SuSSex ii: flâneuring gothic musings on Gogol, Dead Souls, book burning, suicide, Gascoyne, Woolf, Paine, Cave & Banksy
continuing where i left off [on a suicidal note] ... the next day in Sussex we went out to Lewes, on the banks of the river Ouse—the river Virginia Woolf waded into with pockets laden with stones. not that we planned in that way or that i'm a big Woolf fan, we just sort of stumbled upon «The Round House» where she lived. an inscription on the front attributed to Woolf says: «We've bought a house in Lewes on the spur of the moment. It's the butt end of an old windmill, so that all the rooms are either completely round or semi circular.»
some say suicide is a cowardly act, but i can't imagine a more courageous one. or people say it's a selfish act, but i can't imagine a more selfless thing to do. again, not that i am personally advocating it or think about, besides the idea of it on a philosophical level. [this thread continues here]
after reading The Atrocity Exhibition [discussed in the last post] i read Gascoyne by Stanley Crawford [on the plane & then finished in Brighton]. Gascoyne is the name of the title character—a corrupt cop who operates on his own plane like a cross between Nick Nolte in 48 Hours & Inspector Clouseau, with a bit of honey badger thrown in for good measure. he lives in his car eating junk food & talking on his phone, which might sound contemporary but the book was written in 1966, long before we had phones in cars. i won't say too much about it suffice to say if you are looking for a hard-boiled & campy literary who-dunnit [think Raymond Chandler channeling Ed Wood] then this is it. it's altogether different from Log of S.S. Ms. Unguentine [which i blog about here][or his out-of-print Travel Notes [that someone really needs to bring back in print] which i blog about here].
Lewes had a bunch of old bookshops & is also famous for being home to Thomas Paine [whose Common Sense was said to have sparked the American Revolution]. there was even a Tom Paine printing press, though i'm not sure what it has to do with Tom Paine.
we wandered the streets & along the river Ouse, then had a beer straight from the source at Harvey's brewery.
then we hopped back on the train & returned to Brighton. another interesting piece of literary/music trivia is that Nick Cave supposedly lives in Brighton [in bookstores he is filed under «local authors»]—something i never would've guessed. i heard once he lived in Tijuana & that made perfect sense to me. & evidently The Death of Bunny Munro [which i've resisted buying but broke down & got in Brighton] takes place in Brighton circa 2003, the opening scene involving the burning of the West pier [the remains of which are pictured below].
the next book i started reading [that i also picked up in Brighton] was Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol. not that it has anything to do with Brighton—in fact he wrote Dead Souls back in Rome & when i returned home a few days later & Ken Baumann came to visit, we stumbled upon his house serendipitously [above the the Spanish steps on via Sistina].
like the Atrocity Exhibition, my first encounter with Dead Souls was as a song by Joy Division. here's a another clip from the Joy Division documentary  with an intro by William Burroughs & more of Genesis P'Orridge talking about Ian Curtis & live footage from 1979 at the Manchester Apollo, performing Dead Souls [the first song they typically played because the 3-minute instrumental intro gave Ian «a chance both to calibrate & position himself, to start to read what the atmosphere is coming off the audience & to feel how the band behind him are locking in with each other on that particular evening, and to decide how far he wants to travel.» brilliant.:
not that Joy Division has anything to do with Brighton that i know of. according to said documentary above, Joy Division was the embodiment of Manchester. the only [contemporary] bands i can think of from Brighton [that i like] are British Sea Power [though they seem to suck lately], Fujiya & Miyagi [though i've only heard one song], Maths Class & The Maccabees, which i've been listening to some lately:
from Dead Souls, page 20: «What he liked was not what he was reading, but rather, the reading itself, or, better said, the actual process of reading, the fact that out of the letters some word would always emerge, sometimes meaning the Devil only knew what.»
Joy Division's song has nothing to do with Gogol's book [in fact i heard somewhere, maybe in the above documentary, that Ian Curtis didn't read it until after writing the song]. Dead Souls [the book] is a social satire about an aspiring middle-class man [named Chichikov] who buys «Dead Souls» to artificially inflate his status in rural Russia, circa 1820s when landowners typically owned serfs that were treated as property or assets. since the serfs often died after a census was taken, and censuses were infrequent, many landowners had to pay taxes on dead serfs. so Chichikov's absurd proposal alleviated their tax burden while at the same time boosted his social status on paper [& he uses them later as collateral on a loan]. that Gogol's friend Alexander Pushkin was the one that came up with the idea for the book is a mute issue, since it is Gogol that executed [after Pushkin told him to run with it]. it vividly documents Russian life in 19th century, especially in regards to agrarian life. in particular, his sketches of the people & the food they eat are his strongest suit. in fact, the way in which the narrator [the author] self-consciously speaks of the characters as if they were real [the created characters, not the people they stood for!] is uncanny—somewhere between 3rd & 1st person that is not 2nd person, though at times he speaks directly to you, the reader, as if you are one on his characters.
Gogol indeed had a strange relationship with his own characters & his writing. after writing Dead Souls [part 1], he set out writing Dead Souls part 2 [contained in the Penguin addition i read, what survived of it anyway [it literally ends mid-sentence]]—a sort of moral redemption of hero/anti-hero. three years into it, in a religious fit, he set the manuscript on fire, saying after: «No sooner had the flames consumed the final pages of my book than its contents were suddenly resurrected in a purified and bright form, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, and I suddenly saw how chaotic was everything that I had regarded as already having achieved order and harmony.» & as if that wasn't enough, what does he do? he rewrites book 2 again, & then when he finishes it, supposedly [according to the intro & this article] he torched it anew, page by page! & then the day after he refused food. less than two weeks later he died. speaking of suicide. i think it's safe to say that self-starvation takes guts.
that's all i have to say about that. in the photo-essay scheme of things we're back in Brighton. what little graffiti there was in Brighton seemed to be concentrated in the North Laine area, near the train station. not sure who the above street artist is, but they remind me of the images i did for The Hour Sets.
oh, one other piece of trivia... of course the gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello takes it's name from Gogol, though there doesn't seem to be anything said on the internet about where the 'Bordello' part comes from. page 70 of Dead Souls [amidst drunken bar banter]: «What a moustache, friend! He always calls Bordeaux "bordello". "Be a good friend and bring us some bordello."» seems too much to shrug off as coincidence.
& although there wasn't a lot of street art in Brighton, perhaps the most famous piece of all is there, Banksy's Kissing Cops, on the wall of Prince Albert pub, even though reportedly it was auctioned [after being chemically transferred to canvas] in a NYC gallery for $1.6 million. perhaps this is just the remnants of it [framed & behind plexiglass]. pity the fool who paid $1.6 million to destroy the whole idea the work was founded on—like buying «dead souls». Banksy again has the last laugh, just like he did brilliantly in Exit Through the Gift Shop, pushing the envelope of mockumentary.
next stop: NYC revisited reading The Death of Bunny Munro [& whatever else i happen to pick up along the way].