CJ's Literary Style Icons

CJ's Literary Style Icons

1 William Burroughs
2 Cormac McCarthy
3 Bruce Chatwin
4 James Joyce
5 Roland Barthes

Waitrose Australian Red, Smooth & Spicy – William Burroughs

While CJ is away, we take this opportunity to publish an appreciation of the Waitrose Australian Red ('Smooth and Spicy'), £4.99 a bottle, written by the late William Burroughs shortly before his death in 1997. 

Known principally for his numerous drug addictions, Burroughs was also an occasional user of budget supermarket wines. Devotees of The Naked Lunch and The Soft Machine will observe that, although this is one of Burroughs' last writings, it recalls those earlier works in both idiom and tonality.


Insect eyes watch painful in junk dawn - river smell rises in a mist, rotting vegetation, black mud like iron - Under the lights a Matron in blue denim screams, her face green with rage, 'I HAVE TO HAVE IT! IT'S ON ORDER!' - ghetto clerk scuttles away, pyrethrum addiction, his fingers rotting - wind in an alley - a truck reverses

My name is Dr Benway, surgical extremes, spectral dismemberments, you need to ask? Every time they come in, Dr Benway they say, it's the last words they ever hear. You want my advice? Shiraz grape, pendulous, that to-and-fro motion, junk sickness, it arrives by ship. Oven heat of the interior. Who says no? I will not stand for it! My professional reputation is on the line!

Junkie fingers on the neck of the bottle...'Oh, I'm saying smooth, I'm saying spicy, that party ended. Sonofabitch!'...shrill hooker voice in mescaline air...the river slows...'And he wants five bucks! Five!'...whiplash of neon, the bottle descends, red bulb blooming...a junkie dissolves - 'I wanted white, white, I got two quarters'...Yesterday he inspected my file. Took a cab across town, spoke to PK, Max, the Black Salamander, all the usuals. Four p.m. the clock jumps, he's sitting on the other side of the table.

'I make you a price,' he says. His eyes are dead. 'You want to connect?' He slides a single penny across the table. 'Remember Liz in Chi? She died. Zen weightlessness, it was not pretty. For you, I make it.' I remember bedbugs jumping from flowered wallpaper in a fifth floor hotel room. 'But don't make the glass dirty. I can't stand that. The Inspectorate calls, they find a red glass, I'm Pen Indef. Hanging from a door.'

...a young man with switchblade eyes, fingering the till...oil heat comes off at this time...ecstasy, withered hand on the bottleneck, the veins like a map...even the Scandanavians died...

WR (Gesturing ineffectually): 'You want it better? At these prices?'
JUNK BOY (Cynically): 'You have it, you don't sell it.'
WR: 'I have to listen to this? It makes me sad.'

He lights a cigarette, blows smoke coolly towards a ziggurat of black market painkillers.

WR: 'I sell it to you for what it costs. I live on the streets. It's not so bad. Give it air. Don't force it.'

...oven heat...Southern Cross image shattered on black oil settling in a glass...the red bloom swells...spectral mists rising, the smell of tarpaulins and leaves...acid in the back of the throat...puckered...the execution will be at four p.m...a Mercedes-Benz departs, its fender dragging...sanatorium Matron at the wheel, eyes of a cuttlefish...the paint is blistered and coarse...

The party has been cancelled.


Meal At PK's House: Haut-Medoc 2005

This week's style icon: Cormac McCarthy

They drew up outside the house later that evening. The wind had got up and was stirring the plane trees and the ragged fescues growing between the stones. As they stepped out of the car, a squall hit them, spattering the night with leaves and rain and odd speckled shadows thrown by the electric lights like some ancient painting done in a time when there had been no buildings between them and the river. Away in another county, the horses stirred in their dark stabling and nickered and rubbed their flanks against the estacada.

PK opened the front door. The light from the hallway broke over them, revealing Mrs K standing some way behind, elegant, her large dark serious eyes taking them in. They had lit the heating for their guests, but the house was still cool and PK wore a charcoal colored jersey and shook hands with CJ and formally kissed Mrs J and Mrs K kissed them both and said that they were to admire the new floor which had been laid in the kitchen and the eating area. They solemnly looked at it and envied its smooth conformities, unlike the sad ruins which they had left behind in their own place.

That's a hell of a floor, said CJ.
Aint it though.
Must of cost a couple weeks' wages.

PK said nothing and they sat down to eat. The food was delicious, delicate cheese-flavored hojaldres followed by a stew of wine and beef and a lemon cream served in small white pots, one for each guest, and the utensils were new and hard to master, and after some time they spoke of the game known as fútbol and the women spoke of other, graver, matters and then they spoke of the wine which PK had brought out and placed upon the table like a monstrance, that they should see it in its particularity and uniqueness.

Must of cost a couple weeks' wages too.
You got me.
What's its name?
Chateau Tour du Haut Moulin 2005.
Where'd you get it at?
Some place.
Aint my usual.
You better believe that. You want some more?
I'm full as a tick.
Of the wine.
I believe I do.
You're gettin it down.
I'm next the heater. I'm dry.

It was a dark and withholding wine whose secrets did not make themselves clear at first but only later told of the earth in which the grapes once grew and the strange sense of a faded tapestry such as travellers might find in an abandoned homestead on the mesa. It left a black residue on the sides of their glasses.

Could plant a whole stand of cottonwoods in there. You got any more?
I'll see.

PK got up from the table and was gone some time and when he returned he held in his hand another bottle which he said was Taste the Difference and was not the same kind of wine. It had no cork, only a metal cap to plug the contents. He unscrewed the cap with a snapping noise before pouring the drink into their glasses.

Take a fresh glass, you dont want that shit in there.

CJ made a face as he tasted the new wine and looked for somewhere to spit it out but there was nowhere, only the smooth dark floor divided into even squares with thin cream lines between the squares and although they had said these squares could not be stained by wine or blood, still he felt uneasy at the thought of spitting the red wine out and made himself drink it down. He turned to PK.

That's somethin.
I wont dispute it.

PK held the bottle towards the light and looked at it and held his head at an angle and shook it as if the bottle had told him a lie of some kind.

You think this is okay?
I dont know.
Maybe it wants some time.
How much time we got?
I dont know.

By now they had eaten the last of the meal and they brought out coffee and spoke of the great sorrowfulness of the world. Outside the storm had abated and a thin clear moon could be seen among the shifting banks of cloud while the rainwater shivered in pools and the people of the town began to make their way home in the darkness. The women stopped talking and looked at the men.

Do you believe in fate, said Mrs J.
No mam.
Neither do I. That is why we must leave.

The complexities of that remark stayed with PK and CJ a long time, long after they had parted in that same hallway and CJ and Mrs J had said their thanks and remarked a last time on the beauty of the floor. Then they headed south towards the river which lay like a rope uncoiled and passing between the lives of those who had grown up beside it.


Nero D'Avola: Sainsbury's Again

This week's style icon: Bruce Chatwin

It had taken me three days to cross the white plains which lay at the end of the distant Carpathians. A drover carried me the last miles to the door of the old ducal palace. Rooks cawed incessantly and a dung fire sent up a wavering line of blue smoke.

'It is far from your land,' said the drover. 'Perhaps he will not be in.'

The Dukedom of Vrigişti has its origins in the thirteenth century, when the Crusaders annexed an area of land in the name of Honorius III, creating a sovereign principality which lasted three hundred years before being absorbed into the Ottoman Empire and reduced in status to a Dukedom. The eleventh Duke of Vrigişti, the man I hoped to visit, was sixty-five years old and had no heirs.

'Perhaps not,' I said.

The drover removed his hat at the palace gate. A kumquat seller joined us, pushing his two-wheeled barrow with the familiar, loping, gait of a Hutsul. A metal bell, shaped like a mendicant's bowl, hung beside a rusting crucifix. I rang it and an old woman, her face as lined as a dry river-bed, came to admit me.

The kumquat seller followed me into the courtyard. There, fig trees grew and two men sat in the shade, playing dominoes. The building was formed in the style of the old palace at Artukulu; its shutters were closed and faded. The air smelled of dust and smoke and figs. The woman led me up a worn flight of stairs to a piano nobile.

'He is tired,' she said. 'But he will see you.'

I found myself in a great, empty room, its cracked stone floor inlaid with Topaz. An elderly man was in the centre of the room, reclining on a velvet cushion. A bulbul began to call outside. The walls were lined with pier-glasses and Iznik tiles. At last, the man looked up at me.

'It is kind of you to come. I am very poor company, that you should come so far. Would you care for wine? We may drink it within the palace walls. Please, sit.'

I thanked him and sat, cross-legged, on the floor. He turned and produced two glasses and a bottle of red wine from within a jadeite box. A plate of figs was brought in by the old woman.

'Since the Communists, it has been difficult.' The Duke's voice was soft and musical. 'Winston Churchill told my father once in Tangier that they would leave, one day, but that when they left, nothing would remain.' He unscrewed the cap from the bottle. 'I can only offer you this. It is a wine from Italy. I remember being driven along the corniche to Ventimiglia, before the War. It is a Nero D'Avola.'

He told me that once, he left the palace to travel. His brother, to curry favour with the ruling elite, had stripped the palace of all its possessions, including a table which once belonged to the Princesse Eugénie and a Chinese sarcophagus from the Tang Dynasty. He gave them to the local Party Secretary. Torches burned through the night as the building was ransacked. On the Duke's return, the people of the village made him a bed of fig wood to sleep on. Later, some of the items were returned, including the jadeite box.

'They say this is the WInemakers' Selection. But who are the Winemakers? Once, I drank a wine called Taste the Difference. I could not taste the difference.'

Outside, the kumquat seller had joined the two men playing dominoes.

'Is there anyone else in the palace?' I asked. He said, no, there were only him and the old lady and the men playing dominoes. The palace had sixty-six rooms, some with shreds of damask still clinging to the walls, but most of the rooms were uninhabitable. The villagers came in to work, but their own lives were hard.

Later, I went to the village, where I found a room overlooking a grove of lemon trees. A dog scratched at a verbena bush. I read a book about Konstantin Melnikov. A storm was gathering and I went to play cards at the local inn.

I said, 'The Duke is very poor.'

One of the card players said, 'He is not a duke. He is a farmer. The Duke died two years ago. But he is a good man. When he dies, we will carry his body through the streets of the village and carve a fine headstone.'

The first drops of rain began to fall.


2014 Chinon: Cold

This week's style icon: James Joyce

CJ turned mulishly aside from his glass. Aversion to the smell of proofing. Messrs Wait & Rose, stockists. Indifferent cellarage, make a pretty profit of it, though.

- Tastes of rubber. Is there something the matter with it?

Outside the late sun freed itself from the clouds, shining dully on Victorian brickwork, London Stock, corporeal entity of Lud's Town.

PK cleared his throat.

- Sure, now, and there's a trick for that fellow. Chinon, it's a bloody mongrel unless you give it a spell in the cooler first. Give it a chance to reflect on its wrongdoings.
- Is that so?

CJ eyed him narrowly, twisting his glassstem by degrees across the deal tabletop: churchchurchchurchchur. Wonder does he drink all he says he does? Old was his mutton and his claret good. Toper's complexion, broadveined map of dissipation, d.t.'s in the fullness of time. She keeps him in line, though. Distaff's duty. Insurance policy. Which reminds me: did I renew? Hell to pay if not. Whole house burned to rubble, conflagration of London Stock, sea of glass mingled with fire, Oh Japes! There'd be some explaining.

- Take it from me, he said, half a day in the boreal, you wouldn't recognise it. In like a lion, out like a lamb. What is it they say about those wines? A thousand miles from the rock of Gibraltar to the Loire? No, that's not it.

Mantling, PK recrossed his legs and plucked from the warp of his workingman's jeans a diminutive trace of lint; after which he folded his hands before him prelatewise. Claretfaced omniscience. A bearded panjandrum, his utterances never cease to amaze. One night only. Finest English wool.

- But you accept my point.
- It's a thing to take into consideration, CJ said. Why don't they advertise it?
- They do. On the bottle.
- Oh, blazes they do. Arp.
- There on the side.

Yes. He fingered the bottle, womanly shoulders, a white elipse, Domaine du Colombier. Refreshing if served lightly chilled. With stilted movements he spoke mutely of his disappointment, a sigh, lethargic. Birds descanted as the evening drew on, the garden outside slowly blackening in the windowpanes. Tremulous birdsong, nightjar, thrush, nightingale. Jug jug to dirty ears. Your heart you sing of. Skeins of nightfall, windingsheet of dark winding the dark world in.

- You have me.
- Like a Beaujolias.
- We could open another bottle. That. Behind you.

Eternal neophyte.

- What? This one? God, a Malbec: γνῶθι σεαυτόν! Did I ever tell you of the time we got lost in Bordeaux trying to find the football game? That was a shennanigan. The looks we got on account of having drink taken. Johnny Frenchman didn't know what to make of us.

PK shook, panting with soft laughter, his greying poll starting up behind. Terrible business! That Frenchie with his eyes like hatpegs at two in the morning. Forth, beste, out of thy stal! And they say we're finished! Three ruffians. No wonder he looked surprised.

- But the food was tip-top. No mistakes there.

Served lightly chilled: a motto for your escutcheon. How, in Latin? Vix gelidus. No, too cold. Like a Cava, icicles forming in the neck. Heat of Iberia. Great admirer of all that, he is. Wouldn't think it to look. Wears a hat on sunny days, aversion to ultraviolet rays is it? Attraction of opposites. German physicist, not Röntgen, X-rays they were, see the skull beneath the skin.

PK wrested the cap clear of the bottle and sentiently admitted half a gill of red wine to his glass, motioning thereafter in convivial dumbshow to CJ, abstracted at the furthest reach of the table. CJ, still frowning, pushed his own glass back across the soiled woodgrain. Tschink. Imperial purple.

- This'll bring tears to your eyes.
- So, in the refridgerator, then?
- It's your only chance. Unless you honestly prefer Caoutchouc de Chinon, that inveterate Gallic prank.
- There's no telling what they won't try, CJ said with forebearance. Mortification, did I pay good money for this?

From the street a motorcar sounded mockingly its horn.

- Confirmation! said PK. The divine afflatus! Oh, that's a good one.


The Winemaker's Shirt

This week's style icon: Roland Barthes

The winemaker's shirt embodies a contradiction. The winemaker himself belongs to a priesthood largely unknowable to those who drink his wine. His shirt, it will be readily admitted, is therefore a garment whose sacerdotal power belongs to a whole typology of priestly raiments, including copes, cassocks, wreaths, stoles, sacred threads, birettas, clothing whose emblematic function serves both a reality (the authority of a state religion) and a condition of submissive dreaming, a rêve from which the element of transubstantion is never far. 

As in a dream, the priestly garment must be perfect insofar as it can never be other than its perceived lineaments suggest: there is an iconographic component in every button, every seam, in the way the shirt hangs negligently and yet without apology from the shoulders of the wearer (and what shoulders must they be, to sustain such an item of clothing?). The psychology of the dream in itself repels the secularization of the everyday.

This is of course necessary, given the mythical status of the wine which is being created. It is well known that wine, far from inheriting the morphological birthright of a Proteus or a Zeus, has always created the conditions in which its seemingly galvanic powers generate reversals or alternative modes of existence. When we drink wine, we engage with an archetype whose singularity lies in its ability to contain a multiplicity of outcomes: good cheer, aggression, lacrimosity, invention, nostalgia, amorousness, candour, somnolence and so on. Just as it inhabits two planes of existence in the ritual of the eucharist, so it antithetically liberates and enslaves at the moment of earthly consumption.

Capitalism, on the other hand, insists that the image of the winemaker should express not only a sense of ritualized condescension on the part of the wearer, but of social communality, a sense that We're all in this together and that We all drink wine because it is understood that it would be wrong not to. The morphology of the shirt therefore embraces a type of synesthesia in which the sacerdotal garment elicits feelings of shared purpose, of routine experience at the same time as it invokes the mystery of the altar. 

In photographs, the winemaker's shirt is not always properly ironed; sometimes it is neatly tucked into the waistband of the trousers, sometimes left outside, as if the wearer has been in too much of a hurry to get to work to dress properly; sometimes the shirt is clearly a business shirt casually opened at the neck (once back from his business meeting, comfortably at the locus of his authority, framed by casks and stone floors, he can devote himself to his calling) in order to evoke the human tensions the winemaker encounters every day.

But what is more characteristic is the fact that we consume the shirt at the same time as we consume the wine made by the inhabitant of the shirt. It is a bourgeois necessity to appropriate and envelop: the shirt becomes part of this process of consumption, which is why so many winemakers submit to this iconographical levelling, demanded by the business they work in. Without his shirt (if such a condition were possible) the winemaker would merely be another artisan; with it, he is elevated to the status of creator, the shirt, as we have seen, endowed with true gestural significance. This, then, becomes the contradiction: the winemaker's shirt endows him with a mythical otherness at the same time as it renders him indistinguishable from his peers; while simultaneously advertising his sacrificial materiality, a materiality which is both necessary for the gratification of his customers and for the process of winemaking to be reborn, year after year.

Translation: CJ