Experiments in reading: The Odes to TL61P by Keston Sutherland.

Part Three.

A pause.

You have cheated, you have read the next two pages carefully in order to get a few more bearings. This was not your intention but (you argue with yourself) this kind of reading does need some kind of frame to sustain it. Your reasonably attentive reading of these two pages reminds you of why you were so gobsmacked in the first place. It also underlines the usual reservation (obscurity) that you have about Keston's work.

In order to speed things up a bit, you've decided to concentrate on shorter and less frequent passages so that you can get more of an idea of the broader themes. You decide to think about 'theme' at a later stage.

You start with:

    in the Ottoman style of the rococo circumlocution in
    liberal sex jargon recited by Ériphile at II.i.477-508,
    in the dreamiest mannequin's subsequent scan of which

Ferret-like you and your beady eyes start to delve the depths of the web for Ériphile and find her but spend twenty minutes (an age in interweb time) trying to find an English translation of the offending passage. Then decide to give up as life really is too short and it does seem to be almost as needlessly obscure as Hill's more outrageous references. You then decide to beat your auto-didact self up for not knowing what either 'circumlocution' or 'rococo' mean although you do recall there being a parody of bureaucracy called the House of Circumlocution somewhere in Dickens. You resort to the OED and discover that you could have hazarded a guess as to both and you think about the interplay between rococo and the Ottoman style and decide tht this is all longhand for overly ornate and evasive speech which may or may not describe Ériphile's speech in act two of "Iphigénie".

You then pause and consider whether or not this level of knowledge is a pre-requirement for reading The Odes and if you should therefore give up now. You decided that it would be a rare creature indeed that would be completely au fait with the Racine and that this would limit the readership to Not Very Many. So, are we then expected to ferret away in order to appraciate / grasp the full connotations of the 'point' that may be being made? You know that this kind of device is an accepted and expected feature of the late modern - you just wish that it wasn't. You're not irritated by the complexity of the argument nor by the use of obscure language to make a point (unless it's a foreign language) but you are by this kind of reference. You then notice the precision of the reference and then consider that this might be a joke about being convoluted in order to describe something that is convoluted - even this 'explanation' irritates you because it's an example of Sutherland being too clever for his own good.

You end your pause by recognising that The Odes deserve a sizeable readership but most readers will be deterred / alienated by this kind of cleverness as it merely confirms their perceptions of and prejudices about this kind of material.


You have been to see a production of "Not I" at the Royal Court and it now seems self evident that this refers to that particular piece of brilliance:

    in stratified squamous epithelium  to an alternatively
    screaming mouth, destined while dying inside
    to repeat before dying outside one last infinity of
    one-liners before snapping and giving up, or
    better yet pretending to, once you get it, once
    that is you really get it all, or not at all directly into
    the hot squamocolumnar junction with its intestate
    teat cistern......

There are many screaming mouths in our cultural baggage but very few that 'do' very many one-liners. "Not I" consists of a single mouth suspended in darkness over the stage and throwing out what appears to be the difficult to control thoughts of a very damaged mind. You sat through a discussion after the performance where it was reasonably clear that there was a diffierent way of 'getting it' to yours. The panel members gave the impression that this was a particular woman who had experienced some kind of traumatising event. You are not an expert by any means on all things Sam but you have been reading "Not I" since it was first perfomred and you've always thought of it s expressing something more universal as in 'this is how it is for us' rather than 'this is how it is for her'. On reflection you decide that you don't actually care whether you get it or not because your reading of Sam is where you started from and you can't / won't undo forty years of reading for getting it in the way that Keston apparently does.

You are, however, intrigued by the dying / pretending to, inside / outside play as if understanding (getting) this pretence or that there is a pretence is where we / you need to be. You are less annoyed than usual by the two squams although 'scaly' would probably be a more approachable way of putting it. You check out epithelium and decide that 'scaly skin' is much much more open and comprehensible although you acknowledge that squamous sounds better. Whilst staring at the OED on 'epithelium' you note that it is derived from the Greek for 'upon' and 'teat' or 'nipple' and then you realise that some harder thinking might be required. You understand that intestate is the adjective used to describe someone who has died without leaving a will, that teat normally refers to a nipple that provides milk and that a cistern is a tank.

You re-read 'Not I' and discover that isn't much help, a teat cistern could be either one of those milk churns tht aren't in use any more, or a milk bottle / carton or the breast that holds the milk. At this point you feel that you might be getting somewhere re maternal deprivation (the woman refers to herself as a 'waif) but decide to give this aspect a rest. You move on the the 'one-liner' tag and recognise that (in your head) these are normally succinct and witty phrases that accurately encapsulate an event or a mental / emotional state. Good one-liners, in your view tend to have some poetic or lyrical quality. Your all time favourite is from a Clive James song lyric from the early seventies: "The trick is not to stop the sliding said the kid / but to find a graceful way of staying slid". You like to think that you've now arrived at such a state but this does not at all help with the 'one last infinity' above. You recognise that 'Not I' is composed entirely of very short phrases indeed and you scan these and they fall short in both the witty and the succinct stakes. However, infinity makes more sense in that the piece is meant to be read / performed very quickly and you get the sense, both as audience and reader, that you are interrupting something which has no end - the monologue will continue until the woman's death. You then try and work out whether the following 'snapping and giving up' refers to this death. You conclude that it might.

One of the strengths of 'The Odes' is a sense of the absurd and the ridiculous that run through the work. This is the first:

    sucking on the aging raging hard-on held in trust
    for young dysphagia who only comes of age, yes
    exactly but at the same time, or at some other time
    like it, or at what is not a time, but is still like it
    if not exactly like it, or at what is exactly not a time
    and therefore not exactly like it, or not like this, or 
    in an unsustainable combination of the above, to
    be waked to death and faked alive, for the known  
    good of bored stiff rich men whose sexuality is
    literalised into a rampage of leverage and default swaps,

You read this aloud a couple of times and, despite yourself, you find that it works. It's sufficiently convoluted in it's imitation of the qualifiers and equivocations that surround us before delivering this notion of a sexuality being made concrete in the form of those financial niceties that caused this punitive state of self-denial (austerity) back in 2007/8. You begin to note the more formal elements within the prose: aging/raging, waked / faked, rampage / leverage because these become more apparent once read aloud.

You have to look up dysphagia and discover that it refers to problems with swallowing and you begin to get a bit disturbed by the adjective and coming of age. This theme of childhood sexual desires and behaviours gets developed in much more detail later on but you hdn't recognised that it began here, on the second page. As an ex-Marxian you need time to think about whether it was / is a literalised sexuality that drove the bored men in suits to bring fiscal disaster around our heads. Your understanding of these things is that the world of finance is stocked exclusively by overgrown adolescents who thrive on a mix of cocaine and adrenaline and burn out when they're 35. It wasn't either of these aspects that caused the fiasco but greed and arrogance, the morons really did think that they'd found a way to make money for ever and proceeded to stuff their pockets with as much as they could. It may be wrong but it's still an excellent two-liner.

You think about the time entanglement and wonder whether there's a 'point' beyond the simply absurd. You know that @The Odes' are concerned with time in that they relate to childhood and that there's increasing anxiety about how those who can respond fastest to events have an inherent advantage over other wheelers and dealers. 'Waked' and 'faked' needs some thinking about until you realise that it is in capital's interests to maintain us in a state of living death so that we don't think about difficult things like causes or reasons. On reflection, it is remarkable how many intelligent and rational people have failed to work out the that inherent instabilities and inequalities in the free market 'system' might have more than a little to do with what went wrong.

So, it's brilliant and audacious and you really do wish that you'd written it.