Has been entered int the Realistic Poetry Contest and thus is no longer available on my blog as it is defined as non-exclusive or previous publication by the contest rules.
Who knows, I may even win.
Either way, it returns once the contest is over in February
Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror is really the best TV on your screen. It quite literally holds up a black mirror not just onto our society but to each one of us as components, now data-cogs, of the society we can no longer see anymore without the aid of mirrors. We are like goldfish in a goldfish bowl kept rotating by the shortness of our attention spans and never even realising the wetness of our environments.
Charlie Brooker, his cast, co-writers and the producers at Netflix are doing us the moral service of reminding us of the remnants of own moral outrage and how our own ethical boundaries have long since been trespassed by the dark consequences of convenience and more efficient processing.
The machines never took over, we just surrendered.
We are like commuters stuck in traffic complaining about the traffic that we are actually both part of and complicit in. Even though from our subjective vehicles, we cannot see it. Traffic controllers retain the power however it is a remote distributed, bureaucratic, systemised power that is no longer subject to one human’s judgement. Who do you alert when the traffic lights stop working? You don’t have to, they already know.
I have as of late, paraded the term Speculative Realism, borrowed from the French post-idealists. Who understand that the only way to view ourselves clearly is no longer as mere individuals but as components of a larger neuro-ecology that contains, constraints and ultimately defines us. We are the furniture that a system beyond our own subjectivity keeps rearranging “on our behalf”, “for our own safety”. “for your security”.
I have only slightly re-engineered the term in the context of a literary genre, of storytelling, perhaps the sole remaining respite of human freedom. A story is a purely human phenomenon untainted by machine efficiency as machines don’t need to tell each other stories. But we do, and in doing so we may be flexing the last quiescent muscle of our humanity. A story is comprised up 3 interlocked elements: The storyteller, the story and the audience (or to whom the story is told). At least two of these components are human, subject and object; the rest is merely synaptic grammar.
When a story is told and heard, a condensed complex of information, human knowledge and near spiritual wisdom is transmitted in a compact instant well beyond the speed or circuitry of a microchip. Remember, we are the minds that created and defined data. It is that creative mind that is both alert and receptive to the information that is vital to our survival, as a species and as sane human beings. Storytelling is our salvation and Poetry is better than prayer because you don’t have to pretend that someone is listening.
Speculative Realism is just my tag for vital, survival information being conveyed by storytellers. As essential as where the next herd of buffalo might be. Speculative Fiction has here to provide the luxurious canvas for our imaginations to ponder possibilities. But Speculative Realism is not what you might do ‘if…’ but what you will have to do ‘when…’ To survive, to retain your own identity and perhaps even your sanity. Speculative Realism is imperative, it carries the mental equipment we need to survive.
Black Mirror is a series of short cameos of Speculative Realism. The term is beginning to gain traction since I first observed the emergence of this genre in film, fiction and screen entertainment. I have since read a reference to Neil Gaiman‘s work described as Speculative Realist in his use of double vision, (the seeing of two apparent contractions as one), in his characterisations. I don’t know if he thinks that, you’d have to ask him.
Cyberpunk auteur Bruce Sterling, in Wired, refers to Speculative Realism as Philosophy Fiction, which is as good a handle as any because Speculative Realism defends the autonomy of the world from human access in a spirit of imaginative audacity.
In his recent Edinburgh University Press publication Speculative Realism and Science Fiction, Brian Willemsuses a range of science fiction literature that questions anthropomorphism to develop the Speculative Realist position. He looks at how nonsense and sense exist together in science fiction, the way in which language is not a guarantee of personhood, the role of vision in identity formation and the differences between metamorphosis and modulation.
These are useful critical and academic insights. But the real meat is in the eating and Black Mirror takes you to the centre of the Speculative Realist banquet, piling your plate high with outrage, moral panic and cautionary tales of horror. I suggest tasting a sample as we’re all going to be eating from this same table for the very foreseeable future,
the future that has already arrived.
© Igor Goldkind 2016
Last night was kind of my XXXmas eve, being a Saturday night, with no ghosts to placate until Monday morning. So I took my Victory out for a long ride, 46 miles down to Chula Vista to drop in on my drunken-angel-poet-brothers Alex Bosworth and Chris Vannoy. As I told them, I’ve never stopped in Chula Vista before, only passed through it; well on my way to crossing the border between Mexico and Madness.
Back in the Beatnik Days, when America was still a Great Shining Beacon of Golden Intentions and jail-breaking freedoms, going south of the border was a euphemism for leaving the straight rational world and exploring the psychedelic corridors and hallways of the unconscious mind, where the muses played poker to the sound of Gabriel’s saxophone under a streetlamp, playing for spare change, playing for the end of time. Kesey, Cassidy, Timothy Leary had all spent time south of the border, hiding from the authority.
But I wasn’t going all the way south or crossing any borders. Instead, like a Boddhisatva practising the discipline of worldly compassion, I was riding south on the great American highway stopping just short of going over the edge. Stopping long enough for the rest of my sentient species to hop on board and cross over with me. How long I gotta wait? The blur of the wind in my eyes transforms Inter-state 5 into a two-lane river of white headlight diamonds on one end heading towards but past me and on the other end, a torrent of glistening rubies speeding with me, flowing around me, carrying me forwards in one high speed direction.
I was carried on a slipstream of glistening rubies last night. Chilled legs wrapped around my angel in flight, carrying me aloft above all thought, beyond all hesitation, in that dangerous living moment when every half second of thought is solid and real with consequence; and any distraction is a trap door thumping open under the hangman’s rope.
That is the fury of mediation. That is my arrival in this moment that we all share. The calm at the center of chaos. Join me, dear reader, at the centre of chaos.
So I’m heading south armed with an unopened bottle of rye, the spirit of the season travels with me. Good whisky is about as spiritual as I get these days. It is my usual Xmas tradition to grab a bottle of good booze and head down to the Greyhound station, or the street corner, outside a homeless shelter or an alleyway or anywhere I can find and join a cluster of the disaffected, the homeless, the pointless, the ones left out of family portraits. Just to share a drink, a joke and the dregs of our mutual humanity.
But this year, not particularly in contrast, I’ve chosen the company of Deadbeat poets, failed self-construction workers, mental hospital misfits, suicide skippers and gravel-voiced prophets capable of predicting the present with uncanny accuracy. Cassandra’s children muttering under their condensed breaths, scratching their prophecies from the oracle down for the benefit of anyone who still remembers how to read; or how to listen. Tonight these are my brothers (and sisters), in arms. Raging against a sea of struggles, believing that by opposing them, we will end them and wrap our soiled blankets of peace around this cold, shivering world’s shoulders.
I make it to Main Street much too early and agree to meet my comrades in a bar called Sanctum. I have no currency apart from my still untried bottle of rye so I stand outside on the pavement near but not too near two young women smoking butts and laughing. ‘Merry Xmas’, I venture.
‘Merry fucking Xmas to you too’, is their reply. So I listen. A skill I am still mastering. The raven-haired beauty of the pair is recounting her love life to her friend. Telling her how she had met her intended’s eyes at work, a burning penetration in time and how happy she was that at least she knew, that she knew that she knew that there was an unstated passion, thrilling at the unstated, as yet unenacted attraction between them.
The bittersweet anticipation of passions yearned for but still yet to come.
I wanted to tell the dark-haired young woman how lucky she was to be free to express such yearning to another woman. Jealously, I wanted her to pity my poor lame masculinity and the political mindfield I had to traverse to even come close to sharing such a pure moment of true emotion and affection. But I didn’t. Who wants to hear another pitiful man’s story anyways? This was the year of raised female voices. Voices raised in anger, in righteous retribution for all the wrongs accrued., in demand of recognition. Voices of freedom insisting on justice, insisting on equal treatment without unwanted trespass.
Poor me, poor me, pour me another drink. . . .
So instead I pulled out my weapon of virtue, my great equalizer of man and woman, my bottle of rye from my bag and asked if ‘You ladies would like a drink”. “Hell yes”. And for a brief instant, I felt just like St. Peter patrolling the earth and giving comfort to lost souls.
This murdered the time until my wordly brothers finally arrived. We poured from the bottle into bright red dixie cups, swigging them down in the parking lot before entering the warmth of Sanctum Ale House to talk poetry, performance, and what we were going to do with the rest of our lives. This was beginning to feel a lot like a rendezvous of fallen angels pausing for a drink and brief reflection before hitting Hell.
There was no reason to take a picture or a selfie or even take note of the time. We drank, we talked, we tried to make each other laugh and we indulged in our common humanity; a focus on what we shared more than what we didn’t.
My mind spun back in time to the many drinking conversations I had with my late great friend, the writer David Halliwell. The only man I had ever met who had got drunk with Sam Beckett. So David told this story of buying a bottle of good Irish whisky and taking the train to London, from Yorkshire. Easily a 4-hour journey. On the trip, David got nervous opened the bottle and drank half the contents on the way down arriving completely cut up the King’s Road party where San Beckett would be. He did find Beckett apparently and immediately sat down to finish the rest of the bottle he’d brought. David got so drunk he couldn’t remember a word that Sam Beckett had said to him.
Last night, I told Chris and Alex about the year that David called me up to join him for a Xmas drink and The Bull Tavern in the little North East Oxfordshire village of Charlbury, whose village council insisted on calling it a town because it had 4 pubs, a pharmacy and a post office.
I walked down the unpaved bumpy road to the tavern, past the Egyptian cottage with the papyrus reeds of Isis, the Goddess, not the terrorists. I reached The Bull pub and Inn, Opened the heavy oak door and walked into a movie. The pub was nearly empty save for the bar that featured David on his bar stool holding court with his mates. Only his mates were images burnt on my retinas since childhood: John Hurt, Ben Kingsley, David Warner, Freddie Jones and his son, then unknown now better known than him, Toby Jones. I remember blinking in disbelief. I might as well have walked in on Lewis Carrol, Tolkien and CS Lewis downing pints all who had also frequented this pub some hundred years previously.
I remember David smiling, laughing his phlegmatic cough and motioning me over to introduce me to these faces from the screen. “This is Igor, he’s another writer; he’s a Yank but he’s alright”. I was just another writer in the company of actors, everyday workers taking a break from toiling in the star-maker factories behind the popular film. I was handed a bulbous goblet of glowing ruby wine and the rest is hard to remember. But I do recall making them laugh and David Warner towering over me and reminiscing about his one appearance in a two-part Star Trek opposite Patrick Stewart that had earned him enough to comfortably return to the stage for 7 continuous years. Apart from young Toby, these were board strutting actors; indifferent and virtually contemptuous of their movie work save for the vast sums Hollywood paid them for peddling their trade of packaged emotions.
The next year most of them would be dead, David Halliwell included. I would empty his cottage with a Scottish actor of his while his Yorkshire sister wept inconsolably on his stairwell. In England, people let you weep and leave you to the dignity of your grief out of respect for the exceptional display of emotion. If you openly weep in England its because the pain is so hard that you really can’t hold it in.
Back in the Sanctuum, I explained to my companions how David had taught me the true meaning and value of the literary arts, which for David included actors who tell stories with their faces. Storytelling’s place in the human universe, keeping the stars locked in their firmament and the cosmic spheres in perfectly balanced and meaningful rotation. David Halliwell wasn’t famous. He died a virtual pauper, alone, estranged from his sister, a Yorkshire man with an RSC accent from wanting to be an actor, who wrote every day of his life before heading down to the pub to argue with me.
But he was a great success, albeit not by any kind of American Calvinist standard. Rather he succeeded in staying true to his art. He never sold out to better-paid mediocrity. He stayed true to his art, to himself and he survived with the respect and admiration of his fellow artists. When he died, I wrote and read this eulogy at his memorial, after Harold Pinter came up from Hampstead to say a few words about his departed friend. As did Stephen Frears and Scott Hampton (author of Les Liaisons Dangereuses).
Daedalus Afraid to Fly
David, you bastard, you’ve left me
Understanding here alone,
With only these words falling out of my hands
When it is yours I want to hear again.
Words of your mastery, not mine.
So what was all the swearing about then, David?
What were all those Northern fumes really burning from?
I told you the songs of Yorkshire would never play in LA
Or London for that matter):
Two cities equidistant from your Yorkshire mother.
Tell me, David, why didn’t you just sell out?
You could have bought yourself a much better pint of beer
With all that money for old knotted ropes and
Still, have coughed up the phlegm to laugh at us all.
Is death your idea of some kind of joke?
Did you finally track down the film rights to Malcolm, David
And cash them in?
Are you really, secretly living in Barbados,
Making beautiful women miserable?
To think of all this wasted sorrow and
Empty glasses of beer.
You did say that you always wanted to visit other places.
But Daedalus, you were afraid to fly.
If you had been born upside down in America
You would have been a southern writer living in some Northern town.
Spilling your southern drawl over a rum and coke in a New York City bar.
Sitting elbow to arm with Williams, O’Neill, Baldwin and them all.
Your America was always an America of the mind.
So why fear the flight?
Your America David was where Charlie Parker
was forever sharp shooting pool with Humphrey Bogart
in some room behind a neon-splattered bar
Where Chet Baker never jumped or fell but flew, man!
He just flew away.
Just like you.
So you’re off then, David?
Back up the bumpy road,
Turning the corner around the Little Egyptian cottage
Navigating the reeds of Isis, Long past the close of time.
A brown duffle coat ship, bobbing on an unpaved surface,
Weaving a few well-spoken thoughts into your
Can you tell me, David:
Were you X-Centric, or
Merely Eggs Essential?
How about this time I tell you, David:
The spark was always there.
But not like Daedalus, like Prometheus.
The living punishment of Truth,
Chained to your bar stool,
That eternal pint of Carlsberg lager gnawing at your liver.
Like Prometheus David,
The spark is always here.
For the late, great David Halliwell; poet, playwright,
author of Malcolm’s Struggle Against the Eunuchs.
I can only miss you when you’re gone.