Tag Archives: essay

Guest Post : The Days of the Dead by Chris Pollard

The Day of the Dead is probably the most famous Mexican festival, but what many people outside Mexico don’t know is that it is actually officially two days: 1st and 2nd November, and often starts the night before when the souls of deceased children return to visit their families, with the souls of adults returning on the following day, and all the souls coming together on the 2nd. However, in many parts of Mexico it takes place over several more days, beginning on the 28th October.

In this version, each day is dedicated to the memory of those who died in different ways, with the exact correspondence of each day varying slightly from place to place within Mexico. October 28th is dedicated to the memory of those who died in accidents, and in some areas also to those who were murdered, whilst in other regions it commemorates those who drowned. October 29th is set aside for children who died unbaptised and so remain trapped in limbo, although in some regions these are remembered on the 30th or 31st, and the 29th is dedicated to those who drowned, or altenatively those who died in accidents.

The 30th commemorates either the children in limbo, or women who died in childbirth and people who died of old age, whilst the 31st may be dedicated to children in limbo or to murder victims or suicides, or to the souls of those who die of old age. Then on November 1st it is time to commemorate either those who died as adults, or all souls together. Usually November 2nd is the day to celebrate all the deceased together.

So, why such a strange and confused system? This is actually due to the continuation of an ancient tradition from Aztec mythology that has survived in somewhat garbled form. For the Aztecs there were several possible locations for the afterlife, and which one you went to depended not on your moral behaviour in life, but simply on how you died.

Tlalocan, the watery paradise full of trees and flowers, ruled by the Rain God Tlaloc, was the first paradise, and received those who drowned or were killed by lightning. Tonatiuhichan, or Ilhuicatl-Tonatiuh dwelling place of the Sun God Tonatiuh, was the highest paradise and welcomed warriors who died in battle, women who died in childbirth and the victims of ritual sacrifice. Chichihualcuauhco “Place of the Breast Tree” was where the souls of babies went, to drink milk from the breasts that grew like fruit on this tree, before being reincarnated on earth. Mictlan was the common underworld, ruled by Mictlantecuhtli and Mictlancíhuatl, Lord and Lady of the Underworld.

There were in fact several more afterlife locations, but these seem to have been lost along the way. Nevertheless, all of Mexico celebrates the souls of dead children and dead adults on separate days, and pays their respects to Mictlantecuhtli and Mictlancihuatl at this time of year.

*

Chris Pollard lives and works in Mexico. He gave me my Santa Muerte statue as a gift for which I am grateful.

DAMNED FINGERS [22.7.15]

If this is about the rabid monkeys hurling their shit around, well, they’ve gone over the wall. Now, where was I? Oh yes, …

I admit that there are times when I feel that my way of seeing the world is like staring into a thick, dark bank of smog, and that the modern world appears to be systematically fashioned to perplex me. If I was being honest, there are moments where I feel the sudden weightless and sickly feeling of missing a step. Like tripping over in a fugue state, as I drop to sleep. I do not believe that I am alone in this sensation and while I believe speculation is important, I have an innate suspicion towards those who feel conviction enough to never question their beliefs, or those of the society they live within. Especially those convictions built on a foundation other than personal experience and observation. Yet, even then, we are told that memories lie and we cannot rely on our own internal movie.

It is commonplace to stand under the golden shower of contradictory information with our mouths open, waiting to be the first to taste the brand new easily-forgotten narrative of the week while allowing ourselves to be swallowed up in the ever-shifting cultural sands. Reality is dancing towards the head of pin, where all relevant information is instantly as redundant as yesterday’s news in a clash between the primal urge to consume and the scarcity of tangible experiences. The confusion is enough to undermine any certainty that life has thrown against us to see if it sticks. That the fragile theatre set has yet to fall down upon our heads is a constant and pleasant surprise.

A cinematic expression of the muddleheaded funk foisted upon us occurs in the trope of the crisis of identity for protagonists in neo-noir films, using all manner of psychological sickness from amnesia (Memento, 2002) to repressed or split personalities (Fight Club, 1999) and suppressed memories (Blade Runner, 1982/Shutter Island, 2010). All of the poor bastards who end up as main characters in one of the darkest and delirious sub-genres in film are forced into an investigation that climaxes in a confrontation with the naked truth of their souls as the world they have created around themselves collapses like the painted cardboard city it really is. Whether the catalyst is a “cigarette burn“, or an origami unicorn. As the walls inside their heads tumble, there is a single moment in each film where that dread confusion crosses their faces. In the aftermath of this personal apocalypse, some let the fantasy engulf them once more as the knowledge of reality is too heavy to bear, others run howling mad down the corridors of the new found prison of truth.

Yet like a neo-noir plot, a man may quietly wonder in an act of rebellious speculation in front of his computer screen, at how purposefully might the consensual bafflement be directed? To what end would a real life nasty Keyser Söze encourage society to be hoodwinked into a head spin for?

The famous hypnotherapist, Milton Erickson, once said :

“In all my techniques, almost all, there is a confusion”.

Erickson had discovered than when a habit or common pattern is broken from the way it has always played out before, then the baffled subject is momentarily dazed and the desperate mind grasps around frantically for any relief of certainty to hang on to, just long enough for someone to exploit. Whether that person be a benign therapist with your best interests at heart, a Russian thief, or someone in authority ready to manipulate society’s lack of direction.

Last year, the British documentary maker, Adam Curtis, produced a short film for the BBC’s satirical series Newswipe on the avant garde art world’s influence on Russian politics and the parallels to our own that seems to encapsulate Erickson’s disorientating formula. As Curtis ominously declares at the climax :

… it means that we as individuals become ever more powerless, unable to challenge anything, because we live in a state of confusion and uncertainty. To which the response is ‘Oh Dear‘. But that’s what they want you to say.

The effect of the bafflement is (surprise, surprise) manipulation, compliance and control in order to maintain the experimental narrative and thereby perpetuating the broken crony-capitalistic system and all the crimes of necessity that keep it functioning while it gobbles down its own tail. Yet, I suspect that if it is not all just an opportunistic grab as the chance presents itself, that no one, not the ancient and canny investor, the educated multilingual MI6 agent, nor the ambitious suited sociopathic trader, really has the faintest fucking clue of what is actually going on in an increasing complex and bewildering geopolitical world, where, like chaos theory, an economic dying butterfly flapping its wings in Greece can give American stock markets an attack of indigestion. That the big shits at the top whisper their fear in the dead of night into clean white cotton pillows. That neurotic fear, masked with cocaine and power, is the sweat drenched nightmare that someday somebody lets the cat out of the bag, when the world finds out that they are all just pretending and the little emperors do indeed have no clothes.

Move along now, people. Nothing to see here. Just a troop of rabid monkeys, throwing feces and leaping over a wall.

SCI-FI EYES#13

“They’re trying to kill me,” Yossarian told him calmly.
“No one’s trying to kill you,” Clevinger cried.
“Then why are they shooting at me?” Yossarian asked.
“They’re shooting at everyone,” Clevinger answered. “They’re trying to kill everyone.”
“And what difference does that make?”

– Catch-22, Joseph Heller

I warn you now, ladies and germs – these words are the ranting of a madman. A loon, a nutcase, a dancer to his own tune, a paranoid, an eccentric, a fruitcake, a psycho, a headbanger, and a basket case. Truly. The person writing this post should have his head transplanted. Soon, severed heads in jars – carried by drones – will be flying across the skies of our cities shitting brain fluid and antisocial thoughts onto the heads of commuters like whirring glass pigeons. Mark my words.

“But how did this jolly chap’s solid and stable sense of self snap like the neck of a little baby sparrow in the jaws of a feral cat?” he asks himself in a jeer that sounds too close to Napoleon XIV for comfort.

He keeps quiet – communicating telepathically to the voices in his head. He answers that he was NOT driven slowly mad by the constant flux and deluge of confusing and contrary information that he allowed to seep – drip by drip – into his life while staring at a screen. No, sirree. That response would be a particularly incorrect, lazy and cowardly answer. The digital asylum’s water hose is the system, the tool of the mental unraveling – not the cause.

That dubious honour goes to the huge amount of stubborn conviction at the way that life is and the lack of so much evident doubt and mystery. All that staid certainty is depressing enough to make you want to steal a plane and fly it into a mountain.

Language – our one hope of expressing all the truly corrupt parts of ourselves before they explode into a more violent outburst – is naturally in a state of flux, buoyed on the ebb and flow of whichever rotten and necessary enemy happens to be proving itself a nuisance, but now, language has been locked away and force fed a prescription of antidepressants and mood enhancers supplied to it by the STRESS INDUSTRY in an attempt to keep its influence on thought “correct“. The lexicon-enforcers have strong-armed linguistics into static positivity. Being a connoisseur of propaganda, I cannot help but be awed by the subtle levels of ideology pouring onto our heads like the waters of a cultural baptism.

For those heretics who find reality to be deeply suspect, others’ certainty of the value behind life is pure madness. In between the cracks of induced confusion a little cultural brain tumour is growing.

It is no wonder the STRESS INDUSTRY is exploiting the delirium and is doing its damnedest to make us all drug addicts by consistently hammering us with the lie that stress is a bad thing (which makes us all get even more stressed that we cannot relax and do not have time to mindfully contemplate our wasted lives), as opposed to stress being a necessity for us to overcome. It is no wonder that kids on a cocktail of pills decide to bring WAR to their schools as a way of making everyone shut up. All this talk of STRESS IS MAKING ME FUCKING STRESSED SO JUST BUTTON IT, YOU BASTARDS. GOING BESERK

Ahem, …

All this certainty flying around – like a mental magpie stealing shiny thoughts – reeks of Utopian thinking at its most pernicious and as all such experiments in history have shown us their end in bloodshed, firing squads and the gulag, once all the antisocial elements have been quietly gotten rid of. Hidden little dropped curtains, of course, because while we may shout our sexual orientation from the highest hilltop and email each other selfies of our aubergine coloured severed genitalia with abandon, death is the one great taboo of our society.

If that look at me, look at me, screaming into the digital void signifies sanity then logic dictates that the only correct response is SILENCE. I do not mean a quietism that equates passivity when faced with the aggression of a communication breakdown – that should be met with action and not words. Sometimes eye for an eye is the difference between safety and a funeral. But the SILENCE that is the death of response. An echo of impending annihilation. That everyday hysteria and folly. A blank email. Comments left unsent. A nod, instead of an answer.

Today’s reality forecast brought to you by STRESS Inc. :
There will be a minor outbreaks of hallucinations over Paris this morning. The world’s financial system may feel an increased wave of stress due to sluggish performance of the rigged markets, and worker bees are going to have to brace themselves for a tempest of suicidal tendencies, so hide those safety scissors. Don’t forget to wear your rubber hats and pack your plastic coated pills, kids!

All I can say is … SHHHHHH …

SCI-FI EYES#12

The trees around me were communicating via some hidden informational network. A floral Wi-Fi, sending messages through the treesearly unofficial springtime sunlight; under the earth, with fungus-mail. By pollen and chemicals. I knew they felt me there, staring at their gnarled winter-nakedness, as I wandered aimlessly through the wood to escape from two-legged beasts. The trees were talking – I could hear their indecipherable whispers in the faint breeze, in the pounding of sunlight into my irises. Trees were always communicating through a network that spun from coast to coast. Faint ripples underneath our feet. A sneeze of a message. They told each other of dangers, of food, of their own myths.
I was under no impression that they were in any way loving towards me. To these spirits, even my creepiest saunter must seem as annoying a burst of energy around them as a horsefly, as threatening as a malaria carrying mosquito.
We look to the stars for the alien, never wondering at what is right in front of our faces and squashed under our feet.
As yet another jogger passed me by, avoiding eye contact in fear of becoming trapped by the sinister machinations of someone like me. A treadmill life clothed in fluorescent Spandex, he observed nothing around him. Just pumped his knees and elbows like the well-trained worker bee that he was. Humanity now spends its life staring into screens, to escape from the modern horror of boredom, when it used to gaze outside itself and wonder at the dancing dust motes caught in the sun and the sky, the colour of the most beautiful angel’s blue eyes.
I looked around me at the huge piles of dead trees, cut down to make our precious books and furniture and cardboard boxes, and part of me wished that the sun would strike us all blind.

SCI-FI EYES#11

The reality of commuting in the pouring rain and over glistening dog shit littered pavements lying under monstrous prefab buildings; that perpetual stagnant greyiosity of the man and woman on the street – it is enough to drive a man to dissolve into a cloud of vapour. A steam being.  A film of information wetting all around him.
I have resigned myself to the fact that what my jungle feels as truth may, in fact, reveal itself as falsehood. The only way out appears to be prised open from cursive marks etched or written onto a surface then transformed into sound, symbolic images, painted or sculpted. The only relief for an out-of-control imagination, such as mine.

As I turn the corner, avoiding overturned bins and freezing under ripe fruits outside a grocers scattered on the pavement by some clumsy thief, I head for the bus stop and stop dead. Under the shelter is a chimp with flickering electrodes in his head. He is wearing a dark grey herringbone suit and reading today’s FT. His head is resting on the shoulder of an exquisite glimmering Expressionist robot woman who is speed reading The Idiot. I move to sit down, full of dumb wonder and curiosity. I guess I should be struck down with my ever present fear but, damn, if they are not a unique sight for human eyes to drink in amongst the plastic dullards and soulless that litter the streets with their banality. As I get closer I see the simian chap wipe tears from his eyes.
“I wasn’t weeping with sorrow, y’know?” speaks the ape in a cut glass accent.
“Sorry?”
“There are no tears in my eyes anymore.”
The ethereal android turns her head and kisses him tenderly on the head with her immobile lips. The chimp blinks a long eye kiss in answer to her. Then in a single shittifying moment he bares his teeth and growls at me. The electrical contacts inserted into his brain fizz and crack raging sparks.
I made another million this morning!
I have a freezing instant where I feel the pull of flighting or fighting, but I notice the robot. Her metallic female face does not even twitch but I sense a disapproving pout.
“Sorry, old chap,” he mutters, “How utterly beastly of me. Sometimes my emotions run away, but this human world is just too easy to fathom. I escaped from an animal experiment laboratory, you know. Moreau Labs, ever heard of it? No matter, the bastards turned me into a fuckin’ genius and now I intend to ruin the empirical cunts on the stock market. Right where it hurts – in the shekels.”
I nod trying to avoid the screaming freak show in my head, threatening to wipe out my personality in a butterfly net assault.
“And you, M’am?” I ask feeling like a complete and utter fool at such a question. She’s a metal woman. I am asking a question to a metal woman with a monkey – no, not monkey, be accurate, you plebian – a chimp on her arm. She closes the book and tilts her head.
“She came from the past where we were lovers. She came to find me so that we could be together again,” the ape cooed as he brushed a speck of lint off his suit.
And I sit there with them, talking, until the bus comes. And the next. And the next. And diffusing into the flux of an air current, I feel as though I have arrived home.