22 thoughts on “Rule Dementia! by Quentin S. Crisp


    “Behind him a strange man, a tramp perhaps, was hovering in the small passage. It must have been Stephen’s cold, or some trick…”

    Jellyfish almost has an assonance with Jesus. This is pure flowing Crisp prose of the most vintage quality despite its presumably more youthful source. It is a text that, at first, I kept my distance from as a religion even though as a fiction it held me close – and I genuinely marvelled at its religious accoutrements and transformations based on the screeds that tell of The Jellyfish – and, later, I began to lap it up as a beautiful religion floating upon or within an equally beautiful hoax. Until I reached the miraculous end and I found myself along an unexpected Road to Damascus where disbelief at a final outcome or message of a religion or fiction somehow allows complete faith in the rest of it. Well, it worked here.


    I don’t think it is a spoiler to say this is “a gothic picaresque kitchen-sink novella of the Uncanny, Surreal and Absurd.” – because it tells you this before it begins proper….

    CHAPTER I: Something the Matter
    CHAPTER II: A Digression

    There is something charmingly weird about QSC works, self-consciously and empirically tortuous, too, and the need for a cup of tea to talk about it. A cup of tea brings me to ‘nostalgia’, also covered here, as we are introduced to Les (not his real name), and his engaging turn-up-anytime relationship with the narrator as they try to outdo each other with brainstorming small talk, and here we have bike rides, and Listening Folk in out of the way places, and, inter alia, the sexing of earwigs. But don’t let this put you off. In fact, the opposite. So far, this work promises some sort of apotheosis of the QSC mind-set as if QSC’s often more complexly textured work since ‘The Haunted Bicycle’ seems to be constructively and exponentially back-pedalling towards a literary nostalgia for it.
    I may be wrong.

    • CHAPTER III: Daytime TV
      CHAPTER IV: Really Serious

      When I heard about the comparison to dowsing of the so-called Haunted Bicycle’s antics of sharp unwanted turns of its handlebars, I thought of my own dreamcatcher (that I have already compared to a dowser) twitching autonomously in my reviewing-hand. It is twitching now over this unputdownable novella (although I do intend to put it down and eke it out), a serious-hilarious side to this relationship of Les and the narrator, an affectionate reference to the habits of the unemployed, cups of tea as Dutch courage, ginger haired people, a laugh with Lassie, all, for me, pure dowseable QSC, especially when the pair of them hear spoken words about the subject matter of their own conversations near where an underground river emerges into the outside, — and other experiments involved sussing the hauntedness of the bike, behaviour that reminds me of Laurel and Hardy, perhaps, like Lassie, on Daytime TV, a phenomenon that I think someone in this book hints brings you nearer Heaven…?
      All God’s Angels, beware!

      • CHAPTER V: Old Letters

        “The mackerels had come! The mackerels with their lugubrious eyes and their slippery stripes! / I hardly move as they climbed through in through the window and hoisted me on their shoulders.”

        That bit is as if straight from John Cowper Powys, except Powys’ version was probably tench. This is marvellous stuff in its own right, meanwhile, as Q the narrator shares with us his letters with Les, an erstwhile relationship not to sneeze at.
        But vis à vis the haunted bicycle…
        “…and it is this achronology more than the possibility of any prescience that disturbs me.”

        • CHAPTER VI: Under English Skies
          CHAPTER VII: The Testimony of the Bloke in the Garage

          “Anyway, everything’s mad really, isn’t it?”

          Proof’s in time’s pudding with Trump and Brexit? Anyway, everything here is not mad, (Rule Dementia?), although it SEEMS mad quite a bit of the time. The bike continues to remind me of my literary dreamcatcher or hawler or dowser or träumtrawler, leading to apparently random but retrospectively significant places and things, such as, in these two chapters, to echoes of earlier themes like ginger haired people and earwigs, and to a transformer in the woods with the sign “danger of death”. And to a “bloke” with knowledge, as lots of blokes do have knowledge, sometimes knowledge about this so-called madness. But, then again, “I kept thinking maybe I’m making a lot of this up, or making connections between things when there is no connection.”

          • CHAPTER VIII: Personal
            CHAPTER IX: The Taste of Ashes

            “If a wardrobe comes to life it can only be for evil purposes; it can only be part of some plot, some great nightmare revolt…”

            Wardrobes or cement-mixers. In cahoots with the Listening Folk, this plot is that nightmare revolt – or vice versa. A dream diary within a dream diary? The nature of the narrator’s persecution complex continues to remind me constructively and separately of the nature of the mysticism in John Cowper Powys, particularly his ‘The Inmates’ and ‘The Glastonbury Romance.’ Books that have long haunted me, just as this one has begun to pedal the literary bike inside me, too. No greater compliment can you give than comparison with excellence. Albeit an excellence that eats away at itself to make it seem less so.

  3. CHAPTER X: Jeepers, Creepers, Ouija Get Those Peepers?
    CHAPTER XI: While the Tide Comes In

    “The great weakness of man comes from his unbending sense of what is absurd and what is realistic. The world is divided by a veil. Beyond the veil mackerel and earwigs are mobilising, pebbles are holding orgies, we are a laughing stock. On this side of the veil animals are mute, rocks on pavements are silent and still.”

    And Les and the narrator hold a séance. Reading about it, I wonder which side of the veil their sitting is sitting on. Affectionate cups of tea, cigarettes that end in ashes, unemployed friendships, perhaps are on the cusp. Meanwhile, another part of these chapters remind me of me, something that has long been summed up by this: [[From the cosmic point of view, to have opinions or preferences at all is to be ill; for by harbouring them one dams up the flow of the ineluctable force which, like a river, bears us down to the ocean of everything’s unknowing. Reality is a running noose, one is brought up short with a jerk by death. It would have been wiser to co-operate wih the inevitable and learn to profit by this unhappy state of things – by realising and accommodating death! But we don’t, we allow the ego to foul its own nest. Therefore we have insecurity, stress, the midnight-fruit of insomnia, with a whole culture crying itself to sleep. How to repair this state of affairs except through art, through gifts which render to us language manumitted by emotion, poetry twisted into the service of direct insight]]
    from ‘The Avignon Quincunx’ by Lawrence Durrell (‘Constance’ 1982)

    And there is is more Powysian cosmic connections, say, between souls and stars, and this section from Powys’s ‘The Inmates’ (another green coloured book like Rule Dementia!) seems definitely on one side of the veil and not the other: [[And it seemed to him as if the word ‘constitute’ were a giant crane that had the power of seizing upon him and hoisting him up to heaven. Not unkindly nor clumsily was it ready to hoist him the moment he wished to be hoisted. It hadn’t intruded on him. It wasn’t pushing itself forward. It had nothing in common with a bulldozer. It was just there, ready and able to hoist, anxious to hoist, but with no intention of hoisting until required by the hoisted. Mr. Lordy began to feel faintly sleepy. ‘Not quite yet,’ he told the great being whose name was ‘constitute’ — ‘I’m not quite ready to be hoisted; but I soon shall be — constitute — constitute — constitute.’]]

    • CHAPTER XII: Orgasmic Climax
      CHAPTER XIII: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Doss House

      “…this the unbearable absurdity.”

      Having lived with these two unemployed characters with one of them riding ‘backy’ to the other, rolling ‘baccy ‘, too. And getting Dutch Courage from cups of tea. Well, I don’t know about Shock-Headed Peter, I’m Shock-Headed Reader, their silent friend, whispering and listening as we went as a trio through this utterly undidactic story, absurdity for its own sake, Bosch as Bosch, in the wood, trackside shelter, no ulterior motive, just a swathe of literary aberration, aberrant in the fact there is no excuse for it. No value at all, other than to pass an hour or so of useless time. Not even escapism, as it worries you that you might be wasting so much time. Agonising whether to abort it of not. But I have not only read every word and weighed them, but written about them here! The apotheosis of something with no beginning and no end, and there can be no argument with that. Just the overdue re-enacted real-time handlebar-twitching free-wheeling seemingly endless pedal-free legs-wide daredevil accelerative bike-ride down the steepest hill near my childhood home towards expected death. That and undeserving pride.


    “There is a certain pub in London which seems to exist more as a rumour than a concrete reality. Once in a while, according to the rhythms of some unknown calendar, the existence of the public house seems to coincide with the existence of whoever is seeking it, and ways that previously seemed to conceal themselves now lead plainly there.”

    I know that same pub. It appeared in my 2011 novel, ‘Nemonymous Night’, and now I know that this 2005 published story by QSC (previously unread by me) was written for this real-time review in 2016. It relentlessly asks itself, you see, in its final series of epiphanies, the question about the identity for whom it is written. Otherwise, what is it?
    It is a wonderful work, one that affects me deeply and reminds me of parts of me over the centuries; it is the un-didacticism of ‘The Haunted Bicycle’ made meaningful and purposeful, miraculously without falling into the sin of didacticism itself. The protagonist has a persecution complex, and visionary mystic qualities of Powys, but it has its own discrete and unique power of self-inquisition layered with a nostalgic hankering for the retro-idealised England of his childhood and his mother, and now with his mother’s coming close to his unexpected, and for him, undeserved girl friend, there seems to be a nightmarish subsidence of his confidence, even to the extent of this girl friend exploiting his beloved cello…
    Yes, his cello in shape and timbre, a significant item, sometimes playing the music of a real composer I have incredibly never heard of (incredible because I thought I had heard of all composers), a composer named (Erich) Urbanner, and the cello takes on a mystical quality – and now, as it were, tainted. But earlier it was like unwinding intestines even when he played it for her. A strange name she has – Tommy – because she was a tom-boy as a younger girl.
    A text where Tommy shares intimacy with his hopelessness, failure, and he can’t quite believe it that anyone of such seemingly unreachable beauty could possibly have him as a boy friend, and his later epiphanal subsidence is all the greater for that.
    A yearning for normality. A conversation with her on a country walk, a conversation – like The Haunted Bicycle – without beginning or end, only middle. Music a language without words. Childhood terrors. Naive questionings of the behaviour of others. All sensitively conveyed.
    I hope I have assuaged some of the feelings that fill this story with inconsolable anguish, assuaged them in real-time with a review that now has, I am confident, moved (at least and not too late) towards the corner of Zugzwang’s eye.


    Pages 157 – 182

    As compelling so far as SADO-GA-SHIMA, and that’s saying something, this is another travel document or gazetteer (here, Taiwan) and it possibly gives lazy non-holiday people like me more of the sensation of being somewhere than BEING there. This is interwoven with the protagonist Paul’s sexual habits and thoughts, and the intriguing female image he uses for onanistic purposes, together with all manner of tensions wanton and spiritual – and a double-dealing turned singular and honourable – literary memories that will remain with me more strongly than do those from many other more famous literary books than this one seems to have so far become. Literature is not fair. (I’m listening to Bob Dylan singing as I write this.)

      • Pages 182 – 218

        “He felt like one of the squidgy, crumpledup tissues that he had scattered across the floor of the flat.”

        I sense that Paul’s top-floor flat is the central force in this story, but that is only a hunch on my part, just as that inscrutable pub in Zugzwang was that story’s, too. Can there possibly be a plot spoiler about the slow build up and ‘fulfilment’ of a Zugzwank that this story turns out to be, a withdrawal of deliberation or not rushing, by means of real-time slow-motionIng, the decisive moment – as central to the art of successfully Zugzwanking, I guess. Delaying the climax, and thus daring, in some form of Zeno’s Paradox, to not take up one’s forced right to make a move first before all erupts prematurely…
        This text is full of those delays and schisms for full ripeness of Zugzwank to mature. Images of the eponymous subject of this process in her various stances and garb, geometrical domes of knickers etc, close scrutiny of words like ‘fulfilment’, ‘homunculus’, ‘synchronicity’ and ‘girl’*, then being in a sort of frightening Eyes Wide Shut type street Carnival with memories of the earlier ghost money, puppeteer, and other mystic figures named in this text, ultra-Powysian visions and computer trailbacks. I could go on and on, including more Taiwanese gazetteering. And tracks with no beginning and end making circles around first causes….
        (There are a few mock fulfilments of the Zugzwank along the way, but they turn out to be false starts to make the final and only fulfilment that much the greater spoutiing, but you will only know whether this is a genuine plot spoiler or not, if you manage to clinch reading it to the end … if it does have an an end.)

        *”The hard ‘g’ dangles its legs out of the skirts of the word. The ‘ir’ in the middle is full of fuzz and bubbles. Then comes the clean, virginal ‘l’ at the end.”

    (the whole of this novella has been read in one amazing sitting, but with my still waiting – as well as ever hawling it, the only work where I feel a hawler actually appears, i.e. as the narrator in the found manuscript that QSC quotes in full, which might mean that QSC himself is a hawler?)

    “This stench seemed to emanate from the pit or pool that took up most of the floor space. In this pit something black stirred vaguely…”

    With the word ‘stench’, I wonder if this something stirring is the tench I mentioned earlier in this review. I urge linking to my post here in 2012 where JCP’s ‘Is it a Tench?’ is discussed: http://weirdmonger.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/john-cowper-powys-premonition-of.html
    The found manuscript is written by Brendan who lost his parents in a car accident and resultant fire, and he is a banker (not the previous work’s wanker!)
    He has many of the traits, alienations and persecutions of earlier protagonists in this book, though, and he is led by his manager into a part of the bank that is more than just a bullion cellar, in fact a maze-like Lovecraftian vision, but supremely in excess of any such visions, as you will find out for yourself, if you have not already read it. This journey leads to all manner of horrific scenes, mystic references and implications filtered through a sense of the existentially absurd. The concept of Waiting seems important to me and fits in with the earlier circles of no beginning and end – and first causes – together, toward the end, with a dire list of ills besetting humanity, to which now should be added the eternally irresolvable Brexit? “the eternal jackboot paradox of life and death.” “Empty lies and terrible truth.”

    The whole experience for the reader, as I imagine it, is like this novella’s own ‘pulse starting in the neck’ – the initial evidence that I am not dead, as it wakes me…and “I was not sure if it were my vision or if I were its.”


    Although first published in 2005, I suspect the works in this book were written significantly at the turn of the millennium….


    “not the haggard despair”
    It is also about the land of the Missing, about the Land of Me, related to Haggard’s Land of She, or Elizabeth Bowen’s Mysterious Kôr….?

    You need to read (as I have) the whole of this book as well as all the still ongoing books by QSC that have since followed it over the near two decades since year zero, in order to see how this work — of Gawain and Rebecca, and conspiratorial outsider Ray(fish?), more Lovecraftian catacombs, (sometimes inverse or synaesthesic pareidolia of common objects in our world), and other floating tropes — is in itself AND ALONE the optimum expressed message to humanity from QSC. Thus, unmissable.
    I wonder if the use of the word ‘imminence’ twice towards the end of this work should have been ‘immanence’?
    And whether it is significant (or a spoiler?) to note that the whole of this book ends with the two word “he waits”?
    I use the word ‘unmissable’ advisedly.


    • From ‘The Glastonbury Romance’ (1933) by John Cowper Powys:

      “‘Is it a Tench?’ he kept muttering quite audibly. What he was always reverting to in his thoughts was the necessity he was under to tell everybody in Glastonbury that he had seen the Grail; and several times he stopped various errand boys and tradesmen’s wives, whom he knew by sight, and began to tell them, or began to gather himself up to tell them, but by some queer psychological law they seemed inevitably to slip away from him before he had forced them to listen to him. He came by degrees to have that queer sensation that we have sometimes in dreams, that everything we touch eludes and slides away. He even got the feeling that the pavements were soft under his feet and that the people he passed were like ghosts who moved WITHOUT MOVING THEIR LEGS.”

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