Pure Imagination


“There’s always gratification in self expression.” – John Horatio Malkovich


I recently watched a video of the brilliant writer Alan Moore being interviewed at the Odditorium. I’ve no idea what or where an ‘Odditorium’ is, but I do know that Alan Moore certainly belongs there.

I like Moore’s work very much. I like his ridiculously obsessive level of ‘quality control’ or ‘attention to detail’ or whatever it is that makes the great artists such control freaks. He once joked that if he was describing a glass of water in one of his scripts he would go so far as describing the hydrogen and oxygen molecules in it. For Show Pieces, the Lynchian film series that mixes the seemingly unrelated elements of sociopathic clowns, Northampton working men’s clubs, and Egyptian funerary practices, he wrote everything from dialogue and stage directions to songs, stand-up routines, and labels for imaginary products*. That level of control over a fictional universe is enviable (and almost certainly shows why he has disowned every film project adapted from any of his comic book work).

Speaking of which, I’m actually a lot more interested in Show Pieces and the other work that he is doing these days than I ever have been in most of his comic book writing. He may indeed be considered the best graphic novelist in the world (although that’s unfair to Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis and Neil Gaiman at the very least), but I find Moore’s current prose,  film and spoken word work far more engaging than his ‘heyday’ superhero stuff.

In the interview, he moaned about young people not knowing who Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary are. With all due respect to Northampton’s bearded prophet-magus, this probably just shows that he hasn’t met the right young people. I refuse to believe, despite some decidedly compelling evidence, that every young millennial is a half-sharp twat. I’d still like to think that most millennials are waking up in a way that young people haven’t been awake for a long time, and that some of them are even beginning the long search for a fire exit to the 3D movie theatre. Whether or not they will find it in time is another adventure…

As well as watching interviews with Northampton-based worldbuilders, I’ve been reading a bunch of screenplays that I found online. Most recently I read The Men Who Stare at Goats, the script behind the knockabout war comedy based on a slightly darker book and a much darker true story about the American military flirting with hippie culture as a way of appealing to young men of the post-Vietnam era.

Today’s lack of counterculture was another thing Alan Moore complained about, but do we really have much of a culture to counter these days?!? Anger will always achieve more than apathy, but does unbridled rage make any more strategic sense than going misty eyed or carrying lambs and flowers into battle like the goat staring men?

Historically, screenplays are grouped with cereal packets, technical instruction manuals and 17th century medical textbooks at the bottom of the list of things that people read for pleasure. I won’t go into the old ‘are screenplays art?’ debate but I do think that, if written well (perhaps obsessively), they are at least an often under-appreciated form of writing.

It can be edifying to compare early drafts to the finished version of some favourite films.** There are also the great unmade scripts: The Island of Doctor Moreau (adapted by the writers of The Wild Bunch and Full Metal Jacket); Sandman (adapted by the writers of Pirates of the Caribbean and Shrek); Neuromancer (adapted, for once, by the writer of Neuromancer). Films that you will never see anywhere but in your mind’s eye.

Screenwriting was always my own medium of choice. Despite the frustrations that come with it: Despite not feeling like a ‘real artist’. Despite directors/producers/other writers ‘reworking the material’, usually into turgid crap. Despite endless Skype calls answering questions like “but why does he stumble back, in awe? Wouldn’t it be a case of him jumping back, in shock?”**. Despite managing to upset aspiring producers by saying it’s perfectly alright for them not to ‘get’ the ending, but you’d rather find a producer who does than change it. Despite the drawers and drawers full of un-filmed work that people will tease you mercifully for: “was this written by a twelve year old?” (as if, at 23 and with your first attempt, you’re supposed to be the new frickin’ Shakespeare).

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A friend from England recently dug out an old horror script that we’d written together and has decided to film it (after rewriting it of course). It will be nice to see some ‘new’ work come to life, as always (even if the writing is only half mine, and even that half is not my best work). But I have yet to master the God-like level of control over my sporadic screenwriting that an artist has.

The Men Who Stare At Goats is not a great screenplay. It deals with a lot of the stuff I like: shamanism, counterculture elements, redemption stories. But it’s also a little preoccupied with Joseph Campbell and Star Wars references. I like my shamanism bubbling under the surface like an Alan Moore story, not smacking me in the forehead like a Dim Mak.

In a world that has lost its way, we need more people like Alan Moore (not people who copy his writing style or fashion sense, but people who do good, creative, uncompromising work). We need more artists, writers, journalists, performers. People who can see or do what others can’t and then try to explain some of those wyrd things to us.

When a world is undeniably fraying around the edges, the best coping mechanism is devoting time to something you love. Some people have the good fortune of being great at what they love, others just have to keep working at it and hope for the best. Ken Robinson, the educator and writer, calls this sweet spot ‘the element’; Joseph Campbell calls it ‘bliss’ (after a rough translation of ananda, one of the gateways to enlightenment in the Hindu Upanishads); I call it ‘the stuff you do when others have given you the courtesy of getting the fuck out of your face’.

FADE TO BLACK.


CODA:

But isn’t it frustrating?

Yes. It is. It’s frustrating to write short or long form scripts that you know are unlikely ever to see the light of day (for film, TV, web, or any other scripted media).

Yes. A script that isn’t filmed may as well not exist. Unlike an unpublished novel, one that can always be rediscovered and published years later, an unmade screenplay is just a map or a blueprint to a place that doesn’t exist or a building that was never constructed.

But as Vonnegut said in an earlier entry, “you will have created something”.


*One of which, Tunguska Vodka: This One Will Flatten You, could only be dreamt up by a demented alchemist like Mr. Moore.

**An epic puppet battle between John Malkovich and the devil may indeed have made great cinema, but it’s easy to see why it didn’t make it into the final draft.

**Yes, this was a real conversation.

Ten Rows of Teeth


“Characters you’ve created occasionally stop by to say hello, or try to hunt you down and eat you.” – Steven Hall


I sat in bed the other night, sipping a bottle of Nongfu Spring and reading over some old journals from my Vancouver days. Although I enjoyed that time in my life: sipping craft beer, strolling along the windy beach and exchanging ridiculously literal small talk with Canucks, I don’t actually miss Vancouver that much. Most of the travellers that I met there lamented the fact that they had moved to Canada to get on with their life but had just found themselves in the same dull routine they’d been trying to flee from: minimum wage jobs, drinking in the same bars, going to the movies to escape the crippling spiritual emptiness. It’s a lovely, beautiful city (albeit one punctured with many needle marks), it just never felt like home to me.

One of my favourite contemporary novels is The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall, a slipstream narrative that puts a fairly original spin on the old cliché about someone waking up with no memory of who they were the day before. The only clues that the protagonist has about his life are a breadcrumb trail of notes and packages that arrive, claiming to be from his past self, explaining that a predatory ‘conceptual fish’ has devoured his memories.

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In one of my journal entries, I wondered what would happen if I had woken up sans memories like the hero of RST (or Memento or Dark City or a dozen other stories); how would I feel about the guy from my past who writes down these little life notes? Would I like him? Would I understand his thought processes? What would I deduce about him just from the many pen scratches that he’s left behind in various colorful notebooks from hutong bookstores?

Well, the first thing I’d probably notice is that he complains a lot. Secondly, that he’s pretty bloody keen on writing. He’s lazy and procrastinatory, swimming in a sea of neuroses, but he enjoys life and makes quite a lot of strides towards his goals, sometimes doing breast stroke, sometimes doggy paddle. I don’t know what Amnesia Me would make of all this, but I kind of like the guy.

There was one thing I quite enjoyed about the lackluster TV adaptation of Stephen King’s 11.22.63 (and it is certainly not the way the date is written, nor is it the lead performance by People’s Choice nominee and surely-at-least-a-little-dead-inside James Franco). It was that whenever time traveller and very occasional actor James Franco tries to change anything in the past (usually with a sort of Shatner-esque dramatic flailing that many Americans often mistake for performance art), the past pushes back against him. Every time he tries to change something in the sixties, he is nearly run over or set on fire or shouted at*.

There’s one scene, if I remember correctly, where Empire-Award-nominated polymath James Franco is driving through the streets of Dallas searching for a lone gunman in a book depository,** shouting at no one in particular “We gotta be prepared, man! We’re going up against… The Past!” Then, BAM. Flat tire.

If I am ever likely to be assassinated, and somebody finds a magic cupboard that will send someone back with three years to adequately plan and execute a brilliant rescue attempt, please do not send the guy who failed to kill Tobey Maguire on three occasions.

In that Star Trek film I watched recently, the one when I had no voice but was still trying to swear at the telly for showing me a really long widescreen nineties TV episode about silly foreheads, the bad guy describes time as “the fire in which we all burn”.

Is the past really some kind of predator? One that swims around waiting to bite or burst into flames and ruin the day of Captain Picard or multiple-MTV-movie-award-nominee James Franco?

To be honest, I find the little packages from my past self kind of liberating. It’s fun to see what has changed in the year or almost-year since these journal entries, and what has stayed the same. It’s fun to see journeys taken and not taken, little predictions proven right or wrong. Hobos and junkies encountered and written about.

Maybe the past, or time in general, is against us or downright out to get us. But I rather doubt that it actually gives a shit about us. And I doubt we should give much of a shit about it. Except to occasionally read about it, see what we can learn from it, and then go shark hunting with a harpoon made of words.

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*Admittedly, the past doesn’t do all that much when he starts boning a Hitchcock blonde old enough to be his grandmother, but whatever.

**(this is a fantasy story after all)

Driffield’s Bookcase (an Epilogue to The Anatomy of Melancholy)

“Never confuse where you are with where you are going.”

-Emir Manheim


In the past, when I’ve felt blue/down/angry, people’s always-helpful-and-never-knowingly-unappreciated advice has often extended to phrases like “try not to think about it” or “hmm, maybe there’s a lesson to be learned here”, or even “I’d keep those sort of opinions to yourself if I were you!”

More often than not, the people who actually cheer me up are people I’ve never met, sometimes people who’ve been dead for years: poets, writers, philosophers, artists.

My recent quest to detox from most of the human race through other people’s multimedia art proved fruitful. The world may still be the planetary equivalent of a reasonably amusing hobo who approaches you and mumbles some crazy shit that makes you chuckle, only to pull out a rusty hunting knife and go straight for the gonads, but maybe it’s always been that way.

A long time ago, the Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates found himself standing in the sunny garden of his friend Democritus, the ‘laughing philosopher’. Something like the following scene unfolded:

FADE IN.

EXT. THRACIAN SUBURBS, 3RD CENTURY BCE – DAY

Hippocrates (tall, bearded, father-of-modern-medicine type) stands in a sunny Greek garden. His face suddenly turns sour as he sniffs the air suspiciously.

HIPPOCRATES (with distaste)
Hmm. Smells like entrails around here!

Following the intestinal scent, Hippocrates finds his friend sitting beneath a huge tree. Democritus (fat, pre-Socratic, father-of-atomic theory looking), has an open book in his nude lap and a big dopey Joker grin on his face. Strewn about him on the ground are the corpses of at least a dozen household animals.

HIPPOCRATES
Wtf, Democritus! Why do you sit naked under a shady bower, surrounded by the carcasses of many and several beasts? Do you hold these creatures in contempt or something, fam?

DEMOCRITUS
Nah, bro. I is doing science, innit. This book upon my knee is my own work. I am writing on madness and anatomy and that. I have anatomized these animals, all of which are dear to me, in order that my writings and researches may lead other men to avoid sitting upon the throne of atra bilis, known in English as melancholy.

HIPPOCRATES
I know what atra bilis is mate, for I am Greek also. But what is to be done about the smell, broheim?

FADE TO WHITE.

Flash forward a couple of epochs. Two score centuries, give or take.

1631. An English scholar by the name of Robert Burton, writing under the questionable (and possibly not-so-serious) pseudonym ‘Democritus Junior’ incorporates his own version of Hippocrates’s anecdote into what would become his only published work, a dense medical text on melancholy. Burton was an obsessive re-writer of his own work, and no less than five revisions of the book were published in his lifetime alone.

The text is described in the beginning (by a possibly unreliable source) as “A book once the favourite of the learned and the witty”, “the delight of the learned, the solace of the indolent, and the refuge of the uninformed”, which sounds like something quite a lot of people here in the 21st century should be reading.

Samuel Johnson supposedly once said that Burton’s work “was the only book that ever took him out of bed two hours sooner than he wished to rise.”*

By all accounts, Burton was quite the pleasant chap. A voracious reader. A devoted student of the world with a dark sense of humour. “Very merry, facete, and juvenile”, “the pleasantest, the most learned, and the most full of sterling sense.”

Anyone who has the word ‘learned’ attached to him that many times must be worth a read, surely?

FADE TO WHITE.

Let’s crash through another few centuries:

EXT. WEST PENDER STREET, VANCOUVER, CANADA – DAY

Benjamin (scrucify, clumsy, introverted but undeniably sexually attractive kind of guy) walks through the rain clutching an umbrella. He is at a point exactly equidistant from a secondhand bookshop and a little café run by a woman from Shanghai who makes excellent eggs Benedict.

BENJAMIN (inner monologue)
I swear, after going book shopping in Vancouver, that I will never complain about the price of paperbacks in Beijing ever again! Perhaps I’ll go to the library and see if they have anything by Alan Moore or Iain Sinclair.

CUT TO:

I walk in to pick up a hold in the Vancouver Public Library.** The book is London: City of Disappearances, a sprawling multi-author fusion of fact and fiction about England’s swinging capital.

One of the book’s ‘characters’ is the enigmatic bookseller Driffield, who spends his time sipping jet black coffees, loafing about in salmon pink jumpers and gathering research for his self-published guides to All The Secondhand and Antiquarian Bookshops in Britain; he tries to make money by renting himself out to writers as a character in their fictional stories. On one of Driff’s many bookcases sits a 17th Century medical textbook, which is where I first become aware of Robert Burton’s 2000 page tome The Anatomy of Melancholy: What it is; With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. In Three Maine Partitions with their several Sections, Members, and Subsections. Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically, Opened and Cut Up. I clearly file it away somewhere in my brain in case the world becomes so depressing that I’ll want to steal any part of the catchy title for a blog project.

Ironically, for a book that he wrote mostly to relieve his own melancholy, the textbook apparently increased Burton’s malady to such a degree that he never recovered.

A similar fate may well have befallen the by-now-at-least-semi-fictional Driffield. Nobody is even sure of his current whereabouts, although rumours of his death may have been started by the mysterious book dealer himself.

FADE TO WHITE.

Onwards, further into the future:

INT. ANLILU SUBWAY STATION, BEIJING, CHINA – DAY

I hop onto Line 15 one chilly December evening, chatting to an interesting fella who was with the circus for ten years, and is now – after a decade of juggling and death defying stunts – ready to run away to Medical School. He’s now clowning around as a drama teacher, waiting for his scholarship to come through, studying Chinese medicine in his spare time. This guy is already a veritable fount of knowledge after pretty much teaching himself anatomy and physiology. I’m telling him about the time I myself wanted to run away from the circus of my life and join BBC medical dramas. As he talks about nerve endings and skin cells, and I talk about that red-headed surgeon from Holby City, something in the back of my mind reminds me that I still haven’t read any Robert Burton.

CUT TO:

Several months later. After visiting a couple of art galleries, having distilled the story of my day into a 3000 word mess on art and Batman, I forget to put a paperback of Lady Chatterley’s Lover into my rucksack. Dashing towards the subway as usual, I can’t bear the thought of a commute without a piece of literature, so I open my iBooks app and load up the Project Gutenberg version of The Anatomy of Melancholy.

By the time I have reached my destination, I’ve read nearly 50 pages. A few days later, as I write this, I have read nearly 200.

I’m only on chapter 2.

FADE OUT.


*Although he also stated that it was “perhaps, overloaded with quotation”, which I can now confirm is very much the fucking case! And so much Latin. Remember that anecdote about Walt Disney rejecting Aldous Huxley’s screenplay for Alice in Wonderland because he only understood every fourth word? Here uncle Walt would be clueless.

**In Canadian libraries, a book reservation is called a ‘hold’, presumably because the word ‘reservation’ was already in use for the awful stuff that the early settlers were doing to native Americans.

The Jing in the Spring

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“Anyone for tennis?”


Spring is here. Beijing has a four season climate, but the winter and summer are long and the other two seasons are short. The perfect time for sports jackets and t-shirts is a small window of opportunity.

In China, there’s often an old-fashioned view of English gentlemen spending the springtime at picnics, loafing about in straw boaters and plus fours while lazily batting around a tennis ball and munching cucumber sandwiches. I can’t speak for all English people*, but for me it’s pretty much a half truth. I don’t own any knickerbockers, and badminton is far more popular here than tennis. But when it comes to picnics with the gf and friends, especially in idyllic Chaoyang Park, I’m there quicker than you can say “ants and random dust storms”.

Cháoyáng Gōngyuán is a beautiful and vast green space, the largest park in the city. By a fine stroke of serendipity, the 2017 Beijing Book Fair was out in force the very day we chose for our luncheon, meaning the opportunity to browse at least a handful of used English language paperbacks (a veritable treasure trove by Beijing standards). I nearly bought a copy of the restored text version of William Burroughs’ The Soft Machine but I hastily dropped this idea (and the book itself) when I noticed it was a little too used, with a suspicious yellow crust across the back cover. This raised questions that I don’t even want to ask, let alone answer.

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Aprés park, we popped into Zoo Coffee and wandered around Blue Harbour, a riverside shopping area and bar street at the far end of the park. Blue Harbour is reminiscent of Patrick McGoohan’s cosmopolitan Village, but instead of polite, colorful, numbered denizens it’s just the same cynical hipsters you get everywhere in the Jing. We took selfies at the Italianate fountain, dismissed a ‘British’ pub as both inauthentic and far too expensive, spent at least half an hour in another beautiful bookshop and then, as always, had Chinese food for dinner.

As I finish writing this entry, a handful of days later, the weather has already turned sweltering and the sports jacket has gone into the cupboard.


*or ‘ex’-English people

The Year of the Rat

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“Even when you are not paralyzed by fright or screaming with pain, life is a moment-to-moment struggle against hunger or cold or sleeplessness, against a sour stomach or an aching tooth.”

– George Orwell


I rode a crowded bus the other day (there is no other type of bus in Beijing, that is literally the only appropriate adjective in this case) and there was a video monitor displaying footage of car crashes here in the capital, appealing for witnesses.

I took two things away from the blurry, cctv footage of people being knocked off motorcycles and being dragged from wreckage, one being that most drivers here really are dopey as fuck. The second was this: I couldn’t see a bloody thing. No faces, no distinguishing features, no articles of clothing. Nothing that would have reminded me,  had I previously seen the original flesh and blood incident, that I was actually there that day.

It made me think: if all of these cameras are here to keep people safe, why are the police appealing for witnesses and showing us blurry footage of people we’d never recognize in real life even if they lived next door (unless their face actually looked like pixels. That would, admittedly, be suspicious as all hell).

Urban explorer Bradley Garrett points out in his indispensable TED talk The Value of Trespass, “If you want to control people’s behaviour, the most effective way to do that is to make them think they are being watched all the time. People will monitor their own behavior if they think they’re being watched. This has always been the dark secret of installing CCTV cameras in cities. The cameras don’t even need to work.”

This week, I jumped on the American bandwagon and read George Orwell’s 1984 for the first time. I had often meant to. It’s exactly the sort of thing that I should have read as a student when I was into Kafka stories and Berkoff plays. I tried it once but, like Naked Lunch, gave up a few chapters in. On that occasion, I had written it off because it was making me feel depressed, but I did pretty much live in Victory Mansions at the time. This time I finally won the victory over myself and made it all the way through.

Another reason it has taken me so long to read 1984 is that it casts a very big shadow. It’s one of those stories that has bled so violently into western pop culture that I always felt I knew it before ever cracking the spine on my ¥20 paperback version. Other novels, TV shows, movies and adverts have paid lip service to its ideas, some have actually gone pretty much as far as full-on fellatio.

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, a firm favourite of mine, was originally to be titled 1984 and 1/2 (an allusion not only to Orwell but also to Federico Fellini’s brilliant movie 8 1/2). Even in the 21st Century, Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem basically just promoted Big Brother to Management, giving him a social media account and a VR helmet. Management watches one rogue employee in a ruined chapel through ‘ManCams’, including one not so subtly mounted on a decapitated crucifix.*

I was born in 1984. I also, like everyone from England, pretty much lived in 1984! When I returned to England from Beijing (a place that most British people who’ve never been here refer to as ‘oppressive’) the first time, I was absolutely horrified to pass through a huge Orwellian machine that scanned my passport and face before I was set loose in London, home of half a million CCTV cameras. In the Jing they just stare at me with a wooden face and then give me a little red stamp.

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1984 is, obviously,  a warning. It’s what can happen if people are apathetic. I remember when New Labour planned to bring ID cards to the UK, something they had previously dismissed out of hand as ‘fascist’ when first proposed by the Tories. I was amazed that a ‘first world’ government would do something so invasive to its citizens, but I was even more amazed to discover that I was one of only a handful of people who was actually angered by the idea. I remember one conversation with a family member who said they didn’t remotely object to ID cards because they had ‘nothing to hide’ (which, as Edward Snowden tells us, is “like saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say”).

I lost a lot of faith in the soon-to-be Airstrip One that day, gesticulating wildly and shouting “I’ve got nothing to hide either, that’s why I don’t need a fucking ID card!”**

I am not, despite what some people think, a fan of ‘political correctness’. I object to most derogatory phrases and to military video games and to ultra violent horror movies, but I object far more to anyone thinking they have the right to tell me what words I can use, what games I can play and what movies I can watch. I have every right to refer to someone who insists on running a low watt bulb as a ‘twat spastic’, just as you have every right to be offended by that.

And I do not, by any means, think that the word ‘blackboard’ is racist, or that ‘brainstorm’ is derogatory towards retards.

There’s a nineties movie that only a handful of people have ever seen called EdTv, an MTV generation glimpse into the very near future of our own oppressive, mediocrity-obsessed present, where the value of anyone’s story is its potential to be branded, franchised and sold to the baying masses. With superb timing, the film came out the same year as the original series of ‘reality’ surveillance show Big Brother.

EdTv is essentially a less clever, less subtle version of The Truman Show. The plot is this (yes, genius, there are spoilers coming): An ailing network hits on the idea of taking reality TV to its logical extreme, following around the ultimate Gen X archetype, a schlubby video store clerk, and broadcasting his boring-ass, beer-swilling, blue collar existence 24 hours a day. For the first 48 hours, everyone hates the show but even so nobody can stop watching. By day 3 everyone’s heart has melted and the programme becomes a massive hit, reversing the network’s fortunes and making a big star of its working class hero. But in a desperate bid to secure ratings, the network executives start interfering with Ed’s life, forcing him to split up with his girlfriend and engineering ‘chance’ encounters with English supermodels as well as digging up embarrassing moments from his family’s past. Ed realizes that fame and fortune has come at a terrible price, and threatens to quit the show. But he has signed a contract, and his friends and family have all signed release forms, allowing the network to follow Ed and everyone he cares about with a video camera 24/7. It’s only when he turns the tables on the oppressive executives by digging up anecdotes about their own past and broadcasting their secrets on live TV that the plug is finally pulled.

That’s one thing that’s wrong with the Big Brothers of the world: they aren’t interested in transparency, they’re interested in control. They want to know everything about you, but they don’t want you to know anything about them.

I’ll tell you some things that offend me. I do not expect you to take note.

I’m offended by people who think that because they have a strong opinion, that it deserves to be respected or at least listened to by everyone (I can understand the Buddhist principle that ‘the opposite of what you know is also true’ but I don’t, for example, give a shit what either Gallagher brother thinks about other people’s music, or believe that Nick Griffin was ever a serious politician).

I’m deeply offended by the word ‘landlord’.

I find using internet comments to ‘stir debate’ an offense that should be punishable by death.

I’m offended by the term ‘twat spastic’.

And I find it offensive that so many people are totally blasé at the thought of their every move being scrutinized by someone.***  I even find the term ‘under surveillance’ pretty offensive, not least because I for one am so fucking over it!

It was said by whoever I’m about to paraphrase that those who refuse to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. It would be sad if Orwell just got the date wrong. I  hope that enough people are paying attention, and that those who are willing to learn won’t end up standing idly by and watching some absolute Big Wanker fuck everything up anyway.


*The Zero Theorem brilliantly pokes fun at the dotcom ‘bubblegum dystopia’ worlds of most modern tech companies: the kind of migraine-inducing offices that look more like a playground, as if riding down a big yellow slide or playing in a psychedelic ball pit will increase an employee’s productivity in some way. One journalist memorably pointed out after a trip to Pixar studios that it feels like an animator couldn’t even nip to the toilets for a quick wank without it being encouraged as part of their creative process.

**My faith never really returned, especially after a conversation with someone else who smacked my gob with “yeah, but some people are just smarter than us, aren’t they? They’re the ones that should be making the decisions, not us”.

***(and, therefore, by anyone. There’s no surveillance equipment that can be used only by ‘the good guys’).

Love & Death

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“This thing reads like stereo instructions!”


I decided to read The Tibetan Book of the Dead, motivated both by idle curiosity and by the fact that I don’t really have much else to read at the moment. I’m not a fan of religion, of course, but I am a fan of storytelling. Religious stories are almost always entertaining, and usually quite a good laugh.

The book is a little difficult to get through, not exactly suitable ‘metro lit’. It’s kind of like a real version of the handbook in Tim Burton’s Beetle Juice. At one point it recommends literally defecating on stuff or snorting your own jizz up your nose as a way to ward off vengeful demons (instead of, you know, just taking your chances really).

On a totally unrelated note that gives me a decent title for this entry, it was Valentine’s Day last week. In China, ‘lovers day’ is celebrated pretty much the same way it is in the west: with a cadre of bell ends rushing home to their partners with a single red rose they bought at the last minute outside a subway station.

I’m used to spending Valentine’s on my own, usually doing what Chinese people euphemistically refer to as “shooting the aeroplane”. This year, though, I was just as tempted by the saccharine music and buckets of flowers as every other Jinger. I bought the gf a couple of romantic DVDs from Sanlitun, including some absolutely carcinogenic- looking shite with Keanu Reeves.*

I’m currently prostrating myself in front of the 52 wrathful deities in the hope that she’ll somehow want to watch it alone.


*(In return, I received a knife and fork: a gift from one who knows!)

Paranoid Fiction

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“Those who can’t handle drugs turn to reality.” – Tom Waits


I paid another visit to the Foreign Language Bookstore in Wangfujing recently and I was surprised to see a copy of The Psychedelic Experience, Timothy Leary’s counterculture retelling of the Bardo Thodal (or Tibetan Book of the Dead) as a manual for tripping balls. I was equally surprised yesterday evening to find a Chinese translation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas at 798 Art Zone. I don’t pretend to understand China’s censorship laws (and it’s hardly beyond the realm of the possible that one or both of these books was an illegal import), but I was definitely under the impression that drugs were a no go.

Over the last few days I finally read Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs, my fourth or fifth attempt at getting more than halfway through it. When I left Vancouver I made damned sure that Naked Lunch was one of the books I brought with me, for the reason stated above.*  My only other encounter with Burroughs had been reading his debut (short) novel Junky, often described as his most ‘accessible’ text.**

You may gather that I kind of like drug literature, despite my own philosophy on substance abuse being that I lean towards not pissing around with that sort of thing. I’m not saying that I lived in Vancouver without ever ending up one toke over the line, nor that my autobiography will be totally free of anecdotes about trying to buy cheesy wotsits and a single carrot at a 24 hour Tesco when the party was long since over.*** But these were single experiments with a handful of substances. I’ve been to one rave in my entire life, and it made me just as miserable as any other social gathering I’ve been to.

I certainly don’t buy the romanticized image of ‘the junky’ as some sort of tortured, WASPy middle-class bloke who goes on to clean up his act, fire a shitload of guns in the air and create Interzone. I’ve never met a druggie or a boozer who wasn’t an absolute wastrel twat.

I have never read The Psychedelic Experience, although I am tempted. Ironically, though, another ‘banned’ book that I made sure to bring with me was Penguin’s recent unabridged translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead.


* I also packed Thomas DeQuincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater. A third volume of ‘drug lit’, The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda, simply didn’t fit in my suitcase.

**(which isn’t saying much, and presumably ignores the inaccessible parts).

***(nor indeed of actually trying to prove to one long-suffering friend that I could dig a tunnel backwards in time to the 1960s).