GIF as effigy / molten centre: the fiction of Shane Jesse Christmass

 

©️James Knight


Meg. Is that you, Petey?

Pause.

Petey, is that you?

Pause.

Petey?

Petey. What?

Meg. Is that you?

Petey. Yes, it’s me.

Meg. What? Are you back?

Petey. Yes.

Meg. I’ve got your cornflakes ready. Here’s your cornflakes. Are they nice?

Petey. Very nice.

Meg. I thought they’d be nice. You got your paper?

Petey. Yes.

Meg. Is it good?

Petey. Not bad.

Meg. What does it say?

Petey. Nothing much.

Meg. You read me out some nice bits yesterday.

Petey. Yes, well, I haven’t finished this one yet.

Meg. Will you tell me when you come to something good?

Petey. Yes.

Pause.

Meg. Have you been working hard this morning?

Petey. No. I just stacked up a few of the old chairs. Cleaned up a bit.

Meg. Is it nice out?

Petey. Very nice.

(From Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party)

Having buried the Author, the modern scriptor can thus no longer believe… that this hand is too slow for his thought or passion… For him, on the contrary, the hand, cut off from any voice, borne by a gesture of inscription (and not of expression), traces a field without origin – or which, at least, has no other origin than language itself, language which ceaselessly calls into question all origins.

(From Roland Barthes’ The Death of the Author)

As children, we have all played that game in which a word is repeated and repeated until it sounds alien, mysterious. Its sound shocks us with its new unfamiliarity; how did we come to use the word for so long, without stopping to think about its oddness? The word “dog” is no longer English; its guttural flatness belongs to some forgotten tongue, in which words exercise savage, earthy magic. Not only does the sound “dog” no longer belong to us, its meaning has slipped away, so that the signifier won’t align with its erstwhile signified, pointing instead with stubby finger somewhere wild and unknown. “Dog” might mean a diseased tree, a fall, a curse.

The fiction of Australian writer Shane Jesse Christmass does something similar with language. Christmass’s writing is circular, repetitive, driven by linguistic units (celebrities’ full names, phrases, and clauses) that recur in different combinations, sometimes together and sometimes in combination with new linguistic units that are then repeated, recombined and played out across the narrative. Main verbs are frequently absent; the result is a nightmarish accumulation of tableaux. Take this example from early on in Police Force as a Corrupt Breeze:

The door opens. Take that. Pincers. GIF living in an upstairs place containing a soft drink dispenser, a coffee table, a double bed in the corner, a refrigerator filled with foodstuffs and amphetamines. GIF as wax effigy/molten centre. Burton blots out the elemental residue caused by GIF melting.

Much later, towards the end of the novel:

GIF cleaned smoothly, systematically. GIF living in an upstairs place containing a soft drink dispenser, a coffee table, a double bed in the corner, a refrigerator filled with foodstuffs and amphetamines. GIF as wax effigy/molten centre. Burton blots out the elemental residue caused by GIF melting.

The GIF is a frequently recurring motif in Police Force as a Corrupt Breeze, and it serves as an important symbol of Christmass’s style. Like GIFs, Christmass’s linguistic units are set in loops, reiterating maddeningly, threatening our reason and our dependency on linear development and progress. “GIF as wax effigy/molten centre” is a reformulation of Breton’s “explosante-fixe”: surrealist image as paradoxically volatile, static icon. We cannot look at an inactive volcano without visualising its violent eruption. Like his other novels Belfie Hell and Yeezus in Furs, Police Force as a Corrupt Breeze is at once oppressively circular and disquietingly protean.

Christmass’s vast word machines mangle all meaning out of proper nouns, and it is here that his work is most subversive. Celebrities become ciphers, void of significance. In Belfie Hell, the frequent reappearance of the proper noun “Shia LeBeouf” (always in this form, never just “Shia” or “LeBeouf”) wrenches this signifier away from the signified. We soon stop picturing the famous actor, or if we do, he is a flat cut-out, a copy of a copy, functioning grammatically and dramatically, but bringing no depth or richness to the narrative. Moral significance is pulverised too; “the underage guy that James Franco fucked” might initially make the reader feel uncomfortable, with its connotations of rape, but the repetition ad nauseam of the noun phrase takes out the sting, normalises it, makes us numb to the value of the words. It is a truism that the proliferation and reproduction of information in our cyber-sexualised age has eroded knowledge and meaning. Christmass’s work iterates and reiterates this point, through nowhere narratives and characters that are nonentities. Reading him is like witnessing an economy spiral towards catastrophe; the hyperinflation of an over-abundant currency (here, linguistic units) becoming more devalued, more meaningless with every reiteration. Or perhaps it is more like watching a culture grow on a Petri dish.

To borrow Barthes’ terms, Christmass is a scriptor, loopily reenacting gestures of inscription. The Author is dead, so expression is out of the question.

Body of work as Dadaist mannequin.

You’re still watching television from last night. Nothing brings your attention to it. You get up from your bed. You’re dressed in polyester drapes. The diner is closed until dinnertime. You stop, look around. Respected guests inside the Waldorf Astoria. Cocaine dissolves on a placemat. You drop what you can into a metal bucket. Laugh track gets louder. (Yeezus in Furs)

Like Robbe-Grillet’s, Christmass’s tone is artfully flat and impersonal. He assiduously avoids anything that might resemble literary language, drawing instead on utilitarian lexis rendered useless by its glitchily robotic application. The narrative voice is that of an android that can simulate a human, but with limited success. This is story-telling stripped of the ghastly spectre of the human soul, though the ghost of William Burroughs can occasionally be glimpsed between the words:

Unfamiliar cocaine deals with those who believe people are irritating. GIF profiles on dating websites. Laughing fits. Language of GIF. Burton lays flat on the packing crate. Product placements on NBC. Earl C walking leisurely down to the East Village. Holograms of Lindsay Lohan’s autopsy. Pipettes of poisonous bacteria and Dilaterol. (Police Force as a Corrupt Breeze)

A word on how to read these books. Christmass’s robotic writing is predicated on superfluity. You could read only 20% of Belfie Hell’s 300 pages and understand the novel no less than someone who has read the whole thing. It is not necessary to read any of his books sequentially, from first page to last. There is no arc. The books offer stutters and stasis, not a journey. Instead, we channel hop. But in hopping and skipping and surfing, we are confronted time and again and time and again with the hollowed-out icons of the waste land around us, the mess and mashups and detritus and delirium of life in the mad, drunken now.

Wander in, lose yourself in the burning forest of symbols.

———-

Police Force as a Corrupt Breeze and Yeezus in Furs are published by Dostoyevsky Wannabe and can be purchased here.

Belfie Hell is available from Inside the Castle here.

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Void Voices sample

Modelled loosely on Dante’s Inferno, Void Voices is a descent into the Hell that is our contemporary culture. Dante’s guide to the underworld was Virgil; mine is an undead T S Eliot. Along the way, the reader is assailed by a cacophony of heterogeneous material, including fragments of song lyrics, doctored news stories, lines from old poems, transcriptions of nonsense texts generated by Google Translate, automatic writing and dark satire. Each of the poem’s 34 sections is preceded by a surreal, glitchy artwork, which foreshadows some of the themes and imagery.
A free sample of the first four sections of my poem (corresponding to Cantos 1 – 4 of the Inferno) is available here.
Void Voices is available from Hesterglock Press here.

Void Voices

Void Voices is a nightmare in 34 parts.

Void Voices is a fly-blown cacophony.

Void Voices is a love letter from a cyborg.

Void Voices is a nasty feast.

Void Voices is salt on a slug,

Void Voices is a black and red machine that overwrites your memories.

Void Voices is a dumping ground for defective literary devices and other amusements.

Void Voices is a white silhouette on a white background.

Void Voices is a thorn in your eye.

Void Voices is a communion with an undead poet.

Void Voices is a symphony for violins, down-tuned electric guitars, broken synthesisers and wolves.

Void Voices is a glitch in Donald Trump’s face.

Void Voices is an advert for the life you already lead.

Void Voices is a flooded utopia.

Void Voices is a song inside a song.

Void Voices is the Bird King’s doppelgänger.

Void Voices is damp laughter.

Void Voices is #EndTimesPizza

—–

Info

Brexit Fables

Brexit Fable 1

Mr Cthulhu: Who here wants tentacles? Much better than human limbs.

Sleepwalkers: We do! Gimme tentacles!

Mr Cthulhu eviscerates them

Sleepwalkers: WTF! Our guts are hanging out!

Mr Cthulhu: Nah, that’s tentacles.

Sleepwalkers die in agony

Brexit Fable 2

Taxi Driver: Where to?

Passenger: Paradise, mate.

Driver: This YouTube video shows that Paradise is actually Hell. Stay put?

Passenger: Just take me to Paradise.

Driver: But you’ll burn forever.

Passenger: DON’T CARE. TAKE ME TO PARADISE!

Brexit Fable 3

Mr Phuq: Let’s build a house together! I’ve got enough bricks for a wall.

The people: Yes, let’s!

Time passes

Mr Phuq: I feel stifled by this house you’ve subjected me to. I’m off.

Mr Phuq removes his wall & uses the bricks to build himself a kennel.

Brexit Fable 4

The Bird King: You should stab yourself in the face with these scissors.

Bloke: Why?

The Bird King: To show the “experts” who’s boss! The experts who tell you that stabbing yourself in the face with these scissors will harm you. Be a man!

Bloke: Oh, Ok then.

Brexit Fable 5

Goat Man: Yay! Let’s eat this beef. ALL OF IT!

Sheep Boy: Ok. Hang on, it looks kinda rank. Is it supposed to be green? Also, it stinks.

Goat Man: We said we’d eat it, so we’ll eat it.

Sheep Boy: OK.

They devour the rotten meat and die in agony.

Brexit Fable 6

Maggot: We must push our planet out of the sun’s orbit if we are to free ourselves of its bureaucratic, unelected tyranny!

Masses: YES! Deep Space, not Deep State!

One: Won’t that destroy life on earth?

Maggot: Your point is…?

One: Nothing. Let’s do it!

Brexit Fable 7

Imbecile: Hey, who wants to shoot themselves in the face?

52%: WE DO!

Imbecile: Great! That means you all have to, btw.

48%: WTF!!!!!!!!!

52%: Pass me the gun!

Brexit Fable 8

Fucker: Hey, if you eat this tablet I’ll plant a money tree in your garden.

Credulous bloke: Oh, OK. What’s in the tablet, btw?

Fucker: Don’t worry about it. Cyanide. Nothing much.

Credulous bloke: I like money trees. (Eats cyanide pill.)

The State of It

let me be clear BrickShit means BrickShit means BrickShit means BrickShit bra-caaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwww

well um I couldn’t possibly piffle and wotsit and so on and so forth and letterboxes and piles of piffle and wotsit and what-not and so on and so forth a jolly good future leader future Pimm’s o’clock and what-not Prime o’clock piffle Minister and so forth

a return to the perfectly simple arrangements made during the Troubles whereby divisions were maintained exacerbated inflamed and security forces were able to carry out their very simple duties such as exchanging gunfire suppressing riots disposing of bombs all perfectly simple and sensible

Generic Ramones T-Shirt

and there was a kid there a fifteen-year-old with a generic Ramones t-shirt you know the one the one they all wear nowadays the generic one with white on black and the circle and crest the Ramones t-shirt you’ve seen a million times on kids everywhere they’re all wearing the same one from Primark or Tesco or wherever no bloody imagination the same Ramones t-shirt and of course none of them even like the Ramones probably none of them have even heard of the Ramones let alone bought their albums gone to their gigs they’ve all trotted off to Primark or Tesco and bought the same fucking Ramones t-shirt without knowing the first thing about the Ramones and what they stood for without knowing the first thing about punk rock these kids shuffling around in generic Ramones t-shirts they got from supermarkets or their mums got them from supermarkets when they don’t know the story behind the t-shirt don’t know the story of the band or the music Christ they’d have a heart attack if they heard the music they have no idea it’s not exactly Justin Bieber is it not exactly Taylor fucking Swift they have no idea what the Ramones represent the music they made what the music meant it’s like when everyone was running around in colourful Che Guevara t-shirts remember that everyone was running around in Che Guevara t-shirts grown men and women not just kids though admittedly it was mostly the young crowd that were into it running around in their generic Che Guevara t-shirts they’d bought in The Gap or Next or Top Shop or wherever thinking it was really cool not having the slightest fucking idea the tinniest fucking idea who the fuck Che Guevara was or what the fuck he stood for it wasn’t like everyone was suddenly reading Trotsky and plotting the overthrow of the bourgeoisie far from it they were nipping into Starbucks in their Che Guevara t-shirts and slurping lattes before sauntering down to House of Fraser and Debenhams and buying overpriced home furnishings not a thought for the oppressed masses the needy the disadvantaged Che Guevara meant nothing to them his image was just cool they probably didn’t even know his fucking name or if they did they had some dim feeling that he may have been a screen icon after all wasn’t he in that film what was it you know the one about touring South America on a motorbike what a cool thing to do that’s all his face meant to them cool just cool nothing else there was no other story behind it and they didn’t crave another story the one the fashion retailers had sold them was fine Che Guevara was cool as fuck and now his face had been co-opted by capitalism any alternative to that economic system was unthinkable the bourgeoisie had won and it’s the same now exactly the same now with the Ramones it’s like punk never happened everything is just image and entertainment

are you having a fucking laugh the Ramones were not entertainment punk was not an image it was an attitude a lifestyle a revolt against the social cultural political economic musical status quo the Sex Pistols had everyone in the Establishment shitting themselves they nearly brought down the monarchy they pissed all over the economy they destroyed the UK Top 40 and nothing was the same ever again are you fucking joking a Sex Pistols t-shirt is a symbol of insurrection a Ramones t-shirt is a symbol of insurrection everyone should be shitting themselves when someone comes down the street in a Ramones t-shirt are you trying to wind me up they weren’t just a band it wasn’t just music they destroyed everything that had gone before their first album killed half the people that heard it the songs were like poison to the old farts thousands were admitted to hospitals across the USA and Britain complaining of extreme nausea and existential dread so don’t tell me it was just music it was a revolution and these fucking kids today should leave it alone it’s not theirs it’s mine it’s ours it means nothing to them why do they even think Ramones t-shirts are cool they were never meant to be cool they were meant to be dangerous they think their generic Ramones t-shirts are cool because they’re told to think that by their corporate masters at Primark and Tesco the white on black the circle and crest have been neutered punk’s been neutered it’s had its bollocks chopped off punk’s bollocks were chopped off in a boardroom but never mind the bollocks here’s a generic t-shirt