In keeping with the spirit of the Mark Leckey curated exhibition at the De La Warr Pavilion, St Leonard’s-based experimental writer, poet and artist Richard Makin unravels histories buried in the remnants – artworks, relics, ancient and contemporary artifacts – of material culture. In the midst of fresh ruins offers vignettes, fragments, and meditations on pasts, presents and futures.

 

 

IN THE MIDST OF FRESH RUINS

 

Richard Makin

 

I

 

A familiar somebody else: scattered across its continent-wide surface were structures that must have been as large as cities, but which appear to be machines. From this framework was suspended a wicker casket. The screw consists of an axis of hollow brass tubing. There is a map of unknown territory. The common element is a radioactive metal, once generated in the hot cores of stars. In the living creature there’s a sort of horn over each eye. Someone who has reflected long on this prospect finally cries out in horror.

 

I expect you notice it makes no difference what order the lines come in: one has to add them up to build a complete being. On the thirteenth he stepped forward and offered to die in the other’s place.

 

To say that technopolitan man is pragmatic means that he is a kind of modern ascetic; on paper the situation doesn’t look so alive (the sickness unto death et cetera). Tell me your thoughts about the sounds we’re going to hear—the moods of the anima-ridden man. He is so called because he is host to so many insects. I can’t remember a single detail, but I can see the rigorous succession of circumstance.

 

 

II

 

Some remarks on the inessential quality of colours. A symbolum is, literally speaking, a coin broken into two pieces, whose halves tally.

 

Black equals the spiritual image of the dead (horror vacui and so on). Even in olden times people spoke of a threefold sun. Yet ultimately, there is this failure to show madness, the encompassing theme—snared by approximation, translation, interpretation. Now I’m going to ask you to sever yourself. The ordinary causal sequence of narrative is broken by the arbitrary decomposition of the story into twelve episodes. It was like reading a book that is falling apart: eradication of origin and all identity.

 

 

III

 

Green equals the moribund image of life. I’m thought to emit a lethal shriek when pulled from the ground (a sequence of notes sung to one syllable). In the ordinary procession of things, phantasy does not so easily go astray.

 

From the freshly laid wilderness, asphalt flees in headlong contusion. . . . I couldn’t think of anything else to say (speech being not of the tongue but of the heart). An apparatus holds the insect’s fore and hind wings together. The best thing would be to write down everything that happens from day to day.

 

Can you find any cogent principle of composition which he observed in setting down his observations in this particular order? The tremendous majority of men are merely preludes and rehearsals. The trope used here alludes to the capacity of elements to combine, to resist. . . . One might, I believe, class under the same heading the paranormal ear. We arrived by addition of the numerical value of the letters. We had been cast back.

 

 

IV

 

Abraxas. A gem engraved with such a word, often bearing a figure of hybrid human and animal forms (chimp-dog, antlered shaman, the magpie moth). When art dresses itself in the most exhausted material, it is most easily recognized.

 

Mercury drives matter right through the human nexus and into the individual organs: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Moon, Earth. Such are the lights that hover about my head.

 

These lofty circles shine forth. The event long sought-for returned. I slept on the beach that night and dreamed that I was sleeping on a beach, under a full moon (it was). They seemed to me a long way off in the sky, looking down, and they spoke to me from out there. Stars shot across the dark. I left them and passed on. I raised my body up again as if to walk. I could not; I was paralysed. I wept and stared ahead at nothing. Strangers passing by offered words of comfort, which I had no hope of understanding. The abyss opened up in me—but not the anticipated chasm: every detail that composed the world about me was no longer recognizable, had become irretrievably unfamiliar, unknowable. I gazed at the surface of a door or wall, transfixed. Written words were encoded beyond cypher. My thoughts remain unbearably compressed to this day.

 

Peachblossom equals the living image of the soul, spread out in horrific layers across the sky. It’s said all coupling is simply a variant of the ouroboros. Forgiveness assumes a potential misidentification:

 

Who sank into the lower regions?
What occurs naturally only in trace amounts?

 

Headless was a secret society. Most men, he wrote, represent pieces and figments—this is the problem central to a necessarily disordered work. We’ve also seen bloodgate, eye gouging, mound-dwellers (see Illumination 42, a plan showing the forbidden excavations at earlier sites). Yes, he’s a steersman, and he gives the same scrupulous care to the smallest detail as to the gravest vista.

 

It was then that I realized there was no need to return. I disciplined myself to give up certain things. I was baptized under a native name. Someone said something: Where? And Who? (It almost seemed as though it were I myself speaking.) You flatter me in supposing that I can see into his mind with accuracy, such a millstone man who documents how far humanity has receded.

 

 

V

 

White equals the soul image of the spirit, which curves up, retreats and descends: the alarm bell. A thread of silver light from the window opposite penetrates my eye. The dead came back, where they found not what they sought et cetera.

 

Ox-skull nailed to post in field—half man, half sect, and totally verifying. Spectral face emerging from resinous pink spine. All this might be thought of as an outer defensive work; we quiver about the periphery of the circle thus formed.

 

 

I re-enter: a coiled ash of burning mercury. Quicksilver is found deep inside all mentals—at root a breathing in and breathing out of the world, the loosening grasp. . . . concord and discord. The rope of the elements is responsible, a connecting brand: pollen mass, as in oracles. Saturn is the far older sun of memory.

 

She grows papyrus from black silt. I’m reproduced from tissue, bacteria—from the patient’s own body, a joint made without flux, edges melting together. I never undertook the return journey (her strange way of going about things, brick by brick). The brother-sister pair is by nature hermaphroditic, and completes the circuit. Infanticide was widespread.

 

The skeleton of a fish, its head impaled on a cane thrust deep into the earth: a licence to live is valid for one year only. Wrapping his arms tightly around her thighs, once more he bows his head in obeisance. Communion is both indispensable and impossible. The crisis passed, the shadow.

 

It’s so long since I heard your voice, I’d like to give you the opportunity to speak. One might choose to say something of nothingness.

 

It must not lack either head or feet. It must have a middle and extremities, out of whose medley the whole ghost appears. Such is the quaternity of elements: attics, mannequins, debris and dust.

 

They say they are assembled to travel outside the system of this world and into the starry heaven. (Note his naïve apology at the end of each canto.) Substance is used medically as a tracer, and was formerly called.

 

If anything, an even weaker voice than mine. As a child I drew maps, obsessively. Such prose might offer a signpost to the over-zealous advocates of a future.

 

 

 

VI

 

Acephalic god. Gnostic image on stone. An organic base is obtained from bone-oil and other animals. And whose forked tongue was thought to resemble cock and legs? (As we say above, it rejects causality.) Pebbles pin each page to the shingle. A vaccine is compounded within the dead bacillus by neutron irradiation. And then I myself stepped forward, such that I was inside the landscape, having at last learnt to dwell. It inhabited me. There was no remainder (viz a thing of fiendish technical complexity that isn’t actually needed).

 

Who was said to have been coined to express the number? One should speak only when one cannot remain silent; any discourse ought to be constructed like a living creature, with its own body. Whole pages, whole peoples, are in this sense somewhat fractured. But that should not make one forget, for a single moment.

 

Life for such a man is a set of problems, not an unfathomable mystery—it seems writing can only speak of overcomings. How to navigate through a world where everything has been purged of familiarity? I wanted only the faintest memory of having been here.

 

 

VII

 

This means anything can happen. It’s strange, this coupling is oppositional, confrontational: mercury weakens the effect of the sun. The soul, once turned toward matter, falls in love with it, falls to prisonment in chaos. (This is the molecular level at which the reader must attend to the world.) If only I could shed these signs that both define and confound. . . .

 

They believed that through the sexual act they could recharge the pneuma that was lost, had leeched out into the world from the lung. Note that he does not have the eyes, and is of a different tincture to the animal itself.

 

Who corresponds to the much older alchemic idea of the feathered soul? Like many who count themselves among the brave, she is adamantly fragile. She asks.

 

 

Grey equals the neural, counter-spirit—the ocean in mourning: chain-mail, the landing-craft, caterpillar tracks in oily sand, the quarry, the ramps: the invasion. From beneath the ridge she hurls stones at his sex. Set above the tympanum of the temple is a sculpted ornament: bucranium.

 

Ejaculation under u.v. light.

 

 

All images are from the catalogue The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things (published by Southbank Centre, Hayward Publishing, 2013).
i) Adam McLean, The Alchemical Cosmos, based on a seventeenth century engraving.
ii) Alexander Graham Bell, design sketch for the telephone, 1876.
iii) Louise Bourgeois, NATURE STUDY, 1984.
iv) Jim Richardson, Chicago, from Light Pollution:Our Vanishing Night, 2008.
v) Jaros Griemiller z Trebska, from Rosarium philosophorum, 1578
vi) Joey the Mechanical Boy, Transmission of Blinderator, 1959, from Bruno Bettelheim, The Empty Fortress: Autism and the Birth of the Self, 1967.
vii) Hand reliquary, 1250-1300.
viii) The Mantichora, from Edward Topsell, The Historie of foure-footed beastes, 1607.
ix) Andy Holden, Eyes in Space, 2012.
x) Andre Masson, drawing for the cover of Acephale: Religion, Sociologie, Philosophie, 1936.
xi) Thibaud Herem, Ouroboros, 2012

 

Richard Makin’s work has been published widely. His experimental novel Dwelling is published by Reality Street. He has contributed to the anthologies The Reality Street Book of Sonnets and Foil (Etruscan Books). Excerpts from a novel in progress Mourning are published by Hastings Online Times.