Identity Theft


DCLP (District and Central Line Project) by Stephen Mooney
(176pp, 7.00, Veer Books, veerbooks@gmail.com)


 

Wordsworth, popping into a ruined cottage, sees it as a place for meetings and relationships:

     a roofless Hut; four naked walls
     That stared upon each other! - I looked round,
     And to my wish and to my hope espied
     The Friend I sought

Without it, there is nothing 'stationed in the public way'; nothing to bring individuals into a community. Mooney picks up on this, quoting Casey: 'the modern subject is a placeless subject'.
 
The cottages Mooney writes of at the start of DCLP are public toilets used for 'bits of action' (wanking, blow jobs, buggery). Government legislation has ruined them: 'The Sexual offences Act of last year seems to suggest that someone who is *suspected* of being in a lavatory for sexual purposes can be arrested'. Local councils 'close public toilets because [they are] too costly'. The question is, 'what is left for all sections of the community'?

Mooney make clear that public toilets have community significance by quoting Berkoff on the 'dilapidated public toilets where the Jewish traders used to meet to put the world to rights. The toilets were known as the Parliament of Petticoat Lane'. And he makes clear that the intent of Waltham Forest Council is to close down community by noting their 'closure of St James Street public library, and the secret pulping of some 236, 000 books'.
 
While a bj in a bog may not be everyone's idea of a nice evening, the heavy use of quotation from internet cruising sites clearly shows that these are meaningful places, complete with community spiritedness ('do be careful'). Since the individual exists only as part of a community, it does not matter that these encounters are often nameless. Naming, and the use of personal details, is often entirely meaningless in terms of any deep understanding of the individual. Mooney splices his text with examples of government and business using ID to alienate, judge and (wrongly) define. One letter reads: 'We have recently been advised that you purchased television receiving equipment in January 2005 from Dixons Stores Group. However we have no record of a TV License in your name at the above address.' The recipient replies:

     I take exception to the threatening tone of your letter,
               and great exception to the acquisition of my
               private information, and the intrusion involved
     in that. I find it surprising that a public organisation such
     as yours can get away with such an operation.

    I heard it on the radio/

     As it happens your communication has been curiously timed,
     as I am in the process of writing two long poems dealing with
     the increasingly invasive totalitarian and anti-liberal tenancies
      in our culture.

The confusion as to what makes an individual is brilliantly summarised by this extract: 'The Wharf can reveal that men are using public toilets at the heart of the estate for homosexual sex, also known as "cottaging", right under the noses of some of the world's most powerful companies.' If personal information and statistics define an individual, then a company can be an individual too - in this case, a prudish moral aunt. While business is personified (the estate has a heart, the companies noses), the community becomes impersonal - 'homosexual' and alien ('also known as "cottaging"') - and vilified.
 
Beginning the book with sex is a good strategy. The first two pages are an uninterrupted quotation, giving details of cottaging sites and practices. This is voyeuristically exciting - but just as we're looking forward to the money shot, Mooney pulls out, and the rest of the 77 pages of the first part consists largely of radically fragmented, often official, language:

                           mind the      & platform      & there is a good

                           window movement    Dagenham Heathway

                 the gap             this side only                  swipe your oyster

           card your identity he           CCTV surveillance for your safety and     15:30

             drop       enjoy our low low Oxlow              cinemas now       stop only     drop

              10    fine    seats for not for    drop       attacks against our staff       accept no

This frustration at the text serves to heighten our awareness of the frustrations to our freedom of movement, thought and time we experience in our everyday lives at the hands (to continue the personification) of 'invasive totalitarian and anti-liberal tenancies in our culture'.
 
The second part of Mooney's book is bleaker than the first. While the first presents a community, the second qualifies it. A community is not immune to the dominant culture: 'You can't keep playing the same game every day without subsequently giving in to it'. People no longer meet in toilets but pick up email addresses there: 'GOT UR ADDY FROM THE BARKING TOILETS!!!' What ensues is a fantasy played out virtually, in which the characters are types, 'boys with fetishised identity': 'hi, you want cyber? dad, son - sergeant, recruit - straight boy, queer mate - prison - whatever?' The types often seem to be dictated by a disapproving society; Mooney gives five pages over to someone who wants to be called 'a sleazy indian fuck slut'.

Identity is something that can be stolen and abused, invented and deleted. The language in this book exposes this, but offers no solutions. Just before the final statement - 'XB-33 - Mlada Fronta' - we read: 'I'm not sure that piping classical music into Stratford Bus Station at ear-splitting volumes is actually a strategy'. 
 
        Tom White 2008