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This piece comes to you as a network of pages, held together by a series of weblinks. It is a piece of writing that throws you in at the Beach but then defines no strict timeline for you to follow. The site has become an exploration, something to be curious about, where through the clicks of a mouse more and more is uncovered. It lies about itself, setting itself up as a piece of writing made by a network of people, users, when in fact they are all personas, pseudonyms belonging to one writer (a fact that can be discovered by looking no further than the "about" page).

I am trying to define here, in this writing, a "writerly text" [1]. A text that "is ourselves writing, before the infinite play of the world is traversed, intersected, stopped" [1]. This is an idea most explored in "S/Z", which follows his most well known essay, "The Death of the Author", arguing that the authorial authority exists only to provide ultimate meaning to a text, an exercise which is futile [2]. "S/Z" says that without the author to provide textual meaning, it is up to the reader to divine significance through textual interpretation. I have obfuscated the author, I have shattered my form, I have set up walls between the reader and the object by never explicitly stating the form of the subject. I have, in these senses, allowed the writing to be investigated.

I run the risk of appearing vapid, some have argued that postmodernist literary theory has been left in the 20th century. Some even reference this form, describing how it has taken previous lofty ideals and turned them into "the drivel found... on some wikipedia pages". Alan Kirby told me that now is an age of web surfing, "ignorance, fanaticism and anxiety" [3]. I have always loved Wikipedia pages, fandom sites, Fextralife; to argue that these offer no aesthetic value is obdurate, a point hammered home by the large net of contempt cast by Kirby around varied examples of seemingly no correlation.

Within this piece are two complementary personas, so to speak. There is the wikipedia writing (an analytical mind) and there is the user page (an interpretive mind). They battle it out in the footnotes of the page, or shake hands in a paragraph cited from the other. The user, User:Altair, wrote a piece of writing called "Walkthrough", an interpretive summary of the wikipedia text. This writing serves to widen the horizon of the work and by doing so, confuse the reader as to the scope of the writing and the subject.

Altair's writing is inspired by a piece of travel writing, specifically the "The Bordeaux Pilgrim", [4] written by an anonymous author in the late Roman/early Christian period. It gives an account of a pilgrimage from Bordeaux to Jerusalem, then a route through the continent, ending in Milan. The beginning of the text is a list of places to change at or bridges to cross, punctuated only by the occasional reference to a biblical event ("there Elijah went up to the widow and sought food from her" [4]). This increases in frequency as the writer nears the Holy Land, at which point it turns into full biblical digression.

As commented on in "Time and Temporality in Travel Accounts from the Fourteenth to Sixteenth Centuries" [5] , as the writer starts to write about Jerusalem, “deeper temporal layers open up” [5]. “[The] time of Solomon is compared to the time of Christ” [5] and daily religious rituals are set alongside historical events of decades long past. Two dimensions of history and space are smacked together, and “in the melding of the two dimensions… a landscape of memory [arises]” [5].

Eugene Thacker argues that within continental philosophy life has always been defined as something other than itself [6]. Specifically three things, “time and temporality, form and causality, or spirit and immanence" [6]. Thacker traces this line all the way from Aristotle to Kant, postulating that this notion is still alive in philosophy today. From Thacker I took a simple idea, life as “time and temporality”, the notion of life being defined by events or a continuation of things.

This is the Hamlet; as time within its space shifts, the landscape becomes memory itself. Historical events create the space and define the life that is led within them. From the whales stuck on the beach and the chapel, to the New House and Old House. Each one is a different state of the same historical object.

And so “Walkthrough” is written in this spirit, in much the same spirit as “The Bordeaux Pilgrim” [4]. Even the tenses in the writing are mashed up, inspiration taken from The Tempest, specifically Act III, Scene II [7], in which Caliban speaks to Stephano and Trinculo about his time on the island.

It is important now to note “The Paleblood Hunt”, by Redgrave [8] (a pseudonym). This is a piece of writing about a video-game, describing in detail all the things that the “lore-hunter” Redgrave has discovered about the story. It is an important text in that community and is referenced often by fan sites and wikipedia pages. This writing inspired the form to which “Walkthrough” took, perhaps in the most obvious way, as a “Google Docs” file, but also as a piece of writing which serves to expand my fictional community.

Subject

The subject of my writing is borrowed from varied sources, which I will describe in detail now. First, the wax. What is this chrism? This substance that is so important? It is from the heads of whales, so it is spermaceti, or the oil from a sperm whale's head. When the first sperm whale was killed and hauled upon a whaling boat, the sailors cut its head open and mistook this white waxy substance as whale semen (this is where the sperm whale gets their name) [9].

Here, I took inspiration from “The Metaphor of the Eye” [10], an essay in which Roland Barthes analyses a story called “Histoire de l'œil” [11] by George Bataille. In this essay, Barthes introduces the idea of narrative metonymy, in which an item within the story is substituted for another, a contagion of attributes and qualities, so that metaphors become the object themselves. An example of this within the story is the eye, the egg, and the testicle.

The spermaceti becomes the sperm, a medium that carries life, but also the chrism, a holy ointment used in christening, a ritual of rebirth. The chrism becomes the water, pooling in lakes beneath the ground, an immutable substance gifted by the sea. This seaside village becomes soaked in it.

To have power over bodies, “Biopower” [12], a phenomenon that Michel Foucault first observed. The residents of the Hamlet cannot reproduce on their own, instead their life cycle is defined by Luminary Ramon, a religious figure who defines the way in which their existence continues. They sustain an age in pain, adding to their numbers in desperate attempts to keep their head above the water. In fact, the word “hamel” translates to “castrated ram”, this is a species that has long forgotten control over their reproductive cycles.

In the same way the plagues might have once made death a permanent, unflinching, part of life, the illness that afflicts the Hamlet has instead become the way in which Luminary Ramon controls the population. The illness becomes the reason why they are needed, but also the vehicle for their divine inspiration, instruction to continue on their quest.

The illness itself is a real one, albeit with some fictional quirks. River blindness [13], a tropical disease caused by parasitic worms, transmitted by black-flies who swarm around bodies of stagnant water. The worms will plant their larvae under the skin, which causes extreme itching (the afflicted have been known to burn their skin to provide temporary relief), and often blindness when the worms start to cloud the eyes.

Some of the two most important figures within this narrative are Ramon and the Bird, each of which are inspired by specific mythological and historical figures. The image of the Bird as a monumental creature with two heads is taken from the crest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, one of the jurisdictions which make up the eastern orthodox church; in this way, Smut’s malicious arc of defilement represents The Great Schism, the violent split of the church into Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodoxy.

Ramon and the Bird themselves are inspired by the Enūma Eliš [14] creation myth, specifically Tiamat, whose body makes up of the mantle of heaven and earth, and Abzû, who is the primaeval waters of Kur, the underworld below the earth above. In their union they spawned lesser gods which took the shape of all manner of monstrous animals.

Kur was believed to be a cave beneath the earth's crust, where the dead would go to complete some transitional period between life and death. Here, the only thing to eat is dry dust, so family members of the dead would pour mineral libations for them to drink. I wrote the Yellow Lake from this, a place where the dead are thrown down holes on the Procession Road to restart their life, and libations of spermaceti are poured down to heal them.

One of the earliest pieces of imagery I had for this writing was the 2013 Huangpu River dead pigs incident, an incident in which over 16,000 dead pigs were found washed up on the shores of Huangpu River. A mass-incident that arose from there being more pigs than “could be sold through the usual black-market channels” [15], it represents “a disturbing and awful moment of transparency between the metropole and the periphery, without any obvious way to cover up after the fact” [15]. This manifested as the healing animals washed up in the Yellow Lake, a confrontation of the reality beneath the village.

“Metamorphosis, Book 15” [16] by Ovid serves as inspiration for Luminary Ramon, specifically the section on the deification of Caesar. According to Ovid’s account, when Caesar was first struck, Venus struck her breast and threw up a great cloud around Caesar to protect him, then when he had been murdered, she carried his spirit up towards the sky until he lit aflame and dislodged from her grasp, burning into a meteor that streaked across the night sky.

However, it is a tradition for meteors to mark the death of a great leader; one of the most famous of which is Halley's comet, which flew across the sky as a bad omen before Harold II of England was killed in battle by William the Conqueror. This can be seen in the Bayeux Tapestry [17], which depicts the comet and Harold being shot in the eye shortly thereafter.

There is a historical precedent for a prophet to go to a higher place and receive the word of god, from King Ur-Nammu’s Ziggurat, to Moses’ stone tablets, and this is what Smut does to meet the Bird. The Riving Hill represents the end of Smut’s arc and the riving of the cycle that Ramon had set in motion when they first came to the Hamlet. It is modelled after Rivey Hill, a hill and water tower in Linton, the village where I was raised, and all the pictures of it are taken there. In fact, all of the locations are taken from Linton.

This is for a number of reasons, some personal, but some pragmatic. I like to imagine the confusion that might arise when a reader is presented with photographs of a real space and a coinciding narrative so far-fetched that it must simply be the fancy of a stranger on the internet.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Barthes, Roland, 1915-1980 & Balzac, Honore de, 1799-1850. 1990, S/Z / Roland Barthes ; translated by Richard Miller ; preface by Richard Howard. Blackwell Oxford
  2. Barthes, Roland, 1915-1980 & Heath, Stephen. 1977, Image, music, text / Roland Barthes ; essays selected and translated by Stephen Heath. Hill and Wang New York
  3. The Death of Postmodernism And Beyond, Issue 58, Philosophy Now https://philosophynow.org/issues/58/The_Death_of_Postmodernism_And_Beyond
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Anonymous (c. 333 C.E.) The Bordeaux Pilgrim. Translated from the Latin by A. S. Jacobs. Available at: https://andrewjacobs.org/translations/bordeaux.html
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Benz M and Kiening C, Time and Temporality in Travel Accounts from the Fourteenth to Sixteenth Centuries* Mandeville, Tucher, Ecklin (1st edition, Routledge 2020)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Thacker E, After Life (1st Edition, The University of Chicago Press 2010)
  7. Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. The Tempest. Cambridge :Harvard University Press, 1958.
  8. Redgrave, 'The Paleblood Hunt' (Google Docs) <https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JL5acskAT_2t062HILImBkV8eXAwaqOj611mSjK-vZ8>
  9. Wahlberg, Magnus; Frantzis, Alexandros; Alexiadou, Paraskevi; Madsen, Peter T.; Møhl, Bertel (2005). "Click production during breathing in a sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)". The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 118 (6): 3404–7
  10. Roland Barthes (1972), ‘Critical Essays’, Trans. by Richard Howard, Northwestern University Press
  11. Bataille, Georges (1977). Story of the Eye. New York: Urizen Books. ISBN 0-916354-90-3.
  12. M Foucault ‘Society Must be Defended’ Lecture Series at the Collège de France, 1975-76 (2003) (trans. D Macey).
  13. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/onchocerciasis. Accessed January 2024.
  14. Lambert, Wilfred G.; Parker, Simon B. (1966). Enûma Eliš. The Babylonian Epic of Creation. Oxford.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Nowak, F. (2022) bedeutungsgeflecht. Available at: https://nowakf.org/assets/huangpu/out (Accessed: 17/01/24).
  16. Ovid (Year of publication) Metamorphoses. Translated from the greek by Anthony S. Kline. Available at: https://ovid.lib.virginia.edu/trans/Ovhome.htm#askline (Accessed: 05/01/24)
  17. Bayeux Tapestry. Musee de la tapisserie de Bayeux, Bayeux, Normandy. The Mystery of the Bayeux Tapestry. By David J. Bernstein. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1986. Plate 28.

Bibliography

In the references above:

Anonymous (c. 333 C.E.) The Bordeaux Pilgrim. Translated from the Latin by A. S. Jacobs. Available at: https://andrewjacobs.org/translations/bordeaux.html

Barthes, Roland, 1915-1980 & Balzac, Honore de, 1799-1850. 1990, S/Z / Roland Barthes ; translated by Richard Miller ; preface by Richard Howard. Blackwell Oxford

Barthes, Roland, 1915-1980 & Heath, Stephen. 1977, Image, music, text / Roland Barthes ; essays selected and translated by Stephen Heath. Hill and Wang New York

Bataille, Georges (1977). Story of the Eye. New York: Urizen Books. ISBN 0-916354-90-3.

Bayeux Tapestry. Musee de la tapisserie de Bayeux, Bayeux, Normandy. The Mystery of the Bayeux Tapestry. By David J. Bernstein. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1986. Plate 28.

Benz M and Kiening C, Time and Temporality in Travel Accounts from the Fourteenth to Sixteenth Centuries* Mandeville, Tucher, Ecklin (1st edition, Routledge 2020)

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/onchocerciasis. Accessed January 2024.

Lambert, Wilfred G.; Parker, Simon B. (1966). Enûma Eliš. The Babylonian Epic of Creation. Oxford.

M Foucault ‘Society Must be Defended’ Lecture Series at the Collège de France, 1975-76 (2003) (trans. D Macey).

Nowak, F. (2022) bedeutungsgeflecht. Available at: https://nowakf.org/assets/huangpu/out (Accessed: 17/01/24). Ovid (Year of publication) Metamorphoses. Translated from the greek by Anthony S. Kline. Available at: https://ovid.lib.virginia.edu/trans/Ovhome.htm#askline (Accessed: 05/01/24)

Redgrave, 'The Paleblood Hunt' (Google Docs) <https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JL5acskAT_2t062HILImBkV8eXAwaqOj611mSjK-vZ8> Roland Barthes (1972), ‘Critical Essays’, Trans. by Richard Howard, Northwestern University Press

Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. The Tempest. Cambridge :Harvard University Press, 1958.

Thacker E, After Life (1st Edition, The University of Chicago Press 2010) The Death of Postmodernism And Beyond, Issue 58, Philosophy Now https://philosophynow.org/issues/58/The_Death_of_Postmodernism_And_Beyond

Wahlberg, Magnus; Frantzis, Alexandros; Alexiadou, Paraskevi; Madsen, Peter T.; Møhl, Bertel (2005). "Click production during breathing in a sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)". The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 118 (6): 3404–7


General Reading:

Conte De Lautreamont. Translated by Guy Wernham (1965) Maldoror: (Les Chants de Maldoror). New Directions Publishing.

Finkel, Irving. 2008. The Babylonian Map of the World, or the Mappa Mundi. P. 17 in Babylon: Myth and Reality, ed. Irving Finkel and Michael Seymour. London: British Museum Press.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:ListUsers. Accessed January 05, 2024.

Jackson, S. (1985) Steve Jackson's Sorcery!. United Kingdom: Penguin Books.

Mandeville, John, Sir, John Wycliffe, and Eduard Adolf Ferdinand Mätzner. The travels of Sir John Mandeville and the translation of the New Testament by John Wycliffe. Selections. [New York, E. Maynard & co, 1892] Pdf. https://www.loc.gov/item/15023456/.

Nappi, C. (2015) Eugene Thacker: Horror of Philosophy [New Books Network]. Available at: https://newbooksnetwork.com/eugene-thacker-horror-of-philosophy-zero-book-2011-2015

Ngai, S. (2002) 'A Foul Lump Started Making Promises in My Voice”: Race, Affect, and the Animated Subject', American Literature, 74 (3): 571–601. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-74-3-571

Ngai, S. 2012. 17. Network Aesthetics: Juliana Spahr’s The Transformation and Bruno Latour’s Reassembling the Social. In: Weinstein, C. and Looby, C. ed. American Literature’s Aesthetic Dimensions. New York Chichester, West Sussex: Columbia University Press, pp. 367-392. https://doi.org/10.7312/wein15616-018