Thoughts on World of Dust

World of Dust by Joel Biroco

The Coronzon Press, London.

Around 1970 I constructed a light machine. Very slow moving discs of stained glass and irregular shaped holes passed between a focused light and a poor quality lens that cast beautiful random distortions onto a screen or onto a wall or ceiling. I would turn off the lights, put on recorded music, and gaze at unpredictable evolving patterns of flowing colour, suggestive forms and surprising textures.

Then people would ask me how I managed to get the lights to synchronise so subtly with the music I was playing. It was all in their minds: the structured richness of the orchestral music met the random richness of the lights and, from that blended richness, the brain could tease out synchronous and meaningful patterns of interaction between the two.

Something similar happens as I read World of Dust. Superficially it seems to be a disordered refuse pile of disjointed memories. And yet, while picking through this waste tip of a life, scarcely a sentence, paragraph or page passes without some scrap of thought or experience catching my eye, evoking a feeling or a memory from mine own life. Like teacup fortune telling: where the enquiring mind discovers narrative in chaos.

Joel was brought up on the outskirts of a decaying urban area, while I was brought up in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds with not another house in sight. Joel’s childhood was surrounded by streets due for demolition whereas I lived in an already demolished ruin of a watermill that was, over many years, being brought back to inhabited life. Joel saw enough of other people getting together and “having fun” to know what it felt like to be “the lonely one”, while loneliness was my “normal”. And yet there is so much of this book that resonates with mine own experience. The natural world connects us: whether hiding in a crack in willow bark, or in a crack in a fence post, an earwig is equally fascinating to an enquiring mind, and equally demanding to be teased out of hiding. There is so much of England’s nature in this book: reflecting how decay and rebirth underline both town and country – however distinct they must seem in the eyes of planners and bureaucrats.

What has this book to do with the Joel Biroco I first knew? A gadfly that stung the leading edge of ideas with his influential Kaos magazine? World of Dust reminds me of Austin Spare’s words at the end of The Book of Pleasure:

Alas the futility of the idea of God has not yet reached its limit, all men are liars, appear striving for insanity its climax: while I alone as one prematurely aged, reason tottering on its throne, remain sane, in positive chastity, confessing no conscience, no morals – a virgin in singleness of purpose.

Even more so, these words from the Tao Te Ching:

I alone am inactive and reveal no signs,

Like a baby that has not yet learned to smile,

Listless as though with no home to go back to.

The multitude all have more than enough.

I alone seem to be in want.

My mind is that of a fool — how blank!

Vulgar people are clear.

I alone am drowsy

Vulgar people are alert.

I alone am muddled.

Calm like the sea.

Like a high wind that never ceases:

The multitude all have purpose.

I alone am foolish and uncouth.

I alone am different from others

And value being fed by the Mother.

Why read The World of Dust? What is there in another person’s scraps of memory?

Even after I had told people that my sound and light show experience was purely random, they would continue to gaze at it. I watched it play for hours.

Magic begins when one stops pre-processing and pre-arranging one’s environment before it can be experienced. That is when one can simply observe what arises without prior judgement about whether it is true, or real, or valid, or meaningful, or useful. World of Dust does that very well.