Tuesday, 28 June 2011
Fantasies Of Displacement
Stigmata Junction (Step 55 from Stride) by Thomas Wiloch, editor of the elusive US magazine Grimoire, contains twenty-six short prose texts and fourteen collages.
The prose work avoids stylistic experimentation, allowing each narrative to make its impact through the bizarre nature of the action portrayed. Wiloch deploys a repertoire of disquieting images or motifs: the sixth and seventh vignettes recall Ballard – a limitless conglomeration of consumer durables buried beneath the sands of a beach (‘At the Beach’), the automobile which, like a sinking ship, slides beneath the earth of a quiet field (‘Returning’). The third text in the collection, ‘The Head in the Box’, a Poe-esque guignol, features a nameless protagonist haunted by the screams from a decapitated head kept in a box in the closet.
Billed as ‘of a surrealistic nature’ this is Surrealism with a small ‘s’. In fact Stigmata Junction operates in that grey twilight domain of post-surrealist fantasy, not so much pure psychic automatism as fragmentary confrontations with alien Otherness, described in a symbolic vocabulary of closed rooms, casual catastrophe, uncanny Fortean phenomena (gnomic messages raining down from the sky), rituals of cruelty and fleeting visions of transmundane worlds (‘This Family’s TV Set’, ‘The Starfish Eye’).
Most of the pieces arise from a single theme: displacement. All Wiloch’s protagonists suffer from a sense of displacement that provokes fantasies of loss. Loss of identity, as in ‘His Fragments’ and ‘Dissection’, where the fragmentation of personality is encapsulated in the motifs of smashed glass and mirrors containing the enigma of ‘his secret name’. ‘Everyone was frightened by the death of the world. Nothing seemed to replace it.’ runs a line from ‘The Day the World Died’, echoing another theme of loss: loss of belonging in the world.
In Wiloch’s universe normality is vaporized and meaning has collapsed, existence is indescribable (‘Chained Reaction’), all answers are incomprehensible (‘Unnatural Formation’). Familiar objects like desks and TV sets take on a life of their own, motivated by malicious intent. An occult antidote to this alienation may be implied in ‘The Tribute’ where control over the authorities can be gained by shedding one’s blood.
The fourteen collages which compliment the text are in the style pioneered by Max Ernst in the 1930s using turn-of-the-century popular engravings. These have an almost friendly familiarity at odds with the more sinister texts and do not quite pack the punch they might. All in all however Stigmata Junction is a pleasing excursion into the macabre.
Published in Stride 22 Autumn 1985
Thomas Wiloch 1953-2008 a personal tribute by Thomas Ligotti
Illustration: The Mysteries Of Inner Space, 2000