Just got back from the bi-annual Transgressive Cultures conference at the University of Chicago Centre in Paris, where I presented a paper on Dante and the Shadow Canon. Unfortunately, the city’s transport strikes meant I had to dash for the airport on the second day, so I missed what were doubtless fantastic presentations by my friend Isil Bas on Mishima, and Steve Finbow on his upcoming book The Mindshaft about sado-masochism in the 70s and 80s New York club scene. (Meeting Steve, the author of Grave Desire: A Cultural History of Necrophilia, was a particular highlight – we sneaked away for a few hours to get progressively pissed, while he told me about working with Alan Ginsberg and talking to William Burroughs on the phone, before attending the brilliant Flying Luttenbachers’ gig in the evening.)
All the papers I managed to hear were excellent, but the two that have stayed with me were Matthew Worley’s Whip in my Valise: British Punk and the Marquis de Sade and Donna K‘s exposition on animal slaughter in documentary film. For some reason I’d never considered de Sade to have held such a huge influence on punk, but like all true revelations it now seems completely self-evident, so I must thank Matthew for that – the weight of evidence and historical analysis he brought to bear over just 40 minutes was intimidating. I wanted, but didn’t get a chance, to ask him if he knew that scene from The Invisibles by Grant Morrison (who, now I think about it, used to pal around with Adam Ant, one of Matthew’s case studies) when the titular heroes have dragged de Sade from the 18th century and sat him down in a 90s fetish club – he says something like “I have become god.” As for Donna, I left her talk genuinely thinking that the random murder of animals is actually a kind of necessary genre trait of documentary film, from Franju’s great The Blood of the Beasts to Disney’s rodent snuff movie (yes, Disney’s rodent snuff movie) White Wilderness.
Organiser Jack Sargeant‘s The Ritual, about Jordi Valls’ (of Vagina Dentata Organ fame) fascination with the drums of Calanda – in which devotees beat drums for 24 hours a day until their hands are bloody ribbons – was also a good one. Jack’s like a one-man encyclopedia of underground culture – if I had a quid for every time a speaker said a variation of “I don’t know if anyone has seen [insert obscure documentary]… I know Jack will have” then I’d have been able to afford accommodation to stay an extra day. At the start, Jack asked us to consider transgression as love and vice versa, citing Burroughs’ (I think final published?) words:
“Love? What is it? Most natural painkiller what there is.”
I’m still thinking about it.
Despite my early dash, it was so gratifying to feel part of a like-minded community of transgressive artists, academics and thinkers. And now, back I go to the Wirral, where nobody has ever heard of Bataille, Blanchot, or even Burroughs.