Not long back, I wrote about my literary leanings to the dark side. Now, with Halloween looming, I thought it was about time I gave you a suitable present. Add to that it is almost exactly 4 years since my first ever show, and I thought it would be fitting to give you something I first read that night . For a while after that, SKIN BOOK became my signature performance piece, but it’s not been heard for more than two years now, and most of the people who know my poetry probably don’t even realise it’s there. Since then it’s been through a lot of editing that has, I hope, ironed out its creases. Click the fabulous cover (by Sarah E Melville) below to download a freshly edited pdf,
SKIN BOOK is one of those pieces I find it hard to classify. I have called it variously a poem, a flash novel, and a series of vignettes, but I’m still not sure which if any of these it is. It’s much easier to say what it is in terms of content. It’s the story of two unlovable people who find love together. One is a woman who keeps a diary made from the skin of the abusive brother she killed when she was 12 years old. The other is a man who haunts the subway system lusting and frotting strangers because he can’t bring himself to have any form of genuine contact with another person.
The message is a simple one – nobody is outside of the possibility of love. In a way it is one of the most straihtforward forms of transgressive literature – creating of characters who are beyond the pale in some way or other, and then treating them as one would a person who conforms to our ideas of normality, as a direct provocation to the reader’s preconceptions of where their own horizons and moral taxonomies are set.
One of the most exceptional examples of this is Gabrielle Wittkop’s exquisite, sensitive, lyrical novel The Necrophiliac.
In particular, in SKIN BOOK, as well as questioning our preconceptions about who is capbale of feeling love and who is a suitable object of affectin, I push our ideas of victim and perpetrator. Like much transgressive literature, there is absolutely no fixed agenda behind this save for the unfixing of other agendas. The presentation of morally inflammatory material as morally neutral is one of the cornerstones of transgressive technique. Not necessarily because all transgressive art seeks to erase the concept of morality, but because it is good for every moral assumption, even the most deeply rooted, to be questioned so that whatever the outcome someone reaches, it at least holds up under scrutiny. And a neutral presentation is often a more effective way to creep under the skin of assumption than a glamourisation of the obscene (though that, too, is a very valid way of proceeding), whcih can cause moral sores to cauterise and scab over in defence rather than release their pus.
I will come back to the subject of transgression again, because it deserves a longer treatment than I can give it here. But for now, for those intrigued by teh concept of anthropodermic bibliopegy, here is a list of ten real life books bound with human skin.