|About the Book|
Of Dead Silences by Michael McAloranThe key to this book, at least for me, resonates in the empty space of a lock.Like everything Ive read of McAlorans the identification with the key hole quivers with pain and a kind of sensuous despair. Heres a verso page from the first of two sections.TO BLADEHead of rusted locksThere adrift yet there is nowhereDroplet to breath unto blade as on it goesTo nowhere onwardDEAD FIELDSVice in a vacant fieldOf absent vapoursAmputee light of ghost limbsShearing the flesh to reckless absoluteThe first title and last line conscribe the limits of the page, and also the locking mechanism of the flesh. Words become the containers of something empty, and simultaneously, ultimately something uncontainable because words cant really do the job of holding meaning. Not that I buy this version of reality, but thats what the form and subject matter achieve in the context of this book and so the emptiness exists.The iterated form in both sections creates the experience of a long dark hallway, empty keyholes and locked doors. The words are almost secondary, and yet they are the shadows which make form appear. There is story here, in other words, albeit fractured and irresolute. But like the row upon row of hopeless escape hatches, the story depends on which way you read. For example, if you read across the top, the titles start a thought “Insolence of the lungs”. It matters not at all if McAloran intended this to be a sub-story, because on opening the book, I couldnt help but to read it that way. Then of course there are the upper and lower stanzas. Read them as sequential or piled unhappily upon each other as our human cultures would have the mind/soul and the body. Reading Of Dead Silence feels like the experience of the title. I mean, there are tense silences (a key scraping in the lock), there are broken silences (the key stuttering to a halt), there are ecstatic silences (the final click of the door opening) but in this book they are of the Dead.I suppose the fact that there are other kinds of silence explains why I dont agree with the sense of emptiness McAloran finds in the hardware of the word. That vast mutability and the emptiness of the keyhole is why words work, it is not (at least for me) an unending prison sentence.Still, I like the book, and more importantly, respect its power and its craft. The whole of the text feels monolithic despite the one break in the forms pattern. At the end of section 1 there is only the upper stanza on the recto page, giving the brief illusion that there is a crack in this locked door. But the final text of the section reads a sheet metal eye / reflecting the nothing of eye, so no. No rescue.The titular final section is set up the same way, but ends with the form intact. These stanzas dont have titles but rather numbers, so even the multiple reading possibilities become more limited. Its a book that pushes the reader through that damn hole and into the dark of a place where words cant hold their shape, and so meaninglessness takes on the blind hopelessness of many a shell-shocked era.But heres the thing – thats what the texts built to do. Quite a brilliant evocation of that claustrophobic hollow which is depression and despair. The book is now a few years old, and I have no idea if McAloran suffered from depression whilst he was creating the book, and some of his later work has the energy of rage, so this isnt a universal authorial state over the long view. But within Dead Silences it is.No traditional narrative could convey half as well the sense of darkness and silent suffering as does McAlorans book. Traditional narrative is by its nature hopeful- thats what the sense of going somewhere (beginning to middle to end) does – provides (a false?) sense of movement or potential resolution. It bugs me mightily when publishers and editors carp about things lacking a narrative, as if that is an essential part of all human experience. Sure we are pattern seekers and story tellers, but we are also bodies in the non-linear flux of the world. If the body is suffering and without a grip on the hopefulness of what words can do (or the meaningfulness of human life even without words), then life is dark, fraught place.This last thing (the focus on the fact that words dont point surely and steadily toward some external world, but waver and quiver amongst themselves) leads to the breaking of foundationalist expectation. If you expect the world to always make sense, or at its bottom, to be solid, then McAlorans book will break that fairytale. But what I want to know, will later work from the author break its own story of the unrelieved darkness, or the despair at the lack of unmovable foundation? Given the rage in recent work, I suspect so. From my point of view, the absurdity of “language games” to use Wittgensteins term is as potentially funny as it is potentially dark. Which, whether, or both depends on where you lock your eye – the keyhole, the lock, the door, the strip of light under the doorjamb, or the unknown beyond the hallway – or ultimately, if you can learn to develop your peripheral vision and hold them all in mind at once. This last one, well things are still absurd, but at least they are as funny as they are bitter.