“Did you ever hear about Aleister Crowley’s attempts to produce a literary bomb?”
Rosencrantz lays across my counter, feigning relaxation, waiting for me to answer. Beside him, his ever present dogsbody Guildenstern is frothing at the mouth, hoping against hope that he’ll be allowed to deliver the punchline for once.
“Its rumoured that he created a letter that would eradicate the brain of the reader during an act of black ritual magick,” Rosencrantz goes on. “The British government paid him to do it and send the letter to Hitler in early 1940. Unfortunately it was intercepted by Hess and the rest is history.”
“Well by God, they don’t teach that in history, eh?” Guildenstern crows, applauding lightly.
“Mmmm,” I answer.
I find it best from experience not to argue or engage conspiracy theorists, particularly literary conspiracy theorists like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. All of their theories revolve around misinterpreted, exaggerated or plain fabrications of literary history.
“Crowley weaponised words. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. Well, I read about it with my own eyes. A Pan edition.”
“A Pan edition?” Guildenstern squeals. “Well the proof is in the pudding. I’ve never heard anyone accuse a pan edition of being fake news.”
Of course, it stands to reason that bookshops would be snares for conspiracy theorists. Like the way a lightbulb attracts flies, a bookshop will draw in everyone with any sort of madcap idea and a desire to spread it.
“There’s lots of theories about Crowley,” I tell them.
Rosencrantz snorts and Guildenstern immediately parrots his friend, shaking his head and muttering the word ‘theories’ a few times.
“It’s not a theory. Books are powerful. You know that Wally, or else why would you bother opening a bookshop? Certainly not for the money by the look of the cobwebs on that till. Books can sway minds and change the very destiny of nations.”
“One hundred present,” Guildenstern cries.
“I think that’s why the publishing industry has become so rigid,” Rosencrantz continues, “We always talk about the way they won’t take chances on originality anymore. Don’t we always say that Hemingway wouldn’t be published today?”
“We do,” I concede. That’s one of my soapbox subjects. Literature has become like the music industry. I’m waiting on Simon Cowell to start a X Factor of writing and fill it with little scribbling Biebers and GaGas. Or maybe that’s already happened.
“But what if that wasn’t accidental? What if it was part of a nefarious censorship policy to try and prevent, or at least slow, the arrival of a particular book? A book which could alter the collective consciousness of humanity. What if the whole popular book industry, the desecration of traditional bookshops and the rise of online sellers who don’t even respect writing was part of a plot to stop this evolutionary revolution?”
I’m getting a headache and Guildenstern’s frothing mouth is giving me nausea. “What in the name of Jaysus are you on about Rosencrantz?”
“Look it, Irish culture has stalled. It’s not dead. It’s just stuck. Frozen in time. Paused. Twenty centuries of a uniquely shared island consciousness, responsible for spawning massive myths, legends, song, dance, epic poetry, beautiful prose, prancing streams of consciousness, patriotic war cries, piercing art works crashed. A full stop.”
“Well I know things are bad but...”
“The 30th of April 1994,” he interrupts.
I look at him perplexed, my headache rising into raging dizziness.
“That’s the day Irish culture stopped and has been stuck in ever since. The 30th of April 1994. The 39th Eurovision song contest was taking place in the Point Theatre in Dublin. Ireland had won the past two competitions and people were starting to get sick of it. Especially the government who didn’t want to keep footing the bill for the contest. At the interval, 4000 onlookers, as well as a global television audience of 300 million watched two Irish Americans perform a bastardisation of Irish traditional dance to a soundtrack which fused Balkan and Irish folk music with rock.”
“Riverdance,” I laugh.
“When it ended, as Michael Flatley and Jean Butler stood triumphant and sweaty, there was a moments silence and something somewhere broke forever. And the 4000 erupted into standing ovation and Ireland became instantly something else as if the result of a piece of mass magick. An occult service performed in front of the whole world. And then came the Celtic Tiger, and Bertie, and American corporations, and the sacking of the church, and multiple orgasms and sex in the city, and holiday homes in Bulgaria and three holidays a year in Tenerife, and skiing, and £30,000 weddings with chocolate fountains, and Christmas shopping in New York, and homosexual neighbours, and dinner parties, and Vera Wang wedding dresses, and polish labourers and waitresses, and €170,000 jeeps and €400,000 mortgages, and champagne, and cunlingus, and stocks and shares, investments and the FT, and racism and verandas. Fucking verandas everywhere.”
“Steady on Rosencrantz.”
“Then recession but trendy recession. Gourmet meals in Aldis and budget holidays in the south of France. A little less champers dear. The back to school allowance. More racism but trendy liberalism until the cows come home. And only gay cows. Even better if they’re trans and maybe autistic. Musicians, writers and artists talking in American accents and discussing Bono’s legacy on Irish art. Amnesia as O’ Brien, Stephens and Behan are sent to the gas chamber and Joyce is tarted up by the elite. All future novels and Number one hits to be chosen in advance by think tanks, focus groups and two dimensional accountants. Irish culture frozen and no one even notices as overpaid curators shovel-feed global village blandness into our gaping throats. What dark ritual was performed in the Point Theatre on the 30th of April 1994 and how do we break the spell?”
“Are you off the tablets again man?”
“I’m serious Wally,” he says, banging his fist down on my counter.
“Dead serious,” Guildenstern echoes.
“Only a Crowley-like act of literary magick imbedded in a bestseller will unthaw Irish culture and show the world that literature can alter reality itself. It’ll be the most important Irish novel since Ulysses.”
“I liked Riverdance,” I say, looking out the window for potential paying customers.
“You would,” Rosencrantz sneers.
“You would. He would,” Guildenstern repeats, drool running down his bomber jacket.
“You’re a shill. I don’t know why we come in here at all Guildenstern?”
“Not to buy books anyway,” I add.
“Ah, next you’ll be telling us Michael Flatley isn’t a reptile,” Rosencrantz says sadly. “I feel sorry for you booksellers. You lack the imagination to think outside the box.”