[Slightly edited from the original review at Savage Word, author unknown.]
Contemporary Surrealist Classic no. 1
Jesús Ignacio Aldapuerta: The Eyes
Right, roll up your sleeves. This is going to get very messy.
You may recall how, when I started this little blog, I made reference to the fact it would contain material of a contentious nature. That I would be going up to my elbows in stuff that dealt with the more extreme ends of human experience, real and imagined. Well, the raw matter I’m about to discuss hails from that area. It’s Serious Drugs. I present the following to you, not as a dare, not as some kind of macho pissing competition, but because I believe that, in the end, it’s worthwhile. (Warning! WOOT! WOOT! Whacking great portions of the following will be N.S.F.W.)
“We stopped the ambulance and carried her out of sight of the road, one or two of us sampling her roast flesh, pulling strips of her from her breasts, even before we had laid her to a suitably flat surface. I, uninterested in her as meat, was allowed a minute or two to sample her vagina with my penis. I scalded myself doing it: even internally she was boilingly hot. The congealed fat in my pubes I wouldn’t be entirely free of for more than a day.”
“I examined her now, laying her slack exhausted frame upon the floor of the cell and running my fingers over her for a place to begin anew. The gaping orifice of anus or vagina seemed a likely point, but my probing fingers could gain no sufficient purchase to begin the tearing out of her flesh. The piece of cement I had used in the breaking-open of her skull was roughly blade shaped. I worked out an edge for it, singing a little to myself to the rhythm of its reiterated rasp against the floor, and used it to begin cutting fillets from her pudenda.”
The first excerpt is from a story called “À La Japonaise”, concerning the paedophilic and necrophiliac exploits of a party of sex-tourist libertines posing as ambulance men in a heavily bombed city. The second comes from “Armful”, in which a paedophile, arrested and imprisoned with the scandalising object of his obsession, rapes, kills and eats her to dispose of the evidence. Both short stories come from a collection called The Eyes, by Jesús Ignacio Aldapuerta. It’s not nice, I’m not even sure I recommend it, but it’s lodged itself in my cranium, refuses to leave and I’m interested in why.
Here’s a portion of the back blurb:
“A woman’s severed head renders obscene sexual service beyond death to a blazing, petrol-soaked visionary.
A Nazi rocket-plane rises from the Götterdämmerung of the Third Reich to enter an hyper-oneiric world of sadistic delirium.
An asphyxiated prostitute serves as an embodiment of an entire nation for an insane, necrophiliac American soldier.”
Now bear in mind, I’ve read a lot of stuff not too dissimilar to the above. Like many a pale and interesting young boy I read Burroughs at thirteen and progressed through the tried and tested route: De Sade, Genet, Guyotat, Artaud. Literary descriptions of extreme behaviour are nothing new to me. Like a horror fan whose palate has become jaded after watching one too many exploding heads, I consider myself to be pretty much unshockable, artistically speaking anyway. But there is something about The Eyes, something about its blank-eyed, uncaring malevolence, that scares me shitless. And I think it might be because I recognise something in it. Something scared and sad and not a hundred miles away from human.
From the biography at the beginning of the book, written by its translator, Lucía Teodora, we can glean that Jesús Ignacio Aldapuerta was born in Seville in 1950 and died, burned to death, in 1987. The introduction sets out the facts of a life full of perversion and petty criminality. Prison sentences, prostitution, rumours of AIDS and a fascination with human remains and sex tourism are all there. His fatal immolation is rumoured to have been the work of drug dealers; he stole a foreskin from a medical ward and later ate it; he owned a sex aid which he claimed was made from the femur of a child. He sounds like a complete twat, to be honest. A grubby, snickering tosser, but I digress.
He is hinted to be something of a liar, who liked to embolden his stories with outrageous detail. Something he refers to directly in “Armful”:
“That is if I, we, assume that this is not a sexual fantasy having no other existence than in my own imagination, in which case logic need not apply. But assume that it is not a fantasy. You will enjoy it more, assuming thus.”
This strikes me as someone attempting to have his cake and eat it. One can imagine Aldapuerta (if he even existed: to be honest I have my doubts) recounting some horrific tale before justifying himself with a sly “Or did I?” Whatever, it’s a pretty impressive way to implicate your audience, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer-style.
The book is subtitled “Emetic fables from the Andalusian De Sade”, which doesn’t really do it justice. Undoubtedly De Sade is an influence — you can’t deal with sexually deviant libertinage without invoking the old gasbag it seems — but trying to compare it to other De Sade-influenced books is a waste of time. The Eyes is thoroughly modern, having little in common with all those wankathons set in châteaus that regularly squirt out of the underground, like steady drips from a flaccid cock. (I’m not naming any names. Apart from that tedious tosser Jeremy Reed. Do give up, Jezza. There’s a good chap.)
No, there’s none of that God-awful “By-Christ-my-prick-is-hard-I’m-hot-for-this-wench’s-arse-and-no-mistake” dialogue, no swishings of the cat-o’-nine-tails, no tedious pontificating on the nature of morality and, crucially, no stories over twelve pages long. What The Eyes has to say it says quickly. Like a story printed in Penthouse or a scene in a porn film, it does the job and gets the fuck out.
Now, I can tell you that The Eyes reads like pornography (something that I’m sure wasn’t far from Aldapuerta’s mind when he wrote it), but whether it works as pornography I’m afraid I don’t know. You’ll no doubt be pleased to hear that I don’t share any of its characters’ sexual proclivities. I prefer my partners still breathing and above the legal age limit, thanks very much. So if The Eyes is basically the necrophile equivalent of that “Roy Orbison wrapped in cling film” book, why am I drawn to it? Why am I spending a sunny day writing about it and not sipping Chablis on the roof-garden?
Good point. Let’s you and me go further.
In the second story in the collection, “Ikarus”, a WWII pilot flies a Nazi rocket-plane into the hull of a passing B-17 (military accuracy not being the first thing on Aldapuerta’s mind when he wrote it, I’m sure). Inside the bomber he witnesses the evisceration of a young woman strapped into a vividly described torture-device:
“It was a sculpture, a crucifix of broken and jagged spears and sheets of iron and steel and copper stretched between the floor and roof and walls of the fuselage into which had been set — nailed, clamped, impaled, pincered — the body of a woman.”
So far so vile, and when it comes to the description of the woman’s body being torn limb from limb we aren’t spared any details. This is sexually powered transgressive fiction of a particularly nasty stripe. However, if it’s simply meant to function as pornography, then what are the final paragraphs all about?
“Cradling her [head] in two hands, he walked over to the flak hole in the fuselage wall. The moon rode beneath him, a negative pupil in a giant eye of water. He sat down on the edge of the hole, legs dangling over kilometres of emptiness, and waited, dandling the head in his lap like a child, for the impulse to come to push himself and her out and down into the black, unending sea.”
Unlike your average piece of pornography this sustains itself after the moment of orgasm, carrying on to a point of desolation. Whatever the author’s intention, as an image that’s up there with any piece of literary surrealism I can think of. Possessing an authenticity and clarity of vision to rival Magritte or Ernst.
Similarly vivid and surreal images appear at points throughout the book, and it’s those moments that serve to elevate it above mere torture porn. An arctic scavenger rearranges the internal organs of plane-crash victims into occult patterns on the ice flow; a nameless man drives across a nameless desert for a rendezvous with a celebrity car-wreck; a survivor huddles under the wings of a crashed plane, waiting “for wings to sweep out black wounds in the star-cankered flesh of the heavens above him.”
It’s these images, and others, that serve to give The Eyes its sense of timeless melancholy. The aftermath of the sexual acts described nearly always end in isolation, as if the nameless protagonists suddenly become acutely aware of their distance from any kind of society, any kind of love. The emptiness after the orgasm.
In the story “B.V.M.” a torturer recounts his philosophy of pain:
“Even if I were a woman, and could string orgasm on orgasm like beads upon a necklace, in time I should sicken of it. Do you think Messalina, in that competition of hers with a courtesan, knew pleasure as much on the first occasion as the last? Impossible.
“Give me a cubic centimetre of your flesh and I could give you pain that would swallow you as an ocean swallows a grain of salt. And you would always be ripe for it, from before the time of your birth to the moment of your death. We are always in season for the embrace of pain…”
“Consider,” I said.
“Consider the ways in which we may gain pleasure.
“Consider the ways in which we may be given pain.
“The one is to the other as the moon is to the sun.”
Aldapuerta elevates the acts of agony to a religious level (“I seek only to sacrifice minds. There is no surer way than pain”). The employment of his dry, dispassionate style increases the reader’s revulsion. The prose rings with authenticity. It feels real, experienced. It is this combination of clinical, Ballardian prose with some of the most vivid surrealist imagery I’ve read that keeps me coming back to this book. The carnage depicted seems merely an adjunct, a twisted carnival distraction on the road to nowhere. It’s this feeling of emptiness and futility that serves to give the grotesque erotica its sting.
The Eyes is not a book without antecedents. At various points it reads like Ballard, De Sade, Burroughs, or a combination of all three. Yet I have never read anything quite like it for foul, lingering impression. A hell is being evoked, one all the more scorching because of its prescience. The debauched libertines (or fucked-up perverts, if you prefer) of Aldapuerta’s fictions are all the more believable because rather than being disgraced aristocrats or night-haunting dandies, they are modern men — pilots, emigrés, professionals — wandering through sexual hells of their own jaded designs. Doomed, after that ultimate orgasm, that final detonating fuck, not to follow their victims into oblivion, but to be trapped in lonely wastelands, forever searching for ways to escape. When you finally shut the book you can’t help but feel that it’s the least they deserve.
I hesitate to recommend The Eyes. This kind of book demands more than a simple “Like that? Try this!” However, I will say that in strength of imagery, surrealistic clarity and visionary brutality it’s up there with the best post-second-world-war underground fiction, worthy of comparisons with Ballard, Burroughs and David Britton. Praise doesn’t come much higher, nor has it ever come with more provisos. Those with strong stomachs, by all means take a swig. Just don’t blame me if you end up being sick over yourselves.
[Slightly edited from the original review at Savage Word, author unknown.]
Towards a New Surrealism
Recently, while gazing from the roof terrace of my London bachelor pad, I’ve been giving some thought to the idea of canons. No, not the aggressively noisy things that men in spangly suits and crash helmets are occasionally fired from, but rather those boring lists of books, films and what-have-you that get trotted out semi-regularly in an attempt to uncover what really are the best, most exemplary, seminal (urgh) works in a particular field. Now everyone hates it when the usual Oxbridge tossers are asked for theirs and we end up with the usual round of Miltons, Blakes, Orwells and Shakespeares, but it struck me that we dwellers in the dank passes have our canon as well. It goes a little like this: Burroughs, Ballard, Bataille, Artaud, Dick, Bukowski, Genet, etc. All good stuff, undoubtedly but a little tired now, especially when such good work is still continuing on the margins.
Now all this talk of canons made me think of the Surrealists. In an issue of one of their periodicals, André Breton listed a series of books that were crucial influences on the movement. It included Lautréamont, Jarry, Roussell and a host of others that had provided the initial spark that began the great revolution. As someone who thinks that a vital new strand of Surrealism is long overdue in today’s culture I thought it might be fun to begin to compile a similar list. You can see the first fruits of this search for new beginnings above. I will add more as and when they reveal themselves to me. Hope you enjoy.
[The post that preceded the Aldapuerta review at Savage Word, author unknown.]