13 unconnected moments

1. A fly walks in circles over a statue’s forehead.

2. Your eye is drawn to a small key, lying in the grass.

3. A car reverses into a tree.

4. After glancing casually at a mannequin in a shop window, a man does a double-take, then steadies himself and walks on.

5. A door opening onto a red corridor.

6. Everything stops working, all at once. They assume it’s a power cut.

7. A man tweets about an anthropomorphic bird while sitting on the loo.

8. The electric fan blows her hair into your face.

9. Rain on dark windows.

10. He pushes the door, trying to get into the shop, despite the “Closed” sign.

11. The Red Admiral on the fence, wings together, still.

12. Eyes scanning a newspaper, reading nothing.

13. The grand finale consisted of a clown playing tunes on bottles.

—–

All texts on this site are the copyright of James Knight. All rights reserved.

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trans / crypt

“The keyhole projects a ray across this nocturnal darkness. On a table whose form one can just make out, a bottle becomes evident.”- Paul Nougé, Optics Unveiled.

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The first thing to draw my attention was the man’s hand, as he offered to open the door for me. His fingers were slender, somewhat feminine, tapering like those of a shop window mannequin. I had to look at his face again to confirm my previous impression, namely that this was a man and not a woman addressing me and inviting me inside.

Another detail has just come back to me: his nails were like little talons, painted red.

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Inside the room were numerous objects, arranged on shelves and in cabinets. The lighting had been designed to make a dramatic impression; coloured spotlights illuminated exhibits in such a way as to create large areas of shadow. As a result, it wasn’t always easy to tell what I was looking at. The absence of explanatory labels added to the effect of deliberate mystification.

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One cabinet that I found particularly compelling contained what I took to be the skeleton of a cat, held together with wire, in a posture suggestive of a leap. I think it was the arrangement of dead matter into a form associated with life and energy that made it so fascinating.

There were other things in that cabinet, but the deep shadows around the skeletal cat made it impossible to say what they were.

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At times I thought there were other visitors in the room with me. I didn’t see anyone, but I heard footsteps and low voices. It’s possible that they were recorded sounds, played through speakers hidden by the general gloom and calculated to create an impression of quiet bustle, so that a solitary visitor wouldn’t feel quite so alone.

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Some of the stuffed animals were kept in cages, as if they were alive. When I wasn’t looking directly at them, but was still aware of them on the periphery of my vision, they seemed to be moving slightly, in a sort of undulating movement, like a snake. As soon as I looked straight at them the illusion of movement stopped.

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I’m not sure, but I think I must have fainted, in all likelihood because of the musty air and the heat from the spotlights.

The next thing I remember was a dream. I was trying to find my way out of a maze whose walls were covered in warm, damp fur. At every turn I was convinced that I was more lost than before. Something behind me was making a low snuffling sound, sometimes several yards away, sometimes much closer. I didn’t dare turn to look at it.

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As I went round a corner the snuffling noise stopped and something changed, probably the light. Or perhaps I had woken up. I found myself face to face with an ape-like man who must have been seven feet tall. He didn’t react to me, but stood still, looking at the floor, as if in thought, breathing deeply. I imagine he was an employee who’d been told to put on a costume, to add to the ghoulish ambience of the place.

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I was about to make some facetious remark to the ape-man, when I heard screams of laughter, coming from somewhere nearby. My instant and irrational assumption was that I was the butt of someone’s joke, and that everything I had done so far since entering the room had played into the hands of whoever it was who was now shrieking derision at me.

Flustered and not knowing what I was doing, I shoved past the ape-man, to run through a small opening and down a corridor.

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I soon found myself in another room. It stank like a midden and there were flies everywhere. It was hot. I thought I was going to be sick. I could still hear the laughter, though it was slower now, less hysterical. On the wall to my right, a broken mirror segmented me.

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Finally, there was a door being opened by someone on the other side. A handle turning, red light. The heat became unbearable. Pictures from somewhere else, another time, perhaps my childhood: toy soldiers, sheep, a butcher’s cleaver, flying ants, a burning tree.

After that, nothing. Nothing that I remember.

The last image, recurring whenever I close my eyes: the door opening, red light widening.

—–

All of the texts and images on this site are the copyright of James Knight. All rights reserved.

Why you should read Robbe-Grillet

I shall never forget the opening pages of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s novel, Jealousy. From the first few sentences it was clear that the author was doing something very interesting with the novel as a form. Here they are, in Richard Howard’s translation:

Now the shadow of the column – the column which supports the southwest corner of the roof – divides the corresponding corner of the veranda into two equal parts. This veranda is a wide, covered gallery surrounding the house on three sides. Since its width is the same for the central position as on the sides, the line of a shadow cast by the column extends precisely to the corner of the house; but it stops there, for only the veranda flagstones are reached by the sun, which is still too high in the sky.

The reader is taken into a physical world whose features are catalogued and described in obsessive, perhaps excessive detail, and when I first read this I felt as if I was hallucinating.

Robbe-Grillet’s is a universe of intense subjectivity, expressed with deadpan objectivity. Famously rejecting almost all of the conventions of the novel (including character, metaphor and story) in his 1963 collection of essays, For a New Novel, he created a fresh lexicon of fiction and wrote novels that are astonishing and compelling in their inventiveness.

Jealousy is narrated by a jealous husband, reduced to acts of voyeurism as he observes the behaviour of his wife with a man called Franck. The apparent objectivity of the novel’s many descriptive passages is in fact a near-delirious attempt by the fraught narrator to be a detective, to put together the clues that corroborate his destructive state of mind. Episodes are repeated, new details recalled or imagined. Nothing is certain. And it’s impossible to step outside the novel and answer the question, “Is the narrator’s jealousy justified?” There is only his story, his viewpoint. The world beyond it does not exist.

Robbe-Grillet’s later novels are more sinister and phantasmagoric, teaming with abductions, dreams, violence and narrators whose identity isn’t fixed; now the victim, now the villain, a Robbe-Grillet narrator never allows the reader to become complacent. Instead, your role becomes creative; like the narrator of Jealousy, you must put together the pieces of the narrative, deduce or invent your own story from them. I would particularly recommend Recollections of the Golden Triangle, whose source material was the author’s interpretation of some paintings by René Magritte.

Metanarratives are two-a-penny nowadays. Self-reflexivity is probably an overused trope, and one I parodied in a piece called “Insomnia”:

The artist intends you to make a connection between violent death and orgasm. Excuse me if you’ve heard this before…

In Robbe-Grillet’s hands, however, this technique (which at its best makes us question the narrator, the author, the novel, language itself) is electrifying.

I’m glad to say that most of his books are available in English translation, and you can get hold of the original French editions very easily through Amazon. His pared-down, unliterary style is refreshing and bold. Anyone who cares about the novel, its traditions and its future should read this author.

The Bird King’s Eggs

This piece is dedicated to Alejandro Jodorowsky.

1

The Bird King’s eggs are
subatomic particles
created serendipitously

by
a
sneeze

in a quantum physicist’s dream.

Occupying a space
between existence
and nothingness,

reason
and madness,

broccoli
and cauliflower,

they lie dormant
in the brains of millions,
their presence sometimes hinted

by a little blackout,
momentary aphasia,
a smudged face in a memory.

2

Frequently mistaken for full stops
(periods, if you’re American),
the Bird King’s eggs
are in fact
commas.

They rhyme with horse,
daffodil,
sponsor,
pustule,
lurid
and curtain.

But because they’re neither poetry nor prose, those with a mania for classification refuse to acknowledge their existence.

3

It won’t surprise you to learn
that the Bird King’s eggs
resemble hand grenades
or suppositories,
depending on the time of day
and state of mind
of the observer.

They smell of parsley, plastic and piss.

If you don’t have any,
you can make some at home.
All you need are
a jar of dolls’ tears,
a strip of lightning,
a ghost’s moustache
and twenty pints of sour milk.

4

We’ve reached that point in the poem
where a discussion
of the author’s intentions
is inevitable.

So, what do the Bird King’s eggs represent?

Lacking the stable symbolism
of a cross
or a skull,
the Bird King’s eggs
flicker
in
and out
of meanings,
whirring,
blurring,
burning.

They are coffins, building blocks, severed heads, cocoons, seeds, paper weights, lumps of clay, shells, bombs, Russian dolls.

5

Some have argued that the Bird King’s eggs are merely imaginary.

Their naïveté is astonishing.

—–

All texts on this site are the copyright of James Knight. All rights reserved.

Competition results

I am very pleased to announce the results of the creative writing competition that I launched on this site in late July. Entrants were required to interpret five of my digital pictures, providing tweet-length texts to accompany them. Full details can be found here.

It’s a horrible cliche, but judging wasn’t easy. To make the task more manageable, I gave each entry a mark out of 10, in each of four categories:

1. Interpretation. I wanted to see evidence that my pictures had been carefully considered and used as a springboard for fresh ideas.
2. Invention. Ingenuity and creativity were the order of the day!
3. Style. This covered a range of factors, but essentially amounted to the question, “Does this read well?”
4. Cohesion. When I created the source pictures I did not have a sequence in mind. But I wanted to see how the entrants could make links between one image and the next, generate wholeness out of discontinuous elements.

And then, after I’d “marked” them all I read them again and listened to my instincts. This helped discriminate where I’d given two pieces exactly the same overall mark out of 40.

Long story short, here are the winners.

Winner: Adam Wimbush for his entry, “Enter Entropy”. Adam wins a signed copy of my new book, Head Traumas, plus a digital copy of it.

Runners-up: Abbie Foxton, Mandy Gibson, Kevin Reid & Christina Scholz. I had planned to award only two runners-up, but the quality of entries made that impossible! All runners-up will receive digital copies of Head Traumas.

I just want to say THANK YOU to everyone who entered the competition. I was blown away by your creativity and cleverness, and by the diversity of your ideas! Kevin Reid suggested I issue an anthology of the entries, and that’s something I may approach you all about, if you’d be interested.

I leave you with the winning entry, with the pictures its author used as a starting point.

Adam Wimbush: Enter Entropy

1 • As the cells of communication wash up on the shore of syntax they begin to build an alphabet of bubbles…

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2 • …popping in the shadow cycle of Fibonacci codes. Corkscrewing out of prehistoric modes. There…

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3 • …amongst this ambient dirt, bones polarise, forming deformed skeletons of language that clatter off into spectrums of meat.

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4 • Thought fossils are found within the attic of your skull where neural pathways are sculpted and born and…

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5 • …when entropy enters through the open window of your soul, it’s unraveled, revealed and read by the Gods.

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