On the sixth of April 2014 a group of artists and writers gathered on the ruins of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. It was the anniversary of the death of Issac Asimov, scientific surrealist, whose novelisation of the film Fantastic Voyage they regarded as a founding document of the coming movement.
A fragment of some of the declarations of that day has come down to us; this has subsequently become known by the somewhat grandiose title of the Manifesto for the Exquisite Corpse.
Leave the psychological inner space of the Twentieth Century!
Leave the age of wars and revolutions for the coming era of vital decay!
Asimov charted a voyage through the interior of a living body. Joe Orton went from Head to Toe.
Hollywood home of the glamour zombies put Dennis Quaid inside Martin Short in an attempt to undermine the glorious insight of Isaac.
The coming voyage will not be into the interior of life but death. Our submarines will be the black ships of a subcutaneous Spanish Main. Imagine the vistas to come, paddling up Amazons of veins as the blood flow slows to become the ruby viscosity of a dream in the charnel house.
What speleologists could discover majesty to equal the ancient halls of the alveoli, the caverns of the heart, and the tunnels of the guts; as the flesh rots, becomes rancid, becomes dust?
These expeditions will be one way. There will be no return for the submariners of the exquisite corpses. All that will remain is the scribblings and scrawls they will transmit to that electronic cadaver, the so-called World Wilde Web, which is itself a dying beast only young in the mirror of the junky eyes of its disciples, a kraken of the air destined to extinction as humanity loses interest in anything exterior to its own decaying innards.
Leave the useless struggle that calls itself life!
Leave the pretence of progress!
Embrace the future with the innocent grimace of the skull.
Nothing more is known about the authors of this manifesto. The only work they seem to have produced is the anonymous epic poem Black Lung. Given subsequent events it is tempting to regard their intervention as frivolous or even in bad taste. Their influence might be thought negligible. However, given the events of this century it is perhaps better to set the manifesto in the light of the changes to representation that have occurred. The ubiquity of death has forced us to review the way in which it is portrayed both in high culture and in more popular forms. What might be called a realist depiction of death no longer has the power to bring home the experience. Realism has become a victim of the waning of affect; a process as lethal as any of the pandemics or nanoplagues of recent years.
Perhaps we do indeed inhabit the age of the exquisite corpse after all.