In last week’s instalment of THE FUNCTION OF THE FILTH, we skipped straight to the “violence” part of the equation.  This time round, we’re dealing with sex, because sex is always important in this sort of story.

This sort of story?  Well, try not to stop me if you’ve heard this one before!

There’s this guy who wakes up from his mundane life to discover he’s really a disturbingly important human being – maybe the most disturbingly important human being – rather than just another boring arsehole with bad hair. Inevitably, he’s a little incredulous about the whole thing to begin with, but as one world crumbles away he soon starts to find himself more at home in his new reality – and it’s almost always his new reality, whatever complications may arise further down the line. 

This detail tends to narrow down the rest of the possibilities of the story so that at least one attractive woman will usually be involved – the idea of “normal” being what it is, can you think of a better way to ensure that the transition from the “real” world to another, more overdetermined world goes well?  Cosmic purpose on its own isn’t enough: if the switch over is to be successful then the deal must be sealed with flesh.  For this price, plus teleological extras, our hero finds it within himself to be all that he can be.

This story is called The Matrix, or maybe Star Wars, or maybe even Wanted. For all their differences, these stories are all equally at home in the pages of comics and on cinema screens, in visual media where they can best present the  dreams of their audience back to them as a dressing up kit, a series of moves or tools or attitudes that can be easily copped and used to remake the world. These stories represent the transformation of dreams into merchandising, and as such their tropes are as easy to critique as they are hard to resist .

But did I say we would be talking about sex instead of violence this time?  Yeah… let’s do that!


No matter how many garish and unlikely feathers it might shed along the way – and it’s perhaps worth noting in passing that research indicates that bright parrot feathers have flourished at least in part because they are bacterially resistant  - the slick, smudgy horror of tabloid life is coded into the DNA of The Filth.  There’s a commitment to punishing sensationalism running through the whole thing, one that would be immediately recognisable to headline writers around the western world, and it finds its perfect expression in the intertwined helices of Chris Weston’s art and Grant Morrison’s words.

As his earlier work with Morrison on The Invisibles attests Weston has generally struggled to draw pretty or stylish or stylish people throughout his career, but he’s an auteur of the ugly and in this respect The Filth is his unquestionable masterpiece.   The bulging, unseemly quality that he gives his characters has never been more fitting than it is here here – his figures are beaten down and out-of-shape, no match for the overwhelmingly detailed and deeply unreasonable world they live in.

Here’s a little example of a stylish character from The Invisibles (Grant Morrison’s morally ponderous avatar King Mob) getting bogged down in the Westonian murk:

And here’s our man, Greg Feely (another, less glamorous insert character?) trying to suck it up and save the day in The Filth:

No Rocky Horror dressing up box can save these men from their fetid physicality.  Looking at these figures as Weston depicts them on the page, you might even start to believe that they’d flake off bits of rotten skin if you scratched them hard enough, reality be damned.

We’ll discuss the nature of the outfits Greg finds hanging in his wardrobe later on – like most every in this comic, the escapism is tainted by the condition.  For now, let’s get to the blue bits!

The purest expression of The Filth‘s non-more-mucky aesthetic comes in the scene where Greg is alerted to his destiny in the middle of the first issue.  His activation as an agent of The Hand comes in the form of a sexual encounter with another agent.  As previously noted, fantastic adventures like this one have the promise of female flesh written into their DNA, a holdover from their precursors’ destiny as fodder for the feverish imaginations of teenage boys who could retreat under the duvet to dream of alien princesses and saucy elves.

So it comes to pass that Greg informed that he’s only a dank holiday home for someone called Ned Slade – a “para-personality” to use the book’s language, a parallel life, a manifestation of a ghost persona – this information is imparted on him by a fellow agent of The Hand who just so happens to be waiting naked and willing in his shower for him when he comes home.  This doesn’t so much border on the typical as batter it, hammering down the typical mechanics of boy’s adventure past the thin veneer of pretence to the promise underneath: if you are the hero of the story sexy women will want to sleep with you just because you managed to be there.

Or at least, that’s how it would play if it weren’t for the details of the scene.  The agent in question (Miami/Nil) has given herself a decrepit comb over to match Greg’s, and while that may or may not be your thing it’s certainly to the left of the traditional male fantasy catered to by her buff, buxom body and instantaneous accessibility. What’s more, Nil’s appearance in his shower, stripped of all clothes as the script demands, has the effect of knocking the panels themselves off kilter.

Noticing that the shower is already on when he gets back into his house after his day’s work, Greg bombs his way towards the bathroom like an extra in an old episode of Star Trek, clinging to doorways and railings as though the tilt of the panels has thrown him off balance.  The composition of the page conspires to tell us that something is wrong with this scene, which somehow manages not to feel like the culmination of a long held fantasy even as it plays out an inter-racial sex scenario that Grant Morrison has previously questioned himself on in The Invisibles.

As Greg wobbles his way up the stairs the panels that frame him abandon their previous commitment to straightness.  Jagged yellow lightning bolts cut into the edges of the panels  so that the page itself is practically screaming at the reader in excitement:

When Nil starts to pleasure Greg in the shower, the panels warp in on themselves. in a crude parody of three-dimensionality.  By the time this messy congress has been consummated, panel borders are abandoned entirely in favour of a series of overlaid images of the lucky couple fucking in the sickly light of the rainbow-toned goop that started to run out of Greg’s nose with life as he knew it.  These images don’t pop alluringly on the page as you might expect – instead, they droop down the page like soggy cardboard.

While the page designs realign themselves after this encounter, the fact that everything that follows is tainted by the colours of Greg’s nasal mucus is indicative: there are no ruby slippers here, and if home ever existed, there were a few too many creepy magazines poking out from under mummy and daddy’s bed for you to ever truly romanticise it. Our protagonists (meaning both Greg Feely and you, dear reader) are not so lucky as the typical applicants for the heroes journey; the chaos of The Crack is not just sitting there waiting for us to arrive and bring order to it.

Time to face facts: there is a hole inside you that may never be filled, and while that special suit helped you get in the mood, some of those stains will never wash out.

19 Responses to “The Function of The Filth – Preview #2”

  1. Filthy Friday #2 | The Function of the Filth Says:

    [...] week, another preview from my work in progress!  If you’ll forgive me a lapse of salesmanship, I have to admit that this is the excerpt [...]

  2. Terrence Moreau Says:

    As far as I’ve read, The Story referred to at the top is called The Narcissistic Fantasy and has deep appeal to the schizotypal male in the post-modern condition (There’s a good series of posts on The Last Psychiatrist about this, including an unpacking of both The Matrix and Wanted)

    The Filth is different to the other stuff mentioned in that the main character noticeably pushes back against the specialness this narrative conceit attempts to foist upon him.

    In most narcissistic fantasies the main character (and the audience, by extension) is of course intended by the creator to revel in the self-centered view of the world such a fantasy entails.

    Morrison seems to have never been comfortable with this, always having reality poke into the fantasy when that high level of individual specialness is used. King Mob is a good example of this self-deconstruction idea, as are Greg Feely and The Filth at large, both of which are extensions of King Mob and The Invisibles.

    But Morrison never fully breaks down King Mob. He doesn’t put him through the hurdles of time and age and everyday life. Sure, King Mob is revealed to be Kirk Morrison the horror writer who has a quotidian past and an old girlfriend he can get into old arguments with and get a massage from, and yeah he may have talked himself into being as cool as Bruce Lee, but he’s still actually a martial arts sex god magician.

    Greg Feely is non of these things. And still has sex with Boy anyway. Wait, I mean Miami.

    Those narcissistic martial arts sex god magician traits are explicitly Para-Persona fare in The Filth, designed to forever deceive those infected with them, whereas they are the default mode of being in The Invisibles.

    There’s a lot of specifics I’ve never actually unpacked in The Filth. I need to go back and reread it, but doesn’t Miami make some comment later about being disgusted by being the one who had to sleep with Feely or something?

    Morrison never seems to fully reconstruct Feely. And certainly not in a sexual sense. Does the pedophile stuff ever really go anywhere? Is is just a way to make Feely unseemly to the nieghbors?

  3. Terrence Moreau Says:

    A few more things here…

    The comb-over is mentioned in passing if only to kinda say you have no idea what it means. My reading of it is as a reflection of the narcissistic fantasy Miami represents. It’s Greg’s, our, your, twisted self staring back at all of us, confronting us with our own fantasy, before engaging us, taking control, and twisting the fantasy away and breaking the formal panel structure of the comic.

    The formal myth of the special-man is detourned, the reality reflected back in a combover, a sexually aggressive woman the man does not control and the twisting of the very drawings themselves.

    If we’re going to do a close reading of how the art applies to the themes here, it’s important to note at least two more specifics: One, Greg and Miami don’t exactly seem to be in passionate ecstasy, do they? Two, not only do the panels twist and break and disappear away from formal structure, here, the actual renderings themselves have been altered and twisted.

    The fantasy of the available woman is not only shown to be twisted (the art), but also a reflection of the male main character (the combover), and an inherent deception with which to draw the main character further into the specialness trap.

    Yeah, there’s lots more to pull out of The Filth.

  4. Terrence Moreau Says:

    The Filth functions, similarly to The Invisibles, when run correctly, as an inoculation. A jolt of the wrong, to help make you right.

    Have a look into the twisted funhouse mirror, lads. Do you see the shit staring back? Spread it on the flowers.

    “Nobody’s special.”

    “I was trying to be assertive.”

  5. Terrence Moreau Says:

    Oh, and I’m sorry for being cheeky, but I hope the final section on sex in the book is more exploratory and daring than this excerpt is, which seems to be more concerned with touting the universality of the narcissistic fantasy and throwing poetic descriptions of the art at the reader (“fetid physicality” “buff, buxom body” etc) rather than with actually engaging with points made by the work and the mechanics by which the work makes those points.

    That said, you’ll have my money the moment the thing is available for sale, just like Andrew Hickey did with An Incomprehensible Condition. Man… that was a masterful companion/explanation piece…

  6. Terrence Moreau Says:

    Oh, and of course, the psychedelic sex page is reflected back later in issue 8, when the Hand has to draw Greg back into being Ned again. We get the same twisting and breaking, only then the self-loathing undertones of the fantasy reflection are made into BDSM overtones of painful integration of different sense of self. It’s the fucked, left-hand, path to enlightenment. Sort of a twisted version of The Promethea thing, like the whole of The Filth more generally.

  7. Terrence Moreau Says:

    “Where we fuck left-handed, in negative.”

    - Reflections on the path to enlightenment.

  8. Terrence Moreau Says:

    … I wonder… in that room, with the vial Para-Personas… if you peeled off the label on the Ned Slade one… I’m pretty sure you’d find another under it just like it, titled King Mob. What was Morrison’s original fantasy persona? What was ours? We’re all there. All of us. “Don’t you get it?”

    Initiation never ends. The Hand never lets go. Status Q is the infinite self-regress of reality, you included. Good luck.

    So is this book gonna be any good?

  9. Terrence Moreau Says:

    Feely is Mob grown old and ineffectual.

    Kirk Morrison survived the culture shift of the new millennium and the arrival of the 2012 star demons and found reality to still be full of the same old problems as ever, new ones as well, in fact. All unable to be combated by macho bullshit.

    He grows old. And eventually snaps. I’m incredibly attracted to the idea that The Hand is Kirk Morrison’s elaborate suicide fantasy after surviving the end of The Invisibles and being ground down by the basics of daily life with no idiot hero bullsiht to feed his ego.

    In that way, a reading of Starlight (“If your world doesn’t believe you’re awesome, don’t worry there’ll be a whole other one that worships you!”) and other narcissistic Mark Millar parralels, could also be introduced, but that’s another thing entirely.

    (The way Millar attempts self-awareness of the fantasy within the fantasy is VERY different to Morrison. Millar goes to the opposite extreme, wholly embracing narcissism while attempting to humble brag about it. All Millar heroes humble brag. It’s how he attempts to escape the trap of specialness. It doesn’t work. In fact, it actually compounds the narcissism rather than diminishes it.)

    The thing we never see is these men just livings lives.

    “All he cared about was the fucking cat.”

    I suppose that’s boring or whatever…

    Though I suppose if you have to sell, it’s better to use your knowledge of the gaping maw in the soul of man or whatever to craft narcissistic fantasies which appeal to the deepest unconscious urge of the masses to be the center of things. While humble bragging about it to feel even better about themselves. It’s a male self-pity thing. Most of noir is powered by it, as Jeff Lester has notably observed on multiple occasions.

    One last thing (I’m sorry about commenting so much. Once I got started it was hard to stop.) I’ll be interested to hear your take on Spartacus Hughes, who seems to be Morrison’s going in the other direction entirely, but with no humble brag or attempt to escape the trap of specialness at all.

    Spartacus is the opposite. He is the traditional hero from the old-style journey.

    He’s everything we aspired to be.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    “Not IN sertive, Spongebob!”

  11. Illogical Volume Says:

    Thanks for the feedback Terrence, and don’t worry about being cheeky – I want to make sure this book is really fucking good and getting called out on my weaker moments will help me there.

    You’re definitely right that this section is light on analysis (I made a similar observation here, alongside a brief guide to the Morrison/Millar divide that chimes pretty well with yours), and your comments on the reflective narcissism of this encounter will make a good starting point for some good old fashioned musings on the inside/outside perspective offered by the magic mirror.

    What I will say is that this isn’t the book’s last word on sex but its first, and that while it’s a bit of an underdeveloped bridging section it is leading into material that examines the mechanics at work in The Filth. That doesn’t mean that section 2 (and to a lesser extent section 1) should be as thin as they are though, so trust that I’ve taken your comments on board.

    I’ll leave it to you to decide how well it works when you’ve got the finished book in your hands, but I hope to help you question The Filth’s inoculative function by the end.

    I’ve got a few thoughts on the “Peado-Feely” pseudo-plot, but they won’t be part of this preview because they’re part of the second chapter, which is all about “personality” as a contextual reflex. Speaking of which, I can’t say that I’m going to lay off the poetic descriptions – I’ve got swagger to spare and I don’t care to hide it – but I should probably work to make sure I’m not using that as cover for a lack of critical insight.

  12. Illogical Volume Says:

    Anonymous – YES!

  13. Terrence Moreau Says:

    Thanks for the response Illogical, I do just want to apologize a second time here for going as overboard as I did. I probably shouldn’t have done it, but it was fun.

    I don’t think the book is perfect. No inoculation is without some side effects. Morrison’s insight into the human condition isn’t complete. He doesn’t fully reconstruct or reintegrate Feely.

    The book isn’t to be emulated or anything, just engaged with and learned from.

    Oh, and I’d never tell you to lay off the poeticisms entirely, they’re wonderful! I look forward to the bit about personality as patterned auto-response you mention, too!

  14. Terrence Moreau Says:

    Commenting on the linked article there, I’m not so sure Wanted actually subverts the Hero’s Journey. Engages with it, certainly, but I’d say it dives headfirst into it and amps it up, rather than actively works to remove its power. Wanted revels in the individual-is-special-just-because-he’s-him quality of the narcissistic fantasy/hero’s journey.

    And for all of my placing Morrison as somehow that much more insightful than Millar or something, I think there really is no escaping the narcissistic trap, there is only how you engage with it. It’s the problem of individualism taken to the extreme. And while Millar may always push the individual further into building themselves up, Morrison too often does the opposite and disappears into the abyss of depression.

    How do you engage with the problem of individualism? By what contextual reflexes do you engage with others? Patterned reflexes of aggression? Of deception? Of attempts at control? Of attempts at empathy and understanding and communication?

    Context dictates the response, of course. Previous experiences accrete around moments of imprint vulnerability, creating behavior. When similar moments are encountered again, we then react similarly. Triggering, etc.

    And it’s way too tempting now for me not just go: So what happens then, when “the personality,” a contextual program, hits “the supercontext” of the modern ever-more-linked-together world? Fly meet windshield. Ego go splat.

    (Oh, and there’s a really really REALLY mean/bad natured reading of Starlight to be done that I’m surprised no one’s done yet. Maybe just no one’s as cynical as I am about it. I kind of hope it’s that.)

  15. Terrence Moreau Says:

    BTW I’m just now realizing that The Function of The Filth, as a book, might actually be a takedown of Morrison. I’m kind of way more interested at that thought…

    If the premise of the book is that the actual function of The Filth is as a self-deception mechanism for Morrison and the audience, I’m WAY more in.

    It’s a brainwashing device, like any other good piece of art. What it manages to convince you of will depend on you, though. The magic mirror again and the self-reflexive nature of perception. But if there’s a defensible reading of The Filth that says it engenders, generates or excuses more bad behavior than good (to be massively reductionist about it) I’m TOTALLY in.

  16. Illogical Volume Says:

    Intentionality’s a tricky thing, but to me Wanted feels like it’s supposed to be subversion through amplification – “You see all that stuff you enjoyed? That makes you as bad as a rapist that does – enjoy fucking yourself in the arse for the rest of all time!”

    I don’t think it really works that way though (“There is something vaguely frightening about the idea of Superman that can be persuasively jacked up in the Authority, the desire to ditch your job in a cubicle needs a pretty specific strain of nastiness to end with your raping and killing an A-list celebrity as she sobs in the bathtub”), which maybe only leaves the option to enjoy it the way people enjoy playing GTA with the cheats on.

    The Function of The Filth isn’t a straight-up take down of Morrison but it’s 2014 so it’s closer to that than it would have been if I’d written it at the “right” time (2008-2010, obvs). I don’t know what sort of behaviour The Filth engenders outside of my bedroom I hope not to let its persuasive, Morrisonian rhetoric stand unchallenged.

    I also don’t want to fall into the Sequart trap, so this book will be as much of a tribute to Chris Weston as anything – hopefully I can pull all of this off without resorting to tired, Barbelith circa 2004 style “BUT CAN’T I BE BOTH?!” posturing.

  17. Terrence Moreau Says:

    I was never on Barbelith (I was still in high school at the time, head sideways-deep in the stuff) so it doesn’t seem tired to me, it still seems fresh!

    And I think there’s a form of description to be explored that engages less with the idea of authorial intent and more with the modes one knows comics to be read in. I.E. I grew up with guys who thought Millar wrote the most bad-ass comics on the planet and would hear no different. Morrison was just weird. They LOVED all-weapons god-mode GTA.

    I do think there is a ridiculous amount to be pulled out of The Filth and held up and examined, that, frankly, I just don’t think many people have had the courage to do. Obviously you feel similarly. It’s a Filthy, dirty little thing after all, mired in shit, and engaging with it in any emotionally honest capacity is a difficult task. For all my bluster, I do really look forward to reading the book.

    The art analysis most of all, as that’s still a relatively novel thing for comics critics, and there’s still plenty of rhetorical landscape to explored/seized/fought over.

  18. Ed A. Says:

    I’m rather excited to see your finished work, I shall certainly pick up a copy once it’s released.

    Thinking about The Filth, which means confronting head-on how it made ME feel, still leaves me reeling so clearly the only sensible course of action is to set aside some time this weekend to re-read it (and then perhaps re-read again).

    While not being suitably equipped to tackle The Filth head on, I suppose I ought to add a drop of my own into the Millar/Morrison/Wanted/Filth comparative blender…

    For me Millar’s “subversion through amplification” technique is only effective to a point, that point being a saturation point after which all subsequent exclamations of “fuck” and performed rapes’n’murders fall like grains of un-absorbed salt to the bottom of one’s metaphorical glass of water; it’s easy to become numb to it all, no longer even drawing the ‘guilty’ transgressive thrilldisgust we are (supposed to/are accused by Millar of) experiencing vicariously through Wesley. Perhaps the true (unintended?) horror of Wesley is not one of unrestrained ego and unsuppressed id, the notion that we could all be him if we were similarly empowered to cast off our super-ego, but instead in our ability to adjust to and become unmoved by his wanton excess.

    So why does The Filth still make me feel so uncomfortable while Millar’s work so blasé? I suppose the answer lies in Morrison’s twisting and decentring approach to thrilldisgust; where Millar utilises the violent rape of a beautiful celebrity, already a fetishised object-idol-person sold to a fantasy-consuming public at large in softcore imagary, as a transgressive sexual act which takes the pornographic fantasies of celebrity flesh the reader/public is accused by Millar of harbouring to a super-empowered and violent conclusion, Morrison instead introduces us to The World of Anders Klimakks. Klimakks being a kind of hardcore porn-logic made flesh; his black sperm irresistibly impregnating, degrading and (when super-sized) capable of destroying any and all women; his copied selves replacing “everybody” and reducing the infinitely complex mess of human life to “all you need is Fuck, yeah?”. The accusation here is more profound than Millar’s in Wanted; yes people desire the beautiful, famous women who are held up as pinnacles of desirability in popular culture but the implication of Anders Klimakks in The Filth is that the commonplace practice of consuming porn reduces the persons viewing or viewed to a bereft ‘fucked’ or ‘fucker’. The eventual evolutionary triumph of Klimakks presents an additional, perhaps even more unsettling, question to Wanted’s “what if you were he?” – “what if you weren’t and someone else was?”. Or perhaps I’m talking out of my arse… there’s definitely some re-reading needed on my part.

    Anyway, that’s enough guff from me. I like this website, it is good.

  19. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » The Function of The Filth – Preview #3 Says:

    [...] was noted in the comments to the previous entry in this series, the analysis of sex provided in that section of  The [...]