Friday, 30 May 2008
Breadcrumbs to Peake, Steerpike and The Cure
So this week I have been at home watching rain fall yet again and have decided to give into it all, to just give into the mood and curl up on the sofa with books I wanted to read for the first time and books I need to read again because…well because I need to and like following a trail of breadcrumbs, one book leads to reading something else and then I end up at some strange twisted gingerbread house complied of sweet and sour, something a little bitter in the back of the throat that despite its taste you still crave like sherbet lemons or salt.
I have been reading Gormenghast books again. Mervyn Peake was my age when he died of Parkinson’s Disease and there seems a synchronicity in being drawn to read those three books again. He intended to follow Titus Groan through to his death in a series of books but of course died before he could complete that. I had forgotten how rich and chill and searing the language was in these books. Peake takes fantasy, the surreal and the bizarre and twists and teases it out into the real world through words and a story. Archetypes become flesh and breathe real air but there is always a little twist in the mirror to make them us but also grotesques. Like all such material based on the dark world of fairy tale and fable it touches on something deeply human. The original Grimms’ fairytales were not dark and terrifying just for the purpose of frightening small children into submission they held something of the madness and darkness universal to all cultures. Jung had a lot to say about fairy tales and the psyche, that well of racial unconscious that sits, sometimes a little foul and stagnant, at the bottom of society.
Peake went to Germany soon after the war ended and as a Government commissioned artist drew those people still dying in Belsen. His poetry reflects the real torment and ambivalence he felt at this role of recording such suffering. See this poem The Consumptive, Belsen 1945 to access something of these feelings. Seeing the results of such madness on a huge European scale must have feed into his writing. Human nature is never far from those dark so called fairy stories. In Austria a man keeps his own daughter in a cellar for endless years, keeping her children there, finding her other children as if by magic on his doorstep. His wife cooks and watches television above them apparently oblivious to what is happening under her feet. How far is that from the dark world of the Grimm brothers?How far is that from a witch keepng a child in a cage and feeling its finger to see how plump it has become and being tricked with a bone?
Peake’s nonsense poems for me somehow hold almost a greater poignancy than his other poems, that love of strangeness, the surreal make them far more than silly poems for children. Judge for yourself here.
I was a little disappointed when they turned the first two Gormenghast
books into a TV show. As with all books that you know and love you have developed your own internal images but revisiting the DVD, I have to admit that it is astounding lighting and photography and attempts to re-create that dark claustrophobic sense that inhabits Peake’s illustrations and the acting is at times inspired. In this clip from the TV production, it shows us a Steerpike who is far too beautiful for my liking but then the media know that women love a beautiful wicked man who just might be saved by the love of a good woman and they are trying to maximise on viewers after all. A friend and I have been accused of being rather Clarice and Cora, finishing each others sentences and on one memorable camping holiday in the Cotswolds we were spotted moving across the cowpat field toward the toilet block in that strange unison of movement shown by the sisters in this series. However in our own defence we are much nicer and far less stupid.
Then the literary breadcrumb trail led me to The Cure, one of my favourite bands and their track The Drowning Man that was influenced by Fuchsia and Gormenghast. Everything is connected somehow when you are looking for connections of course. We are creatures of a gestalt mentality; we like to make whole our experiences even when there is no rhyme or even a reason.