Alexander Trocchi: Glasgow through the eye of a needle
At the beginning of Thongs, one of Alexander Trocchi’s pornographic novels, he is perhaps most explicit about his vision of Glasgow. Here, the Gorbals is used as a metonym for the entire industrial city, a cold, miserable series of Presbyterian blocks hewn from drab stone. Against this, he juxtaposes a visceral world of ultraviolence and sexual misadventure in a series of episodes concerning blades, thongs, straps, and numerous abrasions, punctures and penetrations. Ultimately, his heroine Gertrude Gault will escape the colourless working-class Glasgow. First, to practise perverse sexual pleasures in the upper-class West End of the city, then, as the figurehead of a sado-masochistic cult, she is reinvented as Carmenicita de Las Lunas and wanders from the constraints of the Scottish city to experience the pleasurable freedoms of sexual pain and group sodomy (by, amongst others, a onelegged dwarf) before a ritualistic and passionately embraced death at the hands of her fellow cultists in the arid heat of Spain. Like much of Trocchi’s work, Thongs can be read as a critique of society that presupposes alternative spatial practices at a series of scales from that of the body and mind to that of the city and beyond. For Trocchi – as his controversial and well-documented life as novelist, literary editor, pornographer, pimp, political activist and celebrity heroin-addict testifies – this meant conscious attempts to
occupy the extreme edges or interstices of mainstream space. Perhaps uniquely, he was informed in this task by consorting, exchanging ideas and publishing with figures from both of what were arguably the two most important groups of post-war spatial critics and explorers: the Beat Generation and the Situationist International. And while this would ultimately manifest itself in visionary manifestos for a new society such as the ‘Invisible Insurrection of a Million Minds’ or ‘project sigma’, it is in the space of the novel that such ideas are arguably most intimately articulated. In Young Adam (written in Paris in the 1950s) Trocchi begins to explore the relationship between movement and an oftentimes contradictory idea of freedom. Subsequently, in Cain’s Book, the consequences and complexities of a position in extremis are elaborated. In both, the protagonists are taken to settings at once separate from yet intricately connected to the urban environment. And in both, preoccupations emerge that not only inflect Trocchi’s own political visions but also resonate with some of the emerging architectures of the 1960s.