Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things

I watched this film last week with Daniel. He took me out to lunch with his fiancée and we both sat opposite him, over a tiny vase of pink flowers in Bumpkin, which is an overpriced restaurant in Notting Hill. I think its name is meant to remind people who have country houses that everyone else does too, or we all ought to and then be home from home; it’s a reverse metaphor, because no real country bumpkins would ever go there, being too busy slaughtering squirrels and snatching apples from the trees to nourish themselves in the long, furious day battling the elements or foraging for leaves in the rank wilderness. ‘Foraged leaves’ is actually an item ON the menu, as is samphire. Daniel had to ask me what that was. ‘It’s a kind of plant that grows near the sea, like a soft cactus. I know that because it’s in King Lear, ‘one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade’ - because it’s so dangerous, you might fall off the cliff and crack your skull. Near the end, the fake suicide bit with Gloucester.’ ‘Oh yes,’ says Daniel, who’s read King Lear and has a good ear. Outside there are hanging baskets with geraniums and petunias, and it’s always quite interesting for me to look at these things as I never go in there and rarely leave the house anyway. Daniel was limping, because he had glass in his foot, and I nearly got run over, ‘you don’t understand roads,’ said Daniel, ‘because you never leave the house.’ He’s got used to me now. Of course WITH Daniel, all fear and alienation drifts away: Bumpkin doesn’t look like ‘something I can never have,’ it looks like something I could have if I wanted and don’t. He’s so cheery, so easy; the world has never been for him a glittering wall of hate; he’s never known what it’s like to stare up at a house and know he’ll never get in; he has never seen the sin behind the smile or the skull beneath the skin, and sometimes I hope he never will.  
                                                                                                                                                               Charlie’s picking on Daniel for chucking her last night in public, not because she was hurt or even believed him but because he made a fool of himself and she had to cover for him and he always does this sort of thing when he’s drunk and it’s very embarrassing, she says, and there’s a complicated problem to do with the social etiquette of talking about threesomes and how to introduce the topic: Daniel’s arguing for subtlety but there seem to be layers of subtlety within the blasé (so Charlie is saying) and she’s also voting for men saying this but not women, and I barge in and say it’s far worse if men talk about that sort of thing because they want to score and it’s part of a traditional theme of patriarchal subjugation and the thrill of the chase whereas for women it’s more of a triumph because they’ve performed an act of subversive heroism rather than just showing off about abusing someone, two someones actually, which is just par for the cause and more snotty degradation and sexist swank, though Daniel could indeed be right about the stylistic offense of having a meat and two veg. mentality and bringing that to the table when we’re all more sophisticated than this, which means semantic or even semen-tic failure on a number of counts, and Charlie says I’m too intelligent to understand ‘the context’ (I don’t know if this means the backstage bar in The Olympics or something more seminal) so can’t join in the discussion and shows me how her doughnut hair-slide works, which actually interests me. Then the food arrives - I had quite a long chat about what ‘foraged leaves’ meant, involving, as I suspected, a tiresome lecture about ‘organically sourced, sustainable produce,’ in this case, iceberg lettuce from a nursery garden, so, hardly grabbed at midnight by man of the earth and loam in frantic race for survival - and I get the waitress to turn the air conditioning off.                                                                                                                                                                                                             
The way home is convoluted as we have to taxi Charlie back to ‘work’ and pick up Daniel’s Land Rover, which is clean and luxurious, like an expensive hotel room, and it’s nice, driving, as I never get driven anywhere and whenever I do it’s by people who always make me feel like an unwanted child (the unwanted child I in fact was) but with Daniel I feel like a wanted child, which is startling, but familiar, in a happy version of Unheimlich (see Freud[1] and while you’re at it, Julia Kristeva[2] as well. But not Lacan). Mendel used to drive me around in his car, and I always sat there feeling lonely and unhappy while he told me about the lovers I ought to have and were just waiting for me if I moved to Florence and met Guido, the Pizza man who worked by the Duomo, or the life I ought to be leading as I was ‘missing out’ at present, or his girlfriend or his therapist and I would wait and wait and wait for him to say something, anything at all that could bring him back to me and make me feel alive again, anything to get us close together again and not all this vacuum of poisonous, miserable small talk as if I was some kind of work colleague or Radio One listener, and all the time knowing he was in there somewhere, there was something in him somewhere which would finally erupt and break through the plasticity and the asphyxiation, and indeed he resembled most of the men I’ve had ‘relationships’ with in this way, which makes nearly all of them relatively masochistic since they all involve this combination of repression and desperation, but with Mendel I would not be able to bear it any more and at the last minute reach out and touch his hair or hold his hand, at the end of the journey, and say something, something that was at last pure and lovely and true, and he’d stroke my hair back, and look at me with regret and recognition, terrible and infinite, so in many ways I felt I should and even could have broken through the repression a lot earlier, and perhaps ought to have done, but I never had the courage to do more than I ever did, and never will; in fact I have less courage now than I did, and remember how sad it all was, and always will be, with me sitting there next to some cold man who doesn’t love me and doesn’t even want to talk to me or turn the deathly steel and chrome into an interesting imaginative fantasy so we are not driving through residential streets with traffic wardens and parking permits but in a darkly shifting fictional universe with midnight trees and blood seeping from the branches, which would more accurately describe the emotions IN the relationship, and be more authentic and more pleasant; it would be the picture that goes with the text instead of the monotone blaring out over the reality like a party political broadcast when everyone is dying and the corpses struggling through the brambles trying to get in the car and trailing bones on the windscreen, except of course the death and the corpses are invisible, though you feel them all the time, worse and worse for their being forbidden, and then you have to feel as if your reality is a madness on top of it being the deepest thing within you and within him. But I’ve never found a man with a similar imaginative capacity, so much so that I don’t really believe it’s to do with denial but to do with deficits or deprivation, fingers missing in the soul, the amputated heart or something, which means my loneliness is eternal, because what can you do in a world where you have fingers and everyone else has only stumps – you will always yearn to hold someone’s hand. Always. And no one ever will because they have no hands. Mendel had hands, but he pretended they were stumps, and that’s why I’ve not tidied my flat for three years. I gave up when he left.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Because I don’t really believe any more in the amputees, having seen one other person with hands your search is over, but the fact they have to fake lack in order to fit in and destroy you alongside - capitulate with the enemy - sacrifice you not out of blindness or stupidity or simple ignorance but with full sight and intelligence and irreversible knowledge - there in this awful crippled world is one other person who has hands, who can reach out and touch me and for that touch to be at last real, at last returned, is what he should be crying out every night into his tortured pillow and he is not - just makes you give up on the world, and your role within it, and so I have, and that’s why the floor’s awash with paper and pincushions and dust and moth eggs and books and letters from Scottish Power and banks I never bother reading that Daniel spills wine over and stubs fags out on and crumples with his foot, and I don’t care. I think I care, I try to care, I care in a way, because I don’t like ugliness, but I don’t care really, or nowhere near enough. Let it all go down, I think. I won’t deliberately destroy anything but if it wants to rot I won’t intervene. I like dying things. I’m dying myself. It’s all Nature anyway: what IS this need to be constantly sweeping and removing every speck, and clearing away dust and making space? There’s far TOO much space already. If I lived in an old house all to myself it would be a ruin and I’d let the plants grow through the cracks and the spiders spin webs and the rain come through the roof and I’d watch Nature deny Man and obliterate him.                                                                                                                                                                                                          There’s no need to do any of this ‘imagine the sky turned all black with the crows howling’ and ‘feel the despair of inarticulate desire’ because there’s no repression with Daniel, and no dark pit of unexpressed malignancy, so the car is just the car, and the word just the world, and it’s bright and pleasant and warm, as he is.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  We drive along in the brilliant washed clarity of a new day, and there are no roadblocks and no sorrows, and even when he gets caught in a tiny little space the truck driver gets out of his truck and issues directions so he can get through whereas if it was anyone else they’d say, ‘fucking nob in a Land Rover, fuck off,’ and refuse to help at all and puncture his tyres and hate him. But this is Daniel’s innocence - his innocent, hopeful regard, and his lack of contempt, for anyone - and that is why the world upturns itself to spread its riches at his feet. And he DESERVES it. His is the victory of the heartfelt over the heartless. No wonder I feel at home. We shall see though, that while I travel along in this aura of springtime and birdsong, and all this is true and properly aligned with my nature, it is not the whole truth, and Daniel’s heart, open and clear as a clean pane of glass as it is, has limitations. All glass shatters in the end, as he himself knows from the number of antique Victorian glasses he’s smashed round my place, and probably smashes round his also, which could be why he has glass in his foot. Glass in one’s foot is better than glass in one’s heart, see: Gerda and Little Kay, but I am not entirely sure about hearts of glass, and nor was Blondie. They may be transparent, but have they any blood? Daniel and I have rowed about this before, and he’s got very upset about my telling him he’s too facile to appreciate angst. ‘How Dare You,’ he shouts on the staircase. ‘That is JUST NOT TRUE.’ But we shall see, eh? We shall see.                                                                                                                                                                       
We race up the stairs to my flat and discuss food. He’s eaten ‘too many carbohydrates’ - I warned him about the macaroni cheese - of course he should have gone for the ‘foraged leaves’ option, or even the samphire, dreadful trade - and he says he’s sleepy, and may have to rest, but beforehand he wants to watch ‘that film you were showing me last night.’ ‘Are you sure?’ I say, because I thought he switched it off because he probably found it boring, as traumatising things are boring to the untraumatised. ‘It’s very disturbing, and I don’t really like the beginning, and you haven’t read the book. You weren’t that keen last night, you wanted The Olympics.’ ‘No! I WANT TO WATCH IT, SWITCH IT ON. NOW,’ he says. ‘OK, OK.’ So I switch it on, and there’s Asia Argento knocking around in a miniature broderie anglaise ra-ra skirt, shorter even than anything I possess, which is very short indeed, and giving her six-year old son LSD and exposing him to the horrors of her existence. ‘She’s good at… sharing,’ I say. ‘Good at sharing her DRUGS, certainly,’ says Daniel. He appears terribly impressed by this film, for reasons I can’t completely fathom. ‘How did you know about it?’ he says. ‘I’ve never heard of it.’ ‘Well, occasionally things come my way - I think it was in a newspaper article - and I recognised the name, because Dario Argento is a famous horror movie director - you won’t have heard of him either -’ (we can watch Suspiria later, maybe Tenebrae) ‘- and that’s his daughter, so I suspected it would be good, what with the heritage, and she’s been in quite a few of his films as a young girl, covered in bees or brutalised, so, familiar with the… material. The book was beautifully written. There was a bit of a scandal about the book as I remember.’                                                                                                                                                                 
Daniel is watching the myriad of atrocity ratcheting up on the screen, the maddened drawing, the red birds of fantasy tearing off his limbs - ‘it does feel like that, that you’re losing bits of you’ - Daniel nods - the poor little boy being beaten and raped and abandoned and discarded, and then flung in with a psychotic social worker who just makes him feel worse, and more than ever as if it’s all his fault, even as she forces him to say it isn’t or he’ll get his cartoon privileges revoked - ‘the agencies of social care are worse than the abuse itself,’ says Daniel, who smokes and drinks not at all throughout, for a change (someone must have told him about Proserpine) - and then creeped out by the sadistic bible-bashing grandfather - ‘that really is just pure cold-hearted sadism isn’t it, he is so cut off, though perhaps not from the exigencies of his own cruelty. But that’s Peter Fonda all over’ - and the tortures of the Deep South, and it’s out of the frying pan into the fire, over and over and over again.                                                                                                                                                                        ‘It’s really about what can go wrong, will go wrong. The worst possible outcome for everything.’
                                                                                                                                                                         ‘Welcome to my world,’ I say limply, and pour myself another glass of wine.                                                                                                       
                                    *                                    *                                    *
                                                                                                                                                                         You can see the difficulty I have with Daniel. He’s not just debonair and social, easy-going and popular, he’s actually in possession of a conscience and the rare gift of human understanding. But, even so, the film is nowhere near as satisfying and meaningful as it is when I watch it on my own, and the reason for that is Daniel, however sympathetic, has distance. I don’t have that distance. I talked to my therapist about it. My fake therapist, the one I get to see six times before the National Health freebies run out and I get thrown back into the gutter again. ‘You are skinless,’ she said. ‘There are some people who lack a layer of skin, so everything goes into them, whereas others have a thick cutaneous surface that can’t be infiltrated and reality just washes off them like soap.’ ‘You could say that, I suppose,’ I say, and take a sip of water. We always get the big room these days, the one with the cartoon privileges. ‘But actually it’s not about lack, rather capacity. Other people just glance over these things and go their merry way, but for me, there’s endless adventure to be had. I don’t really see depth, or vision, or the ability to be saturated as a disadvantage, though I know it mainly is in our society, and in terms of ‘functioning’. But Art is the opposite of function. There’s a book about sensitivity[3] which says it’s a real drawback, which it is, partly because it takes up so much time, but that’s just where we seem to be now, and I want to find a place where it isn’t a drawback but a necessity, a vital qualification, and you only get in there if you have it. I just don’t know where that place is. It sure as hell isn’t The Royal College of Art, and it isn’t Notting Hill either.’ ‘Notting Hill has changed,’ said my therapist, ominously. ‘Changed a great deal.’
                                                                                                                                                                       Daniel liked the end of the film - ‘oh, that’s it, is it? They just go off together into the night - it’s not really an ending at all, more like a spiral, kind of floats away, I like that kind of an ending’ - and I thought, ‘yeah, maybe he’ll like Eraserhead,’ as he disappeared off down the stairs. Next day he was back and ruined everything, and then asked me down to supper and instead of apologising behaved even worse, so we were in a state of cold war for at least three days. Hot war, really, as very little is cold around me. I’m not going to tell you WHAT he did to ruin everything because it’s too boring for me to remember, but I am going to tell you he would not understand a paragraph such as this:
                                                                                                                                                                       There looms, within abjection, one of those violent, dark revolts of being, directed against a threat that seems to emanate from an exorbitant outside or inside, ejected beyond the scope of the possible, the tolerable, the thinkable. It lies there, quite close, but it cannot be assimilated. It beseeches, worries, and fascinates desire, which, nevertheless, does not let itself be seduced. Apprehensive, desire turns aside; sickened, it rejects. A certainty protects it from the shameful - a certainty of which it is proud holds on to it. But simultaneously, just the same, that impetus, that spasm, that leap is drawn toward an elsewhere as tempting as it is condemned. Unflaggingly, like an inescapable boomerang, a vortex of summons and repulsion places the one haunted by it literally beside himself.[4]
                                                                                                                                                                        This is the kind of thing to learn off by heart just before you go down the pub as a way of putting men off who want to shag you. Proust doesn’t work: he actually attracts men, mainly because they seem to find it intolerable you are paying him attention and not them, so more of an aphrodisiac really. This (the above) is actually part of a Kristevan ‘list of bullet points’, so prepare yourself for what she’s like when writing a normal chapter; I think she sometimes does a double essay that divides itself into four columns across the centrefold, plus footnotes, endnotes, bibliographies and extra quotes and a glossary to explain her version of ‘the symbolic order’ and ‘incest dread’, so you have to have a multiple personality (and Toril Moi) to read her at all. Because she’s a psychoanalytic critic I don’t think Žižek’s idea of ‘too much’ applies, though it does unfortunately to me, which means I will have to tell you more about Daniel and The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things after all, this time for ‘light relief.’ I hate myself for doing this, and I kind of hate you too, as were I left to my own devices I’d analyse Kristeva for a page or two, or seven or eight. But needs must when the devil drives.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                                                                        That’s Asia, looking quite rubbish for a change, and Jeremiah, who’s got bandages because of the burns from the crystal meth house blowing up and setting fire to everyone. Asia said she deliberately got herself really sweaty and used to bang her cheeks so they looked puffy and smudge her makeup and run round the trailer a few times, so she was panting, to make herself resemble the Sarah character who was on smack half the time and mad as a hornet. That’s her car, which she nicked back off the crystal meth people who are all dead now, and they drive off in it together at the end, because she is for him his star and dream. You can see this when Ornella Muti - I don’t like to digress, but Ornella Muti played Odette, the beautiful prostitute in Un Amour de Swann - the Proust thing I mentioned before - and now the weird Christian cult grandmother – is banging on about how awful Asia is and how he’s nearly dead because she poisoned him and she’s had a breakdown and been arrested by the police (naked) and is a Bad Mother and He’s Safe At Last, and he’s just staring at the skating video on the television in the hospital on the wall, at the beautiful girl in the tulle skirt and the tiara, and you know he is thinking, ‘but she is Beauty, she is Truth,’ and he’s right to think that, because she is. If you count passionate invective and desperate vulnerability and sexual grace and generosity, and indeed and at least a form of love because it’s raw and real and unique (and maybe greater even than the kind of love most people get, in fact definitely so), above fraudulence, repression, lies, smugness, cold, sanctimonious, self-adoring narcissism, and socially approved brutality. Which I do. Though few agree with me. And few agree with her. And that is in part what this piece of writing is about, because I am not just talking about The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things. I am also talking about the biblical quote:                                                                
9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
(Jeremiah 17, King James Version)
                                                                                                                                                                         Actually the list is a little like a Julia Kristeva list, except each point is shorter, though there are 26 of them, and that’s just sermon 17. It’s Old Testament, which I am rather keen on. This word ‘deceitful’ is the one to pick up because it means, in this case, concealment and hiding, a hiding even unto itself, something that all the Christians in the film, and the social workers, and the doctors and nurses, basically the entire world of ‘Apollonian normality’ (see Nietzsche) and middle class morality, the precepts of virtue which verily hide a multitude of sins, demonstrate to an unprecedented degree, but Sarah and her druggie friends don’t - even the rapist apologises - catch Peter Fonda doing that! - because they’re resigned to the fact they’re losers and sinners and therefore don’t lie about the human heart, if they happen to feel anything, which, agreed, for the most part they don’t, aside from vague guilt. But she DOES, and so does Jeremiah. Her son, not the bible quote. 
                                                                                                                                                                   Now this in fact is very similar to what Freud was saying about Unheimlich, and this is where I begin to get thoroughly suspicious of Daniel. The nice way of putting it is to say ‘he has a blind spot on the subject of human evil’ which is why he’s so unsatisfactory a film partner and I couldn’t tell him that the grandfather actually is the father, and poor old Asia has been raped by this weird incestuous paedophile parent who’s so God-fearing - ‘oh that’s the problem in America, too many open spaces’ - ‘Daniel, that was the problem in fucking BLACKHEATH!’ - because that’s what conventional, middle class people DO, but DON’T get the social services onto them because they are GOOD AT CONCEALMENT and because the heart is deceitful above all things - and while this is subtly insinuated in the film, he is, as I say, insensible to certain ‘clues’ and so I can’t scream in his face and fucking TELL him, because it will destroy his ‘viewing pleasure’. And that wasn’t the only occasion when I could tell he was putting a homely, domestic spin on the horrors so I couldn’t even experience them let alone convey them, still less pour myself into the grit and the gore and surrender to it full scale as I usually do. Never, ever, allow me to watch Bergman with him. The other way of putting the deceptively meek phrase ‘he has a blind spot on the subject of human evil’ is, I am sorry to say, wilfully blind innocence is evil itself. Why do you think I prefer Mendel? Just why do you THINK. And no, it’s not because I ‘just want something I can never have.’ My brand of romantic possession isn’t airy-fairy like that: I don’t have the luxury of wanting anything that doesn’t belong to me already. So listen up Mendel, because one day I shall turn up and take you away, just like Asia does, in a gold convertible with porn all over the back seat and wrench you out of your hypocrisy and hate and sex you up on the freeway with a bag of crack and the complete works of Martin Heidegger.   
                                                                                                                                                                        ‘Did your mother put make-up on you when you were a child?’
‘No, she didn’t.’
‘Why not? You would have looked really sweet.’
‘No. I was a very ugly child.’
I don’t believe you.                                                                                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                                                   ‘Hey, Kool Thing, come here. Sit down beside me.
 There’s something I got to ask you.
 I just wanna know: what are you gonna do for me?
 I mean, are you gonna liberate us girls
 From male white corporate oppression?’
‘Tell it like it is!’
‘Don’t be shy.’
‘Word up!’
‘Fear of a female planet?’
‘Fear of a female planet. Fear, baby!’
‘I just want you to know that we can still be friends.’  
                                                                                                                                                                         I had to put in a quote from Sonic Youth because I only discovered them through watching The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, so the film is eye opening in more than one mysterious way. I know, I know, you wanted a proper story and a proper analysis of ‘underlying themes’, but the basin nearly overflowed again and I have to keep an eye on it or Daniel will go bug-eyed and hysterical; also, I have to phone Tim in twenty minutes and I wrecked my concentration by eating… some… pizza actually (op. cit.) and then I read up on Abjection in Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abjection) and felt you had to know, because having read it I thought, ‘hmm. I know you’re really slating Daniel here, and I can see where all this leading, but who is the deceitful one here? You better think about the superego. You’ve got away with that one for a VERY long time.’  
                                                                                                                                               According to Kristeva, since the abject is situated outside the symbolic order, being forced to face it is an inherently traumatic experience, as with the repulsion presented by confrontation with filth, waste, or a corpse - an object which is violently cast out of the cultural world, having once been a subject. Thus the sense of the abject complements the existence of the superego - the representative of culture, of the symbolic order: in Kristeva's aphorism, "To each ego its object, to each superego its abject".  
                                                                                                                                                                    Which is why I refuse to tidy my flat, because I identify with the abject, and refuse to belong in any way to the symbolic order. I am waste, refuse, the marginalised, the hated, the feared, the cast out, the banished, the betrayed, the dread and the dead. No wonder I have no ego, let alone no ego object. No, just me against the superego, which I loathe and detest and will do nothing for, give it nothing, let it pass me by, let it find no fun in me, I will not be a tool for its pleasure. Then it says that abjection is confused with the uncanny (Unheimlich, ibid.), because of the similarity between the dead creature and the live one, ‘foreign, yet familiar’, but confused wrongly, which I’m not sure I agree with, and then it starts talking about prostitutes, who apparently define abjection (as if I needed telling), Jean Genet and Alien and at the end Jake and Dinos Chapman who just annoy me. 
                                                                                                                                                                        OK. So, basically, if you don’t have romantic plenitude, which you only get if you kow-tow to the cold hand of conventional approval and submit to male white corporate oppression (until the Romantic Revolution occurs), you fall out of favour with the powers that be and have to grope around in the darkness being inconsequential or demonic. FINE. Problem with THAT one is that the minute you HAVE romantic plenitude (or domestic servitude), you veer towards bad taste and start re-creating suburbia and end up in some terrible flat full of plastic toys preaching conformist tropes at everyone and entering repressed (not to mention depressed) states and mentally decrepit torsion, and it’s just no place for an artist, and your children will grow up middle-of-the road morons or serial killers or paralysed like me. So what’s to be done? Well, this for one:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                                         Remember the fun we had? Come on, let’s go.

[2] Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, Julia Kristeva, 1982 http://www.csus.edu/indiv/o/obriene/art206/readings/kristeva - powers of horror[1].pdf
[3] Mars, Fritz Zorn, 1976
[4] Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, ibid.

No comments:

Post a Comment