Author: Jonathan Cottam
Original language: English
Urban Book of the dead is my second book to be published, after ‘The Unrequited Zombie’. It is a rather less experimental work, though still unusual, vivid, and descriptive. I would describe the book as both psychedelic and surreal, being rather pedantic about the use of those two words. That is, if it were surreal I would be dealing with a psychological work, something that looked towards expanding knowledge of the Id, that primitive part of our nature that is repressed by social conventions and the need to plan to get what we want. It is, in that it is self gratifying without recourse to opinion, it is every animalistic urge that can only be released through art, because to do it any other way would have terrible repercussions. Having said that, next to my early work, it is not particularly arty or deep. It is psychedelic because it looks to reaching a higher consciousness by through creativity, to reach a state beyond the normal level of seeing things, it is also psychedelic and surreal in the commonly understood sense, it is ‘trippy’ and sometimes deals with drugs. It starts like this… “I floated above my body, I was a bubble fit to burst, I squeezed and struggled with my form, my clothes gripping and distorting my figure with their relative solidity, were the same ghost like material as the rest of me. Down below my face stared back at me; distorted and grotesque as the spirit shapes on the bark of trees, I felt my ghost face and it was etched there too, deforming me, chiselled by a million molecules of heroin, I had my wings, hung as from a pin, spread and feathered, and spanning the whole nicotine ceiling. I stared at the blue marbled arm; growing out like the gnarled branch of a tree, the fingers gesturing me towards it, and hanging from it, the syringe full of bubbles, blood and a quicksand of powdered death whirling like a vortex. A spoon lay on the floor and a small bit of cigarette filter in it, all having served a purely symbolic process. It seemed years of injecting powders and stuff flicked down to a dirty lemonade had paid off, perhaps a bubble could kill you after all.” The book is I think taking one thing at least to a new level in literature, egomania. That is because the concept of the book is I the authors fight with god who is defeated, whilst at the same time dealing with my real life struggles as I go back through things that really actually happened to me in my drug filled and violent life as a drug dealer and through prison etcetera, and, changing them. I say egomania but again I mean the Id, the ego compromises, the Id does not. It is a very angry book because I am taking back the control that was taken from me, in that, to a very large extent I did not choose my life but it was forced on me, as with all the mishaps of all my dead friends who did not survive, through suicide, alcoholism, heroin overdose and murder. Enter God. God then is a symbol for society, capitalism, and the state, and also, plain bad luck. So is God then not God, is the book not satanic? My interest in black magic personally does not extend to believing in it, or God in any accepted sense either. I believe in magic as will, that Hitler could gain power through will is magic, that people can realise the future not through clairvoyance but precognition, taking in the world around them and understanding consciously or unconsciously where it is all going to lead, that kind of magic I believe, the other sort I only have a fair knowledge of as an interest and I am not a Satanist, that would be a misplacement of effort. “The noise got louder, but lower, rather than higher, so it travelled further and vibrated the walls. Crack’s appeared in the walls in the form of a hundred distorted faces of people I had known, adventured and suffered with. A fragment of glass from a picture of ‘Judith with the head of Hollerfernes’ hit me in my eye, almost bursting my substance, which it settled in like a bloody monocle, magnifying the African tribal Fang mask in the centre of the wall, with its pale long wooden nose and owl like brow, its jutting chin; appeared to grow eyes that searched with the deepest hideous depth around my room and the dead body of me whose ‘nakedness’ I wanted to cover from the gaze. The mask bowed and came out of the wall, after it a huge body wearing the blue pinstripes of my wall paper and looking every bit the business man, come to settle my accounts, I was not about to make it easy. The scrambled voices became one, the word “Jonathan!” boomed. This was God, this was the confrontation I had been waiting for my whole life.” The meaning of that is obvious in the pinstriped suit I think, but also a little later the meaning and symbolism is made totally obvious. “God spoke “I am the unity, I am the morals and the law, think like me and my triumphs will be your triumphs because there will be no difference, surrender all self generated thought of conflict, all difference is imaginary, it is not held and is alien to mind.” I replied simply, my head turned to him from my place on the ceiling, “I am my desire.” -A little later it gets really obvious. “With haste I flew forward and stabbed God in the eyes with my fingers, which flattened against the harder substance of Gods eyes, I cried out “This is for poverty, this is for the atomisation of life, this is for your prisons and the police, for all my friends who are lost yet alive, and all those you sent to hell which is a place on Earth. This is for everything.” Soon events from the past unfold, and people I knew come into the picture such as Jay. Jay was a traveller; that is he moved from town to town, lived rough and begged. He had the unnerving attribute of being both friendly, warm, and a complete psychopath, loyal and perverse, he was a real good character for a book. I meet Jay again fishing in Hell. “I dropped my line in the molten lead from my rod. Immediately the rod bent almost double, despite its thickness. It pulled so hard I estimated that what ever was on the end must have been over two hundred pounds. I reeled in my rod and a giant fish splashed on the end of it, it looked like some kind of gigantic roach, its tail splashing molten lead at me as its body curved in the waves trying to get away. I landed the fish in the boat and it suffocated there its mouth open and body heaving, I marvelled at the square scales on its silver body, bigger than my hands. As I stood fascinated, the body of the fish, distorted as if something inside was trying to push its way out, a fist punched its way through, then two hands, pulled the fish apart, then before me was the crouched naked body of Jay, covered in a stinky fish slime, he held his nose and spoke nasally. “Hello Monster!” he said smoothly. Jay stood up tall, rocking only slightly; and threw chunks of fish in the water, now without the protection of its tough outer layers, the bits of fish flamed up as they entered the sea, with puffs of flame and billows of smoke. He held the rest of the carcass above his head, his arms at full length, and chucked that in after it; there was a huge flaming that threatened to engulf the boat, but it went out fast. I was pleased to see Jay, I had him picked out as my right hand man, there was something about him that persuaded you to trust him at the same time as acknowledging he wasn’t entirely trust worthy, a slightly sly warmth, a look in the eyes that said he was tough and dependable, but somehow self centred. But, however he was useful, very handy; a good person to know. I asked a searching question. “How are you here? As far as I know you’re still alive.” Jay looked at me long and hard “Doesn’t bloody look like it does it Monster. In Hell as well. What did I do to deserve that? A few fights, drug dealing, a couple of rich burglaries, fucking a tree on LSD, underage sex and a sexual assault in McDonalds that was nothing but feeling some ones leg, and I’m in Hell.” Yes, he was really like that and he did all those things. The character of Jay is a rich part of the book, to which I am indebted to knowing him, not that many people will ever read it, but I live to write, quite literally. Another theme of the book is the yearning for togetherness, community, against the very real need for individuality, adventure and subjectivity. The two themes run through every religion, philosophy and form of politics to a varying degree of scientific application. It is not as simple as one or the other and both sides in the book take both approaches. There is no answer in human nature between the two, it is irreconcilable and all we can do is draw attention theoretically to the issue between fascism and anarchism, individuality and togetherness, though we do find more honest and liveable conditions in libertarianism than dictatorial politics. The problem between wanting togetherness and a shared identity, but being repulsed at having to give up subjectivity so pervades the book that many characters rebel against the human form, whilst not giving up the need for community, and become many headed monsters. But, the book insists, the need for adventure is the unifying theory that makes sense of our misery and creates a symbiosis between the conflicting forces. “As the ship rowed closer I realised it was the rule of these creatures, my brave men which is what they were, to reject the human form given by God for those of their own imagination, and to conjoin like the ultimate pack of animals, or; what I had seen in human riots when a crowd does indeed become a single and very different animal than the sum of its parts. I saw men who had formed their joints together to form the bodies of double kneed, twelve-foot men with two heads. Two had done that. The dragon with seven necks and six heads was also there, waiting in futility for my strange communion, for I was still attached to the human form, it still represented for me a thing of beauty and free autonomy.” The book is all about conflict, but as Buddhists say, all conflict is imaginary, so I think, we are all in a state of symbiosis in a world where assistance between organisms is the norm even when it appears in the form of its opposite. That’s all I want to say about the book.