Text by Gary J. Shipley
Images by Devin Horan
With an introduction by Steve Finbow
Softbound with flaps, 128 pages, 148 x 206
Book + original artwork
“Mutations is a rewriting of the Real, a reimagining of the Imaginary, a shocking virus of words that transfigures our perceptions of good and evil, a contagion of collages that fixes our gaze even when all we want to do is look away.”
– Steve Finbow
“Gary J Shipley’s writing has a way of making every form he works within advance, in an overarching sense, such that the next exciting thing you read, no matter how advanced, is rendered a jalopy, and never more convincingly than in Mutations.”
– Dennis Cooper
These letters and images create, by their forms and the mutations of these forms originating in the body, a fluctuating picture that must correspond objectively to a transcendental collagic representation of the final and highest realities. Whoever says “loss of identity” also says Mutations, metamorphosis, transvaluation, poetic creation. Between the two there is a distance, a dangerous journey. What is the risk? Bewilderment, madness, suicide. Mutations is not striving for another being, but for another mode of being. It is more than anything something which transforms the body. It is the sustained, discrete violence of an incision that is not apparent in the body of the text, a calculated insemination of the proliferating collages through which the texts are transformed, deform each other, contaminate each other’s content, tend at times to reject each other, or pass elliptically one into the other and become regenerated in the repetition.
You are not the diagnosis. Everyone in the room will want you to be, but it won’t happen. The doctor will say the MRI scan was… problematic. She will pause like that. She will be reluctant to use the word tumour. Reluctant because cancer spreads, it doesn’t roam. And this was moving around inside your head. Appeared independent of the tissues of your brain. But that couldn’t be right. They will need to do another scan, but you will refuse. You will know already what you need to know. You will drum your fingers on the desk, and you will say: “In this in-between, chaos becomes rhythm.” The remark will be met with consternation. Nobody will talk for at least twenty seconds. As you get up to leave the room, the doctor will also rise from her chair. You will hear her entreating you to come back as you close the door behind you. Once you leave the building you will never go back.
To be between mutations is to be an even purer possibility. You will feel it. You will feel it like a headache of someone recently decapitated, like the headless part of that equation. Your head is so sweet you can barely swallow it. The facts of the people in that room, the lightbox on the wall, the shining pamphlets, the mannerisms of the auto shop, have degraded in the hours since you left. For your “confectionery head / that draws the cup of fever / is the suicide of truth”. What a thing it is, to just be what you are and nothing else; what an accursed state, what a sterile immutability, what a faded god.
You will dream of plagues. Your eyes will barely function from lack of sleep. You will hear them open and close. Like Saint-Remys you will know that “even destroyed, even annihilated, organically pulverized and consumed to [our] very marrow, […] we do not die in our dreams, that our will operates even in absurdity, even in the negation of possibility, even in the transmutation of the lies from which truth can be remade”. As long as you refuse to wake up you will not die. You will wonder if you have ever woken up—even during those times when it seemed as though a bulb of the harshest, nastiest light had been switched on inside your head and would not go out, when you’d seen the outside bathed in that sick glow for months, for years, that perhaps even then you had not really come around. Perhaps even then death had not been near enough to smell you. The women with their faces cut off for fun: perhaps they didn’t feel it happen. And the eyes: who’s to say they ever saw anything.
You will find eyes distributed about your rooms. An eye will look out from a wall. You will not ever see it blink. You will come to see the eyes as yours. But it won’t be through them that you’ll see what it is you’ll come to see. It will not ingratiate itself to light or the dimensions inseparable from vision. You’ll see it without seeing it. Its outline will move and fade and militate against its being one. Anomalous, it will have “no critical incidence in the system. Its figure is rather that of a mutant”. If it is to be thought of as tentacled, those tentacles will reach inward—as if to pull itself apart. You will fill a bathtub full of sick from the prolonged unlocatedness of this, from the swell of every durative thought.
“Thus there will come strange jolts, paradoxical mutations, flights that are returns.”15 And you will find yourself back where you started, with torsos shuffling across ceilings and vulvas blooming on withered plants. You will remember the oncologist talking about the finger-like spread of a hypoattenuating peritumoral edema in the white matter that surrounds it. Cracks will appear in walls, in windows, in the floor. Your rooms will fall away beneath you. You will look down at your feet as if down a lift shaft. The world, then, when it returns will do so in bits, in horrific fragments of itself come together in some aleatory nightmare of ever more spasmodic forms. What available light there is will eat your eyes out of their sockets. You will look out from this nowhere of vermicular digestion and vomit your organs into your lap. When your sight returns you will see your vomit is also made of worms, and those worms are made of worms, and so on downward, inward, until you are sick again, and more worms and more sick and so on until your bulimic interiority will speak—and you cannot speak.
“The ‘worm’ constructs itself out of various previously autonomous systems […] until it coincides—at its most abstract—with a potential for pure contagion. It specializes in nonspecialization, assembling itself out of everything it infects, its nature continuously mutating as it assimilates new material.”16 But then the worm must ask itself: How to infect yourself with everything and once infected turn away from it—to have this aggregation somehow turn away from itself. To live inside this suiciding. To know everything about what it is to know nothing: expert in your own disinterest, in the broad strokes of your ignorance, in the painstaking detail of it. The impossibility of being this meticulously oblivious, this assiduously weary. You will welcome your voided acumen with a kiss. You will that your infinitude become contagious.
You will imagine returning to the hospital, to the oncology ward, your legs giving out from under you in the waiting room, looking up at all the “wan-faced pseudo mutants with eyes like blind fish” tepidly waiting for their treatments. However scared you get you will not suffer the indignity of that. “Mutants built their own shelters out of saliva and ash”; they do not need their gamma knives and radiotherapy, their shunts and their chemo, their considered prognoses and statistical variance. Mutation like life is dangerous. Mutation is the noise of the message conveying its own message. There is no such thing as a managed end, only an end to management, a wilful relinquishment of control. “Stop sending your ships through the narrow cosmo-logical corridor. Stop making them climb the extreme walls of the world. Let them jump over the cosmic barrier and enter into the hyperspace of the Universe. Cease having them compete with light, for your rockets too can realize the more-than-psychic, postural mutation, and shift from light to black universe which is no longer a color; from cosmic color to postural and subjective black. Let your rockets become subject of the Universe and be present at every point of the Remote.” The ziplock bag in the kitchen cupboard with your ovaries inside, you can eat them whenever you like.
Your skin will turn the grey of Margate beach. The grey of the forgotten economy-meat-eating patrons of its greasy spoons. The grey of faded newspaper print and burnt-down cigarettes and 60s Brutalist high-rise flats. The grey of the diseased matter in your head. The grey of the dream you have of somewhere else. And as for the colours that aren’t grey—because for all its symbolic felicity no seaside town is shaded so homogenous—they are the greyest versions of themselves, and could not be greyer without thereby ceasing to be examples of variance, however nugatory. Just to smell you is to sense the spiders getting fat.
What happens next is dictated by the process. It cannot be documented in advance, and any stipulations around it must remain tentative at best, as “the initial escape from form is represented by a process of unpredictable mutation”. You see snakes caught in webs the rats have made. You see them in the intestines of a suspended horse. The severed heads in a row in front of you wear the same expression. All the disembodied organs are similarly fetal. Every fragment dismembers; every dismemberment fragments. Then it’s all a blur. There are fleeting resemblances. You’re choking: there’s a cock in your mouth facing the wrong way. You’re surrounded by desert. Its contours are reflected in the sky. The vision is particulate and strained and discharged of belonging. There are areas of blackness scratched at to establish flimsy increments of light. “Beyond the mutant there is a superior amorphousness, belonging to the monster that has no intrinsic form of its own, or even an inherent morphological trajectory.”
The six-legged men will gather among the trees and masturbate each other with their broken teeth. The world is ending tomorrow and the drunks are drunk. Old women are groping at a child. Ice cream is melting down its arm. At the edge of what you can see: translucent worms eating eyeballs out of heads. The world is ending tomorrow and the horror of boredom. A woman no longer has the bulk to keep her trousers up; she lets them drop only so far; she plays the fistula in her arm like a penny whistle. Hurry, the sea is turning black! Hurry, the memory is in my throat!
The sun will create a shaft of warmth and light through the room. When you place your hands in it you will be able to feel them again. Your head inside it will be freed of the weight of its being there. You will fill the room like smoke. It’s your face on Sivart’s two screens. You are telling him he needs to wake up. You are the plumes rising from his ashtray. You are the faint clouds of water vapour coming out the mouth of the old woman. She is stroking her lap as if there’s a cat. You will tell Travis that it’s okay for him to masturbate over those Nilsen drawings in his book. You will order him to do it while you watch. You will talk him through it, you will seduce him. When he’s finished you will both be sick in your mouths and swallow it. Curling up into a ball you will hug your own cadaver. Your eyes will float in a pool of someone else’s blood. You are every individual part of the smoke now trailing down the hallway, down the stairs. You will be breathed in by the baby on the ground floor so that its head will explode when the father throws it at the wall.
You repeat to yourself how it is that “without a profound complicity with natural forces such as violent death, gushing blood, sudden catastrophes and the horrible cries of pain that accompany them, terrifying ruptures of what had seemed to be immutable, the fall into stinking filth of what had been elevated—without a sadistic understanding of an incontestably thundering and torrential nature, there could be no revolutionaries, there could only be a revolting utopian sentimentality”. And yet you cannot help feeling that in spite of your mutability you are ascending, and that this suffering is flagrantly unnatural—that these accumulating horrors are some bleed-through from some other world, and syrupy too, and idyllic, for what do they stand for but a superstructure that somehow censures this behaviour from afar. Horrors shored up by the dream that they might not happen.
Gary J. Shipley is the author of twelve books, most recently Stratagem of the Corpse: Dying With Baudrillard (Anthem), 30 Fake Beheadings (Spork) and Warewolff! (Hexus). He has been published in numerous literary magazines, anthologies and academic journals. More information can be found at Thek Prosthetics.
Devin Horan made the films Boundary (2009), Late and Deep (2011), Grodek (2014), Akra (2017), and The Animals Are Sick With Love (2020) and was the editor of Pages of Natural History (Pagine di storia naturale, 2019). His collages are an ongoing project begun in 2013 entitled Insomnia of Worlds, which will consist of 1000 pieces. https://jesuve.tumblr.com/
Steve Finbow’s fiction includes Balzac of the Badlands (Future Fiction London, 2009), Tougher Than Anything in the Animal Kingdom (Grievous Jones Press, 2011), Nothing Matters (Snubnose Press, 2012) and Down Among the Dead (Fahrenheit 13, 2014). His biography of Allen Ginsberg in Reaktion’s Critical Lives series was published in 2011. His other works include Grave Desire: A Cultural History of Necrophilia (Zero Books, 2014) and Notes from the Sick Room (Repeater Books, 2017) And Death Mort Tod – A European Book of the Dead (Infinity Land Press 2019). The Mindshaft will be published by Amphetamine Sulphate in 2019. He lives in Langres, France.
Infinity Land Press website
p.s. Hey. ** Today the blog enacts one of its occasional hobbies of serving as an usher to a newly born book, in this case an excellent tome by the mega-scribe Gary Shipley and the fine artist/filmmaker Devin Horan as produced by the unimpeachable Infinity Land Press, a fount of just about the most sumptuous looking books out there. A win win win, in other words. Please pore through the evidence of ‘Mutations’ and give serious consideration to the idea of giving it a home in your home. Thanks! ** h (now j), Hi. Ah, you’ve actually seen his films projected. That’s something. I think I only saw one of them that way so far. So sad: that overly surgery body feeling post-eating something sweet. It doesn’t seem fair. I guess it’s ‘god’s’ way of keep us non-obese. I’m happy you’re enjoying the Steve Abbott book. He is much missed. Wonderful guy too. I enjoyed my espresso, and it was a double! ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. I should have and did assume(d) you’d know his films. And yes about the Mekas. And yes, RIP Morricone. That’s a big one. Startling how much great and varying work he did. ** Sypha, Hi. Okay, I really must read him then. Inked into my search pad. Oh, right, the travel restrictions. But you played miniature golf and that’s really all that matters, isn’t it? Sort of? So you’re just gonna stay in your hood and vacation in your yard and smell the roses and so on? ** Jeff J, Hi, Jeff. Very happy to have made the introduction. No, the Schmid post is still upcoming. I’ve been moving it around. In the next couple of weeks. Really, thank you a lot about ‘Zac’s Drug Binge’. Means a lot. Yeah, I’m really happy with the new formatting. No, I don’t mess the gifs’ original timing. I do obviously pay a lot of attention to the timings and work carefully with them and build the sequences around the gifs’ cycling in and out of sync with their compadres. Especially in the new novel. Anyway, yeah, thank you! I’m really proud of it. A screenplay! Interesting. Curious form, no? I quite like working with it too, or at least when I feel I can approach it as freely and independently as I do any other writing form. Its conventions are so entrenched, and it’s exciting to try to fight and reinvent them, if you know what I mean. So that’s going well? ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Excellent about the new writing, and it’s great you have a trusted and speedy reader to feedback for you. ** Misanthrope, Ha ha. If you had known Emshwiller’s films, I might have literally fallen off my chair. Well, I didn’t make the puke post with July 4th in mind, but when I realised it was imminent, I did realise that putting it and the food one squarely in that slot might have a nice meta effect. Cheesecake is kind of evil. I think my kid logic was more like ‘I’m not going to get what I want, and here’s how I’m going to adjust to that.’ ** Bill, I’m glad his film intrigued you, obviously. Cool. Manic energy sounds like a good way to cool down the possible overly Maddin-like problem. Okey-doke. Puking while smirking and pretending to be bored is one of Gregg’s specialties. ** Right. You know what’s before you today, and I hope you will welcome it into you in some fashion or other. See you tomorrow.