(life:) razorblades included

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 My new book (life:) razorblades included is now on sale!!The chapbook, with a beautiful wraparound cover made from Daisy’s stunning image (a photograph she took of herself as soon as she had finished reading the book, which makes it all the more awesome), is just £5 + P&P.
The content can, of course, all be found online in various places for free, but the fully curated (i.e. I actually thought up an order that kind of reads like a journey. Or something), collection, with introduction, is just 99 cents, for all ebook formats
 
The one part that hasn’t been online before I brought the book out is the introduction, whcih is probably the most immportant part of all, because it explains pretty much my whole approach to writing at the moment. It’s an explanation, I guess aimed at people who think my writing is full of doom and gloom, of the positive. It also says some more general things about life. Quite possibly it’ll put people off entirely. Those it doesn’t, I hope it makes want to buy the book. If you do, I’ll happily sign it at our Kilburn gig.
 
“live”
Camus was wrong. Whether or not to kill oneself is not the only question. That would be as absurd as those old romantic novels that ended at the altar, as ridiculous as Ewan MacGregor walking into the credits choosing life. The difficult question, the one that matters, the one we have to answer in the real world and not the halls of learning, is what the hell you do next once you’ve decided to live.

For all that so much of the material in this book deals with death, this is a book about life. It has two starting points, the two things we wake up to every day – that it would be so much easier not to open our eyes, but to lie back down and slowly forget to breathe; and that we do not. We take that magnificent, exhilarating, impossible, anarchic, destructive, mind-boggling, terrifying decision to live.

Choosing life does not mean oblating oneself on the altar of beige. To live, in the belief that it is somehow easier to do so than to die; to live, and to believe every obstacle is thereby behind us; these are acts of self-deception I long to able to perform, but can’t. For many many people, making the choice to live means a daily struggle with, and embracing of, pain, hurt, and helplessness.

This collection is about the full implication of what it means to live, not just to breathe, but to grapple again and again with the effortless simplicity of death and the impossibility of life, but to choose, again and again and again, the latter. To choose life is to choose the unpassable course. To choose life is to live at the edge of the map of the human soul, in a place where every eyeline looks beyond the horizon, and to continue into that hot, chill, black, burning bright unknown regardless. To choose life means, on occasion, to choose the unacceptable, the inconceivable, the immoral, the ridiculous.

My writing has been called bleak, dark, and bereft of joy and hope. The first two of these I will readily concede. The latter two, never. In a world where the default setting is vanilla, acceptance, expectation, normal; in a world where the tragic few who wrestle with life full-on and fail are condemned when it is not they who are too sick for the world, but the world too sick for them; in a world where the grey, suited swamp of the billion walking dead is revered; in this world, anyone or anything that celebrates the full, damaged, despairing, fucked-up and spectacular reality of life is a shriek, a shout, a holler of joy to pierce the eardrum of death.

Open up this book, take a deep breath of it into yourself and smell and taste and touch the words and let them graze the inside of your lungs. Fill your heart and your blood and your head with its oxygen, and go out and live.

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~ by yearzerowriters on June 10, 2010.

38 Responses to “(life:) razorblades included”

  1. Okay Dan, you know I’m going to contend on virtually every point here. But before I do, I just want to say I’m looking forward mightily to reading this and I’ve never found your work to be looking through a glass darkly.

    “Camus was wrong. Whether or not to kill oneself is not the only question…is what the hell you do next once you’ve decided to live.”

    No, Camus was right. Until people work out why we are here, then everything we do has a hollowness about it. I haven’t decided to live as a definitive, peremptory act, merely that I am just too scared to allow myself to pass over in dying and death. Ever. Now and for all the future. It won’t change. I won’t ever ask for release. (Of course if the mind goes in senility, then I cease to have any say in the matter anyway). Given this fear that propels me forward into life, I spend that life trying to plot the outlines and the cartography of that fear, of the co-ordinates of death itself, forever looking over my shoulder. (Am I a bleak and dark person? I don’t think so, but that’s for others to decide). My art is a sandwich board bearing the motto ‘The end of your (second person singular) world is nigh – time to confront everything accordingly. Lonely old perambulation it is too.

    “For all that so much of the material in this book deals with death, this is a book about life. It has two starting points, the two things we wake up to every day – that it would be so much easier not to open our eyes, but to lie back down and slowly forget to breathe; and that we do not. We take that magnificent, exhilarating, impossible, anarchic, destructive, mind-boggling, terrifying decision to live.”

    See above, for many people this decision is taken by default. They’re the ones an artist needs to grab by the lapels and give a good shake to. Of course, being of infantile mind, they may perish if we rattle them too hard. This is the risk we run as artists. Child minders without certification in the playground of life.

    “Choosing life does not mean oblating oneself on the altar of beige. To live, in the belief that it is somehow easier to do so than to die; to live, and to believe every obstacle is thereby behind us; these are acts of self-deception I long to able to perform, but can’t. For many many people, making the choice to live means a daily struggle with, and embracing of, pain, hurt, and helplessness.”

    Every day for me is like being out on parole from a death sentence. Happy days then. People celebrate their birthdays as some sort of marvellous anniversary of their coming into being. I prefer to mark down towards the anticipation of my deathday, when sometime in the future the black angel will come for me. Everyday we move a step closer towards that embrace. I don’t play a very good game of chess. I ain’t gonna be able to delay it. What I’m saying is it’s far more of a two way reflectiveness, both front and back. Life with reference absolutely to death. The bloody point of it all. The emotions of knowing (which most people are able to keep remote enough as to make it a denial) that whatever we build up of our lives (people, material, creation) will be snatched away from us inevitably. No ticket to redeem in the coatcheck of any afterlife).

    “This collection is about the full implication of what it means to live, not just to breathe, but to grapple again and again with the effortless simplicity of death and the impossibility of life”

    If life is impossible, it is because we haven’t figured out it’s
    purpose against the backdrop of death. It is meaningless, purposeless and that’s what makes it so hard to cut a swathe through it.

    “To choose life is to live at the edge of the map of the human soul”

    I quote from the novel “Red April” about the eternal struggle between the ancient Andean mythical forces and superimposed Christianity that was merely embodied in updated form by the bloody warfare of the 80’s & 90’s between the Peruvian Government and Sendero Luminoso terrorists, each only dimly aware they had been cast as actors in a drama that had been running for centuries: “Human beings have souls to the exact extent that we are conscious of our own deaths”

    I do agree with you about all the stuff of human delusion and beige and the like, but for me it stems from this process of keeping the one incontestable material truth of mortality remote from daily lives in order to be able to function on some level. My concern is to tear away the veil, not to adorn further veils in the quest of further alternate realities and bargains with the self in living life.

    • OK, point by point.

      1. I think in the trajectory laid out we don’t really disagree – we are both concerned with the struggle to make the most of every day, and to accept that life is based on the terrifying foundation of death. What I thin varies day to day sometimes (which goes with being bipolar) but I think the underlying steady state of the dilemma is this: which is more frightening: to die, or to know that one had been given an infinitely improbable and, in the history of the universe unique, orpportunity to “live” and didn’t take it?

      2. I agree we should rattle. I disagree people do this unconsciously. I think they’re simply what I would call the walking dead. Which, if one pushed it, probably has some moral consequences that aren’t very popular :)

      3. That’s pretty much what I mean by helplessness. I don’t really want to say too much on this point in case I’m seen as advocating a flippancy towards death that I’m not – but I think people need to ask themselves which is worse – a continued walking death, or a curtain falling on a full life

      4. by the impossibility of life I think I mean something a lot less deep and more phenomenological. I guess I’m talking about depression, about the physical impossibility of getting outside of the all-numbing grey – on these days it’s not impossible because I haven’t got my existential bearings, it’s impossible because my serotonin/dopameine/cortisol balances are buggered – it’s the actual act of “living” that’s impossible, and the issue is to struggle regardless.

      Dan

      • Point 1 ends with an interesting question. I’m not sure I agree, but a question definitely worth asking.

        Point 3 – Mine and Camus’ point is I think that there’s no such thing as a full life for a curtain to fall down on. That is the tragedy of the human condition. We can delude ourselves that there is or that we have achieved, but in the end, the rug is always pulled from under you.

  2. Meant to add that I’m not saying my worldview is anymore pertinent or catch all than yours, merely that there are other perspectives…

  3. Everything wobbles
    Everything flies apart
    The light reminds us of the dark

    • I think I get you :) What surprised me as I was putting the collection together was how, in all the very bleakest pieces, there was actually a very traditional redemptive ending. I think initially I felt worried by that (it took me a while to accept that I just have to acknowledge I’m out of a traditional mould). What’s been fascinating as I’ve found out more about transgressive literature as a genre has been that one of its characteristics is a redemptive elements – albeit redemption found through pathways that are outside society’s norms.
      Dan

      • Oh gawd… redemption? That’s what I’m most definitely battling to remove from my literature. Now this is a bleak view, mostpeople DON’T change, they are condemnded to repeat the same behaviour over and over.

        • yeah, it really surprised me to find so much of it in my work. I guess I can console myself that it’s not your usual kind of redemption. SKIN BOOK ends, for example, with our protagonist, who murdered her twin and flayed him to make a notebook, realising that the deranged stalker she has fallen in love with also had a twin whom he also murdered and flayed, and that each has found their soulmate. And “the first time…” ends when the narrator decides not to kill themselves but to numb the pain by shooting heroin.
          Dan

          • Um, how are you defining ‘redemption’ then in the light of the above? I think the narrator finds a momentary stillness (not to be knocked by the way), but can he remain there in perpetuity? Does his um character change in any significant way?

            • I guess I don’t find any kind of narrative redemption permanent, it’s always qualified. In SKIN BOOK yeah, it’s a happy ever after (at least as plausible as the ridiculous saccharinoids you get in Austen) and in “the first time…” I guess I’m showing life as a never-ending series of moments, one of which has been ticked off.
              Dan

  4. Since getting clean, I’ve thought about this a lot. Of course, thinking about it that much has lead me to kill myself three tmes, but I just keep waking up back here and, as Camus intimates, it is absurd. Personally, I can find no valid reason to keep getting up every day, except for habit. All the reaons I can come up with, well, they don’t really mean anything – not to me and not to anyone else. Therefore, I find the continued existence of any human being a wonder and a marvel.

    • “I find the continued existence of any human being a wonder and a marvel.” That’s pretty much what I’m trying to say in this book, only you’ve done it in a sentence. That’s why you’re a proper writer and I’m heading out of writing into promoting.

  5. Volcanoes don’t worry about antelopes. That is my final word on the subject.

  6. Perhaps being Buddhist gives me a different perspective. There is no ‘escape’ factor in death, especially if you don’t work your shit out in this life. I’d rather deal with it now than go through it all over again. No running, no hiding, just acceptance. i wake each day, I breathe and I search for the meaning I should be drawing from my life. On the day that i find it, perhaps, I won’t bother to breathe because life will be a moot point. Until then . . .

    • I was hoping you’d comment because having a Buddhist perspective is fascinating.
      I absolutely don’t see death as an escape – but, and this is the difference between us I think, I do see it as the unproblematic in a way that life isn’t. The “easy” way, or “escape” is to be one of the walking dead. I think that’s central to what I want to say – death I understand; life, like Daisy said, I marvel at – in whatever form (even the forms it takes here, in something like SKIN BOOK – they to me are so much better, more admirable people than anyone who goes to work in a suit because that’s what they’ve always done); walking death for me is utterly reprehensible and inexcusable – but not inevitable (hence the likes of Awake). I think, on reflection, this way of seeing the world is what made books like Silence of the Lambs & Hannibal so appealing – I think many people want to think it but can’t bring themselves to.

      • But then that would be the hell that you created. You can choose to learn and grow, or stagnate and repeat. Sometimes the stagnation is the grey walking death you speak of. At others it is noncomformity with no point other than rebellion. In either case, if you do not learn, if you do not grow, you will repeat and repeat. We create our own hells. Hell can be the sameness of routine you lack the will to break, whether it be mindless conformity or wildly irresponsible non-comformity, both are equally detrimental if we do not learn from them. The only thing inevitable is the fact that it takes much more will power to move forward than it does to float.

        • I love that last sentence. I’m never quite sure whether I find the Buddhist idea of death terrifying or liberating.
          Dan

          • Death is neither terrifying nor liberating, merely a continuation. Form may change, function may change, but I am as i have always been and always will be. All else may change and fade away, but I will continue. Death is neither an ending no a beginning, merely a transition.

            • That is a belief I simply cannot share I’m afraid. In matters of the dissolution of the body and therefore consciousness, I am an out and out materialist.

              marc nash

            • I’m a materialist too, but I find the Buddhist view of death incredibly interesting – my comments, Sessha, were about how I perceive that view as one who doesn’t share it – and so it’s particularly helpful to have an insight into how it feels from the inside.
              Dan

              • That difference in views is probably why most westerners don’t understand the eastern mindset. I don’t fear death, or pain, or poverty or anything else. I may not like it, but I try to grow from it, to learn the lessons it holds and move on. It isn’t an easy thing to put aside your fear in the face of the unknown. But it’s very freeing. Hopefully I’m learning, growing, becoming a more perfected being . . . I don’t know. i can but strive and breathe until I do not.

                • You may be right – which is why it’s so important to try to understand – if not from the inside (because then there would be sameness not an understanding of difference) then as if from the inside – I like to think of it as attempting to breathe in the rhythm of another person.
                  Dan

                  • I agree, although it’s not a leap that’s easy to make. Most people’s minds shy away from it. That violent rejection is what really leads to misunderstanding. Of course, that’s just my opinion . . . I admit to being wrong more often than not in this life ;)

                    • I take a lot from eastern thought into my life. You may find that hard to reconcile with what I’ve stated above about the material nature of the body, but I conduct myself far more closely aligned to Eastern practices than Western ethics.

                      marc nash

  7. I understand what you mean, there being more than just the decision to kill or not kill oneself. You can decide to not kill yourself and still not live — there has to be one more choice to really live — to have an active existence instead of a passive one, to avoid the walking death. And that choice to live and be present and trying to figure out life and how to be is one that’s really terrifying. It’s one of those “beautiful things” I’m always going on about — the really beautiful things that happens.

    • Grammar win! Pretend I know English, please, and have mercy on me.

    • I like the idea it’s a beautiful thing – and that makes me feel more OK about reading from the book at the gig :)
      Dan

      • Yeah, those are the kinds of things I’m always going on about as beautiful things. I don’t know if anyone understands that, but that’s what I mean — it’s less of an aesthetic thing. More a feeling.

        You could read anything at the gig. I’m not much of a theme person anyway — coherency, yes, nice, but not always necessary.

  8. This is spookily close to something I’ve gone through lately and come out the other side. I was temporarily borderline suicidal – very borderline I hasten to add. We’ve had a bit of a tricky time and I was overwhelmed by the whole enormity of the struggle.

    I actually posted on my blog asking for reasons why I shouldn’t just end it all. I got so many from so many different people.

    But the real answer for me was that I am much too inquisitive to leave before I find out what happens next. I will inevitably find out what ultimately happens next, but in the meantime the rest of life is a huge adventure waiting to be discovered. It might be scary it might be painful it might have boring beige bits – but if I don’t stick around i won’t find out and that is my raison d’etre – finding things out.

    I wrote a poem – of course I did – hope you don’t mind me shoe-horning it in here :

    Lazy suicide.

    I want to kill myself
    I want to end the pain
    I want to make sure
    that I never feel this terrible again.

    But I haven’t got a gun
    and my knives are all too blunt
    I can’t find any tablets
    however hard I hunt.

    I’m frightened of heights
    and of drowning that goes double
    But I’m coming to the answer
    that I needn’t take the trouble.

    The way things are going
    life will do the job instead
    with this stressful toxic lifestyle
    I’ll very soon be dead.

  9. congratulations, dan, on the collection of amazing work from you as usual, and for thought provoking discussion.

    as much as the philosopher-kings try to make the discussion of life or death a didactic and academic one, it is entirely emotional.

    and that is why writing about the tension, the questions, and the reasoning of life or death is so interesting, because the discussion immediately touches our emotional and sentimental centers. it is truly human.

    lovelenox.

    • There are all kinds of reasons people who are suicidal find to live. Having been there, I am always slightly wary of talking about life and death as if there were even a shred of transferability. The reasons to live are so individual, and what seems for one a reason to live can be for another the final straw, and vice versa. It is so important to talk about this as a subject, and to treat not just suicide but life in an open, non-patronising, utterly non-judgemental way, but like you say, that discussion is not, ultimately, about principles and theories. It is about individuals and emotions, and the most intimate and subjective parts of the human soul.

      I think this is a very good time and place to sum up what I think:
      1. Life is a source of wonder and celebration
      2. I would never pass judgement on anyone for whom life becomes unbearable
      3. We need to talk about these things, and the exact way they make us feel, freely and openly, without condemnation
      4. If someone is suicidal, sometimes it may be right to intervene, sometimes it may be right to give them reasons to live, but sometimes it may also be right just to love them, and to listen non-judgmentally
      5. Whatever one decides to do, some things are very easy but utterly inexcusable: saying or doing something because it is what YOU would do; failing to make sure that whatever you say and do, the person in question is always at the heart of it; doing something because it makes you look good and caring – you know my thoughts on that already, offering help in public so you look the hero is pretty unforgivable if there’s the option of doing it in private where no one will know or thank you. Leading to
      6. NEVER ask for, or expect, thanks. It’s not about you, it’s about them.
      7. Yes, there are times when someone is clearly “not themselves” for some reason. I think I would recommend intervening in those cases, but I don’t buy the idea that suicide is irrational and the thought of it makes you out of your mind. This makes it even more important to talk openly, and to take the trouble to get to know someone, so that you know when they really are “not themselves”
      8. Finally, this book contains a lot of death, but it’s a book about life. Life is the most precious thing in the world, but each life belongs to the person who lives it, and ultimately what they do with it is their choice and theirs alone, and it’s our place to celebrate them, but not to pronounce on what they should choose – otherwise aren’t we taking away from them precisely what makes it precious?

  10. [...] incredible Dan Holloway‘s new book (life:) razorblades included is now for sale and is already creating a [...]

  11. [...] Dan Holloway is a founder member of Year Zero Writers, and curator of eight cuts gallery. Writer, blogger, journalist and live performer, he is the author of the novel Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, and most recently the collection of short stories and poems (life:) razorblades included. [...]

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