I have a stack of notebooks relating to the Alexander Trocchi research I conducted between 2005 and 2009. Previous posts have drawn on this excess material. One recent trawl yielded this missive: a quick review of a Trocchi event organised by 3:AM Magazine in October 2006. As the notes point out the event was small but the line-up of speakers was impressive: Michael Horovitz, Stewart Home, Tom McCarthy and Dennis Brown.
Most of the speakers published their talks online shortly after the event and I’ve added links to these where possible. Home and McCarthy later went on to develop their texts into introductory essays for the most recent editions of Young Adam (Alma, 2010) and Cain’s Book (Alma, 2010). Even if you know the novels both of these editions are worth checking out. In his talk Home spoke about his mother and about Jamie Wadhawan’s Cain’s Film (1969). His essay ‘A Walk on Gilded Splinters’ that appeared in Iain Sinclair’s London: City of Disappearances built on this. Interested readers should also seek out his 2005 novel Tainted Love.
I’ve tightened up the text a bit here and there but otherwise it’s taken verbatim from the notebook I was keeping at the time. I would like to say that my odd use of tense and fragmented syntax was done in homage to Trocchi but this was not the case. I wrote this at speed, on a train, very late at night.
Alexander Trocchi at The Three Kings, Clerkenwell 12 October 2006.
A night of readings and criticism organised by radical publishers Social Disease. Although by all accounts this event didn’t draw the impressive numbers seen at their last B.S. Johnson event, the line-up of speakers was excellent and the venue - a dimly lit upper pub room - was perfect setting for the evening's tales of drugs, sex and dangerous writing.
First up was poet Michael Horovitz who by candlelight read from Trocchi’s first novel, Young Adam (1954). He highlighted the novel’s debt to Beckett, praised its intense lyricism but also commented on its obvious shortcomings. Young Adam denies of any kind of distinctive voice to the character of Ella, being a particularly problematic aspect. Horovitz also talked about Trocchi’s role in the 1965 Poetry Incarnation at the Albert Hall, and it was this image of him as an organiser and networker which was to persist during the evening
Author and activist Stewart Home spoke next and illustrated the dizzying extent of Trocchi’s connections amongst the international counterculture. Home touched on the idea of Trocchi as an artist of disappearance and turned the lack of projection equipment to his advantage. The inability to screen Jamie Wadhawan’s Cain’s Film was read by Home as an appropriate symbol of Trocchi's own traceless nature.
Home commented that Trocchi main talent was that of drawing people into his circle. This mesmeric quality was central to Dennis Brown’s contribution to the evening. Brown acted as Trocchi’s literary assistant in the later, largely undocumented period of the author's life. Brown painted a picture of a man who on the surface appeared quiet, introverted and content to sit in a bookish corner with beer and a whiskey chaser. However Brown described how, once the talk began flowing, this appearance gave way to tales of Parisian decadence, sigmatic revolution, and - to those who were so inclined - the promise of a fix in the presence of a master junkie.
Trocchi obviously had a major influence on Brown, but he was also quick to point out the damaging and debilitating effects of his friend's drug addiction. The image of Trocchi sitting alone and motionless in the corner of a bar offered a significant counterpoint to the image of a galvanizing activist and artist conveyed by Home. These two perspectives came together in the final talk of the night from author Tom McCarthy. He read a fascinating paper focusing on Cain’s Book (1960), Trocchi’s account of heroin addiction in New York. McCarthy placed particular emphasis on the moments in the text where writing itself becomes the subject. From here McCarthy argued that rather than being merely a graphic diary of drug abuse, Cain's Book offered insights into what he called the "primal scene of writing"; a record of writing as process. Heroin does not produce this vision but instead works as a correlative in the text to Trocchi’s movement to the edge of language. The text narrates and investigates the movement of individuals towards a series of personal and communicative extremes.
What emerged out of the evening was an image of Trocchi as a distinctive but limited voice in post-war literature. However, as was suggested by the biographical insights provided and the analytic perspectives applied, there exists within Trocchi’s writing a wilful sense of self-destruction. Trocchi consistently seems to activate a process of obliteration or disappearance. That he is now being celebrated by small, secretive groups meeting in backrooms suggests that to some degree Trocchi succeeded in his bid to escape from history.