El Funcionario Fantasma: a Montage

Joaquín Garcia, a civil servant of Cadiz, it was reported, ‘failed to turn up for work for at least six years’ having been ‘caught after becoming eligible for a long service award.’ Señor Garcia, who was worried at sixty-nine, was employed ‘to supervise the building of a waste water treatment plant’, claiming later that he had been ‘moved to a post where there was no work to do.’

‘The newspapers called me El Funcionario Fantasma: that is, the phantom official to you,’ Garcia said. It was noted that the boss of the water company had not seen Señor Garcia for ‘years despite occupying an office opposite his.’ The water company thought he was supervised by the local authorities and vice versa. The deputy mayor noticed his absence when Señor Garcia became eligible to receive a plaque for twenty years’ service. Señor Garcia, it transpired, did go to the office ‘although not for full business hours every day,’ dedicating himself to ‘reading philosophy.’

‘The truth of the matter,’ said Garcia, ‘was that El Funcionario Fantasma was employed in the construction of part of a whole city that was fake.’ Some way outside Cadiz, they built a ghost town. This new city would be, it was said, ‘when finished, a to-scale fabricated town, built to code, complete with schools, roads — basically everything you would consider the necessary components of a functional city. Except, of course, no residents.’ There would be ‘separate districts in which it will be possible to test distinct products: Energy District, Development District, Water District, Agricultural District, and a downtown area. And each will be connected by an underground nervous system of sensors, water, and sewer systems.’

‘The ghost town,’ said Garcia, ‘was going to be a giant petri dish for city planning.’

He scratched his head.

‘Well, I grew bored with little to do. When the water plant had been built, it needed overseeing. There is no waste water in a waste water plant for no people. My mind began to ponder what I heard others saying about other aspects of the city: there could be trash or vandalism manufactured for the sake of a specific test, but what about stuff that becomes less essential when you don’t have, you know, actual residents? Stuff like public art? A call for projects was announced and entries came in from across the country. Well, philosophy and art are not so far apart . . .’

Garcia conceived of a zoo as art piece: what could be more of a thought-piece as a zoo-full of animals for no-one to look on? He had time to spare and, he reasoned, a man unnoticed as missing from his desk for six years could easily expect to gather a zoo-full of creatures without being interrupted. Unfortunately, Garcia mused, there was a tremendous flood. ‘It was almost Biblical,’ he said. The cages released the animals amidst the downpour. ‘Lions roamed the streets, a hippopotamus grazed from a tree in a central square and a bear was left crouching on a first-floor window sill.’

Señor Garcia, not rendered completely fazed, though only shortly before becoming eligible for a long service award, devised a further philosophical-art piece.

‘I conceived of the Kingdom of Enclava,’ he announced. It was, he explained, ‘a thousand square foot patch of land’. It was billed as ‘the smallest country in Europe’, Garcia went on, suggesting that he had situated his new country strip of land within the city of no people. He smiled a little, weakly. ‘Enclava has no citizens as yet.’

Señor Joaquín Garcia, artist, philosopher, El Funcionario Fantasma, did not receive the long service award he was due. Instead, he was ordered to pay a year’s salary and was quietly retired. He can be found, telling stories for beers, in the little back street bars of Cadiz, some way out from a ghost town that no longer contains a zoo or a small country.
Note: this story is a montage of the extraordinary/ordinary reported text from real events with fictional original linking narrative, written for the Magic Realism Blog Hop 2016 (details below references).

BBC (2016), Spanish civil servant off work unnoticed for six years [Online]. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35557725 (Accessed July 25, 2016).

Beauchamp, S. (2015), A giant, fake city in the middle of the desert. Washington DC: The Atlantic [Online]. Available from: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/05/a-giant-fake-city-in-the-middle-of-the-desert/391652/ (Accessed July 25, 2016).

Parfitt, T. (2015), Hippopotamus on loose in Tblisi shot with tranquilliser — but tigers, lions and wolves still free. London: Telegraph

Squires, N. (2015), Welcome to the world’s newest country — the kingdom of Enclava. London: Telegraph.
Magic Realism Blop-Hop Logo 2016This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. About twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (July 29-31, 2016) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Click on the blue frog button below to get the links of all the blogs.


No Less Starstruck by Our Spells

If today the ability to read is everyone’s portion, still only a few notice what a powerful talisman has thus been put into their hands . . . and while those who have not been called seem to apply their reading ability to news reports or to the business sections of their newspapers, there are a few who remain constantly bewitched by the strange miracle of letters and words (which once, to be sure, were an enchantment and magic formula to everyone).

— Herman Hesse (1974)

Once, we could not write. Then, later, the nature of the spells we said and scratched opened up the earth and skies to us. We were awestruck in the wondrous world. Later still, we wondered at how clever we were. Here we are, now, swimming in the swathe of words upon words all saying the same things: we’re content with our words, our magickless words, and how clever we are.

Now, here, less is more. The careful selection of words is still a spell-sowing for those who know how to write and read them. The song writers and the poets know, as do the other watchers of the world. Once, we might not have understood so well (perhaps we find we’re still in a process of finding out): how could less be more? Of course, the sentiment is not so difficult, but the clean lines, the juxtapositions, the nature of what resides in the gaps might truly elude us. Mies van der Rohe drew a few graphite lines, perhaps, and which, later now, this writer still finds he’s learning: translation, from one art form to another, is a study in time. So, in words, in spells, less is more.

Yet, what of the abundance, the layers, the richness sewn deep into the fabric of all the very many books of the world? Gaps are deep within the very best and beautiful of these, within the torrid and the tremendous, within the ferocious and the frightening: some stratum of the spells, a magic seam; layers are silk thin, cotton warm, wool thick. Together, with the breath of air between, they enwrap, reflect and illuminate. Words are the delicate fabric of the human world.

Less is more. Too many words just stultify. The contentment of our modern content is a magickless morass. There was a time of awe, love, fear, respect out there in the eely black, studded with the milky sheen of stars. The fat sac of a watery moon glowered in the liquid night. We whispered soft incantations in the dark. Whichever goddesses we uttered love or reverence for, we trembled in the pauses due to them as well. Now we’ve forgotten what the words were ever for.

Our gods and goddesses are differently attired; our myths are self-aggrandisements. Magic doesn’t align with ego, and words seldom work the way they used to. What we often cannot see, or sense in other ways, is rarity. Words are rare. They can speak in tongues other than the shallow contentment of our modernity.

Once, we could not write. We have it in us to be awestruck at the wondrous world; we have it in us to be starstruck at the spells we might still lightly, deeply, sow and sew.

Hesse, H. (1974), My belief: essays on life and art. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Cited by Popova, M. (2016), The magic of the book: Hermann Hesse on why we read and always will [Online]. Available from: www.brainpickings.org (Accessed July 11, 2016).

Words as Worked Weaving: Connected Wholeness and Instancy

(i) [I] don’t like to write, but [I] like having written. (ii) I like having written a book, but I can’t say I enjoy the actual work. (iii) I enjoy having written. (iv) I loathe writing, but I love having written. (v) Most writers don’t like writing; they like having written.

— Frank Norris (i)
quoted in The Bellman (1915)

— Cornelia Otis Skinner (ii)
quoted in Lubbock Avalanche Journal (1964)

— Clive Barnes (iii)
quoted in Wall Street Journal (1968)

— Irene Kampen (iv)
quoted in Press Telegram (1976)

— Gloria Steinem (v)
as attributed, in Idaho State Journal (1976)

There is a disconnect between the marvellous reality, extraordinary of the ordinary, of the lives we lead and the dulling density, the prosaic paucity of the minutiae of what we see as ‘work’. In reality, there are possibilities of magical beauties in the cafés, in angled augmentations of sunlight slaking the surfaces of walls, in the lived lives of breathing trees seen in all the in-betweens. Look, says the Muse, with fingers at the nape of your neck. There is the sudden comprehension of truths.

We can sense a great onslaught of words. Every one makes sense, in its own way. Together, they have a gathered integrity, perplexity, connected wholeness. We can sit and consider all the words that might be integral to some space, some time, some space-in-time, or space-time: the whole is it. Some days, some times or situations, we live in atomic moments. Words take on quantum satisfaction: everything, like now, fits, somehow.

We can practice the art of instancy in the looking or the being seen. Even the nature of the urban — its fabric and its flesh — can sense us. We can be aware of moments and how they play us, and how they play through us, whispering. All the instances we ever may experience, if we practice seeing, are neutrino particles in their rush: all this flow of interwoven sensory snapshots of so much more than photographic sheen.

From the whisper edge of the succinct, where moments play at the periphery of perception, where descriptions hang in space, there is the faint and furious burn of the suddenly known: the precision selection of a strand of words presents itself — a perceptive sudden connection to the world. The marvellous reality may be seen in densely drenched consideration and delineation. If we practice the art of instancy, we can capture the air itself in words.

Yet, in paucity, conversely, what can we know if we’re sunk in the sea sands of what we see as ‘work’? Our lungs are filled with saltwater and, instead of breathing words, we hardly breathe at all. Words, tangible or ethereal-ephemeral, cannot be seen as ‘work’: worked and woven, yes, but never ‘work’.
Reference (for all article epigraph quotes):

Quote Investigator (2014), Don’t like to write, but like having written [Online]. Available from: www.quoteinvestigator.com/2014/10/18/on-writing (Accessed Mar 6, 2016).

Ripenings and Twistings: Emergences of the Fantastic

Ideas change, they warp and become salty, they run, they are eclipsed, they go dark. Ideas compost, they drop seeds . . . Ideas are saturated, incubated, stained, and blurred . . . Most live in the substrata, lurking in the forest undergrowth, in the pavement of my city, in the folds of skin behind your knees.

— from Beginnings? (Nora Bateson, 2015)

Come back and around in the art of going around in circles. There are things we can learn about letting things ripen and in our re-twists and returns. Drop in an idea or two and let them brew. You know (I’ll assert) the page can be a fantastic arena for fermentation (and, here, ‘fantastic’ is with a view to the blown out, a starsplash, out of the ordinary): the spread of yeast, the Petri dish. Or, mixing metaphors, drop in a bead of ink and watch it unfold in the water. We write and we wait.

Do you know what you wrote, one day, stone cold sober or otherwise, and later underneath the ink there is, you find, something sweet unique? What does it matter if they might say that all that ever might be written ever has been written? It never has been written quite this way. Though you may not have known it at the time, later when you read again you sensed something just breathing. We write and we wait and we listen in.

It may just be the brewing process, words steeped in the mash of time and place where they were written, steeped in the puttering and bubbling of the states of being, times and places of our returns of reading. We write and we wait, we listen in and we stir.

Underneath the ink is something quite unique. We create our tenebrous soft and wet-winged creatures and leave them in the dark. What is it that they’re silked with? What ‘ineffable utter neatness’ and ‘everything just connects-ness’ smothers them? What lies folded within the nascent, soft wet wings of a line? It may just be its settling that imbues its future reading with an artistry. We write and we wait, we listen in and we stir; we study with the keenness of mothers.

Come back and around in the art of going around in circles. There are things we can learn about letting things ripen and in our re-twists and returns. Drop in an idea or two and let them brew. You know (I’ll assert) the page can be a fantastic arena for fermentation: the spread of yeast, the Petri dish, where the salty long-tongued lick of lips is soft and small — the grub, the pup that opens up its silk-slipped wings, letting leatherings and letterings stiffen in the breeze you breathe across them.

We write, we wait, we listen, and we stir; we study and we are astounded, confounded, by the creatures we have made.

Writing Matter as Matter

Once, come close, someone pulled at their lip and caught you there: maybe. A long time later, in a different life, you sensed a flickering of this, in a different city, at a time that found you unawares. It stopped you for a while: the way that once-forgotten touch tends to do.

Once, she placed her hand on my chest, and her print is indelible now. This sliver-moment is sunk in me. Of course, at the time, she knew what it was she was doing, entirely, and there’s no such thing as moments that look like slivers.

I stop writing for a while because of words . . .

The world we’re all enmeshed in is felt and lived within such multitudes of planes: some may see the numbers of it all, some the colours, music or other sounds, some may see in dance, in segments of time or times, or some might see in words. All the velvet stories of our days enwrap us. All the felt and chiffon descriptors of our current surroundings enfold us. Once upon a time comes close, sometime when we’re immersed in other lives: it breathes hotly at our ear.

The matter of our lives and words combine. What richnesses we keep concealed in the pockets of our days and in the depths imprinted in our fingertips. The depth-textures of all we write (whether on the air, or on the page, or onto someone else’s skin) are pressed with all the very many days contained within our fingerprints.

Once, come close, someone kissed you. It never left your lips, though you didn’t know how this would happen at the time; though, now, you don’t always think of it. All the kisses you’ve ever tasted do this. Imagine the intensity if they all came back at once . . .

We’re fingerprint-deep and kissed-stained through and through.

Later, in a different city, in the vegetation density of a different life, fractions with the weight of butterflies and with the mass of moments flutter because of utterly unconnected things.  Or maybe connections are more complex than we think: the temporal-rhizomatic mesh we live within.

Once, when she kissed me, softly, leaving traces of her on me all these years gone by, she left a thread to whatever of this ochre scene before me now spins back and back to her. I haven’t the capacity to understand the links, but I know that something does.

The texture content of our written matters is depth-enmeshed infused; the flesh and grain of all our days, the intimate maps of our lives, the lived experience in all its rhizomatic connectedness, is intrinsic to our lines. That with which we are concerned is matter.

Once, come closer, someone left a gap in your life.

On the Eve of Words

A writer is working when he’s staring out the window.

— Burton Rascoe

I have been staring out of the window for a while.
With grace, have faith . . .


be quiet say nothing
except the street be full of stars

— Pablo Picasso

except the canals be full of evening
and our hands full of lamplight
the sky the colour of irises

— Adrian Henri (from Spring Poem)