Anus – Black Sun, a short story by Rob Doyle
In this extract from This is the Ritual, viewing an unusual porn film is transmuted into an intimation of sublime geometry, astronomy, black holes and galaxy clusters
I found the video in the small hours, lodged in the murky peripheries of a horrendous, low-end porn site, the kind set up by Ukrainian deviants and then abandoned, forgotten, left to fend for itself in the wastelands of cyberspace. A kind of obscene and feral orphan, roaming the void, howling in abjection.
I had come home from a warehouse party and was off my face. I don’t know what kind of craving was in me that night. Restlessly I clicked through a series of conventional porno clips, leaving each one behind after a few seconds. Nothing was enough; I wanted something harder. I clicked on links that led to links that led to links – the infinite nexus of the internet, like the fabled Tora Bora caves that Bin Laden was said to have haunted.
The video I eventually uncovered, I have never forgotten. I clicked the flesh-filled thumbnail to begin streaming, noticing with surprise that the clip lasted forty-three minutes.
On the screen, in a window surrounded by ads so vile I felt soiled whenever my vision strayed to them, there was an anus, in close-up. It did not look dissimilar to the anal close-ups common in standard porn clips. Yet this one did not move. It was not a still image, however: there was a constant, subtle shifting of pixilation, and the low hum of background ambience – someone was filming the anus. My jaws gurning, I gazed uncomprehendingly at the gaping aperture nestled between taut buttocks. It was a pert anus, slightly strained, as if the woman (it was clearly feminine) was on all fours. But that was it. No penetration, no other organs, no agent of pleasure or violation. And no narrative – not even of the ultra-minimal variety favoured by modern pornographers, in which all extraneous details of character, plot and setting are effaced, leaving only the pure event of organ-in-organ-in-motion, and the hyperbolic wails of phantasmagorical desire.
An anus, nothing more.
I tried to skip ahead but the video would not allow it. So, I let it play on, and watched, and waited. Nothing happened. Yet, as I watched, I began to feel a change taking place, not in the image onscreen, but in my perception, in myself. It was akin to the onset of a trance. Devoid of all context, even that of the body to which it belonged, the anus began to assume an abstract quality. It became unmoored from its functionality, from its historicity, from all sense of reference. It was neither arousing nor repulsive. I am tempted to suggest an affinity with Kant’s “thing-in-itself”. In rapt free-association, I began to see in the anus intimations of a sublime geometry, of astronomy, of black holes, galaxy clusters, the swirl of incipient being-in-the-void which is how I envision the cosmic birth. I saw the sun, the black sun shining on a hazed primordial scene; I saw the solar eye, a god of war and carnage sucking everything into itself and rendering being as non-being, matter as void, darkness as light and light as darkness; I saw the all-seeing eye, the third eye of Shiva, the black core of the earth, the infinite sphere of Pascal’s nightmares, the silent portal wherein each man, in terror, must confront himself. The abyss from which all things arise and to which all things must return.
Twenty-eight minutes had passed. I realized this with some surprise – my subjective sense of time had fallen away. The screen: still no change, no development. Only the serene and gaping anus, and the soothing lull of ambient sound, like closing one’s eyes in an airport. I was awed, and somehow fearful. Scanning myself for the cause of my unease, I realized I was apprehensive that something sudden and monstrous would happen to the anus. I thought of Andy Warhol’s film Empire, in which we see nothing but the Empire State Building, from a static viewpoint, in real-time over the course of many, many hours: there is a celebrated moment in that film when, suddenly, after an immense period of monotony, all the lights in the building are turned on at once – a sublime and whimsical moment, indeed a moment of madness, and the severe freedom of madness. What if some surprise lay ahead in this bizarre, unearthly, and, it had to be said, beautiful video that I was watching? Perhaps the filmmaker – the man behind the camera – was a sadist, luring me into a trance of vulnerability before unleashing a sight so horrific, I would be traumatized forever, left pallid and mumbling, fearful of all sex, all anuses.
I commanded myself to become calm. I would watch the video to the end, come what may. Having resolved thus, I began to relax. And nothing happened – there was no Empire moment. Just an anus on screen, in real-time, close-up. Once more I began to recognize the strange beauty of the film, though I could not re-attain the state of transcendent resonance I had experienced before my anxieties took hold.
After forty-three minutes, the video ended, as abruptly and inexplicably as it had begun. I shut down my laptop and went to bed, no longer in thrall to fevers of drug-inflamed lust. I have since tried to find the video again, but even the degrading website where I saw it eludes me. I suspect it has been deleted; or rather, that it is still there, but invisible now, floating in the cybernetic mists, a kind of ghost-ship.
This is an extract from This is the Ritual by Rob Doyle, published by Bloomsbury and Dublin’s Lilliput Press. This month, we shall be exploring the collection in detail, with interviews and articles by the author, his editors, fellow writers and critics, culminating in a podcast interview which will be recorded at the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin’s Parnell Square on Tuesday, April 19th, at 7.30pm, and published on irishtimes.com at the end of the month