The Local Voice

Book Review by Conor Hultman: “You With Your Memory Are Dead,” by Gary J. Shipley


You With Your Memory Are Dead
by Gary J. Shipley
Inside the Castle ($19)

Horror is often thought of in a narrative sense. The tension of an unsuspecting victim, the dramatic irony of the knife out of frame, the nervous triumph of the lone survivor: these are all elements that rely on time and sequence and other formalized storytelling conventions. However, an aspect of horror just as familiar, probably more familiar to the average consumer, is the horror of discovery—the encounter and the shock of the confrontation with an image.

Edmund Elias Merhige’s classic experimental horror film Begotten understands this feeling. It is a black-and-white barrage of scenes that disturb, not for their violence or surprise, but for the bare suggestions immediate in their witnessing. A nightmarish allegory of creation myths, Begotten unnerves at a visual level locked in our inchoate unconsciousness.

Gary Shipley locked himself in a room for two weeks with Begotten on loop and wrote poetic and philosophical impressions of the film. The result is You With Your Memory Are Dead, a book with literary qualities to match the dooming, awed experience of the film. In a stunning translation from image into text, Shipley has created a new type of criticism, one that realizes the personal reception of these grotesque scenes and configures them into sentences that depersonalize and unsettle the reader in the familiarly indistinct manner of Merhige’s film.

This is a disfigured language. There are no names, there are no characters. The conception of the human is devalued. When the I emerges, it is decentered and diffused, as in:

“Because I once woke in a medical centre with ten doctors’ hands inside my head. And after deliberating for what seemed like hours, they regretfully pronounced a word they could not pronounce.”

How the film incessantly presents image after visceral image, and nothing more, this book consists of isolated, invocating lines that usher the reader into an unending, unexplainable nausea. Lines such as, “When people are the parasites of their mirrors,” and “Because there’s only joy in the things that aren’t there, and that were never there,” and “The sound of momentum of disembowelled sand.” The chapter titles are their own poems, “HATCHING CYCLE OF FUTILE EXERTIONS,” “PHASE OF VIRTUALISED INVASION.” This is a horror that cannot be rationalized with the fear of death, or pain, or any obsession with the body merely. This is a horror of Being. To understand why Shipley frightens you is to understand the lower mechanisms of fear.

You With Your Memory Are Dead is an impressionistic masterpiece of loathing. To pair it with a viewing of Begotten will make for an unforgettable Halloween evening. Remember, bad memories are memorable, too, technically.

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