[Indistinct tape noise]
- … still the list goes on. I don’t mean Harvey Milk, or maybe I do, but it’s cultic – fucking cultic! – I mean shit, I’m surprised they aren’t selling his relics. I mean, shit, who else? All of them. That’s the answer. All those no-mark half-remembered ones, as well as all the bright stars. Harvey, yes, but Venus X murdered under the bed where she was turning tricks. Paul Trayes with his face half-ravaged. Jody Dee in his last bloody moments with his head kicked in. Sara, so half-mad in isolation she wandered into a river alone. Yes, Matthew Shepard, but Arin, sewn shut, dying unseeing, Markuz, Helena, Donai, all of them, the list of them, fuck, the cemetery would stretch for miles.
- You paint a bleak picture.
- Maybe there’s a time for bleakness. Oh, I don’t revel in it. Don’t panic and run away from it. It’s not so much dancing on graves, or that Diamanda shit, corpse-like Furies marching out of the graveyard in indictment. I like that, though. I like that. The idea that the dead might stretch out and say Motherfucker, remember us! Not as an ideal, but as we actually were, however inconvenient.
- Like we actually were.
- Yeah, like that. Not as poster children, we were better than that. You are too.
'He was observing the leopard pace back and forth in its cage. Pace, not prowl, not dash, not leap glint-eyed from behind rocks and grasses prey-minded; pace like old men were supposed to pace in their studies, fretting at the walls, hoping to find in one step after the other some muscle-deep memory of truly free motion. Botticelli painted something like this, you know, though he took no animals for his subject. In what seems like a placid and austere scene, a virgin stretches down with an indolent white lump in her arms, inclined to the child next to her. When you stare at it for long enough, you realise that the stoop of her back is not a still moment in graceful motion, but that she is unable to stand upright: the frame isn't large enough to accommodate her. Suddenly all you can see is the frame, its narrowness, suddenly all the creases in her robes seem unalterably sharp, suddenly there are only questions. How long has she been bent like that? What is the weight of this frame staring at me, unbearably heavy? How in error did I read her face as inscrutable peace?
'Yes like all poisoned artists yes I am unable to give myself entirely to the simple ethics of the twitching sinew under the fur yes I know: where is a way back from this?'
'He never mentioned the war. But war leaves things behind. Dig deep enough under any street in London and you eventually come to a thin, reddish-black line in the sediment. This is the indelible scar Boudicca left, burning the Roman settlement to the ground. Ash clings to everything, lines blur. You would occasionally see some ash blow out from the past as he'd reach quickly – I'd never seen him move that quick – to change the channel as pictures of tanks glowered through the latest desert.
'That's not all. Ash has to come from something; something must burn. After they came back from 1945, all the things that had seemed clear, or true, or natural seemed alien and provisional. The terrible romance he had about the past, the nostalgia for his childhood (which was, unsentimentally, mean and poor), the dignity of the war – they were all ways of saying that something had untethered this time from that time, some gap, maybe as thin as a line in the dirt, reddish-black, thin but uncrossable.’
'You'd be forgiven for wondering what was in the water in Alexandria in the last centuries of the Roman Empire, so peopled was it by mysteries. It must have seemed like you could pick up the secrets of the universe from the street corner, that the apocalypse itself was only up the road. The revulsion it inspired in the orthodox, its richly textured weirdness an outrage to sober Hellenes – for the straitlaced it was the rich, miscegenated, Nilotic mud clotting the wheels of Empire.
'Its creole gods, halfway between beast, principle and paranoid abstraction, populate every circulating gospel, recipe or manual with a rich currency of names, secret and not-so-secret, above all in the belief that the true name of a thing is also its power. They proliferate in an odd melancholy way, the paranoid archons that (so they claim) guard the various heavenly precincts, blocking off access to light, knowledge, power. Somehow it seems the collection of names you have for them is never enough, never quite enough – that one more might grant you the Universal Secret, or grant you a new momentary ecstasy, might hold the key to somehow escaping the ever-diminishing walls around you – but you never quite get there. Still, there's always a new name, a new god to unwrap fresh from the market, anything that wards off the odd stomach-twinge that the only name that describes the universe (and therefore contains it) might be as long, as complex, and as evasive as the universe itself.'
'There's a story that circulates about Althusser: in the grip of one of his spells of madness, after a day spent in a drab conference room at UCL, he tried to clamber into the cabinet that contains the mummified body of Jeremy Bentham. This is held to be a story about the various tragedy of his madness, that he could not feel the weight of the rules and taboos that hold us just inches away from the precipice of barbarism. It remains unconsidered that a ménage with a corpse may have been preferable to spending another minute in a room full of philosophers. (…)
'In the late Althusser comes the occasional bravura statement that his understanding of canonical writers often came through the gift of intuition, that it was divined through a ferocious attentiveness to small segments or portions of their work, rather than an all-encompassing comprehension that arrived through meditation on the work as a whole. This may or may not be true; either way, it armed his opponents with an ersatz scandal, taking aim at the very foundations of the virtuous drudgery which makes for intellectual credibility. (Those sympathetic tend to view it as a faintly grim jest.) Was he pushing at anything else? That there might be strains and passages in a writer's work that serve as signatures, as windows through which a whole dazzling vista bursts into form? Maybe. Connecting his trespass on both the embalmed patriarch and the bounds of scholarly decency is a virtue not often lauded: impatience.'
'… because it's all too easy to find yourself bogged down in it, you end up not really seeing things at all, you know? Have you ever turned around and just thought that the pure solidity of things seems offensive? Look around you: there’s not much in this room as malleable and temporary as us, very few things that won’t endure long after we’re dust. From the perspective of a desk, or a steel fork, or bricks and mortar, we’re not much more than briefly flickering ghosts at the very margins of importance. How obscene, again, to think we’re things of substance. It’s a crude and unfunny joke, but can’t you just see, drifting stolidly toward the heat death of the universe, the slightly tasteless bakelite mug you’re holding in your hand? How terrible the things that outlast us. How rude.’
Our lives shall run like sparks through the stubble…
'An agricultural ritual from which we are severed, the burning of the stubbles would light up hillsides and fields with curtains of flame; a torrent of field-mice and insects would buzz and flutter out in desperate escape. It seems savage to us now, but the ash provided a fertile bed for new growth. Jarman’s reference is biblical, an odd combination of terror and hope – but not a supernatural one. There is hope, but precisely, not for us. The phrase is lifted from the Book of Wisdom, in a context of tribulation or proving of mettle, like gold in a furnace; it recalls, too, the late medieval reading of the ‘sparks’, or human souls, trapped in the shards of the world of matter. This was the basis of an ontology of exile, in which tiqqun, or restoration, provided theological orientation and grounds for right living, but again, without any intimation of personal immortality. Jarman’s meticulous attention to the present provides no hope for our personal restoration, but grounds it instead in the unpredictability of the communal future, while confronting with precise certainty his own personal future (the concrete opening of the horizon of death in front of him, the imperturbable certitude and unalterable blueness of the cinematic void.) The sparks dart and run about, they destroy, burn up and consume, and their running seems individually aimless. They provoke terror. (Samson lit the backs of three hundred foxes and loosed them in the grain-fields.) If there is hope (uncertain) it lies in what comes after the burning, the single blossom of the new world, as unfamiliar to us as the span of centuries, from the parched wheatfield to the single new blossom. ‘I lay a delphinium, Blue, on your grave.’ ‘