Friday, 13 July 2018


by Ergo Phizmiz (PLC)

“We do not understand how a collection of lies can be called a satire on lying, any more than the adventures of a woman of pleasure can be called a satire on fornication”

                Contemporary review of Raspe's “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen”

This is a story about documents and identity. A story about handwriting , history, and artificial information. It is also about boxing, wrestling, and the art of the dupe, and the tendency of intense contact sports and high-class hoaxing to interweave. It is about new discoveries and old theories, art and anti-art, entertainment and anti-entertainment and, vitally, this is a story about that which we hold dearest to our hearts: admin.

We all have to spend a lot of time doing admin, don't we? No matter what line of work we are in. In my line of work as a sort of ineffective cultural behemoth I am swamped by admin. It is, I'm sure you agree, true of pretty much everybody. The internet has only served to add a sheen of non-professional admin to everybody's lives. We are swamped in “paperwork”.

But, historically, this proves fortunate. Without admin, we could not peruse the pages of the Magna Carta after all, and one recent discovery that forms one of the many centrepieces of this story is a revelation of recorded admin that radically rewrites our understanding not of something which we held to be truth being revealed as a sham, but of lies, outrageous lies, having been proven to be, irrefutably and inexplicably, true.

There is a peculiarity in the centre of all admin, that of the signature. A scrawl that verifies your identity. I have seen signatures that look like drawings of nice rabbits, that somehow proves the existence of Mr Charlie Dellschau or someoneorother, Nowadays, of course, the kind people in the internet businesses and banks have protected us on a level we never thought possible, and our identities are sealed, condom-like, into a series of websites. A far cry from the dream of the early internet, where ideas and identities were traded freely.

How would Fabian Lloyd,
AKA Arthur Cravan the Poet Boxer,
AKA Dorian Hope the master forger,
possibly AKA B. Travers the mysterious novelist,
who may also have been the President of Mexico,
and countless other forged and fictitious identities,
have fared in the age of Instagram and internet banking?

We introduce Fabian Avenarius Lloyd

The mysterious Arthur Cravan, the world’s shortest-haired poet, boxer, hotel rat, muleteer, snake-charmer, chauffeur, ailurophile, gold prospector, grandson of the Queen’s chancellor, nephew of Oscar Wilde.

Stepping into the ring with heavyweight champion Jack Johnson. The fight is a crowdfunder – Cravan has organised the match to fund his passage to the United States, in order to avoid being drafted into millitary service. Jack Johnson knocks out Cravan in one punch, concluding later “he must have been out of practice”.

Cravan, perhaps slightly bruised but with pockets full of cash, made it to the steamship. And onboard he struck up a friendship with Leon Trotsky. And the moral of this story is that sometimes if you take a punch you might just end up getting chummy with a Marxist.

Andy Kaufman didn't hang out with famous Communists but he did take a few punches.

One week he destroys a television show.

And the next week apologises, from a written statement...
Then proceeds to destroy a television show again.
And nobody is ever quite sure what is happening.
And, of course, people ask “Who is the real Andy Kaufman?” And books and papers and films and documentaries are made about this.
There is a film that purports to be “the real Andy Kaufman”. It reveals a rather sprightly, fey, insecure figure having a bit of a meltdown about a bad crowd. “Does this represent the real personality behind the masks?” asks the eager student of comedy and performanceart.

But what nobody says is, who cares actually? Why does it matter a bit who this man is? Why are we so keen to know this man's identity?
Arthur Cravan's approach to life was similar to Andy Kaufman's, and granted him similar notoriety. A serial hoaxer, mongerer of rumours, forger of passports, dandy, duellist, the personification of flamboyance, and a notoriously, outrageously vicious critic. He was also a poet, whose life and work proved a key influence on the Dadaists.
But Cravan's work has it's root in the cult of the gentleman adventurer, the man of action. Placing the roots of Dada firmly with pistols-at-dawn, buff muscles and the sceptred, heroic action- hero.

Which is why there are now so many annoying men who think it is witty and interesting to talk in non sequiturs trying to chat up girls or stalk people online. The thing they don't realise is that sadly the language of Dada and Surrealism was taken by the ad men many years ago, and that saying “John is a fish” sadly only makes you a boring prick nowadays.

One practice most young rogues don't partake in is another facet that unites Kaufman and Cravan. They both may, or may not, but quite possibly might, have faked their own deaths.

Uniting Cravan and Kaufman is their capacity to render reality malleable. Kaufman, as to a greater or lesser extent practically everyone is, was influenced by the outrageous performance tactics of the Dadaists. And Cravan, the eccentric Poet-Boxer, was a sort of Fairy Godmother to the Cabaret Voltaire. This transformation of reality into something shifting has parallels both in the atmosphere of the internet and the social conditioning methods of Soviet Russia, which are being so beautifully replayed in glorious technicolor in this technological utopia in which we currently pass our days. Hyper-Normal = Sur-Real.

Andy Kaufman may still be with us now, and it is plausible that we all see him almost every day.
Not Arthur Cravan, though. The most convincing account perhaps places him tied to a rock in the bottom of the Seine. But this was at least the second time Fabian Lloyd, or Arthur Cravan, or for that matter Eva, Dowager Empress of Iceland had left this mortal coil.
In the early 1920s, some years after the disappearance of both Arthur Cravan and his
sailboat at sea, manuscripts of Oscar Wilde began to circulate around Dublin, Paris, and London, Presented and certified by a character going variously under the names Dorian Hope, B. Holland, Sebastien Hope, and Eva, Dowager Princess of Island. The documents were certified by Wilde scholars as authentic, but later proven to be definitively forgeries.
The identity of the forger was never definitively verified, but let us take Wilde's son Vyvyan Holland at his word when he said his first cousin Fabian Lloyd called himself Dorian Hope, the Dorian from Dorian Gray, and the Hope from Adrian Hope, a Wilde family trustee.
Forgery is an altogether different kettle of fish in this digital world. For all of our detailed, and usually extremely annoying, verification systems, the digital environment has created a world where it is impossible to verify the truth of anything.
Not such a problem with paper. Paper can be dated, contextualised. It is usually found somewhere unpredictable and, for all its early utopianism, the internet is not an unpredictable environment where anything can happen. Within any programmed or designed environment the opportunities for wondrous serendipity are few and far between.
The roasting atmosphere of a hot and extremely productive day in the magic world of academic research. Some documents, discovered some years ago but only just reaching the end of a research and verification process, have been proven to be what they were - despite all seeming rationality - suspected to be.

But before we proceed onto the content of these remarkable papers, first a word about the style. The artist and theorist Goodiepal refers to “unscannable documents”, that is to say documents that are unreadable by an artificial intelligence. These mid 18th century papers have been proven to be incomprehensible to any automated scanning device. The documents are a combination of ciphers, codes, deliberate misspellings, obscuring text with other text, fragmentation and overlaying of images and ideas. Perhaps what the internet might look like if viewed through the wrong end of a telescope. An unscannable work of art or admin avoids being sucked into the machine, because nothing automated can reap the information. That is why all my receipts have been painted over. 

Perhaps part of the fascination with figures like Fabian Avenarius Lloyd and Andy Kaufman is that they are, to an extent at least, unscannable personalities? When you can not get a handle on where somebody's personality is coming from, or for that matter where a work of art is coming from, everything falls into disarray. But in some ways it is arguable
that the most useful art, particularly the most useful satire at this point in history, is that which is to some extent unscannable, whose motivations are not entirely clear, whose political standpoint appears sometimes questionable. Left-wing people will hearken unto Stewart Lee and right-wing people enjoy the bilious rantings of some sweat-covered admin macho-man, and never the twain shall meet. Unscannable satire ensures one is never preaching to the converted, and that the already converted also have to question things here and there.

But back to the steaming chambers of academia. These, as it transpired, unscannable documents proved a headache for the researchers. There was speculation that these remarkable documents were, in fact, the private notebooks of the historical Hieronymus Carl Friedrich von Munchausen. With the passage of time it became clear that this was, irrefutably, the case and, even if the documents did not prove the Baron's adventures to be entirely true, as such, they do prove that the Baron, or shall we call him Hieronymus, was an artist of great distinction, a master of codes and obfuscation and, vitally, that he recorded, albeit in cryptic form, the adventures later purveyed in the popular books of Raspe.
But there are deeper insinuations. Hieronymus, the human Baron who became a mythological figure through popular culture, also designs at great length a series of flying machines, airships, and hot-air balloons. Anybody who remembers Baron Munchausen's trip to the moon will deduce what these diagrams are in aid of. But are these drawings the work of an obsessive fantasist, or historical documents that irrefutably prove that man first set foot on the cheeseball in the 18th century? This, if true, radically rewrites our understanding of human history.

The final point of relevance to our story is that these paper are not works of art. They are diagrams, recordings, descriptions, charts. Although codified, and very beautiful to look at, they are, fundamentally, works of admin.
Andy Kaufman never went to the moon, as far as we know. But he did manage to exist in multiple places at once. His alter-ego, the lounge singer Tony Clifton, who you will meet now -

- still performs regularly today. But, as you will see later, it is highly plausible there are actually two, not one, instances of Tony Clifton walking the earth right now. One is Kaufman's regular collaborator Bob Zmuda, the other …


The information age has become the obfuscation age. The world is full of people who genuinely believe that Leonardo da Vinci hid secrets within an art commission to point to the location of the holy grail. And let's be honest, Copernicus knew the earth was round, and yes the holocaust really did happen, unbelievable as it may well seem. Reality is becoming unscannable.

If you were already familiar with the work of a certain Charles AA Dellschau you'll already know the story about Baron Hieronymus Munchausen was nonsense.

The truth is, perhaps, stranger. These images come from a pile of books found in a gutter in 1960. The work of Charles August Albert Dellschau, a butcher from Brandenburg who came to Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave in 1850. 

In his retirement, Butcher Charlie dedicated his time to writing and drawing over 3,000 pages of documents detailing the story of the Sonora Aero Club, a group of early aviators who built flying machines using a, possibility extraterrestrial, anti-gravity gas. There are conspiracies, there are murders, there are the mysterious codes: DM=X0 and NYMZA that filter through the whole work.
The insinuation is that, long before Wilbur and Orville took flight, a group of guys in California were soaring through the skies in ornate and rather beautiful airships. There are contemporary news reports of flying machines landing in people's gardens and asking for water, previously, and quite naturally, thought to be hokum, the Dellschau documents add a very curious level of uncertainty.

So here there are two possibilities. Was Dellschau documenting for posterity and the advancement of humanity the history of this remarkable group of scientific innovators? Or had the butcher been aching all his life to stop with the axe and go wild with a pen and dreams?

Another motif that crops up throughout the images – Dream or Real
Whether the airships existed as real works of art or the whole thing is one man's fantasy is a question that, like who the “real” Arthur Cravan or Andy Kaufman was, will be most likely impossible to answer. Either way, in reality or fantasy, a group of gentlemen adventurers get together and attempt to conquer nature, taking to the heavens.
The Poet-Boxer Arthur Cravan, in living the ideal of the heroic Action Man, made existing into a kind of art, an artform that included poetry, forgery, poverty, suicide, scandal, and ther is not much more action man than high-contact, violent sport.
Andy Kaufman was dropped on his head by Jerry Lawler.

And then punched in the face.
And riled up whole communities against himself.
Very few people knew, or know now, quite what he was up to, because he never let on, and many times his work did appear to test the limits of conventional taste and morality. An unscannable satirist of behaviour and the media, who revelled in uncertainty.
In 1984, Andy Kaufman died, but perhaps in the same way Arthur Cravan disappeared at sea. Kaufman confided in close friends that he was planning to fake his death, there is lots written about this of course on the internet so I needn't go into it here. He would reappear in the most spectacular way possible 20 years later. There is lots written about this of course on the internet so I needn't go into it here.
In 2004, Donald Trump appeared on Saturday Night Live, flanked by a chorus of singing chickens.

In the mid 80s, he suddenly develops an interest in wrestling. 
In the run-up to the election, people began to notice the resemblance to Tony Clifton.

Andy Kaufman's work depended on not breaking character, of never letting the audience in on the joke. His final act is the biggest joke, but a joke that may see the world burn. Although personally I prefer the idea that, at some summit with some dictator or other, they will suddenly pull out a line of dancing-girls and perform, with full fireworks, “This Friendly, Friendly World”.
The problem is, in a world of insane conspiracy theories, this one kind of makes more sense than the reality that is happening. So even if it is nonsense, and let's be fair there's quite a lot of nonsense in this story, it at least provides a slightly more comfortable alternative to what the situation otherwise is. One way you get the apocalypse, the other way you get a really fucking hot impression of Elvis. Which would you choose?

If the time we live in has actually become Sur-Real, if we live in a time where one person in a room proposes the earth is flat and people don't just burst out laughing, then who knows maybe Leonardo did encode secrets about Christ the King in a wall painting, and “We Are the Champions” did end with Freddie Mercury saying “That's all folks”. Nelson Mandela was a lobster emoji on an iPhone and Terry Waite didn't go into captivity but went on holiday to Monaco where he disguised himself as Grace Kelly's mourning chauffeur for a while. Hitler's main problem was with snails and he was actually from Harrow. Johnny Depp was born a woman but that was in a past life and his face is made of a plate. Billy Crystal is called Billy Crystal because he is made of crystals, making him the world's most precious stone. Jesus has been found alive in Nepal trying to avoid the Chinese government. Russia never existed. There are people in small towns all over England who can channel energy through their hands and transmit it to you from miles away because they spent 300 pound on a one day course. You can cure bowel cancer with a pencil. Doctor and the Medics were certified General Practitioners. Steve Irwin was a crocodile. Liza Minnelli lives in an empty speaker-case in Ashby-de-la-Zouch. The MMR jab causes gluten. David Cameron didn't have to take any responsibility for Brexit because he's actually a wooden chair and wooden chairs aren't responsible for anything except what's sitting on them. Quincy Jones is a blood relative of Daffy Duck. Porky Pig wasn't that fat he just looked that way on screen. Sandi Toksvig is a mezzanine apartment in Bucks. The haiku writer Basho was actually an investment banker with a vested interest in data protection services. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the one true faith. Every Apple Mac computer is a portal into a really pristine unisex toilet with a robot valet. Celery is dangerous. David Icke is plasticine. All women are born first as men. Clenching your fists causes global warming. If the wind changes, your face will stay like that.

Ergo Phizmiz (PLC) is an artist, composer, theatre-director, collagist, film-maker, operawizard, pop star, broadcaster, performance-artist and radio-playwright.

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