Those who look for meaning in Obsidian Flowers may think in terms of Obsidian glass, the sharper than cut diamond material used in the manufacture of surgical instruments that is derived from emissions from the volcano. They could argue that Obsidian Flowers is the sharpened essence of a flawed tradition that has suffered its Shivaistic fate, the birth of a literature built on the embers of one overtaken by events. Derek Attridge, referencing Jacques Derrida, in Jacques Derrida Acts of Literature, argues that ‘literary criticism has operated…within the bounds established by classical Greek thought, taking for granted the rules of syllogistic reason, the ultimate priority of meaning over its mode of articulation, and such fundamental and absolute oppositions as the intelligible and the sensible, form and matter, subject and object, nature and culture, presence and absence’ [Derrida 3]. If literary criticism for the most part is still beholden to the Platonic and Aristotelean approach, and one can argue, in the light of Historicist and Post-Colonial theory, it is, then Michael Mc Aloran’s Selected will be to it as quantum physics would have been to our Palaeolithic ancestors. Mc Aloran, rather than critique or quarrel with notions such as representation, meaning or the oppositions that so exercised Derrida’s thinking, gets on with the task that drives him, the creation of a masterful work of art that shows, rather than tells where literature now resides.
Mc Aloran confronts, not the failure to represent, in language, our perceptions [ often misinterpreted, especially in Beckett studies, by literary theory know-alls as the failure of language] but the failure to perceive. If words are ‘all words, there’s nothing else’ [Beckett 407], words cannot fail. Meaning and the impossible task set by philosophers of trying to apply words that mean, that represent perceptions, will inevitably fail. Words without meaning, freed of the context of subject and object, nature and culture, presence and absence will continue in the omnipresent where they are ‘all’. Cognisant of the situation in which the artist now finds him/herself, Mc Aloran, like Mondrian, disavowing futile attempts to re-present perceptions, presents. He presents unmediated, unrepresentative, form without content language. Language lies through its teeth ‘till din of the non-received’ non receivable perceptions awakens the narrative voice to the lying project that is exposed as such by the ‘surrogate of no purpose.’ His is a voice that proclaims itself in a world that is non- beginning, non-ending:
‘what word there was it is said in the beginning there was
nothing lying through the teeth…till din of the non-received in
the pissoir tide asking of the non-beginning the non-
Like Samuel Beckett ‘words are all’ to Mc Aloran. Yet his work justifies the claim to be post-Beckett. Let’s look at this passage from Mc Aloran:
‘flesh/ spun silk of the night in the nothingness of having actualised the
sky/ and yet still/ absent/ wandering far from the here or there/ never
returning yet never having left it behind/ in a pageantry of silent
Like Beckett’s it can appear, on a shallow reading, to over-dwell on the nihilistic in e.g. the affirmation of nothingness in
‘flesh/spun silk of the night in the nothingness of having actualised the sky/’,
but like Beckett he negates the affirmation in ‘never having left it behind’ only to invalidate the negation in
‘and yet still…never returning’.
So far so Beckett. Where Beckett’s texts are underscored through a rigorous logic that argues for the permanence of the word, in spite of his insistence that the permanent cannot be presented by the transient i.e. the body - ‘I can’t go on, I’ll go on’ - even if that logic challenges basic tenets of grammar by reinventing the definite article and the neuter pronoun as nouns; removing the implication of question in where, who and when, importantly, in the opening lines of The Unnamable, Mc Aloran ‘goes on’ from Beckett to defy logic itself through texts that in structure and syntax exceed Beckett’s. In his literature words are elevated to a state where they are all in their stress-free state of absolute equality:
‘the purity of none eye’s […] dark what dark what light.’ that often dismiss the distinction between the abstract and the concrete noun:
‘shadowless all spun in the absence of the word to grace the emptily of the meat’s futility’.
When Mc Aloran insists on the absoluteness of nothingness he turns his wrath on the illusion of the material world with an Aristotelian precision that excoriates all apologies for the horrors of existence in grim detail. A ‘vein [is] a voice collapsed a tryst a-bleed sunk eye incapable of/ sense ‘The ‘nothing [is] invisible [where] sense commenced from lack origin’, pure nothing is even ‘absent dark’ and ‘none’ is abandoned.
Mc Aloran’s works are not for Mills and Boon readers. Obsidian Flowers is for the mind that could spend hours divining short passages like
‘endless ever as if to detrace/ trace/ retrace following on from gathered onward/ eye lights it is un-skied to hilt drop sheen reflect non-speech vocal as collapse stillness,’
to marvel at an approach that goes beyond the Derridean trace, the ephemeral ‘skied’ world of the perceiver, and the staple diet that has sustained literature for two thousand years, to reflect non-speech in the endless ever, the absoluteness of nothingness..
Beckett, Samuel, Samuel Beckett, The Grove Centenary Edition, vol IV, New York, Grove Press, 2006.
Derrida, Jacques, Acts of literature, ed Derek Attridge, New York and London, Routledge, 1992.