BRION: The American scene is certainly full of death. Full of it, my god. The Monster of Augsburg – in my childhood there was a horrible cat who, at the end of the war, 1919, had eaten some thirty-two boys. He made them into pates and sold them to his friends and stuff like that. Well, this was considered very extraordinary: a case for Krafft-Ebing. But now, here’s Rosalyn Constable Carter, whatever her name is, in a photograph with-
SLEAZY: Yeah, but the fact that Gacy was around just meant that he was a little bit more-
BRION: You’re absolutely mad, man, he was a community leader. He dressed up as Santa Claus and he gave Santa Claus performances; he wasn’t disguised at all. That’s who he really was, he was Santa Claus . . .
He was a pillar of society, like a Norman robber baron. You got all these people buried under you, you put them through the dungeons - you got them like that. Why shouldn’t you go up and shake the President’s wife’s hand and get you picture taken? . . . We’ve arrived back where we’ve always been. Now things are getting back to normal when this is happening. Who did Eleanor of Aquitaine have for dinner? She had Gilles de Rais, who had eaten one-hundred-and-thirty five boys, or something like that – that’s who came to dinner in those times. Little Mrs. Carter from the South – she’s getting right up there in history! She’s in there with Empress Theodora and Messalina. She’s rubbing elbows with good company like that. She’s got the Monster of Augsburg right there, turned into a fat Kiwanian. I think that’s the way it’s going . . .
SLEAZY: I don’t think any of that stuff actually happens in New York. It always happens in suburbs, doesn’t it?
BRION: Oh no, it happens on the WestSide . . .
SLEAZY: You don’t get mass murderers in New York. You get murderers obviously. You get muggings, you get stuff like that, but you don’t get people that are really specialized.
BRION: You kidding yourself? You just haven’t been frequenting the specialists . . .
BRION: Paper was invented by the Chinese, and got to the Arabs about the eighth century. Before then, there’d been papyrus paper from Egypt, which was older, of course. But the sort of paper as we know it appears in Europe only about the twelfth century, and came from Arab sources through Sicily, through the German kings - Hohenstauffen. Kings of Sicily imported paper first of all, because they had large schools set up of people, copying manuscripts for the first time onto paper. And so paper making made its way in Europe connected with good water, which is very important – the water source. All the paper mills were set up along rivers that were then still very clear. The Rhine was clear until my day; I saw the Rhine clear in 1930. Now it’s a great big sewer . . . dangerous sewer.
My first cousins had a paper factory on the Rhine from about 1500, maybe earlier, and made paper from reclaimed linen sheets and things like that; made that fantastic handmade linen paper that’s so tough you can barely tear it. And they made money for bank notes too, for a long time – centuries.
As a child, I made paper there too, where there was this big mess like porridge-Genesis P-Orridge!-and you’d grab a dollop of it in a big wooden spoon and throw it into a box that had a net at the bottom like a sieve, and you’d dump it up and down in a mortar like that until a sort of drool was distributed evenly all over the surface of your mesh. Then you’d turn it out on a marble slab and roll it either cold or hot . . . and that was handmade paper.
In the S—– Museum they still have those things shown, materials that they used and the machines that they had, stuff like that. Their paper went up and down the Rhine-from Amsterdam-it went quickly and easily to London; that was the nearest port. So they and people from Basel used to go back and forth from London from Elizabethan times regularly. Well, the Holbein, who was the principal painter at the court of Henry VIII, came from Basel, and worked on paper. Andthis woman that I know has this collection of papers that are of such value that she’s always been afraid to distribute them in any way, because of the fact that they could fall so easily into the hands of forgers. And she should worry.
All collections are full of fakes and forgeries, in any case. I spent a whole winter working and going through the archives that the Louvre has here in Paris. You have to get special permission and a letter from your embassy and all kinds of stuff to get in – I did that.
And I was particularly interested in the German and Basel painters and graphistes like Durer and Holbein and Urs Graf and Nikolaus Manuel Deutsch, of which they have a big collection. And half of their Durers are fakes! At least half. Obvious fakes. And they say, “Yes, yes, we know they’re fakes, but you know, they’ve been here so long - they were given by somebody in the eighteenth century, so they have some kind of historical value, and we’re not saving them simply because they are real or are very good, but . . . ” – You know, those kind of museum-ology-type stories that they tell; I guess they’re reasonable enough. But this woman has given me quite a lot of these different papers. I have still big wads of them in there that I haven’t used. And I have used them on some very interesting projects, but I don’t have enough to . . . a book of this size, for example. I wouldn’t even be able to make a single copy.
GEN: That’s a nice sort of connection, timewise, isn’t it?
BRION: As I said, it was studying Japanese-the Japanese language school-that got me so interested in paper and ink, really. It’s a whole study and it’s the basis of their aesthetic. As a matter of fact it’s based on the two-
GEN: Actually coming from the materials rather than imposing them.
GEN: Strange coincidence that there is a family connection . . . Can’t escape your roots, boy! – What is it he says in Towers Open Fire? ”You can’t deny your blood.”
BRION: I deny that statement!
GEN: I got a horrible sensation the other day watching myself on a video. I suddenly looked and – I did an expression identical to my father. It was horrible, I thought, “Oh shit!” . . . That always worries me a bit – being trapped.
BRION: “Somber moor, looking like Othello.”
A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN . . .
BRION: . . . We live in a period, I think, unique in all history. No house has an attic anymore, there’s no granny to put it in the attic - granny’s gone away to Florida to an old age home in St. Petersburg. Nobody even knows her maiden name. You ask any American the maiden name of either one of his grandmothers and he hasn’t got any idea. So there’s no connection anymore – most of them don’t want any connection. They’ve decided that they’re going to be just Americans, for one reason or another.
More than that, we have this enormous privilege which I think is unique and comes about for the first time in any society – of it being possible to have a room of one’s own. Nobody has a room of his or her own ever in all of history. Everybody lived with . . . dogs . . . and camels . . .
GEN: You mean, even within somebody’s family you have your own room-
BRION: Yeah, it was never possible. You always slept with brothers and sisters, and mothers and fathers and grandparents and all sorts of people; maids living in the house, sleeping behind the kitchen door. Do you know how much the idea of having a room to yourself has changed the whole sexual scene? In fact, I think that really the basis of the sexual scene is the fact that it’s been possible to be able to be alone to do these fancy things that you’ve thought up. It was never possible if you lived in the bosom of a family, how can you possibly? People do get up in some really kinky situations but not like that.
And I think a society like Muslim society where all sexuality occurs with your clothes on! I was once sitting with a man who had four wives and I suggested that any one of his wives might have seen him with his clothes off and he was shocked at the idea. And sex is very quick, and religious law demands immediate washing after it so it’s all bangbangbang and shoo . . . zoot to wash yourself! None of this languorous lying around and this luxury situation that everybody’s thought about; for our ancestors that never really existed at all. Maybe sometims for a sultan and his harem, yes. But even so, just think of that: all of them tattling on each other and jealous of each other and poisoning each other’s children – all that happened regularly, and still does.
GEN: The only way to change a society properly is to break down the family units and the atomic structure of whatever they call it. ‘Til you break it down you can’t break any other system of control. At the moment most societies still are based on the assumption of families, so it’s one of the key areas to fight if you want to change things.
BRION: Yeah, but do you? Does one? Are you going to change it into what?
GEN: Change it into what!? Why do people always have to change things into something else?
BRION: William changes it into a Wild Boys scene – you and I know that William himself wouldn’t survive a wild boys scene! (laughs)
GEN: . . . I think . . . loose alliances you choose, not a family in the normal sense, but people you find you relate to more naturally than you do people who are related by blood. Whom you tend to associate with more often than you do with (what do you call them?) filial family. I’ve never understood the logic of the filial family – why just because somebody came out of the same fanny you should like them, or because somebody was your mother’s sister you should like them.
BRION: Well, it hardly ever happens, does it?
GEN: No, but it’s traditional that you keep in touch with aunts and uncles and cousins and all that shit, you know. And it’s very unlikely you even like your own family. But it’s still suggested to you from an early age that it’s quite natural and reasonable to like relatives. And to dislike relatives is unnatural.
BRION: Not in my family . . .
DEAD FINGERS TALK
GEN: How did William lose part of his finger?
BRION: The most commonly told story is that he cut it off himself and threw it into the face of a psychoanalyst who was questioning him in an army examination . . .
GEN: And that’s the story he tells?
BRION: No, he doesn’t it, other people tell it. He’s never told it to anybody. He doesn’t say anything-
GEN: As usual. I guess that’s a good technique sometimes: to clam up. I do remember it now.
BRION: He’s not the only one. Partly the legend may be due to Maraini, who was an Italian who wrote a very admirable book called Secret Tibet twenty years ago, and more recently a monograph that was written also twenty years ago (it has come out only now) about Japan. And he and his wife and three daughters were taken prisoner by the Japanese at a time when he had come as a diplomatic-cultural expert from Italy to Japan, and then Mussolini joined with the Axis and all the Italians were demanded-obliged-to take their fascist oath. And they refused and so they were thrown out to the Japanese prisoner camp where they were very badly treated.
Maraini demanded an interview with the general and- here’s this Japanese general sitting with regimental sword in front of him like that, and Maraini . . . took his sword, and cut off his own finger and threw it into the man’s face. And that had absolutely the desired effect – it was the thing that really impressed the Japanese more than anything else that he could have done. Everybody got more food, and lives were saved by this gesture. So maybe it’s partly that true story that’s been loaned to William as part of his legend. But that didn’t happen quite that way.
GEN: So you’ve lost a toe, and he’s lost some finger-
BRION: Everybody loses a little something here and there on the way through this rat race . . .
This excerpt is from a book of interviews with Brion Gysin, edited by Genesis P-Orridge, Genesis and Peter (Sleazy) Christopherson asked the questions . . .