Thursday, June 03, 2010

Looking for the super-rat

Titus Books manager Brett Cross arrived at my place yesterday afternoon with a box of beers and a printout of the proposed cover for Travesty, the graphic novel by Mike Johnson and Darren Sheehan which is due for release next month.

Back in 2007 Titus published a large, elegant book of Johnson's 'reinventions' of the poems of the medieval Chinese mystic, Li Ho. The margins of A Vertical Harp were decorated with large Chinese characters painted so delicately and fluidly that they looked like butterflies about to take flight from the page. Travesty, which is a novel about urban decay, reality TV, and violence, is by contrast full of imagery that brings one down to earth with a thud. The drawing of a run-down necropolois on the book's back cover transports us efficiently to the fantastic and yet peculiarly New Zealand dystopia which has been the setting of many of Johnson's earlier novels, including his now-legendary eighties tome Lear.

'Darren has put a lot of work into the cover', Brett told me, as he opened his first beer and settled into my creaking sofa. 'His central image fuses the profiles of two rats, and in doing so creates a super-rat.' I squinted hard at the proposed front cover of Travesty, then looked back at Brett. 'See them?' he asked me, in a tone of voice which implied that an answer was uneccessary. 'I think it's a fine cover. Very gothic. Very Mike. Very super-rat!'

I squinted at the image again, and again, but I couldn't see one averagely-sized rat, let alone some sort of massive mutant creature. I could, however, discern the nose, eyes, and ears of a bear - not the sort of hulking black bear that overturns the cars of shrieking teenage girls on holiday in the Rockies in B-grade horror movies, but the type of cute adolescent grizzly bear whose modest dimensions and permanently puzzled expression attracts crowds of cooing kids at zoos around the world.

'I see a bear', I told Brett.

'You can have one. Don't need to ask.'

'A bear' I persisted. 'Not a beer. I see a bear on Mike's cover. Quite a cute bear, actually.'

'There's no bear there. There's a super-rat. Take another look! You probably didn't look properly. Try swivelling your head a little. See it? A super-rat!'

It suddenly occurred to me that the image on Mike's new cover might have a sort of radical ambivalence, like the Wittgensteinian duck-rabbit drawing which I blogged about last week. Perhaps it was a cute grizzly bear and a super-rat! I squinted again, and, lo and behold, a second image announced itself amidst Darren Sheehan's tangle of lines.

'I can see something else', I announced to Brett, who was by this time looking over my shoulder.

'Of course you can! It's good, isn't it? A super-rat.'

'I still can't see the super-rat, sorry. But I see a green man, in the white space near the top of the centre of the picture, where I used to see the bear's forehead.'

'There is no damn bear! And what the hell do you mean 'a green man?' Brett's voice seemed more bewildered than angry.

'A green man, like the ones that were carved in wood or stone on gothic churches in medieval Europe. A symbol of the natural world. Anchorites or noble savages, with lilies and wild roses blossoming in their beards. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. You know what I mean...'

'There is no green man! There's a super-rat!'

It seemed politic for me to change the subject, by complimenting Brett on his choice of beer, by asking him about his plans for the launch of Travesty, and by trying to get him to join the World Cup betting pool I am organising. He, too, seemed keen to abandon his attempt to get me to see what was as plain as day to him.

I don't want to bemuse Brett again, but I have to ask: can anybody else see the super-rat? How about the bear, and the green man? Footnote: in the hope of adding some substance to this rather silly post, I'd like to point out that recently-repatriated Yorkshireman Carey Davies has written a long article for the Werewolf website which develops the discussion of tourism, escapism, and paranoia that he began last month on this blog.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looked at the picture/cover before I read anything, "greenman" or in my case a greyman is all I can see
There is no way I can see any super rats or bears

8:24 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Interesting Ray. I should mention that Skyler sees a 'skull of some kind, perhaps the skull of a rat', and dismisses reports of a bear or a green man.

8:40 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

When I I enlarge it, it looks as though it could be a close up of a rat (more or less symbolic - like an "imprint" of a skull - or something - but it looks like that and something is pretty good...dramatic ...rather Gothic ..could well be a rat...

But both of you booze too much.

Have you ever seen me rat drunk?

11:11 pm  
Anonymous steve for antiques said...

Richard Taylor I don't know you but well said for taking a stand against booze. I'm not wowser but even one beer is too many. Grog's posion, pure and simple. If you don't believe that people come to the cemetery here with me in the 'peaceful' Waikato and I will show you the graves of friends and relatives. Anyway good luck with your book fellas and follow Richard's example and stay away from temptation!


11:18 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Have you ever seen me rat drunk?'

Is this a joke? Anyone who has stepped into a pub in Auckland in the last twenty years has had a good chance of finding Richard Taylor 'rat drunk'.

12:28 am  
Blogger Jake said...

I see the greenman, but I see more of a dog than a bear. A nice looking labrador, to be precise.

2:15 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard Taylor, teetotaller. Yeah right.

10:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Though the artifacts are back in our hands, it is still critical that we stop the traitor Vosko from joining the ranks of the Bane. If these are truly the rendezvous coordinates, you can still manage to stop him. Find Scout Horlo inside Minos Caverns - he has been near the rendezvous point and has information for you -- but first you will need to equip yourself with a personal waypoint generator before you leave. You can find one for sale at any medical vendor.
Remember, stop Voska by any means necessary.
[edit] Speak with the High Pass Scout Scout Horlo:

They've disappeared inside the Bane occupied areas of the caverns. With the coordinates and a personal waypoint generator, you should be able to hone in on the waypoint Vaska used to reach the meeting place. Use that waypoint generator and get going!
[edit] Talk to the Traitor Warrior Voska:

Look, we left behind everything we knew and I just don't want to live like that. I'm tired of living in a hut and chasing around after boargars. We were masters of the universe! We were technological gods! Yeah, sure, we screwed up. Sure, we destroyed our own world. But to end up living in a hut in the middle of a jungle as a result? It's not fair, and I'm done with it!
Your reasons don't matter. You're a traitor to your kind, simple as that. And that means you die. Here and now.

Your personal desires aren't any reason to sell out your whole species. You can still go back and solve this. And we can eliminate this Bane scum right now!

12:00 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Yes the "rat drunk" was a joke [ did drink a lot and of course Maps and Brett have seen me drunk] - but I did in fact stop drinking - I did have a few wines at the launch of Portch's exhibition (but I did that almost without thinking and that is not my plan). I also use alcohol to get through dentist ordeals. (Not so much the pain but the feeling of being trapped in one place...

The reason I drank a lot in the 90s was I used booze as Dutch courage to e.g. through readings etc (I started in 1989 with conscious (very wrong) decision (I was also at crisis point in my life)- I just didn't have the nerve to read until I had consumed a lot of alcohol and from then I was often drunk before the readings began - in fact I was never sober when I read...but the dark side of alcohol far outweighed its benefits.) I also sued to sue it when I had to meet a woman for the first time and so on...this was a false way of solving my solved nothing - it made everything much worse...

As I am now on program via Tranx and my doctor and other professional help - to reduce my addiction to (a prescription sedative - to which I have been addicted for 41 years) I have to avoid alcohol virtually exclusively.

When I was drinking and using benzodiazepams I nearly died in some cases as the two basically either sent me near coma or I -well I got into some very dangerous situations (apart from getting a lot of DIC charges and coming close to killing myself on the road )also I probably said and did some things that - well I simply cant remember huge swaths of times I was out boozing and so on and reading poetry or whatever.
When I was younger up to my the age of about 40 I didn't drink.

Now I - I say the only drink I had was the wine - that is first in long time. I felt a bit nervous... and habit took over...

But alcohol is a big NO - it is THE major cause of all cancers, and many many illnesses (associate especially with obesity or simply being above one's BMI), and also causes a lot of suffering through the behaviour it causes -so in my ideal world there would be NO alcohol or non prescribed drug usage at all.

I was thinking of eliminating from my own circle those who drink, smoke, or use drugs. We have to eliminate alcohol and illegal usage. People don't need either. We have to make people feel bad about drinking (just as the squeeze is also going on smoking and over eating etc which is also a good thing).

Ask surgeons and staff at A&E what they think of people boozing. Ask a lot of women (and men) in abusive relationships - ask a lot of men in prison and so on...ask the love ones of those killed by those who were drunk.

Boozing (any drinking)_ is not a joke and I don't joke - it is a major crime.

We have to not reduce it but eliminate it. It has to be as wrong to drink as to murder someone. I feel it is not too different as in effect that is what one is doing...and we need it not at all. It is a terrible poison.

Want "progress" or "socialism" or whatever? Want to enhance one's own life? Reduce human suffering? Eliminate booze for a start.

2:11 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

So - yes it was joke - but NOW I am very much opposed to alcohol or marijuana usage.

Indeed any other illegal or harmful drugs.

(Exception might be for medicinal reasons in rare cases.)

2:14 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard deserves credit not scorn for his candour.

3:33 pm  
Blogger Jack Ross said...

The real trouble with that "super rat" image is that once you've seen it, you can't unsee it - which I suppose was the original intention. I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of this troubling work, I must say ...

9:48 am  
Anonymous Keri H said...

I agree Richard T deserves credit rather than scorn for his candour about himself - but he deserves only scorn for equating alcohol with murder.

Not everybody drinks the way you used to Richard, and emphatically, not everyone mingles other chemicals (prescription drugs, nicotine, whatever) with their alcohol. Most of us enjoy a relaxo with wine, or (for me) a cigar or a pipe 2 or3 times a month (I hate mingling good smoke with booze - pleasures mixed like that, cancel both) and none of my family or friends have ever been addicted to other thiungs. Except, possibly, in one case, caffiene...

Now, back to the super-rat.
Nope. Cant see it.

6:22 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Keri et al

Thanks. I actually didn't drink when I was young. Its was only say between 1986 - 2007 or so.

Now I thought all of this through and perhaps murder is too strong (BUT) (and Maps and Brett who know me well by the way, and HAVE seen me very pissed at poetry readings -in fact Maps and I occasionally - fairly frequently - got drunk together say between 1994 and 2004 or so - in fact I "discovered" Brett (an hence (for us) Bill Direen who is a kind of polymathic genius in his own right) of Titus - Brett hits the turps pretty frequently but maybe not as much as I used to - Maps and Titus are pretty heavy on the booze tough these days...)... but I take your points. I still disagree though...alcoholics fool themselves - the booze talks.

My point is that if I was to build a New Society (there never will be such a society of course -her are no Utopias) I would bee very strong against booze and in fact now I have to take the position of being very strong against drink and drug use (even the "harmless" marijuana)

For myself if I use alcohol there is a big danger I will become very bad alcoholic as substitute for valium.

I don't mind scorn BTW.

My first project in 2007 and 2008 was to redcue weight -now Islt about 29o kgs adn my son lst 30 kgs - hehad slo previously dropped 30. My daughter is completing a PhD in Psychology and at the time she helped us through it.

The first thing is to actually get used to measuring how many calories one uses then knowing how much one needs and so on. There are various methods - but it is not a diet as such. It is a scientific method that works well. one learns new habits. One changes.

9:27 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

So I also stopped drinking as I also wanted to work on my addiction.

My own doctor had been illegally proscribing diazepams for me fr about 18 years or so.

But the main thing is one needs to build the inner strength to not rely on external things rather than one's own inside power of mind.

Such a positive approach can in fact reduce diseases and improve chances of recovery from many illnesses...depression and negative thinking can greatly reduce one's life expectation.

This is not to say that certain diseases can really only be treated by surgery and medicines etc but I am talking prevention and survival mostly.

My son and I both walk each day and neither of us drink at all.
Alcoholics -and most0oe who din are (ask a drinker if they can stop for - well how long they can stop and you will soon find all the alcoholics)

BTW I read your Bone People through - all of it this time - for me it is a great work - and in it these scenes when the protagonists are drinking are really really the way I recall getting drunk in pubs - o.k. different things happened (almost all of them were bad) but is very vivid.

I read it twice it is so good. I rarely read a book twice. (Id read quirt few several times when doing my BA in English in the 90s)...

I think you go beyond Joyce or such as D H Lawrence (and for my sins I admire Woolf also, who I prefer to Joyce as there is less of the endless "references" and the "cleverness" hence she and Lawrence, Faulkner, Chekov, Mansfield, and maybe Golding and J Carey and even ("Confiteo, o me miserum!) - Somerset Maugham - now his book "Of Human Bondage " I feel is one of the greatest books as is his book about Gauguin -for me anyway...); and you are up there with those dudes!... but extraordinary power in the (your) writing....and quite unique.

In just read a book by Nigel Cox - his last - it had some great aspects and some excellent writing but it lacked that extra strangeness - darkness whatever of The Bone People (or similar high voltage works). It tailed off I feel...hmm...hard to write well..hard to finish I suppose...

I feel Mike Jonson overwrites but he ash some great poetry..or some of the lines are pearlers...

The Rat cover is very good.

Don't get me wrong. Brett & Maps are evry intelligent and really onto literature...not all their decisions are right - but they are pretty onto things....political , art, literature etc... and of course they wont take any notice of what I say about booze. They'll be boozing right now - it's Saturday night - I spent all today losing too long games of chess -exhausting and gut wrenching....I actually lost on time in my last game - rarely do that in a standard tournament game...hmm.... getting old and tired...

9:28 pm  
Anonymous Keri H said...

Richard - I really appreciate your take on a lot of things (and it is very-ego-satisfying to read your comments viz. "tbp" - thank you! It is a kind of low point in life for me right now, but -we all carry on.)

Chess, in my experience, is one of the most involving and exhausting games that can be played. It's even worse than full on super-Scrabble. Maybe it is the death element in chess? Because it was, in certain times & places, a game played with live pieces, and to the death...

What I truly relish about Maps' site (including Skylar & Muzzlehatch of course) is - here are very literate & knowledgable folk having discussions about some of the really important things in human life. Some comments I boggle at - others I go check (one way or the other.) Some I respond to. Some matters are so far out of my interest-level or knowledge I just - go away.

But the atmosphere of the blog (*can* you have a blog atmosphere??) is always healthy & welcoming of comment.

O, looking at that cover again, I see a kind of terrier with a very long nose and an anxious expression-

I'll keep trying-

9:45 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

"Chess, in my experience, is one of the most involving and exhausting games that can be played. It's even worse than full on super-Scrabble. Maybe it is the death element in chess? Because it was, in certain times & places, a game played with live pieces, and to the death..."

I'm playing in tournament now and after day of games (2) I am really gutted physically - if I had won both - I won only one (overall out of 4 I have only won one game, but it is very strong tournament (for NZ) with a Grand Master playing and two International Masters) - the endorphins would "pull me through" is really a massively exhausting game.

It is interesting that two of the worlds best players were also very fit at their peak ...Mikhail Botvinnik and R J Fischer (Fischer never drank) - he played a lot of sport. Botvinnik kept very trim and fit and didn't drink I think.

Alekhine who a chess genius lost to Euwe the Dutch GM in 1935 as - well he drank a lot (and womanized a lot also). He was the exception that proves the rule. He drank less and won a rematch.

I think in the 19th to 20th Centuries very strong chess players could get away with drinking and playing (rarely while playing! I know only two players - one a very strong player - who booze while playing - in fact he (the strong player) lost to me as he was drunk this year! But the next game I beat him even though he was relatively sober... then he beat me in another game) - but the best players in the world are usually age from 12 to 30 (and there is so much money at stake at the top they cant afford to drink too heavily if at all) ....

But chess is a great game but excruciatingly difficult and physically tough - it is like boxing and more - and indeed one is literally killing one's opponent. Shah mate. The king is dead.

Chess has not much to recommend it (except it is a great way to waste time!) - I became fascinated by it when I was 9 or 10 and was reading Through the Looking Glass...which is by Lewis Carroll and based on a chess game... I wasn't very talented but I spent hours studying the game.

And people of all levels of ability can play chess - but to play it really well requires quite high intelligence...

A lot of players - most - are middling - but once, regardless of who well one does at the game - it grips it is worse than being addicted to drugs or whatever...

In the 80s I played so much - including postal games around the world and at clubs - that my wife at the time (naturally, it is a very unsocial game - but not all chess players are unsociable)) felt neglected...

She came to hate the game and then perhaps me and now she is estranged as they say in the trade...but I cant blame chess only!!

12:13 am  
Blogger Richard said...

But you are right it is the death element. It is a symbolic war or fight or struggle. One plays to kill the other ego; (no serious chess player ever really "plays" chess); as if one is fighting to the death.

And within the rules you win in any way you can!

Some of the most fascinating chess struggles are draws.

12:18 am  
Anonymous Keri H said...

I realised, quite a long time ago, when I was playing a 4yr old nephew, what I was doing: I was playing this little wee kid - whom I'd taught to play chess! (I've taught a lot of family kids to play chess, as one of my uncles taught me to play chess) and I was bashing him into the ground- and other family members commented on it.

However, chess - and Scrabble- are games wherein you dont give an inch. What i learned - quite sharply- was there are opponents you take on, full on, and players with whom you just dont play.

To this day, my mother (who doesnt play chess) and one of my sisters, are the only people in the world I play full-on Scrabble. The only chess-player I involve myself with is computer-generated.

So it goes.

1:30 am  
Anonymous Keri H said...

O, if you look at that artwork askance, you see a superghost rat with ?limbs akimbo and interesting esoteric signia running down/up/ towards it's spine-

1:36 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Re chess - I can see what you grandson is playing a bit now and I wont discourage him but..well I hope he develops many interests. My desire for my children was /is not that they be a "success" (necessarily) but that they be happy..o.k. there is all lot of debate can start right there but ..hmmm.... I know what I mean...I think....

Scrabble was always fun for me except when this boy down the road used to win all the time!! He was my good friend (but too smart!) - later in life he became a Professor of Mathematics and Science and he works on the "Organ Project" (the heart in Auckland I think) ..but I haven't sen him for years...

I don't play any other brain teasing games ...chess you can learn up to point..scrabble you can also but in the long run one is defeated by someone smarter . There is always someone smarter and it is heart breaking! My mother was good at the Cryptic crossword which I tried to do but I brother was good at maths and complex puzzles and even chess - he was much better -naturally than I..but even he would have soon found some smart person who was he played soccer and so on...

Your mother is doing well to be still going and playing scrabble...I send my kind regards.
re RAT

I see a rat there but it is Monster Rat - it is perhaps The Alien? I've got Gunter Grass's book here 'The Rat' (a First Edition) (the rat is in profile and seems to be running) right in front of me -someone might by it and one other book. Berloody collectors...

Life's a bastard! But it is also wonderful...

Maps is terrified of rats probably because of '1984' by Orwell...

I'm nervous with dogs and spiders... c'est la vie

7:41 pm  
Anonymous Keri H said...

Kia ora Richard- you're right: there is always someone smarter!
Mary not only plays her two evil Scrabbly daughters - she also wins every so often!

Here's to the joys of the serious games - and serious books of poetry & art-
and hey - the verifying word is....ratica!

10:17 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Kia ora Keri! - we are all now waiting with baited breath for Maps's latest revelation...

I was going to collect those verification words and write a poem with them but I pretty sure its been done already. You can bet your last dollar on it!

7:13 pm  
Anonymous gordon peel said...

damned if I can see a rat. Perhaps your 'friend' has been the victim of the sort of 'con job' modern 'trendy' artists always pull?

3:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

goddamn half-wit post modernist wankers, you sound so try hard

bears have a cranial mid-sagittal furrow

the 'rat' does not, in fact the pic has the opposite; an eminence

12:10 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

But it is a Super Rat - it beyond such trifles as anatomy or cranial mid-furrows - saggisticalically arrowy - or or otherwise.

1:22 pm  

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