The Consumer BOOK review by Howard Wuelfing
Feb 20, 2008, 23:33
THE CONSUMER by M. Gira; 2.13.61 Publications, 1995
The Consumer is the first book from M. Gira of Swans' renown. Reading any one of the short stories, vignettes or tableaux contained herein, must surely be a brutal enlivening shock to the reader's sensibilities and value systems. Reading them all is either supremely exalting or deadening depending on one's sense of Ultimate Purpose, Big Picture, et al. Reading the whole corpus in its entirety is like meditating; thinking is focused to a near singularity of consciousness.
The Consumer is comprised of two installments of writings, one batch recent and t'other's a decade older, written right around the same time as the institution of Swans. The earlier material is epigrammatic, haiku-like, laid out in short prose bytes, larded with repetition: it is poetic but is not verse. In the older pieces, tightly circumscribed settings and circumstances are moped over in obsessive detail, uncovering novel, unearthly realization. The contemporary writings are more relaxed, expansive and narrative.
Gira addresses a very few basic themes ad nauseam presented with only very subtle differences in backdrop and situation from piece to piece, both earlier and later writings, as well as through Swans' canon up to Love Of Life. One prime topic is Self-Identity: how it's affected by the body, how by environment, events and the actions of other people.
In “I'm An Infant, I Worship Him” (previously available as a spoken word piece on the “Hard Rock,” split with Lydia Lunch, released by Thurston Moore on his Ecstatic Peace label in the mid-â€˜80s) the narrator recounts the features of his body (fat, dirty, smelly) and dominant modes of behavior (clumsy, servile); these disgust him and people around him. He claims to cultivate such qualities to deliberately disgust, reasoning circularly that he deserves this and is thereby obligated to encourage it. His body and others' reaction towards it functions as a trap which increasingly limits his options ruling out change except to tighten and strengthen these attitudinal fetters.
Gira's other main topic is the human race's frailty which he excoriated unrelentingly. The absurdity of physical existence isolated, exaggerated and portrayed so it cannot fail to appall. It's a very Gnostic, Manichean outlook: as if the material world were the work of an evil or stupid god who capped his malign Creation with the wicked jape of investing pathetic chucks of deformed meat-and-bone with self-awareness and a spirit core sticking â€˜em in it. It's an uneven match to say the least. The closest Gira's protagonists come to even a draw is reaching a state of Samhadi: no-mind.
The newer writings like “The Great Annihilator, Or, Francis Bacon's Mouth” are more a matter of seeing how people with the perspective portrayed in the early works behave when set loose in the real world. Typically the results are horrifying, bathetic, and surprisingly revelatory. Gira is not mounting an atrocity exhibition; he regularly includes twists explaining characters' motivation and responses de-demonizing them, connecting them with ordinary people and events. “The Great Annihilator, Or, Francis Bacon's Mouth” shows a woman who'd solicited an “expert torturer” and on meeting with him winds up tied up in a corner of a hotel bathroom expecting to have her teeth pulled out with pliers, be fucked and killed, Gira explains, “Your complicated psychology of pleasure and desire is inextricably interwoven with your diseased sense of self-worth. Ecstasy is impossible for you unless your nerves are simultaneously saturated with its opposite. Since you're addicted to ecstasy as the only effective means of erasing your identity and its attendant self-loathing, you're also addicted to pain and the elaborate rituals you construct in order to transform it into pleasure.”
Here and in many of his earlier writings, Gira examines the genesis of low self-esteem, dissecting its internal and external sources and illustrating the feelings, thoughts and acts it inspires. He systematically exaggerates, distorts and abstracts his terms rendering his material archetypal, lyrical and ultimately spiritual. In both earlier and later pieces, first person narrators are the sentient center of the particular universe depicted; the consciousness of others is effectively non-existent. This is a lonely place.
You are pulled from warm flannel sheets, dragged out of your house down a muddy path and thrown into an icy pond. You are now very fully, agonizingly awake. This sequence is repeated. And again. And again. Again. Again x 1,000. Do you become 1,000x's awake?