Intertextuality

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The Call of Cthulhu (1988): in the upper half there’s the big sun from Bob Peak’s poster for Apocalypse Now, in the lower half a radical reworking of Arnold Böcklin’s The Isle of the Dead.

In 1990, shortly after the first season of Twin Peaks had finished showing in the US, Video Watchdog magazine ran a feature by Tim Lucas which attempted to trace all the various cultural allusions in the character names and dialogue: references to old TV shows, song lyrics and the like. This was done in a spirit of celebration with Lucas and other contributors welcoming the opportunity to dig deeper into something they’d already enjoyed. This week we’ve had a similar unravelling of textual borrowings in a TV series, only now we have the internet which, with its boundless appetite for accusing and shaming, can often seem like something from the grand old days of the Cultural Revolution.

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The Call of Cthulhu (1988): a more subtle allusion to Apocalypse Now.

The latest culprit ushered to the front of the assembly for the Great Internet Struggle Session is Nic Pizzolatto whose script for True Detective has indeed been celebrated for its nods to Robert Chambers and The King in Yellow. It’s also in the process of being condemned for having borrowed phrases or aphorisms from Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race (2011). See this post for chapter and verse.

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The Call of Cthulhu (1988): It’s not very clear but that’s a boat from The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

If I find it difficult to get worked up over all this pearl-clutching it’s because a) it shows a misunderstanding of art and the way many artists work, b) True Detective was an outstanding series, and I’d love to see more from Pizzolatto and co, and c) I’ve done more than enough borrowing of my own in a variety of media, as these samples from my adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu demonstrate, a 33-page comic strip where there’s a reference to a painting, artist or film on almost all the pages, sometimes several on the same page.

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The Call of Cthulhu (1988): Ophelia by Millais.

Cthulhu is a good choice here since Pizzolatto’s story edged towards Lovecraft via the repeated “Carcosa” references. You’d think a Lovecraft zine of all things would know better than to haul someone over the coals for borrowing from another writer when Lovecraft himself borrowed from Robert Chambers (and Arthur Machen and others), while “Carcosa” isn’t even original to Chambers’ The King in Yellow but a borrowing from an Ambrose Bierce story, An Inhabitant of Carcosa (1886). Furthermore, Lovecraft famously complained about his own tendencies to pastiche other writers in a 1929 letter to Elizabeth Toldridge: “There are my ‘Poe’ pieces and my ‘Dunsany pieces’—but alas—where are any Lovecraft pieces?”

Continue reading “Intertextuality”

Seward/Howard

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William Burroughs, New York, 1953. Photo by Allen Ginsberg.

Lonely lemur calls whispered in the walls of silent obsidian temples in a land of black lagoons, the ancient rotting kingdom of Jupiter – smelling the black berry smoke drifting through huge spiderwebs in ruined courtyards under eternal moonlight – ghost hands at the paneless windows weaving memories of blood and war in stone shapes – A host of dead warriors stand at petrified statues in vast charred black plains – Silent ebony eyes turned toward a horizon of always, waiting with a patience born of a million years, for the dawn that never rises – Thousands of voices muttered the beating of his heart – gurgling sounds from soaring lungs trailing the neon ghost writing – Lykin lay gasping in the embrace can only be reached through channels running to naked photographic process – molded by absent memory, by vibrating focus scalpel of the fishboy gently in a series of positions running delicious cold fingers “Stand here – Turn around – Bend”

The Ticket that Exploded (1962)

William Burroughs always talked favourably of Ernest Hemingway, and the famously spare style of Hemingway’s prose is evidently a style he sought himself, especially in the later works where there’s less of an emphasis on linguistic pyrotechnics. Something that always strikes me when I return to Burroughs’s earlier novels is the quality of passages like the one above which is a long way from the Hemingway style. What’s even more noticeable—and this is something which attracted me to Burroughs’s work from the outset—is the degree to which some of these passages are reminiscent of HP Lovecraft. In the case of the example above, taken from The Black Meat chapter of The Ticket that Exploded, some of this may be the work of Michael Portman who Burroughs credits as co-writer. What Portman contributed to The Black Meat and another chapter of that novel I’ve never discovered but there are plenty of other examples by Burroughs alone to show that he wasn’t incapable of this himself. The Ticket that Exploded was the first Burroughs book I read, and part of the shock and fascination came from encountering a recognisable Weird Tales-style atmosphere wrenched into inexplicable and thoroughly alien territory.

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Frank Belknap Long and HP Lovecraft, New York, 1931. Photo by WB Talman.

There are others connections beyond literary style. When the Simon Necronomicon was published in 1977 Burroughs was asked to provide a blurb for the book. He wasn’t as effusive as the publishers might have hoped but the dubious volume was still advertised with his recommendation:

Let the secrets of the ages be revealed. The publication of the Necronomicon may well be a landmark in the liberation of the human spirit.

If it wasn’t for this then the extraordinary Invocation which opens Cities of the Red Night (1981) would have been diminished. Among the other “gods of dispersal and emptiness” whose names are called, Burroughs mentions “Kutulu, the Sleeping Serpent who cannot be summoned”, and “the Great Old One”, among a number of the usual Mayan gods, and several Sumerian deities whose descriptions (as with Kutulu) are taken from the pages of the Simon Necronomicon. It’s impossible to imagine Saul Bellow or John Updike opening a novel this way, just as it’s impossible to imagine many genre writers wandering into the areas that Burroughs explores elsewhere in that novel. This is one reason why Burroughs (and JG Ballard) were included in DM Mitchell’s The Starry Wisdom anthology in 1994, an attempt to expand the acceptable boundaries of Lovecraftian fiction, and also wilfully trample the fences that separate the genre and literary camps. I campaigned at the time for The Black Meat chapter to be included but Dave was set on Wind Die, You Die, We Die from Exterminator! (1973), a lesser piece although in the end it didn’t seem out of place in the book as a whole.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Lovecraft archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Thot-Fal’N, a film by Stan Brakhage
Mr Bradly Mr Martin Hear Us Through The Hole In Thin Air
The Last Words of Dutch Schultz, a film by Gerrit van Dijk
Burroughs at 100
Nova Express, a film by Andre Perkowski
Decoder, a film by Jürgen Muschalek
The Burroughs Century
Interzone: A William Burroughs Mix
Sine Fiction
The Ticket That Exploded: An Ongoing Opera
Burroughs: The Movie revisited
Zimbu Xolotl Time
Ah Pook Is Here
Jarek Piotrowski’s Soft Machine
Looking for the Wild Boys
Wroblewski covers Burroughs
Mugwump jism
Brion Gysin’s walk, 1966
Burroughs in Paris
William Burroughs interviews
Soft machines
Burroughs: The Movie
William S Burroughs: A Man Within
The Final Academy
William Burroughs book covers
Towers Open Fire

Giger’s Necronomicon

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Another artist documentary only this time the artist concerned is a full participant and co-creator. Giger’s Necronomicon was filmed from 1972 to 1976 and functions as a taster for the first book collection of the artist’s work, also called Giger’s Necronomicon, which was published a year later. JJ Wittmer was the co-director. The paintings are very familiar now so it’s worth being reminded how shocking and outré Giger’s work seemed in the 1970s. In addition to interviews with the artist’s parents and some of the painting’s owners there are shots of a very modish gallery event, and we get to see inside Giger’s studio and witness one of the paintings being produced. The sound quality is somewhat erratic since the video appears to come from a Japanese tape but the voiceover is in English. The most notable thing about Giger’s Necronomicon is that all the mobile camera shots are from the artist’s point of view, we only see him when he looks in a mirror.

Giger’s Necronomicon: part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4

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There’s some additional interest here for Krautrock aficionados. Giger’s books mention his associations with a couple of peripheral figures from the Swiss end of Cosmic Courier/Cosmic Jokers scene: Sergius Golowin and Walter Wegmüller. Golowin is credited with one of the spacier albums on the Cosmic Courier label but he was better known in Switzerland as a writer, and he appears briefly in Giger’s Necronomicon offering some thoughts about the artist’s paintings. The music for the film sounds like the ambient jazz doodlings of Stomu Yamash’ta but is the work of Joël Vandroogenbroeck and Carole Muriel. Vandroogenbroeck recorded a lot of library music, including one release entitled Biomechanoid (1980) which has a Giger cover painting. Prior to this he was a member of German group Brainticket and plays on Cottonwoodhill (1970), an album with a (deserved) reputation as the most demented Krautrock release.

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Also at YouTube is another Giger film from the same period, Giger’s Second Celebration of the Four (1977), a four-minute piece directed by JJ Wittmer showing a ritualistic club event. The combination of robes, torches and some of Giger’s more Satanic imagery resembles a black metal music video, albeit with a jazzy soundtrack.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The fantastic art archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Dan O’Bannon, 1946–2009
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune
The monstrous tome

Weekend links 132

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La Hora del Fantasma (no date) by Joaquim Pla Janini.

• Many of the art links featured here are tips from Thom Ayres, so it’s only right to point to his new album project which he’s funding through Kickstarter and embellishing with his own nature photography.

• Anne Billson is another writer beguiled by Philippe Jullian’s masterwork, Dreamers of Decadence. And thanks to Ms Billson for drawing attention to the insane opening of Crime Without Passion (1934).

• Does this fake ad for The Necronomicon use one of my Cthulhu pictures? Possibly. Get the picture for yourself in this year’s Cthulhu calendar. (My thanks to everyone who’s bought a copy so far.)

To break the ice, I talk about books: he is delighted to discover that I have read his beloved Denton Welch, also J. W. Dunne’s An Experiment With Time. I have found them in my old school library, and know both have been a tremendous influence on him in different ways. Knowing of his interest I also mention that I have just read Colin Wilson’s The Quest For Wilhelm Reich, published the year before. He likes Wilson, he says, jokes that “the Colonel” with his cottage in Wales in Wilson’s Return of the Lloigor and his own Colonel Sutton-Smith from The Discipline of DE are one and the same. On something of a roll, I mention Real Magic by Isaac Bonewits, and he acknowledges that it has “some good information” – but is much more enthusiastic about Magic: An Occult Primer by David Conway [years later I would discover that Burroughs & Conway had in fact exchanged letters on various subjects pertaining to magic, occultism, and psychic phenomena – but that is decidedly another story!]

Matthew Levi Stevens recalls The Final Academy and an encounter with William Burroughs thirty years ago.

Locomotif: A short survey of trains, music & experiments: Gautam Pemmaraju on Kraftwerk, Pierre Schaeffer, Luigi Russolo and others.

A flip-through of The Graphic Canon, volume 2. Wait to the end and you’ll see a couple of my Dorian Gray pages. Imprint has a review of the book.

• Julian Bell reviews two new books about Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich.

Alan Moore talks to The Occupied Times about art, education and anarchism.

• Colin Dickey reviews Vilém Flusser’s Vampyroteuthis Infernalis: A Treatise.

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Las Parcas II (1930) by Joaquim Pla Janini.

• Michael Newton reviews A Natural History of Ghosts by Roger Clarke.

• Golden Age Comic Book Stories revisits the work of Sidney Sime.

Front Free Endpaper asks “What’s in an inscription…?”

Mormon Missionary Positions

Amateur Aesthete

Ghosts (1981) by Japan | Ghosts (2008) by Ladytron | Ghosts (2012) by Monolake.

Weekend links 116

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Ankle Deep, a pyrograph by Robert Sherer whose work is showcased at The Advocate.

• “Bertrand Russell wrote in 1932, during another period of economic distress, ‘that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial societies is quite different from what always has been preached.’ ” From The Devilishness Of Idleness by Alex Gallo-Brown. Related: Owen Hatherley says “It’s the 21st century – why are we working so much?”

Restoring James Joyce’s book of the night: Joyce biographer Gordon Bowker reviews the new edition of Finnegans Wake. Over at the NYRB Michael Chabon has a great piece about his own relationship with Joyce’s novel that manages to make some very un-NYRB references to Cthulhu, the Necronomicon and Michael Moorcock’s Elric. Related: Leopold’s Day, a limited edition (and expensive) map of Dublin using typography to depict the people and places of Bloomsday.

Verbally, it feels as though Burroughs, Joyce and Beckett are text messaging haikus back and forth: ‘beautiful/last/random fragments of poetry/finding syllables,/the waters fall/the waves fall/musical./pencil murmuring’.

James Kidd on A Humument by Tom Phillips.

The Expanding Universe (1980), an album of early computer music by American composer Laurie Spiegel, will be reissued with additional recordings in September.

• A previously unreleased remix by Surgeon of Teenage Lighting by Coil has been made public.

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Small Museum of Nature and Industry (2010) by Susan Collard.

Queer Kids In America, a photo project by M. Sharkey.

Walter Benjamin’s Grave: A Profane Illumination.

The Visual Art and Design of Famous Writers.

Nylon Sculptures by Rosa Verloop.

Froschroom (1994) by Mouse on Mars | Bib (1995) by Mouse on Mars | Cache Coeur Naïf (1997) by Mouse on Mars.