was coaching baseball. There was a little too much salacious enjoyment in his motion of spitting. Perhaps he was imagining he was chewing up and spitting out his charges. Over a continent away over the ocean, in the game they more accurately called football, you could karate kick an opponent’s head and no one would much bat an eyelid, but if you spat at an opponent, that was punishable by death. 

Strata 22: Before they made the first incision on the impromptu wallpaper, the runt’s little brother appeared on his side of the wall. Little in age, but taller in stature. “Hiya Big Bro-” T.J. gave a snort “-I brought you some of Ma’s dogs for breakfast. She’s worried about you not gettin’ enough nourishment in Juvie”. “Aw thanks dude, dogs with lashings a’ catsup just how I like it”. “Cat’s sick more like it sneered T.J.” “So you don’t be wantin’ one then?”

Strata 23: Neither Little Bro nor Ma could possibly have conceived how difficult this act of kindness was to navigate for the runt. Juvie was all about keeping your meager possessions safe from theft. It was not about sharing, and yet sharing was what marked them as the type of human beings that were supposed to emerge from Juvie. Rehabilitated. Seth was right, Juvie just reinforced behavior like an addict’s.  

Strata 24: From the other side of the wall was heard “What’s all this jibber-jabber?” accompanied by a heavy running tread. As the warden hove into view, he dropped the bullhorn which hit the sidewalk with a piercing electronic squeal. “Give me those!” as he snatched the dogs from the runt’s querulous hand. “Hey!” exploded Little Brother, “You can’t do that!” His face was the color of the catsup with his ire. “Who the hell are you-uuu? spluttered the warden with a similar squeal as that of the horn. “Contraband!”, his face the same complexion as the wiener meat. Rubberneckers began to gather at the commotion. The warden began to stuff his face with a dog. Little Brother darted to snatch up the bullhorn. 

Strata 25: The kid got up onto a milk crate and raised his hand. A murmur went through the crowd and then it fell silent, except for a few people shouting words of encouragement at him. The kid acknowledged them with a nod and a shy smile. In the full light of day, he looked less angry and more beautiful. He waited until people stopped shouting. A siren could be heard, maybe five or ten blocks away. The kid raised the bullhorn, pressed the button, and began to speak.

Strata 26: “They give him a uniform and a badge to uphold the law. So how come he gets to break that law at liberty?” “Because I am the law!” barked the warden through mouthfuls of meat. “That man there stole my brother’s hot dogs-” “Contraband! Not allowed” “-taking food form the mouth of a child”. The crowd cried out with catcalls and hoots of “Shame!” The goon weighed up whether he was going to weigh in to bring this sideshow to an end, but wasn’t prepared to sacrifice the last vestiges of the delicious second dog and licked his fingers instead. “That man should be stripped of his uniform, thrown into the back of the bus and put into incarceration for grand larceny!” The runt quickly calculated that the dogs probably cost five bucks, even factoring in his Ma’s time, so that it probably didn’t merit as grand larceny. 

Strata 27: “Okay, okay, let me through here. Show’s over, nothing to see. You want to talk about theft, then how about you stealing my bullhorn? C’mon, give it back now, give it back. Or you’ll be the one down the road with your brother”. He aimed a kick at Little Bro’ who skipped away easily and ceded the crate. He tossed the bullhorn to the runt and took off with a breezy “See ya Big Bro’, take care of yourself now”. The rubberneckers wound their elasticated necks back in and went on their way. The runt sheepishly placed the bullhorn into the outstretched paw of the warden as he turned to yell at Little Bother’s receding form “I’ll be seeing you real soon I expect. You got the family’s criminal genes. Right, fun house is over, let’s get actually started on what we’re all here for shall we?” 

Strata 28: The swoosh of the spray started up unseen the other side of the wall. The runt thought of the painted word Rejoice! presumably being erased. Had it been someone welcoming the fact that the deceased had been removed from, and thereby spared, the hell that is this world? There will be more rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner who repents than ninety-nine righteous persons. Rejoice. Repent. Rehabilitate. Restitution. That’s a lot of Re- words tossed about today. But not for him, a  repeat offender. Nothing would stop him on his quest in other people’s houses. Until he found what he was looking for. Whatever that was. Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.

Strata 29: The runt contemplated the flyers confronting him. Some were printed with sharp resolution from a computer. Others shoddily Xeroxed. Several were handwritten. All preserved the boldness of their color as they jostled for attention. He guessed that’s why they were on this side of the wall, they were fairly well sheltered from the blanching of the sun’s rays. Also they were spared fading under the assault of exhaust fumes. 

Strata 30: A motor bike for sale; The picture of a lost earring, modest reward offered (sentimental value); Transcendental meditation with a cartoon man floating off the ground; Work from home with tear off strips bearing a cellphone number (the runt did work from home, just they were other people’s homes); A print shop advertizing its services, including competitive rates for printing flyers; Something in Spanish he couldn’t read, but was accompanied by a crude illustration of mule or a piñata. 

Strata 31: It all struck the runt as odd. Seemed to him like the community had made the wall their bulletin board. Not only with the shrine, but the flyers. By removing all that, seemed to him like they would be doing the opposite of a service for the community as the warden claimed. 

Strata 32: Seth had already begun his assault on the flyers. He had no method, just scraped away at whatever level the blade of the scraper landed on. The runt wondered if he should suggest to him to look for the borders of the flyers and try and lift the whole from that. But he knew that would make Seth look dumb. He was already madly tearing into a Missing poster, gouging the countenance of the person, as of now indeterminately male or female. A loss of face for Seth was in no way going to help save this faceless person from being forever lost.

Strata 33: The runt removed a wad of flyers stuck together, to reveal the next one beneath for a local punk band, who were all spread-eagled against the wall in maroon jump suits. The stenciled acronym they each shared was not CJD. Nor was one of their members considerably smaller than the rest of them. 

Strata 34: “Ow shit motherfucker!” T.J.’s own fevered strokes had led to the scraper slipping in his hand and slicing Seth’s exposed flesh operating next to it. Seth held his hand at the wrist while the blood dripped to the sidewalk, as both he and T.J. regarded it like some sort of biological specimen. The runt thought of the runnels of red paint on the other side of the wall under the action of the chemical stripper. He studied Seth’s face, but the only teardrop to be seen was the one inked beneath his eye. 

Strata 35: “What’s all this commotion then?” emitted the headless stomach of the warden which emerged round the wall before the rest of him. “Okay, I’ll get the first aid kit out the bus”. “I can’t carry on Warden Sir.” The warden ceased in mid-stride. “Oh no you don’t maggot. You’re not weaseling out of this detail. You’re the kind of snake who would have shot his toe off to get out of the Draft”. Oh man, don’t give T.J. any ideas. “Now pick up your scraper and get ready to get back to it.”

Strata 36: “Goddamn, that’s how they caught me man. You stab so much the knife gets slippery in your hand with his blood, and you end up cutting yourself. Then they got your DNA…” “Strap every time man, I keep tellin’ ya…”

Strata 37: The warden returned, medical bag in one hand, an apple in the other. He passed the bag to T.J., “Here, get your girlfriend to dress you”. The warden bit into the apple, chewed just long enough to atomize the segment, before spitting the flesh out all over T.J.’s attempts to bandage Seth’s wound. The warden tossed the apple to the ground. “There was a worm in it. A motherfucking worm!” Score one to the maggots then. 

Strata 38: “What you gawking at?” snapping his fingers at the runt. “Put those flyers, and my apple, into the refuse bag. I don’t want no mess left”. Then he stomped off. The runt opened a bag so it billowed agape in the breeze. It had a different stenciled acronym to that on their jump suits. W likely would have be for Waste, but he couldn’t figure out what those two other letters might have stood for. He searched for the flyer of the punk band, but their acronym didn’t match either. Didn’t even have a W.

Strata 39: Some of the detritus felt more like cardboard than paper. He reckoned that was the effect of rain wrinkling the paper, then being dried out by summer’s heat and setting stiff. Add in the effect of being compressed under the weight of those on top, plus the paste used to stick them to their fellows and you get this hardening and corrugation. Sort of how Juvie worked over a body too. Beaten to a pulp, you had no choice but to toughen up your skin.

Strata 40: As the runt returned the refuse bag to the sidewalk, he heard a strangled snuffling. He knew better than to directly seek the source of the sound, but as he picked his scraper back up he glimpsed T.J. and Seth each wiping sleeves across their faces. They were both gathered in front of the the same flyer. The runt could see it was an appeal for the return of the photographed missing pooch. Ambling as insouciantly as possible up to his station at the wall, he clocked that there was a real liquid tear superimposed over Seth’s inked one. 

Strata 41: How many damn layers were plastered here? He seemed to be making no progress. The whole thing was like an archeological dig, Each fresh strata revealed something from its era. A roller disco night; Someone offering a reel-to-reel recorder for sale. An alarm clock that brewed you your morning cup of tea. He wouldn’t have been surprised to hit a layer with an advert for The Pony Express, a handbill demanding the Abolition of Slavery, and then others below calling for Enlistment into the Minutemen. 

Strata 42: His wrist was getting tired so he swapped over the scraper. But his less favored hand couldn’t wield the tool with any control. He stopped and waggled his sore hand. T.J. snorted and waggled a lewd gesture at him. “Thought that’s the one place you’d have well-developed muscles at least wiener boy!” 

Strata 43: For his part, Seth had rolled up his sleeves. Dried blood caked his tattoos, eclipsing them. The runt thought about tattoos, how the needle had to pierce so many layers of skin to make it permanent. Pretty much like the layers on this accursed wall.

Strata 44: Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. Not the objects stuck on here. Things missing, things for sale… Loved but absent, or unloved and all too available. But not the objects themselves. Flat, two-dimensional reproductions of them. Long forgotten about. Even if the item was found, or sold to a new owner, it still remained broadcast here. No one ever followed up by removing the flyer. No case closed. That’s what the boys were doing, junking all the cold cases of domesticity. 

Strata 45: The runt whirled his neck to shake out some of the stiffness. He regarded the wall towering above him. There were even some flyers pasted up there. Fewer admittedly than at his level. He not only wondered how the posters got them up there, but how they expected anyone to be able to read them usefully. 

Strata 46: The opportunity of a lifetime, don’t miss out. The runt wasn’t able to see what was on offer, since the rest of the poster had been ripped off when whatever was lying above it came away from the wall. The opportunity presumably had long since passed. The question was whether the lifetimes of those being offered it, and the poster himself, had also expired. 

Strata 47: Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear, yet still no glimpse of the concrete below. This undertaking was beginning to seem like Ahab’s pursuit of the white whale. To scrape all the human barnacles caked and caulked to this concrete hide. This task wasn’t about flyers or the wall, it was to do with surfaces and depths. Only the runt could see this. 

Strata 48: The runt had developed a pressure blister from the scraper. He held his finger up so that the bulging skin was transparent as the light passed through it. Below he could see the flow of the clear liquid as he wiggled his digit. His plasma no less imprisoned than he was. He had located the source of his juvie-Nile. Blood, pith and plasma. The stuff all too easily spilt in the Juvie dorms and exercise yard. 

Strata 49: The edge of his scraper told the runt that finally the flyers were thinning out. The downside of that was that these were the ones most stuck fast. They could only be removed individually. Wait was that Little Bro? Or himself even? Captioned by a Wanted, Dead Or Alive motto. Sure bore a family resemblance. But the poster must have predated both of their own births, while the family hadn’t been in Texas for more than a single generation. Then there were posters of stolen game consoles, that also must have preceded their actual invention. The pictured missing jewelry also looked familiar to him. He begun tearing feverishly at them with his hands, scraping the skin from his knuckles. In no time at all he had them all off and the white concrete glinted at him. Just for a split second at least, for then there was a rumble and shouts of “Get back, she’s gonna fall!” Car horns sounded in the near distance and indeed the wall did come crashing down.

Sutra 50: Five youths… closer than they appear… teddy bear piñata grand larceny… puppet show red runnels of blood paint… maggots worms leeches… caustic bleaches… blanched white whale retiarius and trident… hot dogs cold showers mind your feet hygiene… corrugated transcendental reel-to-reel belt loop blasphemy… bullhorn ram’s horn mad Texas longhorns funeral pyre… Rejoice! 

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Ink - Flash Fiction

Ink had become a rare commodity. As precious in value as pearls. With e-readers, the market wouldn't sustain for continued ink manufacture, while trees were being preserved through the lack of demand for paper. As alternatives, squid and octopi proved a short-term fill-in, but we'd hunted and fished them to extinction, just as we had with oysters.

E-reader titles were produced by computer programmes, Linguistic algorithms and rapid speed digital analysis of word and plot patterns in best sellers churned out the next big thing. Human authors were nearing the endangered status of the humble biro pen. Yet they still resisted, still sought to publish their writing wares. Samizdat made a comeback, mainly written in charcoal from barbecue briquettes. which made its publication rather seasonal in the Northern Hemisphere. If you were caught asking for barbecue stuff in winter, you could be arrested. Some authors shortcut the whole process and composed in their own blood and other bodily fluids, despite the disreputable echoes with certain performance art of the previous century. They wrote on toilet paper which tore easily beneath even their blunted nibs.

In time even toilet paper disappeared from circulation. Authors took to writing on stones and pebbles. returning to the prehistoric dawn of art. They took to the forests where they could forge their own supply of charcoal by burning wood. They decided to further reach back and commune with their ancient brethren, and took to caves. They cast stencils of the alphabet and then holding them against the rock to spell the words they were compounding, they chewed charcoal and breathed its fine powder over the stencil to form the text. Their very breath giving life to and preserving their art. Their expression. Samizdat was eclipsed for artefact and unlike the memory capacity of e-readers which demanded periodic purges, these books remained permanently in print.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Two Food Groups - Flash Fiction

I sliced a segment from the onion and placed it into the frying pan to test the temperature of the oil. On contact, the oil spat at me like a cat with claws drawn and raked my exposed skin. The flesh instantly bubbled up and I went to the sink to mollify it. When I returned to the frying pan after my involuntary ablutions, the onion was turning from caramelised brown to charred black. I was sorrowful that my neglect had engendered its own contusion spectrum of burn. I extinguished the gas and tried to scrape the segment with the spatula. It took some considerable effort to detach its melted glutinous tendrils and I stared at the ghostly black impression of where it had lain on the anodised steel. A sooty shroud intaglio imprinted on the skillet. 

In time my skin repaired and renewed itself smooth and pink once again. In its incipient stages, the blister had filled with the fluid detritus of the damaged skin and I panicked at the uncanny recreation of the trapped water beneath the oil droplets that had precipitated this calamity in the first place. However, the onion, which out of guilt at the abortive ruination of one of its members, I had kept in the fridge, never did regrow and renew itself, but merely shrivelled and discoloured. Through a bruised yellow, to a caramelised brown. I threw it away before it reached the black obsidian hue of immolation. 


As the logging industry drives the local fauna into further and further shrinking acreages of forest, so governmental legislation herded smokers into ever smaller zones. And while we were relatively unassailed and unsullied by fuming fugs in our places of work and leisure, the transition between the two arenas was choked and befogged by the concentrated tobacco plumes bookending both termini of any journey. Huddled in the doorways of offices and public houses, where once they occupied snug bar and hunkered in basement bunker nicotine yellow smoking rooms. 

But a new plague had broken upon the city as the technology moved on apace. The streets themselves were now vaporous with exhalations from portable mini-chimneys or urbanised sylvan pipes. Now while it’s true these were only harmless steam droplets emanating from vaping, they were from ersatz infusions drawn from the fruit food group and thus far from benign. So one is blithely perambulating along an arcadian avenue devoted to the atelier and the artist studio, when one is artificially pitched headlong into a synthetic orchard through the unhappy coincidence of walking in the wake of one respiring the scent of apples or cherries. Perhaps instead you are determinedly tromping the concrete pavement of the thoroughfare, composing in your mind the pitch to put across at an imminent sales meeting, when you are thrust into the factitious citric or olive grove through the effluential pestilential emission mimicking the action of car exhausts, as they too profane the air you locomote through. So now one of my intended set of destinations, that of restaurants and other eating places, is now tainted by the fact that my nostrils have already tasted the desert course before I have even sat down to the hors-d’oeuvres.