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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

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Wolf and Tender Prey present … BRUTALISM DOESN’T GIVE A SHIT & EXPERIMENTAL DOMESTIC CELLS *

* (restored)

1.
Wolf presents … A Defense of Brutalism.

For some reason Brutalism gets a lot of hate, and since I happen to really love a large number of Brutalist buildings, and think that it was, is, a great architectural movement, I thought I’d give you a little tour of Brutalism’s mind, life, likes and dislikes, etc.

Brutalism doesn’t give a shit (much like the honey badger).

Brutalism knows you don’t like it. It doesn’t care.

Brutalism doesn’t fuck around.

Brutalism tells it like it is.

Brutalism doesn’t hide.

Brutalism doesn’t put on airs.

Brutalism doesn’t correct its elaborate hairdo with a delicate hand every ten seconds.

Brutalism doesn’t read Cosmo.

Brutalism doesn’t do bling. It doesn’t really do real gold either, although it would if it could afford it. Gold does not tarnish.

Brutalism doesn’t wear its grandfather’s brogues.

Brutalism knows the periodic table by heart.

Brutalism scratches its butt when it itches, regardless of who’s around.

Brutalism is refreshingly true to itself.

Brutalism shows you what it’s made of, just like that. “BLAM”.

Brutalism’s skin is too thick for the bad rep to hurt. Well, it’s not skin, it’s concrete.

Brutalism really has your best interests at heart.

Brutalism is proud, not arrogant.

Brutalism is heavy, not fat.

Brutalism erodes with style, and does not go for that chronophobic botox nonsense.

Brutalism does have a sense of humour.

Brutalism takes its duty with dedication.

Brutalism is not diplomatic, but not warmongering either.

Brutalism does what needs doing.

Brutalism will still stand there when you’re ash.

Brutalism is not smug, it’s self-assured.

Brutalism does not have nightmares.

Brutalism does not believe in fairies.

Brutalism has style, substance, and what goes in between.

Brutalism is what humans would be like if they knew they were gonna die tomorrow and cut the crap.

Brutalism is not totalitarian, it is totality.

Brutalism has no issues with its more graceful neighbours, it just doesn’t have time for that cocktail party on Friday.

Brutalism drives half a mile below the speed limit, and barely notices when you fishtail it.

Brutalism has read Sartre, it’s read Camus, it’s read Hegel and it’s also read Nietzsche. In fact, Brutalism has read everything. And processed it.

Brutalism is not trying to prove a point, it’s letting the point that it is prove itself to you.

Brutalism does not get into arguments in public transport, it stares at them with a smirk.

Brutalism is sometimes very gentle. With kittens, for instance.

Brutalism would go for colour if concrete came in cerulean blue, but it doesn’t, so grey will do just fine.

Brutalism plays with texture, shadows, angles, parallax. But it’s a serious game.

Brutalism’s favorite animal is the bear. Bet you saw that one coming huh? Good for you.

Yes, of course it likes elephants too. I mean come on.

Brutalism’s favourite dish is thai green curry. Bet that surprises you huh? Well, it is.

Brutalism’s favourite movie is Salker. Make of that what you will.

Brutalism doesn’t do drugs. It wants its brain sharp as a tack.

Brutalism doesn’t drink. It wants its reflexes sharp as a tack.

Brutalism likes doing funny faces and likes the fact that no-one even notices even more.

Brutalism likes the idea that if Shit comes to hit the Fan, it’ll fit right in that dystopian landscape.

Brutalism knows that if Shit never hits the Fan, it’ll still look good. You know, as a warning.

Brutalism had trouble fiding shoes in its size so it just goes barefoot now.

Brutalism used to hang out and drink tea with J.G Ballard. Sometimes with milk and sugar, sometimes black. It even tried a slice of lemon once. It was ok. Brutalism is not fussy.

Brutalism doesn’t think the truth should be concealed. Not because it would be Bad, but because, why bother?

Brutalism’s favourite word is Impervious. Brutalism’s favourite people are Impervious, too. It also very much likes Pragmatism, and Pragmatic people.

Brutalism is not responsible for the excesses perpetrated in its name. It is not responsible for the great ideas, either. It is base material, neutral.

Brutalism likes to remind people that the shortest trajectory from A to B a a straight line. We are mortal, and like is short – why lose time?

Brutalism does not put on a silly patronizing voice when it talks to children. Or anyone, for that matter. Brutalim assumes you know what the deal is. If it’s wrong, that’s your problem.

Brutalism has a dream…

Brutalism thinks there’s something weird about the way some people take pictures of every place they go with themselves in them, as if to prove something.

Brutalism never had anyone walled in alive. As it were.

Brutalism might be heavy-footed but its posture is impeccable.

Brutalism knows who killed JFK.

Brutalism once believed space could make the man, but is now content with the many-times proven axiom that space is neither made not making. It just is.

Brutalism knows how much everything costs and sees no point in driving a city bankrupt just to look pretty. Not that looking pretty is a goal it has much respect, let alone desire, for.

Brutalism knows a Building is a Building and a Forest is a Forest. Yeah, ok, so what, you say? Well… THINK, it says.

Brutalism likes pecan in its ice-cream. Well you never.

Brutalism is the kind of dude you want on your side in a fight. If you try and punch it, you’ll just break your hand.

For more technical, historically correct details, as well as YET MORE images, see:
Wiki, of course…
Architizer
Brutalismus
Fuck Yeah Brutalism! (HA!)

 

2.
Tender Prey presents… EXPERIMENTAL DOMESTIC CELLS

With a few exceptions (nos 5,8,9 and most notably no 1) these interiors only ever existed as prototypes conceived and built for architecture & design fairs or exhibitions. They are projections of possible interiors, without a concrete relation to an exterior, which is part of what appeals to me about them. All the images apart from 8 and 9 were scanned from the book ‘Model Apartments – Experimental Domestic Cells’ (Editorial Gustavo Gili, 1997)

 

2. Alan Wexler ‘Crate House’
New York, 1991

 

3. Joe Colombo ‘Total Furnishing Unit’
produced for the exhibition Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, MOMA, New York, 1972

 

4. Gio Ponti ‘La Casa Adatta’
produced for Eurodomus 3 (Pilot exhibition of the modern house), Milan, 1970

 

5. Joe Colombo
Joe Colombo’s apartment, Milan 1969-70

 

6. Ettore Sottsas
produced for the exhibition Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, MOMA, New York, 1972

 

7. Alison & Peter Smithson ‘The House of the Future’
produced for the Ideal Homes Exhibition, London, 1955-56

 

8. Sabina Lang & Daniel Baumann ‘Everland’
travelling one-room pod hotel, originally produced for the Swiss Expo 2002

 

9. Staffan Berglund ‘Villa Spies’
Toro, Sweden, 1969

 

10. Joe Colombo ‘Visiona 69 futurist habitat’
produced for the Interzum Salon, Cologne, 1969

 

11. Ugo La Pietra ‘The Telematic House’
produced for the 61st Milan International Trade Fair, 1983

 

12. Archigram ‘Living 1990’
produced for the Weekend Telegraph Exhibition, London, 1967

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Oh, yes, I remember your Sonbert piece appearing there. Everyone, Do you remember when the blog recently welcomed Mr. Ehrenstein and Bill Reed’s ‘Photo Ops’ into the world? Well, there’s a sequel/’greatly expanded’ version entitled ‘Son of Photo Ops’ that is newly in the world as we type/read. Get it here.Plus, the very same Mr. E directs anyone who wishes to a new documentary about Oliver Sacks that I think is a total freebie to watch, in fact. OLIVER SACKS: HIS OWN LIFE, Directed by Ric Burns: https://vimeo.com/480819197, Password: kinolorber. So how about that? ** Sypha, My pleasure, and I hope to have the actual pleasure of listening later today. Ah, curious source for the image. Excellent repurposing move, man. I promise I will never go to Pittsburgh in the summer. Summer heat is my Satan. Oh, I do still like his piss paintings. ** _Black_Acrylic, It’s a goodie. Speaking of, I was transformed into a wildly gyrating teeter totter of a fella by your new episode, sir. I’d be sentient without you. Thank you! Well, then I will and do take your word for it. Glad it was fun. ** Wolf, Oh my god, I’m so flexible. You are ‘flow’ backwards, which is pretty damned cool. Maybe not as cool as being ‘sinned’ backwards, but who’s counting? So, remember the golden oldie up there? So good. Vegan pastries for you and Marc until further notice. ** Bill, Hi. Nah, I’m pretty accustomed to the current restrictiveness. Not that I have a lot to speak for, weekend-wise, as a result, but wtf. It’s a wonderful novel. And short! The S.D. Stewart is free?! Well, that’s sorted. In fact, it is now on my desktop and waiting for me. Thanks, Bill, you’re such a brain saver or enhancer or both or something. What’s on your plate? ** Damien Ark, Cool, very glad that worked out. I’m excited to do the blog’s part. Dude, take very good care of yourself and your health. Now’s not the time to fuck around with that stuff. And fuck your roommate. ** Jeff J, Hi, Jeff! Thanks, man. I was surprised by how many Warhols were online too, and I notice at least one of them was deleted before the weekend was out. I think the only film in the post I didn’t know already was the one that got deleted: ‘Soap Opera’, which I stupidly waited to watch until it was too late. I like ‘These Demented Lands’ a lot too. Yes, Warner’s books have become less and less exciting of late, sadly. The last novel of his that I thought was great was ‘The Sopranos’. Memory tells me it’s very worth reading. Oh, man, I’m so sorry to hear you guys are having to deal with those deaths. What a horrible time this is just kind of in every way. Though possibly brightening just slightly by the day, maybe. Yes, you remind me that I haven’t gotten the new Julien Calendar yet. I’ll do that today. Everyone, Mighty Jeff Jackson’s band Julien Calendar has a new and 4th EP just out, ‘Crimson Static #4’, and you can hear and score it both by pressing down lightly on this word. And you should, if you ask me. I’m doing all right. As I’ve mentioned before, we’ve had stellar news about our new film that I can’t lay out quite yet but which all but assures we’ll get to make it, so we are diving into thinking/working on the preliminaries and very relieved and happy. The premiere of Gisele’s Walser play got cancelled/delayed due to you-know-what. Macron gives a big COVID-related announcement, I think tonight, and maybe she’ll know when the premiere will end up happening after that. She says the early response has been good. I last saw it in its rehearsal state a couple of weeks ago, but not since. All else? Pretty okay. I hope everything improves instantly for you and yours. ** Steve Erickson, The film is interesting, but the novel its really, really something. Good luck with the ophthalmologist, or I guess good luck getting through today if I’m right that your appointment is tomorrow. (I’m never sure whether the time stamp on the comments is dated your time or mine.) ** Okay. I’ve restored a wondrous post from the blog’s storied past for you today made by the extraordinary d.l.s Wolf and Tender Prey. Enjoy the hell out of it, and I will see you tomorrow.

Spotlight on … Alan Warner Morvern Callar (1995)

 

‘I first read Morvern Callar when I was about the same age as the eponymous heroine, living in Glasgow, depressed and increasingly isolated. A rare friend came to visit and gave me the copy of the 1995 novel I still own – a red-toenailed foot on a deep blue background, and a coy blurb on the back that gave me little warning of what I was letting myself in for (“What she does next is even more appalling …” OK!)

‘I read it feverishly on my breaks at the chain coffee shop where I worked. At the time I felt strongly that I was failing at most things, including the very basic acts of living. In my spare time I flailed towards something by sporadically writing. My stories were populated with neat, functional characters, characters you could root for. Their goodness was signposted from the get-go; they “deserved” the happy endings that, increasingly, I didn’t feel I did.

‘So I was struck then by the inscrutable Morvern, who blindsides us from the start. She narrates Alan Warner’s novel, and yet we rest glacially on the surface, often literally – she’s more likely to describe in detail the painting of her nails than her feelings. Her focus on her physical self has been criticised as that of a male writer trying to imagine the bodily preoccupations of a young woman, or taken as a comment on the blank-eyed capitalistic ennui of young people in the 90s – so dead inside! – but I now read it more as emphasising the boundaries between Morvern’s mysterious internal world and her external. Her self-containment cannot be breached for long. Events from the mundane to the horrific are narrated with equal calm, brand names scattered here and there. The levelling effect is disconcerting.

‘Badly behaved heroines are more celebrated now, but they still generally have to be made palatable with charm, or an explanation. They still operate within recognised moral codes. They might get their comeuppance. Morvern, though, reminds me that doesn’t need to be the case. She remains gloriously strange. She’s laconic, strangely innocent, drifts along under her own logic with no discernible masterplan. At no point is she punished, or even at risk of being punished, for her actions. And the only place where she does let us in, in the end, is not through eventual regret, but through small moments of joy. In the feel of sun on skin. In landscapes both Scottish and Spanish, the anonymity of a rave. In the music she listens to constantly through her Walkman, soundtracking her every move, highlighting her dissociation even as it provides us with a way to get in closer. She doesn’t question this joy. She doesn’t have to do anything to earn it. It’s just there for her, if she looks closely.

‘It’s a novel that taught me about control, about the space of what’s underneath a story and what can be left unsaid. About our capacity to root for a character who is, seemingly, totally amoral. And it also taught me there was artistic, even aesthetic, value in my grey little life; things I could use and transform.

‘In the novel, cheap Mediterranean hotels and supermarkets are given a gravity and poetry. The world itself starts to feel like a dream – there are no consequences, ugliness metamorphoseses into something more transcendent. There is a surreality to elements like the sinister resort bar where you can pay for your beer in blood, the glitter left in Morvern’s knee from an accident, a nightmarish swimsuit-swapping competition. It’s our world, but it’s not, because when the moral code is upended, questioned, anything can happen. And in the gaps ambiguity creates, beauty can rush in.’ — Sophie Mackintosh

 

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Further

Alan Warner Site
Alan Warner @ goodreads
BOOKS OF MY LIFE BY ALAN WARNER
Alan Warner | Five Things Right Now
Alan Warner: Imagining Scotland
Heimat, masculinity and mobile narration in Alan Warner’s The Man Who Walks
Alan Warner on Can’s ‘Tago Mago’
Podcast: “Their Lips Talk of Mischief” with author Alan Warner
Interview: Alan Warner
A literary Withnail and I
INTERVIEW with ALAN WARNER
Alan Warner: Escape from Masculinity
‘With each novel I dare myself to try something risky, asking – have you got the guts?’
Small talk: Alan Warner
Just a Big Silver Light
Alan Warner: In tune with material girls
Buy ‘Morvern Callar’

 

___
Extras


Trailer: Lynne Ramsay’s film adaptation of ‘Morvern Callar’


Alan Warner – Les étoiles dans le ciel radieux


Alan Warner Interview – Director’s Cut

 

____
Interview

 

Scottish Review of Books: In Morven Callar, you write, ‘The hidden fact of our world is that there’s no point in having desire unless you’ve money. Every desire is transformed into sour dreams… There’s no freedom, no liberty, just money.’ Am I right in thinking that money, what it can do for a person, how it oxygenates the class system, is a theme that still interests you? For example, in The Stars in the Bright Sky Kay tells Ava, ‘I think you can afford any failure,’ after Ava describes how ‘There are two sets of drug laws in this country. One for the rich and famous and one for the people in the housing estates.’

Alan Warner: I am not sure it is a theme at all so much as an inevitable trope of writing about contemporary society. Especially in such a socially divided Britain – which is becoming more divided. The drama exists in the class difference alone. There’s nothing to write! (laughs). Also these are views expressed by characters – and characters don’t necessarily express themes, or of course, the author’s views. In the first quote by Red Hanna – Morvern’s foster father – he is essentially expressing the process of Thatcherism – that there are few societal goals and achievements remaining for people – apart from cars and houses and the things we fill them with. Values and experiences of solidarity and happiness outside of that are diminishing. Of course he’s an old socialist who has seen almost all he believes in withered away. He and his wife Vanessa have fostered Morvern since she was little. They’ve taken in other female kids too, who Morvern mentions. Kids who have been sexually abused and their stories have – I believe – traumatised Morvern in some deep way. So I find Red Hanna and his wife very admirable in many ways. They practise what they preach despite their faults. There are dramatic and plot reasons why he makes that statement as well – since later in the narrative Red Hanna is suspended from work for drinking in a pub “on duty”. His words are prophetic as he is going to see his own full pension threatened. But it’s also wildly irresponsible of him that Morvern’s foster father has a sexual relationship with Morvern’s best friend. I do think Red Hanna is cracking up at this point and I do think Lanna does things just to test Morvern, but it seems to me Morvern is betrayed again and again by those closest to her, which adds to this terrible loneliness she seems to embody.

SRB: You were saying that when you first started writing you were fired up by wanting to see the life you’d known growing up represented in fiction. Was the fact that it hadn’t been seen until then an oversight, a book waiting to happen, or was the omission cultural or political? If it was political, should I take it as read that something of the same thing goes on today? I’m thinking of the paragraph you wrote that concluded your recent review of Ross Raisin’s Waterline: ‘There is a sly, unspoken literary prejudice at work in Britain today, and it is not against how the novel is written, nor what happens in it. The battleground consists of who the novel can be about, with a reluctance in a certain readership to accept that profundity can be found in working-class as well as middle-class experience.’

AW: I wonder now if the “oversight” was largely personal and familial? It always stuns me how invisible literature and specifically Scottish Literature was to me, until one or two specific days when I was aged 15. And I’ve never known who to lay that at the feet of other than myself. It feels pompous and self-important to be pointing fingers and moaning about the majority culture of the late 70s, the programming at the BBC, etc. I wanted for nothing as a child in an affluent household. But my parents had both left school at age 15 and there was no history of reading or art or further education in any branch of our family or relatives. Everyone was a grafter. Except me. We didn’t have many books in our house and certainly no fiction – that is true – but we did have some books and it was me who didn’t read them, nobody else. I’ve talked before in interviews about how, shortly after I started to read a great deal – when I was 15 and 16 – I saw a first copy of Lanark in an Oban art shop and actually turned to my friend and stated, ‘So is there actually a Scottish person writing novels today, in Scotland?’ How could that happen in a culture? How did I grow up in a vacuum like that? I guess that was my Oban in 1980/1; culture and art was not on everybody’s lips! I had presumed novels were an art form which only happened elsewhere and had died out in Scotland around the time of Walter Scott. What a very curious but genuine assumption. On the other hand, I could argue this was because local bookshops were stuffed with Scott and not a single work of modern Scottish literature or otherwise; not even Compton McKenzie or Buchan. It was only when I reached Glasgow independently when we went to rock concerts that I found a wonderful surfeit of books. Ach well. I can’t lay the blame of my cultural impoverishment on the stock-taking policy of John Menzies newsagent. Fifteen is a good age to discover the whole world has a literature. I might have been turned off at some younger age.

What was it Melville wrote about whalers before Moby Dick? ‘Theirs was an unwritten life’? There are still so many unwritten lives and I greedily and expectantly wait for writers to bring these forth. When I spy men in harnesses working at the top of electricity pylons, I immediately want to read a great novel about these guys. Novelists are going to emerge in disparate and unpredictable ways, geographically, culturally, ethnically. We can’t make a demand that so many novels must emerge per-hundred square miles or per-thousands of our population! Yet simultaneously, I would argue that in Britain today there is an overpopulation and overexposure of what I would call the Oxbridge novel. I think the definition of an Oxbridge novel is extremely obvious.

SRB: You’ve written two “sequels” of sorts now, although they don’t feel particularly like sequels. Taking the first one, These Demented Lands, which is a “sequel” to Morvern Callar – or is it? The Morvern who appears here has a distinctly chattier tone, less “blank” (or perhaps I should say “practical” following on from your earlier answer). Is it the same Morvern? And why kill off a character (as The Man Who Walks confirms) you and her readers were clearly fond of?

AW: I am very fond of These Demented Lands. I wanted to do a novel completely outside social realism at that juncture. Morvern Callar had been a “big success” in publishing terms and I think I was perversely looking for my own Reichenbach Falls moment for the poor lassie. I was being kept up late with too many telephone calls from film producers! When I sat down to write it, I clearly recall saying to myself: ‘Alan, you can go anywhere and write exactly what you want, so just let rip.’ That’s exactly what I did. That novel seemed to just come out of my dreams. Of course it is surely clear it is set in some antechamber to Hell? Thus the glaring references to Golding’s Pincher Martin. But many critics seemed to take it not as a fever dream (possibly a dream Morvern is having, safe in her bed, pregnant?) but as a work of pure realism! I think that dreamlike quality accounts for Morvern’s more proactive nature. I am very heartened as there is a fine Irish writer called Sean O’Reilly who once told me reading These Demented Lands just freed him up to realise he could proceed writing his own stuff with no need to be bound by hard realism. It’s odd. I can’t believe I’ll write in that manner again but I’ve learned you never know where you will be stylistically – if you are blessed enough still to be breathing – ten years further down the line.

SRB: Going back to Morvern Callar, there are a good number of unanswered questions in the book. Unanswered and even unraised by Morvern. I don’t want to rob the book of its mysteries, but I wondered if we could hover over one or two of the more intriguing aspects of the plot. The book for example she claims credit for. Would one be right in deducing that the reason she gets away with it is that the novel is in some way about her, which is also why the unnamed boyfriend also tries to cut his hand off; some sort of extreme authorial guilt? On which subject, many of the stories that feature across your “Port” novels have the feel of great yarns told in the pubs. Have you ever felt a throb of authorial guilt over borrowing from local myths and stories?

AW: I’m jumpy that there is something pejorative about the term, “pub yarns” – and also I believe it’s a chicken and egg scenario. But to answer the first part of your question, I agree. One imagines the novel Morvern’s dead boyfriend has written isn’t about pylon repair men. Those publishers (I’d never met a publisher then) seem to accept without question that Morvern is the author. Possibly a certain wryness seems to be apparent in that mysterious, unseen work? You are correct, it must have some “female perspective” – which is of course, doubly ironic. I also have the feeling the boyfriend’s novel is rather beautiful, in some subtle way. It is pretty much apparent that Morvern doesn’t bother to even read “her” book which I think is wonderfully arrogant. Or has she read it at some later date outside the temporal scope of her text, and she has been deeply moved? Are we now reading the text she has written in response; is it a form of correction, a search for grace and redemption, a guilty true confession in reaction to the conceit of His fiction? Because it’s obvious we are reading a text, with pasted-in maps and illustrations which Morvern herself has written down and knowingly epigraphed. Has she too become a reader? I recall the actress Samantha Morton, who played Morvern in the film version, told me that when she auditioned for the part, she read the opening sequence of the novel, ‘As if it was a confession to the bloody cops.’ I thought that was very interesting. But for me it’s a definite written text. I think Morvern Callar is a very angry first novel. It is a subversion of the “first novel” concept, because of course I wasn’t confident enough to believe it might ever get published – like Morvern’s boyfriend seems to be. I think Morvern Callar grew out of those insecurities and that cultural isolation in a very smart way which still surprises me today. It is very much a “manuscript found in a bottle” which was designed to be discovered long after my own demise. A first novel about a ghost first novel which is appropriated by a cold and sometimes chilling voice, hostile to pretence and to artifice. Of course all my sly moves were left-footed when the bloody thing was quickly published!

I’m concerned your suggestion about the severing of the boyfriend’s hand is straying into The Symbolic Use of Colour in the Work of Marcel Proust territory. I have had a hundred academics tell me how I was playing with concepts of the Death of the Author – and I guess they are correct. The boyfriend died for sure! I wanted the boyfriend’s suicide to be very savage and without doubt, thus the very decisive, violent attack on himself which seems to suggest a real self-hatred which is sad. Is he guilty about his own privileged upbringing and this is why he passes all his money on to Morvern? Suicide has always disturbed me and I have lost friends to it. But to be pedantic, is it not his left, non-writing hand he has almost severed, with the weapon in his stronger right hand?

Pub Yarns. I do solemnly confess, too much of my life was once spent in pubs and I still convince myself there is a noble literary tradition attached to this. I hardly drink at all anymore but I believe that I’m using fiction and imaginative tales in the FORM of a pub yarn or a local myth. I think it is that roving, versatile structure I am attracted to. I have used tales and stories from family and from friends; things that have happened to me, to others, all mixed up with invention. I find as years go by I forget the sources of many of these anecdotes. Many are invented, some I believe happened to so-and-so but actually happened to such-and-such – and even more bizarre, I genuinely have believed certain things have happened to me whereas I’ve been corrected and they definitely happened to someone else! Such are the dangers of too many pubs and a fantastical if meagre imagination. But there’s something else more significant.

Since my parents ran a hotel, as a kid I spent long summer holidays with a Gaelic speaking family on Uist and Barra. I am the last type of personality to claim membership of some kind of ersatz culture here. We did not cluster round a two bar electric fire swapping fabulous stories of the islands. (Though Tales of the Toddy was one of the few books always sitting in our house – and I later read it with delight). But among the adults on Uist and Barra there were drams and tales swapped at night – in English and Gaelic – and we children often listened with absolute fascination before we were sent up to bed. I used to have a wee bit of childish Gaelic that has since been nudged aside in my storm-tossed mind. Often tales were translated for my benefit alone, as I was the only non-native speaker there. So I have heard stories from an early age from Gaels and a good few of them put shivers up my spine. Also, my mother’s family is a very large farming one, of brothers and sisters and cousins galore on Mull, and tales would and still do fairly fire round the scullery there. In a completely unpretentious way, my mother, father, sister, uncles and aunts were often relating wild and very funny stories and I was exposed to that long before I was a reader. It’s inevitable this was a big influence.

 

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Book

Alan Warner Morvern Callar
Penguin

Morvern Callar, a low-paid employee in the local supermarket in a desolate and beautiful port town in the west of Scotland, wakes one morning in late December to find her strange boyfriend has committed suicide and is dead on the kitchen floor. Morvern’s reaction is both intriguing and immoral. What she does next is even more appalling. Moving across a blurred European landscape-from rural poverty and drunken mayhem of the port to the Mediterranean rave scene-we experience everything from Morvern’s stark, unflinching perspective.

‘Morvern is utterly hypnotizing from her very first sentence to her last. She rarely goes anywhere without the Walkman left behind as a Christmas present by her dead boyfriend, and as she narrates this strange story, she takes care to tell the reader exactly what music she is listening to, giving the stunning effect of a sound track running behind her voice.

‘In much the same way that Patrick McCabe managed to tell an incredibly rich and haunting story through the eyes of an emotionally disturbed boy in The Butcher Boy, Alan Warner probes the vast internal emptiness of a generation by using the cool, haunting voice of a female narrator lost in the profound anomie of the ecstasy generation. Morvern is a brilliant creation, not so much memorable as utterly unforgettable.”‘ — Penguin

Excerpt

He’d cut His throat with the knife. He’d near chopped off His hand with the meat cleaver. He couldnt object so I lit a Silk Cut. A sort of wave of something was going across me. There was fright but I’d daydreamed how I’d be.
——He was bare and dead face-down on the scullery lino with blood round. The Christmas tree lights were on then off. You could change the speed those ones flashed at. Over and over you saw Him stretched out then the pitch dark with His computer screen still on.
——I started the greeting on account of all the presents under our tree and Him dead. Useless little presents al­ ways made me sad. I start for me then move on to every­ body when I greet about the sad things. Her from Corran Road with all sons drowned off the boats. She bubbled till she lost an eye. I greeted in heaves and my nose was runnmg.
——I dropped the Silk Cut and it burned to the filter on a varnished floorboard. I stopped the greeting cause I couldnt breathe and was perished cold. I slowed down the speed of the flashing Christmas tree lights. I put on the scullery light then the immersion heater then the bar fire but I didnt put a record on.
——I supposed I was stewing over going out to the box by the garage to phone police or ambulance or whoever took things to the next stage. Then all in the port would know. They’d print a photo in the paper. His old dad who lived away in a country would have to be told. My fosterdad and the railway and all in the superstore would know.
——That immersion heater took a half hour and it was eightish on the video. I needed to boil the kettle to get the mess offof my face, what with the greeting and that.
——I couldnt get past Him without stepping in His blood and I was scared to go too nearish so’s I got my things in the bedroom. I took the last pill in that cycle.
——I came back towards the scullery then took a run­ ning jump over the dead body. The sink was full of dishes so I had to give them all a good rinse. The face was by my bare foot. I fitted the kettle spout under the tap. Then I put my underwear over the spout and tugged the elastic round the sides. When the kettle boiled I put the warm knickies on. I jumped back over Him ready to throw the kettle away, after all you don’t want to scald your legs. My foot came down in blood. I stepped forward and swore out loud. I wiped my foot on the rug.
——I washed my face in the sort of burnt-smell kettle water then I needed toilet.
——Sitting there I saw I’d locked the door even though He was dead. I did a number-one then a number-two remembering always to wipe backwards. Though He was dead I used the air freshener spray.
——For sake of something to do I tidied away all the presents for Him, Red Hanna, Vanessa the Depresser and Lanna into the boiler cupboard. I lit a Silk Cut. I lined up the presents for Him to me then just tore them all open one after another like apple boxes at the work: a polished steerhide jacket, a packet of yellowish low denier stock­ ings, a lighter that looked goldish, a basque thing all silky and a dear-looking Walkman with batteries in. I started to greet again as I stepped in the blood and knelt. I ended up touching His hair cause the rest was cold. All floor­ blood had a sort of skin on. When I saw it burnt down I pushed the Silk Cut butt in the blood and it hissed snub­ bing out.
——I’d been greeting so long the water would be hot. Bits of the blood-skin hung from my legs when I stood up and fresh drops came off. My bare feet left blackish foot­ prints across the floorboards. I wiped the footprints into smears with the shiny Christmas wrapping paper.
——I kneeled in the bath. I washed my knees and legs and in me. I got my legs warm so there were no goose­ bumps then shaved them and that. I gave my shin a wee nick with the razor and blood lifted in a bubble then trickled quick. I put in a splash of the bubblebath and filled the tub. The water was too burny so I put in cold.
——The flat had warmed up and was quite cosy. I used every clean towel on me. In the bedroom I used mois­ turiser all over and put the knickies back on. I adjusted the straps on the new basque thing and buttoned up a long shirt over it. I used a touch of Perfect Plum Glim­ merstix and Raspberry Dream powder blush then did my lips with Unsurpassed Wine. When I held the tissue taut to take the excess off the paper ripped, so I did a deep breath and used another. My nails were in a state as per usual so I sat blowing on them after putting a little more Dusky Cherry on.
——I tied the reddish scarf into my hair and put the greenish socks on. I was stewing over the yellowy stock­ ings under the velvet trousers which feel quite rampant, or the jeans with the knees out and all the slashes up the back to the bum with tights under. I plumped for just the velvet trousers. I laced on the baseball boots and used the goldish lighter on a Silk Cut. When I put the steerhide jacket on it had a smell and creaked as you moved the arms. I put the Walkman in the pocket and the plugs in my ears after fitting the long ear-rings on. I took some cassettes: new ambient, queer jazzish, darkside hardcore and that C60 I’d made with Pablo Casals doing Nana on his cello again and again.
——I sat on the toilet with the door locked listening to all the stuff on the Walkman; the Auto-Reverse turned the cassettes without having to take them out! I tried the goldish lighter on Silk Cuts. Every now and then I lifted the toilet seat to drop the butts in.
——When I came out, the video showed twelvish. Every­ one who was going to work from down the stair would have gone so there would be less chance of nosey-parkers when the ambulance or police came to take Him away.
——On the computer screen was:

——NOTE ON THE DISC
——xx

——I pressed the diddleypush to eject the floppy disc after Z&Y-ing the keyboard then I pulled out the plug. I put the disc in the jacket pocket. I grabbed two packs of Silk Cut out the carton and put some of the cassettes in the jacket pockets. I switched off Christmas tree lights, fire and immersion heater then counted the change in my purse for phoning police or ambulance or whoever, from the box by the garage. I wasnt going to have enough till payday. On the mat was a catalogue from a model shop in the south. I chucked it in the bin, locked up careful then moved down the stair past the doors of other flats.

Out there were no people. Puddles were frozen and wee­ ones off from school had burst all ice. A car passed and you saw smoke clinging round the exhaust. Miles Davis doing He Loved Him Madly offof Get Up With It was going in the ears. My hands were in the jacket pockets, the nose was cold like it was pinched between finger and thumb; I touched the computer disc in the other pocket, as I walked up to the phonebox I felt the cassette moving next to one pinkie, and it was that bit where the trumpet comes in for the second time: I walked right past the phonebox. It was the feeling the music gave that made me.
——It was a dead clear freezing day with blueish sky the silvery sun and you saw all breath. I walked by the Phoe­ nix and the Bayview. Across the bay between the walls of St John’s and Video Rental you saw snow on the moun­ tains of the island where my fostermother lay buried. Along at the seawall people were crossing the road into shops. All cars and buses had smoke showing round the exhaust. A man inside a car moved his hand at me from across the road. I waved back: it was just Ramraider my driving instructor giving a lesson. A fishing boat was com­ ing in with a light on the mast. I stopped and watched the boat pass over to the railway pier. I took a big breath of the bright morning and used the goldish lighter on a Silk Cut.
——I changed cassettes to Music Revelation Ensemble at the railway station looking up to see the time. I knew my fosterdad was away down through the pass on the early train so I crossed the square. The Christmas tree with the coloured household bulbs was still switched on. The other phones were there so I walked round the corner the way I had for eight year.
——I stopped in the superstore carpark to finish the Silk Cut then when the drums came in after the solo bass on Bodytalk I strode on through the sliding door and up to the signing book. Trust Creeping Jesus to be stood there and he moved his mouth at me. He flicked one of the earplugs out. Youre late by forty-five minutes so get up there, I heard in his south accent. Christ had Christmas already? he says nodding at the steerhide jacket and the Walkman. I put the plug back in my ear and took the door up to the ladies’ staffroom.
——Lanna from bakery was there lifting her hand to lick round her fingers. They were all sugar from stack­ ing donuts. Where did you get the jacket? she says. I put it round her shoulders and, touching it, she asked if my boyfriend give it me. She called Him by name. I got my locker key and took out the nylon uniform, the apron, the tights in a ball and the schoolish shoes. When I saw the uniform it nearly made me turn round and tell Lanna He was dead. She was playing with the Walkman, winding forward so you heard Music Revela­ tion Ensemble all far-away-like. Lanna was laying off how bakery had kept her on over five hours without break and there was a law against it. Have you bought all His presents? she says. I nodded and tugged a leg out the velvet trousers then undid the buttons and took off the shirt. You could see the basque thing. I put on the brownish tights and the uniform while Lanna but­ toned the neck up and smoothed the nylon onto me with her palms. Then she gently.took my earrings out and was biting her lip. You werent allowed jewellery on the section. Why did you go to the fuss of putting these in Morvern? she says. I put the jacket and the Walkman in my locker. Theyre lovely, so is your slip thing, Lanna says, pointing at my chest. Then she goes, since we were off for three day would I come to The Mantrap and get mortal after closedown? She would meet me with a summerbag: shoes and the little black number, though it had a totey hole at the shoulder; I could change in the bogs on the north pier. I nodded, she told me a time and place then showed the half bottle Southern Comfort hid in her locker. She lit a Regal and I took a drag. I nodded. Smiled.

Down the stair the section was pandemonium. Smugslug had gone and let them put too many tatties out on the shelves. Loads had fallen and were getting kicked about by shoppers’ feet. I kneeled to pick them up then stepped in and shoved the tatties to the back of the shelves. I could never grow nails on that job: my hands were all soil.
——Down the tunnel by the fridges, Smugslug tried to give me hell for lateness. I was too famished and walked away. In the fridge I pinched plums and polished them on my apron. I bit leaning forward so the juice dripped on the floor. I loaded a six-wheeler with loose carrots, prepack tomats, icebergs, cos, watercress, loose mushies, prepacks and caps.
——Smiler came out the tunnel, empty boxes stacked on his six-wheeler. He started breaking the boxes down for the baler. Going out tonight? he says. I goes, Mmm. He says, Mantrap? I goes, Uh huh.

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** Ian, Hey, Ian! Thanks about the post, man. November is always a weird one, but now? Whoa. At least it’s trickling out. What are the carpentry classes like? Is it learning basic skills and tools and stuff? Do they make assignments, like … build a mailbox or something? Congrats on the cat and the love. Hang in there, take care. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. I’m certainly happy that you managed to get through the rent crisis. That stuff is so stressful. And excellent about the LARB hook up. Easily one of the best venues extant, in my opinion. ** wolf, I can’t top that, ha ha, so here’s just a good old interspecies hi. Oh, yeah, I guess if I were writing something where it was important that it be set right now, that would be an interesting dilemma. I guess I don’t care about timeliness and that. It’s like super politics-based art. I’m not interested in making that, obvs., but if I was I think I would be too aware of how flash in the pan it would be to actually make something. Not that there isn’t charm to, oh, anti-Vietnam art. But only charm in almost every case. Fuck charm. Maybe. Hm, yeah, I don’t feel like I have any problem reading or watching things set back when there weren’t phones or TVs or microwaves or whatever and where families played board games and stuff. Maybe there’s just a tenderness there that only helps? I don’t know. Something to think about. Oh, I’m restoring one of your old posts tomorrow. Prepare for flashbacks. ** Tosh Berman, Wow, you’re going to interview Paul Morley on your show? That’s amazing. I’m very excited for that. He’s great. Very, very cool. ** Sypha, Hey. It’s not hatred, it’s boredom. Going to the Warhol museum is still in my dreams. Never even been to Pittsburgh. Can’t even picture what it must look like. New Mauve Zone product! Been a while, no? Great! Everyone, Here’s Sypha with a big treat. Follow his lead. Sypha: ‘New full-length 2nd studio album from +Passover- posted at Mauve Zone Recordings today: SYMPHONY FOR THE DEGENERATE AGE. As always it may be downloaded/listened to for free at the Internet Archive.’ Nice cover. ** Barkley, Hi, Barkley! Oh, that’s okay, time moves strangely and very flexibly around here. Great to see you! Good news and congrats about the job, notwithstanding the tiredness part. No, I was deprived of my Halloween LA trip this year for the obvious reason. That was sorely painful. Not much to do in these parts re: Halloween. I went to the Halloween makeover of the local theme park Parc Asterix before it got shut down, and that was fun. And to the Halloween haunted house at Paris’s mighty year-round haunted attraction Le Manor de Paris, and that was excellent. And that is all Halloween wrote for me this year. Wow, no, I didn’t specifically know about gifcities.org. Holy moly, that’s a huge find. Thank you a veritable ton. Huh, I feel like I should know The Garden since they’re from Orange County, but I don’t know that I do. I’ll get their new album immediately. Thank for the mega-generosity. I’m okay, getting through the quarantine and all of that in one piece so far. You all right? You getting through everything in tact and more? Take good care, and I hope I’ll get to see you again soon. ** _Black_Acrylic, I agree that the films are his greatest work. Today is the day I get to be Played by your Therapy as yesterday ate me alive. Looking heavily forward. Have fun with the interview today. That’s so cool. ** Nik, Hey, Nik! Excellence to see you, sir! I’m good. Lockdown has proved to be fairly doable. Zac and I just got a green light for our new film, so we’re starting to think/work seriously on that and very excited. Otherwise, fiddling with some stuff. The showing of my gallery-friendly gif works seems to have gone quite well. A couple of them even sold. Searching for ideas re: how to maybe do that again. Very happy that you’ve managed to get great writing done even with the busied-up last semester. And you’re proud of it, awesome! And it’s short, which, you know, I’m all for. My new forthcoming novel is very short too. Oh, I always work heavily and intently on my sentences but how depends on the project. Yeah, ‘My Loose Thread’ was written chronologically as an experiment. Only time I’ve ever done that. Although I’m thinking I might try that again for a new novel I’m vaguely thinking about. Yes, I edit as I go along, but I try not to get too anal at that stage so I can keep barreling forward because getting a first draft done is the hardest part for me. And then I work and rework the sentences like crazy once I have a solid draft. But, yeah, I fiddle from the beginning. I can’t help myself, and my raw sentences tend to suck. Great that you’re loving editing. I think that’s really, really key to being a writer longterm. Great news, man! And I’m glad you like Warhol’s films so much. Me too, obviously. When I first discovered them when younger, they had a really massive impact on my thinking about how to make things. I read Lonely’s poem the other day. It’s beautiful. I didn’t realise that was your doing. Great work. Everyone, Nik is, among many other awesome things, an editor at the great Fence, and he recently published a poem by the excellent Lonely Christopher about Warhol’s ‘Lonesome Cowboys’. A very fine read if you haven’t and would like to. Here. ** Bill, Hi. Me too, about not having done up his films before. I think my Warhol general exhaustion got in the way or something. I’m about to order that S.D. Stewart book. Atlas Press is such a joy. I should do a post dedicated to them. Hm. Here’s hoping for a blinding start to your week. ** Damien Ark, Hi, D. I’ll go find your email. Thank you! Moving can definitely have a great, refreshing impact on all sorts of one’s things. Hope that happens if it’s meant to. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. No, I do not know why. I assume the Warhol Foundation has some plan for the release, maybe even through their own auspices. Ha ha, man, the word on ‘Stardust’ is as bad as words can contain, I must say. ** Okay. The blog turns its spotlight on Alan Warner’s really great first novel today. Maybe you know it? Maybe you know the film based on it? The film is cool, but the novel is much, much greater, if you ask me. Which you didn’t. See you tomorrow.

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