Tuesday, 19 December 2017


Philip Best Captagon (2017)
I had certain expectations with this one, but thankfully it's very different. Captagon, named after the preferred brand of speed for those waging war on behalf of ISIS, is a novella in the vague tradition of William Burroughs in so much as that it works more like a piece of music than a narrative in the accepted sense - a series of impressions. There may be a narrative in there but it's difficult to tell and I'm not sure that it matters. Captagon divides into seventy impressionist passages of varying length and ambiguous connectivity. It initially reads like cut-up text, but the more you read, the more obvious it becomes that there's nothing arbitrary or random here. If anything, there's a terrifying precision, a sharp focus directed towards very specific ends; and those idiosyncrasies of grammar suggestive of Burroughs seem more consciously directed, perhaps serving to level out the general texture of the writing to the even, undifferentiated tone of noise, something without obvious narrative peaks or troughs by conventional terms.

As for what we're actually looking at, it's mostly pretty fucking bleak, as you would probably expect from the man who squeezes the accordion for Consumer Electronics - fleeting glimpses of casual brutality, orphanage atrocities, and general inhumanity; and yet the focus falls some way short of shoving it in your face for the sake of  grisly thrills. It's not quite documentary, but most surprising of all - at least to me - is that the tone of Captagon seems almost sympathetic, tender, and nothing like anything I've ever noticed on a Whitehouse record. It's dark and occasionally repellent, but not to the point of being unreadable, suggesting that this is something at which Best has really worked because he's struck a very fine balance.

What we seek today is the absolute obliteration of the false distinction between the Real and the fantastic.

Or as it states in the paragraph which follows the above:

'We strive to understand and perhaps marshal the libidinous correspondence between private fantasy and actual public events, however cruel or outlandish this obscene coupling may prove to be.'

I'm possibly out of my depth here, but I suspect Captagon is therefore Best attempting to summarise what he may view as an absolute reality, namely the raw horror of existence underlying the version of reality we create for ourselves by buying into the bullshit we're sold in the name of civilisation; and so this revelation of certain truths which we'd rather not acknowledge is possibly intended as liberating or cathartic. At least that's how it read to me in so much as that for something so determinedly horrible, it makes for an engaging rather than an actively unpleasant read, almost cleansing, you might say. I'm particularly impressed by this, by how well this idea is communicated - if that is what is being said - because it's not even a perspective with which I necessarily sympathise in so much as that I don't personally believe existence is quite this awful, and I feel the horror may be subjective, which is possibly worse. That said, it seems like an entirely adequate response to the times we're living through.

Anyway, I read this twice, the second time referring to the section plan in the appendix so as to determine the location of each scene in the hope of discerning something resembling a narrative; and there does indeed seem to be a structure mapped out among different observers, but nothing so vivid as to leave me feeling as though I'd missed anything first time around. As previously stated, I'm almost certainly out of my philosophical depth here - although I was pleased to spot D.H. Lawrence's Plumed Serpent in the bibliography - but crucially it didn't feel as though I was out of my depth as I was reading. I thought this would be either revolting or incomprehensible, but there's an unexpected elegance to it.

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