‘It didn’t have to be this way’ summarises my feeling about contemporary global society.
Pro-capitalists have imagined, going on five hundred years, that their principles of social organisation–primarily self-interest, “enlightened” or otherwise–are the finally discovered truth of human nature. Having, in the meantime, destroyed much of the wide variety of non-capitalist social organisms, not to mention the ongoing devastation of the full extent of the earth’s biosphere in the name of the free market, the bourgeois vision of “human nature” has come to appear as a grim, self-fulfilling prophecy. Selfishness devours itself. And the world and humanity groans under its rule while contemplating the end of the species–or at least its massive die off. Such is the glory and destiny of human nature of the bourgeois kind.
Following on from the latent promo of last week, this week another collage that appears in my recent poetry collection, sex poem (2022).
I would like to say that I have been reading too much Georges Bataille, and that I am defiantly, nay religiously joyful in the face of death in a godless universe. Partly true, if somewhat aspirational simultaneously. To find peace in that imagined frozen moment. That’s the trick.
If you stay tuned, which is now compulsory since we began to live within the broadcast, more details, maybe even some content to fill in the form, will be revealed.
Plus noumenal prizes.
Whatdoyouknow! I have already used the image above in an earlier post, that comes with one free poem (per customer) not included in sex poem. Bonus!
Two collages this week. The first is a cut and paste job. The second looks like a cut and paste job but was assembled digitally.
I just couldn’t let this image go, and perhaps had a few regrets once I made one of the choices into a sticked-glued-up-thing.
The original image was taken during the Apollo 9 mission. The figure in view is David Scott, the command module pilot. I’ve always dug the fully red helmet of Scott’s in this mission, and wished they’d used them on other Apollo missions.
Why oh why did they drop the fully red paint job?
The second collage is arguably better than the first. You be the judge. It ended up in my recent poetry collection, sex poem (2022). More on that, later…
Not sure what to say about this. Is there more to life than just this? Sure.
My penchant for word balloons is clearly on display. Perhaps it is the dual influence of photo comics as a kid and surrealism as a kid-not-kid that paints a picture here.
I’m not sure about the sources. The text is most likely from a single issue of a comic. The picture is almost certainly from the redoubtable National Geographic–a photo of some type of nefarious training exercise by the USAF.
I made this collage in late 2009. At the time I was a relatively footloose and fancy free half-time parent working casually in a bookstore and stalking the local poetry scene with my tales of woe and science fiction absurdity. Part of this story can be read here.
The usual suspects are deployed here: National Geographic, though if I recall correctly, one from 1969 and another from the 1930s or 40s. Snip snip! Additionally, I used images and word balloons from Madman Comics # 2. Chop chop!
I made the collage, above, last July. A recent effort.
Raw material: National Geographic, glue.
Life is [also] a collage.
The somewhat bizarre relationship between the living: forms and content.
Things come and go. Tableaux. The long and the short of it.
As if life itself can be considered a work of art, he says, in so many words.
How many? He counts out the next fourteen or so that make the most retrospective sense.
Given the conjunct of things; given the context; even more the metatexual, the mad beyond that is nine parts sane.
Is this sentence, with its rules and wreckage, with its somewhere else, is nonsense? Is this nonsense the end, the beginning, or the in-between?
In particular: this word vinaigrette, this collage of the squiggly beyond, made up of various barks and yelps, those unreliable reliables rendered partially autonomous before your very eyes, on the page and elsewhere.
And the not word words, the pictures masquerading as pure image, the given rendered faithfullly.
This time, photographically unreliable, the entire world made daguerreotype.
The original of this collage is lost to time. I made it in 1993, and made the colour photocopy of what you see, above, the same year, shortly after making the collage. The Chifley Library at the ANU had only recently installed this novelty machine—a colour photocopier—and what better way to test it out than make a copy of my recently dried collage?
The original copy has aged somewhat. The white is more yellow, though it could be my eyes. Who knows.
Framed, the original original I gave to my mother the same year. A foolish 25-year-old who thought his mum would love an example of her son’s, ahem, “art”. Mum promptly packed it away in one of her bedroom drawers, never to display it. I used to see it here over the years that I visited my mum, hidden away from any harm it would do being on display. Then one year it was gone. Thrown out? Most likely. Given away? Less likely. Stolen? One can only hope.
This collage remains important for me. It was the first time I composed out of found material a landscape image with characters inhabiting this flat perspectival space—most likely from the insert magazines of The Sydney Morning Herald of the day, or something like that. Though looking back, it is the prose poem composed in the corner that is the most striking—and derivative. A loving detournement if you will. I was a fan of Barbara Kruger and Helvetica; my two fonts.
I publicised a version of this collage in 1993 in my zine Some Songs to Offend By (or is that Songs to Offend Some By?), first put out in September 1993 under the imprint of ‘Fuck Diverse Culture Press’.
Here is the cover of the zine in question.
Note the collage on the left. I used a photo of me taken by my brother Jim, most likely, in 1968. The hand in the background is my mum’s, holding Johnson & Johnson talc baby powder over me. Was it full of asbestos? Maybe.
But did I really play in a ‘cult band’?
Sexpol—originally The History of Sexuality Volume Four—had formed the previous year in a loungeroom in Ainslie. I was variously bass player, guitarist, singer, songwriter, all round head splitter. In that warm loungeroom, late at night, Chris Hughes and I wrote our first songs together. I can’t remember which one was the very first, but from these sessions, often recorded on my shitty old tape player gifted to me in the mid-1980s, we composed the Sexpol oeuvre.
Here is a poster for our second gig in February 1993.
Apart from a few copies handed out to friends, the zine Some Songs to Offend By was first distributed en masse at what turned out to be Sexpol’s last live gig, in September or October of 1993.
Shortly before, we had been banned from the ANU Uni Bar (R.I.P., 2018) by the management after performing in a heat of the Battle of the Bands. The same Uni Bar and management that Nirvana had led a trashing of only the year before, early 1992.
At the Battle of the Bands, we decided that this battle itself should be combated. Knowing that the Uni Bar stage was equipped with a video projector, we made a music video to accompany a set-list of Sexpol songs recorded during a jam. Thus armed, we recruited friends to join us onstage as the Sexpol Dancers. Dressed in red and black stockinged heads, tops, bottoms and feet, we hit the stage as the band was announced and the video began to play. Above us, on the electronic altar of the projection screen, images of our daily life flashed by as we danced.
We were mostly ignored by the denizens of the Uni Bar—student or otherwise—though apparently “half the Bar wanted to kill” us (Woroni, 1 September 1993, p. 36). However, a group of about ten or so men, all Forestry students, assembled a half circle of chairs on the dance floor. During the entirety of our performance, they drank and verbally abused us. This only encouraged an even more outlandish display on our part, and almost certainly brought on the relatively graphic miming of sex on stage.
During our last song the performance reached a pinnacle of sorts. A striking image appeared on the projection screen: a close-up of a crotch, the zipper on a pair of jeans. Then a hand undoing the zipper, to reveal… a blinding light! To achieve this rare vision I had stuffed a torch down my pants.
Could this be the pornography the management accused us of? Or the sex mime? Or even the foul-mouthed abuse we received from the Forestry boys? Whatever it was, we were shut down in mid-song and dance.
At the time we walked away, glad that it was over. After all, we’d made our point, hadn’t we?
A few days later we staged a protest. Chris, the ever-dashing lead singer and songwriter of Sexpol, gaffer taped his mouth, and then gaffer taped his feet to the floor directly in front of the bar during a busy Friday arvo & evening. Standing next to him, I briefly and loudly denounced the Uni Bar management, bringing our struggle to the attention of the gathered masses. Few seem to care. “Sexpol… who?”
Around the same time a battle ensured in the pages of the student rag, Woroni. Gerald Keaney came to our rescue, demonstrating the censorship, hypocrisy and stupidities of the Uni Bar manager. To no avail, the ban remained.
So, we organised out own gig on the floor above the Uni Bar, rented through the Student Union’s Clubs and Societies organisation. As you would be reminded at the time by other bar goers, the top floor was where the Uni Bar “originally” was. It’s true the Uni Bar was on the top floor in the 1980s, but it was originally elsewhere, even further back in time, as I discovered two years later.
Sexpol was one of the house bands of Aktion Surreal (The Piltdown Frauds, I Am Spartacus and The Luv Sick Fools were others). In 1993, a fellow Aktion Surrealist, tiM (that’s tiM), gave me one of his collages, for the inside back cover of my zine Some Song To Offend By. Foolishly, I did not use this excellent thing. More’s the pity.
Here it is.
tiM’s collage, mine, my zine, and Sexpol were all part of a larger conspiracy (we conspired, which is to say we breathed the same air, and often), sometimes called Aktion Surreal. Speaking of which, which is to say all of the foregoing, here is a video of me from that golden shit year of 1993 in which I perform a poem from my zine Some Songs to Offend By.
Stay tuned for more Sexpol, Aktion Surreal and Canberra, Australia in the 1990s.
In response to the last post, a correspondent to the sinister science asks, “do you write the text bubbles or just use what you find?” Excellent question. Answer: I use what I find, I manipulate what I find (both physically and digitally), I write the text bubbles, I rip them off from other non-bubble sources, & etc. I do all of these and more (possibly, impossibly…).
Yesterday, I posted a scan of a physical collage made up of glue and cut-up paper from magazines:
My source for ‘I want my daddy’ was a copy of the national geographic and two different comics. The photo of the two divers are from a National Geographic (thank you Jacques Costeau and friend). Both of the stuck on heads are from one comic (Low), and the word balloons from another (Ares: God of War). I have not altered the word balloons, apart from cutting them out of their original context and pasting them in. Both of the balloons are ‘found’, and even though both balloons are from the same comic, each one is from a different page. You can see in the scan the rough cut I made of the top balloon.
The collage at the very top of this post, ‘Fiddlesticks!’, is also taken from a magazine.
Here is the original:
‘Fiddlesticks!’, unlike ‘I want my daddy’, is a digital cut-up. No pages were harmed in its construction, no scissors blunted. Unlike the multiple sources in ‘I want my daddy’, in ‘Fiddlesticks!’, I’ve used only the original source as raw material. After scanning the original I’ve altered the image using Gimp. One could have achieved something similar to the this by physically cutting-up the original image, though it would have looked a lot rougher than my digital version–like in ‘I want my daddy’ (those rough cut balloons…). However, I only have one copy of this Dan Dare comic, and like it too much to be hacking it up for a single collage, so I scanned the image instead.
As ‘Fiddlesticks!’ implicitly demonstrates, there is no reason why any other word or words can be inserted into the word balloon, whether from the original source words and letters, or another source altogether. In the following collage that uses the same image as ‘Fiddlesticks!’, I’ve substituted a phrase that I first typed up on a portable typewriter (a Hermes baby), before scanning it. Again, I could have cut up the typed phrase itself and pasted it onto the original image. But as I’ve mentioned, I’m keen to preserve the original:
The words in the collage ‘modern art’ are my translation of a phrase from the Situationist International. The original text reads ‘les retombées imaginaires d’une explosion qui n’a jamais eu lieu’. Ken Knabb translated this as ‘imaginary repercussions from an explosion that never took place’.
Finally, here another new digital collage, fresh of the same session that produced ‘Fiddlesticks’, and ‘all cops are bastards’, and also made from Dan Dare, though this time using only the original source material for its electronic modifications:
I make collages. I have been doing so since at least 1986, probably longer—surely I made some in my school daze?
Random if important influences: Hannah Hock, John Heartfield, Raoul Hausmann, Max Ernst, Gerald Keaney.
The collage above was made in April of this year using images and text from a magazine and comic book + glue. Is it a message from the unconscious? Is it some random stuff stuck together? Both? Neither? You decide.
In 1986, age 18, I made a christmas card that I distributed among friends and family. It was produced by way of cutting up newspapers and magazines to produce a collage that was then photocopied on a coin operated photocopier at my local: the St George College of TAFE library in Kogarah, Sydney. In part, I had been inspired by my older brother Martin who had made birthday and christmas cards in the 1980s written on the back of photocopies of quotes and phrases from books and magazines. In part, I had begun my long encounter with the fruits and flavours of artistic modernism.
Today, across the intervening years of rapid technological progress, I can still recall just how impressed I was in the 1980s with the possibilities I detected in the photocopier. At 10 or 20 cents a slice a method of photographic mass production was placed at one’s disposal. Admittedly it is low res by today’s standards. But the charms of this burgeoning aesthetic were not lost upon us. Indeed, it was a boon to what could be rung out of a photocopier, given time and experiment.
The same year I made my first collage christmas card I came across stories of André Breton and the original surrealists—for instance, in Lisa Golstein’s speculative fiction novel, The Dream Years. Soon after I tracked down a copy of Breton’s Manifestoes of Surrealism in the original Gleebooks in Sydney, near the lofty top of Glebe Point Road.
Thus, I was priming myself for making collages, among other things.
I will post more collages over the coming weeks.
Every Tuesday will be Collage Tuesday.
Or should that be choose-day (or chews-day?) as I will not only post new collages, like Today’s feature, but also choooooooose from my back catalogue of over 30 years.
Next week I will take you back all the way back to 1993.
I started this blog back in 2020 at the height of the first lockdowns and waves of COVID washing over our lives. The intention then, as it still is, appeared relatively simple: “writing on critical theory and science fiction”. My twist on critical theory is that which I’ve largely inherited from the Situationist International (SI)—both my long relationship with their works as well as my attempts to understand their version of revolutionary theory and practice. Whereas my twist on science fiction (SF) comes from an even longer relationship that dates back into the mists of my childhood.
In part, SF and the SI meet in their somewhat shared and entailed historical context. However, the shared context of SF and the SI is perhaps the least interesting aspect of their confluence—or at least, is less interesting than what can be gained from bringing the critical insights of the SI to bear upon SF. The peculiar trajectory of written Anglo-American SF takes it from Hugo Gernsback ‘scientifiction’ in 1926, through the Second World War and beyond, to become one of the key landmarks of pop culture in the 1960s and after. In the process of this rapid, half century of development, SF moved from its relatively niche existence to global cultural phenomenon. It is my belief that SF came to play an important role in the explosion of the global culture industry in the wake of the Second World War, paradoxically as both sometime critic of this ‘explosion’, and as an awkward exemplar of the burgeoning spectacle of commodity culture. Indeed, SF’s initial existence as almost solely a phenomenon made in and exported from the United States goes some of the way to explaining its later success as one aspect of the global hegemony of the US in the wake of the 1940s. However, I am less interested in the national or even international peculiarities of Anglo-American SF than I am in its singular existence as both overture and swan song to the dream of a technological utopia fostered in the Second World War and largely in ruin a short thirty years later.
Over the course of 2022, views of and visitors to my blog have more than doubled. Unfortunately, much like 2021, health problems once again intervened to undermine my ability to post more regularly. This year I am keen to work toward the gold standard of one post per week. Let’s see how that pans out.
You may ask—ask! ask!—what is the sinister science? Back in September 2020 I wrote of the sinister science as something akin to what the situationists proposed in their imaginary city beyond the capitalist one, or the surrealists in their dreamt of marvellous chateaus of no clear utilitarian purpose. Perhaps slightly more clearly—or more confusedly, depending on your taste—I wrote that,
the sinister science is closer to Hegel’s negative dialectic and Marx’s redeployment of this under the aegis of his ‘materialist conception of history’.
It occurs to me today that Karl Marx provided the best definition of the sinister science early in his anti-career, when he spoke of a ‘science to come’—a science that would, by turns, reconcile the unfortunate split between the so-called natural and human sciences. The sinister science aspires to be this, or at the very least a tributary or pointer to this science to come. Which is not to say that the blog called the sinister science is this science, only that it dares to name itself after such. And just to be clear, the latter is not to be confused with Alfred Jarry’s pataphysics, no matter how much I would welcome such confusion (at least some of the time).
My top five posts are a good indicator of what’s on offer here. They run the gamut from posts more concerned with the SI through to posts more concerned with SF. Except for the first one below, they are more likely to be somewhat impure, i.e., a mix of SF and the SI.
The top post two years in a row, though the only one of the top five that was not published in 2022. Last year I wrote that the popularity of Surrealism: an irrational revolution was ‘due to the fact that a “new” old work of Guy Debord’s has a potential audience much bigger than my own peculiar take on SF’. No doubt this remains true. It constitutes an excellent introduction to the surrealist revolution that emerged in Europe in the 1920s—an irrational revolution moreover that was highly influential upon Debord and the situationists, amongst others.
Ballard is a particularly rich vein to be explored regarding the possibility of a situationist influence, though it is more likely he was influenced by the surrealists than the situs. Nonetheless, there is a remarkable congruence, particularly regarding the shared interest in the profound effects of urban alienation. Ballard is certainly less concerned with the amelioration of such, and tends to naturalise the effects of alienation, insofar as he sees the city as the expression of deeper, more subterranean forces than those of the relatively recent arrival of capitalism. Still, more than many of his contemporary SF confreres Ballard captures the enervating effect of modern city life, and its technological avatars. This is on show in these two early pieces, ‘Manhole 69’ and ‘The Concentration City’, both from 1957—which is also the year the SI was founded.
My personal fave of the year. Here I attack what is, to me at least, the strange problem of the absence of something like science fiction in most SF stories. More pointedly, I investigate the genre’s avant-garde chops, considering that in its initial conceptualisation by Hugo Gernsback, SF was presented as a proselytising vision of the coming technological future, whose purpose—chiefly educational, though cunningly disguised as entertainment—would be fulfilled once this future arrived. If SF is realised—as it were—then what comes after?
A pivotal issue of the situationist journal. When they turned toward realising a project whose clearest result would come some 6 years later, among the biggest wildcat general strike in recorded history. I wrote my PhD thesis in order to better understand the nature of the pivot, of which this issue was one of the more obvious results. Another result, the Hamburg Theses, also haunts the pages of number 7…
I have discovered over the last year or so that I truly love much of Silverberg’s oeuvre. Which is not to say there are no problems—the fate of women in his many representations being one of the obvious ones. Renowned in SF circles as initially more machine than man when it came to composing works, Silverberg entered his own golden age in the 1960s. More intriguingly he was burnt out by the mid-1970s, and even gave up writing SF for some years. Indeed, scattered amongst his many introductions to short stories from this period are some illuminating thoughts upon the nature of the genre and the impasse it reached in the early 1970s, on the back of such conflicting forces as New Wave experimentation and commercial success. ‘Downward to Earth’ is a product of Silverberg’s golden age, a striking novel that deals with the inhuman dimensions of the human. Highly recommended.
So that’s the top 5.
Who knows what heights this year will bring?
 Karl Marx, ‘Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,’ in Karl Marx & Frederich Engels Collected Works Vol. 3, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975, p. 304.
sf & critical theory join forces to destroy the present