The phenomenological world is not the bringing to explicit expression of a pre-existing being, but the laying down of being. Philosophy is not the reflection of a pre-existing truth, but, like art, the act of bringing truth into being.
We are born into an alien world, set out to assemble alien signs into survival tools. From this protracted gesture, we etch meaning over a lifetime. I wanted to put an anchor in the year mine began.
Television oracles predicting techno-utopian home solutions.
Don Bluth, whose animation gave me the colour palette I daydreamed in, with this Communist banger.
I first discovered Laibach when I was seventeen. Volk was in an Oxfam Music and I bought it without deliberation because I had never before encountered an industrial band have the panache to put some pastoral painting on the cover of their album satirising a bunch of national anthems. It was the first realisation I had that musical expression could expand the perimeters even of its own theatrics and actually manifest political ideas beyond the abstract.
A few years later I met a woman at a sex party who showed me her passport issued by Neue Slowenische Kunst (a utopia, a republic of sorts, a nation without territory). NSK isn’t a place; it’s an idea. The party was stumbling into its seventy-second hour and she told me it failed to clear at any border control. Meanwhile, five men were failing to summon the will it took to urinate on the woman in the bathtub begging to be showered, and I sobered violently to the failure of ideas to bury their tendrils into soil.
Ceefax was like a rustic precursor to the internet. I remember feeling something like comfort or intrigue that when even the TV stations went to bed, there were still people like me out there, people who couldn’t sleep. Their messages would appear in bright pixels across the quiet of the night and I knew I wasn’t totally alone. I was eleven when we got our first PC. My mother was probably ripped off by some guy selling a huge outdated machine that sounded like twin jets starting up. We collected it from his musty flat. He seemed irritated by my mother’s rudimentary questions, as though even by the year 2000, chain-smoking his way through the fragmented appearance of low-res porn had given him restless leg syndrome. His socks were worn out and he didn’t smile once.
I didn’t fully comprehend what the internet was, but I knew it was a little like Ceefax, just bigger, that it could connect me to a constellation of insomniacs. Soon the screech of dial-up was thrilling, the interruption of phone calls infuriating. Why did speaking need to take so long, each period of chatter so laboured and dull? I had hurtled headfirst into a cornucopia of buffering low-res porn and disc drive point-and-click adventures: entire worlds I could slip into when I was sick of this one, which was all the time. I was roleplaying in MSN chat rooms, having multiple conversations at once with people in six time zones and the odd paedophile. I was eleven years old when I became too fast for time.
Build them up, tear them down.
You asked me how I relate to my own memories. I move through a catalogue of lost loves and feel nothing (and why do people say lost as if it were theirs in the first place); six years of him flattened onto a page, every word he ever uttered to me squeezed into a song. I don’t feel much of anything.
How could you possibly have been aware of the magnitude?
I’m not a biological determinist but there is something spooky about DNA. Our bodies are not our own; they are hosts to alien life, anything from gut bacteria to cancers able to seize control of the gears. I have a birth defect. Nothing major, just a split down a fingernail which never grows out. My mother and grandmother both have defects in the same finger; they serve as a reminder that despite my swings away, the pendulum falls back to base matter. I have changed my face a hundred times and it doesn’t make a dent in the gravity of blood. We have the same nervous tics, my grandmother and I, despite my lifelong defiance of her tyranny, our violent split like the fault line down my nail. I haven’t seen her in over a decade and yet I’ll never be rid of her because I still bite the inside of my mouth with nervous energy the way she always did.
When I was eighteen I had a black day. For twenty-four hours I did nothing but smoke weed and listen to Tom Waits, passing out and only getting up to go to the bathroom. My mother came in to find me by the eighteenth hour and looked like she’d seen a ghost. This is just like [redacted], she said. He would lock himself away listening to these records when he was smoking too much cannabis. And that’s how I learned my father and I both liked Tom Waits.
The year I was born Tetsuo was released. Twenty-one years later I would meet a man who never processed finding his father’s brains splattered against the wall, so everything he did was in defiance of his mortality. His penis was augmented with silicon and steel ball bearings, and he never stopped moving for a second. When we hurt each other and his name felt too hazardous in my mouth I replaced every instance of it with Iron Man.
“How many times did you do acid together?”
“You see if I say, then it will be used against me…”
Daniel found Daniel Johnston on Kurt Cobain’s T-Shirt. I found Daniel Johnston in Daniel’s bedroom back in his mother’s house, drawn to the beauty of album covers of nothing but crude line drawings. Daniel spelt it Kurdt, and he had painted every one of his walls with black poster paint and a tiny brush, which meant that when we were fucking while his mother was out, it came off on my palms. It was in that moment, Daniel behind me, my hands marked by his manic effort to block out the light, that I remembered that my father had found us and lived in our first flat over Christmas. I was five years old and watched him paint all of our light bulbs with acrylics which felt sandy to the touch and cracked easily. I gazed at him being creative and felt proud to be his. My mother returned after dark, and my father had painted the bulbs with dark colours, so it was as if turning on the lights made the room darker. When the shouting and crashing began, I realised he wasn’t just an artist, there was something else I didn’t yet have the words for. He hurt her one last time and then he was gone.
Daniel and I lay on sodden sheets and listened to Don’t Be Scared from start to finish, and on the eighth track I cried in silence.
When I was nineteen I fell in love with a musician fifteen years my senior. I mistook his loneliness for independence and emotional ineptitude for stoicism. He had been in a band which got close to ‘making it’ and never got over the concessions he had to make in order to make a living, so he lived in the past. His house was a cornucopia of obsessional reverie. The get-to-know-you portion was spent two days straight getting high, leafing through magazines older than our parents and listening to every record we could. I trawled through his bookcases slipping vinyl from sleeves with the care of a Rabbi because he was so precious about his things, and we frantically swapped one for another, having to lift the needle and adjust dials, a process more tactile and therefore more erotic than clicking a touchpad. We knew that we were both going to die and that there wasn’t enough time to swap all the articles and short stories, to listen to all the LPs all the way through. We drove the Welsh coast sometimes at a slow pace, listening to Zeppelin while visiting sites which inspired songs, and sometimes faster, consuming lines of speed and hours of Psychic TV. In anxious anticipation of the acceleration of time and culture and its transition from analogue to digital, under the suspicion that we would lose this space for road trips and languishing, he digitised huge libraries of music for me. He would stay in his den of antiquity and I, the Millennial, would leave with my black box labelled 1960-1999. He gifted me a prehistory.
What he gave me were relics he thought encompassed his era: the generation which resisted all the gaudy consumerism left over from the golden age of capitalism; the generation of flannel and nihilism, of the resistance to smiling television faces, work and the pursuit of happiness; the generation of Prozac Nation. For someone entrenched in the endless proliferation of identity politics, the ADHD buzz of social media and acceleration of absolutely everything, I find that Generation X suddenly tugs at my sleeves with the quiet dignity of a weaponised silence, a sort of monument to boredom as a political decision to be unmoved by the shit outside. I discovered everything Genesis P-Orridge had ever done through him, he put it all on there for me. The night I found him most endearing was also the night I fell out of love with him. He was depressed and wanted to stay in watching old bootlegs and documentaries. We watched the one in which Courtney definitely had Kurt killed, then I watched him gazing at home videos of Perry Farrell and his old girlfriend and muse letting off fireworks in their bedroom, scaring the shit out of their pet chicken; young, hopeful and in love, or just pale and high. I realised he would never exist in the present with me.
“Everybody’s doing something; we’ll do nothing.”
“He’s my Elvis. He’s my guy. I listen to him every day.”
The last transit of Venus took place in June 2012. We both had birthdays, but only one of us had somewhere to be. I knew you would miss its crossing of the sun, so I recorded NASA’s live stream on my phone to send to you later. I thought about the satellites beaming the image down, and the image bouncing up and down between my bedroom and the exosphere, the extra-terrestrial hackeysack required just to transmit you some pixels. Transits of Venus occur in pairs, interrupted by periods of over a century. The next one will happen in 2117 when we will no longer have birthdays to share. I figured with such a monumental occasion preoccupying the satellites no one would care about my naked body bouncing between here and Hubble, and so I made some porn to send to you too. Given your cosmic predilections, I found your apathy over Venus odd. Only later I realised you had marked its passing; you held me one last time, and then you returned to her.
Back when we were in pyjamas, my cousin played Monkey Island and those Sierra-era adventure games, so I must have played a little then, but my memory begins when I first dreamt in polygons. I was about nine years old, and the only access I had to a games console was in a house my mother used to clean. I played truant so that I could play as a dinosaur with weaponised eggs, squeeze through pipes and gallop through fields in a little green hat. There was never enough time; adventures were always interrupted by the return of the children in whose worlds I was an intruder. Our drab flat was monochrome in comparison. I went to bed each night praying to be returned to what felt like vast and kaleidoscopic space where time moved differently and joy was possible.
I couldn’t have my own N64, but by then people were already practically giving away their obsolete NES consoles. I discovered Secret of Mana at a car boot sale, and the roof of our flat blew clean off. There was something infinitely more beautiful about these older graphics, and I wondered why all this stuff was piling up in second-hand shops and by walls down residential roads. I was forever lost to high fantasy and MIDI tracks. I fought to the death and fell in love, and I had the patience to explore everything. I cracked every single secret in Donkey Kong Country before I knew what a walkthrough was, and I forgot what it was to be hungry or go straight to the bathroom when I needed to pee.
I grew old between the first Gameboy and the Occulus Rift, and I can still get lost in a game. Games like Stardew Valley, Always Sometimes Monsters and Richard and Alice have plugged right into my childhood, wrenching at its heart. They are lovingly crafted, but it’s never quite the same. You can’t experience the roof blowing off twice.
I was at my local library after school. I read the occasional Manga when I was young and loved illustrative art but I had never found a Western comic which grabbed my attention. Something about the spine of The Doll’s House jumped out at me. It’s hard to define what it is that makes a literary world feel just right when you fall into it, but that’s what it was, like returning to a home I didn’t know I had. I read every volume of The Sandman from the library and when I grew up and made money I bought my own so that every time I felt alone, I could return there. Those books survived years of homelessness and turbulence; the world contained was a constant that gave me warmth and courage, a little anchor in time. They survived all that just to be lost as collateral in a bad breakup. I was devastated…then I realised the objects are neither here nor there, I can replace them. It’s the mark they made on me that matters.
The beginning of the end of something.
Each epoch has its seers, conduits for the spectrum of human experience, able to channel a cacophony of love and despair into a melody.
You couldn’t stand the Smashing Pumpkins, which made it easier for me to leave you and take them with me.
I associate her house with mothballs, violence and Chanel 5. It was worth it because from the wreckage I salvaged Ella and Louis and Nina Simone.
There were days we thought we had forever.
He used to like blackcurrant in his cider; they called it Snakebite. I heard my Doc Marten’s peel its sticky stratum from the club floor so each step was like ripping off a plaster. It coursed through his veins for three years of love until throwing up its end on my bedroom floor.
I used to dream of growing up and running for the hills. By the time I got there, nothing was wild any more.