September 29, 2003



Sax's "Limehouse" article was the only clue they had, and not a very good one, since he had very carefully avoided naming the places he visited. But to a man intimately familiar with the dock area, the photographs might mean something. Frank stared thoughtfully at a picture of what seemed to be a restaurant, and glanced at the caption beneath. "Where East is West." He grinned.

There are times, there are places , when everything comes together.

'The first thing to be distributed on the body without organs ar races, cultures and their gods.' - Deleuze-Guattari, Anti-Oedipus

The bamboo music of “Weed Man” especially feels like these guys have somehow penetrated, via intensive exposure to the degraded forms of videogame muzik and martial arts movie soundtracks, deep into some heartcore of Chinese and Japan musics. All tuned percussion pings, sploings, tabla-like wibbles, and musique concrete plashes...

Or have they rediscovered the Chinese ghosts haunting the East End, stumbled, unknowing, into its hauntological nexus? Which is to say: have these East End ghosts discovered - possessed - them ? Have these producers [channelers?] been intoxicated by spirits? Inspired?

Deleuze-Guattari: 'All delirium is racial, which does not necessarily mean racist.'

FICTION LIVES LONGER THAN FACT. At the mere mention of the name "Limehouse," what images spring inevitably to mind? A vista of dark streets, shadowy yellow-faced forms, the brief flash of a knife blade, a scream in the night, a bloated corpse fished up from the murky waters of the Thames.... London's Chinatown has long since vanished. But the legend of Limehouse lives on- due in no small part to the writings of one man: Sax Rohmer.

The legend was not always a legend. Before the First World War, it was a fact that the warren of narrow streets and alleyways in the neighborhood of West India Dock Road, Pennyfields, and Limehouse Causeway formed a no-man's-land which honest citizens hesitated to penetrate after dark. It was a fact that the Metropolitan Police honored the area with double patrols. The precise toll of lives lost in that sombre labyrinth cannot be estimated. The region housed an Asiatic community, firmly entrenched and largely criminal, which lived by laws foreign to and older than the laws of England. This was the secret empire controlled by the fabulous, but fictitious, Dr. Fu Manchu.

Or was he entirely fictitious?

Only Sax Rohmer, his creator, knew the answer.

'Laws older than those of England...' 'An Asiatic community... criminal.' No need, surely, to labour the gauche racism here (still acceptable, in print, in 1972, it would seem). Let's dwell instead on the fascination, on the fear, on the delirium.

The Yellow Peril haunts the city's communication networks: the river, the sewers, and within the individual organism itself, the veins. The outside couldn't be closer. It gets in through the Thames, the city's open wound and lifeline, its periphery. Opium, smuggled into Limehouse docks, then ingested into the city's nervous system. And there are other ways in....

'Cup of tea, Sir Denis?'

Deleuze and Guattari: 'The full body does not represent anything at all. On the contrary, the races and cultures designate regions on this body - that is, zones of intensities, fields of potentials.' Ghosts, like fictions, are potentials; ontologically adrift, temporally displaced (or distemporally placed?).

1977: Dr Who opens up the Chinese box. The Talons of Weng-Chiang is perhaps the best Dr Who story ever: a steampunk tale, dense with fog and cultural reference, a hyper-fictional meditation on London's myths: "Pygmalion ('I'm trying to teach you'), Dracula ('Some slavering gangrenous vampire comes out of the sewers and stalks the city at night'), The Phantom of the Opera (especially the Hammer version). The Face of Fu Manchu, Jack the Ripper, The Good Old Days, The Lost World."

It unravels at a sedate - or should that be sedated - pace, the Doctor and Leela, stumbling through those streets, those myths (is there a difference?), a slow delirium of abductions, disappearances, poisonings, cults, magicians, giant rats, sewers... At the middle of the labyrinth is a time-vampire posing as a Chinese god.... And there, in the heart of Victorian London, the real star of the thing, a steampunk cyborg: the sinister ventriloquist's dummy Mr Sin who is, believe it or not, 'a computerised homonculus with the brain of a pig.' --- uncanny enough for you?

To be continued.

Posted by mark at September 29, 2003 10:31 PM | TrackBack

Not Dr Who and The Talons of Weng-Chiang!!! Exactly nineteen years and eleven months ago I read THAT book on an overnight ferry journey, and had to finish it because it wouldn't let me sleep. To this day, the idea of a homiculus can deeply unsettle me. Crisis, pain, imminent danger, catastrophy, nerves, dread (even 'cosmic' dread), these are all fine, but the second I spot something 'uncanny' I'm gone.

Posted by: nick k at September 29, 2003 10:37 PM

Wang Chang was another one of Robert Holmes' genius Hammer mutations. Altho he hit an early peak with the two Autons storys - some of the most disturbing material to hit primetime British TV.

Robert Holmes as the (only?) successor to Nigel Kneale?

Posted by: Daniel at October 5, 2003 02:57 PM

Which Hammer thing was he mutating here, Daniel?

Posted by: mark at October 5, 2003 08:54 PM