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Rod Mengham’s descent into language: The Understory

Rod Mengham’s descent into language: The Understory

(corrupt press limited January 2014)

www.corruptpress.net

 

In the opening pages of his book Language (published by Fontana Press in 1995) Rod Mengham examined the world of Babel; ‘for there was confounded the lippe of all the erthe’ according to John Wyclif’s translation of Genesis 11:9 which hit the light of day some six hundred years earlier.

 

‘The descent from the Tower, then, is like another Fall: a decline into anarchy and linguistic isolation. And yet the instant of chaos in the biblical myth stands for nothing less than the whole of human history, for the process of gradual divergence, and occasional re-convergence, of multifarious linguistic traditions.’

 

It is quite echoing then to read in the first of these six short fictions which have recently appeared in a delightful chapbook from corrupt press about Icarus:

 

He is a diver to the inky cold of the ocean floor, among blind crabs. Volcanic tapers flare briefly. Cormorant fledgling breaks away from the gelid wax. Oiled skin breathes the Kleinian blue. But pressure rattles the lens, changes the convexity of the eye. Currents of lymph sweep away the pin-head sharks and invisible squid. Retinal flurry translates into rushing shoals leading him down to muffled chasms, cathedral rocks. Breathing equipment shuts off, oxygen tubes flatten, general failure of instruments measuring depth, pressure, and the malignity of the earth’s crust.

 

We are transported into a world that merges ‘Landscape and the Fall of Icarus’ (once attributed to Brueghel and made famous with Auden’s poem) with the art of reading: we are looking for what lies beneath the surface of these compelling fictions, the understory, the subtext.

There are other echoes inhabiting these stories and I found myself recalling Paul Auster’s terrifying futuristic novel In the Country of Last Things as I read Mengham’s ‘Diary of an Imperial Surgeon’ and the historical mischievousness of Milan Kundera as I read the opening paragraph of ‘Will O’The Wisp’. In that earlier book, Language, Rod Mengham had suggested that in its evolutionary descent ‘language has become inextricably meshed with the codes of information processing to a degree that makes less and less distinction between technological and vital structures and processes. On the one hand, there is a register in which the difference between hardware (mechanical equipment) and software (programmes) is neither more nor less apparent than either’s difference from liveware (human beings)’.

 

Rod Mengham runs Equipage Press in Cambridge and an excellent introduction to the history of that small press which has had so much to do with the world of contemporary poetry can be located in PN Review 215 where Luke Roberts wrote a brief history as well as giving a list of publications in print.

 

I found The Understory fascinating and it is a little pamphlet to which I shall return again and again not least on account of the clarity and clean edge of the prose.

 

Ian Brinton 5th June 2014

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