Untitled Projects present: Cain’s Book

EPSON MFP imageUntitled Projects are putting on a theatre performance based on Cain’s Book featuring film, photographic projection, formation dance interludes, and live music there are also cappella songs featuring in the evening, performed by the cast, including  a couple of songs by The Fugs. the performance will last approximately three hours each night – intervals will be offered, with the audience free to retire to the bar at points throughout the evening, or to stay in the theatre space throughout – there will always however be something happening onstage throughout, even during the intervals three actors, three dancers, three musicians and dozens of further guest performers in film/video/photography sections.

[Part of Behaviour 14 at The Arches – see here for all details]

By E.S. Sandberg

“It wasn’t that writing shouldn’t be written, but that a man should annihilate prescriptions of all past form in his own soul, refuse to consider what he wrote in terms of literature, judge it solely in terms of his living.”

Sometimes we take the largest strides for the shortest walks and the only medium that can bring our psyches back into harmony are the arts. They tip off possibilities in our minds, and in our hearts – especially when perceptions flee if we find ourselves trapped, co-existing in micro-environments or living in suggestibility. Anxiety and nervousness are symptoms of suggestibility, pent-up baggage that sleep can rid, but if that were lost or if we tried to rationalise our anxieties, neutralising them with words in transient notions, how could we ever re-create or experience the fulfilment and the phenomena of nervous release in intimacy, in passions or in good sex? Sex drives us forward in every way. It’s among our most basic of faculties. The infamous line in Irvine Welsh’s ‘Trainspotting‘ where the ekstasis of Heroin is compared to or even bettered by our collapses of exhaustion seemed then, and now, completely foreign to me. Is it the ultimate junkie sexistentialist’s statement? But who was it, then, that Hugh MacDiarmid termed Cosmopolitan scum at the 1964 Edinburgh Literary convention? The scum that sailed the Hudson river as captain of a scow barge? The addict, who almost blinded Leonard Cohen after the great poet helped him escape the FBI on drug charges? The sexistentialist who pimped out his own wife for skag and “courted notoriety as he wrote about heroin as one lover to another, and in doing so laughed in the face of the moralistic, Just-Say-No straights who were afraid to put their own inner psyche under the microscope.”

His name wasn’t Frances Lengel, his name was Alexander Whitelaw Robertson Trocchi – Glasgow University graduate in 2nd class honours, who only missed out on a 1st after accidentally taking too much Benzedrine during his finals.

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“The only categories worth bothering about are degrees of being. That is the only living thing – the rest is culture in the washed-up sense.”

Now a Secession is like a separation from the old, the forming of new modes and models so to speak. It was a traditional way of outing the dated etiquette that was so steam-ironed into the generation before ours, and the generation before theirs… In guerrilla publishing, pamphlets and folios would be distributed on the streets for free and/or by mail-order. Alexander Trocchi achieved this with the Sigma Portfolio, a new dimension in publishing that aimed to reach its readers hot off the pen. Estimable signatories included William Burroughs, Anthony Burgees, Allen Ginsberg, Colin Wilson, Kenneth White and R.D.Laing. In the Portfolio, Trocchi speaks in trenchant observation of his university ordeals. The critique continually places them in educational hokum describing them as: “illustrious institutions that are almost hopelessly geared to the cultural-economic axles of the status-quo,” and even paraphrases Paul Goodman: “Therefore we see the paradox that, with so many centres of possible intellectual criticism and intellectual initiative, there is so much inane conformity, and the universities are little models of the Organised System itself.” Strong words, and I’d be here all day… But his actions belied the indignation – namely because of his fondness for Edwin Morgan whom Trocchi studied under during his formative years in Glasgow, and also due a letter from Trocchi to Morgan requesting a reference for a job at Glasgow University as assistant lecturer. These files and letters are stored on the 12th floor of said institution, excuse the irony.

Edwin Morgan was a keen cataloger of Trocchi’s releases (Trocchi would mail them to Morgan from Paris or wherever he was living at the time) managing to safeguard a pornographic mag’ entitled: France Lengel – The Teaser, pure and simple. Lengel was one of many pseudonyms Trocchi used in the ’50s and The Teaser, pure and simple was published by Maurice Girodias, who began The Olympia Press.

An extract from Trocchi’s most famous work – Young Adam – appears in said edition dated 1954. Every other page contains a scantily-clad lady with breasts abound and some with their knickers at their ankles, all pouting, in suggestible stances – it’s truly a remarkable publication given the period and it also gained distribution in Scandinavia via SANGKO – NORDEN, which was based in Copenhagen.

“Once you really become aware, you take obstacles in your stride and, being at one with the greater forces, nothing of any importance is against you.”

What kind of a man was Trocchi, was he merely a junkie that wrote a few books? The thinness of his output renders his place in history with the Scottish literary cognoscenti curious or at worst peripheral, his work was hardly de rigueur in the UK at the time. For me, the content of the Morgan letters, and the correspondence between Alex Trocchi and Ronnie Laing suggests to me (at least latterly in his life) a family man, a father desperately fighting addiction on a state sponsored methadone program whilst posing questions towards the latter on a spiritual cure for his elder son’s illness. The letters are too personal to paraphrase from, although one of them is dated 25th November 1976, address: 4 Observatory Gardens, London, W8, giving us a little snapshot into Trocchi’s environment at the time.

The files demonstrate to me a loving, albeit somewhat idealistic man, recently widowed only a year earlier by his wife, Lyn. It doesn’t sound like a drug-addled would-be to me but I guess within the phenomena of snobbery, perceptions can be clouded by the public parties – namely journalists at the time. Some of our country’s most talented individuals have experienced some sort of addiction in their life-times and to write them off off-hand shows a high degree of myopia. Take hypersensitivity, for example, it isn’t a condition that can be cured, it is an allergy to the tangibles and aurals around us. It’s this hyper-awareness that informs all of our creativities in candour whilst we paradoxically douse them, intermittently, to gain a moment’s peace from our environments and surroundings. Furthermore the highest artistic state, that any man can reach in their life-time, is the expression of one’s life. Cain’s Book details A Life – Trocchi’s life – that of the addict, the skag-head, the social leper with his struggles and love for a drug which clearly brought him a deep amount of adulterated joy. Alexander Trocchi: the man who whilst sailing the Hudson River – flaunting a heroin habit, shooting junk into his arm and writing a book – was able to take drug-taking into a culture. As absurd and morally obscene as it sounds, I think that’s quite a feat for a junkie.

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