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Subcultures Interest Group: Kevin Quinn Interviews Richard Cabut

the cover of Disorderly magic & other Disturbances
  • Written byPost-Grad Community
  • Published date 02 May 2023
the cover of Disorderly magic & other Disturbances
Disorderly magic & other Disturbances

In the preface to Richard Cabut’s new book Disorderly magic & other Disturbances he writes of how the practice of bibliomancy has long informed and driven his creative endeavours.

Bibliomancy is defined, by the oracle that is Wikipedia no less, as ‘… the use of books in divination. The method of employing sacred books (especially specific words and verses) for 'magical medicine', for removing negative entities, or for divination is widespread in many religions of the world’.

Cabut notes that this magick method is deployed to ‘find the word as a signifier and mojo’, the trigger and energy source for everything that follows. Cabut’s divined word on this occasion being ‘justice or just is. Asymmetrical balance.  As it should be’. Weapon in hand, Cabut artfully assumes the triumvirate role of judge, jury and executioner.

Therefore, for the purpose of this review I have decided to adopt this method. My particular finger-fancy with the ‘mancy revealed the book to be George S. Trow’s Within the Context of no context and the word ‘formulation’. There’s something in this…

Like Robinson Crusoe on the shore of his island, before ‘the vestige of a naked foot imprinted upon the sand’, the historian travels along the borders of his present; he visits those beaches where the other appears only as a trace of what he has passed. Here he sets up his industry

— Michel De Certeau, L’Absent de l’histoire, 1973, p8-9

Cabut’s previous book 2020’s Looking for a kiss, (is it all autobiography …?) flirted, floated and flaunted through excavated diary entries, filmic fragments of (mis)remembered moments of madness, mayhem and mischief, cross-purposed lives existing on the fringes of excess and the margins of success, panoramic projections of ultra-vivid scenery that recall the dazy haze of those hazy days of London’s early 1980s metamorphosis.

This was a period that saw great social, political and technological change (not progress …): the manipulated collapse of the post-war consensus and the calculated post-industrial decline (and fall) of the metropolis (and wider areas of the British Isles).

Cities were still full of bomb-hit shock-shells, sites/sights of urban decay that were effusively energised by an emerging and converging post-punk creative class’s spectacular splurge amongst the debris. Espying dreams amongst the cracked gleams, striving for innovation over renovation these pioneers gleefully took part in a Debord game of resistance as ritual.

The final act of artivism before the slow-paced neo-liberal steamroller began its flattening of the past towards today’s superficially screen-addled society gorging on a beigeousie culture, (dis)connected drones aimlessly ambling across regenerated swank-padded cells, rootless and routeless in relentless rotation.

Cabut’s work takes the reader/voyeur upon an imagined trawl though distant pasts and reimagined stroll through instant passeds, a breathless tour de force majeure, an intoxicating concoction of dark entries and stark exits. Bukowski boozing with Baudelaire, Shelley schmoozing with Sartre. Cocteau cruising with Castaneda.

Disorderly continues in this bewitching manner. An enchanting and entrancing prose collection. A psychological wander through geography, a psychic ponder of topography, streams of unconsciousness, dreams of non-consciousness, beams of the subconscious, lyrical mysteries and mystical litanies, the flagrant flâneur fleeing from and towards faltered states. A feverish state of non-sense textualism that drags you to the frayed edges of existentialism.

One of the poems has the finest description I’ve ever read of the latent horrors of social media (when in the wrongest of hands):

Delusion illusion monsters

Speaking in fiery tongues

My friend filmed me

Posted it on social media

For laughless laughs

Delusion illusion monster

This is what I’ve formulated.  What will you do?

a black and white photo of Richard Cabut
Richard Cabut

Interview with Richard Cabut

Is Disorderly part of a trilogy … or another part of something still yet to be resolved?

It’s not particularly part of a trilogy. But I guess some of the pieces in Disorderly Magic cover the same sort of area as does Looking for a Kiss – at least the post-punk elements. But there are other zones explored – hauntings, hauntology, for instance, personal and in the wider, cultural sense.

There are also hidden and brilliant corners, image of nylon, sur et sous le communication, folk devils, alienation – full face or in profile, concrete brutalist situations, that which doesn’t exist, correct sounds for a new audience, POV shots, reverse shots, absolute technical precision, compartmentalisation of our lives, everywhere at once, ‘“I prefer American films… they’re prettier” – “Yes, but less arousing,”’ invisible people in homes, in other words no normal life. Additionally, blocks of flats, signs of repression, reality of reflection, very little ideology, juices stirred, dilation of the pupil. Polish mysticism, passage of a signal, pop blow jobs. Set in full moonlight, before the Flood.

I’m not specifically a poet – but my style as a novelist is lyrical and poetic. I think the best novelists are poetic, if I may say – they can better capture the disjointed beauty and ugliness. They can understand and convey without overstating. And so I thought long form beat/post-punk verse would be the perfect medium for the pieces I wanted to write.

Anyway, poetry is not dissimilar to dark energy, it possesses yet often confounds complete recognition or stability – it and we (both reader and writer) can drift or glide. The vertigo of the modern sensibility and self (‘all realities in time grow into a fiction about the self’). Although there is no measuring time, it means nothing. As they say, all poetry, all writing is a beautiful attempt to be what you could/should/would have become. The verse/life subsequent to this one. In that respect I guess it’s a form of hauntology – not artistic mourning for futures lost, but discovering and altering the consciousness of that loss, if that is what it is.  So, there is no point in mourning – the past is continuously becoming something else. There is no loss after all. What we find when we return to it are shards and shapes shifted. Not for nothing is poetry described as the supreme fiction of the self (Wallace Stevens).

As Muriel Spark said, ‘the true novelist, one who understands the novel as a continuous poem, is a myth maker, and the wonder of art resides in the endless different ways of telling a story, and the methods are mythological by nature.’ As aforesaid, I wanted to make my own myths – and also it’s about time poetry was cool again.

How much of your work is autobiographical?

This from my introduction to the new edition of Looking for a Kiss:-

I’ve always been asked, in relation to my work, is it real? Did it really happen?

I suppose I’ve always answered, yes and no. Is the narrative an accurate portrayal of ‘what happened’? Not entirely, no. Is it true? Yes, of course!

I think we can say that truth doesn’t depend on facts. It depends on imagination and context. CS. Lewis said about truth: ‘For me, reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination, producing new metaphors or revivifying old, is not the cause of truth, but its condition. It is, I confess, undeniable that such a view indirectly implies a kind of truth or rightness in the imagination itself.’ I’m with CS.

JM Coetzee says ‘We should distinguish two kinds of truth, the first truth to fact, the second something beyond that… we should take truth to fact for granted and concentrate on the more vexing question of a ‘higher’ truth… the best you can hope for is a story that will not be the truth but may have some truth value of a mixed kind – some historical truth, some poetic truth – a fiction of the truth.’ I’m with JM.

I love that idea of that poetic truth – one which grasps, like barbed wire, the essence of truth.

Writing is always edited and selected from a cache of imagination and memory as mentioned – sequenced and altered, sped up, slowed down, disconnected, reconnected in different ways. Public and private identities are configured and reconfigured – pushed and pulled – events compressed and distorted. In this way the ‘real’ story is disrupted and the new story becomes the unreal truth. Or vice versa.

The soon-to-be updated Looking for a kiss, what more can we expect in the new edition?

I’m sometimes asked, what’s the punk/post-punk background to the events portrayed in the novel – the dissolving cultural and personal arcs? So, we’ve included a couple of non-fiction pieces about my experiences of punk rock, and the post-punk scenes, as well as the Positive Punk piece, originally written for the NME in 82/83 under the pen name Richard North. I’ve also extended the diary addendum, and the bibliography, and added small bits and pieces to the main text. Jeff Young, TV writer (Corrie etc.) and Costa award nominee author has written an introduction, so has Cathi Unsworth, author of Season of the Witch. And so have I.

the cover of the book Looking for a Kiss
Looking for a Kiss

What’s the news on LFAK’s adaptation?

It’s in the hands of a screen writer in Seattle/Portland, who is used to writing for the US film festival circuit. He’s on the fourth or fifth draft. I’m consulting but not really involved. But he’s quite faithful to the book – which is cool because the book itself is quite filmic, I think.

Who or what has (or continues to) inspire you creatively, either literature, music, film … other?

I read and listen to music all the time. My current read is BE Ellis’s Shards, while my most recently listened to Mixclouds have been Polish Jazz mixtapes. I subscribe to the BFI player and Netflix.

the cover of NME magazine featuring Richard Cabut
NME 19/02/1983

Are there any artists around now that you would (or could) describe as ‘Positive Punk’?

The only bands I get to see these days are those involving friends or people I know and they tend to be the revival bands. I go for the social aspect – the positive aspect of nostalgia – rather than the music.

Interview by Kevin Quinn.

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