Notes towards a post-viral gothic

So I watched this contrapoints video the other week on Opulence. Section 7, on ruin, details instances of decayed opulence becoming gothic; 19th Century Vampiricism, the American gothic of decayed victorian mansions, and the notion of a “dead mall” – but what is it about the decaying parts of consumerist capitalism that inspires such gothic romanticism?

If, as Angela Carter states in her text “Note on the Gothic Mode’, “all excess tends toward abstraction”, then “the Gothic mode tends to make abstractions from romanticism.’ It takes the parts of romanticism, such as a belief that imagination triumphs over reason, a preoccupation with the inner world, rather than connection to the world at large, and a love or worship of the “natural world” and turns it on its head. Granted, you’ve probably all read and consumed a lot on the Gothic, there’s not much I can tell you that’s you don’t know already.

Even down to things like decrying the notion of ‘Ruin-porn’ (that is to say, pictures of ruined streets in Detroit, or empty malls) as a mode of expression that divorces decay from its political roots. In that both Detroit and the mall have been vanquished, not by the people as a means of taking back the means of production, but by a higher form of capitalism that has deemed both the mall, and the industrial city, as unnecessary to the cause. You know this already.

In that contrapoints video I linked you to above, she says the decayed opulence of the “carcass of 20th century opportunity” is the new gothic aesthetic, and whilst I think that’s true – I just wonder if there’s more to be said about a post-corona aesthetic. A new viral gothic, perhaps.

I’ve been (as u KNOW) confined in Paris for the duration of the pandemic, and there was truly something about ‘Paris Deserted’ that instilled a kind of gothic awe in me. Parisian architecture, by nature, seems to evoke a kind of faded glamour in and of itself. There’s a uniformity to its central districts that, despite the fact that Paris is a modern city which is home to many beautiful pieces of contemporary architecture, seems stuck in a tourist’s wet dream of what Paris actually is and with its crumbling aesthetic it’s seems as though the whole thing is about to take a gothic slide into the Seine. Obviously, the prime examples of Parisian architecture are its monumental buildings (the Eiffel Tower, the Sacré Coeur, etc. etc.) and most of these (excepting the Notre Dame) are notably not gothic. But there IS something gothic about Paris’ abandonment during lock down.

The neon of the cinema turned off, the Champs Elysées empty, the Seine still.

What is it about desertion that makes us think: Gothic? Perhaps because desertion is linked to decay. Empty houses rot, empty malls fall down, where there is nothing something else can seep in. This idea is in itself can be found in Mark Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie, in which the eerie occurs when ‘there is something present where there should be nothing, or is there is nothing present when there should be something’. On every street in every city hit by the pandemic, I imagine this feeling:

Something where there should be nothing.  Nothing where there should be something.

But this isn’t all the post-viral gothic conjures, and it’s not the crux of the point I’m trying to make. I’m getting off topic as usual. So – back to business.

Now, I love Eurovision. I think it’s an immensely emotive thing, that brings loads of countries together, that celebrates music, and is generally a night of all round fun. I think I’ve watched Eurovision every year since the first one I can remember in 1996 (it was Gina G in that Paco Rabanne dress. It was everything.) But watching the “Eurovision Shine a Light” programme last night was really something. Whilst I got emosh (as per) at the unity I saw there, I was struck by something new entirely.

I’m obsessed with Italy’s entry for Eurovision this year, ‘Fai Rumore’ by Diadato. It means “make noise”, and the chorus is kind of heart breaking, and true to form, I read grief in its words:

Che fai rumore qui

E non lo so se mi fa bene

Se il tuo rumore mi conviene    

Ma fai rumore, sì               

Ché non lo posso sopportare     

Questo silenzio innaturale      

Tra te e me

--

Make some noise here

I don't know if it's good for me

If your noise suits me

Make some noise, yes 

I can't stand it

This unnatural silence

Between you and me

Doesn’t this sound to you like the last person alive, just asking for one person to say something? It reminds me of that bit in I am Legend when Will Smith asks one of the mannequins he’s made into an imaginary friend to speak, to just say something.

I’ve a question about that first line, too, because Google translates it as “what are you doing here?” Which ads a kind of Orphic/mythic element; as though someone has appeared as a phantom or shade of themselves, and can’t speak to him. So there’s a kind of ghostliness added to it in any case: a here but not here element. Something where there should be nothing.  Nothing where there should be s o m e t h i n g.

The reason I bring this song up, though, isn’t really because of the song itself, even if it does feel something like a shout into the void, or calling out for someone lost.

It’s because of two videos I saw about it. One: Everyone sequestered in their apartments, unable to come out, and singing out of their windows in some Italian town “CHE FAIR RUMORE, QUI!” Like, “is there anyone alive out there” – this in itself isn’t gothic. Although, I guess, if you were to posit that all the voices you’re hearing are ghostly in that they’re coming to you from an unseen source – but that’s perhaps too much of a leap.

Anyway – the true post-viral gothic is this:

The sight of him singing this song to an empty arena, like he’s the last man alive – that’s gothic. The eerie silence, the lack of applause, of shouts, of people singing along. Nothing, just a man in what looks like some kind of funeral dress, standing isolated and alone within a huge stadium. The old gothic of crumbling cathedrals, in which the hint to a faded spiritual significance is palpable, is found here again. The 21st century stadium: a cathedral to celebrity. The spiritual significance of a stadium, I guess, is the reverence of music as a new kind of religion.

I wonder, too, if there’s something in the fact that he’s singing this plaintive cry for connection in a stadium in which there used to be gladiator fights, circuses. Like, here’s a centre for spectacle, and human interaction, and the heat and gore of the fight, and the magic of a circus – reduced to one man, and the ghost of his spectators. They even write fai rumore on the seats. So detatched. So horribly lonely.

What does it mean to see it empty? For the artist to finish their piece, not to rapturous applause, but to the final notes dying away, bouncing back to you from the empty seats. Even the opening of the video, Diadato walking up to the mic in silence. The sound of his footsteps hauntingly alone. Even the huge delay of his voice coming back to him “Fai rumore” but he’s the only one making sound.

To return to Angela Carter, that ‘all excess leads to abstraction’, then the only way to abstract the excess exhibited in these huge stadiums is to render them empty. Yet its romanticism is in its isolation, too. The individual is the only thing left. 

The post-viral gothic is the empty stadium, is the artist singing alone, is haunted, and mournful. There’s no sex in the post-viral gothic, in the same way that there is in the 19th Century vampire, or in the decayed victorian mansion of the american gothic, in which women are conquered and offered up to whatever beast resides within. No. The post-viral gothic is clinical, separate, desolate and alone. I guess we’ve seen these tropes pre-virus, but they’re almost always exhibited in a post-viral context. The zombie apocalypse, for example. The virus is the new nuclear bomb, so the ravaged cityscapes of the post viral aren’t ravaged by war, or by the blast. The cityscapes of the post-viral gothic are just empty. Everyone gone in the night, and dawn breaking silent and still.

Che fai rumore, si
Ché non lo posso sopportare
Questo silenzio innaturale
Tra me, e te

 

 

 

Near Window 29: Far Window

Ramadan Light

By Rezia Wahid
Oh Ramadan
Ramadan
Your light is the food of empty bellies
Your light illuminates dark houses
Your light adds magic to the hands of cooks
Your light waters the withered
Your light heals the sick

Your light is the mercy of the divine
Your light is joy to the unsmiling

Oh Ramadan 
Ramadan
Must you leave?

Oh Ramadan 
Ramadan
I shall keep your fragrance

Rezia Wahid is a textile artist who specialises in hand weaving. She is currently writing a PHD proposal which looks at engaging audiences and bringing people together with her weaving. Rezia is influenced by a wide range of subjects which includes Literature and Nature. She often writes words which come into her mind when praying, thinking, whilst looking at nature or alongside her drawings and designs- Rezia doesn’t call herself a writer or a poet but her woven pieces are just like poetry. She lives in London and balances work life with four young children as well as a husband who is a writer! 

Rezia’s work can be seen on Instagram @reziawahid1 She tweets @ReziaWahidWeave

Near Window 25

To all of you, wherever you are,

Sometimes I think life was immeasurably easier when we all lived together in that grotty house in South London. When I remember that house I forget how foetid it was, and how the mould encroached upon our personal space, and how we were all a huge house of depressives going to therapy on alternate days. When I remember it I remember it like this tiny haven hewn out of south London suburbia. The basement fog-hazed by cigarette smoke, the garden grey/blue/gold with beer haze, over cast days and trampoline, our rooms all interjecting from each others like small doors, all of us happily co-existing except we were unhappily existing together happily. Symbiotic. I felt I didn’t need any other friends because I had you.

Life has separated us, now. It’s been seven years since we lived in that house together. We’re still close, I love you all like the brothers I never had; but there’s a sense we’re aging out of eating takeaway pizzas and putting our cigarettes out in old beer cans watching Brazil or the Orphanage or every single Bond film in order of preference. Perhaps we did a long time ago. Or maybe not. Whatever it is, I hold the rest of my friendships up to yours for comparison, because you were the first friends I had who never asked me to be anything but myself. You have all been open windows onto the world, you’ve all brought new things to the fore. Despite the trials of that year, of turning twenty, of being young and foolish and sad and happy and crazy; it was a divine moment, held in amber like a charm for times in which I feel friendless. 

There’s this poem called the friend by Matt Hart that I read once, and have been thinking of recently because I am sad to be isolated from my friends, now, and I am especially sad to be absent from oath edged cigarette tinged chats in someone’s kitchen, or around pub tables, or in the middle of the night walking from in house to another, or on drab beige sofas in the dark. So this poem, “the friend”:

The friend is indefinite. You are both

So tired, no one ever notices the sleeping bags

Inside you and under your eyes when you’re talking

Together about the glue of this life and the sticky

Saturation of bodies into darkness

It’s a conversation or a series of conversations between friends many or singular about the difficulties of being alive and the ease of sharing that difficulty with each other or the difficulty of sharing it or the ease of understanding. It sounds to me like the conversations had in the early hours when you’re finding things hard. There are things inside us that are talking to each other, like we’re not communicating but the things inside us, that recognised each other as kin before we built friendships, are. I wonder if that’s the bit that misses, and not our conscious selves so much. 

Bataille says, in the inner experience that life has no meaning if you only give it a meaning you understand alone. “Each being” he says, is “incapable on his own, of going to the end of being”. Because by going there alone, you can never share the experience with anyone else. If you went to the end of being alone it may as well mean that you never went at all. For me, I think this means that to have lived a life without friends is hardly to have lived at all.

You are all at the touch of a button but the yous of then aren’t somehow. I don’t know. I think I prefer the now to the then, but I miss doing nothing but being your friends. Even though I spend my days now doing as much nothing as I did then. 

I normally write these letters about art but I haven’t been to see any art because all the museums are shut and even if they weren’t I’m not allowed outside and even if I was it’s really hard to see art in Paris if you’ve reached the haggard old age of 26. In a way I wonder if the picture I’ve painted in my mind, patched over by Wetherspoons carpet tiles, labels peeled off beer bottles, and the open handed leaves of London Plane trees is the real work of art.

You are all there like a really shit Renoir impression that I’ve further bastardised by sticking their teenage memories to it like a suburban bedroom wall. What a tall story this is, really. How young we were. How young we are. How different things will be. I’m getting morose in my isolation. You’d probably all tell me to stop being stupid, and one of you would come with me to red star wine to get a red good for just drinking or another of us would go to dominics pizza and another one would eat his left over crusts, and I would smoke through an entire 10g pocket of 2.99 Pall Mall red, and one of you would have my lighter and swear on your life you hadn’t seen it before pulling it out of the left breast of your pale blue shirt to light the cigarette you’d just finished rolling. 

I wonder what group are sitting in our basement now, cackling some diatribe of artspeak, or watching terminator 2 half way through a joint. Maybe there is no community of slackers sitting in that basement now. Perhaps it is empty and the ghosts of our conversations chase each other around the room and come to rest on the ghosts of those gross leather sofas one of us found on the side of the road and brought home. I wonder if other ghosts of other groups keep us company. I wonder. 

I wonder if this is a letter to you all at all, or if it’s a love letter to rose tinted glasses. I just know I’d probably walk back to London if there was the promise of a pint in a pub with all of you, as we were, as we are. 

I think, maybe, that none of you will read this anyway, and it will be an unmailed letter, like those that old man posted in his local dogshit bin instead of the letterbox, despite the fact I’ve posted it to the world. 

In his book Friendship, Blanchot also says that friendship is something “into which all the simplicity of life enters”. It’s nothing more than brief moments of beauty, snatched conversations, and that we can’t talk of our friends, only to them. It’s why I’ve written this letter to you and not about you. We greet each other through our estrangement, we are always separate and we are always together until the ultimate fissure unties the bonds that we built between us. Friendship is the simplicity of life. Bataille says the same thing. That you can’t live your life without sharing it with friends. I can’t imagine my life without you. And this, in the end, is the grief of having friends, that friendship inevitably ends. But I will be your friends until I enter the void myself. I will be your friends until I am myself a ghost, chasing the tails of old conversations in a room that has no windows.

Near window 22

This post is feeling taylor swift

I miss the stars. I don’t see them in Paris I just see smog clouds and sometimes the moon but I miss seeing the big wide strip of the Milky Way over head.

Not that I’ve ever actually see the Milky Way , but sometimes when I press the heels of my hands into my eye sockets I think I can.

When I was little and I couldn’t sleep I used to do that so that I’d see stars. I would pick one of the blinking lights of colour and imagine myself rushing towards it. I imagined that once I reached it that would be the dream I’d have. Sometimes I fell asleep before I got there and sometimes I’d imagine a dream for myself instead of going to sleep. I haven’t done it in years but maybe I will tonight.

I miss sitting en terrasse in the sun with a beer sending tiny showers of fizz out of the cup like it can’t obtain its happiness at being poured and I can’t contain my happiness at being there to drink it.

I miss looking at a friend over a picnic table in some scuzzy London pub garden hardly holding the summer revellers in their revelry. 6 whatever-we’re-drinkings in, and suddenly deciding that we’re going out out.

I miss putting lippy on on the tube because I didn’t pack anything else and it’ll have to do.

I miss reclining on some slip in Buttes-Chaumont pretending to read a book but really just being there and being outside.

I miss my village pub.

I miss taylor’s sandwiches.

I even miss fucking l’attirail

Just want some free potatoes.

Instead I’ve got two windows and some new hand soap.

Near Window 21

D e m o t i v a t i o n

Yo. Sorry I’ve been away, I’ve been feeling pretty demotivated. I don’t really know what to write apart from « I watched tiger king and read a book and thought about what will happen when this is all over »

I feel like I’ve written a lot of lovely things about feeling bored, but writing about boredom is boring. I am bored of doing it. I’m sure you’re a bit bored of reading it. Besides, today I feel really sad, and writing anything at all has made my nose itch and Judas tears start to bud at my tear ducts so… you know, not sure I’m too hot on this any more. I’m sorry.

I went for a walk this morning. The trees are in leaf and I nearly cried and their newly minted green goodness and thought that things might be easier if I was a tree.

If I was a tree I could stand outside in the weather and wave my arms in the wind like a child. If I was a tree I’d shut myself up inside myself in the winter, draw all my sap to the core and wait it out sleeping. If I was a tree I’d grow new leaves every year and in some way be reborn in the spring. If I was a tree you could look inside and see my rings and see how long I’ve been living here. If I was a tree there’d be no obligation to isolate because I’d have no friends anyway because I’d be a tree.

Trees are witnesses, but they do not engage. Trees don’t write blogs for no one to read and they don’t try to have careers and they don’t have lives for people to approve or disapprove of. Trees don’t have to make decisions and they do t have to listen to anyone and they don’t have to do anything except make oxygen and even that I think they do without thinking too much about it.

It might be quite nice, i think.

To b a tree.

Guest Post Sunday: Spring and All by William Carlos Williams

This week’s guest post is written by Lucy Wallis. Of all the things to write about now, I find myself most often writing (and thinking and tweeting …

Guest Post Sunday: Spring and All by William Carlos Williams

I wrote a piece about William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All for the Isolation Book Club.

You should check out the rest of the posts for some wicked recommendations, thoughts, and gorgeous writing 🥰

Near Window 20

Time

This morning I said I’d get up, but I didn’t. I said I’d do work but I didn’t. I said I’d do a lot of things but I haven’t.

Instead I put on this song and danced in my room around the sunsquare, like the breeze coming in through the window, like hot coffee in the air.

Arm over arm dancing in euphoria thinking of all the times I’ve moved like this with someone else and realising that I much prefer moving like this by myself. Reason no.1 to be thankful.

Reason number two is that the song speaks to me so. About the way it feels to be inside, all these days as just one long day. Too much time to do anything, not enough time to get things done. All times are now, there is no now only always, there is no always except for…. except for what?

Time keeps on coming

I’ve been all around

I’ll keep on running

‘Til time catches on

I’ve been on the run

Except I’m not running. I’m inside. Windows flung wide.

Arms waving, body rippling like it’s underwater, legs out at an angle, sweeping under to project a leap to the corner of the room, I spin to face my audience of plants. They wave in the breeze, or in enjoyment, I don’t care which, I think it is the latter. The song becomes all songs, becomes heartbeat. Outside of my window I hear people cooking, I hear children in trouble, I hear a shower, I hear laughing. I do not hear my blackbird, still. They all make the song, the song becomes all of them.

My hair raises from its roots like I’m in antigravity. My arms become the boughs of a great weeping willow, my legs the swift river. My heart the beating hand of time striking my sternum as though to reverberate the ribs, my lungs the caged leaves , my mouth a furnace, my eyes two lonely headlamps on the shooters hill road. Fading, melting, passing through.

The song comes to an end and I am out of breath. I put it in again. Leaping like billy Elliot but badly, floorboards creaking slightly, carpet ruckled. I wonder if my sisters remember how I used to refuse to dance the steps they choreographed on our carpet, where moving from one flower to another was a significant move. It reminds me still of dancing to one ariana grande song on the dance dance revolution machine. It reminds me still of standing under a whole flock of swallows murmuring as they go to bed.

I don’t know if you’ve seen it, they move in the air like fish in water, a shifting mass of feathery bodies moving like one body. A murmur. My heart murmurs. My mouth murmurs, the radio murmurs. Paris murmurs. My body is my body and is a thousand swallows taking flight, a line of flight from the self beyond the wall. The french road for wall is mur. A double wall is a murmur. The music is a mur, I am a mur, together we murmur as swallows do. as I do. As moving is. As dancing does.

This time last year mum and I saw one at the quoits, the sky stained blue purple in sunset, the water rippling beneath like soft percussion, the wind still and the two of us holding our breath. When they feel overhead we wanted to spin under them, run with them, dance with them.

As the final notes play out through the speaker, the wind rattles the plants to make a rousing applause, a standing ovation, even the dead ivy on the sill rustles his brown leaves in appreciation.

Near Window 19: Far Window

Now I wander in confusion (4,6) – Megan Courtman

A window in Devon

I cried when I saw my crumpled crosswords.

The Roomba had mangled them, whirred over their edges and swept at their corners. The paper plains become crags and creases and trenches.

“Oh,” I said weakly, and sank to my knees.
What metaphor was this? Half-done, half-loved labour in tatters? How to explain my grief for these squares?

My finger hovered over the first of the puzzles. I dreaded the feel of it, hated those contours. I tapped at a peak, it pricked me right back. I looked at my littered letters in valleys.

“You can still do them,” husband comforted. “We can flatten them out – they’ll be just the same.” But what of the folds and the scars and the tears?
There is spirituality in perfect minutiae – in the crispness of bedsheets and pages and grids. This: the essence of the perfectionist’s faith.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. My sin of carelessness had begotten this plight. On the floor beneath the window I had discarded companions.

Several hours later I took husband’s advice: they are squeezed between tomes, like flowers in a press.

Faith is delicate, like a crossword.

Et in Arcadia ego.


Megan is studying data science and is currently teaching machines about crime. She still loves words though, especially crosswords. She can be found on Twitter, @CrypticMeg.

Near Window 17

The body is a cathedral

It is easter week.

For all lapsed catholics its an interesting thing, to remember the traipse to mass, the week long vigil you spend running back and forth to church. The emotional release of maundy thursday, weeping in a pew for all those whove gone before, holding vigil like youre in gethsemene yourself. Good Friday when you try not to put your lips to the feet of jesus because you cant bear the thought of all the lips on jesus’ wooden feet so you make a parody bise. You stoop and you pucker your mouth, and then you get up quick before anyone can stop you. To arriving on Saturday night, to find the tabernacle open and all the lights extinguished. Then, one by one, candles are lit from the bonfire, from the easter candle, spreading throughout the church until youre all bathed in the amber light of the flame, a symbol of the rekindling of faith after all was lost in grief and pain and death the night before.

I feel emotional just thinking about it. I sometimes miss the ritual, i miss the comfort and surety of faith. But i have none, and the doctrine sits wrongly with me these days.

The coming of spring is like the lighting of the candles for me. Illuminating each day more and more as the candles illuminate the faces of the congregation. What a beautiful sight it must be for the priest, to see the faces of your flock flare into becoming from the darkness. What a beautiful thing it is for me to see light restored to mornings and evenings, and watch new leaves and new flowers spring from where there was nothing before.

From my confinement hole, i feel like as the spring becomes, i flare into becoming myself. Awakening from the slow death of winter, like Juliet from her fake death, Except only to find Romeo dead by her side. I awake from mine to find the spring is dead, too. It might as well be, because I can’t access it. The blackbird has stopped singing for some reason, i feel like another little piece of the spring has died with it.

Ive got an ivy plant a friend left in paris for me. He’s survived the whole winter. A couple of days ago he started to look sad so i watered him and popped him out on the windowsill for some sun. Today i saw he’d died. Once green leaves are now shriveled and brown, rustling in the breeze. The amber hush of an unseen sunset blushing a wall in the distance. A square of springtime allowed to me, so brief, so fleeting. Empty and void as the tabernacle after a good friday mass, i hold vigil in the hope that some good may come of it.

I wrote to a friend about Marconi’s notion that sound never dies. I talked about the notion that, if that were true, it would mean that every word you have said or heard is recorded in you, reverberating on your skin or in your blood. She said, then, that triggering things must reverberate on the same frequency as that which they trigger. I said that that was like how in cathedrals, when choristers sing, they have to sing in a certain way to bounce the sound. She said, then, if your body were a cathedral, how would the choristers sing?

On easter sunday, the spring is allowed into the church. Its been becoming on the outside for a long time, but the church in its lenten austerity has barred it from entering at its heavy doors. On easter sunday, though, the church is resplendent in gold and green. Daffodils bob their merry heads, and green gold leaves spill over from the alter. Even the priest dons green and gold on his cassock to welcome it in.

Maybe spring is a sound, as well as sight. Maybe throughout lent, it sings in mass, but not in a way to allow it to reverberate fully within the cathedral. Maybe On easter sunday it opens its lungs and sings fully. Maybe throughout the long winter, the spring sings in the cathedral of our bodies, and with each flare of spring-flame lit, on each candle of a day, the spring sings louder within and without us.

If this is the unsprung spring, one which came into being only to be shut out, then perhaps it awakens in me the singing of all the springs which came before it. It is spring in me as much as it is spring out there.

It is spring in me as much as it is spring out there.

Disclaimer: took this snap a long time before confinement. Don’t start thinking I’d take my lapsed self out to mass during confinement when I haven’t been in about 10 years ✌️