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Welcome to the Airport Tattoo Parlour

Hello readers,

I just want to let you know that I also have a newsletter called Airport Tattoo Parlour over here at this link: tinyletter.com/distantstations. I write there about as often as I write on this blog, that is once a month. Except the newsletter is better than the blog. Below is one of the letters which sets the tone for what I try to atmospherize with them:

Rose

Once, my sister got a chemical burn on her hand. Turned it all bumpy and crimson. It stayed like that for a week until it went away one night, but it flares up every time she’s stressed. She stressed a lot more after the burn, of course. One day she went back to work and stole a bucket of that chemical. She found an airport tattoo parlour and asked one of the artists there to paint something pretty with it. Now her hand goes useless and filigrees blossom up her arm but it happens less often and it’s not ugly.

Soapbubble, Pt 2

There is a little seaside city in a soapbubble, which you cannot touch of course. You touch it:

She is you of course, of course. She steps through the cobblestone streets uncertainly because everything reminds her of a puzzlecube halfway between phases. Redbrick stores could slot into the ground with a smooth iterative motion so another house could emerge elsewhere, and rooves become streets. Movement is only possible forwards or backwards in one dimension; the shift between second and third person still grates on her when she steps into the store that sells fishing supplies, dodging two dead pixels that hang like disembodied pupils in the air outside. Most of the fishing supplies aren’t there yet. “We got a delayed shipment this month,” explains the old woman behind the counter. She gets the impression the woman is standing behind the counter because she has no lower body, like a mermaid. “We lost a whole ship in the forest, but we’re confident it’ll find its way back to us. Perhaps you would like to place an order?” (If she tries to touch the space where the missing items will be she is met with resistance.)

“I’m here to investigate a murder.”

“Oh.” The woman does not know what to say for a while. The sun gleams in an unrealistic way off empty glass jars that are supposed to contain lures. “A particular one, or will any old murder do?”

“I got a telegram.” Written in invisible ink, she had had to hold the telegram up against the sky that was not the same alpha-grey as the paper it was written on, and it said: GRIM MRDR SPBL CITY LOVE ERIC in clouds and optimistic blue.

“You might wanna head down to the docks.”

“I tried, but this is the only street I can walk on and your store is the only one open. All the others are out of reach.”

The old woman made a grimace and her mouth got stuck, killer crystals spreading across her face. “I’ll let you use my backdoor,” she said, her voice ventriloquized. Then the woman froze opening the door. She passed her carefully, avoiding the coral reef growing where the woman’s head used to be. She remembered the old woman’s voice clearly as if she’d spoken a few seconds ago: “Be careful, I don’t trust that Eric, and neither should you.”

The harbour is full of toothpicks. The cobblestones here lean toward the sea. A man looks distressed on one of the bridges, and a shift is coming up. Do you ask him if he is Eric? You do. Eric asks you to come closer, and points toward the sea. The water laps against the closest stones and it is the first music you hear and you smile. You stop smiling when you see the outline of the body three metres into the water. The body must be elsewhere, but the water respects the outline of the air pocket. Three harpoons jut out from the stones down there, which must be what killed her. Do you look toward Eric to ask him what happened? The harbour shifts like a puzzlecube, forwards, dragging you down into the water spearing you on the harpoons. The cobblestones here no longer lean toward the sea – they are at right angles.

Extract from an Email to My Heirs

but not flashy. Something that grabs attention without tricks. Something actually imposing. And when I die I want you to sell me out. I have cultivated a scandalous existence and each of you have your own key to the puzzle. The puzzle pieces won’t fit, of course, all of this will be carefully thought out. Everyone will get to believe what they want to believe, but I want you to profit off those beliefs. You’re all fighting to keep my image true to life, you all have your own nefarious agendas. Agendae? Perhaps one of you will leak this email and one or two of the others will question its legitimacy. You need to keep that up. There will already be a trove of scandals piling up, things I’ve been keeping out of the papers. Things I’ve let into the papers because someone sympathetic to me wrote it, misguidedly. There are people I’ve been paying off; you all know who they are. Collectively, at least, you can scrounge up a list. Stop paying half of them. Let them squirm. And I want you to hold more than one funeral. Can you do that? All of them closed-casket, don’t let any outsider know the real date you put me in the ground. Let my secrets spill out, let me live in the collective imagination. Spread rumours that I faked my death. Refute those rumours. Anything. As for the suit,

Androgyny and the Uncanny &c

Here is my bachelor’s thesis, with my own words removed. It is titled “Androgyny and the Uncanny in Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice” and if you’d like to read it you can reach me at johannes.punkt at gmail dot com. I don’t bite, I promise. Apparently quotes take up roughly 15% of the thesis. Is that good? No-one knows. The sources for all these words are also in the full document.

Introduction
“man” “woman” “eliminated gender, to find out what was left. Whatever was left would be, presumably, simply human”

“science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender” “much-needed models for non-binary characters” “out of date”

Background

The uncanny is queer. And the queer is uncanny.

“a foreign body within oneself, even the experience of oneself as a foreign body” “foreign body” “strange, peculiar, eccentric,” “homosexual”

“The ‘Uncanny,’” “Das Unheimliche.” “intellectual uncertainty” “ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light” “something familiar unexpectedly arising in a strange and unfamiliar context, or … something strange and unfamiliar unexpectedly arising in a familiar context,” “the uncanny is that class of frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar”

“The Uncanny Valley” “distinguish[ing]” “creating an artificial human is the true goal of robotics”

“[t]o discover our own disturbing [O]therness”

“Queer” “one’s so-called … ‘sexuality’”

“conservative, if not misogynistic” “approaching it from the masculine end of the spectrum [or] the feminine” “vacant[ly]”

Wavering Definitions of Human in The Left Hand of Darkness

I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination. The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling: like that singular organic jewel of our seas, which grows brighter as one woman wears it and, worn by another, dulls and goes to dust. Facts are no more solid, coherent, round, and real than pearls are. But both are sensitive.

“uncanniness occurs when the borders between imagination and reality are erased” “as if I told a story”

“as [his] landlady, for he ha[s] fat buttocks … and a soft face, and prying, spying, ignoble, kindly nature” “I saw a girl, a filthy, stupid, weary girl looking up into my face as she talked, smiling timidly, looking for solace”

“king-bee,” “queen-bee” “man I must say, having said he and his” “soft supple femininity that [Genly] dislike[s] and distrust[s]” “it was impossible to think of him as a woman … yet whenever I thought of him as a man I felt a sense of falseness” “effeminate deviousness” “effeminate” “[Estraven] was the only one who had entirely accepted [him] as a human being … and who therefore had demanded of [him] an equal degree of recognition

“the very use of the pronoun in my thoughts leads me continually to forget that the [Gethenian] I am with is not a man, but a manwoman” “experiment” “[t]he somer-kemmer cycle strikes us as degrading, a return to the estrus cycle of the lower mammals” “loaded with meanings”

“as if they did not cast shadows” “shadow” “just a little bit unreal,” “vast stone semi-cellar with one door locked on us from outside, and no window … perfectly dark” “locked in the dark with uncomplaining, unhopeful people,” “ignored that black cellar and gone looking for the substance of Orgoreyn above ground, in daylight” “substance”

“Estraven the Traitor” “Long ago, before the days of King Argaven I” “a Domain’s pride is the length of its borders, and the lords of Kerm Land are proud men and umbrageous men, casting black shadows” “umbrageous” “shadow-fight” “murder is a lighter shadow on a house than suicide,” “shadow” “curse” “curse”

“shifgrethor” “prestige, face, place, the pride-relationship, the untranslatable and all-important principle of social authority,” “played” “waive shifgrethor” “never even really understood the meaning of the word” “It comes from an old word for shadow” “black shadows” “proud … umbrageous men” “murder is a lighter shadow on a house than suicide”

“the Unshadow” “there’s no lying” “neither [Estraven] nor [Genly] cast any shadow” “[t]he king shortens no man’s shadow” “[s]ome shadows got shorter and some longer, as they say in Karhide”

Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way.

“[l]ight, dark. Fear, courage. Cold, warmth. Female, male. It is yourself, [Estraven]. Both and one. A shadow on snow”

The Machinery of the Empire in Ancillary Justice
“nonhumans … include[s] quite a number of people who [consider] themselves human,” “it’s so easy, isn’t it, to decide the people you’re fighting aren’t really human” “civilized” “doesn’t mark gender in any way” “invariably … offended when [she] hesitate[s] or guess[es] wrong”

“it” “its,” “any sort of individual,” “person,” “human,” “corpse soldier”

“used to wonder how Radchaai reproduced, if they were all the same gender” “They’re not” “inadvertently genders”

them all, suddenly, for just a moment, through non-Radchaai eyes, an eddying crowd of unnervingly ambiguously gendered people. I saw all the features that would mark gender for non-Radchaai … Short hair or long, worn unbound (trailing down a back, or in a thick, curled nimbus) or bound (braided, pinned, tied). Thick-bodied or thin-, faces delicate-featured or coarse-, with cosmetics or none. A profusion of colors that would have been gender-marked in other places. All of this matched randomly with bodies curving at breast and hip or not, bodies that one moment moved in ways various non-Radchaai would call feminine, the next moment masculine.

“captain” “cast[s] the Gethenian protagonist, Estraven, almost exclusively into roles that we are culturally conditioned to perceive as ‘male’” “mother,” “daughter,” “sister,” “sir” “parent” “parent,” “sir,” “captain”

“a generation or two” “the head priest of Ikkt,” “not seen her way clear to demoting her god in its own temple, or identifying Ikkt with Amaat closely enough to add Radchaai rites to her own” “normal practice to absorb any religion the Radch ran across, to fit its gods into an already blindingly complex genealogy, or to say merely that the supreme, creator deity was Amaat under another name and let the rest sort themselves out” “ma[kes] the strange god familiar and br[ings] it safely within her mental framework” “we go to the top of the local hierarchy”

“no control over the new body” “it” “I” “it” “’Help,’ I croaked … It was shivering, still cold from suspension, and from terror” “I can bring you back” “he” “she” “it,”

Unifying, Disunifying Telepathy
“the notion that any given moment … depends on the fiction that everyone is experiencing the same moment, uncannily interconnected, sharing the same ‘now’” “fiction,” “presumed analogy between the novelist as creator and the Creator of the cosmos, an omniscient God” “God knows everything because He is everywhere – simultaneously … [a narrator] does not ‘know’ simultaneously but consecutively” “telepathic” “clairvoyant” “same ‘now,’”

“now,” “the constant of simultaneity” “produce[s] a message at any two points simultaneously” “[m]indspeech [is] the only thing I ha[ve] to give to Estraven, out of all my civilization” “consists largely of simple communication [via ansible] rather than of transportation” “the rapport [is] there” “now” “now.” “now”

“now” “identity is never absolutely pure or singular” “Estraven the Traitor.” “as a dead man’s, his brother’s voice” “disturbed” “[p]erhaps a Gethenian, being singularly complete, feels telepathic speech as a violation of completeness” “now”

“every breath, every twitch of every muscle,” “very nearly” “possesse[s] thousands of bodies, all of them genetically identical, all of them linked to each other” “She’s been secretly moving against herself … the whole time all of her has been pretending not to know it was happening, because as soon as she admitted it the conflict would be in the open, and unavoidable” “prevent the knowledge from reaching the parts of her that aren’t [t]here” “and the rest would have to trust that” “now,”

“hiding what she'[s] done from herself,” “if there [are] now two Anaander Mianaais, might there not also be more?” “[c]orrupted” “No-one is subverting the Lord of Radch except the Lord of the Radch”

Conclusion

The Night that Led to Lilac Mist Next Morning

The sun had just set behind a hill but Hafiz knew that if he got on a quick camel, or if he could steal his neighbour’s moped, he could drive out into the desert and watch it set once more. This time of year it would roll gently along the edge of the hill as if it was made for this before plummeting into the depths below and casting the world in darkness. For now, the sky was a watercolour palette in the process of being washed out, blue streaks mixed with pink and red, green over white, everything eddying together. He shook his head and walked toward the sunset. Marya would be home by now, and she had said tonight was the night.

~

(When you sleep, your dreams escape through your mouth. Sometimes they get caught in your throat, trapped between dimensions, and they get into your blood and escape through your eyes instead. If you open the eyes of a dreaming person they cast colourful images on the nearest wall and it’s the most dangerous thing you can do, because raw dreams are not meant to be recycled like that. Somewhere faraway there is a legend of a man who gets a piece of cheese stuck in his throat, which makes his dreams go awry. The faraway people have got it wrong; likely the piece of cheese would pose no harm at all, because you can’t get cheese in your bloodstream. It’s offensively wrong.)

~

When Hafiz reached her hosue, he calmed himself down a little. Climbed the vines up to her balcony on the third floor and watched the colour fade from the windows opposite, and then waited. She would notice him soon enough. He could hear her cat meowing from her bed. And when she did, she would put her hands around his throat. He relaxed his muscles one by one, like they did in certain kinds of yoga. Deliberately falling asleep.

FakeReview: Zero Dark Ennui by Gaston Glencastle

There’s something mythic and fragmentary about the ouevre of Gaston Glencastle, and I am not just referring to how his they found most of it, damp and nigh-unreadable in unorganized piles in the bottom of a disused well. Though that, too, deserves mention and is quite mythic and fragmentary on its own. No, I am referring to the conceits, the symbolism and the imagery that run through his stories like the artifical clouds that criss-cross the sky in his Liaison of Leaves and Lives. Glencastle’s stories are told in ways that suggest that the narrator is telling you something you already know. Like the texts are something we’ve already read before, like they’re a grandfather stuttering on his last reel of tape. The aggressively anti-Jungian and almost Markovian links of reasoning suggest to the open-minded a vast machine of logic half-buried in the desert.

Take the main character of Liaison, for instance, whose history shifts with her memory and the perceptions of others. Recall the famous scene where Antoniev asks if she were a dancer in a previous life and she becomes a dancer in a previous life. She becomes someone who has once been, long-before. Think of the worlds where the future is set in stone and the past is mutable as putty. I am saying this because I have been very impressed with the excavated works of outsider art that this well-dwelling man produced. In the latest work that Glencastle’s brother has been able to piece together, Zero Dark Ennui (and given how a chronology of his work would be an impossible task for anybody, as Émil points out, this work is composed of things that make sense together and where the handwriting suggests they were written around the same time, we can simply consider this a loose sequel to Liaison or Dusk in New Orleans) we are once again asked to accept an entirely new series of unarchetypes, a new tome of creation myths, and a new well of desires and human instincts.

Some people accuse Philip K. Dick of writing all his myths from the same trauma, that of his twin sister dying in the womb. With this, the third book of the Glencastle mythiad, I am beginning to see what I once thought was separate scars connect. It is all adding up to one disjointed picture, and the effect is somewhat ruined. In essence, my complaint is this: It is hard to believe, as Glencastle seems to write from beyond the grave, through his brothers ghostly and descolatory fingers, that all human longing and loneliness stems from that one time that Gaston Glencastle got separated from his favourite cuddly toy in a supermarket. It was still there when he got back. You should really be over this by the time you are old enough to write such stunning descriptions of deep forests and suppressions of empathy as can be found in Zero Dark Ennui.

Take the operation scene in the moon colony where we are treated to the glorious image of a person entirely disembodied, almost abatomed. Why does he feel the need to spend two paragraphs on the similarity between a spleen and a well-loved toy rabbit. This is the spleen that Raschcha loses in the beginning of the book, mind. The monoliths of capitalism stand tall around her until the moon colony scene, where she is reunited, though by this point the spleen has been in no less than three bodies, that just keep dying. Are we really supposed to believe that the spleen engineers its reuiniting with its real owner? Why are we supposed to believe this? I am disillusioned.

It turns out that what I mistook for the shadows that great thoughts cast in words was just dark crayons on pavement.

FakeReview: Sexual Future – A Memoir by Florinn Danderhall

Normally here at Johannes Punkt’s Flaskpost Book Circle we don’t review more “racy,” “sexually explicit,” “orgiastic,” “Dionysian,” “explicitly mentioning vagina-feelings” books, but I had to make an exception for Florinn Danderhall’s latest memoir (2014). Yes, we agree, it is strange for one person to have written seven memoirs all purportedly of her own life in as many years. But there is something to it – this literary suicide and rebirth that mirrors not a phoenix, nor the turning of the seasons, but the way communist leaders continually edit their own reputation – that we simply must, if not record accurately then observe. Observe with all our lusting eyeballs’ might. This time, as in her third memoir “The Land of Broken Toys,” she tells us the tale of a sex life in turmoil. This time she tells us the future.

Using the rather crude devise of a “crystal ball” (her late husband’s “right family jewel, if memory serves”) Danderhall names her next seven lovers and then her own shuffling off this mortal coil. This is, she stresses, only one version of the future and the layman understanding of time travel suggests that telling the future changes it, but Danderhall sees in herself a Cassandra. As evidence, she names a few sex moves that will be heavy in use by 2018. They all have too ridiculous names to even contemplate or investigate: “the door-to-door salesman,” “the lecture on biochemistry,” “the rumption gumption”. This is ludicrous and not sexy, in this reviewer’s opinion.

There is dispute among scholars over exactly how many times a person dies. Jean Rhys wrote that there are two deaths, the real one and then the one everyone knows about, but that’s a conservative amount. Popular wisdom suggests three (when your heart stops, when they put your body in the ground, and the last time someone says your name). Other mysticalists say seven, or seventeen, or another large prime number, but according to our preliminary research no-one has stated it so boldly and largely as Danderhall before:

“I have one hundred and twenty one deaths left and I intend to make them count.”

The obvious interpretation of this statement, which opens the book, is that it’s a periphatic way of mentioning her orgasms, and indeed if you count them in the book they add up to 120. However, 120 orgasms is a very sad amount of orgasms to have left in you. The other way of reading it, which truly opens the book, is as a continuation of what I mentioned above: the way her books keep rewriting her history. Is Danderhall planning an oeuvre that spans over a hundred books? It’s not unbelievable. Sure, this eccentric author tries to distract us with “delicious sexuffration” and “dead leaves and the wet slippery unbearableness of an autumn storm all over Sylvia Plath’s face,” there is a cry for help in these pages. And I am not referring to the literal cry for help on page 152.

But like that cry, it’s easy to miss among all the sex. I strongly believe that there is a kernel of truth inside even the most beat-up and weird and mendacious autobiography. I believe a pattern is emerging, and I cannot see all the implications of it yet. But if you read this book, don’t just take the load at face value, so to speak. Swallow it, ruminate. There is a person in pain behind these words.

To end with something positive, this reviewer thought it rather lovely how the book was dedicated to Sanel Seton, the inventor of sextropy, sexual entropy.

FakeReview: Ever’s More by Germaine Ellson

So, over the last month I have read Germaine Ellson’s by all accounts completely alright book, Ever’s More, and I confess it made me feel a little uncomfortable. The book starts mildly with a famous quote by Robert Graves: “It is slightly inconvenient to: mock a poet, love a poet, be a poet.” And it only gets okayer from there.

We meet the main character, a decent man with no name who can’t help but point out to the reader that our emotional responses somehow seem stunted. He mentions, in direct communication with you the reader, that watching a dog react to its owner coming home in a wholly okay way almost suggests that there should be a word beyond okay. “What if,” he says as if inviting us to contemplate with him, “the human emotional range went beyond mildly uncomfortable and mildly comfortable.” He does not quite have it in him to make it into a question.

Other characters in the book quickly bring him down to earth by pointing out that the adverbs mildly or almost or moderately or blandly or not exactly are a necessary component of the adjective phrase, just like how you can underwhelm but you cannot whelm. You can be all right but not all wrong. The limitations of our language, the place where the borders go, literally define us and to venture beyond those dells into uncharted semantic territory is akin to go sea-diving and touch the bottom of the sea and to dig and to expect water. It is just sand. And you are running out of air, and it is starting to feel like something might happen that could threaten the amounts of okay you feel in the future.

“It is just sand,” is a line repeated many times throughout the novel, often when the main character accidentally comes up with a neologism that seemingly challenges the status quo of our limitations. “What if there is more?” he asks, rudely and provocatively leaving out any kind of noun after the “more”. This is just poor editing in my opinion; the scene where this happens has the main character observing the ball of fusion that brings light to our planet become increasingly obscured by an ocean. It is a kind of attractive sight, we are informed. He picks up a rock and places it on the ocean by waving his hand in an okay arc and letting go at the right moment, causing the rock to fall upwards a little bit. I asked myself, “more what? More rocks? More light? More water?” but it is clear that Germaine Ellson does not care about that. It is just more sand.

The hill-crest of this sort of bumpy ride of a book comes when one character, who is the sister of the main character, ceases to exist and starts to produce a lot of blood instead. This is inconvenient for the main character in many ways, especially how it gets the front of his shirt sticky with blood. As he feels a little sad and starts to need glasses he turns to the reader again, and says a lot of things I did not understand.

This book made me a trifle uncomfortable. I do not think you should read it. Three stars out of five.

The Vaudeville

…or How She and He Killed, Erotically, an Officer of the Law

Here is some erotica featuring heavy references to lyrics by the Mountain Goats. I have forfeited explanations.

Read the rest of this entry »

THE EEL GAME

This is a game that came to me in a dream a year ago. If you play it, I am not responsible for anything. I am updating the rules here because as time has passed the game has only got more refined in my brain.

Pre Game Rituals

The game is played seldom, only in times of drought or catastrophe. The elders will hold secret council late at night. They will light a small fire but they will not tend to it, and the rest of the people who live in the area will pretend to sleep when really they’re glued to the windows trying to catch a glimpse of the faces of the elders. The way to decide who will host the game is this: they have a poisonous fish in a bowl. The first elder puts the fish in their mouth along with water, and with a kiss transfers the fish to the next elder. The elder that bites the fish, or is bitten, dies and becomes the host. Their family is the one that hosts the event.

The way to choose a champion is more varied. The customs differ between families and places, but there are three main categories. The first is the diving game, which is a game where contestants dive to the sea floor and pick up rocks in their mouth. Generally this will include backbinding of the hands and a blindfold, and be done on a still day, but there are as many variations as there are games played. The heaviest stone marks the winner. The second category is the saltwater game, which is played by drinking saltwater until one vomits. The last player to vomit is the champion. The last category of games is the catching of live eels, where the champion is the contestant who catches the most eels. One champion is needed from each household, and anyone can play.

The Eel Game

The game requires at least one eel per player, and a maximum of eight eels. At least three champions are required, and the optimal number varies depending on the locale. The champions wear damp clothes full of holes and pockets and tight bands, which make it easy for the eels to slither around inside the clothes. The eels can enter and exit these garments like coloured handkerchiefs from a magic show.

When all is set up, the room is filled with saltwater to ankleheight. Champions are placed in positions and fitted with eels, then the game is begun. The objective of the game is to fulfill one of the following criteria:

Be the last one on the floor with eels on them

Have twice as many eels as the secondmost eeled player

Champions are not allowed to touch other champions with their hands but they may bump into each other with hips or shoulders, as long as this is not considered ‘violent’. A common strategy is for champions to stand next to other champions with sleeves or pockets toward theirs and try to coax the other champion’s eels into their own clothing. Games are usually slow-moving, somnambulist matches between two champions at a time, while the others buy time. Another common strategy is to coax eels out of other champions’ sleeves without bother to catch them. Once an eel has touched the floor, it is out of the game. Strategies are manifold and it all depends on the type of player.

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