Sunday, 11 April 2021

I Have A New Animal Familiar

Six months before I was born, my parents bought themselves a cat. He was an ordinary black, non-pedigree moggy and went on to live to the ripe old age of 23. Once I was moved out of a cot and into my bed, that cat slept on my bed every night until his death, even when I was no longer living at home having gone to university. 

He was my animal familiar. Not in terms of he and I collaborating in performing black or white magic, just that we communed with one another and had a deep bond. After he died, I never had such a connection with any other animal, but I did mentally opt for new spirit animals. And here is where I would describe it as performing magic, in the similar manner to the Tarot or I-Ching. Not in any sense of supernatural divination; rather you double down, consider the questions you bring to the table and with the aides memoire prompted by the yarrow stalks or cards, you perform some self-divination and gain some self-insights around the questions you were asking.  

So when I say my adopted spirit totems of the tarantula and the vulture, it is purely in this theoretical way rather than that I had with my black cat. While I have stared into the black, black void of a vulture's eyes at a zoo, I certainly wouldn't want either creature perched on my bed while I lay asleep. Both animals served as aides de memoire. Aspects of their physical being and behaviour, allow me to conceptualise and relate back to things about life. I have written flash fiction stories about both, "Eight-Legged Amy" (tarantula), "Rich Pickings" and "Cop Aesthetic" (both vultures), about life, death, rebirth, criminality and war. 

But move over guys, a new familiar is in town. Or rather the oceans. For I have become infatuated with jellyfish. One of the oldest species in the history of the planet, these remarkable beasts have a whole host of associations and images that they conjure up. Firstly there is the rather unique case of the 

Turritopsis dohrnii 

which has the ability to revert from mature adult stage (the medusa) back to its previous stage of the polyp when threatened or in environmental difficulty. This lends us a tantalising glimpse into the possibility of immortality, for as long as it stays in this polyp state, it will not die unless predated upon. To my mind, this argues against the unidirectionality of time and against entropy which underpins it. The erosion of cliffs is taken as proof that time can only flow forwards, since the cliffs cannot reclaim their lost eroded matter. This humble little jellyfish begs to differ. 

Then we have the striking case of the box jellyfish. Like all jellyfish it has no centralised brain as we do, and therefore no visual cortex. And yet this jelly has four eyes, one on each corner of its box. And these eyes can at least respond to light and help the jellyfish orient its swimming. To me this offers a fascinating glimpse into how single-cell organisms developed into multi-cellular ones and the complexity of sense perception organs like the human eye; which came first the eye or the visual cortex? The box jelly suggests it was the clumping together of cells into an eye and that only later did it coalesce into forging with part of the brain to render a more sophisticated visual apparatus. 

Well may people view these creatures as nightmarish and alien, but here's a reason why we all may need to become more familiar with them. As zones of our oceans become arid and dead due to pollution, the jellyfish move into colonise them, because while their predators vacate, the jellies can survive in relatively low-oxidated waters and are agglomerating into huge swarms. The environmental issues are both illustrated by the very thriving of the jellies and further exacerbated by the damage they wreak in such huge hosts. 

There is so much more still to explore about this creature, part animal, part plant. Welcome to my new animal familiar. And no, I would never get in the water with one. 

Monday, 11 January 2021

En Avant Garde - Flash Fiction

     Hollywood had fallen as easily as a stage flat. Militias from Idaho and Montana were dispatched to de-core the Big Apple and root out every last maggot. The President was equivocal over assailing Wall Street, but they had carte blanche on deviant lawyers, journalists and artists housed in Gotham. They were also encouraged to hunt down radical Islamic terrorists who were assumed to be embedded there.

The campaign started with simultaneous assaults on MOMA and the Guggenheim. Sculptures were attacked with chisels, mysteriously transformed into harmless palette knives on first contact. Tins of house paint were hurled against paintings mounted on the walls, but some inherent shaman-artistic force bunched the paint splashes like Hokusai waves, before sending them slithering to the concrete floor, whereupon they proceeded to reproduce a variety of Jackson Pollock canvases. The only blow these crack squads landed was successfully shooting up several Jasper Johns’ Target paintings, scoring perfect bulls’ eyes. Museum curators felt this added to the paintings’ interactive spirit of the familiar, though art critics felt it merely exhibited the AltRight’s two-dimensional literalism. The discourse raged on, with this first wave of shock corps oblivious to their part in the colloquy. An Islamic Anti-Blasphemy squad came across them at the upper echelons of the Guggenheim, launched a copy of their Taliban and ISIS Guide To Perfidious Art into the gallery they occupied and then fled. The manual had just a lone page, a photograph of a stick of dynamite. The Breitbart Division mined the top story, but their hoped for Helter Skelter failed to materialise. Instead they were thrown off balance and tumbled all the way down the Guggenheim’s spiral incline and were bounced out by their own philistine perspective, followed by all the creative energy their blast had liberated from behind glass. 

They took their war to the streets, but New York’s awakened soul defied them at every turn. Broadway turned Boogie-Woogie and seethed and pulsed with animated light and color that refused to offer itself up for landmarks by which the militias could orient themselves. Other Mondrianic effects warped and disarrayed the grid pattern, so plunging the troops into anomic motion homesickness. The mid-Westerners didn’t trust the solidity of Joseph Stella’s Brooklyn Bridge, so Brooklyn remained unmolested for now. When Koons' creations walked the streets, these supermen thought them to be real cartoon characters and halted their operations to sit down and enjoy their progress, reliving their own bucolic childhoods. The sexualised scents emanating from the O’Keefean blooms that bedecked New York’s flowerboxes, made them sick just below their paunches and scores fell away invalided from the campaign with inexplicable erections. Many saluted Lichtenstein’s Flag and were frozen in patriotic Old Glory immobility. KKK Quartermasters tried to secure rations from One Hundred Cans, but they stubbornly refused to multiply in order to feed the five thousand. The image of Leutze’s Washington Crossing The Delaware employed for their banners, mysteriously transformed in NYC’s rarefied air into Colescott’s version, which saw them jumping up and down on their own cloth and setting fire to it, the only art they managed to burn throughout the whole campaign. Finally, a man in leathers was crouched crosstown, with a whip protruding from his rectum, at which point an Islamic terrorist cell fled for their lives at this visitation by Shaytan himself.  

The Young British Artists pledged their support for their fellow American BoHos. But no matter how exhausted the New York resistance were, none could bring themselves to resort to Tracey Emin’s donated bed for rest and recuperation. While Damien Hirst’s leering jewelled skulls were felt to be a hex, though the diamonds proved useful in supplementing their lasers and machine tool production in the fight against the Übermensch. Hirst’s dead shark was wheeled into a New York thoroughfare, its case opened up, but the formaldehyde just pooled in the gutter before disappearing down the sewers, while the fish itself lay forlornly in the street holding up traffic, though no one considered this the least bit surreal, nor worthy of comment. 

The Neo-Nazis retreated from Manhattan, but they had successfully liberated Marsden Hartley’s Portrait Of a German Officer and managing to overcome their own vertiginous revulsion at its bewildering Cubism, at least they could center themselves in the insignia of the German army at its heart. Thus they regathered themselves to storm Brooklyn, bolstered by reinforcements from Ohio and Florida. They put aside their antagonism with the Islamists for a joint onslaught. They dug themselves in, erecting an Eruv of gas ovens at their perimeter in order to sap the will of the besieged. However, Rothko canvasses appeared everywhere and at every angle, like a Roman Legion’s tortoise formation. The AltRight couldn’t get their ovens to work, the gas to flow, the flame to light. When they sent in their engineers, they observed how the oven doors were indistinctly and imprecisely edged, being of poor fit and allowing the chemicals to escape. The gas too had condensed into thick pigmented layers, rendering it too dense to ignite. Rothko’s hues sucked the heart and space out of them, demanding a crepuscular meditation they just could not offer up. Instead many jumped inside their own ovens and begged for combustion to take them completely away from this claustrophobic Hell. And so a retreat from New York was engendered, back to the snowy wastes of the Heartland.