It's so good

Max Porter
Author text
PORTE Rchris montgomery unsplash

What are authors currently going through? For the Passa Porta Festival we asked seven writers from different countries to respond to this question with a new text. Their contributions have inspired us in compiling the festival programme.

After Imbolo Mbue, Hubert Antoine and Aleksandra Lun, we also invited the British writer Max Porter to write a new text for us. He came back with a strong, angry reflection on these covid times.

The author of the lauded novels Grief is the thing with feathers (2015) and Lanny (2019) calls this piece a "polyphony for one", conjuring up multiple characters and perspectives. All these voices come together in a text on life now, on our existence in a time in which everything seems to have come to a halt and true connection appears to be impossible.


It’s so good to be here, with you, because Zoom is a pale and sad imitation of the physical experience of being together in a room. We kid ourselves it’s the same, but it’s not.

It’s so good to be here, with you, on Zoom, what a miracle that we can be together in a room, although we are not. We kid ourselves that being together physically is better, but it’s not! We give each other viruses. We annoy one other. We smell. We’ve fetishized the bodily, the physical, for too long. Isn’t this better? Me over here, you over there? Much more hygienic, and better for the planet.

It’s so good to be here, with you, in the weird shivering blip, accidental life. Inexplicable. In my slippers.

It’s so good to be here, with your particles in my nostrils, your skin cells on my tongue, bits of you becoming bits of me, building future immunity, the taste of community, if I was a liquid you could all queue up and drink a spoon of me.

It’s so good to be here, with you, because the train was smelly, and the tea was lukewarm, and the beer was expensive, and the bread was stale, and the air conditioning almost froze me to death, and given how much a ticket costs you’d think they could throw in a clean toilet, or fill up the soap dispensers, and as I was disembarking the train into your great city, a woman said to me ‘you are the most ungrateful and unpleasant person I have ever encountered’ and I said ‘how dare you’ and she said ‘how dare you’ and I said ‘how DARE you’ and if I hadn’t been in a rush to come here tonight and see you, I think that lady and I would still be on the platform escalating our little war. I think that lady and I would be very much in love, taking chunks out of each other on the platform, roaring.

It’s so good to be here, with you, on either side of an intimacy issue, discussing whether or not I am here with you, and the answer being BOTH. Not here. Here.

It’s so good to be here, with you, but because I was so happy to be here, in this city, away from my small country, ripped from the European project by a bunch of crooks, I was so pleased and overwhelmed that I knelt and I kissed the pavement, and I was asked to move on by a traffic policeman. Don’t kiss the pavement, sir, he said.

It’s so good to be here, with you, I have come from a faraway land, they call me Lazarus man. Do you know that song?

It’s so good to be here, with you, or not really, but we try. Trying is the thing. Trying is culture. No, worrying is culture. No, lying is culture. No, collaborating. No, performing, well, faking, listening, shopping? Am I close? Sleeping! Sleeping is the culture. Pretending we like our kids. That’s the culture. Pretending maps mean something. Is that it?

A walk from the village, then a bus, then a payment made to a smuggler, then a boat, then a hospital, then a mortuary, then a stroll through seven layers of infinite grace, then popped up embodied in the optimistic dream of an open-borders hope-joker, haha not really, I was detained at the border of bloodthirsty fortress Europe, because of the colour of my skin, haha not really, I’m a device, to make you queasy, uneasy, guilty.

It’s so good to be here, with you, me being stone, you being flesh. I had to wait 30, 000 million years for the chalk to squash up and close the watery gap, for mammoths to sink, for ice to melt, for trees to come and go, animals to wobble up out of the ocean on four then two legs, then slit and cut and rape and beat and bomb and burn and punish each other for thousands of years, blink of an eye, but here I am, warm in your pocket, a memento, plunder, the cold hard truth at the centre of thunder, inaudible, aeon groan, deep time accomplice to real time crime.

It’s so good to be here, with you, round, hard, ordinary, miraculous, much, much, much more probable than you, who are made of flesh. A stone.

It’s so good to be here, with you, because I have been locked in a wildly ambitious project, and I got detained, in the internet, where empathy is undergoing a tragic metamorphosis into something easy, monetised, and empty, and I forgot what the project was, but it had something to do with you, here. It had something to do with being alive, rather than dead. Perhaps it was a joke.

It’s so good to be here, with you, because I work, usually, in a labelmaker’s cave, do you know what I mean by this? Maybe you call them something different here, but where I’m from we call them labelmaker caves and I arrive at 7am, oh look, you mustn’t think I’m being ungrateful, I like my job, and we cannot be fussy, now, a job is a job, I’m grateful to be working, but I am just saying it is so much nicer to be here, with you, but yes, we arrive at 7am and we start to label things and once we have labelled a few things, we wander about searching for the other things that have been previously labelled in the same way and then we clump them together, or they wander off and drift together of their own accord, which we call drifting. So it’s labelling, clumping or drifting work, and in a typical day I would do maybe five words? Five labels. Yesterday I did ‘ISLAMAPHOBIA’ ‘POLLEN’ ‘ZIP-LOC’ ‘BAHARRAT’ and ‘LIL WAYNE’ and it was the same as any other day, except that I knew I would be seeing you, here today, in the not-flesh or the yes-flesh and every clump and drift buzzed with the anticipation, suddenly meant something, every word. It was erotic, knowing what I know about labels, and you, and the fact that one day, tomorrow won’t arrive.

There will be nothing more to label. Imagine that.

It’s so good to be here, with you, because Lewis was supposed to change the brake lights on the van, but he forgot, so I had to drive here with one brake light, so I’m lucky not to have been arrested. It’s so good to be here, with you, but wish me luck getting back, in the pitch black, one break light, on these roads, in this weather, wherever we are.

It’s so good to be here, with you, with your verruca. With your wart. With your twitching eyelid. With your testicular cancer. With your heart murmur. With your high cholesterol.

It’s so good to be here, with your little bit of almond caught where your filling is missing. With your garlic breath. With your coffee burp. With the cigarette smell on your fingertips. It’s so good to be with you after your confession. You told me what you did, and I still loved you. You said, here I am a dying body, with food remnants stuck on me, having done what I have done, and I still loved you.

It’s so good to be here, with you, in the era after the one we’ve just been living in. Whew, what an era that was.

It’s so good to be here, with you, against the green screen. Behind me is a war zone. Behind me is a protest. Behind me is a glacier collapsing into the sea. Behind me are the best bits, top ten, big hits, history glitching.

It’s so good to be here, with you, passing those heads on spikes really reminded me, we are lucky to be on the right side of the law. Passing all that shit in the gulleys and gaps by the road we are so lucky to live high up, on the hill. Passing the road made of bodies, we are so lucky to drive these cars. My driver said to me, Tell them, tell them how good it is to be there, because some of them will be taking it for granted, and I said, once you have dropped me home this evening, you will be fired. For telling me what to say. For daring to think, on my behalf, of why it is good to be here, drenched in guilt, among others.

It’s so good to be here, with you, in the movement between winter and spring when everything has been reborn, at the speed of walking, but hasn’t yet shown itself. Not yet green. Not yet seen.

It’s so good to be here, with you, because my partner of twenty-three years, Magolie, despises me, and any excuse to get away from her is very welcome. As I was leaving she said, ‘I hope, when you gaze out at them, you recognise the look on their faces. It is the same you see on my face. And on your own, in the mirror. It is disgust. And would you buy some bread on the way home.'

It’s so good to be here, with you, because my partner of four months, George, is in isolation, self-imposed, because he thinks he has the tell-tale irrational fear and racist thoughts… the twitchy scrolling, the ritualistic checking and clicking, the obsessive loathing, the tutting and sighing. Yes, I think he’s got it. He blames the neighbour. He says it’s a small country, how many more can we fit. He says there’s plenty of space where they come from. Yes, he has it. I’m pleased to be here with you, where I can whisper, welcome, to an invisible idea of a person coming from wherever there is, to wherever here is, which I know is against the rules, but you and I, we are not George.

It’s so good to be here, with you, in person, to say thank you for wading into the river to lift me up, for asking me ‘are you sure’ and yes I was sure, I was not a witch, I was not working with the devil. And look, I drowned. You know, because you watched the waters bubbling then stilled. You wept, I think. I have the statistics here, yes, 9 out of 10 wept. It isn’t easy. They call it the banality of evil, I call it everyday life in the stricken community of humans, casting off the tyrannical idea of common goodness. I never once expected you to swim down and save me. I never once expected to float. I expected the cold. I was surprised by the time, or maybe I was confused. It seemed to last for hours.

It’s so good to be here, with you, the ghost of women, in the room full of men.

It’s so good to be here, with you, dressing a body. Death and dying. Thank you for sharing this timeless leveller, this fundamental ritual with me. No god, no fanfare. Just cloth, and flesh and your sniffling sobbing hopeless half-prayers. Just water. A bowl. Cotton wool.

It’s so good to be here, with you, incarcerated by commerce.

It’s so good to be here, with you, because I honestly didn’t think I’d live past 13, where I grew up.

It’s so good to be here, with you, you old romantic. Fancy us being able to touch again. Sniff, sneeze, lick, smooch, rub, flick, tickle, spit, hug.

It’s so good to be here, with you, because the science fiction aesthetic we expected was clean stainless steel and space suits and egalitarian future politics. But what we have is a kind of rubbished medieval-anthropocence-junk-modern, burning, rancid, corrupt, grotesque, and for those of us who make a living putting flesh in bags, it’s so much better, because we have work to do.

It’s so good to be here, with you, at the golf resort, getting down to the serious business of shifting debt, drinking diet coke, taking pills, grunting sadly at the fake smile of a paid lover as I shimmy shimmy pig rich heavy and quick on top, catching up on my favourite shows, scrolling through twitter, eating ear wax, once upon a time I was king of the world.

It’s so good to be here, with you, because I am a ghost, and you are still living, and we all knew deep down this was how it worked, a very crowded house, call me hunch, coincidence, unease, déjà vu, shiver, shadow, gnawing doubt, glance, whisper, intuition, I am lying on you while you sleep breathing your dreams for sustenance.

It’s so good to be here, with you, me holding a sign saying OPEN ALL BORDERS and you holding a sign saying BUILD A WALL and both of us realising if we swap signs we’ll float off, untethered, and you tell me statistically 96% of people who post an opinion online (any opinion whatsoever) will never change that opinion. It is fixed, we are not changing each other’s minds. Give me your sign, and I will give you mine.

No, you first. After you. Trust me.

It’s so good to be here, with you, in parenthesis. Two signs between parenthetical lines. A curved cut in the air to the left of me, a gesture of support to your right. Language. You and I. I won’t leave you alone in here, that’s the point. If there’s less than two, there’s no other (0), one means nothing without the other, exposed to the dissolving air, unfixed, just floating marks with no page, (unlined, unmade, unthought. It’s good to admit to you that I want this. That I yearn for it…)

It’s so good to be here, with you, in London, having escaped Vienna just in time, knowing my daughter is safe upstairs. It’s good to defend psychoanalysis from its critics. See, you’re doing it again. Guessing if I’m me, who I say I am. Typical, you’re a typical reader of books.

It’s so good to be here, with you, in China, having travelled for nineteen weeks from Venice, to buy a small rock, which will have come from a mountain in Afghanistan, which I will take home and turn into chemical, and then into powder, into pigment, and then sell it to a man who will colour the Virgin’s robe with it. Our lady of commerce, of science, of slavery, of discovery, of accident. It’s good to think of someone kneeling, in four hundred years, connecting that blue to the divine, to the sacred, when actually, it is death. It is the pure colour of futility, meaninglessness. It’s good to know that if they sit there long enough they will know, as all theologians eventually do. Which is why they try. It’s good to have blue to focus on, when the devil is unmaking you bit by bit, pinch by pinch, with his scalding evil tweezers dressed as husband, dressed as son, dressed as capital, dressed in white. It’s good to know that underneath that blue robe is a real woman, blotchy, cold, bruised, holding in a fart, keen that god finish his silly business so she can get on with her day, blue day after blue day until the moon kisses the arrogant earth off its toiling axis.

It’s so good to be here, with you, lining my stomach, because tonight, my friends, we drink.

Beer then wine, then schnapps. Eating is cheating, but we slide home on the vomit-wet pavements knowing we had this bread, that it put us ahead.

It’s so good to be here, with you, because we are encouraged to believe that literature is private, solitary, different to other art forms (therefore more or less likely to survive, depending on who you ask, I mean, don’t ask me, I think it’s plain extraordinary that anyone sits still, lets a stranger’s words in, allows themselves to be transported, for hours at a time, it is frankly perverted, which is why it will survive.)

It’s so good to be here, in a space designated for the sharing and discussion of ideas, because when ideas were made illegal, it seemed we might never meet again, but here we are, and the fact that our ideas are small, flat, simple things, depthless, weak, conservative, safe, sickly things, that fact shouldn’t bother us, or worry us, we must just take what we are given now, and chew it so often that what we spit out is so free of ideas we can actually build with it, make road, fill voids, pave, cover, fashion into weapons, walls, utilitarian receptacles.

It’s so good to be here, because I was invited to speak freely and make random authorless unassigned assertions, floating bits of literary space junk, that was the job, It was Asked Of Me By a Person In Charge.

And it makes a change for someone like me, who usually writes slogans for dog food. I make my money tricking dog owners.

It’s so good to be here, with you, fellow dog owners. What we know is that if you want your beloved to have strong bones, and strong teeth, you need supplements, but we also know man’s best friend shares man’s penchant for flavour, so we smuggle supplements – a huge and award winning range of vitamins – into restaurant quality cuisine. I can tell you this. I can write it on the box. I can print it sixty foot wide on a billboard, but really, you need to taste it. That’s why we gather, in places such as this, designated for the sharing and discussion of treated meats and jellied bone marrow, and eat dog food together. Together. Together. God, I never thought we’d be together again.

It’s so good to be here, with you, in part.

It’s so good to be here, with you, in part. My brain is in a facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, frozen until the time is right. My legs and arms are encased in gold leaf, on a plinth in the Kröller-Müller Sculpture Museum near Arnhem. My organs are frozen Scottish stock, for soup, for a warming future broth. My eyes are in my auntie’s bedside drawer in Glasgow. My hair is a wig, worn by Dola Angelica Adebowale in Lagos. My private parts are in a private bank. My hands are here, with you, and it’s so good, because we all planned and dreamed about a truly global human recycling project, and we fantasised about touch. We asked, here in this room, will we ever touch again, and here we are, everywhere, touching, for never and never for never ever after in pieces, as scrap, as part of the atom clap which is accidental human life on a slowly heaving wet rock.

It’s so good to be here with you, because everything has been cancelled, or postponed, and the memory of being here before, speaking with Ruth, unpacking ideas, laughing, signing books, it seems almost to be fading, unpixellating, unfixing itself from the shifting unreliable surface of memory; don’t be silly, we never gathered, we never took the solitary act of reading and made it communal, we never took questions from the audience, we never queued to meet the people who had written the books we were interested in, to thank them, or prod them, or challenge them. You’ve misremembered that, all we did was send emails, and shop online, and wait for discount codes, and mute ourselves.

It’s so.

It’s so Good.


Photo: Chris Montgomery/Unsplash

Find Max Porter at the Passa Porta Festival

Max Porter