Week 13 – Shezad Dawood – 30 March-5 April – The Room

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Part 1: Art For All

The fig-2 openings are getting hectic. I think some bastard has been publicising them. This isn’t how counter-culture works. It’s more like.. in the year 2009 full-time Eddie Redmayne impersonator and occasional guest on Star Trek Professor Stephen Hawking threw a party for time-travellers. Afterwards he sent out the invitations. Nobody turned up. Nobody had turned up. He cited this as experimental evidence that time travel will not become possible. My own experimental evidence is more cynical: that we don’t remember the birth of Christ with a sponsorship placement on it. The Emirates Birth of Christ. Wow, that’s confusing. How about ‘The Barclays Birth of Christ – investing in irony.’

I’m kidding about counter-culture. Fig-2 is sponsored and paid-up and part of the mainstream, whether us hipsters like it or not. I’ve been to most of the increasingly popular openings on me tod, avoiding eye contact and scribbling in a notebook. Various people I know have to my surprise popped up there randomly, which has been lovely. This week, lucky Week 13, I must have been tired. I arrived and there they were, these two nightmares from one of my previous lives, suddenly manifesting at my pretentious gallery opening. Two poets, as it happens, representatives of a beaten tranche of the counter culture that has given up on political agitation and gone to nihilism, rejecting everything including itself. Why were they there? I’m not sure. There was the gin. In the truncated time I stayed each managed to knock back three or four of the free cocktails. I kept wondering if they were going to smash shit up. I hadn’t really realised that counter-culture can also mean anti-art. Immediately it was obvious they were not there in an accommodating positively minded spirit.  I gritted my teeth, ready for something embarrassing to happen in which I, by virtue of knowing them, would be implicated. Which publisher was it said he’d sooner have an armed robber in his office than a poet?

I’ll have to invent a term for this experience, when characters from one area of your life suddenly irrupt into another, the clang of cognitive dissonance. You’re at Torture Garden being spanked and suddenly discover it’s your line manager in the next sling. It’s interesting how we separate people and realms. Colleagues and friends. Friends and ‘friends’ (qv Facebook). It might be that, but as I said it’s usually lovely when you bump into people randomly. This felt like a clash of cultures, with me crushed in the middle.

Regarding the art, the crowd, the space, they were unfailingly rude; but had at least the good grace to be rude about every single thing they talked about. I’m not sure which of the creators of fig-1, Jay Jopling or Mark Francis, they meant when they referred to “Cuntface.” As for the ICA, it hasn’t been exciting since 1955. I got the strong impression they thought all art was shit. Everything, really. Just everything. I’m sure I even detected weird homophobic inferences coming out. One of them even drew attention to the university staff card hanging around my neck, and somehow inferred some kind of disapprobation, an obscure subtext of contempt for paid work that made me feel somehow lame for having a job. I suppose to nihilistic counter-culture this is being in cahoots with the capitalist machine. Like voting; with the election coming up, we’re seeing plenty of argument that voting is endorsing the whole sick machine, so you shouldn’t vote. And as for art…

Not everyone in New York will pay to see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s face. Not everyone is a critic. But, fuck it, everyone hates art. Everyone hates criticism. So… art criticism?!?!? Jesus. What am I doing? I mean, my pal Sid thinks I’m a twat just (well, not just) because I’m on twitter. Donald has refused to read any of my fig-2 blogs on principle because he is against any and all forms of Criticism. It’s said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. I’ve always thought dancing about architecture sounds ace!

There’s a strong belief in the mind of the counter-culture that mainstream culture is dominated by cabals of powerful individuals working to exclude the rest of us. The art world is notoriously cliquey, so crony credence abounds. Unpublished novelists might become convinced that mysterious powers are suppressing their work. It was interesting to see the irruption of two figures from nihilistic counter-culturalism into the rarefied domain of fine art. Private Views are gurningly good-natured two-faced affairs. That’s what they’re for. Networking and stuff. They are exclusionary. Even when they’re open to the public like the fig-2 openings.

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Part 2: Who Rules The World?

For Week 13 of Fig-2 Shezad Dawood created an animation that nods to ideas about posthumanism and secret esoteric societies that decide the destiny of humankind. Two brothers in Saffron coloured hooded robes, reminiscent of Philip Guston’s cartoonized KKK figures talk about Shangri-La in a weird landscape inhabited by Maoi (the Easter Island heads).

In his fig-2 interview Shezad Dawood says the reason he chose to make an animation was because he wanted to “do something that would surprise people in terms of expectations of practice.” Now, artists should never do this. It’s the equivalent of a band you’ve never seen before announcing “This is a new song!” — darling, to me they’re all new —

Brother P wears an adaptation of the muted trumpet from the postal service in The Crying of Lot 49. In Pynchon’s novella evidence accumulates of a secret underground postal delivery service called the Trystero, which might be a conspiracy, a practical joke, or a hallucination, indicated by arcane references on bus windows and toilet walls.

Brother S has an adapted symbol of the Pharaoh Kih-Oskh in the Tintin book The Cigars of the Pharaoh. The Kih-Oskh Brotherhood is a vast criminal organization smuggling opium throughout Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India and China, in fake cigars, with strong systems of communication and transportation and intelligence operating covertly within all levels of society.

In an amusing random continuity, Fig-2 Week 12’s Tom McCarthy has written an entire book analyzing the Tintin cartoons from a structuralist perspective. He notes that Hergé’s politics move from right to left wing during the course of the books. In Cigars from the mid-thirties the villains are “typical enemies of the right, key players in the great global conspiracy of its imagination: Freemasons, financiers…” and, of course, Jews. By the 1970s, as a consequence of World War II, the politics of the Tintin books has shifted over to the left to the extent that in Tintin and the Picaros the hero sports a CND logo on his moped helmet. McCarthy notes that “there remains the interesting paradox that, despite his political realignment, Hergé keeps the same villains in place: men in cagoules, the secret cabals of Cigars of the Pharaoh, serve as straw men for his leftist world-vision just as well as they did for his rightist one.”

In essence Lot 49 and Cigars of the Pharaoh are expressions of the question “Who rules the world?”

In his series The Secret Rulers of the World Jon Ronson goes behind the scenes of the Bilderberg conference, the annual grouping of the elite that has been accused of being a “secret government of the world”. According to the “American Friends of Bilderberg”’s press release “Bilderberg’s only activity is its annual conference. At the meetings no resolutions are proposed, no votes taken, and no policy statements issued.” Highly mysterious. If it doesn’t rule the world, then what exactly does it do? Daniel Estulin’s The Secrets of the Bilderberg Club describes “sinister cliques and the Bilderberg lobbyists” manipulating the public “to install a world government that knows no borders and is not accountable to anyone but its own self.”

Conspiracy theories exist to address our fear that the world might be completely beyond anyone’s control. It’s a theological impulse, to combat the uncertainty that is inherent in supercomplex systems such as economies and societies. There are certain things we just know (echoing Rumsfeld). Scottish mineral water from Tibet: we know it’s tap water from Peckham. We know a ‘no reply’ means ‘no’. We know the Emperor is in the nip. We know. Look. It’s quite simple. Jewish Islamist Masons in the KKK built Easter Island. It’s obvious.

The world government is really just Capital: money markets that transcend national borders and to which states and governments are in thrall. As David Graeber notes the state is no longer a bulwark against capitalist rapaciousness, but works with it hand in hand. Let us also remember that fine art is capital; owning a verified Rembrandt is a securer investment than owning a flat in central London. In short, if you are not with the boorish anti-art vision of the counter-culture, you are propping up the whole capitalist system.

How do you win? You can’t. The game is rigged. Even your dissatisfaction has a dollar value. There’s that Clash lyric: “Turning rebellion into money.” Counter-culture is culture sold over the counter. I’m a sell-out and so are you. At least Tracey Emin is honest and happy about being a Tory voter. She’s happy because she’s won.

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Week 12 – Tom McCarthy – 23-29 March – Satin Island

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Present: Tom McCarthy (author, installation artist), Fatoş Üstek (curator, mathematician), Clémentine Deliss (curator, researcher), Alfie Spencer (Flamingo Group Head of Semiotics), Mark Blacklock (author)

Apologies: Claude Levi-Strauss (anthropologist), Levi Strauss (businessman), Bronisław Malinowski (anthropologist), Guy Debord (situationist), Paul Rabinow (anthropologist of “the contemporary”), Alain Badiou (thinker), Roland Barthes (semiotician), Jacques Derrida (deconstructionist), Douglas B. Holt (author on brands), Daniel Defoe (novelist)

  1. The Book

I find myself in the position of the narrator, U, in Tom McCarthy’s book Satin Island, surrounded by screens and data, trying to synthesise raw unconnected toomuchinformation into narratives. There are four elements: the Show, the Book, the Think Tank, the Company Report, and the Interview. There are five elements.

Satin Island is “a book about the general impossibility of writing a book about the general impossibility of etc.” U (a poor man’s Ulrich from Musil’s Man Without Qualities) is a corporate anthropologist who has been tasked with creating The Great Report, “the First and Last Word on our age.” To this end, he scrolls through countless images, circling around various obessions: oil spills, cargo cults, ethnographic objects, critical theory, the transport system in Lagos, the mysterious death of parachutists. Like Shakespeare’s Autolycus he is a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles. The book documents these obsessions but can’t unify them.

ACTION: The reader will consider whether the artistic success of the book at representing (even dramatising) the unassailable rag-bag nature of information/knowledge while revelling in curious and interesting detail, is achieved at the cost of the literary failure of the book, inasmuch as we are given a plotless novel with no proper characters or satisfying meaning. What are novels for, anyway?

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  1. The Show

I wondered if it was just a marketing exercise, turning the book into an installation and having the whole text read aloud (flatly as a “Company Report”). It turns out that Tom McCarthy is no stranger to the gallery space, and the book itself grew out of a 2010 residency projecting oil spills. In Satin Island, U creates vast dossiers from unrelated material, sticking them up on the walls of the offices of the Company and trying to find connections, like Beuys diagrams, or Benjamin’s Constellating Dots. Stage designer Laura Hopkins designed the space, littering it with U and McCarthy’s source texts, images and scrawled connections. It was an effective representation of the book, maybe with a cheeky viral bit of marketing thrown in.

ACTION: The reader will consider whether in fact all the work that takes place in any gallery space is in fact just a marketing exercise, and ask whether what is being sold is an idea, or the work, or the career of the creator of the work.

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  1. The Think Tank

The Think Tank aimed to trace anthropology through corporate culture and literature through a ‘brain-storming session’ that was actually somewhere between a lecture and a seminar. A “golden triangle” was postulated combining literature, corporate culture, and anthropology. This was an exposition of the book, but interesting in itself as an interrogation of meaning-making and information gathering in several different spheres. Fatoş Üstek (who as an undergraduate studied topology) mind-mapped the event on a huge wall mirror, “curating in a semantic sense”.

Clementine Deliss (curator, researcher, publisher) discussed anthropology and ethnography, and asked probing questions about the impulses of ethnographers and museums. The anthropologist is a ‘bug chaser’ a collector writing everything down in detail, but Levi-Strauss himself advised that we should forget objects and study culture and behaviour: the oilspill of modernity.

ACTION: The reader is asked to consider what is the nature of hoarding, classification and acquisition, and whether it can be subversive when there is also immaterial culture. If authenticity refers to a local identifiable product of one culture, how do we refigure authenticity in the context of globalisation?

Alfie Spencer (the amusingly titled Head of Semiotics at the Flamingo Group) presented a theory of branding in relation to the meaning-making. Beginning with his self-definition “I brand (verb) the way an author says ‘I observe, I interpret’” and that his position (which is analogous to the central character of Satin Island) is at an intersection between production, commerce/business and capitalism. He helps corporations make money by analyzing what it is to brand versus write versus interpret. There is a confrontation between how objects resist language and can be made to ‘speak’ via branding. Writing remakes, interpretation asks what it can do within a form of life, and branding makes a future for it. In this sense, branding is a process of closure, whereas writing is open.

ACTION: The reader is asked to consider whether writing would love to be branding, whether interpretation lusts after branding’s finality, and to consider this in relation to a novel whose open form resists closure, and further to consider whether the ambition of branding is the same as that of propaganda, and whether Alfie Spencer is therefore a tool of The Company, a footman for the Ruling Class Apparatus, forcing final forms on us.

Mark Blacklock offered up literature as a site for “speculative anthropology” and discussed Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Crusoe is a corporatist, a bookkeeper, reducing everything to information, just like U in Satin Island. Information gathering becomes the central theme of Defoe’s novel too, which is also tied to the acquisitive research methods of ethnographers in putting together collections of objects that create narratives about societies.

ACTION: The reader is invited to consider whether to answer Blacklock’s call for “an anthropology of solitude” with regard to Robinson Crusoe, bearing in mind Alix Mortimer’s priceless tweet: “To get your New Paradigm name, take your real name and put An Anthropology of… in front of it”

Mark Blocklock also reported that “Robinson Crusoe spends three years using his craft to craft a craft – a boat – which when finished can’t be moved, so it becomes a sculpture.” I love this in and of itself, but this is also a teleological point that reminds me of one of the paradoxes of ethnographic objects: that whatever their original purpose was, once they are put on display they become art objects.

ACTION: The reader is further asked to consider whether this pipe is or is not a pipe.

  1. The Company Report

The reading of the complete book out loud was a homage to On Kawara’s One Million Years, in which huge ledgers filled with all of the dates from a million years ago to a million in the future are read slowly and neutrally, monotonously. Perhaps McCarthy intended this to draw attention to the contrast between vast empty timescales and the overwhelmingly data rich present.

ACTION: The reader will consider the meaning of alluding to On Kawara in the performance of Satin Island being read out loud in the style of a ‘company report’ and whether this is a comment on timescales or the sheer implacableness of data.

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  1. The Interview

The author Tom McCarthy claims that authors are byproducts, that to think the author is the source of meaning is like saying a plastic bottle is the source of the water it contains: it’s a straight-up category error. The author is a byproduct of literature. There are author patches swirling around the Pacific Ocean as we speak, redundantly and useless. Yes, meaning is a bundle of relations that goes back centuries and forward too, but in Barthes’s seminal essay he announced the death of the author and even now people act as if it never happened. What digital culture pushes to the forefront is not even the death of the author or even the redundancy of an act of writing, but the question of which routes to pursue, the methodology of navigation. This is what the Situationists were asking; they saw things as simple as walking the ‘wrong way’ round Paris as an act of resistance and as an artistic practice. Not for nothing does the book Satin Island share the same initials as Situationist International.

ACTION: The reader is called upon to consider what writing is, and what writing would be if everything is already written. How can we understand a writing or literature that would operate differently? Can we imagine a form of writing as resistance to grand narratives, devoted to opening up ambiguities?

ACTION: The reader is asked to consider whether Tom McCarthy is a byproduct.

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  1. Any Other Business

Grand narratives are back. Okay so there’s no codex unlocking the master meaning of the age, but there is a master programme, and it is being administered by Apple and Google. The Company. The Corporation, Leviathon, processing vast amounts of data. Every keystroke is sold to the NSA. Apple’s locked-down battery-flattening PC-poisoning products now fill me with as much dread as the horrific self-belming output of Microsoft, the tech equivalent of those dreadful Hollywood movies that are obviously stamped out by committees rather than creatives. Is Google’s motto still “Don’t be evil”? I can’t even remember.

The world is literally being remade: the Universal Texture is a rather terrifyingly named Google patent for mapping textures onto a 3D model of the entire globe. Sometimes this goes wrong, and for a moment the workings of the Universal Texture are exposed, and it’s like being Neo seeing the Matrix, or a glimpse of the Mind of God. Clement Valla has a wonderful project documenting examples of these surreal/cubist mistakes in Google Earth when large structures are reconstructed wrongly.

ACTION: The reader is asked to consider the question “Who might inhabit these landscapes?”

How do the totalising corporations get away with it? Satin Island’s Koob-Sassen Project is explained away thus: “It is… a pretty boring subject. Don’t get me wrong: the Project was important. It will have had direct effects on you: in fact, there’s probably not a single area of your daily life that it hasn’t, in some way or other, touched on, penetrated, changed; although you probably don’t know this. Not that it is secret. Things like that don’t need to be. They creep under the radar by being boring.”

In David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King we also learn about the efficacy of ennui to make invisible, to stifle politics: “The real reason why US citizens were/are not aware of these conflicts, changes, and stakes is that the whole subject of tax policy and administration is dull. Massively, spectacularly dull. […] The IRS was one of the very first government agencies to learn that such qualities help insulate them against public protest and political opposition, and that abstruse dullness is actually a much more effective shield than is secrecy. For the great disadvantage of secrecy is that it’s interesting. People are drawn to secrets; they can’t help it.” (85)

U’s relationship to media is almost gnostic, pursuing a deep secret that is forever elusive, a Godhead beyond the veil. It is fundamentally a literary relation. The whole world is an encrypted text. McCarthy notes that we can trace this back to a theological impulse – the world was a script for god. Not to mention structuralists, and he notes that Walter Benjamin’s and Jacques Derrida’s epistemologies come out of Jewish mysticism. Digital figurations are fascinating but not categorically new.

ACTION: The reader is thanked for reading, and invited to have a lovely day. Do comment!

Date of next meeting: Wednesday 22 April, London Review Bookshop, Tom McCarthy in conversation with Nick Lezard

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Week 11 – Beth Collar – 16-22 March

I must be obsessed with liminality. It follows me around like a fog, or I move through it like a ghost. Neither one thing nor another, everywhere and nowhere, I’m never sure what I’m supposed to be.

Liminality in general usage is variously employed to mean ‘between two things’, kind of both and neither. The state between caterpillar and butterfly; the periods of adolescence and twilight; where you are during a spiritual vision or in an airport, in No Man’s Land or at a crossroads. Non-heteronormative sexualities and genders are liminal. Angels, centaurs; Lear’s wise fool, Lear himself; spies, ethnographic researchers; writers and artists. Consciousness itself seems to exhibit an ineffable liminality, existing between the past and the present, between rationality and instinct, between free will and determinism.

Liminality as a concept was originally developed in anthropology, specifically to describe ambiguities in the middle-stage of ritual activites such as initiation ceremonies, where participants stand at a threshold. It also came to refer to periods of cultural and political change during which social hierarchies are questioned, traditions ruptured, the future thrown into doubt. Basically: ENDTIMES… but thousands of years ago…

Over three hundred bodies have been found in bogs in Ireland. These ‘bog bodies’ date from as far back as the Bronze Age. The oldest is the Cashel Man from 2000BC. There is strong evidence to suggest that many of the bog bodies found in Ireland were ritually murdered. The Cashel Man may have been a Bronze Age king murdered by his tribe to appease the goddess of fertility, following the failure of crops. The inauguration of a king was a symbolic marriage to the land itself, with a responsibility toward the future of the tribe. So if a harvest failed, the tribe might replace him – through a ritual killing.

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What they couldn’t have known was that a climatic shift was happening during the Bronze Age, with increased rainfall and lowering temperatures. The increasing evidence of bog bodies from the period could stem from the fact that such conditions are ideal for the formation of bogs, but also because these conditions created a liminal period during which times became harder, and ritual tribal activity to appease the gods of the elements became more marked. What is theorized here is that the ritual killings evidenced by the prevalence of bog bodies were a prehistoric response to climate change. Which is an amazing thought. Imagine if we ritually sacrificed our oil-friendly climate-change-denying political leaders so we could cross the threshold into a greener period of history. Imagine bog-workers in four thousand years uncovering the immaculately preserved bodies of the leaders of the G8.

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Bog bodies are a beautiful collaboration between human ritual actions and natural processes. Following their very violent death and deposition, the bodies have been preserved because of the acidic composition of the bogs. There is water but not oxygen. This contrasts with the human efforts of cryogenics to remove the water from the body in order to preserve it (because water expands when frozen, destroying corporeal cells). The bogs themselves are of peat formed from the dead bodies of plants. The bog forms a record of history (not unlike the rings of a tree), both climatic and social. The stratified layers in a metre of peat can contain a millennium of history which can be ‘read’ in a laboratory: the presence of varieties of pollen can indicate farming activity; ash and birch are evidence of intensive human communities.

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Thus, the human is written into the landscape. This is literally the territory of Beth Collar’s work for Week 11 of fig-2, developing themes she began exploring during a 2014 residency in Bristol using not peat but mud as a starting point, making shaky videos of mud and water and silt — liminal substances — in the New Cut, a man-made cut through the River Avon in the middle of Bristol. In her interview with curator Fatoş Üstek she compares this to the Andes where she discovered similar landscapes that in the films (exhibited at fig-2) are seemingly devoid of the trace of the human. But are they?

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Theodor Adorno said that form is “sedimented content”. I think of this as I look at the work. Videos of tea and milk in water forming beautiful clouds, then the clouds over the Andes and the silt brought up into water as the tide comes in. The use of dehydrated turnips as part of the framing of the drawings on the walls, presenting pencil landscapes, one of which was actually a vagina, or rather labia. The human drawn into landscape or the other way round? The drawings presented with stratified layers of wood and paper, framing but also integrally part of the content: layered, suspended, sedimentary.

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The centrepiece of the exhibition was an uncanny water feature involving a disembodied head-like sculpture that degraded over the week owing to the action of the water being pumped back round from the pool. This mimics natural processes of erosion and decomposition, as well as reflecting the ephemerality of the installation itself. The show is over, the victim of water and time, whereas the destructive forces of nature have a paradoxical creativity: nothing is lost, only changed.

Beth Collar’s work for Week 11 forms a reflective exploration of liminality through transformations in matter and through substances that can evoke multiple states – like the undead status of the murdered bog bodies, discoloured by the peat but still distinguishable as themselves, the product of both ritual action and natural process. There is a compelling poetry in the connections between all of these substances and states, bodies and landscapes, that is both alien and familiar, profound and full of emptiness. Then the stratified layers of the bog revealing history, and the ‘sedimented content’ of the bog bodies: dead kings ruling over a kingdom of rain.

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I am indebted to this BBC Four documentary on ‘bog bodies’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03js0gf

Week 10 – Annika Ström – 9-15 March – Six Lovely People

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In the Silent Disco Diner, someone is murdering the six individuals from the Match.com adverts, one by one. Who has the means, motive, and opportunity? And can Labby, the amateur labrador detective, solve the mystery in time?

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My God, it’s full of twats.

The Silent Disco Diner was heaving with bodies.  On the mezzanine hipsters bopped silently, while in the annexe the diners conversed uncomfortably. Annie, returning to her seat, hooked her bag under the table, and loud-whispered to her dinner date, “The toilets here, they’re not very clean.”

Lou smirked, and in a loudly ironic voice quipped, “You should try the food.” They lol’d together. “No it’s excellent. I love how they do the prices: 9.5, or 13.5. No pound signs, it’s so digi-modern.”

The 5-minute notification flashed up on their iPhones, and they put down their cutlery. Time to dance.

The silent disco is the worst fucking most unimaginably fucking dreadful and awful cuntnosed place in the entire cunting universe. Impossible to imagine a more solipsistic form of socializing. The cunts who come here pay a fucking fortune and look so smug in their mutual loathing they’re constantly coming in their pants. Twats, they’re twats. Someone should petrol-bomb their silent disco and block the fire exits then set off a silent fucking fire alarm.

As she stood up, Annie gasped, and steadied herself, “It’s so busy I can’t breathe!”

Lou smirked knowingly, “Yes, that’s how you know it’s good. The more unpleasant and packed it is, the better it is.”

The Silent Disco Diner is the hottest and best new joint in the hipsterhood. How it works is like chess-boxing. In chess-boxing, which is a great new sport that mixes the visceral combat of boxing with the intellectual sparring of chess, the combatants alternate a round of boxing with five minutes of chess. In the Silent Disco Diner the diners alternate five minutes of dining with five minutes of silent disco.

This has proven tremendously popular because it gives the diners plenty of time to think of something to say to each other. Conversational longeurs need no longer be attributed to angels passing or the terrible service (and the service is terrible). They are built into the dining experience. It is no wonder that the Silent Disco Diner is the go-to place for match dot com couples, as well as those who have married badly or have just been going out too long to be able to stand talking to each other for longer than 300 seconds. It’s more expensive than having a TV or children, but the food is excellent, and the disco music is bad enough to enhance the dining experience immeasurably either because after 300 seconds of the music you’re desperate to return to your kangaroo flatbread or because it gives both of you something to mutually loathe that isn’t each other.

Meeting people is a piece of piss. You go on the internet, swipe some cunt’s jpeg and tell them to meet you in a pig’s arse tuesday week to have a fucking smug off about who’s the bigger liver-faced cunt. There’s one now on the mezzanine, fucking dancing.

— You dance like a cunt, love!

— Sorry, what? I can’t hear you: silent disco!   

— I said: you dance like a cunt!

— Thanks!   

— You’re welcome!

She didn’t bite. That was a fucking waste of time. Probably a fucking shit-farmer. I’ll keep working the room.

It’s hard to meet people. Thirtysomethings, haunted by the time before the internet, find online dating impossibly contrived, and only approach it out of total desperation, having admitted defeat at life. Whereas to the yoof it’s completely normal. Their experience is noticeably healthier and more successful, unwracked by the thirtysomething’s sense that they might have regressed to a new period of arranged marriages and paying for sex.

The management team behind the Silent Disco Diner know this, and in the Silent Disco Diner, dating couples are encouraged to be completely frank and honest. All of the subtexts of ordinary straitened dating conversations rise to the surface. Sexual, behavioural, and mental problems that usually have to be inferred from a visual interpretation of body language, these are all strenuously in your face.

The encouragement of frankness and honesty is gamely facilitated by one of the more popular cocktails, the Autistic Spectrum. It’s especially popular because it is free, and it is a condition of entry that every diner and dancer has to drink enough of them to make them practically tourette’s. This is great for those diners who lack any imagination or charm and have nothing to say, because it gives them access to all the thoughts that would never arise in  banal smalltalk. In the silent disco diner everyone explains every detail of their mind with a pure sense of complete happiness and entitlement. It’s like being Kanye West.

I’m closing in. Those are the six cunts, in three pairs. You’ve seen them in the adverts for match dinner. Six arseholes in search of a fucking enema. I hate them more than it’s possible to hate anything in the universe, yet still they deserve more. Their little mooncups of cuntishness runneth over perpetually until the last albino fart of the cosmos is sodomized with the last spectral ballet shoe made of human cum.

— I love cooking!

— Oh fuck off.

While Annie and Lou were dancing silently on the mezzanine, over on the annexe, Tralee and Angharad had just run out of things to say. Angharad had all evening referred to match dot com as match doh com. She was from Barnet, which is a desirable French-speaking borough in Londres Nords.

Tralee asked “How did you get into match doh com?”

Angharad sipped her cocktail. “Looking for something to get my ex out of my head. I get so depressed. Dating is less depressing. When I think of her I get sad, and when I get sad I think of her.”

Tralee put her glass down. “Maybe what you need isn’t dating but counselling.”

“I’ve tried that. But I just couldn’t get laid. There was one counsellor who I thought I was definitely in with, but she said something about ‘professional standards’ and ‘duty of care’ – complete bullshit.”

Tralee nodded with diligent sympathy. ““Just not that into you” I guess. I hate that phrase. Everyone said that when I was telling them about this person I was dating. He’s just not that into you. I left him voicemails and sent text messages like all the time, and I know he was reading them cos it tells you. He was just too busy to reply, and a bastard. We had such an intense thing, really it was too intense for him.” She paused, then added, “Noone ever has a second pint of strawberry beer.”

Angharad, emboldened by Tralee’s frankness, continued “Sometimes, on week nights and some weekends, I sit outside my ex’s flat. I know they can see me. She’s watching TV but I know she’s glancing outside. They don’t close the curtains until it gets really dark, which is how I know she wants me to see her.”

“We’re buying a house together. Then everything will be fine. Everything will be brilliant.”

“I’m just going to the bathroom,” said Angharad.

“It’s not very clean.” said Tralee.

The first couple is fucking laughing, the cunts. It’s all so fucking hilarious, except while their faces are bent in half with shit-straining at amusement, their eyes are dead and cold, with nothing within their empty holes except sheer desperation. Life has destroyed these people. They have nothing to laugh about. They’re death, just sheer death.

Thelma and Girolamo were absorbed in their conversation, having found a good stretch of solipsism to mine. Thelma drained another cocktail, and exhaled lengthily. “I’m so depressed. I just don’t have the time or resources to run my own campaign. I need expert marketing help such as is offered by constantbumtact.com.”

Girolamo nodded. “Well, you’ve got marketing needs, and they’ve got marketing experts, after all.”

“Yes, they can connect me with a marketing expert in my area!”

“You sure seem like you’ve got the head screwed on. Oh, Thelma, you are a dream!” He narrowed his eyes. “There is some family history of diabetes, dementia, Huntingdon’s Chorea, or schizophrenia?”

“No, just folk dancing!”

They lol’d. Girolamo realized she wasn’t joking. Thelma sat up in her chair. “My parents were hippies before they became investment bankers. They were interested in free love and self-determination for all peoples, but then they had me because when they were having tantric sex during the Thatcher election they forgot to close the door and all the excitement about the creation of the nascent neo-liberal economic project made them pregnant, as well as extremely averse to taxation and human feeling. I plopped out and they decided to form a hedge fund.”

Girolamo felt the sharp slap of recognition. “Si! That happen a lot! My parents were given our Hampstead Mansion and Manors just for having a child during the early days of the Thatcher administration. They become hippies later, but by time I’m a teenager everyone else in the Prep College is enthralled with our “Mummies and Daddies”” — he laughed — “It fitted right into my, what you say, counter-cultural cachet: I make them my BFFs. They’re still very close but they live inside a volcano in an island off the coast of Croatia. They spend most of their time writing letters about what cunts the Serbians are, even though most of their friends are Serbian.”

Thelma felt rhapsodic. “That’s so amazing! They sound great. I love my parents so much but when because when I was born they started a hedge fund it means all I have to my name is six thousand miles of boundary-separating hedges in rural Hertfordshire while loads of my friends in squats have got their blonde dreadlocks to fall back on. They’re literally all on thirty K a year.”

“Oh,” Girolamo’s face fell. “So… you… you don’t have… money?”

“Just six hundred thousand miles of boundary-separating hedges in Hertfordshire.”

“Mamma mia.”

He pushed the last remnants of his Irn-Bru squash salad across his plate, so that, with the icing-sugar spinach, it seemed to form a sadface. His own face too had gone sadface. That was because he had turned his head sideways, in an attempt to address whether the bosoms of his dinner companion warranted the pursuance of this date in the light of the lack of family money. The realization dawned on him, like a winky smiley after a lacerating comment on a YouTube comments thread. Gazing into the dimness of the annexe, he noticed a leather bag. Squinting at it, he realized it had Brian Cox’s face.

Annie is a ginger twat and Lou is a nobhead douche. They’re somehow managing to out-cunt each other right now. Even the way they hold their forks is abysmal. They hold them the way Charlie Watts holds his drumsticks, and he’s a cunt too. Fuck, they’ve made the simple act of holding a fork pretentious. Twats.

— I fucking love food.   

— I fucking love food too.

— Oh my god we have so fucking much in common.

— What food do you like?

— Just all fucking food.   

— Me too!

— Fuck!   

— I like shit fucking food in a fucking brioche that smells of cuntjuice and dickcheese.    

— I like really fucking gross fucking shit food made of death and farts.

— Oh, I love that too.

— You should go to Cunt-hole, they do a fucking horrible fucking pulled chicken.

— I’ve heard of that. Is that where they pull the chicken at your table?

— Yeah they pull its head through its cunt and whack it against its arsehole until it tastes like acne and measles, and then they fucking slather it in applesauce and charge you twenty quid to lick it.

— I’m so glad they pull everything. If they didn’t I would literally die.

— This wine’s piss isn’t it?

— Yeah, it was seven quid a glass.

— We are so awesome.

— Imagine our kids.

Fifteen minutes passed, and Angharad had not returned from the Silent Disco Diner’s edgily not-very-clean lavatories. The 5-minute notifications had come and gone, and Tralee had waited. Had Angharad ducked out on the bill? She looked round at the dancers dancing silently in the Silent Disco Diner. She noticed that the leather bag at the next table looked like someone, but she couldn’t remember who.

— Didn’t you love the Olympics?

— To be honest, I spent the whole time masturbating quite heavily.

— Omygod I do that all the time!

— Me too! Do you think about Tony Soprano?

— No.

“Have you ever tried to kill yourself?” asked Lou.

Annie froze. “Three times since September. Four times.”

“What stopped you?”

“The thought I might fuck it up.”

“You’re still here.”

“Yes, I fucked it up.”

Lou looked pensive. “I never thought I’d get to this age. I never thought I’d pay off my student loan. I’ll never pay off my student loan, but you know what I mean. I thought that someone would smuggle a bottle of Evian through customs and then throw it in my eyes on the plane, and I’d literally die.”

Annie resumed, “First time I tried to kill myself by… I didn’t wash my hands after going to the toilet.”

“Fucking hell. And you lived?”

“I scraped through. I was in hospital for weeks. My heart stopped and when they found me passed out on the manky tiles they could only restart it by pouring a whole bottle of hand sanitiser down my throat. It was the toilet attendant that found me. I’d tried to duck out without buying any perfume or lollipops. I was crazy. It was a cry for help really.”

Lou chugged his cocktail, and spluttered, “And the second time?”

“I left facebook. Within hours I was clinically dead. I literally died. I only lived cos my twitter feed was still active, and the push notifications started coming asking me why I’d left facebook. There were hundreds of them. I’d just forgotten to switch them off, and I guess it saved my life.”

“Shit. What was the third time?”

“I ate some pork.”

“So what?”

“It hadn’t been pulled,” Annie gulped.

“Holy shit, if I had pork that hadn’t been pulled I would literally die.” Lou’s fork clattered onto his plate. “Wait. Oh my God. Don’t move.”

“Where are you going?”

“Stay right there.” Lou was on his feet. “Help! Someone, help! Porknotpulled! PorknotPULLED! Her pork – it hasn’t been pulled!”

Annie looked down at her plate. Lou was right. There was the pork, gleaming and unadulterated in slender discs in a mild jus. Unpulled, not pulled or shredded in any way, nor drenched in a fruits-of-the-forest frisson. Tender, and, crucially, partially eaten.

“Oh my God.” Panic rose in her. “Someone hasn’t pulled this pork. I’m -”

Her head slammed down onto the plate.

Lou raved. “Somebody do something! Does anyone have any pork boustrophons?”

The other diners carried on dancing.

“Someone must have some pork boustrophons! Please, help her!”

Then he noticed. His avocado sorrell hadn’t been smashed, as an avocado sorrell in all civilisation should be. He knew at that moment that this was not just some random culinary accident. This was deliberate. Both of their artisanal dinners had been proletarianised. This—

Lou was dead before his body even hit the floor. The beads of light from the mirror ball swept across his prostrate form. In the silent disco, silence fell, the silence of the dead, and of not speaking.

The thing about match.com is that if it actually worked, the business would be fucked. If you actually meet anyone suitable it’s game over for your fucking subscription, so they build into their business model algorithms that most of the ‘matches’ are unsuitable cunts so you have to go back – not so unsuitable that you stop in disgust, but just enough. It knows what you really want but if it gave you that magic person with the fucking unicorn horn and the gold-plated vagina it wouldn’t be able to take the money off you.

The silence was immaculate. Angharad had still not returned, and Tralee was pretty sure her date had done one. As she contemplated making a dash for it herself, an ear-splitting scream split through the immaculate ear of the silent disco, followed by the crash of cutlery being dropped onto the square plates of the diners. A moment of incomprehension, then the door to the not-very-clean unisex toilets cracked off its hinges under the pressure of the distressed Toilet Guy. SHE’S DEAD, he said. DEAD. IT WAS THE TOILET SEAT. THE TOILET SEAT HAD AIDS.

A wave of ‘there but for the grace of god’ wept through the silent disco. Everyone has chanced it at some point or other, but you take the risk sometimes. She, though. A filthy AIDS-ridden toilet seat. In a corner, a silent dancer wept, silently. Only hours before she had… but… At such points the unfairness and contingency of life crystallises into clarity, and you realize just how close you are to an imminent, immanent, and undesired demise. Poor Angharad.

Everything is in place now. I think I’ll have a drink, if they serve anything here that isn’t piss that’s been through a human centipede. This cunt in front of me has got his spectacles on the wrong way round. Twat. The fuck’s he saying.

— Do you not have any real ales or craft beers? I can’t believe this.

— Sir, we have Privilege.

— Thank fuck. Give me four pints of Privilege, wait, do you have any of that… what is it…

— Entitlement.

— Eight pints of that.

“WAIT”, boomed the labrador. Having heard the sounds of commotion with his enhanced canine sense of hearing and having smelled fear and trembling at some distance thanks to his superior canine sense of smell, Labby the amateur labrador detective had bounced into the Silent Disco Diner, and, having been briskly appraised of the situation, was about to take charge of the proceedings. “WAIT”, he reiterated.

Sufficient waiting having been waited, he continued.

“Very murder! So death. Yes. Profounds, is mystery! Yes. Wow!”

— Hey! So, I just sent you the link!

— Oh great! Is it shit?

— It’s fucking shit mate.

— Fucking THE shit mate.

— Fucking right mate.

— Nice one.

While Labby, the crime-solving labrador, had been ruminating on the case, noone had noticed that on the back table of annexe below the mezzanine of the silent disco, Giralomo had gone silent. One might say, deadly silent.

“Everyone! There’s been another murder! Look!”

The shock of mortality resonated through the room like a massive bell. At length, Labby drew himself up, and moved over to the distended form under the back table. It was Girolamo, dead. “He’s dead,” observed Labby.

A gasp swept through the otherwise silent disco.

“Yes. Many smothered. All the while we were concerned with the tragic death of a beautiful girl from dirty toilet seat, someone fulfilling deathly compulsion. Don’t look! Very horror! Many smothered, smothered by a leather bag made of Brian Cox’s face!”

The dancers stopped dancing and held still, aghast. A leather bag made of Brian Cox’s face!?!?! There was protestation. Brian Cox is a beautiful eyebrow made of spacetime. Brian Cox is a delicious talking forehead. Brian Cox is a sea-cow. Is what they said.

“Look, doge,” said noone, “Who on earth would want to murder the delightful match dot com couples?

“Very mysteries,” said Labby. “So unknow. Listen to me! Thinks! Who is make bag with Brian Cox’s face. Very answer! So mystery! Wow!”

The silent disco diner resounded with the ineffable and profound silence that can only be born of not speaking, a not speaking born of not knowing. As per. Some of the diners tried to resume their dancing. Labby the amateur labrador detective rose on his hind paws. “Nobody must leave! Bar the doors. Many mystery, much solution!”

— What is it you do?

— I’m an artist.

— Oh really what kind of art do you practice?

— Recently I made yogurt from the bacteria in my vagina.

— That sounds interesting.

— It’s not.

— Cool.

— Kinda wish I’d washed my minge this morning.

— I wouldn’t have licked you out anyway.

— I can tell. Your beard would probably have lice babies with my bush anyway.

Another fifteen minutes passed, while Labby the amateur labrador detective continued his investigation. The management had asked the dancers to keep on dancing, to ‘be normal’, and the dancers were quite tired now. Their skin-tight jeans resembled baggy chav sportswear. The boys’ man-buns were unravelling into bad bed hair, and the girls’ bright lippy had spilled down their chins giving them the look of Siberian cannibals mid-feast.

Labby, the crime-solving labrador, brushed with a dry paw his immaculate fringe, and cried out “I have been very fool! Many stupid. Now I see! Such look.” Labby became expansive, “I notice from outset, so profound connection between the victims. Is my business — wow! — is aware of details others overlook. Central fact of the case is this: in the mind of the murderer, the three dead couples were the six — much forgive — six “cunts” from the match dot com adverts.”

The crowd protested. Who on earth would want to murder the six delightful individuals from the match dot com adverts?

Labby waved at the protesting dancers to be silent. “You see, you are missing the central piquant detail of the match dot com dinner advertising posters. The match dot com “cunts” have got to be the worst cunts because it is this that disinhibits you from dating. If it was your Beyoncé or your Puffy on the poster nobody sign up. Perhaps you are a spotty disaster case with all the appeal of the back end of Tracey Emin, or the front end of Tracey Emin. Very cunts on the match dot com posters must be worst examples of humanity, is make you think very hope getting laid.”

There was a long pause.

A really long pause.

A bit too long really.

The gathered fathoms of the silent disco entourage looked toward the forceful amateur labrador detective for some sign. The inscrutable canine was nonchalant as ever.

“But are we safe?” they cried, as it were.

Labby, the inestimable crime-solving labrador, rose to his full height, and, stretching his ears to their full erectitude, intoned “You need not worry now, you are quite safe. Murderer making one crucial, fatal, mistake. In his sanctimonious vitriol against the match dot com couples, so poison himself with hatred. Wow! So hatred! Within the hour, he will be quite dead.”

Labby took up his pipe, and smiled enigmatically with a mixture of pleasure and satisfaction. At that moment the final surviving one of the six individuals from the match dot com advert, Thelma, emerged from the establishedly not very clean unisex toilets.

“Wow! Very survive!” said Labby with joy, “I thought you had been murdered!”

Thelma shivered, and pointed to her legs. “I escaped! I got toxic shock from wearing my knickers for a second day running. I was unconscious for the past hour, then the noise must have… I tore off the pants, and…” Noticing the chaos, she squeaked “What the hell happened?”

Labby chuckled knowingly. “Yes,” he said, “Many yes. Is Doge.”

Love is dead. And you can all fuck off as well.

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