This joke starts out slowly then gradually peters out
Marks teeth, off set, ah, just like that, all grin and grimace,
as in never look a gift horse in the,
not that its a given thing,
that voice in your head as you read,
imagine its mouth in your minds eye,
and as it speaks,
it speaks with the voice of Tommy Cooper,
using one of his lines,
and speaking in his voice,
that reading voice in your head,
“this joke starts out slowly.”
Not that any of that makes sense of course, but we can only talk about the thing we can’t talk about is by distracting you from it. So now we’ve divided our readers into two sets of people, those who know Tommy, and those who are gonna look up the late Mr Cooper on the internet. I know that these two groups are not reading these words at this same time but I’d just like to apologise to the first group as we pretend to wait for the second group of readers to stop watching youtube…
Ok so here we are and you are with me again, the first group of readers can hold their whisht and refrain from singing “we’ll meet again don’t know where, don’t know when”. Of the set of teeth: off-set so it’s set of mechanics don’t bite down on itself, whilst biting, as of yet both Mr Walker and his perambulating sculpture have the same amount of teeth. But then this thing, the thing that’s called “This joke starts out slowly and gradually peters out” has no inside, there is no interiority here, no chamber from which an itch of sound can emanate, excuse the word emanate and replace it with the word stumble, it cannot speak for itself, it may be what it may be, but as you stand in front of it it’s understandable that you don’t have the epiphany as it walks towards you that it fails to shout out: “Hey I’m walkin’ here”. It is dumb, use that word at your own discretion. But it reminds us of someone, or maybe perhaps the anecdote they used to tell, or maybe to put it correctly, it reminds us of someone’s description of their favourite movie character who would hold their whisht, without necessarily knowing what the word meant. This girl would sit and smile in moments when she was most pissed off and she would spell out profanities on the roof of her mouth with the tip of her tongue…its a fine line between the word exasperate and exacerbate. For, Utmost, Calm, Kept. There is no story to tell, for want of wit for the wobbly hearted, there is no dark interior here, everything we wear we wear it on our sleeve, the way a dream can show but not say, indicate, without meaning anything in particular.
Although the French word ‘péter’ means to break wind, to explode, the phrase ‘péter dans la main’, according to the internet actually means ‘to come to nothing’. We of course, it must be stated, do not know French. Think of all the jokes you ever told whilst installing other artists work, the summation of all your gallery gallows humour; a guy walks into a barn and asks his neighbour who he knows is not superstitious, why do you have that horse shoe hanging on the wall, his neighbour turns around to him and says, “I’ve been told it works even if you don’t believe.” We can divide our two groups of readers further into a hot mess of different sets, those who know Tommy and will find the following joke funny, those who know TC and will not find the following joke funny, those who don’t know Mr Cooper and still won’t find the following joke funny, those who don’t know the late great Tommy Cooper and will find the following joke funny, and then those who stopped reading a while ago and so don’t have to go over the last paragraph again to fathom out whether a sustained joke is ever funny, apart perhaps from the efforts to sustain it, just like that.
When you say one thing but you really mean your mother, really bad jokes being the point, clean the wax out of your ears boy, but what would that mean when your ear is made of wax? To follow the surreal imagery of the ‘Music box’ to its illogical conclusions, what would its melting point be, how many hours would it have to sit in the sun’s light before it finally lost all form, only to spill out over the side, and pool into a lamella, a skin of sorts, the largest organ in the body sutured and unstructured. But then, to look in the opposite direction, how did this wax come to be an ear, what was the thing at its very source that can’t be replicated, its origin? What is the thing that moves without being moved? Illogically speaking it was also the sun, our ‘first unmoved mover’, with just the right amount of cosmic indifference to set things in motion and begin its beginnings. There is a piece of writing in the book ‘Visions of Excess’, a collection of essays, in which Bataille speaks of a man who bit off his finger after staring into the sun for answers. “It was then that, walking along the Boulevard de Menilmontant on December 11, he “asked the sun for advice, got an idea into his head, stared at the sun to hypnotize himself, guessing that its answer was yes.” He thereby seemed to receive approval. “Lazy man, get out of your sorry state” it seemed to be telling him, through thought transmission.” There is always a way out it seems. The possible influence of Van Gogh’s bio on Gaston’s act of self-mutilation Bataille suggests is only mentioned in his text for the sake of completeness.
This idea of ‘completeness’ leads us on to our second type of ‘first unmoved mover’, the audience member. Unmoved at a gig, the first to stand up in an audience to try and find a way out will inevitably get heckled at by the comedian on stage. The comedian in the wake of the interrupted attention of the audience will always attempt some kind of semblance of balance. No matter how far that one audience member walks away from the show, he will always be with the rest of the audience if a gag is made at his expense. It’s as if the comedian is shouting ‘I want you to stay the same distance from me as I am from you!’. No matter how far apart, or near they are, they will always be the same equidistance away from each other. Now just to quickly ponder over that last set of readers mentioned two paragraphs up, where are they now when you need them?
It is said when you do something you do all the time, time shrinks retrospectively. But how often would you have to do something, before the sense of time of doing that something completely disappears? Having perhaps woken up from a dream, Mark probably drew out the sketch of the ‘Music box’. The thing is, he has absolutely no recollection of doing so. And so our third type of ‘first unmoved mover’ was clearly drawn with his hand, even if he can’t remember moving towards the pencil, taking the piece of paper and drawing a music box with an ear sitting on atop it. The word habit, far from its current meaning of mental constitution: an automatic reaction to a specific situation, originally actually meant ‘dress or attire’. And so to put one word in front of the other, not necessarily for what they mean but for how they appear: wax lyrical. There is a depth measured out in the distance between images, like this thing at the end of your sleeve, foreshortened to ticking and twitching. Metered out and yet in unto itself, a telling of its own sense of time, this instrument placed aside the ear, the Lamellophone plucked and automated, as dubbed by travelling Griots as “The thing that makes walking easier.” An instrument of hither and dither, each tongue of the thumb piano is sent out to stumble and trip over the same set of obstacles to play a tune to catch itself whilst falling over and over again and again.
that is to say,
having took a notion,
plotted out for you’ve been very attentive,
head of your field,
and standing out in the middle of it,
and now all that remains,
and it remains to be seen,
leave only footprints as they say,
to come to what,
for want of wit,
an earful of wax and mumbling to itself,
coming round full circle,
chomping down at the bit,
having left an impression,
a mouth that can show but not say,
grimace and grin, all that, like just a set of teeth marks.
Text by Patrick Keaveney