November 17, 2014 § Leave a comment


I’ve got a review of So This Is Permanence, the weird book of Ian Curtis’s “gorgeous nothings” in the new issue of The Wire

Some notes to append maybe. My weird exasperation not just w/ the book but w/ the whole posthumous course of Joy Division’s career – even though of course I’ve lapped up the live bootlegs & documentaries just like every other poor punter – isn’t I think a simple question of having “moved on” from the situation (adolescent clinical depression) that made Joy Division – & particularly the individuated psychodrama of Curtis as narrator-subject of the songs – so fixating. In a sense I wonder whether I heard the songs at all then & didn’t just automatically file Curtis alongside others in my personal cult of suicide (see also: Plath, Richey Edwards, Paul Celan. No, really, don’t ask). I must have, though through the thick fog of bleak interpretation w/ wh/ I seemed to cloud everything in those days: I can hardly have heard much beyond the self-exculpating fatalism (“here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders” etc etc), have barely seen the incredible though perhaps unconscious (what does it matter if it was?) artistry involved & the collective work that went into it (by Saville, Hannett, Wilson, Rob Gretton & the chaps at Factory Benelux). Revisiting the work gave me both a better appreciation of all that & of its double ruination. On the one hand, the perfection of the artworks as they stood at the end of the band’s career – the two Factory albums & a handful of singles – was extrapolated into the glassy mystery of myth. One thing I wanted to put in the review but didn’t b/c a) I couldn’t find the citation b) I didn’t want to run into the possibility of libel, was Paul Morley’s assertion in Nothing (iirc) that this process of mythification was consciously driven on by Wilson before Curtis’s body was even cold; Wilson allegedly brought Morley to the morgue to see Curtis & told him that the task of preparing the legend should begin w/ this moment. (24 Hour Party People includes a fictionalised version of this account, w/ Simon Pegg’s anonymous turtlenecked journo standing in for Morley.) On the other hand, looking over the notebooks*, one is returned to a sense of how little there was to Curtis as a writer & a man, how far the flesh-and-blood writer was from the black cypher of myth. Wh/ isn’t to do him down necessarily: it seems important to make clear that the Tory egotist, efficient public servant**, bad Nietzschean***, pompous armchair Jeremiah & intermittently decent father existed in a way that the figure of myth never did. It was the fallible, mortal creature who suffered through illimitable misery into his own death-agonies, not the untouchable marble Endymion of photographs & song. Is it possible then – & this is what I should have asked in the review – to appreciate the body of work w/out buying into the myth? What other frame is there available except that of the suicide narrative w/ all its beautifully embroidered necessity? There’s the wider context of post-punk (wh/ Simon Reynolds jauntily hints at in Rip It Up by suggesting Curtis & Mark E Smith must have passed each other on the morning commute) & the greater political context of the critical shift to neoliberalism in the western hemisphere (wh/ may explain all those Burroughsian invocations of dark continents – the laboratories of monetarism in the early 70s invading the home territory), a line wh/ K-Punk pursues admirably in Ghosts Of My Life. But it nonetheless seems impossible to get away from, not least b/c one wonders at the horrifying possibility that Curtis believed his own myth, looked at the black mirror of the Factory LPs & saw himself, finally Bowie-sized, larger than life****.

* wh/ don’t really deserve the production treatment they get here. Unlike similar recent publications, most obviously Jarman’s sketchbooks, they were obviously used w/out any sense of their aesthetic qualities; nor were they really used as laboratories for ideas – there are surprisingly few lists or non-song fragments or notes in these notebooks.

** another unincluded tangent suggested parallels between Curtis & other successful, long-lived writers w/ dull day jobs: Trollope (postmaster), Eliot (bank clerk, later publishing), Wallace Stevens (insurance clerk)

*** one of the interesting things about the book is the way it shows how limited Curtis’ vaunted reading was: to judge from the paperbacks gathered in the appendix, I’d read more Nietzsche at 17 than Curtis had read in his entire life. Of course, I wasn’t entirely typical of 17-year-olds in this respect, & indeed neither of us would seem to have interpreted Fred very well, to judge by the pessimistic prose fragments in the notebooks. But Deborah Curtis’ remark that Ian spent his evenings “brooding over human suffering” does make me wonder whether the narrowness of his reading – partly an effect of the state of provincial bookshops no doubt, though Leaving The 20th Century must have reached Manchester – wasn’t a hindrance as much as a help

**** the grim final details of his story suggest that Curtis seems to have grasped his own predicament through others’ narratives: not only Rimbaud, who of course lived to become a grumpy old trader, but Stroszek & Iggy Pop.


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