Sunday, July 31, 2005

the last story in the annals of the human race!

Here Mongrove kept his collection of bacteria; his viruses, his cancers - all magnified by screens, some of which measured an eighth of a mile across. Mongrove seemed to have an affinity with plagues.

'Some of these illnesses are more than a million years old,' he said proudly. 'Brought by time-travelers, mostly. Others come from all over the universe. We have missed a lot, you know, my friends, by not having diseases of our own.'

He paused before one of the larger screens. Here were examples of how the bacteria infected the creatures from which they had originally been taken.

A bearlike alien writhed in agony as his flesh bubbled and burst.

A reptilian space traveler sat and watched with bleary eyes as his webbed hands and feet grew small tentacles which gradually wrapped themselves around the rest of his body and strangled him.

'I sometimes wonder if we, most imaginative of creature, lack a certain kind of imagination,' murmured Lord Jagged to Jherek as they paused to look at the poor reptile.

Elsewhere a floral intelligence was attacked by a fungus which gradually ate at its beautiful blossoms and turned its stems to dry twigs.




so i'm rereading what *might* be my favorite book of all time, michael moorcock's "an alien heat".


the last story in the annals of the human race!

a world of the remote future. the society is very rich, very decadent ... the human race had at last ceased to take itself seriously. having inherited millenia of scientific and technical knowledge it used this knowledge to indulge its wildest fantasies, play immense imaginative games, relax and create monstrosities ... after all, there was very little else to do ... in a world of crazy, jewelled cities, with ripe, rotting technologies!


as a novel, it's many different things: olympian myth, time-travel adventure, romance, sharply-observed social satire, homage to glam rock, love letter to the great tradition of european decadence. a rough sketch of the plot: jherek carnelian, uber-dandyish darling of the human party scene (ca. 50,000,000 AD), greatest living expert on the "dawn age", falls in love with a time-traveling woman from 19th c london. their awkward courtship cut short, jherek must travel back in time to victorian london to possess her ...

yes, the plot's a bit florid. and moorcock - as usual - is in fine, overheated form. the massive, organic city-computers of the far future earth aren't the only thing ripe to bursting with febrile hallucinations. apparently, moorcock wrote his novels in mad weekend-long sessions, fueled by whiskey, dope, speed and bankruptcy. believe me, it shows. if i were reading these novels for the bizarre characters and landscapes, the outlandish fads and fashions, the orgies, the coats trimmed in living flowers and spiders' hair, the flying whales and talking gorillas - it'd be fun, but it'd be a bit trivial, yeah?

however, where moorcock's imagination is on overdrive, his style is perfectly understated. scenes and characters are sketched economically and confidently. his gaze passes briskly and easily over the object, he pauses over his details just long enough to surprise and delight, but never lingering so long over his invention as to make the authorial pronouncements on his subjects seem contrived. the narrative is as perfectly-metered as the best fairy-tales: this allows him to make fairy-tale pronouncements with fairy-tale authority. when he explains the attitudes and mores at the end of time, it is as if it has always been so, as if it could only be so:

some unconscious knowledge informed their attitudes and made them lose interest in ideals, creeds, philosophies and the conflicts to which such things give rise. they found pleasure in paradox, aesthetics, and baroque wit; if they had a philosophy, then it was a philosophy of taste, of sensuality.



what i have not yet mentioned about "an alien heat": its sweetness, its humour, its light touch (well, ok, i touched on the last, briefly). these qualities are apparent and immediate. this is why i was stunned when i reached mongrove's menagerie of diseases. the quiet sorrow stands out so clearly against the moorcock's riotous play (literally, play - characters reform the sun and sea and horizon and sky on whims, as the mood takes them) of color and textures - how could i forget?

it is tempting to read jagged's complaint as a plea for compassion. in this future, however, sickness, disease and bodily decay have been abolished, aliens and time-travelers are allowed to roam the ancient earth at will. the poor creatures on the screens are old footage, highlight reels, as it were. even given moorcock's sense of the macabre - this is after all, the author of elric, the originary text of "dark fantasy" - it is hard to imagine they were not eventually dispatched with compassion, if not restored.

i do not think malice requires a lack of imagination. rather, it requires a sort of imagination i would hope most people choose not to exercise. teenagers often throw objects at me while i am cycling - drink cups, bottles, food. i wonder what runs through their heads. i think they must imagine my anger, my impotent frustration, my awkwardness. their acts are fueled by the excitement of imagining my abjection. mongrove, on the other hand, literally cannot imagine or understand his charge's situation, for in this great human future, we are told, even pain has been abolished. the image of this scene returns to the reader at the climax of the novel, where jherek experiences a victorian execution. even though he is aware there is no reincarnation in the dawn age, he feels no pity, sadness or terror at the sight of the gallows.

earlier in the novel, jherek playfully teases mongrove: "it is despair you seek - exquisite despair. it is the agony of the soul that the ancients know. you wish to discover the secret of what they called "the human condition" and recreate it in all it's terror and pain". at the end of time, where matter and energy and space and time are re-ordered at a thought, where any experience is optional, consensual and/or ephemeral, the human condition has effectively ceased to exist. and what remains - the human problem, if you will - is understanding the subject with inhuman concerns - what we would no doubt call "the human condition", the anxieties of scarcity, neccesity and survival - as a thinking subject at all.

because these concerns are unthought, beings which cannot think otherwise are not granted the rights or priveleges of thinking subjects. their needs are fulfilled, their desires are suffered - but only at the discretion of a thinking human, one who is concerned, above all, with the varieties of aesthetic experience.



when i say i concur with the dancers at the end of time, when i say i feel a certain sympathy, i don't mean to imply i am as removed from ordinary experience as jherek's future is from our present. nor would i imply aesthetic sensibility is necessarily missing from any other's internal life*. i am sure people who drive hummers, wear discount golf clothes and build glittering mcmansions on unspoiled bluffs do so out of an aesthetic motivation as deep as any i hold. besides - who am i to judge? i am freely admitting that my hero is a man from the 50th millenia who drives a flying gold locomotive.

* = did you see what i did there??

anyway, i've spent too much time working on this. i don't have much in the way of motivation except to cultivate my taste, my sensibilities and my-self. i have about as much trouble with (and interest in) explaining my lifestyle as jherek does. in future posts there'll be less awkward self-explanation, more taste and inspiration.

a few more things that are inspiring me:

new music blog. seriously, the guys on this blog kick my ass all over the place. jess harvell, ethan padgett, andy kellman - these guys are the chuck klostermann / greil marcus / thomas bartlett of a better world (i almost dragged stanley crouch and nick hornby into this article, but in a better world we're blissfully unaware of their thoughts on music) ... tim f, ronan f and brian mcd also critically kill it, on a regular basis. oh yeah, and some guy named philip sherburne ...

nom de guerre, a/w 2005 collection. the source of the photos in the post. click on the link at the bottom of the page marked "online lookbook". look at the lookbook. reel in awe.

further public memorialization of mi vida loca. (note: i totally do not slouch that much. nor do i look like a 40 year old man. most of my customers actually are that obese, though.)

2 Comments:

Blogger Jonathan said...

Is this a sci-fi Less Than Zero? You have high fashion affluence desensitized to the point of excessive self-indulgence and obsession with perversity seemingly prevalent in both. I'm going to have to read this, because I'm seeing a clear relationship between Victorian executions and Robert Downey Jr. tricking gay Palm Springs crack parties...

12:07 AM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Oh, and is that first photo not just screaming Clay and Julian?

I love the cartoon, too. And yes, most of your customers are obese, and have terrible fashion sense...

12:12 AM  

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