September 15th, 2021

Writing the Wound: The Production of the Real in S.M.H.’s CICATRIZATION


S.M.H.’s full length debut Cicatrization is a hypnotic and extreme work of fiction filled with equal parts beauty and agony. Leonard Klossner takes a deep dive into this pseudonymous work, released on Infinity Land Press in 2020. 

Cicatrization does not reveal to us the sheer ugliness of its face right away, but grants us an odd respite before we will have suffered a moment of its insane barbarity. Instead, the text is prefaced by an interview of the author, S.M.H., by Martin Bladh, co-founder of the book’s publisher, Infinity Land Press. The author, asked if they believe writing to be an engagement which nears the violence of a criminal act “in the same way Jean Genet stated that his ‘impulse to murder was diverted into poetic impulses’,” S.M.H.  responds that, for them, writing “is a sublimated impulse to commit anti-social violence against the whole of the civilized world,” and that the highest honor would be for someone having read their work to become inspired to murder “someone important.”

Cicatrization finds itself at home with Infinity Land Press among a host of titles that share a thematic thread of violence, pathological obsession, transgression, and mania. Both founders of the press, Martin Bladh and Karolina Urbaniak, are well-established artists in their own right, working across numerous mediums (their latest, The Torture of the 100 Pieces, consists of Urbaniak’s photographs of numerous wounds inflicted by Bladh upon his own body; an exhibition of a similar fixation Georges Bataille suffered over the photographs detailing the Chinese torture technique, ‘death by a thousand cuts.’). In addition, they have published a number of Antonin Artaud’s more obscure or then-unpublished texts, as well as works by Stephen Barber, Dennis Cooper, and Philip Best.

Any reader who might have hazarded through Pierre Guyotat’s radical and relentless Eden Eden Eden may be steeled against what awaits them within the space of Cicatrization, since both texts are seething with hallucinatory sprees of brutality. Both books share a similar mutant textuo-genetic code, but whereas Guyotat’s Eden maintains a uniform grammatical style throughout (consisting of an endless and unbroken sentence which spans its couple-hundred pages), there are a variety of mutations which pervert the monstrous body of Cicatrization. Some segments of Cicatrization contain some degree of proper punctuation, capitalization, and other conventions, but many more do away with convention entirely, refusing to spare the reader a single moment to catch their breath until the end, subjecting them until then to an onslaught as unrelenting as the sadistic acts that occur in the text.

Familiarity with Guyotat’s work may also help to clue the reader in to what is at stake in Cicatrization, or what is being written about: writing itself. This text is a tangle of dreams, a ransacking of the annals of the unconscious, a series of episodes of oneiric wish-fulfillment, an exorcism of rabid neuroses, or, to state the matter simply, the text is concerned above all with the production of the real; of real death, and from this understanding we may begin to explore the spaces of Cicatrization.

Collages by Karolina Urbaniak at Infinity Land.

In the beginning was the Word (John 1:1); “the Word of atrocity / vibrating with psychic wounds.” S.M.H. goes on: “atrocities we commit in fiction / are real”. The figures that we encounter in the desolate landscapes of the text, then, are figures with real bodies, and what we bear witness to is real barbarity. As the text puts it: “This is real death.”

However, it would be a mistake to center our consideration around negativity. Consider the wound: the stab, the tear, the gouge. Certainly such an injury subtracts its share of flesh from the surface, but in its place appears a gorgeous array of beads or streams of vital fluid, and, later, a scab or a scar which serves as somatic symbol both of the act(s) that produced the wound as well as the incredible complexity of the organism. Wounds so often amaze and astound their witnesses. For some, such a gruesome sight, along with the symphony of pain scored upon its infliction—a composition notated by the blade or some other tool of inscription—throws them towards or past certain neurological thresholds. A wound is an incredible phenomenon. So, too, is it something given, something gifted; something radically altered, startled from its lazy stasis.

With all of this said, we may finally ask: What does Cicatrization steal? What does it take? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Instead, the text is intensely, obsessively, and violently productive. Because a wound (upon the flesh or upon the psyche) produces a radical change upon and beneath the site of its surface. Because to murder is to produce a corpse. The gouge, the slit, the cut, then, are dignified as artistic gestures like the brush of bristles across a canvas that, on their own or in series, all serve to create. The canvas wears what strokes cover its once unblemished flesh like contusions. Because the painted canvas itself becomes a wound. And in this same way, through this subtraction of flesh and this spilling of substance, Cicatrization produces, creates, and brings to life, over and again, this real death.

Real. As real as Real. Because, S.M.H. writes, “The world is fiction / the plague that binds us to this dream,” a declaration which dissolves the difference between textuality and reality.

To appreciate this work for what it is, what it becomes, and for what it accomplishes—the invocation and the production of the real—we need to understand how the artifice of the text—the book (as material, as product), the binding, the pages—becomes the frame in which the real comes to constitute itself; a real that is astoundingly similar to this ‘real’ we know ourselves to inhabit, because what is our world, our perception, and our thoughts but fictive productions? This earth, beyond what science can tell us about its material and atmospheric contents, is a frame in which a real—our own personal real—constitutes itself, because the imaginary helps to fill in the gaps of what cannot be described, of what we cannot or do not know. Yes, life may be but a dream as we sang in childhood, but the world, too, is but a fiction, a “plague that binds us to this dream.”

And now, finally, we can proceed into the work and the world of Cicatrization.

Collages by Karolina Urbaniak at Infinity Land.

“Cult,” situated somewhere in the middle of the book, functions as Cicatrization’s manifesto. This story centers on a murder cult sheltering away from civilization in a fenced-off acreage built of tarps, “old crates, barrels, [and] chunks of wood scavenged from the desolation.”

The leader of the cult speaks: “I AM ON A JOURNEY. […] The blood is the door through which I have entered and through which we must all enter to meet the favor of our lord,” and there in the following line it is as if the text defines the ways in which his metaphors write this world as a (corpo)reality, in which it brings to life the bodies which suffer within it.

Humanity suffers agony and injuries—so often self-inflicted—which the landscape, watching on throughout all of human history, cannot help but inflict upon itself. And though the particularities of humanity’s barbarism may shock us, they must not sadden us. After all, there is freedom in death, because God lords above the cult’s devotees; the “killer and killed//both plague and cure//night and day// //both light and dark//murder and birth//blood and bone.”

If our world is “the plague that binds us to this dream,” it is we who have spread (or have always been?) the sickness. Because a plague that cannot spread is no plague at all. Because every sickness demands a means, a surface, a territory for transmission; a zone whose dimensions in and across space could perhaps comprise or constitute a body or a network of bodies. Our bodies. And what is each body, with all of its various parts, zones and regions, if not a global organism? And what is this world, with all of its various landscapes whose features assume the postures and particularities of a body in misery, if not a global body?

This world—Cicatrization makes this clear—inherits our deformities as well as our ugliness. It mimics (mocks?) our disabilities (the drainage arching like a tortured spine; the spines of stalks of grass bending “in quiet agony”). It clothes itself in garments like our own (the spread of sky wearing a “butcher’s apron burning raw and red and black with blood”). It imitates the stillness and the silence of our own death (“He raises his hands in address, raises his voice to the dead wind”). It reproduces the convulsions of our flesh when we are afraid (“The air raw, each grain of sand vibrating with terror”).

“Cult,” as auto-manifesto, characterizes the broader text’s morbid religious ideation. The cult leader’s address is a treatise on the ethics of murder, and naturally we see a correlation between murder and illumination that we will encounter again in "Trail": “Each sacrifice will illuminate the world in light,” the leader says. “We Will See All Eaten / Both Good and Evil, Death and Birth.” A total devourment, the swallowing of all human life. They offer the spirit of those they kill to God—“both eater and eaten”—and it is within His gaping, abyssal maw that salvation from this world will be found. But the text here plays a trick on us; a bit of a phonetic prank. Because of course, when we come to see all eaten, then surely We Will See All Eden.

It could be no other way.

Collages by Karolina Urbaniak at Infinity Land.

The book’s first entry, “Trail,” demonstrates a curatorial prescience, understanding that the reader, too, will come to walk this trail where they will be led, leashed, to witness the text’s first gruesome murder.

“The man walked into the woods. The noise soaked land buzzed brightly in the heat. The man walked with a boy. The boy was not his son. The boy was no relation. The boy walked in front. A white leash looped around his thin neck, stretching out like spit.”

Everywhere the text animates the inanimate and brings the lifeless to life and gives the bodiless a body, making metaphor material; the ropes of saliva made thick from fear, braided and suspended taut like leather wrapped around the captive’s neck. The grass is “beaten” as the man and boy walk, “[t]he spine of each stalk bent in quiet agony.” Words gurgle from the man’s throat.

Everything here is grotesque, and everywhere there is agony. The trees, too, are made miserable from the cruelty of man, “hanged” as they are “in low witness.” The meadow burns beneath the “fire of midday sun.” Meanwhile the child is being strangled: “Rope cutting deep into thin neck, marking strange runes into the softness of youth. The roughing rope leaving burn marks blotchy and cruel on the horror of flesh.” But this child will soon be free; “soon / there will be light / and it will shine through your eyes / and I will drink it like honey.”

Yes, there is freedom in death, and so too is there beauty within the body, with murder as the means of furnishing its treasures. Torture, agony, strangulation; these gestures proffer “[t]he platter of goods [God] has set inside of you. / The platter of ripe fruits pulsating in the heat of your wounds. / The pink fruit pulsating in the beat of your organs, stretching the web of your skin.” A gorgeous spread. A marvelous feast, like a perversion of Claude Monet's Flowers and Fruit; a cornucopia of strips of flesh and blood for a banquet.

How grotesque is this boy’s murder which at first blush seems so senseless. But what beauty grows by the light of God and blooms like flowers from the body born of this murder. Because it is death and only death which brings this text to life. Need death always be so cruel? Need murder be so selfish?

No, because we see that it is kindness which conditions this act when the man tells the frightened child, “I am sharing these things with you.” Never mind the white of the boy’s eyes “straining open, burning black as beetles in the sun” because this—his agony, his delirium—is but a momentary labor. Soon the preparation of the feast will be complete, and “soon / there will be light.”

Collages by Karolina Urbaniak at Infinity Land.

The publisher, Infinity Land, characterizes itself as “a realm deeply steeped in pathological obsessions, extreme desires, and private aesthetic visions,” quoting the author Yukio Mishima as saying that “True beauty is something that attacks, overpowers robs, and finally destroys,” and, true to this obsessive pursuit of a beauty which destroys, a cat o’ nine tails awaits us on the otherwise sparse and dismal cover (as dismal as the material the cover encloses); this object of abject torture lying free from any hand—its tails of leather arranged and spaced decorously—invites us to wield the wood of its handle. Invites us to torture, to inflict what, according to its design, will become a constellation of wounds, but upon whose body but our own? To read Cicatrization is to engage in this ceremony of self-flagellation, this ritual act of bloodletting. Here’s the handle and here’s the whip, the cover seems to beckon. You know what to do.

Leonard Klossner:

Leonard Klossner has had fiction and poetry published in Expat Press, SELFFUCK and Ligeia, with work forthcoming from Fugitives & Futurists. He is one half of the editorial body of AGON, a literary, arts and theory journal.
IG: @communicatingvessels

David Kuhnlein:

David Kuhnlein lives in Michigan. His critical writing is featured at 3:AM, Full Stop, Entropy, DIAGRAM, and others. He's online @princessbl00d.

Collages by Karolina Urbaniak at Infinity Land.

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