It is during one of the twenty minute breaks in her twelve hour shift that she finds the notebook, fallen behind the row of steel benches that line the long linoleum floored corridor with the lockers along the walls, which is used by the floor and packaging staff as a space to relax. This is where they kill time on their phones and chat to one another, and smoke cigarettes in the freezing outside air, hunched on the steel and rubber steps of the fire escape, always careful to prop the heavy door open so that it does not click shut, since the fire safety bar mechanism that opens it cannot be operated from the outside. When they smoke their breath becomes visible in huge pumping exhalations of white vapour. She likes to watch the way it threads up through the light of the street lamps before dissipating in the wind and the open night air. The booklet is cheap and flimsy, with a nondescript cover of plasticised blue cardboard, desaturated in the white light of the humming fluorescent lamps that cover every part of the warehouse floor and its service corridors with their harsh illumination. She is very close to placing it back into its hidden recess and returning to the messages and other content on her phone. Instead, after a few seconds hesitation, she opens it and scans the first page, which has two words handwritten near the top of it. Above is ‘times’, and below ‘garamond’, no capitals, and nothing else on the page that would contextualise their placement here. Like this:
The handwriting is neat and small, and actually reminds her of her own. Her attention becomes sharply focused, because what is contained or gestured at in this slick movement from times to garamond? What is the relation that is established here? After running over the more pedestrian possibilities (title page? poetry?) and dismissing them she thinks that actually this must be a declaration of a type of good taste, a diagram of textual or editorial discretion; that both these fonts are at once good workers and modest regarding their ubiquity and their Modern and democratic ambitions to bring about a universal design, and (finally) its universal community. In this minimal diagram these fonts transition smoothly into one another and back again, an ouroboros form, with the older and more staid relinquishing primacy to the sleek, energetic, neoclassical forms of the newer. And then over several years or decades these positions reversing. Smooth transitions of power, mock deaths and usurpations of kings who are of course allowed to live on in exile, out of sight of their subjects but in every material luxury in the aftermath of the states insistence on symbolic degradation, dragging through mud and shit to signal the death of both arbitrary judgement and any stink of divinity clinging to the machinery of state. So long as they remain out of sight and committed to history as an image that cannot raise a voice to dispute or complicate its formal use. Games of taste, of its negation and bad doubling.
She turns the page and finds more writing, this time the word ‘times’ written three times down the length of the page. Now though the word appears in a new hand drawn font in each instance. It reminds her of the way that kids in her high school would practice graffiti tags in the margins of textbooks. The first times is rendered in careful outline, block letters with no fill, almost exactly like a graffiti tag actually (but sadly not bubble writing), or like the heading on a child’s school report. TIMES. Then below it a sort of inverse rendering, a shaded or scribbled series of areas that vaguely form the letters, but with no hard outline - TIMES. Beneath these the two have been merged into one, TIMES, with both the line outlines and the scrappy, ghostly fill inside the letter forms.
Over the page the exact same treatment but this time with the word KANYE. Three Kanyes, one pristine in its form, exactly as you would expect it, one obscure and fucked up and incapable of really holding itself together. In danger at any moment of losing its coherence. The third incorporating both of these - the outline and the shaded form inside it.
She pictures Kanye at the height of whatever pain-soaked cycle it is that pop stars inhabit; articulate, aggressive, full of darkness and ambiguity, making only correct moves, a perfected image of the disorder, courage, energy, and enormous cruelty of his city, his culture, his whole country and its bloody project. And then she sees him as he seems to come to pieces, in full visibility and evidently in real danger of painful death, abandoned, confused, unable to correlate what he writes with the true movements of the powers that surround him, and who would devour him completely if he were to let them. She sees him letting them, opening himself up to this. First degradation and then annihilation. A scattered and smudgy Kanye with no outlines, in constant danger of evaporating across the wide open blankness of the page, which itself is nothing, nothing articulate, pure potential, which is to say itself a species of death.
The third letterform is of course the true one, another ouroboros, another diagram that spells ‘eat and be eaten’. Both the crisp and perfect movements and the visible danger of dissolution and failure; both at once, both leading into the other. Bodies locked into a perpetual motion and unable to come to rest, turning and spinning like the steel insides of a combustion engine. The management of the horror of coming to pieces; and actually she thinks, the horror disappears in the management. It survives as its own representation, in a series of gestures. Like this: Kanye’s body, or a crop of his body, beneath the chin (no face) and above the hips and the cock. The torso, the shoulders and upper arms, the machinery of throat and the layering of muscle above the ribcage and belly. Across this body jewels are hung from chains of precious metals. There are diamonds and pearls in clusters and strings, and some of these must be cut glass because they are much too big to be real diamonds. A professional perhaps could tell you which was which. But the entire surface of the body is adorned this way, from every point on the anatomy from which the chains can be hung. Bracelets, chokers, and necklaces of course, but also older forms of ornament that sit at the pectorals and across the diaphragm, brooches of hammered gold, complex metallic harnesses whose artificial webs and fastening points allow for more and more material to be strung across the surface of the skin. The light in this vision is strange; soft and warm like candle or fire light but without any flickering or movement. Beneath it the stones catch fire. With each breath and soft movement the body ripples with flashes and refractions. Behind it is a blank void, a dark emptiness, and between the void and the body is strung a net of these same precious metals and stones. If it was once jewellery this net has long since ceased to function as such. There is no body that it would fit. It stretches off behind the harshly cropped torso of the pop star in all directions. The make of the ornamentation is identical, and the stones and metals catch the odd orange light in exactly the same way. If you were to un-focus your eyes it is possible that the body in front would dissolve into the networks of flashing points behind, points like stars but more regular, and, sitting on the steel bench in the break room, she finds herself suddenly unsure that it would re-materialise if she focused her vision again. The trick of this, of dissolving and then re-materialising this billionaire’s body, is lost to her completely. She is after all no specialist. But she knows that this is the secret to the ouroboros form, to the games of taste that whoever owns this booklet has sketched out here, maybe for her, maybe for this whole building and its thousands of workers and their collective misery. She considers turning to the fourth page but realises that actually her break is almost done now and that soon she will need to be back on the floor. She rolls herself a cigarette that she will smoke on her next break in four hours time, and then gets up and begins to make her way back through the sanitised corridors. She is dressed in disposable plastic robes and gloves, and thick plastic glasses, and her hair is tied back and contained beneath a shower cap. Then she returns to her station where the carcasses, recently slaughtered with a captive bolt pistol and skinned, move to rest in front of her, swinging softly from their hooks and chains. She uses a large paring knife and an electric saw, like a miniaturised chainsaw, to cut them into pieces that are useable by chefs and saleable in supermarkets. This whole area of the complex is refrigerated, and for the most part the meat that she processes is too cold to bleed. As she works this way she tries to picture her own body adorned with precious stones and chains of gold and platinum, tries to imagine herself, cropped around the torso in that non space between the warm lights and the hanging nets of cut glass and brushed steel, but she finds that something in this image is too much for her, too excessive, and in the end it is with feelings of relief that she allows herself to stop.
First published in support of buddhaminefield. at ge hinnom small group love, August 2021