Friday, 16 August 2019

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea - Yukio Mishima

THE SAILOR WHO FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE SEA –
YUKIO MISHIMA

It was all going well up until the part where the children kill a cat and cut its insides open with a pair of scissors. I thought this was meant to be – according to the blurb from the Sunday Telegraph on the back cover – 'a work of exquisite balance and beauty' not a James Herbert novel. I'd earlier forgiven the description of the naked sailor as maybe a Japanese art thing rather than something that should go into Private Eye when it read 'ripping up through the thick hair below the belly, the lustrous temple tower soared triumphantly erect'. Eat your heart out Barbara Cartland. But I persevered...


I must admit, I'm always a bit wary of Japanese literature because I never really trust the translation. If you take the translation at face value then it can work really well and produce some magical if not sometimes twisted language as is the case I always thought with Haruki Murakami or even with song lyrics where the Japanese singer sings in English as translated by themselves – Japanese hardcore punk rock is brilliant for this.
Good novels, however, often tend to have a subtext and a whole other world swirling around under the actual words and if the translation is wrong then that other world is distorted and clouded. At one point, for example, Mishima writes 'with streamers waving and strains of 'Auld Lang Syne' and I immediately wondered is that how he wrote it or the way it's been translated? Is there a Japanese equivalent of 'Auld Lang Syne'?

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea by Yukio Mishima is about meaning but what that meaning might be is open to translation. It's many stories within one with each of these stories themselves being multi-layered. To go by the title of the book, the main story is in regard to the sailor although he is just one of the characters and not necessarily the main one, there also being the mother and the son.
It is also about the sea, about glory, about children, pride, destiny, love, life, death and allegory. The film it was made into in 1976 starring Sarah Miles and Kris Kristofferson is weirdly good but at the same time strangely awful. After finishing reading it, the book lingers in the mind because of it being such a conundrum. Is there a relationship here between Yukio Mishima and Ayn Rand, I wonder? Is The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea Yukio Mishima's suicide note written thirteen years before he famously committed hara kiri?
I think it might be.
John Serpico

Monday, 12 August 2019

Riot. Strike. Riot - Joshua Clover

RIOT. STRIKE. RIOT – JOSHUA CLOVER

A riot is not an end unto itself but a means to an end, and what that end might be is the question that needs to be considered. Whether this has always been the case is something for historians to answer but certainly it is how things are today. According to Joshua Clover in his book Riot. Strike. Riot in the past the strike was the method by which workers would have their demands met, and this is very true. The world, however, has changed and nowadays what a strike can achieve has been reduced due to the way economics has been re-arranged. That's not to say the strike is absolutely ineffective or redundant as a tool of action, it's just that the demands a strike can call for have been contained and bracketed.


Clover's book is a complicated dissertation using the language of academia to posit ideas on how we might move toward what is essentially a revolutionary horizon. On reading it, if you don't have the will or that compulsion to move toward that horizon then you're probably going to fall after the first chapter because it's pretty hard going. At times it seems even a little strange to apply such intellectualism to a subject such as riots but then – why not? Are we meant to be intimidated by intellectualism? Are we meant to be intimidated by a riot and see it only as something to be condemned?

Whilst cutting a picaresque swathe through the jungle of words there are some really good points to be found, not only all of Clover's alone but many he has drawn from other sources to embolden his own. Regarding the police, for example, he quotes Guy Debord: 'What is a policeman? He is the commodity's active servant, the man fully subsumed by the commodity, by whose efforts a given product of human labour remains a commodity with the magical property of being paid for. Looting instantly undermines the commodity as such, and it also exposes its ultimate logic: the army, the police and the other specialised forces possessed of the State's monopoly on armed violence.'
The conclusion being that the police now stand in the place of the economy, the violence of the commodity made flesh.

Expounding upon this, the strike is applicable to the production phase of capital and the riot is applicable to the consuming and purchasing phase. Looting is still a form of purchasing except the payment is zero. During any so-called 'food riot' of old, the seizing of food by the mob was market regulation, much as exporting food in the midst of dearth is market regulation. Rather than the price being set by those who would profit and rather the market holding sovereignty, it is instead the mob who set the price and who command sovereignty, this same reversal being exemplified during the Gordon Riots of 1780 where the breached wall of Newgate Prison was signed 'His Majesty, King Mob'.


Given that the market was meant to provide full employment and a kind of equality for all, it should by now be abundantly clear that it does no such thing. The ranks of the excluded are swelling and the State can no longer purchase the social peace. It is all stick and no carrots, as Clover puts it. For the lumpenproletariat to strike is not an option and nor has it ever been which is why it is from them that any insurrection will find its urban spearhead.
Being surplus to requirement all that can be done is to hold the lumpenproletariat in check as effectively and as cheaply as possible so as not to impede upon the functioning of the market, the tool for this being the constant threat and constant use of State violence. It's no accident that the prison population is dominated by the workless poor.
'The riot,' writes Clover 'is the other of incarceration. That is to say, it is a consequence of and response to inexorable and intensifying regimes of exclusion, superfluidity, lack of access to goods and State surveillance and violence, along with the State's inability to apportion resources toward the social peace.'
Whilst public services are withered away under the guise of austerity measures or those that might generate a profit sold off and privatised, the services and institutions that money is always found for is the police and prisons. Again, it's no accident.

Of examples of the revolutionary horizon to be moved toward, Clover cites the Paris Commune of 1871 as an example along with the more recent Occupy movement though he's actually very critical of Occupy and pulls it up on some of its (many) failings. Ultimately, there is no blueprint of how to get to where we need to go and even no blueprint of where exactly that is. One thing for sure, however, is that the way things are now and the way things are going is not sustainable and simply cannot continue. Unless, that is, we want to turn the world (or even just the UK?) into a vast sub-North Korean super-state in which self interest is the guiding star, where laissez faire capitalism has free reign and profit is the be all and end all. Where nature and the environment is incidental and just something else to be exploited, where we are ruled over for the benefit of an elite 1% and the other 99% can go hang, or go beg, or go starve, or as writer Whittaker Chambers once put it: 'To a gas chamber – go!'.

The self-serving elite along with all those who benefit from the crumbs from their table must be brought to heel, and this task must fall to those who have no or very little investment in the way things are. The dispossessed. The lumpenproletariat. The excluded. The mob. Call them what you like but the important thing is not to fear them and not to fear a riot unless of course you are part of that 1% or a lickspittle of theirs. Then yes, be afraid because the end game is here. We are in it. Riots are inevitable and the mob is coming. His Majesty, King Mob is coming.
John Serpico

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Crass Reflections - Alastair Gordon

CRASS REFLECTIONS – ALASTAIR GORDON

The interesting thing about Crass is that to this day they still continue to generate interest. It's not unusual, of course, for bands to maintain and gain fans over the decades – take the Rolling Stones for an obvious example – this being all down to the quality of the songs and the music. Whilst the same could be applied to Crass there was also, however, something 'other' about them, something apart from the songs and the music that continues to carry them 40 years after they split up. It's that 'other' – that certain 'otherness' – that separates Crass from most other bands though trying to define it is no easy task, many having tried but then many having also failed.


Crass Reflections, written by Alastair Gordon is a revised, revamped and republished version in book form of the thesis he wrote for a University degree in 1994 which he subsequently published as a very limited edition fanzine two years later under the title Throwing The Baby Out With The Dirty Bath Water: Crass And Punk Rock, A Critical Appraisal. Alastair's thesis was the first serious academic analysis of the Crass phenomenon ever written and in that sense was absolutely ground-breaking.

If any band deserved and might stand up to such a weighty and involved study then it would be Crass due to the themes, concepts and ideas they were promoting and tussling with over the seven years of their existence. 'Anarchy, peace and freedom' were the three totems they had stuck their name to and though it might be hard to imagine now, the impact it had upon a generation was incalculable. It's important to bear in mind, however, that this was during the early 1980s when the UK was in political and social turmoil. Whether Crass would have the same impact today if they were to appear is debatable especially now that we have the Internet – though it's a point, of course, that is purely... academic.
When reading Crass Reflections, the fact that whilst the Internet had come into being at the time of first writing the thesis though there was very little concerning Crass and Anarcho Punk on there is, however, an important point and one that Alastair himself highlights. The research he conducted and the information gleaned therefore was gathered primarily from records, fanzines, and the popular music press at that time.

Now that there is much more information about Crass freely available online means the lens through which they can now be viewed is very much wider, subsequently dispelling a lot of the mystique that had always surrounded them. With knowledge comes power, as they say, but so too with age and experience.
In an interview with Jake Black of Alabama 3 some years ago, Jake said that he once visited Crass at Dial House but that looking back on it he thought they were extremely conservative in their politics. 'They were saying the most ridiculous things and I was just a kid so they were things I didn't have arguments against then. Things like 'Capitalism doesn't necessarily have to be corrupt.' It was a complete load of bunk'.
Whilst I wouldn't go so far as dismissing everything Crass spoke about as being 'bunk', in hindsight the totems of anarchy, peace and freedom as promoted by them are somewhat problematic. The espousal of anarchy is all well and good though the Crass version lacked a class analysis and in fact Crass would always dismiss 'class' as being irrelevant. Like it or not there is, however, a bit of a difference between middle class anarchism and working class anarchism.
The promotion of peace is absolutely fine though Crass entangling it with pacifism led only to what Crass bassist Pete Wright later described as 'a sharp cut-off point to what we were prepared to do. Pacifism was a convenience, a safe, assured parking bay'.
And as for freedom as put forward by Crass, this included freedom for fascists to spout their evil under the banner of free speech, which was troublesome to say the least.


Via the numerous interviews with Penny Rimbaud on the Internet nowadays as well, it would appear that he's a bit of a revisionist when it comes to the subject of Crass, which begs the question: Has Penny always been a revisionist? If so, then does this mean the essay that came with the Best Before 1984 album where 'Crass voluntarily blow their own' – and from which Alastair sources some of his information – should be taken with a pinch of salt?
The same goes for Colin Jerwood of Conflict who after the Feeding Of The 5000 gig/riot at the Brixton Academy in 1987 suggested that Conflict had been banned from playing anywhere in the country. Was that really the case, I wonder? Is it a reliable and sound enough fact to cite in an academic dissertation?

I'm sure that Alastair Gordon is fully aware of these flaws and knows that his thesis/book is very much of its time – just like Crass were. The sands have since shifted. The kaleidoscope shaken. Though this doesn't distract none, it should be said, from the fact that Crass Reflections is still a very good book if not one of the best about Crass that has been written.
It was Tony Drayton of Kill Your Pet Puppy fanzine who first wrote about how glad he was when he originally came upon Crass back in 1979 that someone was at last taking punk seriously. The same goes for Crass Reflections and Alastair Gordon's original thesis where at last someone within academia was taking Crass seriously and applying serious consideration to what they had been talking about.

When Crass disbanded in 1984, everything they had ever said became cast in stone but Crass were in actual fact a work in progress. Crass were an organic project. There never was any grand Ten Point Program and to suggest otherwise is absurd. Crass did not have all the answers and actually were on a learning curve themselves. As Penny Rimbaud even once said: 'I knew nothing about traditional anarchism. I thought Bakunin was a type of vodka'. Or was that just further revisionism on his part?


The reason for the failure of the Crass vision is due in some part to the misinterpretation and reinterpretation of the many statements they made. The way that their records sell for such high prices nowadays is testament to that same failure, as is (as much as it's painful to say) the commodification of the Crass legacy by almost everyone, including ex-lead vocalist Steve Ignorant.
Nowadays, all that is really left of the Crass legacy are the unspoken aspects of Crass. The ethics that were not laid down as black and white statements. The core values. The engines that drove them. The very simple and really very innocent things such as the act of sharing with others, making the personal political and vice versa.

During the Queen Elizabeth Hall anti-Iraq war Crass 'reformation' event in 2002, members of Crass handed out bottles of beer at the end - presumably from their rider - to the audience, once again as they had done during their heyday sharing with others everything – and what little – they had. Giving. Sharing. Not taking or selling or wanting something in return. Just sharing and giving, giving and sharing. 18 years after they had last appeared on stage together, this one very small and at first glance fairly insignificant act was the absolute heart of the Crass message. Admittedly, it's not a noisy, angry nor even particularly sexy message but it's the key nonetheless to a better world.

It's really as simple as that but sadly very few people have picked up on it let alone taken it on, perhaps because it's in complete contradiction to everything laissez-faire capitalism is about? In complete contradiction to the way the world is and always has been presented to us? In complete contradiction to how we're told human nature is? Who knows? Not me, for sure, and possibly not even Crass themselves?
John Serpico

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Fugitive Days - Bill Ayers

FUGITIVE DAYS
MEMOIRS OF AN ANTIWAR ACTIVIST
BILL AYERS

'How can we make the decision makers hear us, insulated as they are, if they cannot hear the screams of a little girl burned by napalm?' This for Bill Ayers is the question that leads to the formation of America's most well-known urban guerilla group, the Weather Underground, of which he was once a prominent member.
As cited in his memoir, Fugitive Days – Memoirs of an Antiwar Activist, there are other moments as well that point and nudge him inexorably towards the conclusion that the formation of a radical political organisation willing to take up arms was the answer to the problems of America, and in particular to the war in Vietnam. Tiny, fleeting moments of illumination that at the time of occurring were never really dwelt upon or considered further but were seeds being sown that would eventually blossom into a genuine fighting force in the streets of America.


'Did you know,' says Ayers' partner one night 'that Simone Weil proposed to parachute behind enemy lines in World War II in order to carry out sabotage? And here I am already behind enemy lines'. It's said as a throwaway remark, a comment seemingly of no consequence but important enough to be remembered years later.
From the calling out of a simple slogan – End the War! - to the calling out of another slogan – Bring the War Home! - was but a very small step, as it was to another – Create Chaos in the Mother Country! If the world was in flames, as indeed it appeared to be during the Vietnam war years, it was almost logical that in order to join the struggle on the side of the Vietnamese, the Black Panthers and oppressed people everywhere that a second front be opened right inside the belly of the beast so as to drive a stake through its heart. That second front was the Weather Underground.

As every good revolutionary knows (or will come to know) there comes a time where you will ask 'What now? Where now?'. Once all avenues of prescribed protest have been exhausted and you hit an impasse where what is being protested will not budge or buckle, you will come to ask what else can be done to further your cause?
Do you continue to try and reach out to more people to get them on your side? To try and hit some kind of tipping point? It makes sense to do so but as every good revolutionary will also come to learn - there is no tipping point. It's a myth. They've got the guns but we've got the numbers, as the saying goes but again this is another myth. A million men may march for their rights or to end the war or to ban the Bomb or whatever, but to hope that this will make a difference is to hope against hope.


So if a demonstration will never force the hand of a government then what is the point of it, you might ask? Why march through the streets and to a seat of power if when you get there no-one's home and you're left shouting at an empty building? Why march to the White House, or to 10 Downing Street or wherever if when you get there those inside slam shut the door in your face then for good measure unleash the hounds upon you?

As history tells us, the point of a demonstration is not to send to those in the seat of power a message but to send a message to those alongside you. The point is not to shout to the top but to whisper to the side. To let others know that they are not alone and that there are other people who think and feel the same as them. The point of a demonstration is to create and present a physical manifestation of unity and commonality over any given issue.

Having marched a thousand times already, the Weather Underground instead blew up one day a statue of the police officer who gave the order to shoot protesters in the Haymarket Massacre of 1886. They were under no illusions, however. They knew that it was a symbolic act that wasn't going to bring a halt to the war in Vietnam but at the time it just seemed the right thing to do – and they were right. The action caused outrage but at the same time met with a lot of approval from the more enlightened spectrum of society.
In retaliation and to show he would not be intimidated by such an act of vandalism, the Mayor of Chicago where the statue was based ordered that it be repaired and re-erected, only for it to be blown up by the Weather Underground again a few months later. To this day, the statue is standing again but is now inside the Chicago Police Academy where it has a full-time guard and is entirely inaccessible to the public.

In hindsight, this was probably one of the Weather Underground's most successful actions, certainly being far more successful than their Days of Rage riot where they had called upon everyone to descend upon Chicago so as to really bring the war home to the streets of America.
Expecting up to 25,000 people to join them, it ended up instead with about 250 – the hardest of the hardcore – decked out in motorcycle helmets and padding, armed with slingshots, bricks and billy clubs. Unswayed, undiminished and unbowed by their lack of numbers, to chants of 'Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh' they swarmed upon the city destroying bank windows and luxury cars, pre-empting Stop The City and Black Bloc tactics by years.
Up against the lines of better-trained and better-armed police they paid the price, of course, and had their arses thoroughly kicked. History, however, was in the making and though the action was a failure, in tactical terms and lessons learned it was a defining moment, though not quite as defining as the other great Weather Underground disaster known as the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion, where members of the group blew themselves up whilst manufacturing bombs.


The premise of and the aims of the Weather Underground were noble and totally, absolutely, irrefutably correct. Millions of people were being killed in Indochina as millions of tons of explosives were being rained down upon the land. Every day that went by the figure grew higher as the atrocities got worse. In My Lai the entire village was slaughtered without mercy by American troops, and in Kent State unarmed students were shot dead. In the face of this, attending another peace march was a luxury and a decadent one at that – in the eyes of some, at least. Under such circumstances, planting a bomb in the Pentagon seemed to be an answer though in actual fact it was the complete opposite: Letting a bomb off in the Pentagon wasn't an answer but a question.

As Bill Ayers writes: 'What does the dream of social justice ask of us? What are the obstacles to our humanity? How shall we live? To say 'We want justice' makes utter sense but to add 'But of course not by any means' is to put your neck on the chopping block. Say the unjust are particularly powerful, as they so often are in our world, and enforcing a wide range of painful social relations, and say they make it clear that any serious opponent will be jailed or shot. They insist on only “peaceful” protest, prescribed and entirely in-bounds and they enforce that dictate with clubs and guns and rockets. They grant themselves a monopoly on power, an exclusive franchise on violence, and they use it. What then?'
That is the question – to which there is no one single answer. And that - right there - is also the difference between those who would wage a war without end seeing millions dead – and the likes of Bill Ayers and those who would do more than just raise an eyebrow.


Fugitive Days is an interesting read and unlike a lot of memoirs serves a purpose other than stroking the author's ego, though weirdly there is an element of that here too. I don't suppose Ayers wrote it as a money making exercise as I can't imagine there's much money to be made from the subject. No, I think it's more to do with his personal legacy and how the Weather Underground might be remembered in the future. Thankfully and somewhat satisfyingly, Ayers regrets nothing and apologises for even less. There is no rebuke of the principles that drove him to bomb the Pentagon which in light of the age the world found itself in post-9/11 is actually a very brave thing to do.

Throughout the book there is a constant theme of memory and of remembering that reaches its zenith when Ayers writes about 'the commodification of memory', inspired by of all things a Starbucks napkin celebrating the company's silver anniversary.
'25 years ago', it says on the napkin 'The astronauts of Apollo 14 went for a drive over the moon's surface... Radicals from the Weather Underground exploded a bomb in the US Capitol... And the Baltimore Colts beat the Dallas Cowboys in the final five seconds of Super Bowl V'.
The moon, the bombs, and the Super Bowl. All placed with equal standing on a napkin celebrating 25 years of a multi-national company. Each event as important (or unimportant?) as the next. Moments in history captured and rendered upon a napkin to be thrown away after use. An ephemeral product. An ephemeral culture. An ephemeral history.

The world turns. Empires rise and empires fall. Wars are won and wars are lost. The rich get rich and the poor get poorer. Extinction looms. And here we all are once again - as we have always been and probably ever shall be – asking: What now? Where now?
The silence in return is deafening.
John Serpico

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Under Exmouth Skies (Part 50)

UNDER EXMOUTH SKIES (Part 50)

Just another typical day at the beach in Exmouth. I swear the jellyfish are getting bigger though...

Sunday, 23 June 2019

The Energy Of Slaves - Leonard Cohen

THE ENERGY OF SLAVES – LEONARD COHEN

So you see a book for 10p and you buy it. Right? And if it's a book of poems by Leonard Cohen then it's a double bargain. Right? Double bubble.
It's a curious thing but most of the poems in The Energy Of Slaves by Leonard Cohen are untitled and undated so from the off it's a bit of an enigma – wrapped in a shroud of mystery. The only clue given that puts the collection into some sort of context is that it was published in 1972, and bearing in mind that Robert Altman's film McCabe & Mrs Miller (that featured a Leonard Cohen soundtrack of his songs, including Sisters Of Mercy) was made a year earlier in 1971, this tells us a litle bit as to where it's coming from.


If you're familiar with Cohen's oeuvre then there are some poems though untitled that are easily recognised such as the one that starts 'I left a woman waiting', which turned up on Cohen's 1977 Phil Spector-produced Death Of A Ladies Man album. It's also apparent that some were written when Cohen was living on Hydra, in Greece, whilst others were obviously written when living in New York. Suzanne even makes a cameo appearance in one when Cohen writes: 'The whole world told me to shut up and go home, and Suzanne took me down to her place by the river'.

Once you get past the puzzles, the hints and the undisclosed and simply settle down for the cruise, as might be expected there are some fine lines here that are a joy to read, showing Cohen at his best. For example:
'I didn't kill myself when things went wrong. I didn't turn to drugs or teaching. I tried to sleep but when I couldn't sleep I learned to write. I learned to write what might be read on nights like this by one like me'.
Or: 'So I sit down with the old men watching you dance. We never found a way to outwit your husband. I suggested a simple lie. You held out for murder'.
And this, to 'Mailer', whom I presume to mean Norman Mailer?: 'Dear Mailer, don't ever fuck with me or come up to me and punch my gut on behalf of one of your theories. I am armed and mad. Should I suffer the smallest humiliation at your hand I will k—l you and your entire family'.
And at one point he even gets political: 'Each man has a way to betray the revolution. This is mine'. And that's it. Broken down into just a four-line haiku but managing to speak volumes.

Leonard Cohen was a saint among men. Derided by some as being miserable and his recorded work labelled as music to slash your wrists to, he was in fact a man of much grace and humility. Yes, a lot of his songs were indeed dark but at the same time very beautiful. Many were very serious but also many very (darkly) comical. The same goes for his poems, the one addressed to Mailer being a good example due to the fact that whilst he threatens to kill Mailer and his family in the poem, the truth is that everyone knows Cohen would never have harmed a fly. Did he not go on to spend 10 years as a Buddhist monk? Which means this particular poem, when taken at face value is a death threat is actually Cohen being amusing.

The words, the voice, the music, the songs and the poems of Leonard Cohen are life-enhancing, and to those curious and open of mind there are lessons to be learned from them. There are lessons to be learned from the way he conducted his entire life, even. 
Today's lesson, however, is that if you see a book for 10p then you should buy it. Right? And if it's a book of poems by Leonard Cohen then it's a double bargain. Right?
Double bubble.


John Serpico

Saturday, 15 June 2019

They Shoot Horses Don't They? - Horace McCoy

THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY? - HORACE MCCOY

According to Simone de Beauvoir, They Shoot Horses Don't They? By Horace McCoy is one of America's first existentialist novels. Not that it's ever presented or even typically read as such but once you think about, it's clearly true. In fact, in some ways it's even on a par with one of the greatest existentialist novels ever written, that being Albert Camus' The Outsider.
In Camus' book the main protagonist for no apparent reason kills an Arab on the beach, saying only that it was 'because of the sun'. In McCoy's book the main protagonist for no other reason than 'she asked me to', kills his dancing partner.
'Ain't he an obliging bastard?' says a policeman whilst arresting him 'Is that the only reason you got?' To which the reply is simply 'They shoot horses, don't they?'


Gloria, the girl who is killed by her partner, is the classic exponent of the 'why kill time when you can kill yourself' school of thought. As revealed throughout the book she is all too aware of the absurdity of life and the apparent futility of existence, stating right from the start: 'It's peculiar to me that everybody pays so much attention to living and so little to dying. Why are these high-powered scientists always screwing around trying to prolong life instead of finding pleasant ways to end it? There must be a hell of a lot of people in the world like me – who want to die but haven't got the guts.'
To all the people around her, Gloria is nothing more than a consistently gloomy person but actually it's much more than that because Gloria has conviction on her side. All the evidence points her to the idea that she would indeed be better off dead. From her broken childhood, the grinding poverty of everyday life, to her ending up as a contestant in a dance marathon where couples literally dance until they drop, the winners being the last ones standing.

This is the world of the Marathon Dance Craze that Gloria has found herself in, the 1930s near-equivalent of any number of today's reality TV shows where people come and watch other poor and somewhat desperate people physically and metaphorically tear themselves apart for the entertainment of others and the lure of a cash prize. Round and round the contestants waltz or more often just shuffle until they can shuffle no more, all promoted by various businesses only too happy to use the contest and individual contestants to advertise and promote their brand.


'I'm tired of living and I'm afraid of dying,' Gloria says at one point, essentially declaring that she's stuck at the end of her tether with no discernible way out. 'This whole business is a merry-go-round. When we get out of here we're right back where we started. I wish I was dead. I wish God would strike me dead.'
According to Albert Camus, suicide is not a legitimate act and rather than trying to escape from life it's important to remain within it, utilizing creativity and rebellion as a rebuke against the absurdity of it all. For Gloria, her creative and artistic leanings are to be found in her desire to be an actress but through no fault of her own she's locked out of her Hollywood dream due to being unable to get onto the books of the big casting agency that all the studios go to when looking for extras.
Her rebelliousness, however, is unfettered and shows itself to good effect when she confronts some members of The Mother's League for Good Morals who are seeking to close down the dance marathon due to it being 'a degrading and pernicious influence in the community'.

It's interesting that whilst Gloria herself hates the dance marathon and all it stands for, she takes a stand when others try to close it down on moral grounds: 'You're the kind of bitches who sneak in the toilet to read dirty books and tell filthy stories and then go out and try to spoil somebody else's fun,' she tells them 'Do you ladies have children of your own? Do you know where they are tonight and what they're doing? Maybe I can give you a rough idea. While you two noble characters are here doing your duty by some people you don't know, your daughters are probably in some guy's apartment, with their clothes off, getting drunk.'
The women of the Mother's League are aghast at Gloria's outburst: 'Young woman,' one of them says 'You ought to be in a reform school!' To which Gloria replies 'I was in one once. There was a dame just like you in charge. She was a lesbian...'


They Shoot Horses Don't They? ends, of course, in tragedy when Gloria gets her wish and her partner shoots her dead. It's how the book starts and it's how the book ends. At the moment of her death, however, Gloria is relaxed, comfortable and for the first time – smiling.
There is no real great lesson being imparted in these pages and neither no philosophical treatise, but rather it's just a snapshot of a certain time and place in American history that still echoes down the ages. It's probably just by accident that there are existentialist themes running through it but it's a happy accident that launches the book into a whole other territory, taking the reader with it and dropping them there to ponder life's complexities as the leather runs smooth on the passenger seat.
They Shoot Horses Don't They? is a strange book but even stranger is that it was made into a film in 1969 starring Jane Fonda in the role of Gloria, which also in itself stands as an accidental paean to existentialism and the idea that in the midst of winter there is within us an invincible summer.
John Serpico